Martin Truex Jr. roars back from mishaps to win Cup playoff opener

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JOLIET, Illinois – The third time was the charm for Martin Truex Jr.

After losing the lead – and the potential wins – in the final five laps of the last two races (Darlington and Richmond), Truex was not to be denied in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener.

Leading 77 of the 267 laps, Truex earned his fifth win of the season, his 12th career Cup victory and the first win of the NASCAR Cup playoffs, capturing Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

“This is awesome, man,” Truex said to NBCSN on the front stretch after climbing out of his car. “I’m so excited. This is the playoffs. This is what it’s all about.”

Truex won for the second straight year at the 1.5-mile facility. He’s won four of the seven races on 1.5-mile tracks this year.

“This is the best position I’ve ever been in, you can’t deny it, everything’s going the way we need it to,” Truex said.

It was definitely a statement win by Truex, even though he downplayed it.

“I don’t care much about statements, I’m just having fun,” Truex said. “I’m proud of our pit crew for doing what they did and everyone on this team. It’s important to come here and not let the pressure get to you and I think we did a good job of that.”

After giving his victory lane interview to NBCSN, a smiling Truex was joyously covered in green slime by his pit crew.

“It’s a lot better to watch people get slimed than to get slimed,” Truex joked afterward.

Truex won by 7.179 seconds over runner-up Chase Elliott. Kevin Harvick was third and followed by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski.

“A much improved day from where we’ve been, which is nice,” Elliott said. “We didn’t have anything from Martin, but to be where we were from where we’ve been is where we deserve to be. It’s nice to see we can do it if all things are good.”

The highest-finishing non-playoff driver was Joey Logano, who was seventh, followed by playoff drivers Jimmie Johnson (8th), Matt Kenseth (9th), Jamie McMurray (10th) and Ryan Blaney (11th).

Early in the race Truex had to make two pit stops to fix loose lug nuts and was also penalized for being too fast on pit road. But he and his team never gave up and mounted a great comeback to take the lead from Kevin Harvick on Lap 190 and — with the exception of one lap (212) that Harvick regained the lead — powered on to victory.

“You have to go out and get it done,” Truex said. “There’s no guarantee the first race of the next round is going to be the same.”

Just as the final stage began, Jamie McMurray spun after making contact with Ryan Newman on Lap 169. The damage was minimal, as McMurray was back in the top-10 with more than 40 laps to go.

Kurt Busch had been consistently running in the top 10 before pitting on Lap 200 due to a loose wheel. He was then penalized for speeding on pit road, dropping him to 21st position, two laps down.

 

STAGE WINNERS: Stage 1, Kyle Busch. Stage 2, Chase Elliott.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: For much of the race, Chase Elliott appeared poised to earn his first NASCAR Cup win. Even though he didn’t, he still had an excellent finish of second. Also, Brad Keselowski, who has been bashing Toyotas the last week, finished sixth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Playoff drivers that got off to bad starts included Kyle Busch (finished 15th), Austin Dillon (finished 16th), Kurt Busch (19th), Kasey Kahne (21st), Ryan Newman (23rd) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (25th).

NOTABLE: Jimmie Johnson turned 42 Sunday. The defending Cup seven-time Cup champion continues to remain winless in 16 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, one of only three tracks he has never won a Cup event at (others are Kentucky and Watkins Glen). … Matt Kenseth’s car was found to have one lug nut loose in post-race inspection. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff faces a likely $10,000 when penalties are issued later this week.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Without some luck, we weren’t going to beat the 78 today. We need more days like this.” – Runner-up Chase Elliott.

WHAT’S NEXT: ISM Connect 300, Sunday Sept. 24, 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN), New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

AJ Allmendinger making return to Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2018

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After a one-year absence, AJ Allmendinger will return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

Allmendinger, who drives for JTG Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, will once again drive for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, which will be held Jan. 27 – 28.

A winner in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Allmendinger will split time in the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 in the GTD class with Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach and Mario Farnbacher.

Allmendinger drove for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race from 2014-16. His best result during that stretch was fifth in the Prototype class in 2015.

“I am pumped to be back racing for Shank in the (Rolex) 24. I missed the race last year and I hated to, so I’m really glad to be back,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “His whole team did an awesome job with the Acura last year and it is awesome to be back with him for the Rolex. After racing for the overall win so many years in Prototypes, it will be a completely different experience to be racing in the GTD class, but I’m looking forward to it. Mike (Shank) always puts an awesome team together and this year is no different so I am counting down to get my first shot in this car.”

Allmendinger is coming off his fourth full year of driving the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished the season 27th in the standings, his worst during his tenure with the team. He earned one top five and five top 10s.

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s to sponsor RCR in Cup, Xfinity in 2018

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Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s will sponsor Richard Childress Racing in multiple races in the Cup and Xfinity Series next year, the team announced Monday.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s merged in September 2017.

The outdoors brands will be on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet during the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and in several other races during the season.

Richard Childress Racing

They will also be a primary sponsor for Austin and Ty Dillon on the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for several races.

“Our relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to the mid-1990s and we’re thrilled to be able to continue it during the 2018 season,” team owner Richard Childress said in a press release. “Austin, Ty and Ryan are terrific ambassadors for the great outdoors. They are all passionate about our hunting, fishing and conservation heritage which has made this partnership thrive.

“Next season will be exciting as we welcome Cabela’s, the iconic outdoor brand acquired by Bass Pro Shops, to the RCR family.”

Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972 by Johnny Morris, is also a primary sponsor of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota owned by Furniture Row Racing.

The store chain will be on the hood of the No. 78 in 16 races and on the sides of it in 14 others.

Here’s the eligible drivers for the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

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NASCAR has officially announced the 20 drivers who are eligible to take part in the Cup Series’ season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The 75-lap exhibition event is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as qualifying for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The race will be divided into two segments. A competition caution on Lap 25 will divide them.

Drivers become eligible for the Clash by winning a pole the previous season, being a Daytona 500 pole-winner who competed full-time the previous season or being a playoff driver the previous season.

Here are the eligible drivers.

2017 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (14)

Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (3)

2017 Playoff Drivers (3)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are not expected to compete in the race. Earnhardt retired from Cup competition following the 2017 season and Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for the 2018 season.

Danica Patrick, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter, announced last month she was done as a full-time driver but that she planned to race in the Daytona 500. No definitive team plans have been announced for her.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram injury update: still in ICU, but continues to show progress

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram continues to show improvement from the serious injuries he suffered in a December 3 car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina.

In an update Sunday written on CaringBridge.org, Ingram’s daughter, Ingrid Jones, said her father remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Asheville’s Mission Hospital.

According to Jones:

“Daddy continues to hold his own, making healing steps forward and then a step back, which we fully expected-but he’s surprising us each and every day with his strength and courage to overcome this. Overall, he’s doing amazingly well.”

Ingram’s family had hoped he could have moved out of ICU and into the Trauma Unit as the next phase of his recovery, but he remains in intensive care.

Said Jones:

“For now, he’ll remain in ICU until he can go a full 24 hours without ventilator assisted breathing. We’re almost there … but may still be a few days.”

Ingram, who turns 81 on Dec. 28, was able to sit in a chair and watched part of Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings with his family. Jones wrote that Ingram also was surprised to learn that the mountain near the family’s Asheville-area home received a total of 16 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

Jones added, “We continue to be optimistic for his health, and we also continue to appreciate the prayers and encouraging thoughts.”