Martin Truex Jr. wins at Kansas; Kenseth, Larson, McMurray, Stenhouse Jr. eliminated

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Given he already was locked into the upcoming Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. had nothing to lose in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 — so he went out and won his third race of the playoffs (Chicago, Charlotte and Kansas) and seventh race of the season.

Truex led a total of 91 laps — including the last 57 laps — to capture the win at Kansas Speedway, his second win there this season and an uncanny sixth win on a 1.5-mile track in 2017, a new single season NASCAR record by a driver. His seventh win was on the road course at Watkins Glen.

Truex’s seven wins are the most in a season by a driver since Matt Kenseth won seven in 2013. And Truex still has four more races — including 1.5-mile races at Texas and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway — to add to his wins total.

Truex has now doubled the number of wins he had coming into this season, from seven to 14 now.

Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, who was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, finished second, followed by Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

Sunday’s race was the cut-off race for the Round of 12. The four drivers that were eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8 semifinal round were Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson.

Those advancing to the Round of 8 are Truex, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.

Following the first two stages, among incidents in the 167 laps of the final stage:

* Jimmie Johnson spun coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 187. He tore up a good chunk of the frontstretch grass but did not hit any other cars. He brought his car to pit road to fix some damage to the hood, strapped on four new tires and fuel and returned to the track. Shortly after the restart on Lap 192, Johnson spun again, clipping the Turn 3 wall and flatspotted all four of his tires.

* A big wreck on the restart on Lap 197 involved a number of cars, including playoff contenders Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray. The incident brought out a red flag race stoppage. The wreck occurred when Erik Jones got loose, turned right and head-on into the wall, and collected a number of other drivers including Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer.

* Kenseth suffered a huge penalty on the ensuing pit stop. Because he had seven crew men over the wall, violating the damaged vehicle policy, NASCAR ruled Kenseth was out of the race. As a result, he will not advance to the Round of 8 and has been eliminated from the playoffs in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing.

* As for McMurray, his car could not be repaired and his championship hopes are done. “We just unfortunately had two bad races in a row and couldn’t do nothing about it,” McMurray told NBCSN. “You race all day to the end and we didn’t make it today.”

MORE: Stats, results for Cup playoff elimination race at Kansas

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. remains at top of heap as NASCAR Cup playoffs advance to Round of 8

STAGE WINNERS: Kyle Busch won Stage 1, Denny Hamlin won Stage 2.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Runner-up Kurt Busch had his best outing of the season since winning the season-opening Daytona 500. … Sixth-place finisher Chris Buescher tied for his best finish of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Larson came into the race third in the standings, 29 points above the cut-off line. Unfortunately, his engine blew up – the first time in his career with Chip Ganassi Racing – on Lap 74, and he was eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8. … Matt Kenseth was eliminated from the race and advancing in the playoffs when seven crew men went over the walls on a pit stop, violating NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy.

NOTABLE: When Truex climbed out of his car, he looked up to the sky and then paid tribute to Furniture Row Racing crew member Jim Watson, who died Saturday night in a local Kansas City hospital from a heart attack at the age of 55: “We were racing with heavy hearts and just wanted to do good for him and know he’d love to be celebrating here with us today.”

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I can’t believe how this day went. That’s why you never give up, because you never know what can happen.” – Race winner Martin Truex Jr., who overcame the death of a team member, as well as a restart penalty and a vibration in the race, to win Sunday.

WHAT’S NEXT: Sunday, Oct. 29, First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Wood Brothers secure charter for 2018 season

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The Wood Brothers have formed a partnership with Go Fas Racing that will allow the No. 21 team to have a charter, guaranteeing Paul Menard a starting spot in every Cup race this season.

Last year, the Wood Brothers leased a charter from Go Fas Racing.

“This charter is a game-changing step for Wood Brothers Racing. It’s the critical piece needed to thrive as a top owner in our sport,” said Len Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing, in a statement from the team.

“We have been fortunate enough to have extremely fast cars and are blessed with the best sponsors in NASCAR. Pair that with our support from Ford and nearly every piece is in place. Last year we leased a charter from Archie [St. Hilaire]. We’ve really come to appreciate working with him and his son Mason, and I think everyone has benefited tremendously from this relationship. For 2018 and beyond, we’ve taken it a step further and entered into a partnership and we think it will be a rewarding endeavor for everyone involved.”

The Wood Brothers scored their 99th career Cup win with Ryan Blaney last year and earned their first playoff spot.

Go Fas Racing stated on Twitter it would have a charter for Matt DiBenedetto but didn’t reveal details.

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Danica Patrick confirms she is dating NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers

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Danica Patrick said Monday that she and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are dating. Patrick confirmed the news to The Associated Press.

Patrick, who is from Illinois, is a Chicago Bears fan but will change allegiances.

She told the AP that she and Rodgers met at the 2012 ESPY Awards.

“I told him a long time ago I’d always root for him as a player,” Patrick told the AP. “Now I am probably going to cheer for the whole team. Take out the word ‘probably.’ Now I’m going to cheer for the whole team.”

Patrick ended a five-year relationship with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in November. Rodgers split from actress Olivia Munn in 2017 after three years of dating.

Patrick plans to retire from racing this season after competing in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. She has not announced a deal for either ride. An executive with Chip Ganassi Racing recently told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that they were no longer talking to Patrick about a ride in either race.

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Darrell Wallace Jr. feels a connection to Wendell Scott without the pressure of his legacy

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WELCOME, N.C. – There will be many reminders of the history that Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. could make this season in NASCAR’s premier series, but this one was especially personal.

The first full-time African-American driver on the circuit in 47 years since Wendell Scott received a 2-minute voice mail recently from Scott’s son, Wendell Jr.

“(It said) don’t feel like I need to carry the pressure of his dad and the Scott legacy, just go out there and do me,” Wallace said, relaying the message last Friday during a break from a preseason production shoot. “That’s the way it’s always been. All the history falls in place after. That’s how I like to go about it. A small part carries him with me, but I don’t put that in the forefront.

“For me, it’s just to go out and get through practice, qualifying and the race. If we end up with a top five, then, hey, it’s the first African-American to do this or the first African-American to do that. I don’t really look at that stuff. That’s when the media kind of brings that in. You can sit back after the race and say, ‘Damn, that was pretty cool.’ ”

Wallace is accustomed to being in the headlines for unique accomplishments. His Oct. 26, 2013 win in the Camping World Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway was the first by a black driver in one of NASCAR’s national series since Scott’s Dec. 1, 1963 win at Jacksonville, Florida.

Wallace, 24, has notched five more truck victories since then (including his lone start on the circuit last August at Michigan International Speedway) and made the Xfinity Series playoffs in 2016.

But as he steps into the famous No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports (which has moved this year to Chevrolet and a new shop location adjacent to Richard Childress Racing, which will supply its cars and engines), Wallace acknowledges that “for sure, I’m carrying that banner” again for Scott. He got to know the racing pioneer’s family eight years ago after entering NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.

He understands the attention brought by his race, though he also sees evidence on social media that his fan base tires of hearing about it.

“It’s something I’ve embraced,” Wallace said. “I’ve accepted that it’s always going to be talked about no matter what I do. I’ll be the first African-American to take a piss in the Cup garage. Everything I do is a first. It’s going to be there. I’ve accepted it.

“The fans are (who) get so fired up over it. It’s like, ‘Why do we have to mention it?’ Because no one is there. It’s going to be mentioned. It has to be mentioned. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”

Wallace made his Cup debut with RPM last season at Pocono Raceway, the first of four starts in place of injured Aric Almirola. He posted a respectable average finish of 17.8 while handling the increased exposure with aplomb.

Team owner Richard Petty said “there’s going to be a lot of pressure on (Wallace)” in 2018, but he thinks his crew won’t feel the effects.

“I don’t think it’s going to put that much pressure on RPM because they’re going to do the best they can for whoever it is,” Petty said. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on him, so he’s going to have to learn to live with it.”

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said Wallace already proved last year he is highly adaptable despite the heavy scrutiny.

“When we showed up at Pocono, we realized what it was all about,” Blickensderfer said. “It kind of gave you goosebumps to think about how special it was. We saw all the hoopla and everything that was going on around it, we thought, ‘This is something that’s a little different than just the kid who’s going to drive a race car.’ ”

It doesn’t feel so different away from the track, though, when Wallace brings his freewheeling presence through the shop.

“When he walks in be-bopping and giving people knuckles, it’s nothing,” Blickensderfer said. “It’s just a kid driving a race car. But I think when we get to Daytona and unload the car that has ‘Wallace’ on it and it’s his car, I think it’s going to be a little different. But it’s different in a great way.

“Everybody on this team looks at it like it’s cool. The way Bubba reacts to it, he just handles it. He does it remarkably well for a kid his age. He just kind of takes it in and is OK with it and goes about his business, much better than most people would. It makes it easier for us just to not even think about that weekly. When we get ready to fire engines for the Daytona 500, we’re going to be like, ‘He’s doing something really cool here.’ Until then it’s kind of business, and it’s just some kid driving a race car.

But as he prepares for his first full season in Cup, even Wallace finds himself occasionally caught in the moment – such as when he walked past one of his new Camaros – which was coated only in primer but had his last name across the windshield.

“I was thinking, ‘Damn that’s my Cup car,’” he said. “That’s cool. Nothing on it but ‘Wallace.’ I thought, ‘Damn, that’s really cool to see.’ It’s exciting stuff that’s happening right now. I’ll be anxious to see when we get to Daytona how giddy I’ll be.”

Justin Haley returning to GMS Racing for 2018

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Justin Haley will again drive the No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado this season for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday. Sponsor Fraternal Order of Eagles also returns.

The 18-year-old won a pole at Texas and had three top-five finishes and 12 top-10 results in 21 starts last year.

“We found a lot of success toward the end of the 2017 season, so there’s a good amount of momentum that we can carry over into this year,” said Haley in a statement from the team. “The No. 24 team is working hard in the offseason to take us to that next level, to be able to keep running up front and improving week to week. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be competing for a championship when we get to Miami, and I couldn’t be more excited to be heading in that direction with GMS and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.”

Haley will again have Kevin Bellicourt as his crew chief.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the work that not only this team has done, but that Justin has put in over the offseason,” said Bellicourt in a statement from the team. “From working in the gym to time on the simulator, he’s focused on getting himself prepared to make a run for the title. The team has put everything we’ve got behind him and we’ve watched him do the same. It feels like all the pieces are coming together at the right time.”

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