What drivers said after Martinsville

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What drivers said after the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the opening race of the third round of playoffs.

Kyle Busch – Winner: “Awesome to get to victory lane here at Martinsville. You know, I wanted to win Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead and that’ll make us this year’s champions, so we’ve got one more. Just wanted to say our guys did an awesome job preparing this car. We weren’t the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end and there was kind of chaos ensuing and none of it was our fault, we just came out on the right end of the stick. Can’t say enough about NOS Energy Drinks, Cessna, DVX Sunglasses. My son Brexton’s at home, he’s not here with us this weekend, so want to say hey to him, we’ll see you later tonight buddy. Looking forward to going to Homestead.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “You know, to run second here is awesome. I think we had a fifth- or sixth-place car all day long. We couldn’t quite get better than that, but I’m really proud of that effort for everybody – for all our guys. So we fought hard all day, we didn’t give up and we had a shot at it there (on) the last lap. Got inside of Kyle (Busch), just couldn’t get the power down off of (Turn) 4. I didn’t want to be the one to knock him out-of-the-way for the win. Maybe I should have, but I don’t know. Those guys kept knocking each other out-of-the-way up there in the front, I’m not sure that’s the way to do it.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 3rd: “It seems we’ve been struggling here lately trying to get some consistency in there to say the least, but fell back and got back up through them. Then we had some more trouble and we’d gain some and lose some, gain some and lose some and we finally got there at the end. I wish they would have got into each other one more time and I just went ahead and finished the last one off if it was down to one, but it’s just a product of that situation. Those guys are racing for a lot, there’s a lot on the line and you know on a green-white-checker at a place like this all hell is gonna break loose. The only thing I can say is why we don’t race at night is beyond me here.  You should definitely utilize those lights for something other than a green-white-checkered because it’s pretty damn cool under the lights.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 4th: “I just knew I got in the corner and he was inside me and we had contact. I haven’t seen anymore of that to really have any clarity to it. The track is just real slick on the restarts for everybody. You saw that. It takes about five laps for anyone to get going or more, especially the leader, but there was a lot of hard fighting here because it’s a short track. That’s what short tracks are kind of about is rooting and gauging. You try not to take anybody out, but you’ve got to sometimes rub a little bit.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 5th: “Four races to go at Martinsville, playoff time and everybody is trying to get everything they can. It was a crazy finish. But for us our goal was to score stage points. I think we scored (four) stage points and got a top-five. My goal was a top 10. The goal was to not lose it today. I’m really proud of everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing. They built this car in two weeks after our test. We were way more competitive here. And as you look at the results, they show it. We have bent up fenders but it looks like the whole field does.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 7th: “Well (Chase Elliott) said I wrecked him and obviously, you know Ray Charles saw that. Obviously it wasn’t intentional, I wanted to move him out of the way and there was just not enough grip on the race track for him to save it. There’s no difference, he washed the 2 (Brad Keselowski) up the race track as well. I mean, we can play favorites with who we want. Unfortunately, this is a ticket to Homestead at stake.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 8th: “I felt the first half of our day was pretty good. We lost a lot of handle in the second half after the second stage and really were struggling. On short runs I thought we were OK for 20 laps or so, but the last handful of restarts were just pandemonium. It was pretty ridiculous with everyone wrecking each other and running into each other. I thought we were gonna make it through the last one, but we just kind of got caught up off of four in all that stuff.  At least we salvaged a decent day.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 11th: “Yeah, we ran pretty good there toward the end of the race.  I liked the car.  We were sitting there on that long run saving the rear tires.  If it would have went green we were going to get a bunch of cars.  But, just had that caution when the No. 66 (Carl Long) blew the tire, so we had to run hard for the rest of the race.  But, man I can’t believe how everybody crossed the finish line.  I ain’t seen nothing like that … I don’t know if I ever have seen it.  Trying to think back.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that.  There was a wreck one time at Richmond before they ever reconfigured it in the Xfinity race on the front straightaway in like 1982… that is the only thing I ever seen like it.  But, crazy finish.  Decent run.  I think that is, let’s see, 12th place is our worst finish in the last six weeks, pretty decent for us this year.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 12th: “We were just terrible all day.  Oh, what a bummer.  We had high hopes for this weekend.  Man, it just didn’t turn out so well.  So, we scored some points here and there.  We will go to the next one and try to get more.”

Joey Logano – Finished 24th: “I was passing the 24 (Chase Elliott). I had a good run on him and the 18 (Kyle Busch) sent it three-wide. I tried to give him room and he slid up. I don’t know. I have to watch the replay, but he slid up and got up in the left rear and cut it down.”

CHASE ELLIOTT – Finished 27th: “We had a great car today and we had an opportunity. We had a good restart there at the end and felt like I was doing what I needed to do. And I can’t control (Denny Hamlin’s) decisions and whatever the hell that was. We’re on to Texas.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 30th: “Our No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS was just a bit tight in the center of the corners tonight, but the crew made some good adjustments for that. We were able to run competitive speeds during the long green flag runs. Unfortunately, it was an uphill battle for us after we had the early problems. We knocked a hole in the left front and sustained some left rear damage when we were part of the first caution, then we ended up getting a flat left rear tire. We were never able to get all those laps back.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 37th: “I just got tight up off (Turn) 2 and got into a lapper’s left-rear and I just spun really quick and hit the inside wall. Another Martinsville for us. I’ve got to figure out how to get around this place. I suck here.”

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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