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Patience pays off for Johnny Sauter at Phoenix, wins 2nd straight race

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Johnny Sauter won for the second week in a row – and earned his first win at Phoenix Raceway – capturing Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150.

Sauter, who won last week at Texas, came from behind, helped out by three big wrecks in the final 21 laps, that allowed him to go to the front and take the lead on the final restart with two laps to go.

The defending Camping World Truck Series champ heads to Miami for Friday’s championship race. He’ll square off with two-time champ Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric.

This could be one of the most compelling Truck championship battles, as it pits veterans and former champions Sauter and Crafton vs. 22-year-old Bell and 19-year-old Cindric.

John Hunter Nemechek, who needed a win to advance to Miami, finished second and was eliminated. Cody Coughlin was third, followed by Chase Briscoe and Kaz Grala.

“It stinks to be that close,” Nemechek told Fox Sports 1. “We definitely have to keep our head held high. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

MORE: Results of Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 Truck race at Phoenix

MORE: Truck championship field set for Miami — points report

With seven laps to go, leaders and Kyle Busch Racing teammates Noah Gragson and Christopher Bell got together and took each other out. Bell tried to stay on the track, but the damage on his truck proved to be too much and he came to pit road for repairs with four laps to go.

With 21 laps to go, contact between Austin Cindric and Ben Rhodes sent Rhodes crashing. Matt Crafton was unable to avoid his Thor Sport Racing teammate, putting Rhodes and Crafton out of the race.

“They took a cheap shot,” Rhodes’ crew chief, Eddie Troconis told Fox Sports 1 of Cindric. “If they want to go to Homestead and race like that, they’re not going to make it past Lap 1.

“We raced the clean and were better than them all year long. We deserve to be at Homestead. It sucks that they’re going to go. I believe NASCAR should park then and penalize them. … He doesn’t know how to race. It’s unfortunate it comes to this.”

Troconis and Crafton both had bitter predictions for Cindric at Homestead.

Said Troconis, “Obviously, they’re not going to out clean in Homestead.”

Crafton told FS1: “Just wrong place, wrong time. I told Ben (Rhodes), the 19 (Cindric) better not finish Homestead.”

Rhodes told FS1: “(Cindric) put me in a bad place and I was trying to do everything I could to keep the spot, but once we filed into Turn 1, we were all going to wreck. I don’t know if that was the right move on his part. … It looked like a desperation move. I guess if I was in his position, I can’t blame him, but it’s not the move I would have liked to see. … Just driving over his head, I guess.”

STAGE WINNERS: Stage 1 (Christopher Bell), Stage 2 (Christopher Bell)

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Austin Cindric not only reached the Championship 4 round, he also recorded his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races. … Bayley Curry finished a career-best 10th.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: On the restart following the Cindric/Rhodes/Crafton wreck with 15 to go, Dalton Sargent, Jesse Little and Ryan Truex were involved in a wreck that brought out another red flag. As soon as it happened, Truex said over his team radio, “What the hell just happened?”

NOTABLE: The race was red-flagged three times due to wrecks in the final 21 laps for over 37 minutes in total.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m a lucky man, what can I tell you?” – Race winner Johnny Sauter.

WHAT’S NEXT: The 2017 season wraps up Nov. 17 with the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

ThorSport Racing parts ways with Toyota

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ThorSport Racing announced Tuesday it has agreed with Toyota to part ways after a six-year relationship ahead of the upcoming season.

The Camping World Truck Series team earned two championships (Matt Crafton), 19 wins, 117 top fives and 227 top-10 finishes and 10 poles during their tenure with Toyota.

In their announcement, ThorSport did mention which manufacturer they’ll be paired with in 2018.

The team, based in Sandusky, Ohio, fielded trucks for Crafton, Cody Coughlin and Ben Rhodes in 2017. Coughlin will compete for GMS Racing this season.

ThorSport will announce their full driver lineup in the coming weeks.

The Truck Series season opens Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway.

NBC Sports has reached out to ThorSport and Toyota for further comment.

Check back for more.

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.”