Martin Truex Jr. wins Ford EcoBoost 400 to wrap up first Cup crown

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Martin Truex Jr. held off a late push by Kyle Busch to win Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim his first career NASCAR Cup championship.

Truex held off Championship 4 drivers Busch (second), Kevin Harvick (third) and Brad Keselowski (seventh).

It was Truex’s series-leading eighth win of the season, seven coming on 1.5-mile tracks. And how’s this for an irony: Truex led 78 laps en route to the win, the same car number that graces his Toyota Camry.

“I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid and just never gave up, I never gave up on my dream,” an emotional Truex told NBC after a massive celebratory burnout on the frontstretch. “We’re going to party it up. I never thought this day would come.”

MORE: Results, stats for Cup season finale in Miami won by Martin Truex Jr.

MORE: Final 2017 Cup points standings after Miami

Kyle Larson finished fourth and was followed by Chase Elliott and Joey Logano. Matt Kenseth placed eighth in what could be his final Cup start and was followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.

Coming into the race, Truex was the only one of the Championship 4 drivers to have never won a Cup championship. Now he joins his fellow title contenders in the exclusive club.

Truex dedicated the win to Furniture Row Racing team owner and founder Barney Visser, who suffered a heart attack and had bypass surgery two weeks ago. Visser continues to recover. Visser was unable to attend Sunday’s race because his doctor forbade him from going to Miami or even watching the race on TV due to health reasons. Visser received texts throughout the race, keeping him appraised of what was happening.

“I was a mess, I couldn’t even talk, I was a wreck, just thinking about all the tough days, the bad days, the times where I thought my career was over with, the times when I didn’t think anyone believed in me,” Truex said in tears to NBC in Victory Lane. “The people that mattered, my fans, family and when I got with this team, they’re unbelievable, they resurrected my career and made me a champion.”

Added crew chief Cole Pearn, “We had to race three other great guys. To be able to dig down and pull it off, it’s unbelievable. I don’t know how to comprehend it. To put in the effort that we have all year and be able to truly call ourselves champions is unbelievable.”

Also of note:

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 25th in his final Cup race.

“I had a lot of fun tonight,” Earnhardt told NBC. “I hated to hit the wall. We lost about 10 spots getting that flat. I had a deal with (team owner Rick Hendrick) where he got my helmet and I got the car. I’m so proud for Martin, what a story. “We’re retiring and Martin wins a championship.

“That’s storybook. I hope all fans enjoyed the season. I know it wasn’t everything we wanted on the race track, but we sure had fun of it. We’re going to miss everybody, but we’ll be back (as an NBC announcer starting next season).”

* Danica Patrick was involved in a Stage 2 wreck that ended her day and her five-year tenure with Stewart-Haas Racing. She finished 37th, her 11th DNF of the season (10 due to crashes).

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Kyle Larson bounced back from DNFs in his previous four races to not only lead the most laps (145) but also finish third. … Joey Logano, who has struggled much of this season, finished one spot ahead of his teammate, Brad Keselowski.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE? Danica Patrick ended her full-time NASCAR Cup career after suffering a blown tire that caused her to crash into the wall, setting her car on fire and ending her day. … In his final start with Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne was collected in Patrick’s wreck. He was able to keep racing, but finished 33rd, 33 laps behind the leaders. … Daniel Suarez lost his brakes and finished 34th.

NOTABLE 1: Truex becomes the 32nd champion in NASCAR Cup history. He also won the 2004 and 2005 Xfinity Series championships. … The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy weights 68 lbs. It took both Truex and Pearn to lift it together in celebration upon being presented it from NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France.

Notable 2: Lost amid the departure of Patrick, Earnhardt and Kenseth from the Cup Series is that Sunday marked the final race for Richard Childress Racing for Paul Menard (moves to Wood Brothers Racing in 2018), Ryan Blaney‘s final race with Wood Brothers (moves to Team Penske next season), Kasey Kahne’s final race with Hendrick Motorsports (moves to Leavine Family Racing in 2018) and Aric Almirola‘s final race with Richard Petty Motorsports (moves to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018). Also, Erik Jones, who won Rookie of the Year, moves from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing. There’s also the lingering uncertainty whether Kurt Busch will return to Stewart-Haas next season or move to another team, as well as where Michael McDowell and Landon Cassill will wind up.

QUOTE OF THE RACE 1: “I told him, ‘That’s why you never give up.’ That’s been our motto all along, ever since I started my cancer battle. … We always say, if you can fight a struggle with a positive attitude, have a smile on your face, find the good and the silver lining and in the end, in the end karma will pay you back and good things will happen to you. This is the best thing that could happen.” – Sherry Pollex, longtime girlfriend of Martin Truex Jr., on what she first said to him after the race.

QUOTE OF THE RACE 2: “That’s what happens when you lose in this format. We gave it everything we had, we gave it all, so congratulations to the 78. They deserved it probably on every other race but today, I thought we were better, but it didn’t matter though, because they were out front when it mattered most.” — Runner-up Kyle Busch

WHAT’S NEXT: The 2017 season has concluded. The next race is the 2018 season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2018.

NASCAR America: Comparing today’s drivers to drivers of yesteryear

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With Kevin Harvick‘s recent run of three consecutive wins, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte used the opportunity debate which NASCAR legends they compare Harvick and other current drivers to.

Burton compared Harvick to three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

“I think they remind me a lot of each other because they’re both very aggressive, they both got after it, good at every kind of race track,” Burton said.

Earnhardt sees some of 1983 Cup champion Bobby Allison in Harvick.

“Won a championship, won a lot of races, but wasn’t afraid to put his finger in another driver’s chest,” Earnhardt said.

When it comes to Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Earnhardt compared him and Denny Hamlin to the late Tim Richmond.

“Mainly in style,” Earnhardt said. “They’re the kind of guys that are a little flashy, a lot of flair outside the car. … Tim was that way. He wasn’t scared to flaunt it a little bit and he enjoyed life outside the race car as much as he did inside the race car.”

Watch the above video for more old school driver comparisons.


NASCAR America: Importance of keeping NASCAR connected to grassroots racing

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The importance of grassroots racing to the future of NASCAR is a constant subject these days thanks to the likes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Now NASCAR America’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton get their chance to sound off on the subject.

On Tuesday’s episode, the panel of analysts discussed why keeping NASCAR connected to the short tracks and lower series across the country is vital to the sport’s future.

“We don’t have that national series running old short tracks that draws people to the race track but also draws them to the TV on Saturday and Sunday,” Burton said.

Earnhardt brought up an attempt by Bristol Motor Speedway to purchase the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, last year.  The attempted failed.

“My heart was broken because I thought we had a real opportunity to bring one of the touring series, either the Truck or Xfinity, back to Fairgrounds,” Earnhardt said. “That’s where I think we’re broken or disconnected. The late model guys and the guys that are running on these local tracks don’t have the connection to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series. They need to take those series, Truck or Xfinity, back to the short tracks and bridge that link.”

The three analysts went on to discuss the short tracks and races that were part of their formative racing years.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Scan All from Auto Club Speedway

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Martin Truex Jr. was once again in championship form Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

That fact frustrated some drivers, especially Kyle Busch.

You can hear his frustrations and more in this week’s Scan All.

Here are some highlights.

— “I mean, he’s a (expletive) idiot for racing that hard 30 laps into a (expletive) race.” – Chad Johnston, crew chief for Kyle Larson after contact with Kevin Harvick wrecked Harvick on Lap 39.

Johnston’s tone cooled once Harvick owned up to his mistake.

“Harvick’s taking responsibility for that, so don’t sweat it,” Johnston said.

— “You did a hell of a job keeping it off that inside wall. I was watching on the roof cam and was like, ‘Oh Lord, don’t hit that one.” – Rodney Childers, crew chief of Harvick.

— “I don’t know what the (expletive) he’s got going on, but damn I don’t have that.” – Kyle Busch observing how much better Martin Truex Jr.’s car was performing

— “This thing went from absolutely horrible to even worse than that.” – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

— “I don’t even know what the hell we’re doing, what the hell’s going on and what we’re going to do next. It’s been the same all day. We haven’t made any ground on it.” – Kyle Busch as he struggled to keep pace with Larson and Truex.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Biggest storylines through five race weekends

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After five races in the Cup season, NASCAR America’s analysts assessed what the biggest storylines are ahead of this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton took turns sharing what’s stood out to them.

Jeff Burton started off by saying Kevin Harvick‘s success was the “easy answer.”

Burton discussed his surprise at Chevrolet teams underperforming.

“It reminds you in racing that you don’t really know what’s going to happen until it happens,” Burton said. “I’m surprised we haven’t seen more performance from the new Chevy body.”

Earnhardt was surprised at how big Martin Truex Jr’s margin of victory was on Sunday. He beat Kyle Busch by 11.6 seconds.

“I felt like in the first couple of races, maybe we got tricked into thinking the new inspections process had maybe leveled the playing field a little bit, even though Harvick won three in a row,” Earnhardt said. “Then Truex goes out and does what he did last year, maybe even better than he did last year.”

Letarte said his “big shock” for 2018 has been the “lack of change.”

“It’s the same players leading laps that we saw in 2017,” Letarte said. “Everyone is trying to catch up. I’ve always found it the hardest to continue to push your guys, continue to push your race cars when you’re already winning. It’s easy when you’re getting beat to motivate everybody.”

Earnhardt also observed how younger drivers have struggled to shine through five races.

“Across the board, the young guys still aren’t measuring up to the veterans yet,” Earnhardt said.

Watch the above video for more.