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Martin Truex Jr. latest driver to lead 2,000 laps in a season

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Martin Truex Jr. is now the latest driver in NASCAR Cup history to lead 2,000 laps in a season.

Truex reached the accomplishment by leading the first 23 laps in today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

He entered the race with 1,977 laps led through 31 races.

This is just the 11th time the mark has been reached since 1990 and Truex is the seventh different driver to reach it in that time.

The last driver was Kevin Harvick, who topped 2,000 laps in 2014 (2,137 laps) and 2015 (2,294 laps).

Others who have topped the mark since 1990 are: Harvick, Jimmie Johnson (2009), Jeff Gordon (2001, 1996, 1995), Dale Jarrett (1997), Rusty Wallace (1994, 1993) and Dale Earnhardt (1990).


Here’s your primer heading into second half of NASCAR Cup playoffs

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If you thought the first five races of the NASCAR Cup playoffs were intense, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

As the 10-race playoffs move into their second half, the final five races will likely be more competitive than the first five.

That’s particularly true in Sunday’s cut-off race at Kansas, where the current field of 12 remaining playoff contenders will be cut to eight after the checkered flag falls.

And then there will be the Round of 8 cut-off race at Phoenix in four weeks that will set the four-driver field for the championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thanks to our friends at, here’s some of the top playoff insights that will help fans better understand where we are in the playoffs heading into Kansas:

  • Playoff drivers have won all five races in the 2017 playoffs.
  • The last time a driver who didn’t make it into the playoffs won a playoff race was Denny Hamlin at Homestead in 2013.
  • The last playoff race won by a playoff driver who was previously eliminated from the playoffs was Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix in 2015.
  • Tony Stewart in 2005 is the only driver to go on to win the championship without winning a race during the playoffs.
  • Four of five playoff races so far this season have been won from a qualifying position of sixth or better.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega driving a Ford, ending a four-race playoff winning streak by Toyotas. Also, prior to Talladega, Toyota drivers had won all four poles and all four races in the 2017 playoffs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole at Talladega, but finished seventh.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega with a last lap pass for the win, it was the eighth playoff race won with a last lap pass and the only one in the last 29 races.
  • There were 11 cautions at Talladega, the most cautions in the last 18 playoff races.
  • There were a combined 21 cautions in the last two playoff races, the same number as the previous four playoff races combined.
  • Talladega last week: 14 cars running at the finish, 26 total DNFs (including 24 DNFs due to wrecks), three red flags and only two playoff drivers finished in the top 10 – all records for a playoff race.
  • A Chevrolet driver has finished runner-up in each of this season’s first five playoff races.
  • Chase Elliott has finished runner-up three times so far in the playoffs. The record for most runner-up finishes in the playoffs in a season was four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Elliott has also finished runner-up at both 1.5-mile tracks so far, with three more 1.5-mile tracks still left in the final five races (Kansas, Texas and Homestead-Miami).
  • Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the only drivers still playoff-eligible that have scored stage points in every playoff race.
  • The best average finish by a driver in all 10 races of the playoffs is 4.9 by Carl Edwards in 2011. Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the championship, but Stewart won on the first tiebreaker – more wins (five to Edwards’ one).
  • Martin Truex Jr. has led the playoff standings through the first five races of the playoffs, tying Matt Kenseth in 2013 for the most races led by a driver to start the playoffs. Truex also won at Kansas in May.
  • Three drivers have won races during the playoffs in all three years of the elimination format entering 2017: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson all three drivers have yet to win in 2017.
  • Only two of the 135 playoff races were won by drivers getting their first NASCAR Cup win: Clint Bowyer in 2007 at New Hampshire and Brian Vickers in 2006 at Talladega.
  • Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. Entering Kansas, Johnson remains winless in the 2017 playoffs.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dramatic ride doesn’t end in victory, but he walked away

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TALLADEGA, Alabama — After driving through multiple wrecks, skidding through the grass, and charging through the field, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was left with the satisfaction he walked out of Talladega Superspeedway unharmed in a race that saw three red flags and 24 of the 40 cars eliminated because of accidents.

Earnhardt, who has a history of concussions and missed half of last season because of concussion symptoms, admitted that beneath his excitement of being at this track, he had concerns entering Sunday’s race — his final restrictor-plate Cup race.

“This was one I was worried about, in the back of my mind I was a little concerned,’’ said Earnhardt, who finished seventh after starting on the pole. “You can’t win the race if you race scared. I’ve raced scared here before and you don’t do well when that happens, so you have to block it out and take the risks and hope it’s not your day to get in one of those accidents and it wasn’t.’’

Earnhardt did take many risks during the race.

I think that anyone who questions our desire to be here and compete this year and our desire to run hard and face can look at the risks that we took this afternoon, knowing that any of those crashes would have probably given me a bit of an injury that would have held me out of the rest of the season,’’ he said.

Earnhardt avoided several accidents on the way to scoring his second top-10 finish in the last 15 races. After exiting his car, he had blades of grass and dirt on the back of his uniform from one of his excursions to avoid an accident.

“Just got lucky on those wrecks,’’ Earnhardt said. “Ain’t nothing I’m doing. I’m just not getting hit … and not losing control of my car. Just really luck.’’

The last incident, though, damaged Earnhardt’s right front and knocked the splitter down, all but ending his hopes of winning before the final three laps.

“When we got going on that last restart, it just wouldn’t go in the corners especially,’’ Earnhardt said. “Everybody around us was just wasting their time pushing us and they sort figured it it out after a lap of two and decided to leave us alone.

“I thought the car had enough to win before we bent the splitter down.’’

Winner Brad Keselowski didn’t know about Earnhardt’s damage, so when he had Earnhardt behind him on the final restart, he felt he was in the best position.

“I thought when I had Dale Jr. lined up behind me, with the strength of his car and his ability, that we would just take off on the restart and clear them and it would be us racing for the win,’’ Keselowski told NBC Sports. “We came off of Turn 2 and didn’t really have a lot of momentum and the outside lane passed us and the next thing you knew we were running third with only two laps left to get to the lead.’’

Even though Earnhardt didn’t challenge for the win at the end, he will end his career as one of NASCAR’s most successful restrictor-plate drivers. His six wins at Talladega tie him with Jeff Gordon and ranks second only behind his father. Earnhardt finishes his Cup career with 10 restrictor-plate victories, including two Daytona 500 triumphs.

“Anytime anybody says you’re the best at anything it’s an awesome feeling,’’ Earnhardt said. “I can’t deny that it feels awesome to hear that, that people consider you good at anything. I knew that I wasn’t going to win 200 races and seven championships and do all those great things. I just wanted to come in here and be considered talented.

“To be great at anything was beyond my imagination. I appreciate people’s compliments on my plate driving and the success we’ve had at all the plate races.’’

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Long: Today marks one last time for Dale Earnhardt Jr., fans at Talladega


TALLADEGA, Alabama — They fell asleep embraced by the lingering aroma from their campfire. A day of relaxing and partying stretched into the night, and it was time for a few hours of respite before the new day, one some had awaited months to arrive.

Buoyed by his pole-winning effort Saturday, many in the Talladega Superspeedway campgrounds are filled with hope that Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins today in his final Cup race at a track as synonymous with the Earnhardt family as any on the NASCAR circuit.

Hope is a powerful thing. While it cannot make an engine turn more RPMs or the air glide over a car in the most efficient manner, it has led many to Talladega on a pilgrimage to see Earnhardt lead the field one more time.

It already has been a memorable couple of days for Earnhardt. On Friday, the track gave him the car his father raced in 1979 and 1980 (clinching the first of his seven titles in that car in ’80). A day later, Earnhardt won his first career Talladega pole.

Along with the buildup to today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC) has come the chance for reflection for Earnhardt.

“The end of the season is coming really fast,’’ Earnhardt said Saturday. “I didn’t really feel much emotion about that and the finality of it until maybe this weekend.

“These few weeks will go by so fast, and that’s it. There’s no reliving it. So, I think I’m starting to take it in just a little bit in letting myself feeling some emotion about it.’’

Earnhardt has had the chance to reflect because of the weekend’s gradual pace. This is typical Talladega. Most of the energy and nearly all the anxiety are packed into race day.

Earnhardt noted there was no fretting about pulling speed from the car because what teams have when they unload is about all they’re going to have at a restrictor-plate track, unlike other tracks where teams can make many more adjustments.

If you’re slow this weekend, there’s resignation. If you’re fast, there’s a comfort.

That’s allowed Earnhardt to ponder a career coming to a close and one last run at a track that has provided so many memorable moments.

It was at this track where his father went from 16th to first in the final five laps in 2000 to win what would be his final Cup race. Years later, Earnhardt watched a video of those final laps. When his father rocketed off Turn 2 and passed six cars on the way into Turn 3, beginning his charge to victory, a smile formed on Earnhardt’s face and widened with each car his father dispatched. “Man’’ was all Earnhardt could say, pride and wonderment spilling out in one syllable.

It also was here where Earnhardt won in the fall of 2001. That victory was important to him because of questions he faced about his win at Daytona in July, the first race there since his father’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt stated Friday that Jimmy Spencer’s comments questioning the legitimacy of that victory still upset him and how his success after that event proved his win was legit.

That Talladega win also was the first of four in a row at this track.

“We got pretty cocky there at some points in the mid-2000s with our performance and ability,’’ Earnhardt said.

Then the performance went away and Earnhardt struggled, winning twice in the series between 2007-13.

This also is the track that has frustrated him. NASCAR ruled Jeff Gordon was leading, not Earnhardt, when the caution came out and the spring 2004 race did not restart, allowing Gordon to win. Fans littered the track with beer cans at NASCAR’s decision.

It also was here where Earnhardt was collected in a last-lap crash that, along with a crash about six weeks earlier, created concussion symptoms that forced him to miss two races in 2012.

But even with those events, most of the memories Earnhardt has of this track and its fans are good. When he takes the lead, the roar of the crowd can be heard over the cars.

Nothing sounded better to him Friday than the rumble from the engine of his father’s 1979 blue-and-yellow Monte Carlo the track gave him. He drove a couple of laps around the track in the No. 2 car.

Then, so proud of the car, he drove it to the Cup garage so his crew could see it before returning to pit road.

The gift was something his father had touched and him. It connected Earnhardt to his childhood days. After the car was retired, it sat on jackstands outside the shop of what was his father’s Busch team.

“I remember he right-sided the car at some point in the race, and you could go over and pick the bondo out of the whole side of the car… all busted the cracked up,’’ Earnhardt said. “So that car sat there for about three or four years in the backyard at Mamaw’s house.

“When Dad wasn’t at the race weekends, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday he was at that shop. He drove there every morning and drove home every day. That’s where he went every day. So I’d go over there and climb in and around that car at some point every single time I went there. You couldn’t not go near it.’’

After it was restored, his father sent it to be displayed at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame next to Talladega Superspeedway. As a youngster, Earnhardt and other sons of racers would go to the Hall and admire the car.

Now Earnhardt will have it, a time warp to the past to when his father was starting his championship run in NASCAR. It also signifies how much time has passed and a reminder that the end of Earnhardt’s Cup career is only days way — 35 to be exact.

While he isn’t going away — he’ll race at least once next year in the Xfinity Series and likely more — today will be his final restrictor-plate race, the type of racing that has helped define both he and his father.

Today fans will have one final time to cheer Earnhardt at Talladega.

After winning the pole Saturday, he was shown a video of the crowd roaring once he crossed the finish line and his No. 88 shot to the top spot on the scoring tower.

He smiled.

“That’s pretty cool,’’ he said.

Imagine what it will be like if he wins today.

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NASCAR America: Danica Patrick says ‘you have to be selfish’ racing at Talladega

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Danica Patrick will have three teammates in Sunday’s 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway, but there’s only one driver you can count on in the unpredictable draft.

“I think you have to be selfish,” she said Wednesday on NASCAR America. “You know who shows that the best? Dale (Earnhardt) Jr.”

Steve Letarte, the former crew chief for Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports, agreed.

“I worked with two of the most selfish,” Letarte said. “Jeff Gordon used to enter the team meeting and the conversation was, ‘Hey, I’m going to apologize now because you’re all going to hate me when this race is over.’ And Dale Jr. kind of picked up on that and said, ‘No offense, let’s not even pretend we’re going to help each other, because I’m not sure how we can.’”

Patrick said that’s frequently been the case in her restrictor-plate races at Stewart-Haas Racing, particularly when the four-car organization was aligned with Chevy and tried to formulate plans with Hendrick.

“It would always fall apart,” she said. “It never happened, barely ever. I think if you plan too much, you tend to have misunderstandings and mistakes.”

Watch the full video with Patrick above.