Landon Cassill

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.

Keep up with all the Silly Season changes for 2018 with this scorecard

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Aric Almirola became the latest driver to secure a ride for 2018 when Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that he’ll drive the No. 10 car.

Even with that announcement, more questions remain on which drivers will be in what rides next season.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Aric Almirola will join Stewart-Haas Racing and drive the No. 10 car. (announcement made Nov. 8)

Darrell Wallace Jr. will join Richard Petty Motorsports and drive the No. 43 car. (announcement made Oct. 25)

Kasey Kahne will join Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 car. (announcement made Sept. 19)

Ty Dillon signs a multi-year contract to remain at Germain Racing and drive the No. 13 car. Sponsor Geico also extends its deal with the team (announcement made Sept. 5)

Chris Buescher signs a multi-year contract to remain at JTG Daugherty and drive the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Go Fas Racing in the team’s No. 32 car (announcement made Aug. 12)

William Byron will drive the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

Paul Menard moves to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21 car (announcement made July 26)

Ryan Blaney moves to Team Penske to drive the No. 12 car and signs a multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

Brad Keselowski agrees to contract extension to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske (announcement made July 25

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. (announcement made July 20)

Erik Jones will drive the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Matt Kenseth (announcement made July 11)

OPEN RIDES

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers for next season. Key will be sponsorship money on what happens with that car.

— No. 34: Front Row Motorsports informed Landon Cassill on Oct. 9 that he would not be returning to the team next season. The team has not announced its driver lineup for next season. 

— No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year on Aug. 1. Even so, the team tweeted that it expected Busch back with sponsor Monster Energy for next year. Busch said Nov. 3 that “we are in negotiations’’ to remain in the No. 41. Co-owner Tony Stewart said Nov. 5: “That’s our goal, is to have Kurt back in that car for next year.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: He said Nov. 4 on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that he has “decided to take some time off” after the 2018 season. Kenseth isn’t using the word retirement but says he has no ride for 2018.

Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.

Danica Patrick: She will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick has not announced any plans for next season. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Michael McDowellWill not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.

Landon CassillSearching for a ride after being informed he will not be back at Front Row Motorsports. He said Oct. 10 that he did not have sponsorship to bring with him at the time.

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Joey Logano on pole position at Martinsville; Martin Truex Jr. second; Jimmie Johnson spins

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — Joey Logano captured his fourth pole position at Martinsville Speedway, stealing the spotlight from NASCAR’s playoff drivers as the Round of 8 opens Sunday afternoon.

The Team Penske driver turned a 95.504-mph lap in his No. 22 Ford, besting Martin Truex Jr. (96.479), who will have the coveted No. 1 pit stall by virtue of qualifying first at Kansas Speedway last week.

Chase Elliott was third at 96.435 mph, followed by Ryan Blaney (96.122) and Clint Bowyer (96.112).

Other playoff drivers who made the final round: Denny Hamlin (sixth) and Brad Keselowski (seventh).

“I think the last time we were here Truex got us be a few thousandths, so it’s cool to flip-flop that again,” Logano told NBCSN. “We have a good Shell/Pennzoil Ford that the team put together for me this weekend.  I’ve got something to race with this week.  I’m really excited about the race and starting up front is always a big deal here.  We may not get the good pit stall that we would want, but starting towards the front is always a nice thing to have.  You can set your own pace and kind of take care of your car.  When you start in the back it starts beating up on your car, which at some point you may end up back there with strategy, but I feel good about the car we’ve got this week and it’s something we can race with.”

Making the final round was a plus for Blaney, who had the worst pit stall selection after failing qualifying inspection at Kansas.

How other playoff drivers fared:

Kevin Harvick qualified 13th after being bumped from advancement by Erik Jones in the final seconds of the second round.

Kyle Busch was 14th.

Jimmie Johnson qualified 24th after spinning when his No. 48 Chevrolet wheel-hopped on the entry to Turn 3 with three minutes left in the second round. The seven-time series champion managed to avoid damaging his car. Johnson will start from the rear.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 21st in his final start at Martinsville.

Hamlin barely escaped the first round of qualifying, turning the 24th-fastest speed at 95.830 mph. Blaney turned a solid lap late to ensure advancement to the final 24.

Earnhardt also catapulted from outside the top 25 with a fast lap in the closing minutes of the first round.

Among the notables eliminated in the first round were Austin Dillon (25th), AJ Allmendinger (27th), Landon Cassill (31st), David Ragan (33rd) and Travor Bayne (34th).

Click here for qualifying results.

Cup test begins today at Homestead-Miami Speedway

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Eight teams, including five in the playoffs, are scheduled to take part in an organizational test today and Thursday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in preparation for the Nov. 19 race that will crown the Cup champion.

Each organization is permitted to have one team at the test. Not all organizations are participating.

Scheduled to test are:

Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing)

Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports)

Brad Keselowski (Team Penske)

Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing)

Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing)

Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing)

Trevor Bayne (Roush Fenway Racing)

Each manufacturer will have its own car. Alex Bowman will drive the Chevrolet car, Landon Cassill will drive the Ford car, and Drew Herring will drive the Toyota car.

Testing is set to go from noon – 7 p.m. ET today and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thursday.

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Six cars to miss time in final Cup practice session

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Six Cup teams, including playoff contenders Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray, will each miss 15 minutes of today’s final practice session at Kansas Speedway because of inspection issues, NASCAR announced.

Three teams were penalized 15 minutes in Saturday morning’s first practice – Derrike Cope, Landon Cassill and AJ Allmendinger. Each were penalized for being late to qualifying inspection Friday.

Teams penalized 15 minutes in final Cup practice will be Elliott, McMurray, Cope, Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola.

Bayne, Elliott and Almirola were penalized for failing qualifying/race inspection twice at Talladega.

Cope, McMurray and Menard were penalized for failing qualfiying qualifying inspection twice at Kansas.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 1:30 – 2:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN.