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Amy Earnhardt to drive pace car for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Martinsville race

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Amy Earnhardt will drive the pace car and lead the field to the green flag for the Oct. 29 First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the final Cup race for husband Dale Earnhardt Jr. at that track.

“I was very excited when the track approached me about driving the pace car,” Amy Earnhardt said in a statement from the track. “Martinsville is one of Dale’s favorite tracks and seeing how happy he and the team were in Victory Lane in 2014 is something I’ll never forget. I appreciate the track letting me be a small part of Dale’s last race at a place that means so much to him.”

Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said having Amy Earnhardt drive the pace car is a way to give back to Dale Earnhardt Jr. for all he has done for Martinsville Speedway and NASCAR.

“The Earnhardt family has meant so much to Martinsville Speedway through the years, Dale in particular, and we wanted for him to be able to share his last Cup race here with the person closest to him,” Campbell said in a statement from the track. “Dale has often talked about how much Amy has meant to him and this is one small way in which we can say ‘thank you’ to the both of them; to Dale for what he has meant to the sport and to Amy for what she has meant to Dale.”

The First Data 500 is the opening race of the Round of 8.

 

Chase Elliott has one goal for Talladega: ‘Keep all four (tires) on the ground’

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — Kyle Larson relates to what Chase Elliott is going through with so many runner-up finishes while seeking his first career Cup win. Larson also knows what is likely in Elliott’s future.

“He will win,’’ Larson said after Elliott finished second last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “When he wins one, he is going to win a lot, similar to kind of what I did this year.’’

After scoring four runner-up finishes in his first 99 Cup starts, Larson won at Michigan in August 2016, triggering a run that has seen Larson become one of the sport’s dominant drivers. In the 41 starts since, Larson won four times, scored 10 runner-up finishes and had 19 top-five results.

Elliott already has six runner-up finishes in 71 career Cup starts, including three in the opening four playoff races. A win in the next two weeks would advance him to the Round of 8 and move him closer to his first Cup title.
“I certainly appreciate the kind words,’’ Elliott said of Larson’s comments. “We’ve been able to start the playoffs strong. It’s been refreshing to come to the track and have the kind of runs that we’ve been having and to come down pit road and have the stops that we’re having. We just have to make sure we carry that stuff forward. We have all the ingredients to do so.’’

Elliott said there’s not been one major change that has led to his team’s turnaround — he has not finished worse than 11th in the last six races — but notes that his cars and pit crew have improved and that’s played a key role.

“A big thing is coming down pit road and having some really good pit stops,’’ Elliott said during a break in testing Tuesday at Martinsville Speedway. “It’s hard to put a price tag on that. Our guys are doing their homework, they’re doing their jobs.

“When you can have your car balanced well … you’re going to get to a point where it is going to be harder and harder to pass guys. When you come down pit road and have solid pit stops, hopefully gain a spot or two here or there throughout a day, we’ve been able to stay in front of some of those guys that we jumped. That is really the kind of things you have to do to have success.’’

Elliott’s runner-up finish at Charlotte puts him 16 points ahead of the first car outside of a transfer spot to the next round, but Elliott is not conformable with that advantage heading into the unknown that is Talladega.

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

In May’s race at Talladega, Elliott was turned by AJ Allmendinger and got on his side down the backstretch while Allmendinger ended up sliding on his roof in a crash that damaged 18 of the 40 cars.

“You go cross your fingers,’’ Elliott said of Sunday’s race. “The stage points are very valuable, and I think everybody knows that. So everybody is going to want to go and get stage points. There’s also a price tag with wrecking that early in the race. Hopefully, we’re not in it and we can get out of there and just keep all four on the ground this time, I’d be happy.’’

As for Tuesday, Elliott was taking part in an organizational test at Martinsville Speedway. The test continues Wednesday. Other playoff drivers taking part in the test include Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. Also testing were Austin and Ty Dillon and Landon Cassill (Ford), Alex Bowman (Chevrolet) and Drew Herring (Toyota ).

“Just trying to find some consistency and what I’m doing behind the wheel and really some of the things I did here in the spring, I thought was my best race here,’’ said Elliott, who finished third in the spring race and had nine-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon at the test Tuesday helping him. “Trying to find that rhythm.’’

If he advances through this round, the Oct. 29 Cup race at Martinsville could be the one that helps him advance to the championship finale next month in Miami.

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The ‘Gray Ghost’ rides again for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in final Martinsville start

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive one of his old Nationwide Insurance paint schemes in his final Cup Series start at Martinsville Speedway.

Sort of.

Earnhardt announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon that a fan vote held by Nationwide had chosen his 2016 Southern 500 “Gray Ghost” paint scheme for the Oct. 29 race at Martinsville.

But due to a concussion that forced Earnhardt to miss the final 18 races of last season, Jeff Gordon wound up driving the car at Darlington Raceway.

The “Gray Ghost” scheme, a tribute to a car driven by Buddy Baker, beat out seven other old Nationwide paint schemes Earnhardt has actually driven.

“I wanted to make sure that all the fans that voted know I really appreciate it,” Earnhardt said in a Twitter video. “Yes, I was a little envious (of Gordon). It is a paint scheme I really, really like and I just never got a chance to run it. This goes out to all the fans for voting. I have only you to thank.”

Social Roundup: Sights from first Martinsville night race

Marty Snider
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The wait is over.

Night racing at Martinsville Speedway is now a reality.

After tests and practice sessions, the half-mile track in Virginia hosted the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and its qualifying races Saturday night for the NASCAR Late Model Series, which was won by Timothy Peters.

In attendance at the race were Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez, as well as NBCSN’s Marty Snider, who watched his son Myatt compete in the race.

Here’s a look at some of the sights and sounds from the historic night for NASCAR’s oldest track.

 

Kyle Larson to have new sponsor for Talladega, Martinsville races

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Chip Ganassi Racing announced Monday that First Data will sponsor the No. 42 Chevrolet of Kyle Larson for the upcoming fall NASCAR Cup playoff races at Talladega and Martinsville.

First Data is a leader in commerce-enabling technology and already serves as an associate sponsor on the No. 1 CGR Chevy of Larson’s teammate, Jamie McMurray.

Later this year, First Data kicks off a three-year run as entitlement sponsor for Martinsville’s fall NASCAR Cup playoff race. The first race date of that sponsorship will be the First Data 500 on October 29.

Larson is already locked into the playoffs and is third in the NASCAR Cup standings. Thus far in the first 24 races of the 2017 season, Larson has three wins and seven runner-up finishes.

“It’s great to see another new brand join our team,” Larson said in a media release. “It’s also cool to see them get involved with NASCAR by sponsoring the Martinsville race.

“The grandfather clock there (which Martinsville awards to every race winner) is definitely one of the most unique trophies on the circuit, and I’d love to park the First Data Chevy in victory lane and take home a clock.”

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