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Drivers ready to get dirty in tonight’s Eldora Dirt Derby Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway

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Whether they do well, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers are almost universal in their thoughts:

They love to play in the dirt of Eldora Speedway.

It’s a race unlike any other, on a track that’s also unlike any other in the 23-race Truck Series schedule.

This year’s Eldora Dirt Derby is the fifth at Eldora. Past winners have been Austin Dillon (2013), Darrell Wallace Jr. (2014), Christopher Bell (2015) and Kyle Larson (2016).

Several drivers recently spoke about what the race – and track – means to them. Here’s what they had to say:

John Hunter Nemechek:

What kind of track is Eldora to you?

Eldora is kind of an oddball compared to most racetracks we go to, but we’ve had speed there in the past couple of years. So we’re looking to go back with somewhat of the same setup.

“We just have to read the track when we get there, seeing what the track is wanting truck-wise and make sure we stay out of trouble. As long as we run a smart race and we’re able to finish all the laps, we’ll be one of the contenders at the end.”

Should the Trucks add a second race on dirt?

“I definitely think other series should try racing in the dirt just to get a feel of … what we’re doing, how we’re racing. It puts on one of the best shows each year.”

What’s the best way to get around Eldora?

“I mean, you see guys sliding around three-, four-wide, as long as they can manage to keep their trucks in one piece and not take out the whole field, I definitely think that going to Eldora, it’s really hard to prepare. And for a truck race there, just because the trucks are so much different than any dirt car, but I definitely think the dirt racers have a little bit of an advantage, just due to racing on dirt, knowing what the track conditions are, what the dirt looks like and what they need for setup-wise.

“And for asphalt racers, we don’t really know what we need. Luckily we have a couple guys on our team that have raced dirt in the past. They’re definitely going to be a huge help.”

Johnny Sauter:

Do you like racing at Eldora and on dirt?

“Eldora is a little bit different situation, especially for a guy like me that’s raced asphalt his whole life. I’ve been to a couple of dirt races throughout my lifetime, I guess. But I’ve always been an asphalt guy.

“So I have fun at Eldora. I think it’s a fun place. Obviously a good atmosphere. A lot of great race fans there. But for me it’s just a place where I just haven’t figured it out quite yet. I’ve had some decent runs there but for some reason got tore up towards the middle stages of the race.”

What is your mindset going there?

“I guess my mindset going there is just to have fun, first and foremost. But I think if we do everything right and if we can stay out of trouble, hopefully we’ll be in contention at the end of that thing.

“It’s sort of a survival state. But it’s also a place where if you have a win early in the season and you had some good runs going, it’s a place you can kind of just go and enjoy. And believe me, I’m a competitive guy, I’m a racer, and I want to go there and I want to run well. I just don’t exactly know how yet.”

Since you’re an asphalt guy, what’s your dirt gameplan?

“It’s going to put a bigger emphasis on trying to be a little bit more aggressive. I feel like I say this every week that I’m aggressive no matter what the situation is.

“But you know you might not be as apt to let a guy squeeze into a spot that you maybe normally would. So Eldora is going to be an aggressive race, there’s no doubt about it.”

Christopher Bell:

How much do you like racing at Eldora?

Eldora is my favorite racetrack in the whole world. Grew up running a lot of laps there. I think over my dirt career here, I’ve run more laps at Eldora than I have anywhere in the world.

“To go back to Eldora riding the momentum from our Kentucky win in the Truck Series is going to be exciting. I think I’ve got as good a shot as anybody to win the race and it’s one of my favorite races of the year, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

You have three wins, but you can also get closer to Johnny Sauter in the standings with a good run at Eldora.

“I feel like this is a very good place for me to catch up on Johnny because Johnny is not a dirt guy and I am. So hopefully we can close the gap a little bit and then add to our championship standings as well.”

Chase Briscoe:

This will be your first Truck race at Eldora. You’ve done a great deal of dirt track racing in sprint cars. What are your thoughts coming into Eldora?

“This is the one track I’ve been looking forward to more than any. It’s going to be nice to finally get to Eldora, I’ve been going there ever since I was little. Never got to actually race there.

“Eldora for a dirt guy is Daytona and Indianapolis. Definitely going to be an honor to run there finally.”

Talk more about your dirt background

“My whole dirt background has been 410 non-winged sprint cars and a couple midget races here and there. But just having dirt experience in anything is certainly going to help, I think, just because you know what the track is doing, you can tell just by reading it and you just know that feel that you need on dirt as far as side bite and forward bite goes.

“Just having a sprint car background, obviously the truck’s going to be a lot slower than the sprint car and that always helps when you feel like you’re in slowing motion. It’s going to be a great race.”

What drivers are you focusing on?

“Obviously, (Christopher) Bell is going to be one to beat. Rico (Abreu) going to be good. Bobby Pierce and guys like Chris Wyndham, who is a really good USAC sprint car driver, I think there’s going to be a couple guys that surprise you.”

Would you like to see a second Truck race on dirt?

“I’d be all for it. I think obviously for me and Christopher both, I think we don’t have near as much pavement experience as most of the guys. It’s nice to go to a racetrack where we have an advantage.

“If we could do (a second dirt race) in the playoffs, I certainly think it would be awesome. But there’s a lot of tracks I think that could host it. Obviously Knoxville (Iowa) would be one, I think, just from a seating standpoint and the track size standpoint would be good.

“And I think you could even go all the way to Charlotte Motor Speedway with it being out there real close.”

Eldora Dirt Derby schedule (all times ET):

TODAY

1 p.m. — Garage opens

4:30 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

5:15 p.m. — Qualifying, single vehicle/two laps (Fox Sports 1)

7:30 p.m. — First qualifying race, 10 laps (Fox Sports 2, Motor Racing Network)

7:39 p.m. — Second qualifying race, 10 laps (FS2, MRN)

7:48 p.m. — Third qualifying race, 10 laps (FS2, MRN)

7:57 p.m. — Fourth qualifying race, 10 laps (FS2, MRN)

8:06 p.m. — Fifth qualifying race, 10 laps (FS2, MRN)

8:45 p.m. — Last Chance qualifying race, 15 laps (FS2, MRN)

9:10 p.m. — Driver introductions

9:30 p.m. — Eldora Dirt Derby 150 — three segments of 40, 50 and 60 laps for a total of 150 laps/75 miles (Fox Business, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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Martin Truex Jr: ‘I still pinch myself’ three years into dominance with Furniture Row

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As Martin Truex Jr. stood in the back of a truck riding around Kentucky Speedway before last Saturday’s Cup race, a fan called out to the 2017 champion.

“Let somebody else win!” he yelled.

After a beat, Truex responded with a chuckle, “No!”

Truex stayed true to his word. A few hours later, the Furniture Row Racing driver took the checkered flag to claim his fourth win of the season.

His triumph over Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski took his career win total to 19 – tying him on the all-time wins list with Joey Logano, 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Davey Allison, Greg Biffle, Hall of Famer Buddy Baker and Fonty Flock.

The victory is the 17th for the No. 78 team since 2015. Truex leads all drivers in wins since 2016 with 16.

For a driver who only won twice in his first nine full-time seasons, Truex said “I still pinch myself” over his dominance of the sport.

He doesn’t lead the series in wins after 19 races. That goes to Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, who are tied at five wins each.

This marks the first time since 1974 that three drivers have won four or more races at this point in a season.

“I think all three of us have great teams,” Truex said after his win. “Those two guys are great drivers. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for them. It’s pretty amazing to be a part of this group, honestly. I think when I was a kid and you (saw) Dale (Earnhardt) and Rusty (Wallace) and guys like that, Terry Labonte and you had guys that just dominated and won everything, and watching them, it was like, ‘Man, that’s so cool, they’re heroes and they’re such a big deal,’ and to think that I’m one of those guys this year and I guess last year, too, is just ‑‑ it’s amazing to me.”

Even after he won his first Cup title last November, it didn’t occur to him until almost a month later that he will one day be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame alongside Earnhardt, Wallace and Labonte.

Truex joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 after losing his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing, a casualty of the race manipulation scandal involving MWR in the 2013 regular season finale at Richmond Raceway.

That year, Truex went winless, led one lap and finished 24th in the standings.

The following season Truex was paired with rookie crew chief Cole Pearn. The duo won one race, earned eight top fives and made the Championship 4.

In their 126 races together, the duo has put together a record comparable to other great driver-crew chief parings in Cup history.

“Really the last three years have been just having the time of my life and just lucky to have great people around us, a great car owner (Barney Visser),” Truex said. “Just feel really lucky.  I’ve been on the other side of it before where teams were struggling and struggled to get in position to win races, and having a lot of things kind of going against you and kind of fighting that uphill battle.

“So it’s amazing to be on this side of it. I can’t tell you how proud I am of all the guys on our team and what they’ve done, and I honestly just enjoy every single one of these wins like it’s my first because you never know when they’re going to come to an end.  You never know when you’re going to have your last one. You never know what’s going to happen next. Just trying to ride the wave of momentum and enjoy it all, and my team is just so badass, I can’t even explain it.”

Truex, 38, “always felt” he “could get the job done” during the early years of his Cup career, spent with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and then MWR.

“I had enough glimpses of really good days or glimpses of greatness that I think it just kept me alive, kept me hungry enough to keep fighting for it,” said Truex, who won two Xfinity championships before moving to Cup. “I think through the years there was just ‑‑ for me personally, and I don’t know what everybody else thought, I know I had some people that probably didn’t think I was that good.

“That’s part of this deal.  You’re only as good as your last race. And if you’re not getting results now, people question your ability.  … For me personally, I always (felt) like I could be a good driver, be a great driver.  I never knew I’d get to where I was last year, and I never really knew I could go on a championship run and win (16) races in three years … That’s been amazing.”

 

39 Trucks on preliminary entry list for Eldora race

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There are 39 entries for Wednesday night’s Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.

Ryan Newman and Ty Dillon are the only Cup competitors entered. Newman will drive Jordan Anderson’s No. 3 truck. Dillon will drive for Young’s Motorsports.

Among the drivers entered is 63-year-old John Provenzano, a dirt specialist who will be making his Truck debut. He’ll drive for Mike Affarano Motorsports. USAC National Midgets points leader Logan Seavey will make his Truck debut in a ride with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Dirt modified driver Kyle Strickler will make his Truck debut, driving for MB Motorsports. Dirt modified racer RJ Otto will drive the No. 97 for JJL Motorsports and make his series debut.

The No. 46 truck has been withdrawn.

Matt Crafton won last year’s race. Stewart Friesen was second and Chase Briscoe was third. All three are entered. Briscoe, who has been running in the Xfinity Series, returns to drive the No. 27 for ThorSport Racing.

Click here for preliminary entry list

Race for final Cup playoff spot tightens at Kentucky

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SPARTA, Kentucky — Paul Menard’s 11th-place finish might be easy to overlook but it was one of the noteworthy performances Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Menard’s finish — along with Alex Bowman placing last — allowed Menard to gain 32 points on Bowman in the race for the final playoff spot.

“We are right in the thick of the points stuff, so we can’t afford this,” Bowman said after his crash that left him with a 39th-place finish. “This will hurt us quite a bit.”

The result hurt him but maybe not as much as he feared.

Bowman has 427 points. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is next at 418 and Menard has 404.

With seven winners this season and seven races left, at least two of the 16 playoff spots will be determined by points.

If the current domination by Kentucky winner Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch continues, there could be a record number of drivers who make the playoffs by points. The most who made the playoffs via points was five in 2015. That seems likely to fall.

While Menard made up many points on Bowman, it still didn’t make up for all the ground Menard lost to Bowman the previous three races. Bowman finished in the top 10 at Sonoma, Chicagoland and Daytona and gained 51 more points than Menard in those races.

Stenhouse gained 10 points on Bowman at Kentucky. Stenhouse had contact with Jamie McMurary’s car that led to a tire rub and forced Stenhouse to pit on Lap 23 and then again on Lap 27 under green. Stenhouse fell three laps down. He gained two laps back and finished 26th on what could have been a bigger night for him with Bowman’s misfortune.

“I’m not really sure what happened, but the No. 1 got into us, which cut our left rear tire,” Stenhouse said. “We were able to cut our deficit in the point standings. We will focus on the next seven weekends and getting the No. 17 team in the playoffs.”

While Stenhouse gained 10 points on Bowman at Kentucky, it didn’t overcome what he had lost the three previous races to the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Bowman had scored 15 more points during that stretch.

With Bowman having problems, it created an opening for drivers further back but Richard Childress Racing teammates managed to make only modest gains.

Newman gained 15 points on Bowman and is 79 points back. Dillon gained 14 points on Bowman and is 65 points back. Both Dillon and Newman had vibrations early in the race and that forced them to pit in the first 31 laps under green. Newman was later penalized for removing equipment from the pit stall.

“We definitely improved our qualifying effort, but ultimately it comes down to where we finished and we still have some work to do,” Newman said. “Our car wasn’t that bad, but getting track position after that first run and a pit road penalty were too tough to overcome.”

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Long: Martin Truex Jr.’s dominant win doesn’t discourage competition

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SPARTA, Kentucky — On a night when Martin Truex Jr. exerted his dominance, led nearly two-thirds of the laps, won both stages and then the race, his competitors left Kentucky Speedway with …

Hope.

Even crew chief Cole Pearn’s eyes bulged at the notion.

Truex’s third victory in the past six events should be a sign that his Furniture Row Racing team is primed to repeat last year’s surge when it won six of the final 19 races on the way to winning the championship.

Truex, who started from the pole Saturday, called the weekend his team’s most complete of the season. About the only thing that didn’t go as plan was when Truex needed to jump from his car as it rolled down the frontstretch banking, shortening his victory celebration in front of the fans.

That Truex had such a dominant performance throughout the weekend should be scary to every team that does not employ Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick.

Yet runner-up Ryan Blaney, while disappointed he didn’t win, could be upbeat about his team’s run. So was teammate Brad Keselowski. And Kyle Larson, who has been one of the toughest foes to the triumvirate of Truex, Busch and Harvick, also could walk away with some good feelings despite a ninth-place finish.

It would be easy to suggest that they’re merely fooling themselves. Truex, Harvick and Busch finished 1-2-3 in the first stage. Truex won the second stage with Busch second and Harvick fourth. Truex’s victory marked the 13th consecutive race either he, Busch or Harvick have won at a 1.5-mile track.

In a sport where the rules are meant to keep the field close, Truex, Harvick and Busch have separated themselves from everyone else.

But Blaney sees the gap closing.

I wouldn’t say we’re frustrated or defeated,” he said. “I mean, I might be a little down just because I wanted to win the race, but you go back and you realize that you’ve made gains and you’ve just got to keep making those.”

Keselowski, who finished third, interjected: “We can see the end of the tunnel, and we’re just 20 yards away. It’s just a matter of getting there, not taking a step back and taking a step forward.”

Of course, those final steps are the most difficult.

Keselowski is heartened based on how far his team has come.

“We’ve been right in that fifth‑ to six‑place range, but I feel like when they drop the green, the leaders just drive away from us, and this week, at least at the start of the race, we were able to run with Martin,” Keselowski said. “ As the race progressed we couldn’t stay with him, but all in all, that’s still as fast as we’ve been on a mile‑and‑a‑half this year, and that’s something commendable for my team.”

The closer one believes they are to the leaders, the more hope grows.

Larson was encouraged that he passed Truex for second with about 90 laps to go before his trackbar failed and his handling went away.

“I felt like I was better than (Harvick),” Larson said of the fifth-place finisher. “I passed (Busch, who placed fourth) a couple of times, passed (Truex) there before that second to last run. I passed him and kind of drove away from him for a few laps until right when our trackbar broke. Like I said, it’s hard to say if I would have had a shot to win. You never know how these races will play out, but I would have loved to have had a shot.”

Larson’s crew chief, Chad Johnston, was buoyed by his driver’s run until the mechanical issue.

“Those guys are fast, so we’ve just got to keep working hard and try to figure out how to get faster and get faster twice as fast as they do because they’re not stopping,” Johnston told NBC Sports. “But I feel like we’ve closed that gap throughout the year.”

The progress these teams have made has gained the attention of Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers.

Harvick won five of the first 12 races but has seen his advantage slip. He finished fourth at Pocono last month but placed behind Truex, Larson and Busch. Harvick was second to Truex at Sonoma and third to Busch and Larson at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago.

Childers told NBC Sports that he’s been “trying to be as safe as we can” with the car since the team was docked 20 points and all seven playoff points for its stage wins and race victory at Las Vegas in March. NASCAR penalized the team because the rear window did not remain rigid throughout that race.

“We don’t need any stupid things happening during the races or points taken away or anything,” Childers said.

While he said he felt Harvick was faster than Truex most of Saturday night at Kentucky — the key difference was track position — Childers acknowledged that he might have to adjust his thinking on the car’s setup in the coming weeks.

“I feel like the Toyotas and the Gibbs cars have learned a lot and made their cars better,” Childers said. “Obviously, (Larson) is making his a little bit better. The Penske cars, they’re slowly making progress and trying to catch up to where we’ve been.

“The thing I see with (Optical Scanning Station) though is you’re locked. We knew how to build stuff that we could at the end of the year and it seemed like nobody else did. Now we’re in a position where we’re not really making much for gains and they’re probably making a little bit bigger gains. Like I said, we’re trying to be safe too and not do anything stupid. We might have to ramp it back up.”

If not, others might pass his car. There’s a group that believes they’re coming.

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