Martin Truex Jr. loses Southern 500; clinches regular-season title

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — Steam rose from his car and sweat poured from Martin Truex Jr.’s face, while Denny Hamlin celebrated a Southern 500 victory Sunday night with a burnout.

It likely would have been Truex smoking his tires and saluting the crowd had his right front tire not blown while leading with two laps to go.

Instead, an exhausted and thirsty Truex — his drink container ran out with 100 laps to go and there was no chance during a green-flag pit stop for his crew to give him another bottle — had to settle for an eighth-place finish.

“It’s interesting, (crew chief Cole Pearn) said he wanted to wait two more laps to pit, and with two to go we blew a tire,’’ Truex said. “It’s crazy how those things work out sometimes. Sometimes it’s just not your night, you know. Tonight wasn’t our night.’’ 

Truex limped around the track for the final two circuits to record his sixth top-10 finish in the last eight races.

“I was so focused on trying to stay off the fence,” Truex said, leaning against his car. “The last 100 laps the groove in (Turns) 3 and 4 was so high, literally just scraping the right rear. I think I scraped it five or six times before I blew a right front and actually hit it. I did the best I could. Just come up short.’’

He took the lead on Lap 326 of the 367-lap race and seemed poised to score his second consecutive win in this event.  

It helped that his biggest challenger, Hamlin, missed pit road while leading on Lap 314. The one advantage Hamlin had despite the miscue was that he had fresher tires than Truex, who stopped on Lap 304. Still, Hamlin needed the race to go to the finish without a caution. The race went caution-free the final 100 laps.

The consolation for Truex was that he clinched the regular-season title, earning 15 playoff points. That goes with the two playoff points he earned for winning both stages.

With one race left until the playoffs start, Truex has earned 52 playoff points and could enter the postseason with at least a 20-point lead on his closest competitor. The advantage should help him advance to the second round and likely the third round.

“Bittersweet night,’’ Truex said. “Lot to be proud of. Clinching the regular season is really, really tough to do. To run at the level we have all season long and as consistent as we have, on pit road, on the race track, engines, just the whole nine yards, putting good setups under the race car for each and every race, just really proud for this team.’’

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Driver-to-Driver with Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve got a lot to prove still’

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Jimmie Johnson is in his 17th year of full-time Cup racing and is in the midst the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races.

But the seven-time champion’s competitive drive is as strong as ever.

Johnson sat down with NBC Sports’ Dale Jarrett to discuss his career at this point in the latest edition of Driver-to-Driver.

“I can honestly say I spend more time now than I did my rookie year focusing on my job,” Johnson said. “I think that the support I have from my wife (Chandra), my kids are 7 and 4, to have them watch me be passionate about something has another meaning I didn’t anticipate coming. I’m lovin’ what I’m doing. I wish the results were a little better than what we have right now, but the process of what I’m going through is really fun.”

Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is in a slump. The team is in the middle of the second longest winless streak in its history at 35 races.

Johnson admits it’s hard to know when the right time will be for him to retire.

“The thing I can pull out of it is, don’t pick a number, make sure that fire’s gone out and that fire hasn’t gone out,” Johnson said. “The other thing that’s weighing on me, I don’t want to go out not at my fullest potential and not on my terms. The last thought that’s going to run through my mind is to walk away or, ‘Oh, it’s not going right, time to stop.’ Uh uh. I know I still got it. I’m going to go down swinging. I’ve got a lot to prove still.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

New Hampshire Cup race underway after rain delay

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The Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is underway after a three hour and 24 minute rain delay.

The race had been scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. The green flag waved at 4:24 p.m. ET

Kurt Busch started from the pole and Martin Truex Jr. started second.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver rediscovers his magic here and locks into the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins back-to-back races for the first time in his career.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick earns a career-best sixth win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is getting into the same groove he had last year. This week he catches Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Next week, he starts to pull away,

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.