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.

Rain washes out Snowball Derby, rescheduled to Monday

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Rain has postponed the 52nd Snowball Derby Super Late Model race from Sunday to Monday at 5 p.m. ET/4 p.m. CT at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

Track officials tried several times to dry the track, only to be met with recurrences of rain.

Even with the rain issue, one bit of significant news was announced: the track is granting a special provisional exception and expanded the race day field from its normal 36-driver field to 37 drivers. The reason: veteran racer David Rogers was presented with the Derby Dedication Award for his 32 previous starts in the Snowball Derby.

Monday will make Roger’s 33rd career start in the annual pre-winter event, breaking a tie with legendary driver Red Farmer for most starts in the race.

Rogers has had a challenging year, having battled and then overcoming lymphoma. Monday’s rescheduled race will be the Florida resident’s first start behind the wheel since he was officially declared cancer-free.

“David’s Snowball Derby dedication has been unmatched in the history of this race,” Five Flags Speedway owner Tim Bryant said in a statement.  “We felt like being in this race served as real motivation for David in his battle with cancer this year, and we wish him the best of luck in today’s race.”

Also, driver Justin Bonnett, grandson of late NASCAR star Neil Bonnett, is recovering in a Mobile, Alabama hospital after undergoing surgery to repair a broken leg and treat burns to his face, hands and body. Bonnett was involved in a crash and subsequent fireball created by a fuel cell that broke away from a fellow competitor’s race car during Saturday night’s Snowflake 100 race at Five Flags Speedway.

 

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UPDATED: Neil Bonnett’s grandson seriously injured in fiery crash

Photo courtesy Justin Bonnett Racing official Facebook page
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The grandson of late NASCAR Cup star Neil Bonnett was seriously injured in a crash during Saturday night’s Snowflake 100 late model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

Justin Bonnett suffered a compound fracture of the fibula and tibula and burns to his hands, face and neck in a fiery wreck that prompted him to be transferred to a hospital in Mobile, Alabama, according to a post on his team’s Facebook page.

According to various media reports, Bonnett was running 26th on Lap 54 when he was unable to avoid and made contact with the spinning car of Jarrett Parker.

Driving the No. 12, the same number his late grandfather carried for much of his Cup career, the younger Bonnett’s car was engulfed in flames after the fuel tank on Parker’s car became dislodged and caught fire, spilling fuel and flames across the racetrack. Here is a video of the incident, courtesy of Joshua Nelms, who shot the video, and Sidedrafting Productions, which posted it.

Bonnett’s car came to a stop on the apron between turns three and four, where he was quickly pulled from his car by safety crews, who also extinguished the fire. The race was red-flagged for a lengthy period of time afterward.

According to media reports, the 26-year-old Bonnett was taken by ambulance to a local Pensacola hospital, where he was briefly treated before he was airlifted to a hospital in Mobile.

It was upon arrival at the Mobile hospital that it was determined Bonnett would undergo late night surgery, according to several posts on his Facebook page, written by his aunt and Neil’s daughter, Kristen Bonnett Ray.

Later Sunday morning, Bonnett’s aunt posted this update on his condition:

Justin Bonnett still lives in Hueytown, Ala., home of the famous “Alabama Gang,” of which his grandfather was part of, as well as Bobby and Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, Jimmy Means, the late Davey Allison, Hut Stricklin and David Bonnett, Justin’s father.

The Snowflake 100 was a preliminary race for Sunday’s main event, the 52nd annual Snowball Derby. The 300-lap race starts at 2 p.m. ET.

Here are several additional posts on Bonnett’s wreck from social media:

 

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10 coolest paint schemes from 2019

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With the year coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on what went down in 2019.

But this isn’t some serious retrospective on the events witnessed in NASCAR over the last 12 months.

Nope, we’re going to talk about paint schemes.

That’s it.

Without further ado, here are 10 of the coolest paint schemes that graced the track this year.

 

Corey LaJoie drives his Scooby-Doo car at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Corey LaJoie’s No. 32 Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine Ford

For the second year in a row, Go Fas Racing and sponsor CorvetteParts.net expressed their inner child for the Martinsville Cup race ahead of Halloween.

Following their “Peanuts” car in 2018, LaJoie’s car was transformed into the Mystery Machine from the Scooby-Doo cartoons.

It definitely echoes the Cartoon Network cars that competed in the 1990s and we don’t have a problem with that.

 

 

 

(Photo by Matthew Bolt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kurt Busch‘s No. 1 Star Nursery Chevrolet

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver didn’t wait until the Southern 500 to bring a throwback scheme to the track.

Busch had Star Nursery on his car for the spring race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A local Las Vegas sponsor, the company backed Busch when he won the 1999 Southwest Tour championship.

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

William Byron‘s No. 24 City Chevrolet … Chevrolet

Hendrick Motorsports dropped the hammer with Byron’s Southern 500 scheme, almost a direct copy of a car Cole Trickle drove in the movie Days of Thunder, which Hendrick Motorsports advised on the making of.

City Chevrolet is a real car dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina, that Rick Hendrick owns.

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Michael Annett‘s No. 1 Baby Ruth Chevrolet

JR Motorsports trotted out this tribute to Jeff Gordon’s 1992 Xfinity Series car at Darlington.

Having both the right number and the sponsor to complete the ensemble made it the MVP of the Xfinity Series’ portion of the throwback weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Alex Bowman‘s No. 88 Nationwide Patriotic Chevrolet

The Hendrick Motorsports driver arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway with this scheme for the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

Unlike the typical red, white and blue schemes for the Memorial Day race, Bowman’s had a more subtle approach and came away with a very slick look.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace‘s No. 43 Air Force P-40 Warhawk Chevrolet

Richard Petty Motorsports unleashed this scheme at the Bristol night race.

A tribute to World War II fighter planes, we can imagine being startled by seeing this car approaching in the rear-view mirror.

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Miller Lite Holiday Knitwear Ford

Sure, this paint scheme was raced in Arizona in the middle of November.

But we’re not going to fault the timing of this holiday-themed car.

While it would be easy call this an “ugly Christmas sweater” design, there’s nothing ugly about it.

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick‘s No. 4 Busch Beer Gen X Ford

The folks at Busch Beer proved it’s possible to have a sequel paint scheme … or would that be a prequel?

Harvick drove this Gen X-themed scheme at Pocono in July. Two months earlier, Harvick competed in the All-Star Race with a Millennial paint scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Ben Rhodes‘ No. 99 Havoline Ford

Rhodes and ThorSport Racing provided a blast from the past with this sponsor and scheme in the Truck Series.

Havoline made its return as a NASCAR sponsor for the first time since 2008. It was on Rhodes truck for eight races.

 

 

 

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Harvick Beer Ford

Using the excuse that it was tired of giving free promotion to Kyle and Kurt Busch, Busch Beer turned the No. 4 car into the “Harvick Beer” car for the playoff race at Dover International Speedway.

For anyone who has played a NASCAR video game or collected diecasts, it’s a reminder of the kid friendly cars that replaced beer names with the names of the driver.

 

 

What was your favorite paint scheme this season? Let us know in the comments.

Friday 5: Could Jimmie Johnson score Most Popular Driver award in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for some to expect that Chase Elliott’s second consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver award marks the early stages of a streak that could rival, if not top, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record run of 15 consecutive titles.

But that would be overlooking some challenges Elliott will face.

One could come from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who said 2020 will be his last full-time Cup season.

That gives him a final chance to win one of the few honors he’s never captured in his NASCAR career.

Johnson is the only seven-time champion not to win the Most Popular Driver award. Dale Earnhardt was awarded the honor posthumously in 2001. Richard Petty won it eight times, the last time in 1978.

If he couldn’t win an eighth championship, would there be a better sendoff for Johnson than to win the sport’s most popular driver award?

“There’s no award that Jimmie could or will ever win that he doesn’t deserve,” Elliott said Thursday night after the NASCAR Awards show at the Music City Center. “Whatever next year brings, I’m looking forward to spending it with him. It’s been an honor to be his teammate. If he gets the (most popular driver) honor next year, that’s great and I’ll be happy for him. There’s no doubt that he deserves it. You do what he’s done in this sport, my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Pulling for him. I’d love to see him get eight (championships). I’d also love to get one.

“Don’t write him off yet because I think he’s pretty fired up, and I could see him having a big year next year.”

Johnson had his fans early in his career but his success turned many off, who tired of the Californian winning so often.

Things changed before the 2016 championship race in Miami as Johnson prepared to go for his record-tying seventh title. He saw it as he went around the track in a pickup during driver intros.

“I usually get flipped off a lot,” Johnson said that day after winning his seventh title. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All the way around the race track everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Another key challenger for Elliott for Most Popular Driver is two-time champion Kyle Busch.

Yes, that is correct.

Busch finished second to Elliott in the voting for Most Popular Driver award this year.

It once seemed impossible that Busch would finish in the top five in any type of most popular driver voting, but his Rowdy Nation fan base continues to grow.

If not next year for Busch, there’s the chance his fan base could carry him to a Most Popular Driver award sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

2. Gut-wrenching pain

The most emotional moment of Thursday’s awards show came when Kyle Busch turned to wife Samantha to thank her for her support and also console her for the multiple failures this year in trying for a second child.

The couple went through in-vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in 2015. They used that experience to create the Bundle of Joy fund to provide money to infertile couples.

Samantha Busch announced in Nov. 2018 that she was pregnant with their second child only to suffer a miscarriage eight days later.

Busch’s voice quivered as he revealed on stage the pain he and his wife went through this year.

“I read quote recently that hit home for me,” Busch said to Samantha. “It said: “The strongest people are not those that show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others don’t know anything about. I’m right here with you knowing how hard it has been to go through multiple … yes multiple failed attempts of (in-vitro fertilization) this year.

“To walk around and try to face people week after week is difficult for me always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers and be able to give you a gift of our baby girl.”

Busch said he had talked briefly to his wife ahead of time about revealing their loss publicly.

“I think there was a lot of naysay and negative discussions about what my emotions where and who I was in the playoffs and things like that,” Busch said after Thursday’s ceremony. “Not everybody knows exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Focus on your own.”

Busch said he never felt the devastation from the miscarriages impacted his performance.

“There were certain times, maybe, in meetings and things like that that I wouldn’t say it affected but it obviously came across my mind,” he said. “As far as it comes to the race track, when I put my helmet on, I feel like I can zero that out and do a really good job of focusing what the task at hand is.”

 

3. Nashville momentum?

The fan reception in Nashville has those in the sport encouraged that this week can build momentum to have a race at Fairgrounds Speedway.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

But to do so, Caldwell and SMI officials will have to navigate through the city’s politics from the mayor’s office to the metro council and the fair board.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor John Cooper, who was sworn into office in late September. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of April 1 to announce the 2021 Cup schedule, it would seem highly unlikely that negotiations can be completed in time for the track to be added to the schedule by then. Caldwell declined to speculate on timing “because we’re still in some conversations with the city to figure that out because there are a lot of moving pieces.”

Chase Elliott hopes this week shows city leaders the value of what a NASCAR race at Fairgrounds Speedway could be.

“Hopefully this sparks something in the city that allows the right people to make the right moves to come and race up here,” Elliott said, “because this place is too perfect not to.”

 

4. New cars for Bubba Wallace

Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer for Richard Petty Motorsports, says the team plans to have some sponsorship news in January. With the additional funding, the team will add new cars to its fleet for Bubba Wallace.

Even with the upcoming news, Moffitt said the team will still have some races available for sponsorships for the upcoming season.

Moffitt has high hopes entering the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be better right out of the gate this year in 2020,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be right there with our partner (Richard Childress Racing) working with them a lot closer.”

Moffitt said the team anticipates having about half a dozen new cars by the first quarter of the season.

“We are going to have a lot newer equipment than we started (2019) with,” Moffitt said.

The challenge with that is that all the equipment will be outdated by the end of the season with the Next Gen car debuting in 2021.

“It’s still important in 2020,” Moffitt said. “We still have to perform for our partners. We want to be up there. It will help you prepare for 2021 coming out of the gate.”

Moffitt said the team also plans to add engineers and mechanics this season.

“We’re going to have some track engineers we haven’t had,” Moffitt said.

Wallace finished 28th in points last year, matching his finish in the points in 2018 as a rookie.

 

5. Pit road woes

Kurt Busch said a key area of improvement for his Chip Ganassi Racing team will be its performance on pit road. Busch said the team lost 120 spots on pit road.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got to try to break even. You’re supposed to have a plus on pit road as far as spots gained. That’s where you’re going to see Gibbs … all those guys at Gibbs gained spots on pit road. We can’t lose that many spots at Ganassi on pit road.”

Losing spots on pit road can be related to when a crew chief calls in the driver to pit road, how quickly the driver goes down pit road without speeding and how well the pit crew performs.

“It just seemed like one pit road penalty led to a bad restart, a bad restart led to now the pit crew has to pick it up and get those spots back,” Busch said.

He noted how his season mirrored another Chevrolet driver.

“Our season was real similar to Alex Bowman,” said Busch, whose one win last season came in July at Kentucky. “Alex Bowman won at Chicago (in June) and then they faded and they were right with us in points all the way through the playoffs.

“Some of it was team. Some of it was me overdriving. Some of it was pit crew mistakes. The Camaro was a bit behind that we saw now at the end of the year with all those Toyotas in the championship 4.”