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Chase Elliott: Returning to the No. 9 is ‘getting back home to me’

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For Chase Elliott, the number on the side of his Cup car is a big deal.

But it’s still just a number.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver will once again compete under the banner of the No. 9. It’s the numeral his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, raced with for much of his Cup career and which Chase Elliott competed with for two years in the Xfinity Series, winning the 2014 title.

Chase Elliott returns to the number after two seasons in Cup driving the No. 24 made famous by Jeff Gordon.

Chase Elliott during the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. (Chevrolet)

But the 22-year-old driver has no illusions about his car number leading to more success, including his elusive first Cup win.

“At the end of the day is it going to make me go any faster?  No, probably not,” Elliott said Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. “Do I think it looks better?  Yes, I do. Is it my favorite number? Yes, it is.  Has it always been my favorite number? Yes, it has been. So, all those things are great. I’m very lucky and honored to carry the number that I’ve carried for a number of years before this year, so it’s like getting back home to me from that sense.

“But no, I don’t think it’s going to make me go any faster or slower.  I wish it did make us go faster.  I would love that, but unfortunately numbers don’t.”

The native of Dawsonville, Georgia, will make his 78th Cup start with the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. Even though he made it to the third round of the Cup playoffs last season, it was despite not earning a win. He came close twice in the playoffs, at Dover and Martinsville.

At Dover, he was passed by Kyle Busch for the lead coming to the white flag. Martinsville was the site of the now infamous run-in with Denny Hamlin, who hit Elliott and sent him into the wall as he led with two laps to go in the scheduled distance.

It led to a heated confrontation between the drivers.

Elliott got a bit of revenge two races later at Phoenix, when an aggressive battle saw Elliott force Hamlin into the outside wall, which resulted in a cut tire for Hamlin and an impact with the wall.

How will Elliott choose his battles in the looming season? He reiterated his mantra from last season that he’ll “race guys as they race me.”

“I mean I think it’s circumstantial,” Elliott said. “I think in life in general you can’t let people run over you and let them get away with it otherwise they are just going to keep doing it. I think that is just a part of life.  If you let somebody control you too much they are probably going to take advantage of you as it goes on. That happens in work places every day.  It happens in racing, I’m sure it happens in football, baseball, basketball, the whole deal.

” … I want to beat people the right way because I think at the end of the day racing people the right way and doing it with respect is probably going to make them more mad than it would if you did something dirty to get by them.”

With the retirement of former teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliott is now in the position of possibly being voted NASCAR’s most popular driver. Whoever gets the nod, they’ll be first new driver to win the recognition since Earnhardt began his 15-year stretch in 2003.

Entering his third full-time Cup season, Elliott said he’s not planning on changing who he is for the sake of others, especially when it comes to his social media presence.

“I’m not as active as a lot of people are on Twitter,” said Elliott, who has the eighth-most followers among Cup drivers on Twitter. “I think that is just because that is the way my personality is. I’m not going to jump out of the box of my personality to appease other people, never have been that way and I’m not going to be that way.  I have been very lucky to have had some great supporters over the past couple of years. … Look, I want people to if they want to pull for me or like me … because of who I am and the person I am and the way I carry myself.  If I’m not the right guy for somebody, then hey, there are 39 other people to choose from and I think that is your choice, so I will respect it either way.”

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Saturday schedule for Cup at Sonoma, Trucks at Gateway

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Cup cars are only on the track for qualifying today at Sonoma Raceway, and Camping Work Truck teams will qualify and race at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Johnny Sauter has won three of the last five Truck races. Brett Moffitt won last weekend’s Truck race at Iowa.

Here’s today’s schedule at both tracks:

(ALL TIMES ARE EASTERN)

At SONOMA RACEWAY

10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. — Cup garage open

2:45 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-vehicle/two rounds (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

4:30 p.m. — K&N Pro Series West race; 64 laps, 127.36 miles (airs at 6 p.m. ET June 28 on NBCSN)

At GATEWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK

11 a.m. — Truck garage opens

Noon – 1 p.m. — Final Truck practice (No TV)

5:45 p.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (airs from 7-8 p.m. on FS1)

7 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. — Driver introductions

8:30 p.m. — Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200; 160 laps/200 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Kurt Busch fastest in final Cup practice at Sonoma

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Kurt Busch posted the fastest single lap in the final practice for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway with a speed of 94.061 mph.

He beat second-place Denny Hamlin (94.012 mph) by .040 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (93.718) had the third fastest lap, but the team will have some work to do before Saturday’s qualification. With nine minutes remaining on the clock, he ran into the back of Bubba Wallace in the esses and did significant damage to his nose. Wallace landed 34th on the chart with a speed of 91.641 mph.

Jamie McMurray (93.549) and Kevin Harvick (93.441) rounded out the top five.

Harvick (91.468) had the quickest 10-lap average – leading a sweep of the top three by Stewart Haas Racing. Busch was second quickest at 91.452 mph with Clint Bowyer third quick at 91.443 mph.

William Byron broke an axle seal in final practice, but the team was able to get him back on track with 24 minutes remaining in the session. His speed of 92.279 mph was 25th fastest.

Click here for the full report from final practice.

Friday Truck Series practice report from Gateway

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Second practice

Last week’s winner, Brett Moffitt topped the speed chart in Friday evening’s practice session for the Eaton 200 with a speed of 137.191 mph.

He beat second-place Myatt Snider (136.658 mph) by .128 seconds.

Johnny Sauter (136.608), Riley Herbst (136.355), and Ben Rhodes (136.219) round out the top five.

Herbst is making his Truck Series debut this week.

Also making his Truck debut is Zane Smith, who posted a lap of 136.120 mph to land sixth on the chart.

Christian Eckes (135.906) failed to back up his series-leading speed from the first practice session and was only ninth fastest, but he had the quickest 10-lap average of 135.039 mph.

Click here for complete results from practice 2.

First practice

Rain canceled the practice session at Gateway that was scheduled to run from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. Eastern time.

When they finally got on track, Eckes posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session with a speed of 134.360 mph. He is making his Truck series debut this week.

Eckes’ speed was .009 seconds faster than Noah Gragon (134.324), who landed second on the speed chart.

Rhodes (134.120), Moffitt (133.817) and Matt Crafton (133.706) rounded out the top five.

Rhodes had the quickest 10-lap average of 133.466 mph.

With the first practice canceled at Gateway, NASCAR added a final practice session scheduled for Noon – 1 p.m.

Click here for complete results from practice one.

Denny Hamlin offers advice on how to deal with critics on social media

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Denny Hamlin, who has been fined by NASCAR for comments on Twitter, and was vocal toward critics after this year’s Daytona 500, says he’s found peace on how to deal with those on social media who don’t agree with him.

“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people, and you all should do the same,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’m making a (request) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people who make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers. Don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by, talk about the positives and I’m not a positive person.”

Asked how does one ignore such divisive comments, Hamlin said: “You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exit. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.’’

Hamlin has been better at doing so since the Daytona 500. He faced negative reaction on social media to the contact he and Bubba Wallace had at the end of the Daytona 500.

They engaged in a brief shouting match in the garage area after Hamlin learned that Wallace had taken a dig at him on national TV about a recent comment about drivers using Adderall.

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