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Martin Truex Jr. approaching All-Star Race with new attitude

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Martin Truex Jr. is treating the 2018 All-Star Race differently than ever before. That is because the race has never had fewer long-term implications, which frees the driver to race as hard as possible and take any gambles necessary to win the $1 million prize.

Truex qualifies for the exhibition race on three different criteria: by winning races in 2017 (eight of them), earlier this year (at Auto Club Speedway), and as the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points champion.

He will make his eighth career appearance and third consecutive start Saturday night.

A new rules package – which includes restrictor plates – will be tested in the event and will not be used when the Cup series returns for the Coca-Cola 600. That means any lessons learned will not be applicable until this set of rules is used again in the future – if that even happens.

“Since this year’s All-Star Race won’t offer much help for the Coca-Cola 600 due to the rules package, the only goal is to win it,” said Truex in a press release. “It’s an all or nothing race. It’s not about points, it’s not about anything else. It’s just about going for the million bucks.”

In this week’s Bump & Run, one of the topics of conversation centered on what to look for in the All-Star Race. Truex has added his own take on what fans should be watching – flat out competition in a race with no penalty for stepping over the line.

For Truex, that opens up an opportunity he has not had in recent years. Truex has struggled recently in the exhibition race with a 12th-place finish last year and a 14th in 2016. He has never won but came close in 2010. He advanced to the All-Star Race as the winner of the Sprint Showdown before finishing second to Kurt Busch in the main event.

“We really haven’t been too good in that race the past couple of years,” Truex said. “Hopefully, this time it will be different in our 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry. A lot of different rules and new things to figure out. It should be an interesting and fun weekend.”

Whether Truex comes out victorious Saturday night, he will have a big day ahead of him on Monday.

Truex and members of Furniture Row Racing will travel to Washington, D.C., for an afternoon visit to the White House. There they will be honored by President Donald Trump for his 2017 series championship.

The ceremony will be held on the South Lawn of the White House at 2 p.m. ET.

Cup starting lineup at New Hampshire has Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch on front row

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Rivals Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch will share the front row for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Keselowski won his 15th career pole – and first since August 2017 – on Friday. He will have Busch start next to him.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The rivals have had numerous run-ins throughout the their career.

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, qualified third and is followed by Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Three drivers will start at the rear: Denny Hamlin (backup), Alex Bowman (backup) and Ryan Newman (backup).

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at New Hampshire

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Brad Keselowski scored his first Cup pole since 2017, taking the top spot Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski topped the field with a lap of 136.384 mph. This is Keselowski’s 15th career Cup pole and first since Michigan in August 2017, a span of 68 races.

Keselowski’s run denied Toyota its first pole of the season. Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (136.311 mph).

MORE: Cup qualifying results

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, will start third after a lap of 136.238 mph. Erik Jones qualified fourth with a lap of 136.189 mph.

Jones’ performance is part of a promising week for him. He stated Friday that he is “close” to signing an extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones’ contract expires after this season.

Ryan Blaney completed the top five with a lap of 136.116 mph. Martin Truex Jr. qualified sixth at 136.082 mph, and Matt DiBenedetto qualified a career-best seventh at 135.990 mph. DiBenedetto’s previous best Cup start was ninth in this year’s Daytona 500.

Alex Bowman had a driveshaft failure on his qualifying run and did not complete a lap. He will start at the rear of the field.

“Just a big boom going down the front straightaway and smoke and oil everywhere,” Bowman told NBCSN.

Bowman will go to a backup car.

Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman also will start at the rear of the field because they both went to backup cars after separate incidents late in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

Andy Seuss (qualified 35th) and Austin Theriault (36th) both will be making their Cup debut Sunday.

Daniel Hemric qualified 19th. HIs car failed inspection twice before qualifying and a crew member was ejected.

 

Erik Jones ‘close’ to re-signing after meeting with Joe Gibbs this week

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LOUDON, N.H. – After meeting with team owner Joe Gibbs this week, Erik Jones believes he finally is “close” to signing an extension with the team after a few months of negotiations.

“We’ve had some good meetings, positive meetings, so we’re moving in the right direction,” Jones said during Friday afternoon’s qualifying session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I’d love to get it done here soon. We’ve had good meetings between my guys and JGR. I’ve had good meetings with Coach talking about it and moving forward. I know I keep saying it, but I feel like we’re pretty close to getting it done.”

The uncertainty for the 2020 season seemingly has been no distraction in 2019 for Jones, who believes he is close to ending a yearlong winless streak. He has notched six top 10s in the past nine races to move into the 16th and final provisional spot for the playoffs with seven races remaining in the regular season.

The Byron, Michigan, native said he told Gibbs “I want to get (the extension) done. We both want to get it done and move forward and stop worrying about it and stop focusing on it, but we’re close. Hopefully here soon.”

An extension for Jones would mean JGR has a full lineup of four drivers signed for 2020 and shift the focus to what is next for Xfinity driver Christopher Bell, who is under contract to JGR next season.

“I think you know as much as I do,” Bell said Friday morning when asked about what series he will race next year. “Actually, you probably know a little bit more than I do. Ultimately, it’s not up to me. I can’t make the decisions, so I’m just along for the ride.”

Bell indicated his desire to move to Cup last season, and a Leavine Family Racing Toyota could be an option if JGR wants to farm him out for 2020 in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I learned early on in my career that a race car driver is only as good as the equipment,” Bell said. “I definitely want to make sure that I’m in equipment that can win.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt releases his remaining races for 2019

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Jeffrey Earnhardt announced his schedule for the rest of the season Friday.

He is scheduled to run six Xfinity races and one Cup race the rest of this season.

His Xfinity races will be Mid-Ohio (Aug. 10), Bristol (Aug. 16), Road America (Aug. 24), Darlington (Aug. 31), ISM Raceway (Nov. 9) and Miami (Nov. 16). He’ll drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity car at Mid-Ohio, Road America, ISM Raceway and Miami. He’ll drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing car at Bristol and Darlington.

He’ll also drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing Cup car at Talladega on Oct. 13.