NASCAR’s ‘Young Elvis’ is more comfortable with the mic at Michigan

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – He’s officially a Cup Series winner, but Chase Elliott is rebuffing attempts to be crowned as greatness yet.

Particularly as it relates to an Elvis Presley comparison that Dale Earnhardt Jr. made about his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate during his Dale Jr. Download podcast.

“I think he needs to retire from giving nicknames,” Elliott said with a laugh about being bestowed with the “Young Elvis” moniker by Earnhardt. “For some reason, he has always thought I looked like Elvis, and I really don’t know why. I know he has a little bit of an obsession with Elvis. He has an Elvis room in his house, which is kind of weird. I’ve been in that room before and you wake up and there is this Elvis man staring at you.”

While “The King” has left the building, Elliott’s reign in NASCAR’s premier series could be just beginning, especially considering he is locked into the playoffs earlier than he ever has been.

“I certainly can probably use a little more offense than what you would have if you weren’t locked in,” the No. 9 Chevrolet driver said. “I’ve been on the other end of the stick these past two years, and it’s such a nice feeling to come into these last few races and know that you’re locked into the deal.

“But I think more than that, playoff points are really important to get. And I think that’s our goal is to try to get as many of those as we can, whether it be winning stages or trying to put yourself in position to win. Obviously, you’re always trying to win. But those stage victories are big, and you can rack up those playoff points quickly. I know it’s only one per stage, but they add up. I think that’s our goal for these next few weeks to just try to get some more playoff points and kind of get to that next tier of guys in points with people you’re going to be racing against in the final 10.”

Elliott is on a streak of three consecutive races with stage wins (the only three stage victories for Hendrick this season), and his victory at Watkins Glen International showed how much he has improved on restarts.

Sunday could be another strong indicator. Elliott has finished second three times at Michigan International Speedway, and both times in 2016 he lost the lead on a late restart.

“I would like to think I could change the result for sure,” Elliott said about his improvement on restarts. “But until you are in those positions it’s hard to know. Some of it is circumstance, too. You could get a good restart and maybe not get a good push, and the guy next to you does get a good push and lose the lead that way. But I would like to think I would do a little better at it, but until you are in those spots you don’t really know.”

Elliott is on a streak of five consecutive top 10s at the 2-mile oval (his worst being a ninth in June) and will try to become the sixth Cup driver to win in his 100th start (the last being Carl Edwards at Michigan on June 17, 2007.

Beyond his history at the track, Elliott’s NASCAR history also suggests Sunday’s race at the 2-mile oval could be a good one.

After scoring his first Xfinity Series career victory April 4, 2014 at Texas Motor Speedway, Elliott won the following week at Darlington Raceway.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Elliott said when asked about history repeating in Cup. “This has been a pretty good track for us in general. That’s not to say this weekend will go good. I feel like we were better here my first two years than we were in the spring race this year, unfortunately.

“So, yeah, I don’t know. I hope this weekend goes good and I think this weekend will be kind of a gauge of where we stack-up for some of these race tracks that are coming up at Indy and Vegas and some of the 1.5-mile and 2-milers coming up. We didn’t stack up very well here in the spring race. I think we’ve gotten a little better at these style tracks since then, so hopefully. We’ll see.”

Preliminary entry lists for playoff races at Martinsville Speedway

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It’s time for the last short track races of the NASCAR season as the playoffs roll on at Martinsville Speedway.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series will be in action this weekend at the .526-mile track in Virginia.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the weekend.

Cup – First Data 500 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

There are 40 entries for the race.

Matt Kenseth is back in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford.

Hermie Sadler is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet for his first start of the year. Five of his last six Cup starts have been at Martinsville.

There is no driver listed for Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford.

Clint Bowyer won the March race at Martinsville. He beat Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Busch is the defending winner of this race. He beat Martin Truex Jr. and Bowyer.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Texas Roadhouse 200 (1 p.m. ET Saturday)

There are 35 entries for the race. Three trucks will not make the field.

Kyle Benjamin, Jeb Burton and Timothy Peters are entered in the race.

Harrison Burton is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

John Hunter Nemechek won the March Martinsville race over Benjamin and Brett Moffitt. Noah Gragson won this race last year over Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter.

Click here for the entry list.

Scott Graves to be Ryan Newman’s crew chief at Roush Fenway Racing

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Roush Fenway Racing confirmed Tuesday that Scott Graves will be Ryan Newman‘s crew chief next season on the No. 6 Cup team.

Graves had been the crew chief for Daniel Suarez this season until leaving Joe Gibbs Racing Oct. 9.

Graves joined Roush Fenway Racing as an engineer in 2006. He was a crew chief there from 2012-15. He did four races as an Xfinity crew chief in 2012, working with a variety of drivers. In 2013, he served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s crew chief for three Cup races late in the season. Graves was Stenhouse’s crew chief in Cup for the 2013 season. Graves returned to the Xfinity Series and was the crew chief for Chris Buescher in 2014-15. They won the championship in 2015.

Graves left Roush for Joe Gibbs Racing and was Suarez’s crew chief in Xfinity in 2016 when he won the championship. Graves started 2017 with JGR’s Xfintiy program before moving up to be Suarez’s Cup crew chief early in the season.

“We are very pleased to bring Scott back to the fold,” said team co-owner Jack Roush in a statement from the team. “Scott is an exceptional talent atop the pit box and he has done an outstanding job throughout his career – with multiple championship campaigns attesting to that.

“He brings a strong engineering background to the table and we are excited about the opportunity to pair him with Ryan Newman going into the 2019 season.”

Roush Fenway Racing announced Sept. 22 that Newman would join the team in 2019.

Matt Puccia is the crew chief on the No. 6 car this season. Roush Fenway Racing stated that details on Puccia’s role are being worked out.

 

 

Bump & Run: Martinsville hot dogs, looking ahead to Round 3

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What’s your career high of Martinsville hot dogs in a weekend?

Nate Ryan: Maybe one or two? It’s been roughly 18 years since I consumed one. My career high of turkey sandwiches from the Sheetz near the 58/220 intersection is about six, though.

Dustin Long: One. Not my thing.

Daniel McFadin: In my four visits I’ve never had more than two in a race day.

Dan Beaver: I’m ashamed to say only two.

What percentage do you put it that the Big 3 all advance to the championship race in Miami?

Nate Ryan: More than 80 percent. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch likely are safe on playoff points, and Martin Truex Jr. could either win at Texas or be consistent enough over the next three races to advance. The only scenario in which one of the trio won’t race for the championship involves two other playoff drivers winning in this round; Busch, Harvick and Truex will post the finishes to garner the necessary points.

Dustin Long: 95 percent. Forget recent struggles, they will be there in Miami racing for a championship.

Daniel McFadin: 60 percent. I think Martin Truex Jr. is going to be in danger once Phoenix rolls around. The 78 team has lost its fire over the last four races, despite finishing fifth in Kansas. Kyle Busch can be expected to be a threat in all three races and Harvick should be the man to beat at Texas and Phoenix, if he can keep from making mistakes.

Dan Beaver: 50 percent: One of the non-Big 3 will win a race in this round and that means Martin Truex Jr. is going to need to seriously improve his performance to advance.

What’s stood out to you so far with the Cup playoffs?

Nate Ryan: The emergence of Chase Elliott and the cohesiveness, the competitiveness of Stewart-Haas Racing and the lone win among Busch, Harvick and Truex. It’s difficult to pin down an overall narrative.

Dustin Long: There there have been no upsets or surprises so far in who has been eliminated. Even when Brad Keselowski won three in a row he was saying they needed more speed. They won by execution. Running out of fuel at Talladega hurt him and then they didn’t have the speed at Kansas to make up for all those lost points at Talladega. The strongest teams are left. 

Daniel McFadin: The late-race success of teams that didn’t dominate in the regular season. Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola each earned their first wins of the year in the playoffs and Chase Elliott earned wins No. 2 and 3. The competition has finally evened out, though some of that has been through help from late mistakes and cars running out of gas.

Dan Beaver: Chase Elliott with his pair of victories in Round 2. Along with his Watkins Glen win in August, he has won on three very distinct tracks.

What track in this round — Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix — do you think will have the most impact in the playoffs?

Nate Ryan: Phoenix because of the fresh layout and because the points scenarios always lend themselves to the Round of 8 cutoff race playing a major factor on the championship.

Dustin Long: Phoenix. Last chance to advance to Miami. Desperate times call for desperate actions.

Daniel McFadin: Martinsville. Teams will view it as the biggest equalizer in the round and with the possibility of a wild race, a non-playoff driver could win putting even more emphasis on the next two races for non-Big 3 drivers.

Dan Beaver: Every playoff driver will be trying to get off to a strong start at Martinsville and that will create some chaos.

NASCAR America: Will Martin Truex Jr. make the championship race?

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There are just three races left to decide who will compete for the Cup title.

On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton discussed Martin Truex Jr.‘s chances of getting a shot to repeat as champion.

Letarte believes Furniture Row Racing is hurt by the fact that it will close down at the end of the season.

“The way I look at it is there’s going to be four drivers that race for a championship in Miami and two heavyweights are already in,” said Letarte, referring to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. “I don’t think Martin Truex makes it. I just don’t. I think that they’ve done a great job of trying to protect their team from the news, but the simple fact is we are four weeks from a championship and we are four weeks from an entire shop of people losing their job. That’s fact. That’s life. That’s what they’re trying to deal with out there in Colorado.”

Burton believe’s “no one’s a lock” for the championship four but admits it would “take special circumstances” for Harvick and Busch to not make it. He also thinks Truex is in a better position to advance compared to those he’s fighting for the final two spots in Miami.

“Who is trying to take him out of the Big 3?” Burton asked. “I haven’t seen it from (Clint) Bowyer. (Aric) Almirola’s been running pretty well lately. But you’re going to have to be better than just run with him. He has more points than you have.”

Watch the above video for more. Below is the playoff standings entering Martinsville and the Round of 8.