Martin Truex Jr. overcomes challenges to score top-10 finish

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team are not making their race for back-to-back championships easy these final weeks together.

For the second consecutive race, Truex had to start at the back of the field. While he came back to nearly win at Martinsville last week, Truex didn’t challenge for the win Sunday after a loose wheel and pit road penalty left him settling for a ninth-place finish.

“It’s been a tough season,” Truex said of what will be his final year with Furniture Row Racing, which will close after the season. “If things can go wrong, they do.”

Even with various challenges, Truex left Texas Motor Speedway in the final transfer spot to the championship race in Miami. He holds a 25-point lead on Kurt Busch, the first driver outside the cutoff.

That could be fine as long as Busch, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer or Ryan Blaney don’t win next weekend at Phoenix. If any of those four do, then Truex could be racing Kyle Busch for the final championship spot in Miami. Truex trails Kyle Busch by three points.

“Harvick or Kyle (Busch) winning is a perfect scenario – the guys that are ahead of you in points,” Truex said after Harvick’s win. “That was good. I feel okay about where we are. I think we need a little more speed to run with the Fords – they’re clearly really, really fast right now. If this is last year, they would all be complaining that we’re too fast so I don’t know if I should do a (Brad) Keselowski and start whining about it or not.

“They’re really fast and if we’re off just a little bit we can’t run with them. We were off a little bit today. On the short run, they were really fast, but on the long run I thought we were as good as anybody, but just never got to show it. Track position was so, so hard to get.”

Truex was running seventh when reported a loose wheel to crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex continued to run before the problem got worse and he came in to pit under green on Lap 248.

NASCAR penalized him for driving through more than three pit boxes.

“The sun was getting down and there were shadows everywhere and I just screwed up,” Truex said.

“Right when he did it, I said, well, we’re coming back (to pit road),” Pearn said.

Truex returned to pit road on Lap 250 to serve his pass-through penalty. He was two laps behind the leaders and running 26th after returning to the track. At that point, he led Kurt Busch by five points for the final transfer spot.

He got back on the lead lap when he got the free pass with the caution on Lap 298 and worked his way up to a top-10 finish. It marked the first time he’s finished between sixth and 10th this season. Before today, all 19 of his top-10 finishes had been top fives.

“I’m telling you, God is testing us,” Truex said of his day. “There’s no question. Had to start at the back, got to the front, hung around there for a while and then had a loose wheel there again. Just a tough day. Overall, a good day. Luckily we were able to get up front and get some stage points in the first two stages and then we had trouble, but we had it at least in time to recover.”

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

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The NASCAR season comes to a close today with the Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and defending champion Martin Truex Jr. will decide the title.

Whoever has the best finish, wins the championship.

Here’s all the info you need for the season finale.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Actor Josh Dallas of NBC’s “Manifest” will give the command to start engines at 3:11 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:30 p.m. Moment of silence for David Pearson at 3:03 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Sr. Master Sergeant Ryan Carson will perform the anthem at 3:05 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. with NASCAR America on NBCSN and switches to NBC at 1:30 p.m. Countdown to Green beings at 2 p.m. on NBC. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 82 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 51 laps to win the race and championship over Kyle Busch.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting grid.

Tony Stewart says JGR made ‘very smart decision’ on pit stall picks

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Tony Stewart, whose organization will compete against Joe Gibbs Racing for the Cup title Sunday, said he has no problems with JGR’s decision to have Denny Hamlin’s team not take the No. 1 pit stall so Kyle Busch, who is racing for the crown, can have it.

Hamlin’s team had the first pick of pit stalls after winning the pole but did not choose the No. 1 stall since that team is not running for a title. Busch, who starts second and whose team had the second pick, then took the No. 1 stall.

MORE: Denny Hamlin reacts to giving up the No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch

MORE: Cup pit stall assignments

“It’s a smart decision,” said Stewart, who will have Kevin Harvick racing for the Cup crown Sunday. “If we were in the same position, I would hope we would be smart enough to do the same thing. I’ve already seen all the drama and the people complaining either way.

“These four teams are here to win a championship and if your organization can help you do that and give you every tool available to get that done, you’re stupid to not do it.

“I’m behind what JGR did 100 percent. You have to do that. You have to put yourself in the best position to win the race and the championship. They made a very, very smart decision.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs defended his decision because Busch is running for a championship and Hamlin.

“We’re going to do everything we can to win the race there, but we also, for us, have a championship on the line and what we would love to do is win that championship,” Gibbs said. “That’s how the decision was made for us.

“I think if there is any criticism, it goes to me.”

Xfinity race results, final point standings after Miami

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Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity Series title with his win in Saturday’s season finale.

Reddick led 44 laps, including the final 37, on his way to his third career win.

Reddick beat Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, Daniel Hemric and Austin Cindric.

Christopher Bell finished 11th, a lap down after he pit with 10 laps to go for a flat tire.

Click here for Xfinity race results

Elliott Sadler ended his final full-time season fifth in the standings.

Click here for Xfinity points report

Tyler Reddick wins Xfinity race in Miami, championship

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Tyler Reddick won Saturday’s Xfinity race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim the Xfinity Series championship.

The win is the first for the JR Motorsports rookie since he won the season opener at Daytona.

Reddick led 44 of 200 laps and defeated Cole Custer (second), Daniel Hemric (fourth) and Christopher Bell (11th) for the title.

Custer led a race-high 95 laps but lost the lead in the final stage during green-flag pit stops after he stayed out a few laps longer than Reddick and Bell.

Reddick took the lead when he passed Bell out of Turn 4 with 37 laps to go. He spent nearly the entire final run driving against the outside wall.

“The year wasn’t the smoothest for us, but I knew coming in here if we just made it to Homestead, this is a great track for me,” Reddick told NBCSN. “It rewards my aggression. Tonight we hit the wall a lot, but the car kept in one piece long enough to get to the end.”

The race was Reddick’s last for JRM before moving to Richard Childress Racing for 2019.

Bell, who won a rookie record seven races this season, had to pit for a flat tire with 10 laps to go.

“We just weren’t good enough,” Bell told NBCSN. “Bottom line, I wasn’t fast enough. Once the tires started wearing away, those guys just drove right back by me.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Cole Custer

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

MORE: Race results, points report

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: With his title, Tyler Reddick also claimed the Rookie of the Year award over Christopher Bell.

OWNERS TITLE: Cole Custer’s second place finish earned Stewart-Haas Racing the owners championship.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: John Hunter Nemechek led 52 laps and finished third … Ryan Preece placed sixth in his last start for Joe Gibbs Racing … Ross Chastain placed 16th in his last start for JD Motorsports before moving to Chip Ganassi Racing full-time in next season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Elliott Sadler finished 14th, a lap off the lead in his final full-time start after he pit with 20 laps to go for a vibration … Caesar Bacarella placed 34th after he spun on the final lap of Stage 1.

NOTABLE: Tyler Reddick is the first driver to win the first and last race of the season in the Xfinity Series … All three of JR Motorsports’ Xfinity titles have come with the No. 9 car … Reddick joins Chase Elliott (2014) and William Byron (2017) as the third rookie to win the title … Reddick gave crew chief David Elenz his second consecutive Xfinity title after he won with Byron last year.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “We just stuck to our plan. I’m not honestly second-guessing it. Our lap times over the course of the race, we were as good as we were the whole race at the end of the race. (Tyler Reddick) found a lot of speed at the end.” – Crew chief Jeff Meendering to NBC Sports on the pit strategy to not stop immediately after Tyler Reddick made his final stop.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “I couldn’t do it. I don’t know, I think that’s just something I need to practice I guess. I’m at a loss for words for that.” Cole Custer to NBCSN on not being able to catch Tyler Reddick in the closing laps while running against the wall.

WHAT’S NEXT: The 2019 season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 16.