ford ecoboost 400

David Ragan, Paul Menard end full-time Cup careers in quiet fashion

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While most of the NASCAR world’s attention Sunday evening was focused on which of the Cup Series’ Championship 4 drivers would leave Miami with the title, the full-time Cup careers of two drivers quietly came to an end.

David Ragan and Paul Menard drove into sunset, ending full-time careers that each began in 2007.

After being recognized by NASCAR President Steve Phelps in the drivers meeting, Ragan’s 470th Cup start ended with a 27th-place finish, while Menard’s 471st start ended with a 17th-place run.

While Menard finished one lap down, Ragan’s night ended with him four laps off the lead pace.

“Our last race was really uneventful,” Ragan said afterward. “We tried some strategy a few times and it kind of bit us. We probably lost a lap or two that we shouldn’t have, but we were being aggressive because we didn’t really have anything to lose. I can’t say enough about everybody at Front Row Motorsports and the NASCAR industry for making this last weekend special. It was a tough season. I wish we had some better results to show for it, but the last season won’t dictate my 13-year career. We’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of good memories and don’t regret anything that we’ve done. I’ll sleep good tonight and think a little bit over the offseason on what I want to do next year and I’m sure I’ll be around.”

To top off the occasion, soon after he exited his No. 38 Ford for the last time, Ragan swapped out his racing helmet for another form of head gear that properly conveyed his new job description, or lack thereof: a dark blue hat with the word “retired” emblazoned on it.

As for Menard, no quotes were available from the typically quiet driver after the race.

But not long before the start of Sunday’s race, the Wood Brothers Racing Twitter account produced a lengthy tweet storm thanking Menard and his family for their contributions to NASCAR and auto racing in general over the years.

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Daniel Hemric claims Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors

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On his way out the door, Daniel Hemric gave Richard Childress Racing a parting gift.

Hemric closed out the 2019 Cup Series season – and his three-year tenure with the team – by winning Cup Rookie of the Year honors.

The 28-year-old driver finished 12th Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway and ended his rookie year 25th in the point standings. That was one spot ahead of Ryan Preece, who finished 27 points behind him.

The other major rookie, Matt Tifft, ended the year 31st in the standings, but missed the last three races following a seizure at Martinsville Speedway last month.

Hemric’s finish in Sunday’s race was his best since he also placed 12th in the Bristol night race in August. He finished the season with one top five (fifth in spring race at Talladega) and one other top 10 (seventh in July race at Pocono). He also earned a pole at Kansas.

“It’s pretty special to say the least,” Hemric said. “I wish we were able to win Rookie of the Year and have a couple more solid finishes throughout the year than what we had, but about five or six weeks ago, myself and Preece somehow ended up tied with four or five races to go, so we knew we had to buckle down.  And really proud of this group for doing that.”

Hemric’s Rookie of the Year honors come after Richard Childress Racing – for whom Hemric raced two years in the Xfinity Series in 2017 and 2018 seasons, as well as his first Cup campaign in 2019 – announced in September the driver wouldn’t return to its No. 8 Chevrolet in 2020. Tyler Reddick will take his place in the car.

On Wednesday, JR Motorsports announced Hemric would drive its No. 8 Chevy in 21 races next year in the Xfinity Series.

“It’s tough for (his team), obviously, with me announcing my plans over the last couple days, a lot of those guys’ future is unknown,” Hemric said. “It’s easy for them to lay down, and they didn’t.  They kept continuing to put their best effort in every single week. For the last three weeks, we were able to string three decent races together, tonight being one of our best of the year.”

Hemric’s achievement comes the night after Reddick won the Xfinity Series title for RCR and at the tail end of the team’s 50th anniversary year.

“I don’t want that to get lost in things,” Hemric said. “50 years RCR has been in existence, and what Richard and (his wife) Mrs. Judy and that organization has done for countless numbers of people throughout our industry, they’ve changed lives and done it in bulk.

“To be able to see Reddick do what he did, between himself and his crew chief, Randall (Burnett), and that whole group last night, the job they did was exceptional all year, to bring RCR another Xfinity Series championship.  And at the beginning of every year we all set a certain amount of boxes that we all want to check, and we were able to check off a couple of those throughout the year, and tonight was a big one we wanted to accomplish.”

Hemric, who remains winless in five full-time seasons competing in NASCAR’s three national series, described his looming move to JRM as a “kind of a breath of fresh air.”

“I’m really pumped up starting right to getting to work on that deal,” Hemric said. “Having runs like tonight make me go into the offseason knowing I can compete and race at this level.

“It’s the little things when you have a season like we’ve had that get you over that emotional hump.”

One of those moments happened Sunday.

“I passed a seven‑time champion (Jimmie Johnson) on the last lap of a 60‑lap run at Homestead,” Hemric said. “Those are little victories you find in the light at the end of the tunnel in years like this.”

As to his eventual competition in the Xfinity Series, Hemric put them on notice.

“There’s no gray area,” Hemric said. “They know why I’m coming there.  They know my goal is to get back to this level, and I feel like it’ll be a full force effort to get me back.”

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Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick come up short of second Cup titles

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Sunday evening saw three of the Cup Series’ four championship drivers with a chance to become just the second active Cup driver with multiple titles on their resume.

In the end, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick had to watch Kyle Busch join that club, which Jimmie Johnson had been the sole member of since 2016 until Busch won under the lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Truex finished runner-up in the season finale for the second year in row while Harvick brought his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford home in fourth.

Truex thought his No. 19 Toyota, which his team had been refining for three weeks after his Martinsville win, had the “complete package” for a championship night.

“We were really good on short runs, good on long runs,” Truex told NBC. “Just another one that got away. Felt like we had what it took to win tonight, even more so than last year.”

Truex’s title hopes began to fizzle due to human error on pit road. After he won Stage 1, Truex pitted from the lead in the middle of Stage 2 on Lap 120.

When new tires were placed on his car, the right- and left-front tires were placed on the wrong sides.

Truex felt a difference immediately and returned to the pits on Lap 122. The mistake corrected, Truex returned to track the first car a lap down in 13th.

Luckily for Truex, the only non-stage break caution of the race – for a John Hunter Nemechek spin – fell in his favor on Lap 137. Truex received the free pass and after pit stops restarted 13th.

“Just (lost) control of the race there with the issues we had,” Truex said. “Having to restart back where we did and eating up our tires.”

Though he used up his tires, Truex quickly returned to the top 10 in the process and by the end of Stage 2 he was in fourth. But track position and a tight car kept Truex from being able to make a real run at Busch over the final laps.

“We were faster the whole last run, it’s just that we were too far behind to make up with traffic, lapped traffic and all those things,” Truex said. “Just another one that got away. Felt like we had what it took to win tonight, even more so than last year.

Truex said missing out on a title by one spot, two years in a row “definitely stings a little, but the fact that we have one is still really a big deal. It’s hard to win these things.”

Harvick, who was trying to follow-up his title from the 2014 season, lamented a car that fell off on long runs compared to the Joe Gibbs Racing cars.

Harvick led the first 20 laps of the race before Truex passed him. Harvick led twice more for 21 laps.

“We just needed to do something different,” Harvick said. “Really our best chance was to have a caution there at the end and never got one.  We just did something different hoping for a caution, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in those late situations like that.  Just do the opposite of the cars you’re trying to race, and it just didn’t work out.”

Harvick said with this race’s recent history of having a late caution, “you kind of play towards that.”

Harvick was asked if being the lone Ford driver pitted against three Toyotas had any impact on how the night went for him.

“Not really … it really turns into individual battles,” Harvick said. “I’d even say those guys are all racing for each other and trying to win a championship.  Never really looked at it quite that way.”

Kyle Busch fastest in only Cup practice in Miami

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Kyle Busch was fastest in the only Cup Series practice session ahead of Sunday’s championship race (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Busch posted a top speed of 168.966 mph around Homestead-Miami Speedway and led a sweep of the top three spots with Joe Gibbs Racing’s championship-eligible drivers.

Martin Truex Jr. was second (168.460 mph) and Denny Hamlin was third (168.277).

 

Said Truex: “I felt pretty good for a lot of new things here at Homestead.  Definitely a lot different than what we’ve done here in the past, fuel‑wise, the way you’re driving the car.

“I felt pretty close.  Good we were able to make three long runs.  Typically for me personally, if the car is pretty close, I’ll run a bunch of laps right away.  That’s definitely a good sign.  The guys did a good job being prepared, making a lot of good assumptions.”

Kevin Harvick, the remaining Championship 4 driver, was ninth fastest (166.806).

“It went good,” Harvick said. “We missed our travels a little bit the first run, got our car a lot better.”

The top five on the speed chart was completed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Keselowski recorded the most laps in the session with 58. The session was scheduled in the place of qualifying after all on-track activity for the Cup Series was rained out Friday.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

Miami Championship Weekend schedule

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The NASCAR season ends this weekend with the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Watch Sunday at 3 pm on NBC or the NBC Sports app.)

Three drivers will leave the 1.5-mile track as champions.

For Friday, wunderground.com forecasts a temperature of 75 degrees, partly cloudy skies and a 14% chance of race for the start of the Truck Series race.

On Saturday, the forecast is for a temperature of 77 degrees, sunny skies and a 10% chance of rain for the start of the Xfinity race.

On Sunday, the forecast is for a temperature of 75 degrees, sunny skies and no chance of rain for the Cup race.

MORE: NBC to have multi-network coverage of Cup championship race

Here’s the complete weekend schedule with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, Nov. 15

7:30 a.m. – Truck Series garage opens

9:05 – 9:55 a.m. – Truck Series practice (No TV)

10:35 – 11:25 a.m. – Final Truck practice (No TV)

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:30 – 10 p.m. – Cup garage open

2:35 – 3:25 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

3:35 – 4:25 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

4:35 p.m. – Truck Series qualifying; single truck/one lap (FS1)

5:35 – 6:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Truck Series driver-crew chief meeting

6:30 – 7:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

7:30 p.m. – Truck Series driver introductions

8 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 200; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, Nov. 16

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

12:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single car/one lap (NBCSN)

1:45 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

2:05 p.m. – Cup qualifying/impound; single car/one lap (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

3 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

3:30 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 300; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Nov. 17

11 a.m. – Cup garage opens

1 p.m. – Driver-crew chief meeting

2:20 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 400; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBC, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)