Richard Petty Switches To Chevy And Aligns With Richard Childress Racing

Aric Almirola

Richard Petty Motorsports will switch from Ford to Chevrolet, be aligned with Richard Childress Racing and relocate to the RCR campus in Welcome, North Carolina, according to a report Thursday by SportsBusiness Daily.

Spokespersons for Chevrolet, Richard Petty Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing told NBC Sports on Thursday they had no comment on the report.

Richard Petty Motorsports is in the midst of significant change. The team announced Oct. 25 that Darrell Wallace, Jr. would drive the No. 43 car next season. He will take over for Aric Almirola, who left after this season to join Stewart-Haas Racing.

RPM stated Aug. 28 that it would vacate the race shop it leased in Mooresville, North Carolina, after the season.

The organization continues to look for sponsorship. Smithfield had been a primary sponsor the past six years. Smithfield will sponsor Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing next year but also is expected to stay on in some form with RPM, according to a SportsBusiness Daily report in October. Richard Petty Motorsports announced Nov. 3 that Click n’ Close will sponsor the car in at least three races next year, including the Daytona 500. STP announced Nov. 13 that it would sponsor RPM in two races in 2018. 

The pairing of Richard Petty Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing makes sense because RCR appears to have room at its facility. Richard Childress Racing, which has run three full-time Cup teams the past six seasons, has not announced plans for the No. 27 Cup team. That ride was left in question after Paul Menard and sponsor Menard’s announced in July that they would move to the Wood Brothers for 2018.

Richard Childress Racing, which has three charters, has announced only Cup entries for next season for Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman. Richard Petty Motorsports has two charters (it leased one last year) but is only expected to field the No. 43 for Wallace.

By partnering, it would allow RPM to have access to the engineering support Richard Childress Racing can supply. By adding RPM, it would allow Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines to offset the loss of the No. 27 team if it doesn’t run next season.

Also, a move by Wallace and RPM to Chevrolet would mean that half the 14 Chevrolet Cup drivers who have been announced with rides for next season would be age 25 or under to start the season. Wallace is 24 and would join William Byron (age 20), Chase Elliott (22), Alex Bowman (24), Kyle Larson (25), Ty Dillon (25) and Chris Buescher (25) in the Chevrolet roster with such a move.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

What Made Martin Truex, Jr. The Champion?

Martin Truex, Jr.

Understandably, the proudest moment of Martin Truex’s racing life was simultaneously a source of enormous frustration for Kyle Busch.

But both drivers recall with indelible clarity the closing laps of the Nov. 19 Ford Eco-Boost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race that made Truex a champion and Busch a disappointed runner-up for the title.

For the record, Truex powered his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota across the finish line, with Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota .681 seconds in arrears. But the outcome was in doubt for the final 17 laps, after Busch passed Kevin Harvick for second place on Lap 250 of 267 and took off after Truex, who had claimed the lead off pit road for a restart on Lap 234.

With Busch driving a faster long-run car, Truex found a small patch of grip high in Turn 4 and kept Busch’s Camry in his mirror.

“For me, it’s probably one of my proudest moments, because I got put in that position, and my guys said, ‘Here it is; it’s all up to you now; here’s the lead with 32 laps to go – show us what you’ve got,’” Truex told the NASCAR Wire Service.

“It’s definitely one of the proudest moments of my career to be able to bring it home for them, after all, they’ve done for me and giving me the opportunity they have and putting me in a position to be a champion. I was glad I could hold up my end of the deal.”

Though Truex hasn’t watched a replay of the race in its entirety, he relishes the memory of every second of the closing green-flag run.

“I can remember every single one of those laps,” Truex said. “I can remember everything that happened, everything I thought, when I missed the line when I hit it, and, most importantly, when I found that little patch of grip up there off of Turn 4.

“That was the game-changer for me.”

For Busch, not so much.

“I tried that same patch – it didn’t work for me,” Busch said after Wednesday’s Myers Brothers Awards ceremony in the Encore Theater. “I tried to get as close to the wall as I could off of (Turn) 4. I was way too loose. I just didn’t have the drive-off that I needed, and I think that was a lot to do with being in his wake, just being behind him and having the aero deficiency that I had.”

The final 15 laps weren’t just a two-car battle. Enter Kyle Larson, who charged past Harvick for the third position on Lap 252 and, running against the outside wall, quickly rolled up near Busch’s back bumper and began contemplating his prospects of passing the No. 18.

“I got to third, and I felt like, if I was going to win or pass those guys – which I felt like I could – I needed to pass them before 10 (laps) to go,” said Larson, who was eliminated from championship contention by an engine failure at Kansas Speedway.

“I felt like, once we got to 10 to go, I needed to respect them and kind of let things play out between those two… I didn’t want to screw one guy and not the other.”

Interestingly, Busch contemplated letting Larson pass him in the closing laps.

“I actually thought about, with maybe 15 to go, something like that… he (Larson) was really close to me, and I was like, ‘I wonder if I let him go, and he gets in-between us if he’ll go and try to race Truex and pass Truex and help Truex come back to me,” Busch said.

“So I thought about doing that, but I said I can’t give in to that at this moment of letting somebody else within the battle, because, if he doesn’t go up and pass the 78, he just pushes me further behind. That’s why I stayed the way we were and tried to fight it out.”

With Truex making ground near the top of the track, Busch tried a low line, and with three laps left, he lost momentum off Turn 2. With a head of steam around the top, Larson was there to give the No. 18 a nudge.

“I was hoping to launch him forward, but I kind of got him squirrely,” Larson said. “I’m glad he didn’t hit the wall, because I was just trying to help him out. Not that I wanted him to win over Martin. I just wanted to get him closer to make the racing more exciting, I guess.”

In the moment, Busch understood Larson’s intent.

“I knew that was a moment of help,” Busch said. “It wasn’t a moment of trying to screw with me at all. I knew what that was. It’s just that these cars are so loose on the straightaways, with not a lot of downforce, and of course, we were on older tires, with higher air pressure and everything like that, and it got me juked up.

“But I was expecting that, and I was fine with it. It was all good.”

In the end, the bump from Larson didn’t help enough to put Truex’s title in jeopardy. But it helped to make the final 17 laps of the event some of the most riveting in recent memory.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Keselowski Is Interested In Future Cup Ownership

Brad Keselowski
Although Brad Keselowski elected to shutter his racing operation following the 2017 Camping World Truck Series season, on Friday he gifted BKR Truck Series drivers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric with the F150s from their respective inaugural wins.

Hopefully, Keselowski’s hiatus from team ownership is temporary. Like his mentor Dale Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski provided an opportunity for a number of drivers to hone their skills in NASCAR’s feeder series before moving on to the next level. Ryan Blaney, Daniel Hemric, Tyler Reddick and now Briscoe and Cindric have all come through BKR.

And with ever-aging ownership in the Monster Energy Cup Series, NASCAR needs to cultivate its next generation of team owners. Just looking at the Championship 4, Barney Visser, who owns Furniture Row Racing, is in his mid-60s. Gene Haas, the principal owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, turned 65 last month. Joe Gibbs turned 77 last week, and Keselowski’s owner, Roger Penske, celebrated his 80th birthday in February.

Keselowski’s foray into the cultivation of aspiring talent full-time started with Parker Kligerman in 2011. While he was only able to keep the operation afloat for seven seasons, it remains Keselowski’s dream to revive BKR one day and perhaps have the organization blossom into a NASCAR Cup operation.

“Absolutely. It’s 100 percent my dream,” Keselowski told Motorsport.com. “There’s a lot of things that have to happen to make that a possibility-including the support of a manufacturer and the health of the sport being at a high point. But it’s my intention to get to that position in the long-term future.”

Currently, Keselowski has no intentions of selling the BKR building. It is indeed his hope to return to an ownership role when he hangs up his helmet for the last time.

“It’s going to be up to my generation as not just only as owners or pit crew members or drivers but also fans to take this sport to the next generation as it has been handed to us,” Keselowski said.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

The NASCAR World Honors The 2018 Cup Champion

Martin Truex, Jr.

The centerpiece of Thursday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards Ceremony was Martin Truex Jr., a first-time champion who earned the title in stock car racing’s foremost division with a Furniture Row Racing team that got its unlikely start as a single-car operation in Denver, Colorado.

But the sport also bid farewell—as a full-time driver—to Dale Earnhardt Jr., not only by conferring a 15th straight NMPA Most Popular Driver Award on the 26-time race winner, but also by recognizing his accomplishments with the prestigious Bill France Award of Excellence.

Earnhardt, in fact, introduced Truex, his close friend, as the 2017 champion, and there was no doubt Truex deserved the honor. Driving the No. 78 Toyota, Truex led the series in victories with eight and laps led with 2,253.

With the advent of stage racing for the 2017 season, Truex dominated the new format, accumulating a series-best 19 stages wins and enough playoff points to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with one race left in the Round of 8.

Truex then capped the season with a dramatic victory at Homestead, holding off championship runner-up Kyle Busch by .681 seconds.

“I’d have to say the new stage racing worked out pretty well for us,” Truex quipped during his speech, after NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France handed him the championship ring.

Truex’s season, however, wasn’t without its difficult moments. His long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014, suffered a recurrence earlier this year. The “Never give up” motto of the No. 78 team also became a mantra in Truex’s personal life.

“No one has lived that out more than my life partner Sherry,” Truex said. “She is the true champion.”

Team owner Barney Visser suffered a heart attack late in the season and, after surgery, was unable to attend the festivities at the Wynn Las Vegas. Visser’s son Tim accepted the champion owner’s award in his stead and assured those at the ceremony that his father was doing well.

Furniture Row Racing fabricator Jim Watson passed away unexpectedly during the Kansas Speedway weekend in the Playoff, and Truex offered a toast to Watson from the podium.

“This has been an emotional journey,” Truex said. “I can’t begin to tell you about all the highs and lows.”

One of the absolute lows occurred during 2014, Truex’s first season with the team. Truex posted only one top-five finish that year and ended the season 24th in the series standings.

“In 2014 we struggled, and you didn’t give up on me—thank you,” Truex said team president Joe Garone.

It wasn’t until Truex joined forces with crew chief Cole Pearn late in that first year that the turnaround at Furniture Row started. In 2015 they made it to the Championship 4 and finished fourth. A year later, they were champions.

“You’re the best crew chief and team coach I’ve ever known, and, buddy, thank you for making me a champion,” Truex said to Pearn.

The honors to Truex and the Furniture Row organization followed a special tribute to Earnhardt introduced by the NASCAR chairman.

“The Bill France Award of Excellence is not given out every year,” France said. “It’s for the ultimate achievement and contribution to the sport they love—NASCAR. Sometimes it’s on the track. Sometimes it’s off the track. And every once in a while, it’s both.

“Tonight, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the recipient of the Bill France Award of Excellence.”

It was entirely predictable that Earnhardt would receive his 15th Most Popular Driver Award at the end of his final season in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. The Bill France Award was a surprise.

“It’s a real honor,” Earnhardt said after a long round of applause. “I always tell people all the time that all I wanted to do in racing was to be able pay my bills and be able to race for a long time. I’ve just enjoyed being a part of the sport.

“I didn’t know whether I’d win races or have the opportunity to win championships. I just wanted to be in it. I feel lucky and fortunate to have been able to do some good things, inside the car and outside the car. I always tried to take a lot of pride in taking the sport to new places and introducing it to new people.

“I’ve got to thank the fans, because without them, none of the opportunities that I ever had in racing would have happened.”

Earnhardt then had some sage advice for Truex.

“I remember when I won my first race, my dad (the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.) said, ‘Celebrate this,’ and I know what he meant after all these years, ‘cause you never get to celebrate that first win again,” Earnhardt said.

“You never get to celebrate that first championship again, so we’re going to celebrate it good tonight, Martin.”

In his runner-up speech, Kyle Busch also made a tongue-in-cheek reference to Earnhardt. He thanks NASCAR’s most popular driver for “converting all of Junior Nation into Rowdy fans.” That was one of the biggest laugh lines of the night.

Not lost among the festivities was the contribution 2003 champion Matt Kenseth has made to the sport. With no concrete plans for next year after completing his final season in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Kenseth has announced a hiatus from the sport, one he acknowledges could mark the end of his career as a Monster Energy Series driver.

“Matt, I wish you the best in the future,” Truex said from the podium. “You’re an awesome person and a great driver.”

Truex and Busch, along with Playoff drivers Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, led Toyota to its second straight manufacturers championship.

In a poignant tribute, Bob Carter, executive vice president, sales for Toyota Motor North America, dedicated the championship to J.D. Gibbs. The son of team owner Joe Gibbs has been stricken with a serious neurological disorder.

“J.D. is a friend to everyone in this room,” Carter said. “He’s a father. He’s a great person to be with. J.D., I know you’re home watching. You’re recovering. You’re a fighter. This celebration, this manufacturer’s award is on behalf of you.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Here Charter, Charter!

Chris Buescher
Another key piece to 2018 that still needs to be announced is which teams will have the 36 guaranteed positions for each race. Those go to teams with NASCAR-issued charters.

The Furniture Row Racing #77 team charter has been sold to JTG Daugherty Racing for its #37 car.

Among those teams that need a charter for 2018: #12-Team Penske (Blaney), #21-Wood Brothers Racing (Menard) and #72-TriStar Motorsports (Cole Whitt).

Teams that currently have extra charters for next year include Roush Fenway Racing (it gets back the one leased to JTG), Richard Petty Motorsports (it gets back the one leased to Go Fas Racing, which gets back the charter it leased to the Wood Brothers) and Front Row Motorsports (it gets back the one leased to TriStar). If RCR doesn’t field the #27 car, RCR also would have a charter available for lease or sale.

Teams are allowed to lease out a charter for one year but then must use it or sell it over a five-year period. There is no limit as far as how many years a team can lease a charter from various organizations to keep the guaranteed spot in the field, it just can’t be the same charter year-to-year.

The pieces of the puzzle are slowing starting to make their way on puzzle board for 2018.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK! 

Kyle Busch: “It Wasn’t Quite What We Wanted”

Kyle Busch

The final race came down to the finals laps, among the top cars from the dominant manufacturer, and ultimately, the most successful driver won the championship!

But even still, 2015 series champion Kyle Busch couldn’t take much comfort in fellow Toyota-driving Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing winning his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. Busch, driving for affiliate Joe Gibbs Racing, would have much preferred that he had made up the final .681-second distance between the race-winner and champion and his slot in second place.

“It wasn’t quite what we wanted there at the end,” said Busch, who closed on Truex Jr. doggedly in the final 10 laps. “I thought we had a really great race car, especially on the long runs we were really, really good. Just came down to there at the end not having enough tire when I got to [Truex Jr.], so I just overused my stuff, and I knew I overused my stuff when I was running with [Joey Logano, then holding second place] trying to get by him and just overworked everything. And got to [championship-eligible Kevin Harvick], got by him pretty quick, I tried to make sure that I could do that pretty quick so then I could have at least a little more tire life, but didn’t seem to pay me off any when I got to [Truex Jr.].”

Busch led 43 laps and held a 21.4-second lead as part of a fuel strategy play on Lap 216 of 267, but was forced to surrender the lead to pit. He worked backed through the field because of his strength on lengthy runs and overtook Kyle Larson – who led a race-high 145 laps – for second place.

Busch’s five wins this season were second only to Truex Jr.’s eight.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Dale Jr. And Kenseth Say Goodbye In Their Own Way

Matt Kenseth

The crew in black and yellow fire suits went methodically about its business, check-listing last details before the beginning of the final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A few feet away, the crew in the red and black fire suits was performing the same series of tasks, but a throng of onlookers and well-wishers pressed in at every movement.

It was a surreal scene, or rather scenes, both on Sunday and 14 years ago. But in each case, the careers and personas of NASCAR’s most popular driver and his understated friend and contemporary had intersected. In 2003, it was in the garage bays in the hours before Matt Kenseth finished off his first and only championship at NASCAR’s highest level. On Sunday, it was as he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. posed for a series of photographs for friends and family beside their cars staged in Turn 4 as they prepared to undertake their final races before retirement.

Earnhardt Jr. eventually broke from his gathering on Sunday, slinked under a rope and waited through a television interview to speak with Kenseth. He’d been “adamant” Kenseth said, that their cars be parked next to each other for their moments, and was particularly intrigued that they were both using versions of their early career paint schemes for their farewells. They shared a quip and a hug and then prepared to get on with the last vestiges of their careers. In keeping with their divergent personalities – Earnhardt Jr. – compelled to accommodate the scores who wanted to share in the moment with him – and Kenseth joined the field of cars to begin the start of the race, and NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver slowly drove pit road to exchange handshakes with crewman from other teams waiting near the wall.

Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth have always been different people seeking the same career goals, since they entered first the Busch Series [now XFINITY Series] and then Cup together, and it can be argued that Kenseth accomplished more. Both won the Daytona 500 twice, but Kenseth claimed the 2003 championship and contended for others more frequently than his friend, who finished a career-high second in the same season. Kenseth won 39 career Monster Energy Series races, Earnhardt Jr. 26. When Earnhardt Jr. won consecutive XFINITY titles in 1998 and 1999, Kenseth finished second, and third, respectively.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

But Earnhardt Jr. always was and always will be the focus. It was his birthright and burden.  Understated and wry, Kenseth saw up close the scrutiny and demands on his friend and wanted no part of them. He learned that early. In 2002, the bachelor Earnhardt Jr. hitched a ride with Kenseth and his wife, Katie, driving back from a race at Rockingham, when they cruised into a McDonald’s. Earnhardt Jr. was inundated. Kenseth and Katie walked to the front of the line. Demands came with such fame and Earnhardt Jr. came to accept them as his part of the bargain.

NASCAR legend dictates that Kenseth’s march to his championship for Roush Racing was so banal – after winning one race he entered the final 226 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson – that it prompted the series to institute the first version of what was then called the “Chase” in 2004. Earnhardt Jr. arrived in third place, 264 behind for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and still gathering momentum as the standard-bearer of the sport and a crossover marketing star just two years after his father and namesake perished on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. In keeping with the Budweiser sponsorship on his red No. 8 Chevrolet, the mood on the edge of his camp that November was festive bordering on hysterical. Such was the reason that security stations theater ropes several feet beyond the mouth of his garage bay so crewman could work and push through mobbing fans carrying gear back to their transporter. Kenseth’s crew went about its business unbothered.

Ultimately, their departures from the series were in keeping with the way they conducted their careers, or at least had them dictated to them. Returning this season after missing half of the 2016 season because of a recurrence of concussions, Earnhardt Jr. announced in April that he would discontinue full-time racing at the end of the season. A hashtagged farewell tour ensued, allowing his scores of fans and appreciative admirers to partake in his moment. Kenseth, who will be replaced next season at Joe Gibbs Racing by 21-year-old Erik Jones, refused to accept a lesser job and eventually accepted his career was over.

Earnhardt Jr. chugged a beer as a massive mob surrounded his rubber-clumped car and engaged in a long embrace with team owner Rick Hendrick after exiting the car following a 25th-place finish. Hendrick, whose son, Ricky, died with nine other Hendrick family members or employees in a 2004 plane crash, claimed Earnhardt Jr.’s helmet as a souvenir and slid away from the scene. He’d done the same in 2015 after four-time series champion Jeff Gordon’s last race as a full-time driver at Homestead and wouldn’t be without a token from someone he said he loves “like he’s flesh and blood.”

“I don’t want to get any more helmets,” Hendrick said, becoming emotional. “He and I have such a special relationship.  We were talking about it. Now we can go fishing. So, it’s unbelievable to see his driving career come to an end, but he’s excited about the next stage and I am too, We have a special bond, so we are going to do a lot of fun things together, and that’s a commitment we made this year, early on when he told me he thought it was time. I’ve turned the page now and we’re going to start planning the trip tomorrow morning.”

At the absolute end of pit road, in the quiet, Kenseth sipped on a sports drink and joked with crew chief Jason Ratcliff. It was fitting.

There is the feeling that their paths will cross again, as Earnhardt Jr. remains around the sport as an XFINITY Series team owner and NBC analyst. Kenseth, with three daughters younger than eight and another imminent said his life will become filled with recitals and sports events. In the near-term, he planned to “go up to Wisconsin and be cold.”

“That was fun,” he said of exiting alongside Earnhardt Jr., including taking a group photo with their teams on Friday. “We went for a bike ride when we were in Darlington and I told him this was going to be it, but I never really announced it just because I kind of knew by September, I pretty much had my mind was made up the way things were going and kind of knew it then. It’s kind of cool we came into Cup together and now we go out together.”

And in their own ways.

On a personal note:

What a really cool NASCAR ride the last 17 years have been with both of these excellent drivers.  Kenseth always has been a low keyed, dry witted race car driver that never really sought the limelight, but was eager to compete and win races at the highest level.  Dale Jr. had the awesome weight of NASCAR thrust on his shoulders to carry after his father’s untimely death.  But carry it he did with class and humility!

Gentlemen, thanks for allowing this person to ride shotgun in your race cars, to experience the thrill of victory and the agony defeat vicariously!  I am eternally grateful to you for your class, and humility!

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Martin Truex, Jr. Wins The Ford EcoBoost 400 And The Championship

Martin Truex, Jr.

 At the end of a riveting, breathtaking battle that had fans in the grandstands on their feet long after the checkered flag, Martin Truex Jr. held off Kyle Busch by .681 seconds at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win Sunday’s Ford Eco-Boost 400 and his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.

In Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Truex—one of Earnhardt’s closest friends—kept Busch behind him during a 34-lap green-flag run to the finish.

“It’s just overwhelming,” a tearful Truex said in Victory Lane. “To think about all the rough days and bad days, the days that we couldn’t run 20th, to be here—I never thought this day would come, and to be here is so unbelievable.”

The victory was a timely gift for Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser, who is back home in Denver, Colo., recovering from a heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery. It was also a gift to Truex’s long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who has been battling ovarian cancer.

“A lot of it was for her,” said Truex, who won for the first time at Homestead and the 15th time in his career. “A lot of it was for me. A lot of it was for this team – just, I don’t even know what to say. We just never gave up all day long. We didn’t have the best car. I don’t know how we won that thing. Never give up. Dig deep.”

The victory also was entirely appropriate. For the bulk of the season, Truex was the top driver in the series. Sunday’s victory was his eighth of the year, a series-best, and his seventh on 1.5-mile intermediate speedways. Truex had the No. 78 Toyota out front for 78 laps on Sunday, bringing his season total of laps led to a career-best 2,253, also tops in the series.

With an excellent long-run car, Busch slipped to fourth after the final restart on Lap 234 of 267 and needed nine laps to pass the stubborn No. 22 Ford of Joey Logano. Seven laps later, Busch slipped past fellow Championship 4 contender Kevin Harvick into second and set his sights on Truex.

Busch closed rapidly, but Truex found a line that allowed him to maintain an edge that shrank to as little as two car lengths. But Busch never could pull alongside his fellow Camry driver, and Truex inched away over the last four circuits.

“I told my guys we were going to dig deeper than we ever have today, and (with) 20 (laps) to go, I thought I was done – they were all better than me on the long run all day long,” Truex said. “I just found a way. I found a lane that I could use, and I found a lane that was blocking enough of their air that they couldn’t use it and just made it happen.

“I can’t believe it. I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid and just never give up. Just never give up on your dreams, no matter what happens and what kind of crap you go through. And thank you, Barney. I wish you were here, buddy.”

Kyle Larson finished third, closely trailing the championship battle after moving past Harvick for third on Lap 252. Harvick came home fourth, after debris from David Starr’s Chevrolet punched a hole in the nose of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

“I was just really loose the whole last run,” Harvick said. “When it started to get dark, we started to get tight in the corner, and then we got a hole in the nose. We got that fixed and just couldn’t quite get it where we needed to be to make good times.

“Some runs we fell off. Some runs we were tight on entry. There at the end we were just too loose.”

Chase Elliott and Joey Logano ran fifth and sixth, respectively. Playoff driver Brad Keselowski finished sixth, ending the season fourth in the series standings.

Busch opted for a one-pit-stop strategy during the final stage of the race and appeared headed for the title until his brother, Kurt Busch, spun in Turn 4 on Lap 227 to bring out the fifth and final caution of the event and bunch the field for the restart on Lap 234.

“Yeah, it wasn’t quite what we wanted there at the end,” Busch said. “I thought we had a really great race car. Especially on the long runs, we were really, really good. Just came down to there at the end, not having enough tire when I got to the 78.

“So I just overused my stuff, and I knew I overused my stuff when I was running with the 22 (Logano) trying to get by him and just overworked everything, and got to the 4 (Harvick), got by him pretty quick. I tried to make sure that I could do that pretty quick so then I could have at least a little more tire life, but didn’t seem to pay me off any when I got to the 78.”

Notes: Earnhardt finished 25th in his final run in the No. 88 Chevy… Danica Patrick cut a tire and clobbered the Turn 2 wall on Lap 142 in her final trip in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. She plans to race in the Cup series for the final time in the 2018 Daytona 500… Patrick also collected Kasey Kahne in her wreck. Kahne ran his final race for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday and will move to the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet next season… Truex’s teammate, Erik Jones, was crowned Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the series after finishing 21st. Jones will take Matt Kenseth’s place in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota next season. Kenseth finished eighth Sunday in his final ride in the car.

Check out the unofficial results of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Johnny Sauter Is The Bridesmaid At Homestead

Johnny Sauter

There would be no repeat for Johnny Sauter in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“This is hard. This is tough,” Sauter said, “To come down to one race. They were just better than us tonight.”

The 39-year-old Wisconsin native finished third in the race and second in the championship behind Christopher Bell, a sizeable 13 seconds behind him in the race as the Toyota driver won his first title. Austin Cindric finished fifth in the race and third in the standings, Matt Crafton sixth and fourth, respectively.

Ultimately, an eighth top-ten finish in 12 races at Homestead wasn’t enough for Sauter.

Chase Briscoe, who was not eligible for the championship, won his first career race.

Sauter improved through the second of three segments and ended the second session in fifth place, second of four championship-eligibles behind Bell. He restarted sixth, third among the hopefuls.

GMS Racing announced before the race that Sauter, 39, had signed an extension to return to the team in 2018. He’d locked into the final with a win at Texas Motor Speedway and won again at Phoenix Raceway to enter the final with momentum and markedly better statistics than when he captured his first crown with the first-year team in 2016. Sauter won three races last season but entered Friday with four, his average finish had improved from 9.1 to 4.9 and he’d led 455 laps as opposed to 130.

Sauter had finished fourth in the series for three consecutive years before winning the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs last season. He also finished second – by just six points to Austin Dillon – in 2011.

“One spot too short, I guess,” Sauter said. “We had a great year and we get to do it again next year, so I look forward to that.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Denny Hamlin Steals The Pole From Martin Truex, Jr. At Homestead

Denny Hamlin

With a dramatic run late in Friday’s knockout qualifying session at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Denny Hamlin knocked Championship 4 contender Martin Truex Jr. off the pole for Sunday’s Ford Eco-Boost 400.

Hamlin covered the 1.5-mile distance in 31.038 seconds (173.980 mph) in the final round, edging Truex (173.952 mph) by .005 seconds for the top starting spot in the race that will decide the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Truex, in turn, was .004 seconds faster than title contender Kyle Busch (173.930 mph). Championship 4 drivers Brad Keselowski (172.452 mph) and Kevin Harvick (171.876 mph) qualified fifth and ninth, respectively, with Harvick sawing on his wheel in Turn 1 on his money lap to save a car that was unexpectedly loose.

The Coors Light Pole Award was Hamlin’s second of the season, his second at Homestead and the 26th of his career. And he won it despite brushing the wall out of Turn 4 on his final lap.

“We had them there by a little bit, and I messed up (Turns) 3 and 4 a little bit,” said Hamlin, who was eliminated from the Playoff last Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. “Honestly, it was a great run, and we did great adjustments there.

“Our FedEx Camry was obviously very fast that last run. I love this race track, and wish we would have our chance, but that will be another day, another year for us.”

Truex was happy to be the fastest among the championship contenders, but he’s fully aware the trophy won’t be awarded until Sunday.

“That was a bit dramatic,” Truex said with a wry smile. “We missed it a little bit in that last round, lost more grip than I anticipated. We made some adjustments knowing it was going to go that way, just not far enough… It was just five one-thousandths off from being a perfect day…

“I think we definitely wanted to be first to get that first pit stall, but aside from that, we’re all up front, we’re all close to each other, and this is a track you can pass on. Just in general I was proud of my team for having a good, solid day. We had a shot there and just missed it a little bit there in Round 3. Good, solid effort and that’s what we needed to do today, and we’ll get to work and see what we can do on Sunday.”

Harvick was fourth fastest in the first round and fifth in the second, but his No. 4 Stewart-Haas racing Ford broke loose as he started his third-round lap.

“Just about spun out there going into Turn 1,” Harvick said. “It was definitely sideways. It kept turning, but the back tried to go the other way.”

Busch was pleased with his lap but felt he had the car to challenge for the pole in a race where the highest finisher among the Championship 4 wins the series title.

“We had a pretty good first round and second round, and when Martin went out there and ran an oh-something (31.043 seconds), I felt like there was a .90 out there and an opportunity to beat him and go for the pole,” Busch said.

“Trying to cut my Turn 1 entry, I got to the bottom too soon, hit the apron and messed up the exit off (Turn) 2 and felt like I tried to get a little more back in (Turns) 3 and 4 than I needed to and probably messed up down there.”

Keselowski, who had as-yet-unresolved brake issues during Friday’s opening practice qualified at the top end of his expectations.

“It was probably a tad bit higher than I thought we would end up… but I’m not complaining,” Keselowski said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not make a run in the second round after posting the 15th fastest lap in the first. In his final run in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Earnhardt will start from the rear of the field because of an engine change during opening practice.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!