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Martinsville Speedway Key to Kyle Larson’s NASCAR Championship Run

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Chip Ganassi Racing

MARTINSVILLE, VA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson heads into this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville looking to punch his ticket to the NASCAR Championship finale at Homestead.

Winning at Martinsville would automatically qualify Larson for the final race and put him position to win his first championship and Chip Ganassi in position to win his first NASCAR title. Ganassi has 12-IndyCar Championships and 7-Sports Car Championships.

“Chip has had an opportunity to win a championship I think one other time maybe, and I think Sterling Marlin got hurt that year,” said Larson. “He was probably going to win the championship that season had he not gotten hurt. It would be nice to get him that championship that he’s honestly probably owed.”

Larson sits in 7th place heading into this weekend’s First Data 500, the first race of NASCAR’s final three races that determine the four drivers eligible to compete for the Championship at Homestead. Win one of the next 3-races and you’re win.

“We want to go and make it into that final round of Homestead, where it’s my best track,” said Larson. “It’s the final year for the championship race to be at Homestead, so I’ve looked at this ever since they released next year’s schedule as this is my best opportunity to win the championship. I’ve got to take advantage of that.”

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Taking advantage over the next three races is not going to be easy, especially considering that, statistically speaking, Martinsville is Larson’s worst track. Larson’s average finish is 22nd over 10-races with CGR. Larson’s best finish at the paper clip shaped oval is a 3rd place finish in the Spring race in 2016. He followed that up in the fall with a 14th place finish.

In 2017 Larson finished 17th in the Spring race and a disappointing 39th in the fall. 2018 was almost a repeat of the previous year, 16th in the Spring race and 37th in the Fall race. Earlier this year Larson finished 18th.

“We had bad luck early in the year, but we also made mistakes,” said Larson. “I made mistakes, our team made mistakes, our pit crew made mistakes, mostly my mistakes I feel like, but I’ve been able to clean up what I’ve been doing. There’s still areas where I can get better, but our cars have been doing a lot better, and our team as a whole has been doing a whole heck of a lot better here the last few months.”

Larson sits 35-points behind leader Kyle Busch so scoring some stage points in the races first two stages is going to be key. Larson is 12-points behind 6th place Chase Elliott, 17-points behind 5th place Kevin Harvick and 19-points behind fourth place Joey Logano. The top 10 at the end of the first two stages will score stage points in a sliding scale (10-points to 1-point) based on finishing position.

Larson’s teammate Kurt Busch sits 14th in the standing after being eliminated after the first round of the playoffs.  Busch and the No. 1 Global Poker/Monster Energy team are in it for win and points from here on out.  Busch sits 18-points behind 13th place Aric Almirola and 35-points behind 12th place Alex Bowman.

Practice for the First Data 500 gets underway Saturday at 9:05 a.m. with final practice taking place at Noon ET followed by Qualifying at 4:35 p.m. The race is Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and can be seen on NBCSN and heard on Motor Racing Network affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR radio.

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NASCAR

Brad Keselowski joining Roush Fenway Racing as partner

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CHARLOTTE, NC (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Brad Keselowski is joining Roush Fenway Racing for the 2022 NASCAR season as both driver and minority owner.

Keselowski was named the driver of the No. 6 RFR Ford Mustang for 2022 and beyond on Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  In addition to the driving duties Keselowski is joining the team as minority owner.

“There were four key components for me,” said Keselowski of what he was looking for in a new deal. “To have a long-term driving contract was something I valued. I want to stay in one place and be there for a long time, hopefully for the rest of my career. That’s the intent and the goal.

“The second position which was really important to me was to be in a leadership role… to be able to express myself creatively and be able to lead the company and team to be the best it can be. That was really critical to me.

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“The third thing was of course the ownership position. That’s quite a unique opportunity that really excites me… It represents growth for me, personally and professionally, which is very important. And that’s really the fourth point, to have a role in the sport after I’m done driving.”

Jack Roush, 79, is not done as an owner either, but he now has a succession plan in place.

“I welcome him as a partner, and I look forward to what we can do together,” said Roush. “There are no retirement plans for me in my immediate future. I intend to keep going to the race tracks and to be as much of a nuisance and a distraction to my drivers and my crew chiefs as I have been in the past.”

Ryan Newman, the current driver of the No. 6 RFR Ford, could drive a third RFR Ford on a part-time basis but nothing has been decided as of yet.

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NASCAR

Aric Almirola wins NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire, qualifies for playoffs

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Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

LOUDON, NH (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Aric Almirola’s disastrous 2021 season is taking a turn for the better after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Almirola came into the race without a win, mired in 27th place in the Cup Series points standings thanks in-part to only 1-Top 5 and 2-Top 10’s this season, where he’s led only 26-laps before Sunday’s win.

“There’s been so many people that have just continued to support us through, like, the crappiest year ever,” said Almirola on the front stretch after the race.  “All the guys that work on this car, they just keep fighting, they just keep digging, bringing the best race car they can bring every week and it is no doubt we have struggled but guess what, we’re going playoff racing.”

Almirola’s victory clearly shook up the NASCAR Playoffs standings.  Sixteen drivers will qualify for the playoffs.  Only race winners and the remaining teams inside the top 16 qualify.  With Almirola’s win, only three spots remain

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell finished second, just missing the weekend sweep after taking the Xfinity Series checkered flag on Saturday at New Hampshire.

Bell was not happy that NASCAR shortened the race because of darkness.

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“I didn’t know how may laps they cut it short, but definitely whenever I saw the board and saw that we were eight laps short, it stings man,” said Bell.  “We didn’t start out the greatest and then we were really good, probably the best we were all day right there at the end of the race. That’s all you can ask for is to have a shot at it and just wish we had eight more laps.”

The Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounded out the Top 5.

Kyle Busch started on the pole position and led the first 5-laps and was heading into turn one on Lap 6 when a wet track surface caused Busch and teammate Martin Truex Jr to spin and crash.

“We started the race under a mist,” explained Busch. “It never should have gone green to begin with, but then it kept getting worse and worse lap over lap. We’ve been talking about it for two laps that it was raining. There’s no sense in saying what I want to say, it doesn’t do you any good.”

Several drivers at the front of the pack also realized the track was wet and some spun and some were able to slow down.

Busch got the worst end of the deal as his car could not be repaired and was loaded on the truck.  Busch was credited with a 37th place finish.

The NASCAR Cup Series is off next weekend.

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Dirt Racing

Chase Elliott wins SRX finale at Nashville, Stewart wins Championship

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NASHVILLE, TN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chase Elliott joined the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) for their season finale at Nashville Fairgrounds and took home the checkered flag beating Tony Stewart and his father Bill Elliott in the feature.  The win was the first series victory for the younger Elliott.

Chase Elliott was on the inside with Stewart on the outside on a restart with 7-laps-to-go followed by Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte in Row 2.

Chase Elliott beat Stewart into turn one and two with Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte side-by-side for third.

Caution came out with 5-laps-to-go when Paul Tracy made contact with Marco Andretti, sending Andretti into a spin after picking up three spots following the restart.

Chase Elliott got the jump on Stewart on the restart and held on to pick up the win. Stewart finished second and took home the inaugural series Championship.

“Man it was so much fun,” said Chase Elliott.  “I had a ball.  I got to race against two of my heroes tonight and I got to race against Dad there throughout the race and those are moments that I’ll cherish forever.  Thanks to Ray (Evernham, Series co-owner) and Tony (Stewart, Series co-owner) and I appreciate NAPA being on the car.”

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NASCAR Hall-of-famer Bill Elliott, 65, finished third and picked up a win in the first heat race where he started side-by-side with his son Chase.

“I messed up in one not getting all the stuff (marbles) off my tires,” said Bill Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Cup Series Champion.  “Man I tell you it was a lot of fun. I knew the way the tires were on these cars and the way Chase manages his stuff he was going to be tough to beat.”

“I don’t know what lit a fire under him tonight,” said Chase Elliott.  “But he was as aggressive as I have seen him in years.  It was amazing and a lot of fun.  I thought it was going to be between he and I but he got a little high going into (turn) one.”

The win was also special for the Elliott Family as they were able to park the No. 94 in Victory Lane.  Casey Elliott, the late son of legendary engine builder Ernie Elliott, raced the No. 94 in the ARCA and Busch (now Xfinity) Series before his life was cut short by cancer.

“Obviously a special number too,” said Chase Elliott.  “My late Cousin Casey Elliott ran the 94 for years and years and it’s always special to run that number and I’m glad we were able to get it in Victory Lane at Nashville.”

“How could you ask for more than to finish between two Elliott’s, that’s pretty bad-ass in itself,” said Stewart. “To win this Championship is awesome.  I really appreciate Marcus Lemonis and everyone at Camping World for stepping up and helping us get this thing off the ground.  To be the last guy to win an IROC Championship and the first one to win an SRX Championship means a lot.”

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