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Denny Hamlin Clinches Championship Berth With Win In Phoenix

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Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

AVONDALE, AZ (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin is locked into NASCAR’s Championship 4 after winning Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix.

“I can’t believe it,” said Hamlin after the race.  “This race team worked so hard this whole year.  They deserve to be there. One of the best cars of my career, I can tell you that.  Fast car.”

Hamlin entered the race as one of six drivers fighting for two spots in the season-ending Championship race next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch earned the final spot with a runner-up finish on Sunday.  Busch’s finish gave him enough points to get in, leaving defending series Champion Joey Logano out of the title fight.  Logano finished ninth on Sunday.

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“Just didn’t quite have enough,” said Busch.  “I knew the 11 was the best car in practice. I knew we were going to be about third to fifth. We were second. Guys did a great job, this M&M Camry was good. Thanks to everybody at JGR, Stanley, Toyota, TRD. It’s cool to have a chance to go race for a championship. Just keep coming up short.”

“I went from a car that could lead and win a stage and run really well, and from what they told me, it was an air pressure adjustment made it go from a winning car to can’t stay on the lead lap, and one of the tightest things I’ve ever driven,” said a frustrated Logano.  “I don’t really understand it.  It doesn’t make any sense.  You change tires and change a half pint of air, that sounds ridiculous.  It is what it is.  Just wasn’t our year to make it, I guess.”

Also missing the cut were Logano’s Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, who finished third, and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who finished fourth.  Hendrick Motorsports Chase Elliott also didn’t make the cut after another disastrous race.  Elliott wrecked for the second consecutive weekend, ending his title hopes.

Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick are the other two Championship 4 drivers based on their wins at Martinsville and Texas, respectively.

Phoenix Race Results

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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.

Three Rivers Karting

“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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