HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on NASCAR's season finale (all times local):
Dale Earnhardt Jr. chugged a few beers on pit road with his crew following his final Cup race. He was surrounded by hundreds of fans.
Drenched in sweat and suds, Junior and the crew kept grabbing beer out of a cooler sitting on the trunk of his Chevrolet.
Earnhardt passed the beers around to his guys. One by one, they huddled like frat brothers around the 88 and raised — and sprayed — their Budweisers in a toast to the career of NASCAR's most popular driver.
"We're going to miss you Junior!" a fan screamed at Earnhardt.
"Let's go, Junior! Let's go!" another yelled in a sing-song voice.
Earnhardt finished 25th in his final NASCAR Cup race, the result a mere footnote in a career that counts two Daytona 500s, 14 most popular driver awards and a universal respect in the garage.
One example for the love, Earnhardt left his party to seek out hunting buddy and best friend, NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr., on the stage.
Earnhardt and Truex had a career celebration and a championship coronation all at once.
Martin Truex Jr. clinched his first NASCAR Cup championship Sunday by winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Truex edged fellow Toyota driver Kyle Busch in the 400-mile finale. Kevin Harvick (fourth) and Brad Keselowski (seventh) were the only other championship contenders in the field.
Truex won for the eighth time this year, continuing the most successful season of his journeyman career and giving Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing its first title.
The team excelled through adversity all season. Truex's longtime partner, Sherry Pollex, had a recurrence of ovarian cancer. A mechanic died of a heart attack the night before Truex's win last month at Kansas. And team owner Barney Visser is sidelined in Colorado Denver following emergency heart surgery a week ago.
Kyle Larson has won the second stage of NASCAR's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
Larson has so far led 139 of the 160 laps. He's not eligible for the championship.
Martin Truex Jr. was second in the second stage and the highest-finishing championship contender. He was followed by Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski as the title contenders ran second through fifth behind Larson.
Danica Patrick was clearly disappointed after wrecking out of her final race as a full-time NASCAR driver.
Patrick said she got a tire rub shortly before the tire blew, and she slammed into the wall.
"It's just the story of the year," she said.
She was evaluated and released from the infield care center. She finished 37th in her final race with Stewart-Haas Racing. She's being replaced at the team by Aric Almirola.
Patrick will run the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2018, a two-race finale she dubbed the "Danica Double."
"There's still racing in my future," she said. "I still have a thousand miles to go."
Asked outside the care center if there's a silver lining in being able to return next February for the Daytona 500, Patrick took a long pause.
"Yeah, sure," she finally said. "Let's hope I don't end up in the medical center."
Danica Patrick crashed in her final race as a full-time NASCAR driver.
Patrick lost control in Turn 1 and hit the wall with 125 laps remaining in Sunday's season finale. The contact started a small fire on her Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, and smoke poured into the cockpit.
Patrick climbed from the car, which she abandoned at the start of pit road. After Patrick hit the wall, Kasey Kahne ran in to the back of her No. 10 Ford.
Kahne is in his final race with Hendrick Motorsports. Patrick is in her final race with SHR, and she said in a tearful news conference earlier this weekend she is done with full-time racing. Patrick said she will close her career next season by running the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.
Kyle Larson won the first stage of NASCAR's season finale, and the four championship contenders were right behind him.
Larson was one of the strongest drivers during the regular season, but he was eliminated from the playoffs in the second round when his engine failed at Kansas. It knocked Larson out of title contention, and many believed he was a legitimate threat to win the title because Homestead-Miami Speedway suits his driving style.
Larson is able to run closer to the wall than anyone else because he's comfortable in that high line. He built a 10-second lead over the nearest competition.
Championship contenders Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. ran second through fifth behind Larson. The highest finisher of those four will win the Cup title.
NASCAR's championship race has begun at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. are racing for the title.
Before the green flag dropped, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the man of the hour.
Earnhardt shook hands with team owner Rick Hendrick, former teammate Jeff Gordon and fellow driver Matt Kenseth. He kissed his wife Amy and slapped hands with the entire Cup series pit crew as he prepared to take off for a ceremonial pace lap in his final race.
Earnhardt thanked everyone who had an impact on his career, and said over the radio.
"The fans that are here and home watching made this all possible," he said.
NASCAR gave Dale Earnhardt Jr. a proper send-off during driver introductions before his final Cup race.
Earnhardt was the last one brought out before the four championship contenders. It was moments after a video aired about Earnhardt's impact on NASCAR, which was narrated by "This Is Us" star Justin Hartley.
As the video closed, Hartley said of Earnhardt: "Talent is a gift. Character is a choice."
Earnhardt was then brought on stage, where he tried to high-five as many fans as possible as he crossed to a separate stage. There, he signed dozens of autographs, then had a lengthy embrace with NASCAR security director Mike Lentz.
NASCAR's most popular driver then hopped into the back of a pickup truck, flipped his baseball cap backward and waved to the crowd during his final trip pre-race parade around the track.
Drivers, crew chiefs and executives gave retiring NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. a lengthy standing ovation during the pre-race meeting.
NASCAR showed a tribute video that included actor Adam Sandler, late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, actor Justin Hartley, retired NBA stars Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley, actor/director Mark Wahlberg, country music singer Brad Paisley, several active drivers and some of his current and former team members as well as team owner Rick Hendrick. After it ended, the entire room stood and clapped for Earnhardt.
He stood up briefly and quickly sat back down.
Earnhardt also will lead a ceremonial pace lap before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
NASCAR chairman Brian France says he's doing his part to generate a younger fan base by noting his 7-year-old son, Luke, is an avid fan.
When asked who Luke thinks is going to win Sunday's championship, France let his son answer. Luke chose Martin Truex Jr.
"That's a good pick," France said.
France and NASCAR president Brent Dewar then quickly noted that the series is impartial.
"We're neutral, just to be clear," Dewar said.
Truex is considered the favorite because he has seven wins this season.
Typically, Luke France has been spotted as a Joey Logano fan, but Logano is not eligible to win the championship.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. started his final race day with an early morning PB&J and the feeling that "this is gonna be a weird day."
Earnhardt tweeted to his 2.3 million followers that he woke up Sunday at 6 a.m., ate a sandwich and went back to bed. He was "up for good" at 9:30, a little more than six hours before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
So Earnhardt had plenty of time to read the thousands of replies, most of them wishing him good luck.
Danica Patrick tweeted to Earnhardt: "No one will ever forget you. Ever. I know I will always be grateful for your help getting me into nascar."
Earnhardt will retire Sunday, ending a career that saw him emerge as NASCAR's most popular driver 18 full seasons.
NASCAR chairman Brian France opened his state-of-the-series news conference by lauding retiring star Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"He has been an obviously big contribution on and off the track for a long time," France said. "While we're going to miss him for obvious reasons, he's not going to be that far away being an owner and working with NBC. He's going to be glued to the sport, and that's a good thing for us."
Earnhardt is making his final Cup start in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
It's championship Sunday for NASCAR's premier series.
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. are the four championship contenders. The highest finisher of the finalists will claim the Monster Cup Series title.
It's also the final Cup race for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt is retiring from full-time racing but plans to drive in a few second-tier Xfinity Series events in 2018. Kenseth remains without a ride for next season. Earnhardt and Kenseth were rookies together in 2000 and now appear to be leaving together.
Danica Patrick also is done with NASCAR on a full-time basis. But she announced earlier this week that she will drive in the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 in 2018.
Denny Hamlin starts on the pole in the finale, with Truex second, Busch third, Keselowski fifth and Harvick ninth.
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