Ryan Blaney, “Bubba” Wallace top Truck Series practices at Martinsville

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Two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title contenders led the way during today’s practice sessions at Martinsville Speedway.

Ryan Blaney (second in points, -16 behind Matt Crafton) posted a lap of 19.894 seconds to lead Practice 1, while Darrell Wallace Jr. (third in points, -28 behind) was fastest in Practice 2 with a lap of 19.748 seconds.

Both of them are chasing points leader Crafton in the standings. Crafton was seventh in the first session (19.995 seconds) and then P2 in the second session (19.752 seconds) in his No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota.

In Practice 1, Blaney was followed on the time sheets by Gray Gaulding, Brandon Jones, Austin Hill, and Johnny Sauter. Wallace eclipsed Crafton, Erik Jones, Cole Custer, and Timothy Peters in Practice 2.

After winning last fall at Martinsville for the first time in a NASCAR national series event, Wallace is hoping that he’ll be P1 again in Saturday’s Kroger 200.

But it’s not just the matter of repeating on the tough half-mile that motivates him this weekend. Wallace, along with Sprint Cup driver David Ragan, is honoring the upcoming induction of Wendell Scott into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

As part of the tribute, Wallace has flipped numbers for this race from No. 54 to Scott’s No. 34. Additionally, his Toyota has taken on the paint scheme that Scott drove to victory on Dec. 1, 1963 to become the first African-American winner in a NASCAR premier series.

“Martinsville is a track I have run well on and will always be special to me since I got my first win there last year,” Wallace said this week. “Anytime you mention Martinsville, I get excited. Jerry [Baxter, crew chief] and the guys have worked really hard to give me the best Toyota Tundra, and I know if we unload with the same speed we have the last few races, we will be just fine.

“It’s time to get us another win and another Grandfather clock.”

Meanwhile, Crafton is hoping to sweep both Martinsville races this season and strengthen his grip on what could be a second consecutive Truck Series title.

After finishing 14th at Talladega last weekend, Crafton expects to have to fight to survive once again on the Paperclip.

“Unlike Talladega, the driver can make a difference there – it’s just good short track racing,” he said this week. “We saw some success there earlier this year and I look forward to continuing that success this weekend.

“Unfortunately, Martinsville is just like the superspeedways, you have to survive it. We didn’t have a great finish last weekend, but we lost minimal points. If we can have a good run this weekend, we should be in good shape for the final three.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race the No. 3 vs. IndyCar stars in Michigan iRacing

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).