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Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray ready to make Chip Ganassi Racing a force in the Chase

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For one, it’s unchartered territory. For the other, it’s hoping that the second time around is better than the first.

That’s how the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup shapes up for Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray.

Larson is making his first playoff appearance. It comes in his third Cup season.

Larson, who won last month at Michigan, will start the Chase as the 10th seed.

McMurray is making the second consecutive Chase appearance. He’ll start the playoffs in the 16th and final position.

Larson has been one of NASCAR’s hottest drivers of late. Saturday night’s runner-up finish at Richmond International Raceway was his third straight top-three finish — He won at Michigan and finished third at Darlington.

It wasn’t easy, though. Larson struggled near the midpoint of the race with a loose wheel that caused him to pit on Lap 192. Still, he was able to come back for his best finish at Richmond.

The final restart, though, with two laps remaining was what sealed the deal for the northern California native.

“It felt like a video game on rookie mode, having fresh tires like that,” Larson told NBCSN. “It was a fun last restart and to get all the way to second. I felt I could get to fourth, but I got to second, so that was great.”

Given his hot streak, Larson hopes to ride into the opening race next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway and keep that momentum going as the Chase opens.

“The Chase tracks, most of them, are good tracks for me,” Larson said. “We start at Chicago, which is one of my favorite tracks and I really think we can make a good run.

“It’s been awesome and I’m looking forward to it, the first time in the Chase. There’s a lot of new guys in the Chase, so it should be exciting.”

McMurray, meanwhile, hopes to perform better in his second Chase than he did last season.

Like Larson, McMurray has had his own momentum of late, as well: His seventh-place finish Saturday was his ninth top-10 of 2016, including four of the last five races.

McMurray knew how much was on the line coming into Saturday’s race. Because he has yet to win a race this season, he was vulnerable. If a winless driver had won instead of Hamlin, McMurray could have missed the playoffs.

So he did something he typically doesn’t do — he drove defensively.

“I was racing so different than what you normally would, not taking any risk,” McMurray said. “Really good day, both our cars ran real great again today.

“The guys at our shop need to be really proud at what they have been able to build because it’s a lot of fun to drive and be able to run that quick. I looked up at one point and I think there was the four Gibbs cars and Kyle and I. We still have a little bit of work to do, but we’ve made some huge gains and I’m really proud of all those guys.”

McMurray was eliminated after the first round of last year’s Chase. He hopes that’s not the same case this year.

“I feel better about our chances this year vs. last year,” he said. “I felt like last year heading into the Chase that we didn’t really have anything in our pocket as far as little bit better cars.

“I feel like right now we have cars capable of winning. I look forward to getting (to Chicagoland), it’s been a good track for Kyle and I and would be a great way to start off the Chase.”

This marks the first time Chip Ganassi Racing has had two drivers in the Chase in the same year. Ganassi told McMurray before the race that if both he and Larson make the Chase, it would be the “biggest thing ever” at CGR in terms of NASCAR achievements.

“When you look at Chip’s organization, he’s been so successful in Indy cars, sports cars, we’ve won some big races at NASCAR, but the NASCAR side is really hard to keep on top,” McMurray said. “It’s like that for everybody. So when you get down, it’s really hard to climb your way back up.

“Earlier this year, we made some changes as far as personnel. He moved some people around. The crew chiefs and everybody is working really well together and they’ve been able to build some great cars. He’s proud of that because when you make those changes, there’s no guarantee it’s going to show up on the racetrack – but it has.”

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Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s to sponsor RCR in Cup, Xfinity in 2018

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Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s will sponsor Richard Childress Racing in multiple races in the Cup and Xfinity Series next year, the team announced Monday.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s merged in September 2017.

The outdoors brands will be on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet during the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and in several other races during the season.

Richard Childress Racing

They will also be a primary sponsor for Austin and Ty Dillon on the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for several races.

“Our relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to the mid-1990s and we’re thrilled to be able to continue it during the 2018 season,” team owner Richard Childress said in a press release. “Austin, Ty and Ryan are terrific ambassadors for the great outdoors. They are all passionate about our hunting, fishing and conservation heritage which has made this partnership thrive.

“Next season will be exciting as we welcome Cabela’s, the iconic outdoor brand acquired by Bass Pro Shops, to the RCR family.”

Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972 by Johnny Morris, is also a primary sponsor of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota owned by Furniture Row Racing.

The store chain will be on the hood of the No. 78 in 16 races and on the sides of it in 14 others.

Here’s the eligible drivers for the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

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NASCAR has officially announced the 20 drivers who are eligible to take part in the Cup Series’ season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The 75-lap exhibition event is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as qualifying for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The race will be divided into two segments. A competition caution on Lap 25 will divide them.

Drivers become eligible for the Clash by winning a pole the previous season, being a Daytona 500 pole-winner who competed full-time the previous season or being a playoff driver the previous season.

Here are the eligible drivers.

2017 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (14)

Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (3)

2017 Playoff Drivers (3)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are not expected to compete in the race. Earnhardt retired from Cup competition following the 2017 season and Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for the 2018 season.

Danica Patrick, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter, announced last month she was done as a full-time driver but that she planned to race in the Daytona 500. No definitive team plans have been announced for her.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram injury update: still in ICU, but continues to show progress

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram continues to show improvement from the serious injuries he suffered in a December 3 car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina.

In an update Sunday written on CaringBridge.org, Ingram’s daughter, Ingrid Jones, said her father remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Asheville’s Mission Hospital.

According to Jones:

“Daddy continues to hold his own, making healing steps forward and then a step back, which we fully expected-but he’s surprising us each and every day with his strength and courage to overcome this. Overall, he’s doing amazingly well.”

Ingram’s family had hoped he could have moved out of ICU and into the Trauma Unit as the next phase of his recovery, but he remains in intensive care.

Said Jones:

“For now, he’ll remain in ICU until he can go a full 24 hours without ventilator assisted breathing. We’re almost there … but may still be a few days.”

Ingram, who turns 81 on Dec. 28, was able to sit in a chair and watched part of Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings with his family. Jones wrote that Ingram also was surprised to learn that the mountain near the family’s Asheville-area home received a total of 16 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

Jones added, “We continue to be optimistic for his health, and we also continue to appreciate the prayers and encouraging thoughts.”

K&N Pro Series West 2018 schedule includes Las Vegas dirt race

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The 2018 K&N Pro Series West schedule includes the series’ first dirt race in 39 years.

NASCAR announced the 15-race schedule Monday, revealing the series will race on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track on Sept. 13.

The race will kick off NASCAR’s playoff-opening weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for all three of its national series.

It will be the series’ first dirt race since 1979 at Ascot Park in Gardena, California. The K&N West series joins the Camping World Truck Series in holding one dirt race a year. The Trucks race at Eldora Speedway in July.

The K&N West season will open March 15 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Calif.

The schedule includes two joint-races with the K&N Pro Series East series. They will be held on July 27 at Iowa Speedway and on Aug. 24 at Illinois’ Gateway Motorsports Park.

NBCSN’s broadcast schedule for the season will be announced at a later date.

Below is the full schedule.

Date Track Location
15-Mar Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.
5-May Tucson Speedway* Tucson, Ariz.
19-May Orange Show Speedway San Bernardino, Calif.
9-Jun Colorado National Speedway Dacona, Colo.
23-Jun Sonoma Raceway Sonoma, Calif.
30-Jun Douglas County Speedway Roseburg, Ore.
15-Jul Spokane County Raceway Airway Heights, Wash.
27-Jul Iowa Speedway** Newtown, Iowa
11-Aug Evergreen Speedway Monroe, Wash.
24-Aug Gateway Motorsports Park** Madison, Ill.
13-Sep Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track Las Vegas, Nev.
29-Sep Meridian Speedway Meridian, Idaho
13-Oct All American Speedway Roseville, Calif.
27-Oct Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.

*100-lap twin features
**Combination event with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East