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Kurt Busch hopes to be the first and last ‘Sprint’ Cup champion

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There are only five races left in the ‘Sprint’ era of NASCAR.

The cell phone company departs as the title sponsor of the Cup Series following the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20. Clinching this particular title would have a little more meaning for Kurt Busch.

Busch, at 25 and in his fourth year in the series, kicked off Sprint’s 12-year relationship with NASCAR in 2004 when he won the inaugural title, then the Nextel Cup. A corporate merger made it the Sprint Cup in 2008.

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 03: 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion Kurt Busch stands on top of his car while posing with the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup trophy prior the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards outside of the Waldorf Astoria on December 3, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kurt Busch in New York City in December 2004 prior to the Nextel Cup Awards. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

“That would be fun to be able to bookend the championship run with Sprint sponsorship of our series,” Busch said Tuesday during a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway  “It’s been an amazing run for them, a brand builder for both NASCAR and a cell phone company. When you’re the first champion with a new sponsor it came with some fun responsibilities and good promotions.”

Busch won the 2004 title, the first of the “Chase” era, while driving for Roush Fenway Racing.

“It’s neat to see what (Sprint) benefited from and here we are now, it’s at the end,” Busch said. “2004 was a long time ago. It’s time to upgrade the championship trophy to a 2016 one.”

If Busch can survive in the standings until the finale, he’ll have the chance to score the third Cup title for Stewart-Haas Racing – where he has been since 2014. Heading into the Alabama 500 at Talladega, Busch is sixth on the Chase grid, 17 points up on the bubble.

“Last year we came out of Kansas with a top-(six) finish and had 13 points as our cushion,” Busch said. “This year we have a 17-point cushion after we finished 13th (at Kansas). It’s a numbers game, and we feel comfortable where we sit.”

But the fates of Busch and nine other drivers hinge on their result at Talladega, the 2.66-mile track notorious for wrecks that threaten to eliminate half the field.

“All we have to do at Talladega is finish 16th or better, no matter what anybody else does,” said Busch of his best possible clinch scenario outside a win. “It’s the same as having sixth or better or 36th or better because you never know when you’ll get caught up in the big wreck and end up 36th or worse.”

In his 17 years competing in the Sprint Cup Series, Busch has never won a points paying restrictor-plate race. He’s finished third five times at Talladega but hasn’t earned a top five there since 2007.

His average finish at Talladega through 31 starts? Just on target at 16.3.

“It’s nice to have points in our pockets,” said Busch. “That’s the best feeling.”

NASCAR announces enhancements to race formats

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 23:  Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, lead the field to the green flag during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 23, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR revealed enhancements to the race format Monday that are intended to create more urgency and make the regular season more meaningful.

Under the new system, for the first time, points will be awarded during the 26-race regular season that carryover through the playoffs, all the way until the season finale in Miami.

The adjustments will be for all three series — Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series — and come after collaboration and input from industry stakeholders, including drivers and teams.

NASCAR also noted that the alterations to the race format will allow fans to see more racing, minimizing green-flag laps missed because of natural breaks.

“Simply put, this will make our great racing even better,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO, in a statement. “I’m proud of the unprecedented collaboration from our industry stakeholders, each of whom had a common goal – strengthening the sport for our fans. This is an enhancement fully rooted in teamwork, and the result will be an even better product every single week.”

Every race will consist of three stages with points earned in each stage. The Daytona 500 will not be altered. Stage points will be awarded in the duel qualifying races, which are held three days before the Daytona 500.

Points will be awarded to the top-10 finishers in each of the first two stages of a race. The stage winner will receive 10 points. Points will descend to the 10th-place finisher, who will receive one point.

The race winner will receive 40 points. Second place will collect 35 points with third earning 34 points. That descends one point per position. The driver who finishes 35th receives two points. Any driver who finishes 36th or worse scores one point.

There will be no bonus points awarded for leading a lap.

If a driver wins both stages and the race, they’ll score a maximum 60 points for the event.

A race will be deemed official at the end of the second stage. If the race ends at that point, the leader would receive the stage points and race points.

NASCAR also announced a playoff bonus structure that will see the regular-season points leader honored.

The regular-season points leader will be given a 15-point bonus that will be added to the driver’s reset total of 2,000 points. The driver who is second in the standings after the regular season ends receives a 10-point bonus. That descends to a one-point bonus for the driver 10th in the standings. Drivers 11th or lower who qualify for the playoffs do not receive a bonus.

The bonus points carry through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Also, the winner of the first two stages of each regular-season race would receive one bonus playoff point to be added to their reset total before the playoffs begin. The race winner will receive five bonus playoff points to be added to their reset total.

Those bonus points also can be earned in the playoff races. Thus, a driver who wins the playoff opener at Chicagoland would receive five points that would count to their total.

A race win will still help a driver and team qualify for the playoffs. NASCAR will no longer use the term Chase

The overall structure of the playoffs remains the same. There will be 16 drivers who make the playoffs in Cup (12 in Xfinity and eight in the Truck Series)

In Cup, four drivers will be eliminated after each round, leaving four to compete for the title in the season finale in Miami.

The season finale in Miami will remain unchanged. Four drivers will compete for the title with the one finishing highest among the group the series champion.

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Liberty University back as primary sponsor for William Byron’s jump to Xfinity Series

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William Byron is an A-plus student in Liberty University’s eyes.

That’s why the private Virginia school will return in 2017 as primary sponsor for Byron, a freshman at the school, as he is promoted to the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The 19-year-old Byron, who will drive for JR Motorsports, made the announcement on a Facebook Live stream Monday.

Liberty sponsored Byron last season in the Camping World Truck Series, where he was a runaway winner for Rookie of the Year, earning a series-high seven wins and finished fifth in the final season standings.

In addition, Byron set a Truck Series rookie record not only with his seven wins, but also with 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

Byron will once again carry the school’s colors in 2017 as he jumps to NASCAR’s junior league. Liberty will be primary sponsor on Byron’s No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro for 17 of the Xfinity season’s 33 races, and will serve as an associate sponsor for the other 16 races.

“Welcoming back both William and reuniting with Liberty University, it feels like a homecoming for us,” JR Motorsports general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller said. “It’s remarkable to see how quickly William has advanced his talents since he drove for our Late Model team (2014-15). With the support from Liberty, we have a strong platform for him to have success at the Xfinity level.”

Liberty University will be on Byron’s car in his first career start in the Xfinity Series in its season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 25.

Also, it was announced Dave Elenz will serve as Byron’s crew chief in 2017. Elenz spent the last two seasons as crew chief for JRM’s No. 88 Xfinity Series team, leading it to four wins with drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick.

“It’s a privilege to have Liberty University on board with us in 2017,” Byron said. “I’m also looking forward to working with Dave. He brings a lot to the table in terms of experience and leadership in this series. That will go a long way in helping our No. 9 team on the track this year.”

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Hooters joins Chase Elliott sponsorship program for 2017-18

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Chase Elliott has added a new high-profile sponsor for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday that the Hooters restaurant chain will serve as primary sponsor for two races in each of those seasons, as well as serve as a associate sponsor for all of the other races in both seasons on Elliott’s No. 24 Chevrolet SS in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Elliott’s two races with Hooters primary sponsorship this season will be May 7 at Talladega and Nov. 12 at Phoenix.

Hooters has had a long sponsorship history in NASCAR, with its colors gracing cars for over 150 Cup-level races over the years. Most prominent was the 1992 season when it served as primary sponsor on Alan Kulwicki’s championship-winning Ford.

Ironically, Kulwicki beat Elliott’s father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, by 10 points to win that season’s championship.

“Twenty-five years after being part of one of the most memorable seasons in NASCAR history, Hooters is excited to support another amazing talent in Chase Elliott and the No. 24 team,” Hooters chief marketing officer Carl Sweat sweat said in a media release.

Elliott earned Cup Series rookie of the year honors in 2016, with 10 top-five finishes, 17 top-10s and two pole positions.

“Hooters has a historic place in this sport, and I’m glad they’re back,” Chase Elliott said. “Our entire team is looking forward to making the program a success.”

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Lady Antebellum to highlight Daytona 500 pre-race show

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Seven-time Grammy Award winners Lady Antebellum will highlight the Feb. 26 pre-race show for this year’s Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway officials announced Monday.

The multi-platinum CD-selling country trio will take the stage not only prior to the 2017 season-opening and 59th edition of the Great American Race, but also the first race under Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entitlement sponsorship.

Lady Antebellum – made up of Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood – will be on hand to promote its sixth album, Heart Break, which is due for release on June 9, with the first single being “You Look Good,” which will be the cornerstone to kick off a six-country “You Look Good World Tour.”

Lady Antebellum is no stranger to DIS: they performed a pre-race concert prior to the 2008 Coke Zero 400 and also played at last year’s inaugural Country 500 Music Festival.

“’The Great American Race’ will have one of today’s great American country music acts front-and-center for our fans to enjoy,” DIS President Chip Wile said in a statement. “Lady Antebellum continues a long-standing DIS tradition of attracting major stars from the world of entertainment to the ’World Center of Racing’ and the Daytona 500.”

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