JGR juggernaut’s toughest challenges could come from within

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Car owner Joe Gibbs says it gets easier for his team now.

Really.

All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars advanced to the Round of 8 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Never has an organization held half the remaining eight spots in the Chase since the elimination-style format debuted in 2014.

“I think from here on out, it’s pretty easy,’’ Gibbs said of managing four teams as they race for a title. “Everybody is geared up and is going for a win. That’s the game plan.’’

In others words, it should be just like what it has been all season.

Of course, with more at stake, more than fenders can be bruised among teammates — just look at Kevin Harvick confronting teammate Kurt Busch after Sunday’s race on pit road.

Remember, Carl Edwards bumped Kyle Busch out of the way on the last lap to win at Richmond in the spring. If it can happen then, what’s not to say it couldn’t happen now?

“We compete hard,’’ Edwards said of racing teammates in the upcoming round. “We work hard beforehand to help each other prepare. We battle hard on the racetrack. If we can keep it at the level we’ve had all year, it’s going to be great. There’s no reason all four of these cars can’t be in the race at Homestead.’’

But can four teams truly survive each other to make it to Miami in less than a month?

“You hope that the racing doesn’t change,’’ Matt Kenseth said. “I think it’s just business as usual.’’

Just as challenging could be what this means for the other four teams vying for the championship. Joe Gibbs Racing’s four teams have combined to win 11 of 32 races this season. JGR cars already have won this season at the next two tracks — Busch won at Martinsville and Texas in the spring.

Left to compete against the JGR cars for the title are Harvick and Kurt Busch for Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson and Team Penske’s Joey Logano. They have combined for 10 wins this season.

Logano’s car owner, Roger Penske, isn’t worried about facing all four Gibbs cars with just one car left in the Chase.

“They’re going to be fighting each other, which is important,’’ Penske told NBC Sports. “Quite honestly, how do you keep all four of those guys under the roof, where we have all of our efforts on Joey and certainly Brad (Keselowski) will do everything he can to help him.

“We’ve raced these guys all year long. They’ve been tough. Jimmie Johnson, don’t count him out. Kurt Busch … we know is a heck of a driver, and Harvick is probably one of the best.’’

Johnson, Harvick and Logano each won in the last round. A Joe Gibbs Racing driver hasn’t won in the first six races of the Chase. The team’s last victory was by Hamlin at Richmond, the final race before the playoffs began.

Even so, Busch and Kenseth both were the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the first five Chase races. That streak ended Sunday when they joined Edwards in riding at the back all day at Talladega. Kenseth was 28th, Edwards 29th and Busch 30th.

That’s all they needed to do to advance. Now, it will take much more, and they could be racing teammates for the final transfer spot.

AJ Allmendinger making return to Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2018

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After a one-year absence, AJ Allmendinger will return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

Allmendinger, who drives for JTG Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, will once again drive for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, which will be held Jan. 27 – 28.

A winner in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Allmendinger will split time in the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 in the GTD class with Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach and Mario Farnbacher.

Allmendinger drove for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race from 2014-16. His best result during that stretch was fifth in the Prototype class in 2015.

“I am pumped to be back racing for Shank in the (Rolex) 24. I missed the race last year and I hated to, so I’m really glad to be back,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “His whole team did an awesome job with the Acura last year and it is awesome to be back with him for the Rolex. After racing for the overall win so many years in Prototypes, it will be a completely different experience to be racing in the GTD class, but I’m looking forward to it. Mike (Shank) always puts an awesome team together and this year is no different so I am counting down to get my first shot in this car.”

Allmendinger is coming off his fourth full year of driving the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished the season 27th in the standings, his worst during his tenure with the team. He earned one top five and five top 10s.

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.”