Carl Edwards wins at Texas, advances to championship round

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Thanks to help from the weatherman, Carl Edwards punched his ticket into the Sprint Cup championship race in Miami, winning Sunday’s rain-shortened AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Edwards led when rain began to fall, prompting NASCAR to wave the caution flag on Lap 290. Cars continued around the track under caution until Lap 294 when NASCAR summoned cars to pit road.

A few moments later, NASCAR officials ruled the event official — 40 laps shy of its scheduled 334-lap distance — and awarded the win to Edwards, his fourth career Sprint Cup victory at TMS.

“I actually enjoyed it,” Edwards said of the pressure he faced, coming into the race 32 points behind the points leaders, last in the standings. “The pressure was really mounting and obviously this was what we had to do. … We have a shot at the championship, and that’s all we wanted. I can’t wait to go to Homestead. We’re going to have a blast.”

The key to Edwards’ win was an outstanding pit stop on Lap 258. Edwards’ crew made a four-tire and fuel stop in 11.8 seconds, while Truex, who came onto pit road in the lead, had a 12.5-second stop, allowing Edwards to take the lead.

“If we wouldn’t have beat him off pit road, we probably wouldn’t see this,” Edwards said.

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This will be Edwards’ first title chance since he lost the 2011 crown to Tony Stewart in a tiebreaker.

Edwards joins Jimmie Johnson, who won last week at Martinsville, in the championship round.  Two more spots will be filled after next weekend’s race at Phoenix.

Chase driver Joey Logano finished second. He led 178 of the first 188 laps.

“Second stinks,” Logano told NBCSN after the race. “The rain came a little sooner than I wanted to. It would be interesting if we would have had another 10-15 laps, what would have happened, but is what it is.”

Martin Truex Jr., who took over the lead from Logano on Lap 189 after a series of green-flag pit stops, finished third.

Chase Elliott and Chase driver Kyle Busch finished fifth.

Other Chase drivers and where they finished were: Kevin Harvick (6th), Matt Kenseth (7th), Denny Hamlin (9th), Johnson (11th) and Kurt Busch (20th).

As for the Chase standings, Johnson and Edwards are tied, Logano and Kyle Busch are both one point behind. Below the Chase cutoff are Matt Kenseth (-1), Denny Hamlin (-2), Kevin Harvick (-18) and Kurt Busch (-34).

HOW EDWARDS WON: An outstanding pit stop on Lap 258 won it for Edwards, allowing him to overtake Martin Truex Jr. Another key was Edwards maintained consistency and patience throughout the race, hanging around the top-five the majority of the time, until what proved to be his race-winning pit stop.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: While disappointed that he did not win, which would have earned him a spot in the Chase championship race, Joey Logano dominated the first half of the race.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kurt Busch (20th) is last in the Chase grid, 34 points out of first place and 33 points short of the cutoff. He’s essentially in a must-win situation next Sunday at Phoenix. … Pole-sitter Austin Dillon, who was involved in a late-race multi-car crash, finished 37th. Casey Mears was also in the wreck and finished 39th.

NOTABLE: Because of the rain, Edwards did not perform his trademark post-win flip off his race car. “I think I’m going to keep the backflip for Homestead. It’s probably the safe thing to do.” … Harvick, who won the first edition of the new Chase format in 2014 and reached the final round last year, is in jeopardy of not advancing this year. But he’s going to Phoenix – where he has won six of the last eight races.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “That’s all we said we needed was a shot. And now we’re going to go to Homestead and do what we need to do … and I really believe we can do it at Homestead.” – Carl Edwards.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, Nov. 13 (2:30 p.m. ET).

 

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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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