Looking ahead to the Xfinity Series in 2017

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The 2016 Xfinity Series season ended four days ago in historic fashion, with Daniel Suarez becoming the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title.

The lower-tier series will return to action on Feb. 25 at Daytona International Speedway in the Powershares 300.

Even though that race is 94 days ahead, here’s a quick look at what storylines to look forward to next season.

Cup Driver Limits

Earlier this season NASCAR announced new limits on the amount of Sprint Cup regulars could compete in in its lower national series. Beginning next season, current Cup regulars who have been in Cup for five years or more can only compete in 10 races each. They are banned from competing in the Dash 4 Cash races, all of the Chase races and the regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway. Also, any drivers earning points in the Cup series are banned from competing in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

JR Motorsports Expanding

After fielding two full-time cars and two part-time entries in 2016, the team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. will now have four full-time cars on the track. In addition to Elliott Sadler‘s No. 1 team and the No. 7 of Justin Allgaier, JR Motorsports will have former Sprint Cup driver Michael Annett and Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year William Byron in rides. The team will also continue to run its “All-Star” No. 88 car with drivers from the Cup series.

Stewart-Haas Racing Branching Out

After eight seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, including two championships, Stewart-Haas Racing is expanding its operation to the Xfinity Series. SHR will field Cole Custer in his rookie season driving the No. 00 Ford. Custer will be sponsored by Haas Automation. Custer drove for JR Motorsports this season in the Camping World Truck Series and earned 14 top-10 finishes in route to a 10th-place finish in the points standings. He also made five Xfinity Series starts for JRM this season with a top finish of fourth at Charlotte in May.

Team Penske Grows by Two

After years of fielding a single full-time car in the No. 22 with occasional appearances by a second car, Team Penske will field two full-time cars in 2017. No driver or sponsorship announcements have been made. The No. 22 team failed to win a race this season for the first time since it began competing full-time. The No. 12 car won both of the  races it entered at Watkins Glen International and Charlotte.

Movin’ On Up

After two season of part-time schedules in the Xfinity and Truck Series, Matt Tifft is finally going full-time in Xfinity. The 20-year-old will drive full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing after driving the No. 18 Toyota in select races this year. His season was shortened by missing most of the summer to recovering from brain surgery to remove a low-grade tumor.

Also moving up to the Xfinity Series are former Brad Keselowski Racing teammate Tyler Reddick and Daniel Hemric. After 30 top-10 finishes in 46 Truck starts, Hemric will drive full-time for Richard Childress Racing. Reddick, who was voted the Truck Series Most Popular Driver, will split time in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No.42 car with Kyle Larson.

NASCAR America: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. talks Phoenix finish, racing roots

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joins NASCAR America to go over his fourth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver also shares his racing origins in Mississippi and the hobbies he and girlfriend Danica Patrick share with each other.

Stenhouse is in his fifth full-time year competing in the NASCAR Cup Series with Roush Fenway Racing.

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: Alaska

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NASCAR America continues its journey through the United States with the second chapter in “50 States in 50 Shows.”

Following South Alabama Speedway, the show features Capitol Speedway and Alaska Raceway Park in Alaska.

Owned by Nancy and Wes Wallace, Capitol Speedway is a 3/8th-mile oval and features sprint car racing and demolition derbies.

 

Kevin Harvick crew chief fined, suspended one race for encumbered finish

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Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, has been suspended for one NASCAR Cup Series race and fined $25,000 for an unapproved track bar slider assembly last weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

The penalty, a L1 infraction, results in an encumbered finish. Harvick placed sixth in the Camping World 500.

The No. 4 team has also been docked 10 driver and owner points. Harvick was seventh in the standings after four races. He trailed leader Kyle Larson by 61 points. The loss of points drops Harvick one spot to eighth behind Jamie McMurray.

Harvick has not won a race yet, which would qualify him for the playoffs.

MORE: Brad Keselowski closes crew chief for three races, team docked 35 driver points

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NASCAR docks Brad Keselowski, Team Penske 35 points; suspends crew chief Paul Wolfe

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NASCAR docked Brad Keselowski 35 points, suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined Wolfe $65,000 because Keselowski’s car failed inspection after finishing fifth in last weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR also docked the team 35 owner points for the L1 infraction. NASCAR stated that Keselowski’s result is an encumbered finish.

NASCAR cited Keselowski’s car for failing weights and measurements on the laser platform. NASCAR stated in Wednesday’s penalty report that the team failed the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station. 

MORE: NASCAR suspends crew chief Rodney Childers one race

Team Penske issued a statement Wednesday:

“We have acknowledged the penalties levied against the No. 2 team following last weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.  The race cars returned to the race shop today and we are in the process of evaluating the area in question. In the meantime, we have decided Brian Wilson will serve as Brad Keselowski’s crew chief at Auto Club Speedway while we evaluate our approach relative to today’s penalties.”

The penalty drops Keselowski from second in the standings to fourth heading into this weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

The more significant issue is how this could impact Keselowski, who already has a win, in the playoffs.

The top 10 in points before the playoffs begin earn additional points. The points leader earns 15 playoff points. The driver second in the standings earns 10 playoff points, the driver third in the standings earns eight playoff points, the driver fourth in the standings earns seven playoff points. It goes down to the driver 10th in the standings earning one playoff point.

Those playoff points carry through the first three rounds, which is different from last year. Falling behind in the regular season – or losing points because of a penalty – could have ramifications in the playoffs. 

“I think it’s real important to explain why points matter this year,” Keselowski said on Fox Sports 1’s “Race Hub” on Wednesday night. “Last year, you got a win and you locked in and you got to the next round. This year with points, you still lock in with wins. The difference is there’s a huge points bonus for having the most points at the end of the season that carries all the way through the playoffs, and you only get that bonus if you’re one of the best cars and leading up front at the end of the regular season, which requires having a lot of points. Thirty-five points is a pretty big deal, and so is 10 points for Kevin (Harvick) and his team.”

 

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