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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.

Brad Keselowski Racing announces crew chief assignments

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Brad Keselowski Racing has announced the crew chiefs that will be paired with both of its full-time rookie drivers this season in the Camping World Truck Series.

Austin Cindric, driving the No. 19 Draw-Tite Ford, will work with Doug Randolph. Randolph has been a crew chief for BKR since 2012 and has six wins, including three with Tyler Reddick in the last two seasons. Randolph also has four Xfinity Series wins.

Mike Hillman Jr. will be the crew chief for Chase Briscoe in the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford. Hillman is a two-time Truck series champion as crew chief for Todd Bodine (2006, 2010). He has 20 Truck Series wins, the last coming in 2013 with Jeb Burton.

“Austin Cindric has already had success in various forms of racing, and has shown a lot of potential in our Ford F-150 race trucks,” said Keselowski in a press release. “I certainly believe that Chase is ready to take the next step in his career, and we’re excited to have him join the BKR family. He won the ARCA championship in his first full-time season, and he’s proven to have the ability to learn quickly and win races. We’re pleased to give both Austin and Chase the opportunity to compete full-time at a high level in NASCAR.”

Briscoe, 22, enters his rookie season after winning the ARCA Racing Series title behind six race wins.

“It’s an absolutely huge opportunity and such an honor to drive for Brad,” said Briscoe in a press release. “The competition level in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is so high, but I’m going to be in the best equipment out there. It’s really cool to once again be working with the Keselowski family. When I moved to North Carolina three years ago, I was helping Brian and Bob in their shop, so things have come full circle. I’m truly blessed with this opportunity, and I hope to make the most of it. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning races and championships, and that’s what I plan to do.”

Cindric, 18, is the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric. He has six starts with BKR over the last two seasons. His best result is 15th last November at Phoenix International Raceway.

“This is a massive opportunity from Brad and everyone at BKR who trusts me and believes in my abilities as a driver to move on to the next level for a full season,” said Cindric in a press release. “2017 gets more and more exciting for me with every day that goes by. I’ve only done a handful of one-off races in my brief stock car career, so I’m really looking forward to having the same guys by my side week in and week out. I’ve spent a lot of time at the shop the last few weeks and I know everyone is really excited to get back racing.”

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

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Kurt, Kyle Busch come up short in Nations Cup finale at Race of Champions

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 04:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch hugs brother Kurt Busch during the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards show at Wynn Las Vegas on December 4, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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After early exits in the first day of the Race of Champion exhibition Saturday in Miami, Kyle and Kurt Busch returned on Sunday in hopes of winning the Nations Cup for the United States of America, but were swept in the finale by Germany’s Sebastian Vettel.

The brothers, representing Team USA NASCAR, were in Group A with USA IndyCar, USA Rally and ROC Factor Canada.

Kurt Busch’s struggles from Saturday continued in his first race against IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian driver beat Kurt Busch by .002 of a second. The NASCAR representative would bounce back in his next race, beating action sports star and former NASCAR driver Travis Pastrana.

In Kyle Busch‘s first race of the day, he faced and beat karting champion Stefan Rzadzinski of Canada. He followed it up by beating Scott Speed.

After six races, Team USA NASCAR and IndyCar had four wins each and faced each other in the semifinal round. But the Busch brothers prevailed over Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi from USA IndyCar to advance to the Nations Cup final against Vettel, who represented Germany by himself.

But Vettel swept the race, betting Kurt then Kyle Busch to claim the Nations Cup. Vettel swept all of his races, finishing Sunday with seven wins.

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NMPA names Jimmie Johnson Driver of the Year among annual awards

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 18:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18, 2016 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Jimmie Johnson was named the Richard Petty Driver of the Year on Saturday by the National Motorsports Press Association as part of its annual awards banquet.

It’s the seventh time that Johnson – who was named on 62 percent of the ballots cast – has been recognized with the award. He previously won it in 2004, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’10, and ’13.

The award comes after Johnson became the third driver to win a seventh championship in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The NMPA also named Al Pearce of Autoweek as its annual Pocono Spirit Award winner.

The award, sponsored by Pocono Raceway, “recognizes character and achievement in the face of adversity,
sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.”

Pearce won for a four-year project that raised $13,000 through the auction of a racing helmet signed by the 20 living World Driving Champions and Phil Hill and Sir Jack Brabham prior their passing. Proceeds from the project went to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation.

Dave Ferroni, the public relations representative for Furniture Row Racing,  was awarded the Ken Patterson Helping Others Award.

Involved in auto racing for more than 30 years, Ferroni was the publicist for the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team in 1980 before later serving working for Brainerd International Raceway and the National Hot Rod Association. His company, DMF Communications, has also worked with U.S. Army, Miller Brewing Co., Pennzoil, McDonald’s and Valvoline.

The Ken Patterson award is sponsored by Talladega Superspeedway, where Patterson served as the public relations director, and has been given out since 2004. The track will donate $1,000 in Ferroni’s name to the Kenneth Patterson Educational Trust Fund.

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NBCSN to broadcast NASCAR announcement at 6 p.m. ET Monday

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NBCSN will air live a press conference held by NASCAR industry stakeholders to discuss the upcoming 2017 season at 6 p.m. ET Monday.

The announcement will be attended by NASCAR executives, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, NASCAR team representatives and NASCAR track representatives.

The press conference is being held at the Charlotte Convention Center.