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Return to JR Motorsports like a ‘coming home party’ for William Byron

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With his Homestead victory lane celebration done and the awards banquet over with, another party is about to begin for William Byron.

His welcome back to JR Motorsports.

The 2016 Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year will return to JRM to run full-time in the Xfinity Series. When Byron began his racing career in a full-sized stock car in 2014, he did so running Late Models for JR Motorsports, becoming familiar with team owners Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and team general manager L.W. Miller.

“I feel like it’s a coming home party a little bit when I see L.W. and I see Kelley and Dale,” Byron said this week at the Truck Series awards banquet. “It just kind of feels cool because I can talk about how far I’ve grown since then and they know that, too. I just remember their ultimate goal for me when I started racing Late Models was so I could race an Xfinity car there. In a weird way, I got back to that, and it’s going to be really cool to return next year.”

JR Motorsports had both of its drivers, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, compete in the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sadler also took home the Most Popular Driver Award. Wade Jackson, a fabricator with the organization, was presented the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award.

It was “neat,” Byron said, to see the great people he’s come to know be acknowledged for their accomplishments at the banquet. Byron still does not know what his number will be or who will serve as his crew chief. With the announcement of his 2017 plans being made back in August, he admits he didn’t get hung up on the details or get ahead of himself by thinking of what was ahead.

Staying focused on the task at hand with his Kyle Busch Motorsports team, led by crew chief Ryan “Rudy” Fugle, Byron set a rookie record for wins (seven) and came within one race of making it to Homestead with a shot at the championship. Being eliminated didn’t slow him down, though, as Byron swept both practice sessions, won the pole, and then dominated the Ford EcoBoost 200.

“No, it wasn’t (hard staying focused),” Byron said. “Rudy was such a good leader for our team that people are kind of caught off guard when I say that I haven’t even thought about next year when the season was going on. We were so focused on this year and our goals, and luckily we ended the year off with a win, which I think was the best feeling in the world.”

Does Byron expect to repeat his rookie success in the Xfinity Series? He laughed that away with a no. Certainly not when his former owner, Kyle Busch, and other Sprint Cup drivers will have a heavy presence in the series. A new challenge Byron is ready to take on.

“Kyle was telling me, he’s like, you’ll at least not win 10 (races) because he’ll be in 10 of them,” Byron joked. “It’ll be really cool to race people like Kyle Busch, my mentor really, and Dale Jr.’s going to be in some races. That’ll be awesome to race some of the Cup guys. I can’t wait. It’s going to be a great step up, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Danica Patrick has a Daytona 500 team: Premium Motorsports

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The first piece of the “Danica Double” has been fully confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in next month’s Daytona 500. The AP reported that the car will be locked into the field through a charter and will receive engineering support from Richard Childress Racing.

Patrick entered NASCAR driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12. For the Feb. 18 race, she also will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who helped guide Patrick to her career-best NASCAR finish of fourth in a 2011 Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car will be sponsored by GoDaddy, which announced last week that it would sponsor Patrick in both this year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick has yet to reveal which team she will drive for in the Indy 500, which will conclude her racing career.

She already has made history in both events.

As a rookie in 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before taking fourth (and became the highest-finishing female in the race’s history with a third in 2009).

In the 2013 Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win the pole position and lead a race in NASCAR’s premier series.

New details of road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, North Carolina — The Sept. 30 Cup race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course will be on a slightly altered 2.28-mile circuit.

The race, which airs on NBC, will serve as the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs. It is the first road course race in the 14-year history of the playoffs.

The alterations shorten the original 2.4-mile, 13-turn layout of the circuit. The track is now 2.28 miles and 17 turns after the removal of two of the last three infield turns. There will be more than 35 feet of elevation changes between Roval Turn 4 – the lowest point in the track – and Roval Turn 9, the highest point.

A chicane has also been added to the backstretch right before the entrance of Turn 3 of the oval. The track is adding 440 temporary rumble strips.

The distance for the race will be announced at a later date.

NASCAR held a test on the road course last October with Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Hemric and Jamie McMurray. Busch suggested the elimination of those turns in order to “speed up the track.”

“There are a lot of slow sections with Turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting.”

Truex was part of Monday’s presentation and gave his thoughts on the change.

“The lap times were so long that we were going to be looking at a race that was, I don’t even know how many hours,” Truex said. “Way too long. Basically taking out those two turns cut out quite a bit of lap time off the laps. It’s more so like a regular road course like Watkins Glen … we’ll be in kind of that realm.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the race could be held at night if pushed back for various reasons. The race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

“We’re working with the track who we believe will have something in place,” O’Donnell said. “Goodyear will be ready with rain tires if we had to make some adjustments.’’

There will be a Goodyear tire test in March and an open test for Cup teams in July.

O’Donnell said NASCAR is “comfortable” with the current layout of the course and that no changes are expected to be made following the tests.

NASCAR on NBC analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton took a few laps around the new layout and shared their thoughts on Facebook Live.

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ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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D.J. Kennington to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Canadian driver D.J. Kennington will try to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the second year in a row, the team announced Monday.

Kennington, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, will drive the No. 96 Toyota sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts and Castrol.

The team, sponsor and driver combination made the 2017 edition of the race, making Kennington the first Canadian driver to compete in the Daytona 500 in 29 years.

Kennington started 28th and finished 36th following a multi-car crash at the start of Stage 2.

“Last year was an awesome experience for my sponsors, Lordco and Castrol, and me,” Kennington said in a press release. “We knew once it was over, we wanted to do it again. (Team owner) Marty (Gaunt) and everybody at GBR is pulling out all the stops for us this year. I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Lordco/Castrol Toyota Camry and seeing the difference a year makes.”

The 40-year-old driver has five Cup starts with a best finish of 26th in last November’s race at Phoenix.

Gaunt Brothers Racing does not own a charter, meaning Kennington is not guaranteed a starting spot in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

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