What’s new in NASCAR ahead of the 2017 season

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It took long enough, but we’re finally in a new calendar year. Feels great doesn’t it?

We’re still breaking-in 2017, but for some, the year won’t really feel like it’s begun until 54 days from now, on Feb. 26. That’s when the Daytona 500 kicks off the …

*takes a deep breath*

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

*breathes out*

Yes, if you were too busy in December tailgating for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s wedding, NASCAR announced the new title sponsor of the Cup Series, its fourth since 1971. The name change became official on January 1.

The lime green of Monster Energy replaces the bright yellow of Sprint/Nextel that’s defined the series since 2004.

And no, we don’t know how long the sponsorship is for.

With the new title sponsorship also comes a new NASCAR logo, the first change in the league’s branding since 1976.

There have been plenty of other changes, the kind that will actually impact the on-track product.

STEWART-HAAS RACING PRESENTED BY FORD

Three-time champion Tony Stewart rode off into the Florida sunset in November, marking the end of an era for NASCAR but also the team he co-owns with Gene Haas.

While Cup Series races will now be a Smoke-free working environment, the No. 14 will still be around. Clint Bowyer steps into Stewart’s old ride for his first season with the team. That’s after a season with HScott Motorsports – which no longer exists – following his departure from Michael Waltrip Racing … which also doesn’t exist anymore.

But the No. 14 and the rest of SHR’s four-car stable will look different. SHR will make its debut with Ford as its manufacturer after eight seasons with Chevrolet.

SHR is also branching out its NASCAR operation. The team will field a Xfinity Series team for the first time, with rookie Cole Custer driving.

DRIVER CH-CH-CHANGES

Clint Bowyer to the No. 14 has been known since late 2015. But the dominos for driver changes began the day after the 2016 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

  • Greg Biffle amicably parted ways with Roush Fenway Racing after an 18-year relationship. Roush then announced it would only run two cars for the first time since 1995. Biffle has not yet announced his plans for 2017.
  • Richard Petty Motorsports joins Roush in losing cars. With the retirement of Brian Scott, the team has decided to only run the No. 43 of Aric Almirola this season.
  • Both of BK Racing’s full-time drivers from 2016 will not return in 2017. Matt DiBenedetto instead will drive for GoFas Racing in the No. 32 as its first full-time driver. David Ragan will return to Front Row Motorsports in the No. 38.
  • Joey Gase is scheduled to drive in three races for BK Racing, beginning with the Daytona 500.
  • Ragan is replacing Chris Buescher, who is now on loan to JTG Daugherty Racing. Buescher, in his second full-time Cup season, will drive the No. 37 as JTG fields two cars for the first time.
  • Also expanding to two cars is Furniture Row Racing. Joining Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 team is rookie Erik Jones. The 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion will drive the No. 77 Toyota sponsored by 5-Hour Energy.
  • Ty Dillon will drive the No. 13 Geico Chevrolet for Germain Racing, replacing Casey Mears.

CHARTERING THE WAY

In 2016, NASCAR added another layer to its “Silly Season” when it introduced charters, which ensure a starting spot in Cup Series races to 36 teams.

Teams are allowed to lease or outright sell their charters to other organizations and there was a lot of wheeling and dealing in the offseason, as five charters exchanged hands. It’s NASCAR’s version of a swap meet.

Among the teams now in possession of a charter is Wood Brothers Racing.

SILLY RABBIT, CHEAP TICKETS ARE FOR KIDS

Are you reading this and 12 years old or younger? Do you like NASCAR? Do your parents or guardians enjoy cheap entertainment?

If you answered yes to the above questions, go get your parent or guardian and have them read the following sentences.

In 2017, tickets to all Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races will be free for children 12 and under.

But wait, there’s more.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns eight tracks that host 13 Cup races, will sell tickets for children 12 under for $10.

SMI owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Enjoy the new year and the new season.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch questions Xfinity rules package at Indy

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Kyle Busch isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he certainly did so after Saturday’s  Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR implemented a number of changes to make the racing closer, tighter and more exciting — including restrictor plates, a larger rear spoiler, aero ducts, and a smaller splitter — and achieved all that on many fronts.

But not for the younger Busch brother, who wasn’t pleased with the rules package. Was it actually designed to specifically slow him down rather than to even out things for the entire field?

Or was he just simply upset because he didn’t win a third Xfinity race in a row at IMS?

Check out how our NASCAR America analysts gauged the Xfinity changes in the above video.

 

TriStar Motorsports team owner Mark Smith passes away

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Mark Smith, owner of TriStar Motorsports, died Saturday at his home, after a long battle with cancer, the team announced Monday. He was 63.

He began his racing career building engines for his brother Jack’s drag car in the 1970s. He moved his family from the West Coast in the early 1990s to pursue a career in NASCAR. He was the owner of TriStar Motorsports and Pro Motor Engines.

TriStar Motorsports fields the No. 14 in the Xfinty Series with JJ Yeley and the No. 72 in the Cup Series with Cole Whitt. The team stated the team will continue operations under the management of Bryan Smith, son of Mark Smith.

“It was dad’s dream to own and operate a NASCAR team,” Bryan Smith said. “He devoted his life to that dream and his family plans to honor his wishes by continuing our efforts in his memory.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Victory Junction Gang victoryjunction.org or NOVA (National Organization for Vehicle Access, part of the BraunAbility) novafunding.org.

The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m. ET, Aug. 1 at Cavin-Cook Funeral Home, Mooresville, North Carolina. They have created a Facebook page where you are encouraged to leave a story for the family to enjoy. (facebook.com/Remembering-Mark-Smith-301261653675224)

NASCAR America: Analysts break down Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. wreck (video)

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Given how wild the Brickyard 400 played out, the big wreck between race leaders Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t exactly surprising.

Rather, with the way the race transpired from the opening lap, was the Busch/Truex wreck almost inevitable?

Truex got loose and washed up into the left rear of Busch’s car, sending both drivers and their respective cars into the outside retaining walls, hitting hard and ending their respective days.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about the wreck from Monday’s show in the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. recaps wild Brickyard 400 (video)

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. — who will become part of our NBC Sports Group in 2018 — looked back on a wild and intense Brickyard 400.

Earnhardt was one of several drivers whose day came to an early ending — in Junior’s case when he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne‘s car, destroying his radiator in the process.

All the mayhem and mishaps could be linked to over-aggressive driving, Earnhardt said, saying that every driver was in “attack mode,” especially on restarts.

Check out Junior in the video above.