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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.

In need of a wedding singer? Call Steven Tyler

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 05:  Singer Steven Tyler performs during his "Out on a Limb" tour at the Dolby Theatre on July 5, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA)
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA
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Steven Tyler has performed with Aerosmith in a video for ESPN back when it broadcast NASCAR races. Tyler also has performed before the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Now, he’s played Kurt Busch‘s wedding.

What more is left for the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer?

Tyler performed at a celebration for the marriage of Kurt and Ashley Busch earlier this month. Kurt Busch posted a photo of the evening.

That NASCAR-themed video Tyler did with Aerosmith for the 2007 season? Here it is:

Before he performed at Bristol in Aug. 2015, Tyler met Richard Petty:

Chip Ganassi Racing adds competition director

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Team owner Chip Ganassi looks on as drivers perpare on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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Chip Ganassi Racing has hired Mark McArdle to be its competition director, a new position for the organization.

McArlde will oversee the team’s two Cup teams — Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray — and its Xfinity operation, which features Brennan Poole, Tyler Reddick, Justin Marks and Larson.

McArdle had been with Roush Fenway Racing. He joined the team in Nov. 2014 to oversee engineering for its Cup and Xfinity programs. He previously had been director of racing operations at Richard Childress Racing, joining that organization in April 2013. He spent four years before that at Furniture Row Racing, overseeing the team’s competition department.

At Ganassi, McArdle will report to Max Jones, team manager.

Last year marked the first time in the team’s history that it had two cars make the Cup playoffs. Both Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, though, failed to advance from the first round. Larson, who had one win, finished ninth in the points. McMurray, who was winless, placed 13th.

“I think everybody in the building feels like we took a good step forward last year,’’ said Steve Lauletta, president of Chip Ganassi Racing. “We’re not happy with the step we took. We have more to do. So, being able to bring more of the leadership into the building that can focus on how we get there, the process that we need, we continue to bring on more people.

“I think Max feels like another person can help us make sure that everybody is focused on the right thing and we’re not wasting time and resources. Mark brings a tremendous amount of expertise to continue that growth that we’ve seen.’’

JR Motorsports to keep championship-contending tandem together

SPARTA, KY - JULY 07:  Elliott Sadler, driver of the #1 OneMain Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway on July 7, 2016 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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JR Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that crew chief Kevin Meendering will remain with Elliott Sadler this season.

Meendering and Sadler recorded three Xfinity wins last year in their first season together. Meendering also helped Sadler score a career-best 29 top-10 results and finish runner-up for the series title to Daniel Suarez.

The announcement was included in a team release about Hunt Brothers Pizza serving as the primary sponsor for Sadler’s car in two races in each of the next two seasons.

Wood Brothers give a tour of new race shop

LOUDON, NH - JULY 15:  Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 16, 2016 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images
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The Wood Brothers begin this season not only with a charter but with a new home.

The team had shared a building with JTG Daugherty in Harrisburg, North Carolina, but moved after last season to a shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. The move puts the Wood Brothers closer to Team Penske. The two organizations are aligned.

The Wood Brothers will again have Ryan Blaney as driver. The team also has a charter, leasing it from Go Fas Racing. That means the Wood Brothers team is guaranteed a starting spot in every Cup race this year, unlike last year when they did not have a charter.