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Erik Jones: Departure of Carl Edwards ‘not something we saw coming’

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Erik Jones said the surprise news of Carl Edwards leaving Joe Gibbs Racing and not competing in 2017 was “not something that we saw coming” during an interview Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Jones will be a rookie in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season with Furniture Row Racing, which is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones said the news won’t impact his rookie campaign driving the No. 77 Toyota.

Daniel Suarez, the defending Xfinity Series champion, will replace Edwards in the No. 19 Toyota after initially being slated to run his third Xfinity season. Joe Gibbs Racing will announce the move at a 10 a.m. (ET) press conference Wednesday at the team’s race shop.

Jones, the 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion and the 2016 Xfinity Rookie of the Year, was announced as the driver of the No. 77 Toyota last August.

MORE: Ryan: Carl Edwards departure fits guarded personality

The 20-year-old driver said his rapid ascension to the Cup series, which began in the Truck series at 17, didn’t begin to sink in until a trip to Furniture Row Racing’s shop in Denver, Colorado, a few weeks ago.

“I was walking through the shop and looking at all the cars they were putting together,” Jones said on “SiriusXM Speedway” with Dave Moody. “At the time I was looking at the new body for 2017 that I hadn’t seen yet. And walking through the shop, there were some chassis lined up on the floor and every chassis has a serial code on it. It had the chassis number and at the end it had ‘- EJ’ and that was pretty cool. That’s the feeling, you’re walking through and (think) ‘that’s me. That’s my car. They’re putting that car together for me.'”

The last few months have been busy for Furniture Row Racing as it prepares the No. 77 team for its first on-track action in the coming weeks. The first time the completed team will assemble will be on Jan. 31 for a test at Phoenix International Raceway.

Leading the charge for the No. 77 team will be crew chief Chris Gayle, who is coming off a season as crew chief for the No. 18 team in the Xfinity Series thatwon 12 races. When Jones drove the No. 54 car part-time in 2015, he and Gayle won a race at Chicagoland Speedway.

“I didn’t really know him on a personal level so much in 2015,” Jones said. “I spent some time with him (in Denver) last time I was there. I stayed at his house and it’s been fun getting to know him more.”

When Speedweeks rolls around, it will be the first time Jones has driven a Cup car in race conditions since 2015 when he substituted for a suspended Matt Kenseth in two races at the end of the season. That was after he drove for the injured Kyle Busch at Kansas Speedway in May of that year.

But the Cup cars have changed dramatically in those two years, with two major reductions in downforce, that Jones said those starts and even his mid-race substitution of Denny Hamlin at Bristol in April 2015 don’t count toward real Cup experience anymore.

“I realized that at a test I did at Kansas last year with the Furniture Row group,” Jones said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The driving style (in 2015) was fairly different than the test I did at Kansas a few months ago. I think it’s a small learning curve. The driver takes whatever they’re given to the maximum performance level that’s allowed.”

The Kansas test with the 2017 rules package also showed a “big change” from what Jones was used to in the Xfinity Series.

“Immediately, the first lap on the track you’re all the way out of the gas using brake,” Jones said. “I don’t think there’s a single mile-and-a-half on the schedule for the Xfinity Series where we used much brake at all and we were using quite a bit at Kansas. It’s definitely a lot different, but I think it’s good. I think putting it in the driver’s hands is what everybody in the Monster Energy Cup Series has been asking for and we’re getting to see that now.”

Jones will make his full-time Cup series debut on Feb. 26 in the Daytona 500.

NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler having fun mentoring William Byron

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If there’s anyone in the Xfinity Series William Byron should turn to for advice during his rookie season in the series, it’s Elliott Sadler.

A veteran of more than 800 NASCAR races across all three of its national series, Sadler has taken the lead in advising the 19-year-old driver this season. During his appearance on NASCAR America, Sadler praised the driver and the time he’s spent with him.

“That kid is special,” Sadler said. “I want to be that guy (that helps), because I had that guy. I had Jeff Green when I started, I had Dale Jarrett, people I could lean on all the time that could help the learning curve.”

Sadler leads the points standings with four races left in the regular season, but he is winless so far. Byron has earned three wins and is second in points behind Sadler.

“He’s a student of the game,” Sadler said. “I’ve been in meetings with young kids that come along, we’ve been in the meeting and kids are still playing on their phones. I’m in a meeting with William … and he’s still learning and taking notes. He’s got great questions. We’re usually sitting beside each other on the airplanes and we’re talking about things for that particular weekend. I can’t help him drive the car faster. But I can help him maybe with restarts and getting on pit road. Maybe things to think about on Friday to maybe make your car better for Saturday.”

Watch the video for more from Sadler on Byron and his friendship with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler paying tribute to Cale Yarborough with Darlington paint scheme

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Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler will honor childhood racing hero Cale Yarborough with his paint scheme for the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway.

Cale Yarborough poses with his Hardee’s car during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Exhibit Unveiling at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 22, 2012. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The JR Motorsports driver revealed the paint scheme Tuesday on NASCAR America. His No. 1 Chevrolet will have the same color blocking, but not colors, of Yarborough’s famous No. 28 Hardee’s car.

Sadler is not the only driver that will have some form of the Hardee’s paint scheme at Darlington. Dakoda Armstrong, driver of JGL Racing’s No. 28, will have the exact colors of the Hardee’s car and a logo on the hood commemorating Yarborough.

A five-time winner at Darlington and a three-time Cup champion, Yarborough is a native of Timmonsville, South Carolina, which is roughly 20 miles from Darlington.

Watch the video for the full reveal of the car.

Former Truck Series driver Shane Sieg dies at 34

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Shane Sieg, a former Camping World Truck Series driver and older brother of Xfinity driver Ryan Sieg, died over the weekend at the age of 34.

Ryan Sieg Racing announced his passing Tuesday on social media. He would have turned 35 on Wednesday. A team spokesperson could not provide additional details.

“Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers,” the team said on Twitter. “We lost a great driver and an incredible person. Forever in our hearts.”

A native of Tucker, Georgia, Shane Sieg was a veteran of 68 Truck Series races and two Xfinity starts.

He earned three tops 10 in the Truck Series. His best result was eighth at the Milwaukee Mile in 2004. Sieg also won one race in the NASCAR Southeast Series in 2003 at Huntsville Speedway in Alabama.

Sieg made his last Truck start in June 2011 at Pocono Raceway.

Sieg was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR in August 2011 for violating its substance abuse policy and for actions detrimental to the sport.

Ryan Reed honors Alan Kulwicki, Sam Bass with Darlington paint scheme

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Roush Fenway Racing and artist Sam Bass have worked together to create Ryan Reed‘s throwback paint scheme for the Sept. 2 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN.

Reed’s No. 16 Lilly Diabetes Ford will resemble the No. 7 Zerex Ford driven by Alan Kulwicki in 1989.

Kulwicki was sponsored by Zerex from 1987-90, earning two of his five Cup wins in that time.

“My dad was huge fan of Alan and had a lot of respect for him, so it’s awesome to get to run this throwback scheme in Darlington,” Reed said in a press release. “My Dad ran his own race team and drove for himself throughout the 90s, just like Alan. Alan overcame a lot of challenges to become a champion and I can’t help but have a lot of respect for him.”

Bass, who lives with type 1 diabetes like Reed, worked with Kulwicki during his career and helped design Reed’s car. In a Facebook Live video, Bass said he took extra care to make the one in Reed’s No. 16 resemble Kulwicki’s No. 7.

Bass’ name will also be on the passenger-side nameplate on the roof of Reed’s car.

Reed’s car won’t be the only one at Darlington that will pay tribute to the 1992 Cup champion.

Michael McDowell‘s No. 95 Chevrolet in the Cup Series will resemble the car Kulwicki drove in his 1986 rookie year.