Rick Ware Racing to field full-time team in 2017 NASCAR Cup season

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Veteran NASCAR Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series team owner Rick Ware announced Friday that he will field a new full-time team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for the 2017 season.

The Thomasville, North Carolina-based team will make its debut at next month’s 59th Daytona 500 and compete as an “open non-chartered” team. Sponsorship of the team will be announced at a later date, according to a media release.

In much the same way Rick Ware Racing has done with both its Xfinity and Truck teams over the years, there will a rotating roster of drivers that will pilot the No. 51 Chevrolet during the 2017 season.

Timmy Hill will be the first driver during Speedweeks and in the Daytona 500. Others slated to compete in subsequent races include longtime RWR drivers Stanton Barrett, Cody Ware and Kevin O’Connell.

Ware has purchased assets from Tommy Baldwin Racing including cars, pulldown rig and technology support.

In addition Ware has added Joe Lax, who will serve as crew chief of the No. 51, and Mike Hillman Sr., who will fill a newly-created role as a consultant.

“We’ve been eyeing our return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since the end of last year,” Ware said in a media release. “We knew with the competition level stronger than ever, we needed to take the steps to make sure we could come to the track and be as competitive as possible, while focused on building our organization as the season presses on.”

RWR has just one prior start in NASCAR’s premier series, coming at Las Vegas in 2012 when Hill finished last in a 42-car field after being involved in a wreck 42 laps into the 267-lap event.

Hill, 23, will have to race his way into the Daytona 500 by qualifying performance. It will be Hill’s 49th career NASCAR Cup start — but his first at Daytona. In addition, because RWR is a non-charter team, it and whichever driver is behind the wheel will have to qualify on performance for every NASCAR Cup race it enters.

After a one-year hiatus, RWR will also return to the Truck Series with Spencer Boyd as its driver. It is not expected to field an Xfinity Series program due to the upgrade to NASCAR Cup.

Last season in the Xfinity Series, fielding rides for 22 different drivers. Veteran driver Jeff Green had the best overall finish: seventh in the summer race at Daytona.

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Matt Kenseth wrecks out of Auto Club 400 on late restart

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Matt Kenseth crashed out of the Auto Club 400 on a restart with 16 laps remaining in the race at Auto Club Speedway.

Kenseth had restarted fourth following a caution for an incident involving Gray Gaulding.

Kenseth was in the middle groove exiting Turn 2 when he was tapped from behind by Martin Truex Jr. and slid toward the inside wall, which his No. 20 Toyota hit hard. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was cleared and released from the infield care center.

It is Kenseth’s third DNF in the first five races of the season and his second in as many races. He had four in all of 2016.

Kenseth entered the race 20th in the point standings.

Martin Truex Jr. has commanding performance in Stage 2 win at Fontana

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Martin Truex Jr. has taken over as the most dominating driver in today’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

After pole-sitter Kyle Larson won the first 60-lap stage, Truex won Stage 2. During the session, Truex’s car showed supremacy with nearly a seven-second lead in the closing laps of the stage.

Truex has now won three of the last six stages, having captured both stages two weeks ago en route to his overall race win at Las Vegas.

Larson is in second place, followed by Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

There has been just two cautions in the race – both coming in Stage 1.

We now move to the final stage, an 80-lap shootout to determine the race winner.

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Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 of Auto Club 400 at Fontana

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Pole-sitter Kyle Larson is almost one-third of the way to winning Sunday’s Auto Club 400. The California native won Stage 1 of the race at his home-state Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

Larson (43 laps) and Martin Truex Jr. (12 laps) have led the majority of the laps during the opening 60-lap segment. That segment will be followed by another 60-lap segment, and then an 80-lap final section for 200 laps (400 miles) around the 2-mile low-banked track.

It was Larson’s first stage win of the 2017 season under the new enhanced scoring format in the NASCAR Cup Series. Larson has finished runner-up in each of the last three races and four of the last five (dating back to the 2016 season finale). He has just one career Cup win, last year at Michigan.

Truex is running second, followed by Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Sixth through 10th are Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin.

Each of the top 10 finishers in Stage 1 will earn stage points in the NASCAR Cup standings.

Two incidents of note occurred early in the race, both involving Brad Keselowski:

* On the first lap, Keselowski’s car suffered left rear damage when several cars were involved in an accordion-like wreck. Others involved included Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, but there was no caution called.

* Keselowski continued on without repairing the damage and was spun out on Lap 3 when he was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson, causing further damage to Keselowski’s Ford Fusion. The caution came out for Laps 5 through 7. Johnson claimed there was little or no damage over his team radio, but Johnson has continued to have struggles this weekend. He’s running 32nd, one lap down.

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Bad race start results in damaged cars for Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick

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A bad start by the inside lane at the beginning of the Auto Club 400 resulted in damage to the cars of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman.

Denny Hamlin struggled to get to speed at the drop of the green flag, causing the first few rows of cars to bunch up. It resulted in Newman making contact with Keselowski’s left rear and causing damage. Harvick then ran into Newman as the inside bottlenecked.

On Lap 4, after falling back to 17th, Keselowski was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson on the front stretch, which sent the No. 2 car spinning through the infield grass. Keselowski, the Atlanta winner, was 19th and the first car a lap down when the first stage ended.

During pit stops in the resulting caution, large amounts of tape were put on the front bumper and grille of Harvick’s car and the right-front fender of Newman’s.

With 35 laps left in the first 60-lap stage, Harvick was forced to pit for a flat right-rear tire. He now runs in 28th, a lap down. Newman, who won last week at Phoenix, a lap down in 22nd.

Johnson, a six-time Auto Club winner and the defending winner, was told his No. 48 had damage that could easily be fixed in the pits.  He runs in 20th a lap down. Johnson is winless this season.