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Month before first full Cup season, Michael McDowell giving away only NASCAR trophy

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It took 10 years for Michael McDowell to earn his first NASCAR trophy, but it doesn’t reside in a place of endearment.

“It’s on the floor in my guest room because my wife made me take it down to put up Christmas decorations,” McDowell said this week during the NASCAR Media Tour. “She was tired of it being in the main walkway.”

Last July, McDowell won his first NASCAR race in his 92nd Xfinity Series start, claiming the victory at Road America in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet. He led 24 of the race’s 48 laps and outran teammate Brendan Gaughan.

It remains McDowell’s only win in 309 starts over all three of NASCAR’s national series. But McDowell, who returns to the No. 95 owned by Leavine Family Racing, has no plans to keep the only trophy he’s earned since his first start in an Oct. 20, 2007 Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series treks to Phoenix International Raceway next week for a test, McDowell will use the opportunity to hand the trophy over his father to “store for a little while.”

“Trophies, to me, have never been significant,” McDowell said. “I’d rather have just the memory of being in Victory Lane and the pictures of the people you’re in Victory Lane with. The only trophy I have is that Road America trophy from my career. I’ve pretty much given away all of them, and I’m planning on giving away that one as well.”

Next month, five months after the biggest accomplishment of his NASCAR career, McDowell will begin his most significant season to date. With Leavine Family Racing in possession of a charter, McDowell is guaranteed to start every Cup Series race for the first time.

Before this year, the most he had started was 33 races in 2013. Last season, he started 31 while splitting races with Ty Dillon.

“It’s kind of a unique feeling,” said McDowell, whose first Cup start was in March 2008 at Martinsville for Michael Waltrip Racing. “I’ve run a lot of races, but not at a high level. Not at the level that I wanted to be at. So this is the first year where I feel like I’m in competitive equipment with the right people, the right parts, the right partners, to go out there and really show what we can do and do it full-time.

“Last year … It was pretty close to full-time, so it wasn’t a huge jump. But, to know that now you have a shot if you do win a race, to be in the (playoffs) and to do all those things that small teams strive to do, is definitely a challenge we look forward to.”

McDowell and his team have “high hopes” this season, especially after he earned two tops 10s last season. That included his first top 10 in a non-restrictor plate race when he placed 10th in the finale in Miami.

“We’ve done a really great job in the off-season, infrastructure-wise, and just really getting prepared for this year,” McDowell said. “We hope to pick up right where we left off, and to do that consistently now that we’re running full-time. To run in those low 20s and be in the ‘teens gives you an opportunity to steal a good result, and hopefully we’ll be able to do that every weekend.”

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NASCAR America: Dale Jr.’s aggressiveness at Sonoma pays off, will need it at Daytona

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Dale Earnhardt was very aggressive in his final Cup start at Sonoma Raceway, and while it may have resulted in his Lap 14 accident in Turn 11, it also helped produce his third top 10 of the year and his second in a row.

“I think being offensive is better than being passive on a road course, nothing wrong with that,” said NASCAR America analyst Max Papis, who also broke down what caused Earnhardt’s bizarre spin early in Sunday’s race that also involved Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson.

“You’ve got to commit, usually the pass has happened before you actually arrive at the corner,” Papis said. “He thought that was a good opportunity, (then) committed. ”

NASCAR America’s analysts also discussed Earnhardt’s upcoming start at Daytona, which likely will be his final Cup start there. The track may be his best shot to earn a win and a spot in the playoffs.

The analysts believe the aggressiveness that was on display at Sonoma will be necessary for Earnhardt to pull a win out at Daytona.

Earnhardt’s year got off to a rough start in the Daytona 500. He was leading the race when Kyle Busch lost a tire in Turn 3 on Lap 105, spun and collected Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones.

Earnhardt was near the front at Talladega in May late in the race when he was forced to pit for a loose tire with less than 15 laps to go.

That leaves the 14-time most popular driver with just two more chances to win a restrictor-plate race, the format he’s earned 10 of his 26 Cup Series wins.

“They’ve got to find a way to give him a car where he can be aggressive Dale Jr.,” Jeff Burton said. “What makes him so good at Daytona and Talladega is that he doesn’t hesitate. He’s the guy setting the tempo, he’s the guy forcing the issue. … He can’t drive with caution, he can’t drive worried about if ‘is my car going to stick?’ He’s got to stick it in there and know it’s going to stick. He hasn’t had that the last several plate races.”

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Daytona

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NASCAR returns to Daytona International Speedway this weekend with the Cup and Xfinity Series.

Cup teams will compete in the Coke Zero 400, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBC and the Xfinity Series holds the Coca-Colca Firecracker 250, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday on NBCSN.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Cup – Coke Zero 400

Forty cars are entered into the 17th race of the Cup season. That would make it the sixth race this year to have the most possible cars in the field.

Darrell Wallace Jr. will be back in the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Brendan Gaughan will drive the No. 75 Chevrolet for Beard Motorsports.

Ryan Sieg will drive the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing in his third start for the team.

Kurt Busch won the last trip to Daytona, leading only the last lap of the Daytona 500 after multiple leaders ran out of gas in the closing laps. Brad Keselowski won last year’s Coke Zero 400.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Coca-Cola Firecracker 250

There are 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this race, including four full-time Cup drivers. They are Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Joey Logano.

There is no driver announced for the No. 93 Chevrolet owned by RSS racing.

Ryan Reed won the February Xfinity race at Daytona after being involved in two crashes and leading nine laps. Aric Almirola won last year’s July race after a caution on the last lap forced NASCAR to review video and loop data and determined him the winner over Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch can afford to lose interim crew chief for Daytona

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Kyle Busch may have yet another view in his ear this weekend when he races in the Coke Zero 400.

Interim crew chief Ben Beshore may be suspended for the race after two unsecured lug nuts were found on the No. 18 Toyota after the Sonoma race.

The possible loss of Beshore comes after Busch’s usual crew chief, Adam Stevens, was suspended four races for a wheel falling off Busch’s car following a pit stop at Dover.

Daytona will be the fourth race of that suspension. NASCAR America’s analysts discussed the impact of the possible suspension for Busch, who is still looking for his first win since July of last year.

“They’re not making mistakes, they’re just finding themselves in difficult positions,” Dale Jarrett said. “This is certainly another one of those, going to a race track Kyle Busch can win at. But who you have on that pit box means a lot as for performing all through a race.”

Said Jeff Burton, “The frustration level is mounting, obviously. Kyle Busch is expecting to win races. … I think if you’re going to lose your crew chief, this is probably the race you want to lose it for. Going to Daytona, you pretty much have a plan going there. The pit strategy will be interesting with the stages, but if I was going to a race track, this would be the race I’d feel most comfortable without my crew chief.”

Watch the above video for the full segment.

Eddie Pardue named crew chief for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 33 car

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The Circle Sport/The Motorsports Group announced that Eddie Pardue is the new crew chief on its No. 33 Chevrolet effective immediately.

Pardue, who was the team’s head of engineering, will lead the effort on Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s car this weekend in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. This will be his first Cup race as a crew chief since 2008, when he led Greg Biffle in one race at Auto Club Speedway. He has three wins in 338 races as crew chief in the Xfinity Series dating back to 1998.

The former competition director for Red Horse Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, Pardue replaces Pay Tryson, who has been released from the team.

Tryson directed Boris Said at Sonoma Raceway, where he finished 29th. Earnhardt has been in the No. 33 in every other race. His best result in his first 15 starts was 26th in the Daytona 500.

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