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Dale Earnhardt Jr. was ‘freaking pumped’ for Phoenix test

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s feelings toward this week’s two-day test at Phoenix Raceway were different from past NASCAR tests.

While traveling to the track in Avondale, Arizona, from the NASCAR-themed cruise that stopped in Key West, Florida, Earnhardt couldn’t contain his excitement in texts to friends and team members.

“I don’t know why, but I’m just freaking pumped up for this,” Earnhardt said Tuesday, recalling the general theme of those text messages during a press conference. “When you’re racing every single week for 20 years and you’re testing here and there it gets kind of boring, no lie.”

For the second time since a concussion forced him out of the car last July, Earnhardt climbed back into his No. 88 Chevrolet to prepare for the 2017 season. He last drove a car in December at Darlington Raceway in order to receive clearance to drive again.

“My guys were excited this morning when we walked into the hauler,” Earnhardt said. “You miss the camaraderie and the friendships I have on my road crew. I think they missed me. That makes you feel good. They seem excited that we’re working together and back together.”

MORE: Dale Jr. looks at 2017 and beyond with return to racing

Earnhardt, driving a No. 88 car with sponsor logos but no paint, was the first driver out on the 1-mile track. He would return to the garage for an extended period of time to fix a “little hiccup” when his brakes caught fire.

“We got underway and got to trying some stuff that we had on our list,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve got a really long list. (Crew chief) Greg (Ives) and those guys are motoring right through it. We’ve seen that the car has really good speed.

“I like the way the car feels. It’s been a fun day. Didn’t really take any time to get acclimated or adjusted to anything. There’s a couple of small new things with the cockpit or the dash, little things like that. It’s funny how things continue to change, technology on the car continues to change. As far as driving the car I felt comfortable out there.”

It was the first time Earnhardt has been on a track with other cars since he finished 13th at Kentucky Speedway on July 9. His recovery from a concussion forced him to miss the final 18 races of the year.

Earnhardt has three wins at Phoenix, including his last Cup Series victory in November 2015. The 14-time most popular driver shared his thoughts on the renovation project Phoenix announced Monday. The $178 million project will include moving the start-finish to the dogleg on the backstretch.

“I think it will be really interesting to have the restart while we’re in the turns,” Earnhardt said. “Imagine if you’re 20th and middle of a pack and trying to get a good restart while you’re in a corner. It’s going to be interesting to throttle up out of the turn for a restart. It’s going to be guys all over the place going through the dogleg because on restarts you’re going to have guys that accelerate better than others, guys in the right lane, wrong lane. It’s going to be chaos going through the dogleg. It will be some action.”

Earnhardt and the rest of the drivers testing will be back at the track on Wednesday. Every Cup Series team will return to Phoenix for the March 19 Camping World 500.

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BRANDT returns for third year with JR Motorsports in Xfinity Series

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BRANDT Professional Agriculture will return as a sponsor for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, the team announced Wednesday.

The company will be a primary sponsor of Justin Allgaier‘s No. 7 Chevrolet in 19 races and an associate sponsor of Allgaier and his three teammates the rest of the season.

Brandt has sponsored Allgaier for eight years, including the last three with JR Motorsports.

Allgaier is a native of Riverton, Illinois, which is 15 miles from Springfield, Illinois, where the company is headquartered.

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Allgaier, 31, is coming off his second season that ended with him in the Championship 4. He earned two wins, 10 top five and 17 top-10 finishes. He also led a series-high 495 laps among Xfinity regulars.

He will be teammates with Elliott Sadler, Tyler Reddick and Michael Annett this year.

The Xfinity season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway.

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NASCAR revamps Rookie of the Year points system in national series

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NASCAR has changed how it determines the Rookie of the Year in all three national series, it announced Thursday.

The new system, which will debut in a month at Daytona International Speedway, reflects the points system that decides the champion in each series, including the stage format in races.

A race win will earn a rookie candidate 40 points and five playoff points. A second-place finish will is worth 35 points and a third-place finish is 34 points, etc.

A rookie candidate who wins a stage will earn 10 points and one playoff point.

“The focus on our rising stars has never been stronger and simplifying the Sunoco Rookie of the Year system made perfect sense,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations in a press release. “Our fans track closely the progress of our young drivers and matching the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points structure with the championship points will help them follow this prestigious program and award more closely than ever before.”

Erik Jones was Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series last year. William Byron won the honor in the Xfinity Series and Chase Briscoe won it in the Camping World Truck Series.

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Watkins Glen, Michigan announce multi-year sponsor deals

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Watkins Glen International and Michigan International Speedway announced multi-year sponsorship deals for their Cup Series races Thursday.

WGI announced the Aug. 5 race at the road course will be sponsored by GoBowling.com. The 90-lap race will be called “Go Bowling at the Glen.”

This is not the first time the bowling brand has sponsored a Cup event. It sponsored the spring race at Kansas Speedway from 2016-17 and the August event at Pocono Raceway from 2013-14.

As part of the deal, Go Bowling will have two bowling lanes at the track for the race weekend.

Michigan has renewed its sponsorship deal with FireKeepers Casino Hotel for its June Cup race for “many years.”

The hotel in Battle Creek, Michigan, began its relationship with MIS by sponsoring pole day in 2014. It began sponsoring the June race in 2016.

TheFireKeepers Casino 400 is scheduled for June 10.

ISM Raceway (Phoenix) also announced the title sponsor for its March 11 Cup race.

The event will called the TicketGuardian 500.

TicketGuardian is a mobile ticketing insurance provider. When fans purchase tickets to events at ISM Raceway, they will be given the option to add TicketGuardian’s ticket protection coverage. This allows fans to have insurance on the tickets they’ve purchased in advance.

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Hendrick, Kelley Blue Book extend relationship through 2020

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Hendrick Motorsports and Kelley Blue Book have extended their sponsorship deal three years through 2020, the team announced Thursday.

The car pricing, research and valuation guide will be a primary sponsor on Chase Elliott‘s N0. 9 Chevrolet in two races each year.

This season it will be on the No. 9 for the Aug. 18 race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the November playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kelley Blue Book has been partnered with Hendrick since 2014 when it had a one-race deal to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It went to a two-race deal beginning in 2016.

MORE: Driving the No. 9 feels like going home for Chase Elliott

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