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Aric Almirola: ‘Imperative’ Richard Petty Motorsports focus on one-car effort

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After five seasons of running two cars in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Richard Petty Motorsports announced late last year it will only field its iconic No. 43 car this season.

It will be the first time a Richard Petty-owned team has fielded only one car since John Andretti drove for Petty Enterprises in 1998.

The reduction to one car, driven by Aric Almirola, came after Brian Scott retired after one season driving the No. 44.

“I can just tell you the facts and the fact is it was imperative for us to get our focus and put all of our resources and all of our energy and all of our effort into one thing,” Almirola said last week at the NASCAR Media Tour.

Almirola enters his sixth season driving the No. 43 made famous by Petty. It will be his first full-time Cup season without a teammate.

“Over the last couple years we have been a little bit diluted and so to be able to take this opportunity is not what we wanted as a race team by any means, but sometimes in life you get lemons and you have to make lemonade,” Almirola said. “This gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Among the lemons was RPM not qualifying either of its cars for the playoffs the last two seasons. After Almirola made the playoffs in 2014 off his win in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, he finished 17th and 26th in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Last season, the Florida-native failed to earn a top-five finish for the first time since 2009, when he made nine starts.

Scott, who finished 31st in last year’s standings, gave RPM its only top five of the year with his runner-up result in the Talladega playoff race.

“We retained a lot of employees, so now it’s all hands-on deck on that 43 car,” Almirola said. “It’s no secret that last year, 2016, was not a good season for us. It’s just the reality, but 2017 is a new year and we’ve got to take advantage of what’s ahead of us, and I feel like by us scaling back to one car gives us that opportunity to do that, rather than to try and piecemeal a second car together.”

Almirola said “a few opportunities” presented themselves to RPM to possibly run a second car, but they wouldn’t be “high quality” efforts. That resulted in the December announcement that Almirola would be going at it alone this season.

Another result of the reduction to one car is RPM “upped our ante” in its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, another Ford team that reduced the number of Cup teams it’s fielding.

“Over the past several years leading up to last year, we were really good at supplementing,” Almirola said of RPM’s relationship with Roush. “We took what Roush gave us and worked on it and tuned on it ourselves, fluffed and buffed it, if you will, and took it to the race track. Then we kind of went out on a limb and started doing more and more and more on our own and we almost got to a point to where we spread ourselves too thin.”

Almirola believes further piggybacking “off of the knowledge and the people” at Roush will help his team turn back the clock to the 2014 season, when he gave RPM just its third win since 2010.

RPM’s single-car campaign begins in the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.

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Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s to sponsor RCR in Cup, Xfinity in 2018

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Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s will sponsor Richard Childress Racing in multiple races in the Cup and Xfinity Series next year, the team announced Monday.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s merged in September 2017.

The outdoors brands will be on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet during the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and in several other races during the season.

Richard Childress Racing

They will also be a primary sponsor for Austin and Ty Dillon on the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for several races.

“Our relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to the mid-1990s and we’re thrilled to be able to continue it during the 2018 season,” team owner Richard Childress said in a press release. “Austin, Ty and Ryan are terrific ambassadors for the great outdoors. They are all passionate about our hunting, fishing and conservation heritage which has made this partnership thrive.

“Next season will be exciting as we welcome Cabela’s, the iconic outdoor brand acquired by Bass Pro Shops, to the RCR family.”

Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972 by Johnny Morris, is also a primary sponsor of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota owned by Furniture Row Racing.

The store chain will be on the hood of the No. 78 in 16 races and on the sides of it in 14 others.

Here’s the eligible drivers for the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

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NASCAR has officially announced the 20 drivers who are eligible to take part in the Cup Series’ season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The 75-lap exhibition event is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as qualifying for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The race will be divided into two segments. A competition caution on Lap 25 will divide them.

Drivers become eligible for the Clash by winning a pole the previous season, being a Daytona 500 pole-winner who competed full-time the previous season or being a playoff driver the previous season.

Here are the eligible drivers.

2017 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (14)

Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (3)

2017 Playoff Drivers (3)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are not expected to compete in the race. Earnhardt retired from Cup competition following the 2017 season and Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for the 2018 season.

Danica Patrick, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter, announced last month she was done as a full-time driver but that she planned to race in the Daytona 500. No definitive team plans have been announced for her.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram injury update: still in ICU, but continues to show progress

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram continues to show improvement from the serious injuries he suffered in a December 3 car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina.

In an update Sunday written on CaringBridge.org, Ingram’s daughter, Ingrid Jones, said her father remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Asheville’s Mission Hospital.

According to Jones:

“Daddy continues to hold his own, making healing steps forward and then a step back, which we fully expected-but he’s surprising us each and every day with his strength and courage to overcome this. Overall, he’s doing amazingly well.”

Ingram’s family had hoped he could have moved out of ICU and into the Trauma Unit as the next phase of his recovery, but he remains in intensive care.

Said Jones:

“For now, he’ll remain in ICU until he can go a full 24 hours without ventilator assisted breathing. We’re almost there … but may still be a few days.”

Ingram, who turns 81 on Dec. 28, was able to sit in a chair and watched part of Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings with his family. Jones wrote that Ingram also was surprised to learn that the mountain near the family’s Asheville-area home received a total of 16 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

Jones added, “We continue to be optimistic for his health, and we also continue to appreciate the prayers and encouraging thoughts.”

K&N Pro Series West 2018 schedule includes Las Vegas dirt race

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The 2018 K&N Pro Series West schedule includes the series’ first dirt race in 39 years.

NASCAR announced the 15-race schedule Monday, revealing the series will race on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track on Sept. 13.

The race will kick off NASCAR’s playoff-opening weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for all three of its national series.

It will be the series’ first dirt race since 1979 at Ascot Park in Gardena, California. The K&N West series joins the Camping World Truck Series in holding one dirt race a year. The Trucks race at Eldora Speedway in July.

The K&N West season will open March 15 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Calif.

The schedule includes two joint-races with the K&N Pro Series East series. They will be held on July 27 at Iowa Speedway and on Aug. 24 at Illinois’ Gateway Motorsports Park.

NBCSN’s broadcast schedule for the season will be announced at a later date.

Below is the full schedule.

Date Track Location
15-Mar Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.
5-May Tucson Speedway* Tucson, Ariz.
19-May Orange Show Speedway San Bernardino, Calif.
9-Jun Colorado National Speedway Dacona, Colo.
23-Jun Sonoma Raceway Sonoma, Calif.
30-Jun Douglas County Speedway Roseburg, Ore.
15-Jul Spokane County Raceway Airway Heights, Wash.
27-Jul Iowa Speedway** Newtown, Iowa
11-Aug Evergreen Speedway Monroe, Wash.
24-Aug Gateway Motorsports Park** Madison, Ill.
13-Sep Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track Las Vegas, Nev.
29-Sep Meridian Speedway Meridian, Idaho
13-Oct All American Speedway Roseville, Calif.
27-Oct Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.

*100-lap twin features
**Combination event with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East