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Who is the driver to watch? NASCAR America analysts have their say

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New drivers in new places. A returning star. And one looking to be in a class all alone.

Those are just among the drivers NASCAR America’s analysts stated they’d be watching early in the season.

NASCAR America is back for a fourth season at 6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN. NASCAR on NBC analysts Steve Letarte, Kyle Petty, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman are ready for the start of the season.

With that in mind, they each talked about the drivers they will be watching early in the season.

Steve Letarte: I’m going to have a group of them. I look at Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott. The reason I list those three is we now don’t have Jeff Gordon, we now don’t have Tony Stewart, we now don’t have Carl Edwards. Who is going to step up? There is a vacancy in the star power of the sport. I don’t think who is the most creative on Twitter and who has the coolest commercials that will fill that space. People laugh, but that’s how people in Hollywood create stars. I think it’s who shows up on the race track with fireworks in victory and that person will become a star.

Kyle Petty: I’ll be watching Clint Bowyer to see how last year has affected him — non-competitive for a full year and now will be judged against Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch in the same equipment.

Jeff Burton: Everything I’ve heard about preseason testing is that Hendrick Motorsports has been stupid fast. Like not a little faster than everybody. A lot faster than everybody. I’m curious to see if that continues. I heard in Vegas that Chase Elliott was way faster than everybody else. I heard that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was way faster than everybody else at Phoenix. I’m curious to see if that can continue when it really counts.

Dale Jarrett: The top driver I’m going to be watching at the beginning, at the middle and at the end is Jimmie Johnson as he chases his eighth title. This is history that we’re talking about. I know that there will be people that will say it is a different format but that was the same way that every other driver went about winning their championship with different rules and things. I’m really anxious to see this and how Jimmie and his team perform because this is a new type of pressure. There was pressure getting to seven but now you’re talking about doing something that nobody else has done.

No. 2 on my list is Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming back. I don’t have any doubt that he’ll be back in top form at Daytona because that is his place, but how do things go from there? We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on him around any type of accidents.

Third, how does Daniel Suarez handle this situation that he really wasn’t looking at when he ended his year as the Xfinity champion? I’m sure he was expecting some races in the Cup series but not a full-time deal. How does he handle everything with that? He’s been outstanding to this point but will it continue? There’s a huge learning curve there with the different cars and the different people he will be racing against.

Parker Kligerman: I couldn’t settle on one driver to watch but rather a specific group. The 26-and-under age group. This group is spectacular and will garner intense attention all season. 

Austin Dillon – If he/ RCR can start the season strong like last year, especially at 1.5-mile tracks, I see Austin breaking RCR’s winless streak and being a player in the playoffs. New formats could hurt him in the playoffs though, as will he chase points for segments?

Kyle Larson – I look for very much the same performance as last year unless Ganassi has found a big advantage in the offseason. I don’t see them being much better, but no worse. They will make the playoffs. 

Daniel Suarez – This will be one of the most interesting stories to watch all year as we see if he can adjust to the Cup cars. No prediction, just will observe. 

Erik Jones – I feel with Daniel moving up now, Erik has something to prove. He let his similarly experienced but lesser-heralded teammate get the better of him for a championship. Erik won’t be successful focusing on one driver in a series like Cup, but I find it will be inevitable to compare the two. He won’t want to let Daniel better him again or these two could be in for a rockier relationship as the future of Toyota and JGR. 

Ty Dillon – He will be an X factor. He showed slight promise in his limited Cup starts, and Germain Racing has benefited from its RCR relationship but not to the level of JTG Daugherty. I wonder with what will obviously be increased support from RCR, what this team will be capable of? Nonetheless, he adds again to the incredible under-26 crowd. 

Ryan Blaney – I want Ryan to win a race this year. He without a doubt has the talent to do it. He has the race craft, and is one of the most calm drivers I have ever witnessed. Will his 21 team be able to cut out some of what seemed to be growing pains last year? He will also need to cut out slight mistakes late. The future is bright here in typical Penske fashion. Execution will be key. 

Chris Buescher – Wow, what a change of fortune. There will be growing pains here, but I look for Chris to be a solid top-20 car in points come the end of the season. Once again if he pulls something extraordinary again, we could be talking about a fringe playoff car. All I do know is with this addition and Ty Dillon, the top 20 in points has gotten insanely competitive. 

Chase Elliott – Must win a race. Can win a race. Will win a race. He will be a solid contender in the playoffs and garner the largest portion of the fan base out of this whole group. 

Joey Logano – Insane he is even included in this group. He will win races; many in fact. He will be a formidable contender in the playoffs if he and crew chief Todd Gordon can clean up some late-race strategy issues. As every year since 2014, I think they can be champs.  

Landon Cassill – Is actually 27 now, but I wanted to write “Do you even snap bro?” Also some curious things are occurring at that small Statesville, North Carolina, shop, looking ahead to 2018.

NASCAR America begins its fourth season at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, Feb. 13 on NBCSN

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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