Fourth-place finish at Phoenix almost as good as a win for Stenhouse

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Given the struggles he’s had this season, Ricky Stenhouse wound up with a fourth-place win in Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

True, Stenhouse didn’t get to victory lane, but it was almost as good as a win. It was his best NASCAR Cup finish thus far this season – and his top finish, and the best overall showing for Roush Fenway Racing, since Stenhouse ended up second at Bristol last summer.

“We have had some bad luck but today was fun,” said Stenhouse, who started 2017 with finishes of 31st (Daytona), 13th (Atlanta) and 33rd (Las Vegas). “I thought we made our car better throughout the race and it has been awhile since we’ve done that so I was pretty happy.”

Stenhouse was the highest-finishing Ford driver at Phoenix, ahead of Brad Keselowski (fifth) and Kevin Harvick (sixth).

The key to Stenhouse’s strong finish was a gutsy strategy call late in the race by crew chief Brian Pattie. When Joey Logano wrecked with six laps left in regulation, Pattie told Stenhouse to stay on-track instead of pitting.

Stenhouse was one of three drivers that stayed out, as well as eventual race winner Ryan Newman.

“There at the end, I thought (Pattie) wanted us to stay out and I kind of second guessed him,” Stenhouse said. “When I told him everyone was coming down pit road, I had already committed to stay out and that paid off.

“We made the car better throughout the race and we stuck with it, passed a lot of race cars today and made it pretty fun.”

It was a satisfying showing for a car that gave Stenhouse problems during practice on Friday and Saturday, as well as early on in Sunday’s race.

“We weren’t that great during practice as far as speed goes, but I thought our car had good long run speed and we proved that today when we were able to get some long runs,” Stenhouse said. “We weren’t as bad on restarts as I thought we were going to be.”

It’s been a rough last few years for Roush Fenway Racing, which has not reached victory lane in the Cup Series since former driver Carl Edwards’ two wins in 2014.

But Dave Pericak, Director of Ford Performance, never gave up on RFR or its abilities. That confidence paid off Sunday, Stenhouse said.

“I have definitely seen a difference in the quality,” Stenhouse said of his team’s efforts thus far in 2017. “We still have a long way to go but we have made a big improvement from last year, especially the end of last year.

“… I think our cars and the attitude at the shop is really good. Trevor (Bayne) has some solid finishes here in the first few races and that is something encouraging and something to build off of. I feel like we have had speed, just haven’t gotten the finishes for the speed we have. It is better to have speed and have to figure out how to get the finishes.

“Today I thought we had a 10th-place car on the long run and took a gamble and were able to get a better finish there at the end.”

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AJ Allmendinger making return to Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2018

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After a one-year absence, AJ Allmendinger will return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

Allmendinger, who drives for JTG Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, will once again drive for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, which will be held Jan. 27 – 28.

A winner in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Allmendinger will split time in the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 in the GTD class with Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach and Mario Farnbacher.

Allmendinger drove for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race from 2014-16. His best result during that stretch was fifth in the Prototype class in 2015.

“I am pumped to be back racing for Shank in the (Rolex) 24. I missed the race last year and I hated to, so I’m really glad to be back,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “His whole team did an awesome job with the Acura last year and it is awesome to be back with him for the Rolex. After racing for the overall win so many years in Prototypes, it will be a completely different experience to be racing in the GTD class, but I’m looking forward to it. Mike (Shank) always puts an awesome team together and this year is no different so I am counting down to get my first shot in this car.”

Allmendinger is coming off his fourth full year of driving the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished the season 27th in the standings, his worst during his tenure with the team. He earned one top five and five top 10s.

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, 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.”