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Former NASCAR champion Sam Ard dies

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Sam Ard, a two-time champion in what was called the Busch Series, died Sunday, a friend of the family confirmed to NBC Sports. 

He was 78.

A moment of silence was held before Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.

Ard won the 1983 and ’84 titles in what is now the Xfinity Series. He won 10 races in 1983 and eight races in 1984.

Ard competed in what was the Busch Series from 1982-84, winning 22 of 92 races. He had 79 top-10 finishes. Ard ranks 12th on the all-time series wins list, tied with Tommy Ellis. Ard’s career was cut short when he suffered head trauma in a racing crash in 1984.

A 1982 Oldsmobile Omega that Ard drove was added in January to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Glory Road that shows the sport’s iconic cars. 

Ard was selected to the National Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999

Ard had been in failing health, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. In 2008, Kevin Harvick donated a van to Ard’s family. The NASCAR Foundation and Motor Racing Outreach teamed for an online auction to benefit a fund for Ard. Kyle Busch committed $100,000 to Ard after winning what was then a Nationwide race at Texas Motor Speedway. That was Busch’s 10th win, tying him at the time with Ard for most wins in a season. Busch went on to break that mark and finish with 13 victories that year.

“Sam Ard is one of the pioneers of this (series) and to be tied with him at 10 wins is something that’s pretty spectacular and really, really special to me,’’ Busch said after that Texas win.

NASCAR released the following statement about Ard.

“For many years, Sam Ard’s persona was that of a tough-as-nails racer. No matter the track or the competition, he battled to the end. That fighter’s mentality lasted throughout his life, and far beyond the confines of a race car. Sam battled on and off the track with the same ferocity that earned him two championships in what is today the NASCAR XFINITY Series as well as countless victories in the Late Model Sportsman Series. NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to Sam’s family and friends. He will be dearly missed, and his memory cherished.”

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Ryan Blaney paces final Cup practice at Bristol

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Ryan Blaney posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway with a lap of 128.554 mph.

He was followed by Kyle Larson (128.065 mph), Ryan Newman (127.784), Jamie McMurray (127.487) and Kyle Busch (127.258).

Chris Buescher, who will remain with JTG Daugherty after this season, was next on the speed chart with a lap of 127.098 mph.

Matt Kenseth had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 125.930. Busch was next at 125.601 mph.

Click here for practice report

In the session’s only incident, Timmy Hill spun but did not hit the wall.

Qualifying is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Chris Buescher signs deal to remain at JTG Daugherty

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Chris Buescher has signed a multi-year contact to remain at JTG Daugherty in the No. 37 Chevrolet, the team announced Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Really excited to be able to get everything worked out,” Buescher said. “We’ve been able to make a lot of progress this season.”

The team also announced that crew chief Trent Owens has signed an extension to remain with the team.

Buescher was loaned to the team before this season by Roush Fenway Racing because that organization had no room for him. With this new deal, Buescher will no longer be aligned with Roush Fenway Racing.

Roush also leased a charter to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car this season. That charter must be returned after this year. Car owner Tad Geschickter said the team had an agreement to purchase a charter.

“That paperwork is going to be submitted to NASCAR this week,” Geschickter said.

He also said that the team has “several years” on its agreement to remain aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

Buescher won the 2015 Xfinity championship for Roush Fenway Racing and was loaned to Front Row Motorsports in 2016 to run in Cup. He won at Pocono as a rookie to earn a spot in last year’s playoffs. Buescher finished 16th in the points.

The 24-year-old Buescher is 25th in the points heading into Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC). Buescher finished a season-best sixth last week at Michigan International Speedway.

The signing is not unexpected. Buescher said last month at Indianapolis that he and the team were working on a new deal.

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Tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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After two road courses, the Xfinity Series goes short track racing tonight with the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes his first Xfinity start of the year, Kyle Busch attempts to get his second win of the week as he tries to complete a sweep of all three NASCAR races in “Thunder Valley.”

Below is all the info you need ahead of tonight’s race on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Kenny Hawkins, WJHL-TV News Channel 11 anchor and sports director, will give the command to start engines at 7:38 p.m. Green flag is set for 7:43 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 300 laps (159.9 miles) around the .533-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 85. Stage 2 ends on Lap 170.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Qualifying is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Jason Lovins will perform the Anthem at 7:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Countdown to Green. The Performance Racing Network radio broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 81 degrees and a 32 percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: In April, Erik Jones led the final 21 laps and won his second Bristol spring race. Last August, Austin Dillon won the Food City 300 in an overtime finish. The only laps he led were the final four.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is set for 3:40 p.m.

JGL Racing to honor Cale Yarborough with paint scheme at Darlington

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JGL Racing’s No. 28 will pay tribute to Cale Yarborough next month at Darlington Raceway as part of the track’s throwback weekend.

Dakoda Armstrong will pilot the car, which will mirror the paint scheme Yarborough had for the 1983 and ’84 seasons. Yarborough won the Daytona 500 both seasons. Yarborough became the first driver to run a qualifying lap at more than 200 mph at Daytona before crashing on the second lap. He came back to win the 500 in his backup car.

The NASCAR Hall of Famer won 83 races and three championships in his Cup career. Yarborough and Jimmie Johnson are tied for sixth on the career Cup victory list.

“Once again, we look forward to paying tribute to one of the icons of this sport,” said James Whitener, owner of JGL Racing, in a statement.  “We really look forward to this Darlington weekend every year and ways that we can make it bigger and bigger from our end.  Cale is one of the great champions in NASCAR history and to honor him at his home track of Darlington Raceway is pretty cool for me and everyone on this JGL Racing team.  We look forward to a fun-filled weekend in Darlington and a solid run in the No. 28 “Cale Yarborough Tribute” Toyota.”