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Hendrick Motorsports: No timeline for filling Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 ride

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A Hendrick Motorsports executive said Wednesday there is no timetable – or concern – for finding Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement in the No. 88 Chevrolet.

“Obviously it’s an important decision for us, and one we’re going to take our time, and we’re going to find the right person, the right fit for all the factors that go into that,” Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt said during “The Morning Drive” on the SiriusXM NASCAR channel. “We really don’t have a timeline on that. I feel real fortunate in the talent we have around us, and so I feel like we’re going to be in a good spot no matter where we land. We’re going to take our time and make the right decision for that car, the sponsors and the fans.”

In the release announcing Earnhardt’s retirement after the 2017 season, Hendrick said it would “announce plans for 2018 team alignment at a later date.” Asked to elaborate on those plans Tuesday, Hendrick said, “we’ve got a lot of people to consider, meaning (sponsors), and we’ve just been talking to them. Priority one is to get everything prepared, get the day over with, and then we’ll take time to decide what we do there.”

There would seem to be a short list of internal and external candidates depending on the direction that the team chooses with the ride. There also are the options of weighing a long-term deal vs. a one-year stopgap.

It appears that a new driver might have to be accompanied by a new sponsorship deal. Nationwide said it’s re-evaluating its contract with the No. 88 beyond the 2017 season at Hendrick (though it plans to continue the business relationship with Earnhardt), but Duchart said the plan is to run four cars next season regardless.

“I haven’t heard any conversation like that at all,” he said of cutting back to three cars next year. “On the sponsor search side, we’re really happy with the partners we have, and we think they’re happy with us. We’re going to sit down with them and work thought the transition so we’re optimistic about that. I haven’t heard any sort of dialogue like that.”

Jimmie Johnson: ‘welcome the challenge’ of playoff format

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No matter the playoff format that’s been thrown at Jimmie Johnson, his No. 48 team has bested them, earning seven Cup championships.

This is the first year that the elimination format has included the stage format in races and Johnson said on NBCSN’s “Countdown to Green” that “I honestly welcome the challenge” of it.

The challenge for Johnson Sunday at Kansas Speedway is to stay on the positive side of the cutoff line. He sits in the final transfer spot, seven points above Kyle Busch. Four drivers will be eliminated from contention following the race (3 p.m. ET on NBCN).

“I’m in a position where I have to win, I think going forward,” Johnson said. “I’m going to regret not being at the front at the start of races to collect those first stage points or the second stage as often as we should have. I honestly welcome the challenge.”

Added Johnson: “This might not be our best year with this format, but give us a little time and we’ll sort it out.”

Watch the above video for the full interview.

 

Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in must-win scenario at Kansas

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Going into Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are likely to be among the four drivers eliminated from playoff contention.

Stenhouse is 22 points back from the final transfer spot and McMurray is 29 points back.

Both drivers talked with NASCAR America before the race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) about being in a must-win scenario to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Watch the above video for the interviews.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”