Ricky Stenhouse wins first career NASCAR Cup race, captures Geico 500

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the lead on the final lap and then held on to win his first career NASCAR Cup race, capturing Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The race finished in overtime at 191 laps, three laps past the scheduled 188 laps.

Jamie McMurray finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne.

Sixth through 10th were Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and David Ragan.

Stenhouse, a former two-time Xfinity Series champion, earned the victory in his 158th career NASCAR Cup start and becomes the 11th first-time winner at Talladega. The win broke Roush Fenway Racing’s 101-race winless streak (last victory was June 22, 2014 at Sonoma) and was the organization’s 136th all-time win.

“We’ve been terrible for a long time, but this year, every race, we’re getting better and better,” Stenhouse told Fox Sports. “This car was so fast today, qualifying on the pole, get the win. It’s cool to have Jack Roush back in victory lane. This is cool, closest track to my home town and man, the fans were here this weekend.”

MORE: Results, stats for Geico 500 at Talladega: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. breaks through

MORE: Cup points standings after Talladega: Kyle Larson widens lead

The win marked Stenhouse’s third top-five finish and fifth top-10 in the last seven races.

“Stenhouse got a real good run and good push and got by us and then it was about retaliation, to get back on him,” Busch told Fox Sports. “I just never had enough help from behind. … We did all we could today. Unfortunately, circumstances didn’t go our way.”

MORE: Fords dominate Stage 1 at Talladega: Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finish 1-2

MORE: Denny Hamlin wins Stage 2 of Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

A multi-car wreck – the only big one of the race – occurred with 20 laps to go, resulting in a red flag that lasted 26 minutes and 51 seconds. Eighteen cars – nearly half of the 40-driver field – were involved.

Those involved were : A.J. Allmendinger, Michael McDowell, Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne, Danica Patrick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Cole Whitt, Brendan Gaughan, Corey LaJoie, Chase Elliott and Gray Gaulding

It appeared that Allmendinger was trying to push Elliott forward in the draft when the former hooked the latter around. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick hooked Allmendinger’s car, too.

While Elliott rode the top of the wall while Allmendinger’s car wound up on its roof, and safety workers had to pull the car on its wheels before he unstrapped and climbed out. Allmendinger walked to the ambulance under his own power.

“I was battling for the lead, the 18 and 24 were leading the two packs, and the 4 was just on me,” Allmendinger told Fox Sports. “Once I got to Chase, I got loose, I barely tapped him, I tried to get off him and at that point, it was just too late.”

Elliott added to Fox Sports, “He just apologized. I don’t know if it was really his fault, per se. He had a big run, got to my bumper and was kind of in a bad spot.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the winningest active driver at Talladega with six wins, suffered a loose wheel 14 laps to go and limped back to pit road for service, finishing 22nd.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 2 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

HOW STENHOUSE WON: Having the fastest car of the weekend was a major factor. Stenhouse has been steadily climbing up the performance ladder this season, led 14 laps in Sunday’s race and emerged with his first winner’s trophy of his Cup career after more than six years of trying.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Jamie McMurray got past Kyle Busch on the final lap, but didn’t have quite enough to reach Stenhouse. Another lap, and maybe he might have. … Aric Almirola won Saturday’s Xfinity race and rallied to finish fourth in Sunday’s race, tying his highest finish this season of fourth in the season-opening Daytona 500.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Several drivers suffered poor finishes due to being involved in wrecks, including Chase Elliott (30th), Joey Logano (32nd), Erik Jones (33rd), Martin Truex Jr. (35th), Austin Dillon (36th), Trevor Bayne (37th), Danica Patrick (38th) and Ryan Blaney (39th).

NOTABLE: The No. 43 Ford of Aric Almirola failed post-race inspection. He finished the race one point out of 16th place — the last playoff-eligible spot — but now faces a potential 35-point penalty. Also, the No. 7 of Elliott Sadler was found to have one lug nut not secured. … Joe Gibbs Racing had strong runs from Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, but remains winless in the first 10 races of the 2017 season. … Kasey Kahne’s fifth-place finish was his second top-5 of the season. He finished fourth at Atlanta in the second race of 2017.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We go to a real race track next week and try to win there.” – A disappointed Kyle Busch, who couldn’t hold off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the win and finished third.

WHAT’S NEXT: Go Bowling 400, Saturday, May 13, 7:30 p.m. ET, Kansas Speedway

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Richard Petty Motorsports following the footsteps of Furniture Row

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WELCOME, N.C. – All of the noise at Richard Petty Motorsports’ cozy new home on a recent Friday afternoon was coming from behind a short wall in the corner.

Several No. 43 cars were parked on the shop floor in various states of inactivity and incompletion, but the “Fusion” on the front bumper betrayed they were last year’s models.

Drew Blickensderfer, RPM’s crew chief, didn’t seem concerned as he cast a smile toward the source of the noise – a specialized fabrication department that could be the key to solving a championship-tested equation.

Less space and fewer people can equal better results.

“We have shrank quite a bit,” Blickensderfer said. “Right now, we’re bare bones, but we have the people we need to go racing and performance-wise to go racing.

“To grow into a Furniture Row, or a model similar to that, we need to get that (fabrication department) up and running.”

As RPM makes significant structural changes – switching to Chevrolet, aligning with Richard Childress Racing, shuttering its body-hanging staff – no one is expecting a quantum leap in performance for a team that finished 24th in the 2017 owner standings.

But an improvement to a top-20 car with long-term winning potential is expected, and the model is the reigning team in NASCAR’s premier series.

In winning the 2017 title with Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing has excelled by taking Joe Gibbs Racing chassis and optimizing the accompanying suspension parts and pieces through precision engineering and manufacturing.

RPM hopes to mirror the process through its reorganized fab department, which will have the same equipment from its previous home but with a more laser-targeted focus.

“If we can get that up and running, we’d be better off in the long run,” Blickensderfer said. “And that’s the ultimate goal is to be able to take a car from Richard Childress Racing and develop and work on it and ultimately have a better product for Sunday.”

RPM has traversed various paths toward competitiveness in recent seasons.

In 2014, the team was receiving chassis from Roush Fenway Racing but hanging its own bodies when it made the playoffs with Aric Almirola via a win at Daytona International Speedway. In 2015, RPM added chassis building to its workload but stumbled. Last year, it returned to hanging bodies on chassis supplied by Roush Fenway.

This year, RPM relocated from a 65,000-square-foot shop in Mooresville to a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to RCR, which will deliver cars from its base just down the hill.

On arrival at RPM, all that is needed is interior (such as driver’s seat, steering wheel and column, air boxes and gear coolers) and mechanical work.

“Basically, it comes as a shell, the chassis with a body on it,” Blickensderfer said. “We do the wiring, the plumbing, the suspension parts, front and rear. Basically, all the parts you would bolt on.”

The change has allowed RPM to run leaner because there’s less work to be done on bodies. After employing about 80 last year (with 60 working on cars), RPM will have about 40 employees in 2018 with roughly 25 working on cars (about a half-dozen of those crew members will stay in the shop for assembly while the team is on the road, and RCR will supply the team’s pit crew).

The staff reduction will allow RPM to reallocate some funding toward R&D (after making zero trips to a wind tunnel last year).

Blickensderfer said the alliance with RCR should provide an aerodynamic foundation that will allow fine-tuning to have a greater impact. Last year, RPM “did a really good job of putting stuff that drove well under our race cars” but still faced the aerodynamic limitations of the Roush chassis.

“The thing that really creates speed on cars is the body and aero,” Blickensderfer said. “You can have the wrong springs in your car and mess up the other stuff a little bit, and you’d still be fast, at least in portions of the race. If you get all the springs right, and your aero is terrible, you still might be only a 20th-place car. That’s just the reality of it. The thing that is the most expensive to develop, create and implement is the aero stuff.

“So that’s why the big teams, they have all the wind tunnel data, and you’re racing against teams that are just developing faster than you can even produce cars. That’s why you’ve got to jump on board with them to get some of their information, or you’re going to be watching them coming behind you ready to lap you.”

With consolidation among chassis and engine builders an overarching trend in NASCAR for the past decade, alliances have become more prevalent. Besides RPM, Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty also have similar arrangements.

But few have made it work as well as Furniture Row, which made the championship round in 2015 through an RCR alliance before switching to JGR and Toyota the next season. Relying on the setups and strategies of crew chief Cole Pearn, Truex consistently outran JGR’s fleet of four Camrys in 2017 with a series-high eight victories and 19 stage wins – despite a few hundred fewer employees working at its Denver location.

“You step back and say, ‘How come no one else has been successful in that model?’ and you look at what Furniture Row has done with their model,” Blickensderfer said. “They still do some stuff in-house. So we pay RCR for an engineering agreement and to get cars from them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop ourselves. So you’d only be better off if you get extra money, you can start developing things yourself.

“Get all (the alliance team’s) information. Dump yours on top of it. You can’t help but get better in the long run that way. That’s what Cole and those guys have done. That’s the model that I would think the JTGs, the RPMs, the Germains, companies of this size, that’s what we need to strive to do is use that model to build up into that next level of race team.”

Though RPM will benefit from RCR’s aerodynamic R&D and assembly line capability, some of the information will be transferred the other way, too.

“They’re incorporating some of the stuff we had in our race cars into theirs that they think is going to make them better,” Blickensderfer said. “Before they put the body on it, we can change the brake system and do what we want, which eventually they’re going to do. And that saves us both time to make sure we have the best product.”

RPM took delivery of its first Camaro late last week for the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Its hauler will be on the road Jan. 26 to Nevada, leaving about a week to finish preparing and setting up the car.

“That’s not all that tight of a timeframe,” Blickensderfer said. “What will happen in the future when we start racing is we’ll get a car two to three weeks before the event, and when we come in on a Monday morning after an event, the next week’s car is on the setup plate ready to go, so there’s only about a day’s worth of work we have to do to it.”

RPM has put its surface plates and other tools in cold storage, keeping open the option to revert to hanging bodies. But with the sponsorship landscape scarce, it makes such autonomy more difficult.

“If you could do everything yourself, you’d be better off, because then nobody gets your information,” Blickensderfer said. “But if (RCR) can take the money they’re developing cars with, and we can take the money we’re getting to develop cars and combine it, I think we all end up better. When there is less money in the pot to grab, the more of us that can throw the money in, the better we’ll be.”

Danica Patrick has a Daytona 500 team: Premium Motorsports

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The first piece of the “Danica Double” has been fully confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in next month’s Daytona 500. The AP reported that the car will be locked into the field through a charter and will receive engineering support from Richard Childress Racing.

Patrick entered NASCAR driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12. For the Feb. 18 race, she also will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who helped guide Patrick to her career-best NASCAR finish of fourth in a 2011 Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car will be sponsored by GoDaddy, which announced last week that it would sponsor Patrick in both this year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick has yet to reveal which team she will drive for in the Indy 500, which will conclude her racing career.

She already has made history in both events.

As a rookie in 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before taking fourth (and became the highest-finishing female in the race’s history with a third in 2009).

In the 2013 Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win the pole position and lead a race in NASCAR’s premier series.

New details of road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, North Carolina — The Sept. 30 Cup race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course will be on a slightly altered 2.28-mile circuit.

The race, which airs on NBC, will serve as the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs. It is the first road course race in the 14-year history of the playoffs.

The alterations shorten the original 2.4-mile, 13-turn layout of the circuit. The track is now 2.28 miles and 17 turns after the removal of two of the last three infield turns. There will be more than 35 feet of elevation changes between Roval Turn 4 – the lowest point in the track – and Roval Turn 9, the highest point.

A chicane has also been added to the backstretch right before the entrance of Turn 3 of the oval. The track is adding 440 temporary rumble strips.

The distance for the race will be announced at a later date.

NASCAR held a test on the road course last October with Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Hemric and Jamie McMurray. Busch suggested the elimination of those turns in order to “speed up the track.”

“There are a lot of slow sections with Turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting.”

Truex was part of Monday’s presentation and gave his thoughts on the change.

“The lap times were so long that we were going to be looking at a race that was, I don’t even know how many hours,” Truex said. “Way too long. Basically taking out those two turns cut out quite a bit of lap time off the laps. It’s more so like a regular road course like Watkins Glen … we’ll be in kind of that realm.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the race could be held at night if pushed back for various reasons. The race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

“We’re working with the track who we believe will have something in place,” O’Donnell said. “Goodyear will be ready with rain tires if we had to make some adjustments.’’

There will be a Goodyear tire test in March and an open test for Cup teams in July.

O’Donnell said NASCAR is “comfortable” with the current layout of the course and that no changes are expected to be made following the tests.

NASCAR on NBC analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton took a few laps around the new layout and shared their thoughts on Facebook Live.

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ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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