Who’s hot, who’s not heading into New Hampshire

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NASCAR begins the second half of the 36-race 2017 season with Sunday’s Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

But while 18 more races seem like a lot of time for teams that have struggled this season, that’s not truly accurate. Rather, we’re at a point in the season where teams have reached a sense of urgency: There are only eight races left to qualify for this year’s playoffs.

New Hampshire is also the last playoff track that teams will be able to gather data for the upcoming 10-race playoffs. Nine weeks later, New Hampshire will host the second race of the playoffs on Sept. 24.

Sunday’s race will be the 45th time the Cup series has raced at the one-mile short track. NHMS hosted one race per year from 1993 to 1996 and two races from 1997 through this season.

It will revert back to hosting just one race per season in 2018, as its annual second race date will move to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at some of the drivers who are hot and those who are not heading into Sunday’s Overton’s 301, to be televised on NBCSN.

WHO IS HOT:

Martin Truex Jr.

Won at Kentucky, sweeping both stages

Finished in the top-10 12 times this season, most of all drivers

Won 13 stages this season

Wins at Las Vegas, Kansas, and Kentucky

Has led a series high 1,115 laps in 2017, including over 100 in four of the last eight

Best New Hampshire finish is third in 2007

Only one finish outside the top 12 at New Hampshire since joining Furniture Row Racing (six races)

Led 264 of the 601 laps raced at New Hampshire in 2016 (44 percent) finished 16th and 7th

Kyle Larson

Finished 2nd at Kentucky, sixth runner up finish this season

Two wins this season, ACS and Michigan, leads the points by one

Finished top 2 eight times this season

Finished top 3 in his first two starts at New Hampshire in 2014, best finish since is 10th last September

Brad Keselowski

Finished 39th at Kentucky, accident; has had DNFs in four of last seven races this season due to accidents (five total in 2017)

Has not had back-to-back top 10 finishes since Talladega and Kansas

Nine top-fives in 2017, the most of all drivers

Won this race in 2014

Worst finish in the last 11 races at NH is 15th with eight top 10 finishes

Led at least one lap in the last 11 NH races

Kyle Busch

Finished 5th at Kentucky; top 10 finishes in seven of the last nine races this season

Been passed for the win five times this season

Led the most laps four times this season but is still winless

858 laps led in 2017, second most

Had three wins at this point in 2016

Two time winner at New Hampshire, this race in 2006 and 2015

Finished top 3 five of the last eight races at New Hampshire including a win

Kevin Harvick

Finished 9th at Kentucky, top 10 finishes in six of the last eight races

Won at Sonoma

Two New Hampshire wins, Fall race in 2006 and Fall race in 2016

Led only eight laps in NH win last year

Finished top five in both NH races last year

WHO IS NOT:

Joey Logano

Finished 8th at Kentucky, only his second finish better than 12th in the last nine races

Six top five finishes in the first nine races this season, only one in the last nine

Finished better than 12th only twice in the last nine races of 2017

Won at Richmond but was encumbered

Two time winner at New Hampshire including his first career win in 2009

Finished top five in four of the last five New Hampshire races

Kurt Busch

Finished 28th at Daytona, accident and 30th at Kentucky (engine), the last time he had back-to-back DNFs was April 2014

Just eight top 10 finishes this season, had 15 after 18 races in 2016

Has not had back-to-back top 10 finishes since Richmond and Talladega

Three New Hampshire wins but last was in 2008

Finished fifth at New Hampshire last Fall, only his second top 10 in the last 11 races

Austin Dillon

Finished 19th at Kentucky, best finish since his Charlotte win (six races) is 13th

Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte

Only two top 10 finishes this season, had eight at this point last year

One top 10 finish in six starts at New Hampshire, eighth in 2015

Won truck race at New Hampshire in 2015

Kasey Kahne

Finished 38th at Kentucky, accident

DNF accident in five of the last seven races this season

Only one top 10 finish in the last 16 races

Won this race in 2012 at New Hampshire, it was his second of five wins while driving for HMS

Two top 10 finishes in the last eight NH races

AJ Allmendinger

Finished 20th at Kentucky; only one finish better than 18th in the last 12 races

Only one top 10 finish at New Hampshire, 10th in 2010 driving the #43

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Cole Pearn to honor late friend with fundraiser for family next month in Toronto

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A testimonial to Cole Pearn’s best friend, who unexpectedly passed away in early August, as well as a fundraiser for his family will be held Friday, Jan. 5, at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Pearn’s lifelong friend, Jacob Damen, died unexpectedly after contracting a fast-moving bacterial infection on August 3.

Pearn, crew chief for the 2017 NASCAR Cup championship for Furniture Row Racing, will oversee the gala event, which will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. ET.

The evening will also include an appearance by 2017 NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., silent and live auctions, the opportunity to meet both Pearn and Truex and other events.

All net proceeds from the evening will be given to the Damen Family Fund.

“We miss our buddy Jacob dearly,” Pearn said in a media release. “We all have family and friends that fill a space in our hearts that is irreplaceable.

“Jacob filled the hearts of his wife Carolyn, his sons Lucas and Nolan, his parents Jerry and Kim Damen, twin brother Tyler, sister Julia and countless friends.

“We are going to celebrate his life at the perfect spot, the Hockey Hall of Fame, to support his beautiful wife Carolyn and the two boys, Lucas and Nolan. I can’t wait to get home to celebrate with everyone.”

Click here for more details and to purchase tickets to the ‘Jacob Damen Friend and Fan Remembered’ event.

NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day scheduled for Jan. 20

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The annual NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day will return to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, next month.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 20, the day after the 2018 Hall of Fame class is inducted.

Fans will be able to take part in an autograph session with current national series drivers, Hall of Famers and members of the NASCAR Next class, as well photo opportunities and question-and-answer sessions with a number of NASCAR legends.

Admission to Hall of Fame will be free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis

Admission to driver autograph sessions is free but will require a ticket for participation. Fans can register for the driver autograph sessions at nascarhall.com beginning Saturday, Jan. 13 at 10 a.m. ET. A full driver autograph session schedule will be announced at a later date.

 and on Facebook

Ryan Blaney to guest star on NBC’s ‘Taken’ next year

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Ryan Blaney has a particular set of skills; skills that he’s developed through years of professional auto racing.

The Team Penske driver will get to display those skills next year on NBC’s “Taken” TV Series.

The show serves as a prequel to the 2008 Liam Neeson film of the same name.

Blaney, 23, will guest start on the second season of the series, which premieres Jan. 12. He will appear in an episode titled “Imperium” as a special agent who knows his way around a car.

Here’s the plot synopsis for the episode.

“When a dangerous weapons dealer smuggles his wares into New York City, Bryan Mills (Clive Standen) teams up with the FBI in a race to stop him before he reaches the safety of international waters.”

This won’t be Blaney’s first time in front of a camera playing someone else. He had two movie cameos this year in Logan Lucky and Cars 3.

Blaney was filming his role in “Taken” on Tuesday in Ontario. See his tweets from the set below.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram update: Leaves ICU, moves to acute care facility

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram’s condition continues to improve following a serious car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina on Dec. 3.

According to an online post by his daughter, Ingram was taken out of Intensive Care on Tuesday and moved into an Acute Care facility, which is not as serious as ICU is.

Ingram did suffer a small setback in his recovery, developing a slight infection that is being treated with antibiotics.

Added the note from Ingrid Jones, Jack’s daughter, “The acute care facility will work to start decreasing his pain meds, over time, and put him on less narcotics and more simple analgesics (like really strong Tylenol, but without narcotics).

“Also they will continue his therapies, physical and occupational, as he’s able. It is still hard to know what his long-term health future will be, but we think his color looks really good, and we have no doubts that he has the will and determination to see this through.

“So if it is humanly possible for him to overcome, he will.”

We’ll continue to have periodic updates on Ingram’s condition as they become available.