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Who is Hot and Not ahead of the Bristol night race

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When Jimmie Johnson won at Bristol Motor Speedway last April, he accomplished something unusual in the recent history at “Thunder Valley.”

His win came with his pit stop on the backstretch of the half-mile track. That was the only time in the last six Bristol races a driver has won while pitting on the backstretch.

Johnson’s win was also just the fourth time in the last 14 Bristol starts that a driver not associated with Team Penske or Joe Gibbs Racing won. It was the second straight after Kevin Harvick won last August’s race. The only other instances were Kasey Kahne in the spring 2013 race and Carl Edwards (then at Roush Fenway Racing) in the spring of 2014.

Going further, Joe Gibbs Racing (eight wins) and Team Penske (four wins) combined to win 12 of the last 17 Bristol races. Four different drivers won for JGR and two different drivers won for Team Penske.

Here is a look at who is hot and not ahead of Saturday’s night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Who is Hot

Erik Jones

• Finished third at Michigan to tie his best-career finish
• Finished top 10 in the last three races, best streak of his career.
• Finished 17th at Bristol in April.
• Two Xfinity wins at Bristol.

Kyle Busch

• Finished 10th at Michigan after being penalized for pitting before pit road was open.
• Finished top 10 in the last three races to tie his best streak this season.
• Won from the pole at Pocono for only win of 2017. Had four wins at this point in 2016.
• Five Bristol wins, but last was in 2011.
• Finished 29th or worse in five of the last six races at Bristol (DNF after Accident in last three).

Kevin Harvick

• Finished 13th at Michigan
• Finished top 10 in 12 of the last 17 races.
• Won this race last year, one of two Bristol wins
• Finished top 10 in the last four Bristol races including three top threes.

Brad Keselowski

• Finished 17th at Michigan after winning the pole, worst finish in the last five races.
• Series-leading 11 top-fives this season.
• Two-time Bristol winner, in 2011 and 2012.
• Finished 18th or worse in four of the last five races at Bristol including 34th in April.

Who is Not

Kurt Busch

• Finished 11th at Michigan. Only two top-10 finishes in the last seven races.
• Three DNFs in the last seven races.
• Just 10 top-10 finishes this season after having 16 through 23 races in 2016.
• Has not had back-to-back top 10s since Richmond and Talladega.
• Five Bristol wins but last was in 2006. Four of the five wins came in the Spring race.
• Only three finishes better than 14th in the last 12 races at Bristol.

Austin Dillon

• Finished seventh at Michigan for first top-10 finish since winning at Charlotte in May.
• Only three top-10 finishes this season. Had 10 at this point last year.
• Five top-15 finishes in seven Bristol starts. Best finish of fourth in this race last year.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

• Finished 14th at Michigan. Last top-10 finish was at Sonoma in June.
• Only two top 10s in the last 11 races.
• One Bristol win in 2004 night race.
• Finished 38th with DNF after accident in April.

Joey Logano

• Finished 28th at Michigan. Tenth finish outside the top 20 in the last 14 races.
• Won at Richmond but was encumbered for failing post-race inspection.
• Now 98 points outside the bubble, must win to make the playoffs.
• Finished top 10 in five of the last six races at Bristol including two wins.

Darlington celebrates NASCAR’s 70th birthday by revealing 4th throwback weekend details

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Darlington Raceway on Thursday celebrated the 70th birthday of NASCAR in a big way, announcing details for the fourth annual NASCAR throwback weekend.

The track revealed the 2018 edition of the throwback weekend will celebrate “Seven Decades of NASCAR,” to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at the legendary 1.366-mile track.

The weekend will include the Cup Series’ Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the Xfinity Series’ Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

NASCAR held its first of several organizational meetings on Dec. 14, 1947, at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. That ultimately led to the official formation of NASCAR on Feb. 21, 1948.

The throwback weekend will honor and feature highlights of some of the biggest moments in the sport’s history over its first 70 years.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Darlington Raceway and the NASCAR industry to celebrate the sport over a seven decade period during our 2018 throwback weekend,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said in a media release.

“We have been era specific the past three years,” Tharp added, “so we felt it was important to recognize the 70th anniversary of NASCAR with our ‘Seven Decades of NASCAR’ celebration next season and give the teams, sanctioning body and others a wider brush to paint a picture capturing memorable moments we might not have celebrated in year’s past.”

Memorable moments to be celebrated include several that took place at Darlington itself, including Ned Jarrett’s record-setting 14-lap victory in the 1965 Southern 500, Ricky Craven’s record-setting photo finish win over Kurt Busch in 2003, and Jimmie Johnson’s 2012 Southern 500 win, which gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career victory, among others.

Cup winners of the first three throwback weekends have been Carl Edwards (2015), Martin Truex Jr. (2016) and Denny Hamlin (2017).

As has been the case for the first three throwback weekends, the track will once again issue commemorative tickets for the Southern 500.

“We have produced commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program, which is an important part of our platform,” Tharp said. “We appreciate how much the fans have supported Darlington Raceway and want them to walk away from our weekend with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport.”

Front Row Motorsports adds Michael McDowell, expands technical alliance with Roush Fenway

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Front Row Motorsports will field entries for David Ragan and Michael McDowell in 2018 while expanding its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, the team announced Thursday.

McDowell joins the Bob Jenkins-owned team after four years of driving the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing before being replaced by Kasey Kahne.

The native of Phoenix, Arizona, McDowell replaces Landon Cassill as Ragan’s teammate.

McDowell, 32, has 249 Cup starts since 2008, but only two full-time seasons under his belt. He made one start for Front Row at Watkins Glen in 2013.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

Ragan returns to Front Row for his fifth season. Ragan earned the organization its first Cup victory in 2013 at Talladega. Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives and 39 top-10 finishes in his Cup career.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a press release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

Crew chief assignments have not been finalized. FRM will announce sponsor partners and driver car numbers at a later date.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Last Ride’ diecast is Lionel Racing’s bestselling ever

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has set a new benchmark for Lionel Racing’s most purchased diecast in its 25-year history.

Lionel Racing, NASCAR’s official diecast producer, has announced that the diecast of Earnhardt’s “Last Ride” No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup season finale last month is now its bestselling diecast in company history.

The “Last Ride” car is based on the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet that Earnhardt drove in his rookie Cup season in 2000.

The previous bestseller was another Earnhardt diecast, for his 2014 Daytona 500 win.

Lionel Racing says that QVC’s “For Race Fans Only” show that featured Earnhardt and unveiled the car helped contribute to sales. But even without QVC, sales of the “Last Ride” diecast outpaced the 2014 Daytona 500 diecast by more than 10,000 units.

“The demand for this car has been simply astounding,” Lionel Racing President Howard Hitchcock said on the company’s website. “The fan response to this diecast is a true measure of how much Earnhardt has meant to both casual NASCAR fans and serious diecast collectors.”

Lionel Racing has also revealed the top-10 selling diecasts for the year, which you can find below. Earnhardt has six cars on the list. Chase Elliott has two and Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney each have one.

Casey Mears likely to split 2018 between NASCAR, Global Rallycross and Stadium Super Trucks

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Casey Mears still plans to compete part-time in NASCAR in 2018, but he’s also looking to expand his racing horizons.

The veteran NASCAR driver told The Checkered Flag recently that he also expects to race in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, as well as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series.

“Right now I’m talking to a few NASCAR programs to do maybe limited stuff,” Mears told The Checkered Flag. “I don’t have anything that would be a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.

“I’ve been speaking with Robby Gordon in the Stadium Super Truck program. I think that’s a really cool up-and-coming-series and I’d definitely like to be involved with the GRC. It looks like a lot of fun.

“I think there’s enough difference between all those that it could leave room for doing a bit of both so we’ll see how it works out.”

Mears did not race in the Cup Series in 2017, having lost his ride at the end of 2016 to Ty Dillon in the No. 13 Geico Chevy. He has amassed 488 starts and one win (2007 Coca-Cola 600) in his Cup career, along with 13 top fives and 51 top 10s.

However, he did compete on a part-time basis in 2017 in the Xfinity Series, making 14 starts, with season-best finishes of ninth place at both Richmond and Road America. He also has 107 Xfinity starts with one win, 16 top fives and 34 top 10s.