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Bump & Run: Assessing Cup playoffs one week in

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What was your biggest takeaway from Chicagoland?

Nate Ryan: That the list of title favorites (Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson) hasn’t changed, but the gap over some other contenders (Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick, in particular) seems to have narrowed slightly. It’s a trend worth keeping an eye on at the next three 1.5-mile tracks that lead up to Miami.

Dustin Long: How significant Jamie McMurray’s recovery was. He spun after making contact with Ryan Newman with about 100 laps left. McMurray restated 16th and went on to finish 10th. Those extra six points put him above the cutoff. For a driver who has not advanced out of the first round, those six points could become meaningful when the playoff field is cut in two weeks.

Jerry Bonkowski: With his win, I’m convinced Martin Truex Jr. is headed to the Championship 4 round. That doesn’t mean he’ll win the championship, but if anyone else wins the title, he’ll have to go through Truex, which won’t be an easy task.

Daniel McFadin: Toyota teams are still really, really fast, but the Chevrolet camp brought improved pieces to the track, with Chase Elliott finishing second, leading four Chevrolets in the top 10 to Toyota’s three and Ford’s three. Though, if Kyle Busch hadn’t had his problems, those numbers would likely shift.

What will you be watching for in race 2 of the Cup playoffs at New Hampshire?

Nate Ryan: Whether the drivers who struggled to find speed in the opener, namely Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kasey Kahne, can rebound, and whether Matt Kenseth can find redemption at the track where he most recently won (and where he probably should have won in July if not for a tactical error on tires).

Dustin Long: If someone other than Toyota can do well at New Hampshire. Toyota cars led 290 of 301 laps in July, led 280 of 300 laps last September and led 299 of 301 laps in the July 2016 race. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Don’t be surprised if Joey Logano wins one of the nine remaining playoff races, even though he is not in the 16-driver playoff field. And what better place for Logano to do so than this weekend at his home track in New England, where he’s won twice in the Cup Series? Having missed the playoffs is embarrassing, but Logano can lessen that embarrassment with a win or two in the last nine races.

Daniel McFadin: Whether Kyle Larson will display the same speed he had there in July. He started in the back of the pack and finished second after trying to chase down Denny Hamlin in the closing laps. 

AJ Allmendinger making return to Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2018

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After a one-year absence, AJ Allmendinger will return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

Allmendinger, who drives for JTG Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, will once again drive for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, which will be held Jan. 27 – 28.

A winner in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Allmendinger will split time in the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 in the GTD class with Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach and Mario Farnbacher.

Allmendinger drove for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race from 2014-16. His best result during that stretch was fifth in the Prototype class in 2015.

“I am pumped to be back racing for Shank in the (Rolex) 24. I missed the race last year and I hated to, so I’m really glad to be back,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “His whole team did an awesome job with the Acura last year and it is awesome to be back with him for the Rolex. After racing for the overall win so many years in Prototypes, it will be a completely different experience to be racing in the GTD class, but I’m looking forward to it. Mike (Shank) always puts an awesome team together and this year is no different so I am counting down to get my first shot in this car.”

Allmendinger is coming off his fourth full year of driving the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished the season 27th in the standings, his worst during his tenure with the team. He earned one top five and five top 10s.

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s to sponsor RCR in Cup, Xfinity in 2018

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Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s will sponsor Richard Childress Racing in multiple races in the Cup and Xfinity Series next year, the team announced Monday.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s merged in September 2017.

The outdoors brands will be on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet during the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and in several other races during the season.

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They will also be a primary sponsor for Austin and Ty Dillon on the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for several races.

“Our relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to the mid-1990s and we’re thrilled to be able to continue it during the 2018 season,” team owner Richard Childress said in a press release. “Austin, Ty and Ryan are terrific ambassadors for the great outdoors. They are all passionate about our hunting, fishing and conservation heritage which has made this partnership thrive.

“Next season will be exciting as we welcome Cabela’s, the iconic outdoor brand acquired by Bass Pro Shops, to the RCR family.”

Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972 by Johnny Morris, is also a primary sponsor of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota owned by Furniture Row Racing.

The store chain will be on the hood of the No. 78 in 16 races and on the sides of it in 14 others.

Here’s the eligible drivers for the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

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NASCAR has officially announced the 20 drivers who are eligible to take part in the Cup Series’ season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The 75-lap exhibition event is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as qualifying for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The race will be divided into two segments. A competition caution on Lap 25 will divide them.

Drivers become eligible for the Clash by winning a pole the previous season, being a Daytona 500 pole-winner who competed full-time the previous season or being a playoff driver the previous season.

Here are the eligible drivers.

2017 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (14)

Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (3)

2017 Playoff Drivers (3)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are not expected to compete in the race. Earnhardt retired from Cup competition following the 2017 season and Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for the 2018 season.

Danica Patrick, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter, announced last month she was done as a full-time driver but that she planned to race in the Daytona 500. No definitive team plans have been announced for her.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram injury update: still in ICU, but continues to show progress

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram continues to show improvement from the serious injuries he suffered in a December 3 car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina.

In an update Sunday written on, Ingram’s daughter, Ingrid Jones, said her father remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Asheville’s Mission Hospital.

According to Jones:

“Daddy continues to hold his own, making healing steps forward and then a step back, which we fully expected-but he’s surprising us each and every day with his strength and courage to overcome this. Overall, he’s doing amazingly well.”

Ingram’s family had hoped he could have moved out of ICU and into the Trauma Unit as the next phase of his recovery, but he remains in intensive care.

Said Jones:

“For now, he’ll remain in ICU until he can go a full 24 hours without ventilator assisted breathing. We’re almost there … but may still be a few days.”

Ingram, who turns 81 on Dec. 28, was able to sit in a chair and watched part of Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings with his family. Jones wrote that Ingram also was surprised to learn that the mountain near the family’s Asheville-area home received a total of 16 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

Jones added, “We continue to be optimistic for his health, and we also continue to appreciate the prayers and encouraging thoughts.”