Long: It was an ‘over the moon’ weekend for Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr.

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CONCORD, North Carolina — Alex Bowman’s grandmother Loretta is fond of saying “over the moon” for significant events.

Her grandson gave her reason to cheer by winning Saturday night’s NASCAR Xfinity race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it’s a phrase that also could be used for Martin Truex Jr., winner of Sunday’s Cup race there.

Truex’s victory moved him into the third round, putting him one step from the championship race next month at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Also significant is that Truex scored five more playoff points, giving him 64 playoff points. Only two drivers are within 40 playoff points of Truex: Kyle Busch has 41 playoff points and Kyle Larson has 34.

That’s key because in the next round, the remaining eight title contenders will have their points reset to 4,000 and then have their playoff points added. At this point, Truex will begin the next round with 4,064 points and would have a 25-point lead on Busch, who would be the closest driver.

With two more races in this round, there are 14 playoff points available (five points for a win in each of the two races and one point for each of the four total stages).

At least one driver will advance from the third round to the championship race via points. In two of the previous three years, three drivers advanced via points because those no longer eligible for the title won races and took away those automatic spots in the championship finale. Last year, only one driver made it on points as title contenders won each of the three races in the third round.

Despite the advantage in points, Truex isn’t about to assume he can coast into the championship race if he doesn’t win in the next round.

“If three guys win that are behind us in points and somebody like Kyle Busch doesn’t have a win but has a decent consistent run and we have two or three bad races, we could be out just like that,’’ Truex told NBC Sports.

Crew chief Cole Pearn told NBC Sports: “You can never have enough protection. That last round has a history coming down to points.’’

FAMILIAR POSITION

Chase Elliott’s second-place finish Sunday marked the sixth time in his Cup career (71 races) he’s finished second. It ranks second (naturally) all-time among drivers without a Cup victory. G.C. Spencer was a runner-up seven times without scoring a win.

Elliott, though, has a way to go to match James Hylton’s record of 12 runner-ups before scoring his first career Cup victory.

Elliott is closing on his father’s mark. Bill Elliott was a runner-up eight times before he won his first Cup race.

SPECIAL MOMENT

Sean Bowman admits he nearly broke down emotionally in victory lane after his son, Alex, won Saturday night’s rain-delayed Xfinity race.

It has been quite a journey for father and son, starting with the father, who was a race fan and saw his son’s fascination with cars. It led to Alex driving quarter midgets, then to midgets before moving to stock cars with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (he was rookie of the year), ARCA and then NASCAR.

“We bonded so much over racing, traveling the country together,’’ Alex Bowman told Nate Ryan in the NASCAR on NBC podcast.

So to be there when Alex won was a special moment for Sean.

“It was pretty emotional,’’ Sean Bowman told NBC Sports. “It means a lot for him to come out and run against the caliber of competition he did.’’

Other family members were at the race, including Bowman’s grandmother. She was in the stands and didn’t make it down to victory lane, but they talked shortly after his win on the phone.

Sunday was his grandmother’s birthday, so Bowman said he wished her happy birthday while standing in victory lane. No doubt, she was “over the moon’’ with that.

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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.

Richard Childress Racing

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 CaringBridge.org, 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.”