Stage points could add new element of drama, chaos at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Alabama — With at least five of the remaining seven transfer spots to the next round set by points, drivers are eyeing stage points this weekend at Talladega Superspeeday and how that might carry them closer to a championship run.

Martin Truex Jr. already has clinched a spot to the next round after his win last weekend at Charlotte. Eleven other drivers are contending for the seven remaining spots in the Round of 8.

Stage points already have proved pivotal in the playoffs, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored seven points in the first stage at Dover and that was enough to help him advance to this round

That’s led to the question of what Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC) might be like and how aggressive drivers will be to gain stage points. 

“Stage points are huge,’’ said Ryan Blaney, who enters this weekend five points out of a transfer spot. “It really hurts you when you don’t get any of those points. I think a lot of teams are going to go out there and be pretty aggressive … trying to get some stage points. I know we’re going to have to be that way for sure.

“Last year or years before when you didn’t have stage points, you’d start off the race bad and get better and you’d be pretty happy with an eighth-place finish. Now, you run 25th in the first stage and ninth in the second stage and then finish eighth and you’re like, ‘wow, we really got hurt.’ You have to start off these races so good to try to run up there and collect those points.’’

So what does more aggressive mean?

“Just think there will be more cars in the crash,’’ said Matt Kenseth, who is one point out of the final transfer spot.

The race for points could make the laps near the end of Stage 1 (Lap 55) and the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110) more chaotic.

“The stages are important, but no it’s not worth wrecking yourself getting some stage points,’’ said Chase Elliott, who is fourth in the points entering this weekend. “If you can make it work then great, but ultimately I’d like to still be part of the event when it’s over.”

That’s easy to say but things can change quickly in the pack.

“I think what happens is when one guy starts to get aggressive, the guy around him has to get aggressive to start dealing with that guy,’’ Elliott said. “And then when that happens, the guy in front has to deal with it, and so on. I think that is what happens. If it shows up and that is the kind of race it is going to be, then we will see. I definitely think there is going to be some emphasis on running well in the stages. But I just hope that everybody will want to get to the end as much as they want to have stage finishes, too.’’

Kyle Larson, who is second in the points, said a strong finish in the opening stage could lead to a strategy change for him in the next stage.

“Maybe if we finish … high up there in the first (stage), maybe you can ride in the second one or race even harder, you know you can risk more for the second stage,’’ he said. “It’s a long time from the end of the second stage to the end of the race, you could probably just hang out behind the pack and just ride around and try to get a top 20 and that would be a solid day for my team.’’

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Kurt Busch re-signs with Stewart-Haas Racing

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Kurt Busch has re-signed with Steward-Haas Racing, putting him back in the No. 41 Ford for the 2018 Cup season.

The winner of the 2017 Daytona 500 confirmed his re-signing in a statement.

Motorsport.com has reported Busch signed a one-year deal.

Busch, 39, will continue to be sponsored by Monster Energy as he enters his fifth season with SHR. Monster Energy is also the entitlement sponsor of the Cup Series.

“Having my hard work pay off by winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and the 2017 Daytona 500 has given me the drive to continue conquering the NASCAR world,” Busch said. “I am excited to enter the 2018 racing season as a Monster Energy athlete where I will continue to drive my favorite manufacturer, the Ford Motor Company. Knowing that SHR is committed to optimum performance, I believe that I have everything I need to win races this season and take home the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup. I look forward to taking on next year with my team, sponsors and determination.”

Busch completes SHR’s 2018 Cup driver lineup with Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and newcomer Aric Almirola.

SHR announced over the summer that Busch’s original contract option would not be picked up.

The 2004 Cup champion will enter his 18th full-time season in the Cup Series.

He made the playoffs in 2017 with his Daytona 500 win, but was eliminated after the first round. He finished the season with six top fives and 15 top 10s. In his four seasons with SHR, Busch has five wins.

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Richard Childress Racing, Caterpillar extend relationship

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Richard Childress Racing announced Tuesday it has extended its partnership with Caterpillar Inc., which will continue to sponsor Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet in select races in 2018.

Caterpillar was the primary sponsor on the No. 31 in 20 races last season.

Caterpillar has been a sponsor of Cup teams since 1997 and partnered with RCR in 2009. Newman has been sponsored by the company since joining RCR in 2014.

“I am happy to announce the continuation of our partnership with Caterpillar and the No. 31 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series,”  Richard Childress said in a press release. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with so many Cat dealers, customers and equipment operators through the past nine years. They are passionate about both racing and their Cat equipment, and I share their passion for both. I have used Cat equipment for many years and there is no better heavy machinery on the market. We’ve enjoyed our long-term association with Caterpillar, and helped them sell a lot of equipment over the years. I’m proud to represent the Cat brand.”

Newman is coming off a season where he earned one win (Phoenix I), his first since 2013 and first with RCR. Newman qualified for the playoffs. He was eliminated after the first round and finished the season in 16th.

The 2018 season will be Newman’s 17th full-time year in Cup.

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John Hunter Nemechek to race part-time for Chip Ganassi Racing in Xfinity Series

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John Hunter Nemechek, the son of former Cup driver Joe Nemechek, will join Chip Ganassi Racing in 2018 to compete part-time in the Xfinity Series, the team announced Tuesday.

At 20-year-old driver will pilot the No. 42 Chevrolet in multiple races, sharing the ride with Kyle Larson. Fire Alarm Services, which sponsored Nemechek in the Truck Series, will move up to Xfinity with him.

The No. 42 has significant meaning to the Nemechek family. Joe Nemechek earned his first of four Cup wins driving the No. 42 for Felix Sabates in 1999 at New Hampshire. He drove for Sabates from 1997-99.

Sabates is a co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing.

John Hunter Nemechek spent the last two years full-time in the Camping World Truck Series driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for his family-owned team, NEMCO Motorsports. He has 76 starts in the series since 2013 and five wins, two coming in each of the last two seasons.

“I couldn’t be more excited to join Chip Ganassi Racing,” Nemechek said in a press release. “I feel like their cars and organization were the talk of the garage in 2017 and I hope to play a part in continuing their run of success in 2018 and beyond. Also, Fire Alarm Services has been a supporter of my career since 2016 at our family-owned team, and I am looking forward to continuing that partnership at Chip Ganassi Racing. I am extremely grateful to Shannon and Connie Smith, owners of Fire Alarm Services, Inc. I also want to thank my father for all that he has done to help grow my passion for racing.”

Nemechek will work with veteran crew chief Mike Shiplett, who has led the No. 42 team for the last four seasons.

Nemechek announced he’d be making a career change with a video posted to Twitter on Dec. 5.

NEMCO Motorsports made clear on Twitter that it is not closing its doors.

Larson, Tyler Reddick and Alex Bowman split time in the No. 42 in 2017 and combined to earn five wins.

The No. 42 will be the only full-time entry for Ganassi in the Xfinity Series in 2018. It fielded the No. 48 for Brennan Poole the last two seasons. No announcements have been made about Poole’s future.

We are happy to have John Hunter join our organization and also announce the relationship with Fire Alarm Services,” Chip Ganassi said in a press release. “We had a very successful 2017 with our Xfinity program and look to improve upon that.  We feel that John Hunter has the talent to be a future star in the sport and can’t wait to get him behind the wheel.”

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NASCAR announces 2018 Xfinity Series start times, TV schedule

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NASCAR has revealed the start times and TV broadcast plan for the Xfinity Series in 2018.

The season opens Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. The race is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

The NBC portion of the schedule begins June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway with a 3:30 p.m. ET broadcast on NBCSN.

Both races at Richmond Raceway are night events. The April 20 race begins at 7 p.m. ET. The Sept. 21 race begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The June race at Iowa Speedway is scheduled for 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 17 on FS1.

The road course race at Road America is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25 on NBCSN. The race was run on Sunday in 2017.

See the entire schedule below.

All times are Eastern

Date Location Network Start time
Sat, Feb 17, 2018  Daytona FS1 2:30 PM
Sat, Feb 24, 2018  Atlanta FS1 2:00 PM
Sat, Mar 03, 2018  Las Vegas FS1 4:00 PM
Sat, Mar 10, 2018  Phoenix FOX 4:00 PM
Sat, Mar 17, 2018  California FS1 5:00 PM
Sun, Apr 01, 2018  Off week – Easter
Sat, Apr 07, 2018  Texas FOX 3:00 PM
Sat, Apr 14, 2018  Bristol FS1 1:00 PM
Fri, Apr 20, 2018  Richmond FS1 7:00 PM
Sat, Apr 28, 2018  Talladega FOX 3:00 PM
Sat, May 05, 2018  Dover FS1 1:30 PM
Sat, May 26, 2018  Charlotte FS1 1:00 PM
Sat, Jun 02, 2018  Pocono FS1 1:00 PM
Sat, Jun 09, 2018  Michigan FOX 1:30 PM
Sun, Jun 17, 2018  Iowa FS1 5:00 PM
Sat, Jun 30, 2018  Chicagoland NBCSN 3:30 PM
Fri, Jul 06, 2018  Daytona NBCSN 7:30 PM
Fri, Jul 13, 2018  Kentucky NBCSN 8:00 PM
Sat, Jul 21, 2018  New Hampshire NBCSN 4:00 PM
Sat, Jul 28, 2018  Iowa NBCSN 3:30 PM
Sat, Aug 04, 2018  Watkins Glen NBC 3:30 PM
Sat, Aug 11, 2018  Mid‐Ohio NBCSN 3:00 PM
Fri, Aug 17, 2018  Bristol NBCSN 7:30 PM
Sat, Aug 25, 2018  Road America NBCSN 3:00 PM
Sat, Sep 01, 2018  Darlington NBC 3:30 PM
Sat, Sep 08, 2018  Indianapolis NBCSN 4:00 PM
Sat, Sep 15, 2018  Las Vegas NBCSN 5:00 PM
Fri, Sep 21, 2018  Richmond NBCSN 7:30 PM
Sat, Sep 29, 2018  Charlotte NBCSN 3:00 PM
Sat, Oct 06, 2018  Dover NBCSN 3:00 PM
Sat, Oct 20, 2018  Kansas NBCSN 2:30 PM
Sat, Nov 03, 2018  Texas NBC 3:30 PM
Sat, Nov 10, 2018  Phoenix NBC 3:30 PM
Sat, Nov 17, 2018  Homestead-Miami NBCSN 3:30 PM