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Darrell Wallace Jr. picks up sponsor for Atlanta Cup race

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Darrell Wallace Jr. followed up the biggest day of his racing career with a new sponsor announcement.

A day after finishing second in the Daytona 500, it was announced that Wallace and his No. 43 Chevrolet will be sponsored by Driving 101 in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Driving 101 operates the NASCAR Racing Experience, Richard Petty Driving Experience and Mario Andretti Racing Experience.

The NASCAR Racing Experience will be on the hood of Wallace’s car.

MORE: Keeping up with Richard Petty after Darrell Wallace’s historic Daytona 500

The NASCAR Racing Experience is an experiential racing company offering realistic racing programs to motorsports fans at 19 tracks across the United States. The Mario Andretti Racing Experience is held at 15 tracks.

“It’s great to see partners coming on board to support us,” Wallace said in a press release. “I’m all about getting fans involved in racing, and nobody does that better than the NASCAR Racing Experience. They allow fans to race the cars we drive. It’s the best way to get on the same track and in the same cars we race. That’s really cool and I’m pumped they are on our car this weekend.”

Wallace is the first full-time African-American driver in the Cup Series since Wendell Scott in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He became the first to compete in the Daytona 500 since Scott in 1969.

His finish Sunday came in just his fifth Cup start.

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Long: Can Matt Kenseth return Roush Fenway to its glory days?

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blue skies poked through the gray clouds that had hung over the city for most of two days, delivering rain, wind and gloom.

Inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday morning, the forecast also was about to change for one Cup team.

Matt Kenseth is back in NASCAR to help turnaround Roush Fenway Racing.

It’s an interesting challenge for me and not just being a driver,’’ said Kenseth, who has 39 career Cup victories to rank 20th on the all-time list. “I hope I can be much more to the organization, and I’m hoping that there are a lot of different ways I can help in.’’

An organization that once dominated — Roush won 15 races and placed five cars in the top 10 in points in 2005 — has struggled to be competitive and retain drivers.

Kenseth left after the 2012 season. Carl Edwards departed after 2014. Greg Biffle left after 2016 because there wasn’t enough sponsorship to fund a car.

While Wednesday was a day for Roush Fenway Racing to celebrate and look toward the future, there is much work to do for an organization that has one top-10 finish between Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne.

“We have enough resources to fix any number of things but what is very difficult to discern with a young driver lineup like we have is what is most important,’’ Tommy Wheeler, operations director at Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports. “What is going to be the most impactful today to make the car faster?’’

Bayne likely wouldn’t be sharing the No. 6 the rest of the year with Kenseth if his team’s performance hadn’t dipped.

Bayne has run in the top 15 in 10.5 percent of the laps run this season (Stenhouse is at 39.9 percent). Bayne’s average finish is 23.9 — compared to 19.5 last year — and he ranks 25th in the series in average running position (23.0).

“Really, when we look at last year, (Bayne’s team) and (Stenhouse’s team) were fairly close in overall performance, the 17 (of Stenhouse) was certainly better and certainly that split got greater this year and that’s just … not the direction we’re wanting to continue down,’’ Wheeler told NBC Sports.

Kenseth understands the challenge he’ll face. After winning races in six of the past seven seasons, the focus is different.

“I don’t think any of us expect to come out and win races,’’ Kenseth said. “That would be great if you could, and I think we expect to eventually. I don’t think that the summer and a part-time schedule that we expect to win, but I do feel like the cars are much more competitive, I feel like they’re on the right track.’’

Wheeler said the work starts now. The team will integrate Kenseth in all that it is doing. Kenseth noted that he’s been watching races more closely and studying notes “the last few weeks” as the deal was put together.

As for why this wasn’t done at the start of the year when Kenseth was available, car owner Jack Roush had a simple answer.

“I still had a little bit of a rawness over the fact that he left me when he did,’’ Roush said. “We had another championship out there, I thought, that we could have had in short order. I missed that, so it took me a little while to get over it.”

With the performance down this year, Roush needed to act quickly.

Mark Martin, who has served in a consultant-type role since the playoffs last year, said what Kenseth can help the team with could make a significant impact for Stenhouse — who had three sponsors extend deals with the team last week.

“I have hopes (of the team winning) because I know the tools are there at the organization, I know the people are there at the organization,’’ Martin said. “Really, what’s preventing them right now is a little bit of enthusiasm and direction to be able to use those tools and spend that time on the part that bears fruit.

“You do that and put that in Ricky Stenhouse’s hands, he’ll get it done. Right now, Ricky is just trying too freaking hard. I think if we could get him in a little faster race car, I would hope that maybe he could tune it down. He’s just driving so hard right now, it’s hard to watch for me. I just feel like we have all the tools, we just still don’t have the cars fast enough inherently.’’

Stenhouse has had to go to a backup car in three of the first nine races because of accidents during practice.

Stenhouse, who made the playoffs last year, will be the team’s only driver eligible for the playoffs since it seems unlikely NASCAR would grant a waiver for Bayne or Kenseth if they’re not running the full season because of a team decision.

For Stenhouse to make the playoffs and be a factor, the organization must be better at the 1.5-mile tracks that play a key role in the Cup season. It’s no coincidence that Kenseth will make his debut May 12 at Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile speedway and be back in the car for the May 19 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track.

“We’ve got to perform on the mile-and-a half tracks or we’re going to be disappointed with our end-of-the year results,’’ Wheeler told NBC Sports. “Making the playoffs was really our goal last year. Well, now it’s about making the playoffs and making a strong run, validating that we deserve to be there and that we’re going to be competitive on these mile-and-a-half tracks that eat up so much of the schedule.’’

The rest of the driver schedule for the No. 6 car is to be worked out between Bayne, Kenseth and sponsor obligations.

That’s just a small part of the work ahead for Kenseth.

His biggest task is if he can help change Roush Fenway Racing’s fortunes and return the team to sunnier days?

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Ryan Blaney honors father with Southern 500 paint scheme

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Ryan Blaney‘s throwback paint scheme for this season’s Southern 500 is personal.

The Team Penske driver will pay tribute to the NASCAR career of his father, former Cup driver Dave Blaney, in the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway.

The No. 12 Ford will look like the No. 77 Jasper sponsored Ford the elder Blaney drove in the 2003 Cup season.

The car was revealed on NASCAR’s Facebook Live page. 

That year, Dave Blaney earned his first of two career Cup poles and his first of four top fives. The top five came in the spring race at Darlington.

Dave Blaney made 473 Cup starts from 1992 through 2014.

His son, in his first full-time season with Penske, will make his fourth Southern 500 start. His best finish is 13th in 2016.

Ryan Blaney is eighth in the Cup points standings through nine races.

MORE: Matt DiBenedetto pays tribute to Jeff Burton with Darlington scheme

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Matt Kenseth’s return, Ryan Blaney’s Darlington scheme

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features more talk about Matt Kenseth returning to racing and this weekend’s races at Talladega.

Rick Allen hosts with Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

On today’s show:

· There’s plenty to talk about – from Matt Kenseth’s return to Dale Jr.’s final preparations before becoming a father. We’ll have reaction from Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing’s press conference this morning in Charlotte, and you can also join the conversation by sending in your questions using #WednesDale.

· The Cup Series returns to plate racing this weekend at Talladega, where the Earnhardts established a tradition of excellence with a combined 16 Cup wins for Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. We’ll look back on some of their greatest moments at NASCAR’s biggest, most unpredictable track.

· Another day, another Darlington throwback reveal – this time from Ryan Blaney, a rising star with a deep appreciation for the sport’s past. What classic scheme will he drive at the ‘Track Too Tough to Tame’?

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Goodyear tire info for Talladega Superspeedway

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Goodyear will use the same tire setups this weekend in the Cup and Xfinity Series at Talladega Superspeedway.

While the left-side tire is unchanged from what’s been in use at the track since October 2014, the right-side tire will have a minor construction update.

“The amount of tire wear at Talladega has increased a good bit since the track was repaved back in 2010, and we especially see that on the inboard of the right-front (tire) where teams run a significant amount of camber” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing in a press release. “That led us to bring a more wear-resistant right-side tread compound starting in 2014. Having said that, we still see a lot of tire strategy come into play at Talladega, with teams still having the ability to take two tires or even fuel only depending on the situation.”

As on all NASCAR ovals greater than one mile in length, teams are required to run inner liners in all four tire positions at Talladega. Air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.

Here’s the full tire info for the weekend.

Set limits: Cup: Two sets for practice, one set for qualifying and six sets for the race; Xfinity: four sets for the event

Tire Codes: Left-side — D-4596; Right-side — D-4752

Tire Circumference: Left-side — 2,233 mm (87.91 in.); Right-side — 2,247 mm (88.46 in.)

Minimum Recommended Inflation: Left Front — 27 psi; Left Rear – 27 psi; Right Front — 50 psi; Right Rear — 48 psi