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Four young Ford NASCAR drivers to compete in IMSA opening weekend at Daytona

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Four of NASCAR’s up-and-coming young stars – all Ford drivers – will get a nearly month’s head start of sorts for the 2018 season opener at Daytona.

A pair of 23-year-olds, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski, and 19-year-olds Austin Cindric and Cole Custer will all compete in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge January 26, part of the Rolex 24 weekend (Jan. 25-28) at Daytona International Speedway.

The four drivers will be mentored by Scott Maxwell, who won the Continental series championship with co-driver Billy Johnson in 2016.

Maxwell will also compete in the event, which will feature the four young drivers being part of a two-car Mustang GT4 team in the GS class. The pairings of which drivers will drive with each other will be announced closer to the four-hour endurance event.

“We have an outstanding group of young drivers coming up and we feel putting them in this kind of environment with Scott Maxwell will benefit them for the rest of their careers,” Ford Performance Motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook said in a media release. “You have to be good on all types of tracks to compete for a NASCAR championship and this will give each of them valuable road course experience in our exciting Mustang GT4 with Multimatic Motorsports.”

Cindric, Briscoe and Majeski were recently named to share driving duties for the No. 60 Ford in the 2018 Xfinity Series for Roush Fenway Racing, in collaboration with Team Penske and Ford Performance.

Custer will enter his second full Xfinity season for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018.

The four drivers plus Maxwell will take part in a three-day test session at DIS from Jan. 5-7.

When asked about how much they’re looking forward to the opportunity, here’s what the five drivers had to say:

CUSTER: “I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’ve never done any endurance racing, but I’m looking forward to having some fun and learning what it’s all about. This is obviously a big race and great way to start the season. Being able to race with the other guys is going to be a lot of fun as well because we’re all pretty much the same age and have a lot in common. I never thought I would get the chance to do something like this, but road course racing has really grown on me. I think it’s fun to learn the different sides of things and this is going to be a chance for me to learn as a driver and make myself better.”

CINDRIC: “For me with my background some of my biggest moments in the early part of my career have been with Multimatic racing Mustangs in the Continental Tire Series, so for me I’m coming home. I come from a different background than the other guys and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun, learn a few things and hopefully bring home some hardware because I know those Mustangs are pretty strong around Daytona. Scott and I have become really good friends and he’s been a big help to me in my career and I look forward to being teammates with him again and having a little fun throughout the weekend.”

BRISCOE: “This is something I certainly never thought I would get an opportunity to do, but I’m super-excited for it. This will be something new and I’m going to do a lot of it this year, so I think it’s going to be a good learning curve. I’ve only run two road courses my entire life and even though we ran decent, I didn’t feel like I ever knew what I was doing. Hopefully, I can get to the point by the end of this year where I know what I’m doing on a road course. Even though I’ll be driving two different kind of race cars, the principals of how you drive and the technique it takes will be something I can learn. I’m also looking forward to having a teammate and competing in an event where both of you have an impact on how well you run.”

MAJESKI: “I have virtually no road course experience at all. I’ve been on one road course my entire life and that was this past summer when I was sent out to the Ford Performance Driving School in Utah. Outside of that, I have not been on a road course, so this will be great for me to get some experience and be around people who know a lot about it. I’m looking forward to working with Chase, Austin and Cole as well. They’re good guys and I’m excited for the opportunity Ford has put in front of us.”

MAXWELL: “The Ford Mustang GT4 has been a great project from the start, and I’m glad to get back in the seat in Daytona. It’s just a fun car to drive. I’m happy to work with the young NASCAR drivers Ford has signed up, too, to help these drivers get acclimated.”

Aric Almirola cleared to race this weekend at New Hampshire

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Richard Petty Motorsports announced Wednesday that doctors have cleared Aric Almirola to race this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Almirola has been out since suffering a T5 compression fracture in a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway. He was expected to be out eight to 12 weeks.

Almirola received approval after a test Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“It felt great to be back in the racecar yesterday,” Almirola said in a statement. “After racing in the Monster Energy Series for five and a half years, it got to be routine, and I took it for granted. When something gets taken away from you at a moment’s notice like that, it has certainly made me appreciate my passion for racing and my desire to compete at this level. The thrill of running 200 miles per hour in a stock car was something that I had honestly lost a little bit. After being out of the car for eight weeks, the passion is back, now more than ever.
“Physically, I felt great in the car and had no pain associated with the injury during (Tuesday’s) test. I’d like to sincerely thank all of the medical personnel that have helped me through this process, my family, my friends, my team and all the fans that supported me. I’m very grateful to Bubba (Wallace), Regan (Smith) and Billy (Johnson) for all of their efforts subbing for me both on and off the track. I’m excited to get back to racing against all my friends and peers in the Monster Energy Series.”

Regan Smith filled in for Almirola in the Monster Energy Open during All-Star weekend, the Coca-Cola 600 (finished 22nd) and Dover (34th). Darrell Wallace Jr. drove the car at Pocono (26th), Michigan (19th), Daytona (15th) and Kentucky (11th). Billy Johnson finished 22nd in the car at Sonoma.

Darrell Wallace Jr.: Time in No. 43 car has been ‘best month of my life’ (VIDEO)

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At one point in during Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, Darrell Wallace Jr. let his team know he was having fun.

“If this is my last one, it’s been a kick-ass time,” Wallace said over the radio.

With Richard Petty Motorsports scheduled to give an update on the condition of injured driver Aric Almirola on Wednesday, it’s possible Wallace made his final start in the team’s No. 43 Ford Saturday night.

It was his fourth race relieving Almirola, who suffered a T5 compression fracture in his back in a violent crash at Kansas Speedway on May 13.

If it was Wallace’s last start, he made it count. Though he was one-lap down, the 23-year-old driver posted his career-best finish of 11th. He placed ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick.

It bested Almirola’s best finish of 12th in five Kentucky starts.

Wallace took to Twitter Sunday morning, stating the last month had been the “best month of my life.”

Wallace’s first start in the No. 43 coincided with his potential last start of the year in the Xfinity Series. With no sponsorship backing in place, Wallace made his last scheduled start for Roush Fenway Racing in the No. 6 Ford at Pocono Raceway. The next day he became the first African-American driver to start in the Cup series in a decade.

He finished 26th after multiple speeding penalties. The next week at Michigan he placed 19th. After Billy Johnson drove the car at Sonoma, Wallace returned to the cockpit at Daytona, where he finished 15th. Late in the race, he briefly contended for the lead with Ryan Blaney, his friend who drives the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing.

“We kept improving, each and every time on the race track, each and every race,” Wallace said Saturday after the Kentucky race. “We kept improving, I kept improving. I am getting more and more comfortable with these cars. It was a good run for our Smithfield Ford. We had a lot of fun tonight. … We fell back on that one restart. We were able to manage and maintain and work out some track position on that green-flag stop, and we were 14th and fired off right around there for the last restart and was able to hang on. It was a good day. I am having a great time in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Hopefully, there will be more.”

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Jimmie Johnson triumphs in Stage 2 at Sonoma for first stage win of season

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Jimmie Johnson led the final 11 laps to win Stage 2 of the NASCAR Cup Series event at Sonoma Raceway.

Despite having three race wins this season, it is Johnson’s first stage win.

With several cars pitting in the closing laps of the stage, the top 10 were Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott and Ryan Newman.

On the second green-flag lap of the stage, Danica Patrick wrecked in Turn 4 after contact beneath her car between Kyle Larson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt was forced into Patrick, who spun and was then hit by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., whose Ford was too damaged to continue.

It was the second wreck to include Earnhardt and Patrick.

On Lap 35, AJ Allmendinger spun in Turn 11, causing the field to bottleneck behind him. Allmendinger made contact with Clint Bowyer. Kyle Busch suffered damage to his grille in the bottleneck.

On Lap 39, the second caution of the stage was displayed for debris.

With six laps left in the stage, Daniel Suarez was spun by Billy Johnson in the No. 43 but continued on.

Three Cup teams penalized 15 minutes of practice

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NASCAR announced Friday that the teams of Ty Dillon, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones will miss the first 15 minutes of Cup practice today at Sonoma Raceway.

Each team is being penalized for multiple pre-race inspection failures last weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

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