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Even in a season without major changes, there’s much new in NASCAR

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Stage racing returns after its debut last year, but there are many changes for the 2018 NASCAR season. With cars on track Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, here’s a look at some of the notable changes this year:

DRIVERS

The rookie class features new names in iconic numbers. William Byron takes over the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports, while Darrell Wallace Jr. will drive the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Among those in new rides this year include Aric Almirola taking over the ride Danica Patrick had in the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Ryan Blaney moves to the No. 12 at Team Penske.

Paul Menard replaces Blaney in the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers.

Kasey Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing in the No. 95, taking over for Michael McDowell, who moved to Front Row Motorsports to take over the No. 34 car.

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Erik Jones joins Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 20 car.

Chase Elliott is back at Hendrick Motorsports but this year he’ll drive the No. 9 car.

SCHEDULE

MORE: 2018 NASCAR schedules for Cup, Xfinity & Camping World Truck Series

The regular season ends at Indianapolis, taking the spot previously held by Richmond.

The playoffs will have a different look. They open Sept. 16 in Las Vegas before heading to Richmond the following weekend. It marks the first time either track has been in NASCAR’s postseason. The first round ends at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the debut of its roval, which combines the track’s infield road course and high-speed oval.

Dover remains in the playoffs but moves out of the first round and will host the opening race of the second round.

Other changes include Richmond’s spring race returning to Saturday night and Dover’s spring event moves to the first weekend in May.

TEAMS

Richard Petty Motorsports has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and moved into a shop on the Richard Childress Racing campus. RPM also has an alliance with RCR.

Richard Childress Racing has cut from three to two teams and leased a charter to StarCom Racing, which is set for its first full-time season.

Team Penske adds a third Cup car to accommodate the addition of Ryan Blaney.

Rick Ware Racing will race the full schedule after leasing a charter from Richard Petty Motorsports.

Furniture Row Racing goes back to a one-car team this year after shutting its No. 77 operation and selling its charter to JTG Daugherty for that team’s No. 37 car.

RULES

MORE: An inside look at how the Hawkeye Inspection process works

NASCAR will debut a new inspection system this season. It’s unofficial name is the Hawkeye System, but NASCAR plans on announcing a name for it at a later date. The system will allow NASCAR greater scrutinize the entire car and also streamline the process. Some Ford drivers are hoping the new system keeps the manufacturers close since Ford has the oldest body compared to Toyota and Chevrolet.

Cup, Xfinity and Truck teams will be restricted to no more than five people over the wall to service the vehicle on a pit stop, eliminating one position.

Should a team change an engine in its primary car during Daytona Speedweeks for something other than crash damage, the team will be forced to start at the rear of their qualifying race (if the change takes place before then), start at the rear for the Daytona 500 and start at the rear of the field for the next race the car is entered.

No longer will a driver have to sit in their car on pit road while serving a timed penalty during a practice session. Those penalties will be served in the garage.

The phrase “encumbered” is a thing of the past, but the penalty remains.

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Jeffrey Earnhardt will drive StarCom Racing’s No. 00 in Daytona 500

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An Earnhardt will be in the 60th Daytona 500 after all.

Jeffrey Earnhardt, the grandson of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. and son of Kerry Earnhardt, will stretch the family’s streak of competing in the “Great American Race” to 40 years.

The 28-year-old will drive StarCom Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet in the Feb. 18 race and the rest of the season, the team announced Tuesday.

The team announced last week that it was leasing a charter from Richard Childress Racing, ensuring the No. 00 a starting spot in all 36 Cup points races.

Earnhardt will be sponsored by VRX Simulators in the race.

“I am so appreciative of everyone at StarCom Racing and VRX for having confidence in me and making this a reality,” Earnhardt said in a team release. “There’s been an Earnhardt driving in the 500 for 39 years so to be able to keep that streak going for a 40th year means a lot to me and I’m sure a lot of Earnhardt fans are going to be happy to hear this news.”

In 2017, Earnhardt drove the No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group. But the two entities split in December and Earnhardt lost his ride.

Derrike Cope, the 1990 Daytona 500 winner, is the team manager for StarCom Racing.

“It was imperative for our young team to have a sponsored driver for our start-up year, and we did have several options,” Cope said in the press release. “We felt that Jeffrey was the best fit for our team and VRX has already shown the type of enthusiasm and commitment that SCR has both for Jeffrey and for the sport. It will be a very exciting year for us.”

Earnhardt has 58 Cup starts since 2015. Last season, he made his first start in the Daytona 500, starting 32nd and finishing 26th. It was the last Daytona 500 start for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who retired from Cup competition following the season.

The family’s history in the Daytona 500 began in 1979 when Earnhardt Sr. made his first start and led his first laps in the race. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his only victory in the race in 1998.

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StarCom Racing leases charter from Richard Childress Racing for 2018 season

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StarCom Racing has leased a charter from Richard Childress Racing this season for the No. 00 car that will have Derrike Cope driving it in the Daytona 500.

ESPN.com first reported the arrangement. Richard Childress Racing is not fielding the No. 27 car this season and that charter was available. RCR will run two Cup cars this years. Charters can be leased once in five years. A charter guarantees a starting spot in each race. There are 36 charters.

“What a wonderful opportunity it is for our organization to have secured a charter for 2018!” Cope said in a statement from the team. “We have a strong and enthusiastic team that are now working with renewed vigor and we can’t wait to start the season!”

StarCom Racing, which has Tony Furr as crew chief, stated in its release that it “will continue to explore all driver options with funding opportunities and will choose the best possible fit for the team. SCR Marketing Director, Elyshia Cope, and the team are actively seeking sponsorship opportunities for the coming season.”

This is the sixth charter to change teams since the end of last season.

The charter for the No. 77 car at Furniture Row Racing was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car of Chris Buescher

Roush Fenway Racing sold the charter from the No. 16 team to Team Penske for the No. 12 car of Ryan Blaney

Richard Petty Motorsports leased a charter to Rick Ware Racing for the No. 51 team.

Wood Brother Racing formed a partnership with Go Fas Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire and acquired his charter for the No. 21 car of Paul Menard.

Go Fas Racing has partnered with Circle Sport Racing and use its charter, meaning the No. 32 car with Matt DiBenedetto will have a charter this season.

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