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Jamie McMurray leads group of drivers with best finish of season at Texas

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Jamie McMurray was relevant for the first time this season.

After failing to finish better than 16th through the first six races, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver powered his No. 1 Chevrolet to a third-place finish in Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was his best finish since placing second in the spring race at Talladega last year.

The result came a day after he spun in the Xfinity race at the 1.5-mile track and managed to finish seventh.

“The track is pretty treacherous when you get out of the groove,” McMurray said. “Obviously, I spun out yesterday in the Xfinity race, so I learned not to go up there, but it was a really good day for our Cessna/McDonald’s Chevrolet. We really struggled this year and especially on the 1.5-mile (tracks). I’m really proud of everybody for the car that we had and to be able to put the whole race together. The off-weekend (last weekend) for us couldn’t have come at a better time.”

McMurray’s result is his first top 10 since he finished sixth at Phoenix last November.

Attrition and multiple wrecks helped McMurray and many of the drivers who finished in the top 20.

Erik Jones placed fourth for his first top five of the season and his fourth top 10.

Jones’ No. 20 Toyota led 64 laps, his most on an intermediate track.

“I don’t know that we really had enough for Kyle (Busch) or Kevin (Harvick),” Jones said. “They were really fast, but overall I thought we were a third-place car. Jamie had some tires here at the end, and we couldn’t really do much with them. We didn’t qualify where we wanted to this weekend. It was kind of a – kind of a downer coming into Sunday, but I knew we had a good race car and you know we showed that today. A big step up.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. benefited from pit strategy to finish eighth for his first top 10 since the Daytona 500.

William Byron, after starting from the rear due to an engine change, earned his first career Cup top 10, placing 10th. He is the last Hendrick Motorsports driver to earn a top 10 this season.

“It was really good for us to get a top 10,” Byron said. “Once the sun came out we weren’t quite as good, I don’t think, but (for) starting in the back this was definitely a good day for us. We had a lot of adversity and kept having to go to the back. … It obviously takes a lot of things to happen. We didn’t quite have the speed we wanted to. We were really good in practice, but I think some of our weaknesses showed up when the rubber laid down on the track a little bit on the bottom groove. Overall it was a pretty good day and we can definitely build on this.”

Other notable finishes:

Trevor Bayne, 12th: Best finish since the Daytona 500 (13th).

Ty Dillon, 13th: First top 15 of year, first since Phoenix last November.

Michael McDowell, 14th: Best finish since Daytona 500 (ninth).

Matt DiBenedetto, 16th: Best result since eighth-place finish in last season’s Brickyard 400 (eighth).

Kasey Kahne, 17th: Best finish with Leavine Family Racing.

Ross Chastain, 18th: Career-best Cup finish in eighth start.

Cole Whitt, 19th: Best finish since placing 12th in last season’s Brickyard 400.

—  Gray Gaulding, 20th: Second 20th-place finish of year (Daytona)

Landon Cassill, 21st: Best finish since placing 20th at Chicagoland last September; Ties best finish for StarCom Racing in nine races (Daytona).

NASCAR America: The challenges of Martinsville Speedway

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What Martinsville Speedway lacks in size compared to other tracks it makes up in difficulty say drivers and NASCAR America’s analysts.

Landon Cassill joined Carolyn Manno, Parker Kligerman and Jeff Burton on Thursday’s show and discussed the challenges of the half-mile paperclip track.

“It can be fun when it’s going well,’’ said Cassill, who will make his Cup season debut this weekend in the No. 00 for StarCom Racing. “That place, if you’re car is not handling well, you can end up going backwards and just by the time you’ve got some clear race track the leader is right behind you. So it can be frustration. I tend to like Martinsville.’’

Kligerman calls racing in the pack at Martinsville Speedway “the most aggressive racing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.’’

Jeff Burton said: “It’s … one of the hardest race tracks we go to period because you have to do it lap after lap after lap and it’s so easy to get, quite simply, just really, really mad at the guy you’re racing with because he’s hitting you and he’s banging on you.’’

Cup drivers have their description of the track. See what NASCAR America’s analysts and Cup drivers have to say about the track that hosts Sunday’s Cup race in the video above.

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Landon Cassill gets Cup ride for Martinsville, Texas

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Landon Cassill will drive the No. 00 for StarCom Racing in the next two races, Martinsville and Texas, the team announced Monday.

Cassill replaces Jeffrey Earnhardt. StarCom Racing and Earnhardt parted ways after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will mark Cassill’s first Cup race of the year. The 28-year-old has 259 career Cup starts and a career-best finish of fourth at Talladega in October 2014. He drove for Front Row Motorsports the past two seasons but was not retained after last year.

Cassill’s sponsor the next two races will be the United States First Responders Association, a non-profit, professional and social network of fire, EMS, rescue, law enforcement and military personnel, as well as civilian support teams.

StarCom Racing was privileged to acquire a new partnership with USFRA and Landon Cassill behind the wheel,” said Derrike Cope, team manager, in a statement. “I’m optimistic that his knowledge and experience will only help our efforts as well as the growth of our team.”

Said Cassill in a statement: “I love working with new teams. I feel like that is one of my strengths. StarCom Racing looks like they are in it for the long haul, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.” 

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Jeffrey Earnhardt, StarCom Racing part ways

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StarCom Racing and Jeffrey Earnhardt have parted ways, the team announced after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Earnhardt drove for the team in the season’s first five races. He finished 36th, 11 laps behind winner Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday. Earnhardt finished a season-best 21st in the Daytona 500 but did not score a top-30 finish in his other starts for the team, which is in its first year running the full schedule.

“I want to thank StarCom Racing for the opportunity to pilot the No. 00 Chevrolet,” Earnhardt said in a statement. “We are working hard on our sponsorship package and long-term plans, which unfortunately means taking a pause behind the wheel to take care of that business. I can’t thank Robert Stanners and the VRX Simulators group enough for getting our season started, and continuing to support my racing career. We anticipate that there will be some exciting news to be shared within coming weeks.” 

No driver for the No. 00 has been announced for this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The team is leasing a charter from Richard Childress Racing this season and is guaranteed a starting spot for each points race.

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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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