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Kurt Busch’s No. 41 becomes first car revealed for this year’s throwback race at Darlington Raceway

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If Kurt Busch’s car in this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 throwback race at Darlington Raceway looks familiar, there’s a good reason for it.

Busch will drive a car with a paint scheme similar to the car he drove at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.

And what a race that was. Busch’s No. 97 Rubbermaid-sponsored red and gray Ford had a last-lap fender-banging battle with Ricky Craven’s No. 32 Cal Wells Racing Pontiac, which ended up 0.002 seconds ahead of Busch for the win.

Ironically, tomorrow, March 16, marks the 15th anniversary of what at the time was the closest finish in NASCAR history.

Busch’s Darlington black, red and gray throwback scheme – the first of all teams to be revealed for this year’s race – on his No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion, was first unveiled by

Busch has never won at Darlington. His 2003 runner-up finish has been his highest finish, though he’s also finished third in 2010 and in last year’s race.

This will be the fourth consecutive year for Darlington’s popular throwback weekend. This year’s theme is “seven decades of NASCAR” across the entire weekend from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

Stewart-Haas Racing has won the best throwback paint scheme the last two years (in voting at, last year with Danica Patrick’s No. 10 car (a blue-and-white look that honored NASCAR Hall of Famer Robert Yates), and Tony Stewart’s car for his final race at Darlington in 2016 that honored Bobby Allison.

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Stewart-Haas Racing won’t appeal No. 4 team’s penalty from Las Vegas

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Tony Stewart says that Stewart-Haas Racing will not appeal the penalty to Kevin Harvick’s team from last weekend’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“How many appeals have you seen overturned?’’ Stewart said after Harvick won Sunday at ISM Raceway for his third consecutive Cup win.

The team had to decide by Monday if to appeal the L1 penalties. NASCAR penalized the team for a failed window brace and side skirts being aluminum instead of steel.

NASCAR docked Harvick all seven playoff points he earned at Las Vegas for his victory and two stage wins, along with 20 driver points. NASCAR also fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended the team’s car chief two races and docked the team 20 owner points.

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Bump & Run: Who should give command to start engines?

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Who is one person you’d like to see give the command for a race?

Nate Ryan: Cale Yarborough

Dustin Long: Dave Marcis. Ranks fourth in all-time Cup starts with 883 and won five times. He embodies the spirit of a racer. Let him get those engines fired one time. #BringBackDave 

Jerry Bonkowski: Tony Stewart in his own inimitable way.

Daniel McFadin: Since 2007, I’ve firmly believed actor Kevin James should be NASCAR’s designated command to start engines person. 

Who is someone not in the NASCAR Hall of Fame that should be in it?

Nate Ryan: Smokey Yunick. Mechanics and crew chiefs were underrepresented in the first few years of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. That mostly has been addressed since then (notably with Ray Evernham’s recent induction), but Yunick’s name has yet to appear on the ballot. He certainly is worthy of candidacy and should be enshrined some day

Dustin Long: Harold Brasington, founder of Darlington Raceway. He was a visionary who created NASCAR’s first big paved track nearly a decade before Daytona emerged and helped change the sport. That’s worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Jerry Bonkowski: Ricky Rudd. He was the longtime iron man of NASCAR, not to mention a winner of 23 races. He’s long overdue to be inducted.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going with two men that deserve to go into the Hall of Fame together: Bob Jenkins and Dr. Jerry Punch. The election of Ken Squier has set the precedent for media members being selected. While Squier was the voice and narrator for a certain generation of NASCAR fans, Jenkins and Punch were more active and omnipresent with their ESPN and ABC coverage from the early ’80s to 2000. Outside the Daytona 500, Coke 600 and races on TNN, if you’re watching a highlight of a NASCAR race from that period, it’s likely being announced and reported on by Jenkins and Punch. Jenkins was even present in NASCAR video games in the late ’90s. For my generation, he was the voice of NASCAR in our formative years.

Who are you most worried about three races into the season?

Nate Ryan: Driving on a one-year deal and needing to produce results quickly, two crashes in three races is a tough start for Kurt Busch. Even though his teammate finished 15th at Las Vegas, AJ Allmendinger’s JTG Daugherty Racing ride has seemed well off the pace since a 10th in the Daytona 500.

Dustin Long: Clint Bowyer. Although it’s early and he’s 11th in points, he’s talked about he and the team needing to be consistent. Haven’t seen it yet. For him to match the success of teammate Kevin Harvick and be a contender to win races, that consistency needs to start happening.

Jerry Bonkowski: How can you not be worried about Jimmie Johnson, who is sitting in 29th place? Sure, he finished 12th at Las Vegas, but he needs a win — or at least a top-five — in the worst way.

Daniel McFadin: Any Chevrolet driver not named Kyle Larson. He was the only Chevy driver to finish in the top 10 in Las Vegas and one of three to finish in the top 15 at Atlanta. Like Toyota teams early last year, Chevy teams seem to be struggling to figure out the new Camaro body so far. Unless you’re the No. 42 team, which is keeping the same pace it had in Homestead in November.

Kyle Larson finished no worse than second in each race of last year’s West Coast swing and he started this tour with a third-place finish. How likely is he to score another top-five finish on West Coast swing.

Nate Ryan: The odds are good. He qualifies so well at Phoenix, and Fontana suits his style superbly.

Dustin Long: Count on it.

Jerry Bonkowski: He loves Phoenix and Fontana. Not only do I see him getting top fives at both places, he’s a good candidate to win both races, as well.

Daniel McFadin: Larson has won the last four races at 2-mile speedways and should be the favorite to win next week at Auto Club Speedway.

Forbes’ annual NASCAR report: Team values dip slightly, but sport is still strong overall

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The value of NASCAR teams dipped slightly in the last year, but the sport is still strong overall — and has increased promise and growth going forward with things such as young drivers and social media/video engagement.

Also, last season’s top-12 highest-paid NASCAR Cup drivers earned a collective $155 million between them.

Those are among the conclusions from Forbes magazine in its annual analysis of NASCAR team values and driver salaries, released Thursday.

“The top eight NASCAR teams are now worth an average $158 million, down 2 percent from last year,” Forbes reports.

Hendrick Motorsports remains the most valuable organization in the sport, leading the way in both team value ($325 million) and 2016 Revenue (the most recent results available) of $180 million.

Joe Gibbs Racing is second ($220 million team value, $131 million in 2016 revenue), followed by Stewart-Haas Racing ($175 team value, $109 million in 2016 revenue).

Among Forbes’ other observations:

* There is concern that several sponsors have left the sport in the last two years, including Target, Subway, Cheerios, Coors Light and Dollar General. Also, some of NASCAR’s biggest current sponsors are reducing their racing budgets. Forbes cites as an example Miller Lite, which has sponsored Team Penske for nearly 30 years, but will see its sponsorship slip from 24 races to just 11 races per season in its new contract extension with the team.

* On a more positive note, the story talks about the increasing impact of young drivers in the sport, particularly in light of major stars retiring over the last two years including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

* Another good sign: “Digital fan engagement numbers are up as well. Last season social engagements increased 12 percent year-over-year, while video views saw a 44 percent increase. Stage racing was strongly supported, with around four out of five NASCAR fans preferring it to the prior format.”

Here’s Forbes’ list of NASCAR teams with the most value and their 2016 Revenue:

  1. Hendrick Motorsports, Team value: $325 million, 2016 Revenue: $180 million
  2. Joe Gibbs Racing, Team value: $220 million, 2016 revenue: $131 million
  3. Stewart-Haas Racing, Team value: $175 million, 2016 Revenue: $109 million
  4. Richard Childress Racing, Team value: $170 million, 2016 Revenue: $145 million
  5. Team Penske, Team value: $142 million; 2016 Revenue: $63 million
  6. Roush Fenway Racing, Team value: $140 million, 2016 Revenue: $97 million
  7. Chip Ganassi Racing, Team value: $68 million, 2016 Revenue: $49 million
  8. Front Row Motorsports, Team value: $21 million, 2016 Revenue: $19 million

Also, Forbes lists NASCAR’s 12 highest-paid drivers from 2017:

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2017 Total earnings $22 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $14 million
  2. Jimmie Johnson, 2017 Total earnings $19.2 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $14.2 million
  3. Kyle Busch, 2017 Total earnings $14.7 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $13.1 million
  4. Denny Hamlin, 2017 Total earnings $14.6 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $12.9 million
  5. Kevin Harvick, 2017 Total earnings $13.8 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $11.6 million
  6. Brad Keselowski, 2017 Total earnings $11.2 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $9.8 million
  7. Kasey Kahne, 2017 Total earnings $11.2 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $9.8 million
  8. Danica Patrick, 2017 Total earnings $10.3 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $5.8 million
  9. Joey Logano, 2017 Total earnings $10.2 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $8.6 million
  10. Kyle Larson, 2017 Total earnings $10.1 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $9 million
  11. Martin Truex Jr., 2017 Total earnings $9.9 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $8.9 million
  12. Matt Kenseth, 2017 Total earnings $9 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $7.9 million

Click here to read the full story.

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Aric Almirola starting from ‘ground zero’ with Stewart-Haas Racing

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After six years of racing and struggling to compete for the most famous name in NASCAR, Aric Almirola is getting a reboot to his Cup career.

Tuesday and Wednesday, the 33-year-old drove a Cup car that didn’t have Richard Petty’s famous No. 43 on the side of it for the first time since 2010.

Almirola took part in a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway in his unofficial debut in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford.

It was just another part of the busiest offseason of Almirola’s career, sparked by the November announcement of his move from Richard Petty Motorsports to SHR.

“We run a long schedule, so I certainly took some time to myself,” Almirola said Tuesday. “But I have spent a lot of time at the shop. Probably more time at the race car shop this offseason then I’ve ever spent. I’ve basically started from scratch, right? Started from zero, with all new seats, pouring inserts in seats and just everything. Gauges, dash and just everything that you can think of that a driver looks at or is a part of inside the race car, I’ve started from ground zero.”

During his six seasons with RPM, the offseason was “pretty mellow and relaxed and routine” for Almirola. That changes when you transition to a larger team.

“New seats, new team, new cars, new people, new names and faces to learn,” Almirola said.

There are some familiar faces at the SHR shop for Almirola from his days racing at Dale Earnhardt Inc. a decade ago.

“That part’s been fun to rekindle those relationships that I’ve had in the past,” Almirola said. “But just to go there (to the shop) and see the operation … when you drive up to the complex it’s so big and so massive. They have so many resources at their fingertips inside their race car shop.”

Almirola, who has just one Cup win in 244 starts, is reminded of Richard Petty Motorsport’s lack of success during his tenure there every time he visits SHR’s Kannapolis, North Carolina, shop. He sees the two championship trophies and trophies from the 39 Cup victories in their first nine seasons.

“You see all their trophies in their trophy case and their championship trophies, it’s very evident why,” Almirola said. “Just the attention to detail, the amount of people pulling in the same direction – it’s incredible to see first-hand, so knowing I’ve had to race against that the last six years has been disheartening, but I’m glad I get to be a part of it finally.”

Of SHR’s roster of drivers – Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Almirola – only Harvick (14) and Busch (five) have wins with the team. Bowyer hasn’t won since 2012.

Almirola replaces Danica Patrick, who went winless in her 180 starts with the team. He said he hasn’t given much thought to replacing Patrick, but that the pressure to drive the No. 10 doesn’t come close to what it took to drive the No. 43 for six years.

“When I get in the car, the only thing I see is the windshield and 39 other drivers that I’ve beaten or want to beat,” Almirola said. “So for me, I’ve driven the sport’s most iconic car for the last six years, so if you want to talk about it from that aspect, there’s been more pressure driving that Petty blue 43 car than I think I’ll ever have driving a black and white 10 car.”