@Christian_Racin (via @bakerracing37)

Social Roundup: Snow hits NASCAR country

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A week ago Charlotte Motor Speedway announced an open test for the Camping World Truck Series today.

It was quickly postponed to Jan. 24.

The cause? The first snowstorm of the year in North Carolina.

That means it’s time for obligatory shots of a snow-covered race track and team shops.

Before we get started, Cole Pearn, the Canadian crew chief for Martin Truex Jr,. thinks all the excitement over a little snow is adorable.

First up is a bird’s-eye view of Charlotte Motor Speedway. After that, teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske tweeted proof there’s no such thing as a snow day in NASCAR. Also, Daniel Suarez and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each got into a bit of a jam while driving.

A post shared by Shaun Johnson (@shaunjohn44) on

 

How we celebrate a snow day!! #burnemdown

A post shared by Kevin Harvick (@kevinharvick) on

 and on Facebook

Menards, vendors to sponsor Brandon Jones in Xfinity Series

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Menards home improvement stores and some of its partner vendors will sponsor Brandon Jones‘ No. 19 Toyota in 10 Xfinity Series races, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Thursday.

Jones, in his first year with JGR, will have one partner-specific brand on his hood in each of Menards’ races.

Menards was a sponsor of Jones the last three years at Richard Childress Racing. The company will sponsor both Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney in the Cup Series this season.

Menards, also the title sponsor of the ARCA Racing Series, has been involved in NASCAR since 2001.

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Christopher Bell leaving comfort of Kyle Busch Motorsports for Joe Gibbs Racing

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Christopher Bell‘s last NASCAR race of 2017 didn’t go well for the 22-year-old driver.

Driving Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota, Bell started third in the Xfinity Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but his engine gave out on Lap 78.

He finished 36th for the first DNF in Xfinity career, which only eight races old.

Bell’s spirits weren’t low for long.

“It’s disappointing to blow up, but once I got out of my firesuit and I looked at my phone, it was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m still a champion’,” Bell told NBC Sports Thursday during an event for NASCAR’s national touring series champions at Top Golf in Charlotte.

The night before his engine blew, Bell clinched the Camping World Truck Series championship. It’s his first NASCAR title in his second full-time year in the series.

The native of Norman, Oklahoma, reached the championship race in both of his full-time seasons driving the No. 4 Toyota. This time around, Bell reached the Championship 4 off five wins, 15 top fives and 21 top 10s.

Bell will accept his championship tonight at the Xfinity and Truck Series Awards Banquet in Charlotte. Bell expects his champion’s speech will be the “most uncomfortable part” of the evening.

“Just trying to concentrate on what I want to say,” Bell said. “I don’t want to spell it out and not make it heart-felt whenever I get up there. At the same time I need a guide to follow along and I think I’ve got a pretty good guide.”

Christopher Bell, right, and team owner Kyle Busch after Bell clinched the Camping World Truck Series title. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

While he drove the No. 4 for KBM this season, his guide in the cockpit was crew chief Rudy Fugle. It was Fugle who taught Bell what he needed in a race car to win races.

Bell only won a single race in his rookie year with Jerry Baxter.

“Before Rudy, I didn’t really know what I needed,” Bell said. “I just was looking for lap time. Looking for lap time in practice is different from what you need to be able to race. I feel like Rudy did an excellent job of teaching me that.”

Now comes the next level.

Bell will compete full-time for JGR in the Xfinity Series next year driving the No. 20 Toyota after his eight races in 2017, which included a win at Kansas Speedway in October.

Bell has been partnered with crew chief Jason Ratcliff, who has spent the last six seasons in the Cup Series. The last five of those were with Matt Kenseth. Together they won 14 races.

Ratcliffe has been a NASCAR crew chief since 2000 when he worked with Casey Atwood in the Xfinity Series.

“I haven’t been around Jason very much,” Bell said. “I was able to have lunch with him a couple of weeks ago and this week I got to spend a little bit of time with him and kind of go over his priorities and my priorities going into next year. He’s a super switched-on guy. There’s nobody else I’d rather have. To be able to use his expertise, his knowledge, he’s been there, done that. That’s been really good for a young driver like myself and I’m going to lean on that a lot next year.”

What are Ratcliff’s priorities?

“From him going Cup racing for so long, he was able to prioritize where you need to be good, what we need to focus on,” Bell said. “He’s really big on restarts, qualifying, making sure I maximize pit road speeds and stuff like that. Those are areas we need to really focus on.”

Through his eight Xfinity races and his Kansas win, Bell feels he validated JGR’s choice to hire him full-time next year, where he will be teammates with Brandon Jones and Ryan Preece.

Those eight races helped Bell get a grasp of the lower downforce in Xfinity cars, the series’ longer races and its deeper fields of talent.

“I feel like that took a lot of pressure off me going into 2018, knowing that I can do it,” Bell said. “Proving to myself that I can do it. Also proving to JGR. They took a chance on me by hiring me to run the full season. I’m glad I was able to win early on in my Xfinity career and prove to them I can do it.”

With his move up the ladder in 2018, Bell will be leaving Kyle Busch Motorsports, his racing home of four years as he transitioned from dirt racing to pavement.

“I’ve been at Kyle Busch Motorsports a very long time now,” Bell said. “I think that’s something that most people don’t understand. I’ve been pavement racing for four years now, four years off-and-on. All four of those years I’ve spent at Kyle Busch Motorsports. So I’ve gotten to know almost every single person in that shop by name and have a relationship of some kind with the majority of the people in that shop, so that’s what I’m going to miss the most about the Truck Series.”

Bell still has time before his Xfinity career gets fully underway in Daytona. He has a slate of dirt races on his schedule, including the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in early January.

After that, “it’ll be time to get serious.”

Joe Gibbs Racing 2018 Xfinity lineup: Christopher Bell, Brandon Jones, Ryan Preece

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Joe Gibbs Racing announced Wednesday it will campaign three full-time Xfinity cars in 2018:

Bell will drive the No. 20 Toyota Camry. His crew chief will be Jason Ratcliff, whose final stint with Matt Kenseth in the Cup Series is Sunday in Miami.

Bell has made seven Xfinity starts this season, scoring his first series win Oct. 21 at Kansas.

Bell is still in contention for the Truck championship, which will be decided in Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

  • After two-plus full-time Xfinity seasons with Richard Childress Racing, Brandon Jones moves to a similar full-time ride with JGR.

Brandon Jones will drive the No. 19 Toyota Camry. Chris Gabehart will be his crew chief.

Eric Phillips will serve as crew chief for Preece and the other drivers when they are behind the wheel of the No. 18.

Preece has made three Xfinity starts this season, with top-five finishes in each, including his first career win July 29 at Iowa Speedway. He will race in Saturday’s season-ending event.

Preece will drive an undetermined number of races in 2018. Busch, the all-time Xfinity wins leader with 91, will start a maximum of seven races. Fellow Cup drivers Hamlin, Erik Jones and Suarez will fill out the remaining races.

Blake Koch leads final Xfinity practice at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. – Blake Koch posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Xfinity practice at Richmond Raceway.

Koch went 122.912 mph. He was followed by William Byron (122.139 mph), Brandon Jones (121.847), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (121.819) and Ryan Reed (121.583).

Justin Allgaier, who finished second at Richmond in April, posted the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 119.210 mph. He was followed by Spencer Gallagher (118.665 mph) and Brad Keselowski (117.041).

The session marked the debut of the flange fit composite body. NASCAR stated that 30 teams were using the composite body on their primary car. The composite bodies also can be used at Dover and Phoenix in the playoffs this year. Teams can use the composite body for all races next season except the superspeedways.

Click here for practice report