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NASCAR official defends penalties to Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr.

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A NASCAR executive was adamant that drivers were warned about passing the pace car as they entered pit road and that series officials penalized Martin Truex Jr. after a move that was “just blatant” Sunday at Phoenix and penalized Jimmie Johnson to be consistent.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, made the comments Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Before Sunday’s race at Phoenix, NASCAR had penalized drivers for pulling up to pit in only one other race. NASCAR cited Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears for the violation at Dover in May.

Sunday, NASCAR penalized Martin Truex Jr. for the issue and Jimmie Johnson later in the race. Johnson was baffled by the call and planned to talk to NASCAR about the one-lap penalty.

“We’ve reminded the drivers quite often that it was getting very close that you can’t pass the pace car as you pull off on to pit road,’’ O’Donnell said. “We’ve had that in every drivers meeting. Not a surprise to anyone. Jimmie has been racing with us for a long time and is aware of that rule.

“Have there been some borderline situations in the past? Sure. We’re always going to try to err if we can on the competitor’s side. We’ve been very clear on that.

“We told the competitors it was something we continue to watch. Once the call (on Truex) was made, which in our mind was just blatant, very clear in terms of how far in front of the pace car (Truex was), we made a point over the radio again. We obviously penalized (Truex) and said again that is something we’re going to enforce. Right after that (Johnson) was ahead of the pace car as well, and again that was clear on video and so we made the call and wanted to be consistent in the race.’’

Johnson didn’t see it that way after the race.

“In 15 years that has never been a concern, and I was always told that the last thing NASCAR wanted to do would be to penalize the leader, and as you pull off onto the apron, you accelerate to the commitment line,’’ Johnson said.

“If you are held by the pace car, you’re at a disadvantage as the leader and it allows everybody to catch you and catch up, so even in drivers meetings they’ve said, we know you’re going to pass the pace car; it’s okay. The majority of the tracks we go to, you naturally just gradually pull ahead of the pace car coming to pit lane. I mean, this happens all the time.’’

In the video that is played during the drivers meeting each week, competitors are told “do not pull up to pit, hold your respective track position under the yellow flag.’’

On NASCAR’s pit road penalty handout that is given to each crew chief, it reads for pulling up to pit: “When following the caution vehicle during a caution period, drivers must maintain their position in relation to other vehicles in the field or as otherwise directed by NASCAR, and will not be permitted to pass other vehicles or the caution vehicle when preparing to enter pit road.’’

During the drivers meeting last month at Martinsville, series director Richard Buck told drivers: “Also a reminder, under caution, the leader may not pass the caution car when entering pit road.’’

Also, O’Donnell addressed the order for the final restart after Matt Kenseth’s crash. Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, said on the team’s radio repeatedly that Busch was ahead of Joey Logano when the caution lights illuminated and should have been the leader. Instead, NASCAR ruled that Logano was the leader.

O’Donnell explained why that was so.

“We have scoring loops in place that during a race if a caution comes out, the scoring loops are what scores the competitors and how we line them up,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We go back to the last scoring loop that was passed. In the event that a caution comes out and ends the race, then we use any available technology because the race is over and we’ve got some time to review all of the video feeds and can take our time doing that.

“In that caution, it was not the end of the race. It was scored as the last lap passed. Every competitor is scored there. If you’re involved in the caution, you are scored where you blend back in the line. (Alex Bowman) was scored where he blended back. (Busch) was scored at the last loop they passed.’’

Martins Motorsports adds sponsorship to No. 44 Xfinity car

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Martins Motorsports announced Tuesday that it has renewed a partnership with Gilreath Farms Red Angus for the 2020 Xfinity Series.

Gilreath Farms and AAN Adjusters, which also is owned by Ken Gilreath, will be the primary sponsor of the No. 44 Xfinity car for 25 races this season. Gilreath Farms sponsored Martins for a race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2018 when Martins drove for BJ McLeod Motorsports.

“Having Gilreath Farms Red Angus on the car again is special,” Martins said in a statement. “This is really where my partnership with Ken started in 2018, so to see his commitment to us this year…I mean I’ve said it before, it completely changes our entire outlook for this season. It’s really special.”

The first race for the Red Angus Chevrolet will be at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Truck Series playoffs expands to 10 teams

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The playoffs for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will expand from eight to 10 drivers in 2020, NASCAR announced Tuesday.

Two teams will be eliminated after the first round and four eliminated after second round.

How each round of the playoffs will unfold:

Round of 10: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Bristol Motor Speedway

Round of 8: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Martinsville Speedway

Championship 4: Phoenix Raceway

“Expanding the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoff field to 10 is a win-win for drivers, teams and, most importantly, the passionate fans who support our Gander Trucks,” Truck Series Managing Director Brad Moran said in a statement from NASCAR. “This will only increase the competitive intensity this series offers, as more drivers and teams vie for one of the most coveted championships in all of racing.”

Had there been 10 drivers allowed in last year’s playoffs, ThorSport Racing’s Ben Rhodes and Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Harrison Burton would have gotten those spots. KBM did not have any drivers in the playoffs.

The first two races of the playoffs, at Gateway and Canada, will feature the new pit road rules for standalone races in the Truck and Xfinity Series.

Reports: Daniel Suarez to drive for Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Multiple reports state that Daniel Suarez will drive the No. 96 Cup car for Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2020.

The team has not made any an announcement.

Toby Christie reported Friday at tobychristie.com that a deal was done for Suarez to drive the full Cup season for Gaunt Brothers Racing. Motorsport.com reported Monday that Suarez would join Gaunt Brothers Racing for the full season.

Suarez would replace Parker Kligerman, who confirmed to NBC Sports on Friday that he would not return to the No. 96 car this season.

This would be the fourth Cup season for Suarez. He drove for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017-18 before being replaced by Martin Truex Jr. Suarez moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019 and was replaced after the season by rookie Cole Custer.

Suarez continues to seek his first Cup win. He has eight top-five and 32 top-10 finishes in 108 Cup starts. He won the 2016 Xfinity title, a year after winning rookie of the year honors in that series.

Gaunt Brothers Racing debuted in 2017, running one race with D.J. Kennington. The team ran 22 races the following year between Kligerman, D.J. KenningtonJeffrey Earnhardt and Jesse Little. The team ran 15 races last year with Drew Herring running once along with Kligerman’s 14 starts.

HighPoint to sponsor Chase Briscoe in multiple Xfinity Series races

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Chase Briscoe will have a new sponsor in 2020 in HighPoint.com, a customer service and technology solutions company, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday.

Briscoe, who returns for a second full-time Xfinity Series season with SHR, will have HighPoint as a primary sponsor on his No. 98 Ford for 10 races. The Sparta, New Jersey-based company will make its debut with the Feb. 15 season opener at Daytona.

For all other races, HighPoint will be an associate sponsor.

“Even though we race stock cars, there’s nothing stock about what we do,” Briscoe said in a press release. “The science of our cars is impressive, but the technology that goes into building our Ford Mustangs and then making them perform is even more advanced. Our IT needs are pretty complex, and we demand a lot from our technology every day, whether it’s at the shop or at the track. HighPoint is more than just a sponsor – they’re a partner that helps us perform.”

As part of the deal, HighPoint will be the team’s official IT solutions provider.

“Walk around our race shop during the week and the garage area on a race weekend and you’ll see how our race cars and our entire industry relies on technology,” Mike Verlander, SHR’s vice president of sales and marketing, said in a press release. “From engine diagnostics to fuel-mileage calculations, our business is dependent on service and technology solutions. Every company needs what HighPoint provides, and we’ll work diligently to facilitate those introductions.”