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Jeff Gordon among seven to be inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

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Four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on March 13.

Gordon, who retired from full-time competition after 2015, will be among seven men inducted into the Hall of Fame at the The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The 2018 class is the 30th induction class for the institution. Its first induction class was in 1989

The MSHFA is the only American motorsports hall of fame that acknowledges cars, motorcycles, off-road, powerboats and airplanes.

That’s how to best explain why Gordon will be inducted with aviation pioneer and billionaire Howard Hughes.

“Our inductee classes are always intriguing but this year is even more so,” MSHFA President Ron Watson said in a press release. “Howard Hughes and Jeff Gordon in the same class – that is probably the best example we’ve ever had to illustrate the breadth of our inductee roll.”

Also included in the class are drag racing car builder John Buttera, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl G. Fisher, motorcycle great Fred Merkel, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion owner U.E. Pat Patrick and sports car legend Bob Tullius.

Here’s a look at all seven inductees:

  • John Buttera   “Lil John” built championship-winning dragsters, funny cars and pro stocks for the biggest names in the sport in the 1960s and ‘70s, including Danny Ongais, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen and Don Schumacher. The late Kenosha, Wisconsin, native moved to California after a chance meeting with 1990 MSHFA inductee Mickey Thompson at the 1969 U.S. Nationals. Characteristics of a Buttera car were simplicity, elegant design, a wicked stance and flawless craftsmanship. His cars not only looked amazing, they won races and championships. Later, Buttera built award-winning street rods and motorcycles and helped pioneer billet wheels and components. In 1987, on a shoestring budget, he redesigned a castoff Eagle chassis which qualified on the third row at the Indy 500, winning him the prestigious Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award. During the 80s and 90s, Buttera designed parts and components for Edelbrock, Harley-Davidson, Bonspeed and others. He was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Carl G. Fisher – The late Carl Graham Fisher is best known as the man who created the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Earlier, the Greensburg, Indiana, native helped popularize the automobile by competing against Barney Oldfield and others in a series of lucrative exhibitions on Midwest fairground tracks beginning in 1902. He repeatedly urged automakers to support plans for speedways, where they could prove the reliability of their products. When that failed, he persuaded three business associates to join him in the 1909 construction of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, serving as its president until 1923. Among his lesser-known activities were his leadership roles in the Prest-O-Lite company, which produced headlights for almost every early American automobile; the transcontinental Lincoln and Dixie Highways; and the establishment of Miami Beach as a resort destination. Fisher was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1952.
  • Jeff Gordon  Jeff Gordon changed the face of NASCAR when he entered the sport in the 1990s. The Vallejo, California, native is third all-time in NASCAR Cup Series wins (93) behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Gordon is fourth all-time in Cup titles with four (1995, ‘97, ‘98, 2001), behind seven-time champions Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon won three Daytona 500 (1997, ‘99, 2005), five Brickyard 400s and six Southern 500. He also set an “Iron Man” record with 797 consecutive starts. Gordon began racing quarter midgets at the age of 5 and by age 6 had won 35 main events. He was 1990 USAC National Midget Series champion, 1991 USAC Silver Crown champ and Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year. He was the Cup Rookie of the Year in 1993. Gordon was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2009.
  • Howard Hughes – One of the world’s richest men, the late Howard Robard Hughes Jr. formed Hughes Aircraft in 1932, set numerous records and built some of the world’s most advanced planes (Hughes H-1 Racer, H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” and XF-11). Born in Texas, Hughes showed mechanical aptitude early, building Houston’s first “wireless” radio transmitter as the age of 11. After dropping out of Rice University, he produced films, including the seminal flying film, Hell’s Angels(1930). In 1935, he flew his H-1 to a land plane speed record (352 mph). In 1937, he beat his own transcontinental record, (Los Angeles to New York), in 7:28:25. In 1938, he circled the globe in 91 hours, obliterating Wiley Post’s 1933 mark. His aviation awards included the Harmon Trophy (1936, ’38), Collier Trophy, FAI Bibesco Cup (1938), Octave Chanute Award (1940) and a 1939 Congressional Gold Medal “for achievements in advancing the science of aviation and thus bringing great credit to his country throughout the world.” He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973.
  • Fred Merkel  “Flying Fred” is an American road racing legend, winning two FIM Superbike World Championships (1988-89), three AMA Superbike Championships (1984-86) and setting multiple records along the way. The charismatic Stockton, California native started out riding on dirt but quickly moved to pavement. In 1983, he registered the first of his 20 AMA Superbike victories, a record that stood until 1998. In 1984 he won a record 10 Superbike races in a single season and his first of three straight AMA titles. That same year he teamed with fellow Honda rider Mike Baldwin to win the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race. In 1988, Merkel won the inaugural Superbike World Championship and successfully defended the crown the following year. Merkel returned to the U.S. in 1994 to ride for Kawasaki, then Suzuki – bikes considered past their primes but on which he nevertheless turned in scintillating performances. He retired at the end of the 1995 season after a crash at Firebird International Raceway. Merkel was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2001.
  • U.E. “Pat” Patrick  “Pat” Patrick made his fortune as a wildcat oilman and made his mark in open-wheel racing. His teams won three Indianapolis 500s and two IndyCar titles. Patrick began as a sponsor in 1967. By 1970 he was a partner in a team and by 1973 owned his own operation. His three Indy wins came with Gordon Johncock (1973, ‘82) and Emerson Fittipaldi (1989). The same duo brought him two championships, with Johncock in 1976 and Fittipaldi in 1989. Always looking for an edge, Patrick commissioned his own cars in the late 1970s, named Wildcats in deference to his roots. Patrick was also among the car owners who established the breakaway Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) sanctioning body. The directors, which included Hall of Famers A.J. Foyt, Jim Hall, Dan Gurney and Roger Penske, elected Patrick their first president. Patrick also led the effort to form the Indy Lights series in 1986. Today, Patrick still strives to innovate through alternative fuel-powered racing engines. He was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.
  • Bob Tullius  Tullius created the model for the modern American amateur sports car team and built Group 44 into one of the most successful ever. Group 44 was the first to combine manufacturer support (British Leyland), title sponsorship (Quaker State), immaculate preparation, ubiquitous branding (from transporter to cars to uniforms) and lots of speed. The two-time Trans-Am and four-time SCCA national champion began his career in the early 60s driving white Triumph TR4s wearing No. 44. Over the next 25-plus years, green-and-white Group 44 cars would net more than 300 victories in club racing, Trans-Am and IMSA GTP competition, plus capture 14 national titles and three Trans-Am championships, many of them with Tullius behind the wheel. The team’s self-built Jaguar GTP car won four races in 1983 against the dominant Porsche 935s — with Tullius finishing second in points — and the ‘86 season finale at Daytona. In 1988, the team ran Audi’s Trans-Am program, taking eight out of 13 races and the drivers’ championship for Hurley Haywood. Tullius was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2014.

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

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While NASCAR celebrates Michael Jordan’s entry as a Cup owner, his arrival comes at the expense of another team.

Jordan and Denny Hamlin purchased Germain Racing’s charter, marking the end of that single-car team when the season concludes Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

Seven races remain for Germain Racing, Ty Dillon and the team’s 40-plus employees before they scatter, some within the sport and others elsewhere. The team races for the first time since the announcement Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN). 

“It’s not been real easy the last couple of weeks,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

He has been Germain Racing’s driver the past four seasons. The team, which won Truck titles in 2006 and 2010 with Todd Bodine, has competed in Cup since 2009. Germain Racing’s best Cup finish is fourth, accomplished by both Dillon and Casey Mears.

The team’s future soured when GEICO determined it would not return after this season. Without sponsorship money and with multiple groups interested in the team’s charter, a sale became the best route for owner Bob Germain. Hamlin and Jordan quickly put together an effort to buy the charter and made headlines with their deal.

With lives upturned by the novel coronavirus, Germain Racing employees now seek work in a pandemic. It adds stress to a 2020 that has tested so many.

“We all in life go through things,” Dillon said. “Life is … never going to be easy or perfect. For me, this has definitely been an extremely stressful time with all the things, the virus that is going on, our team announces that we’re selling and is sold now with seven races to go, and you still have people that you care about that you want to see get opportunities.

“Everyone is trying to keep a good attitude. It’s a very tough situation. Then I have a little girl (who turns 3 in November) and my wife is pregnant and we’re going to have our son in November. You have your virus concerns and also wanting to make sure your daughter is raised and still be able to get out and do things a 2 1/2-year-old should be able to do. That is what is most important to me over all things, spending time with her.

“Then you have in the back of your mind you want to provide for your family. I’m 28 years old and just getting started. … Also, I’ve been (racing) since I was 13, I’ve put a lot of effort and time in it myself. I feel like I still haven’t gotten to prove what I’m fully capable of yet. That’s always in the back of my mind. So it’s been extremely stressful.”

Dillon said he’s relied on his faith to navigate these challenges.

“I believe that God is with me in this process, no matter how much I don’t understand,” he said. “He’s on the other side. He’s going to put me in a place that is going to allow me to do the most for his kingdom, and he’s going to bring me the most joy at the end of wherever I’m going here.

“Knowing that is my teeth in this bit of a storm. It’s definitely not an easy season, and I’m immature in the fact that I want to know what is going to happen.”

Dillon, who finished a season-best 10th at Las Vegas in February, said he’s put together sponsorship for 2021. He is among a number of drivers who have not announced rides for next year. That list includes Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley, among others. 

Dillon told NBC Sports that “this week and next week are going to be really crucial weeks in figuring out what the next step is. There’s an array of things that can happen and I’m not sure which one is going to happen.”

2. Staying Power

While Michael Jordan has made news for coming to NASCAR, the key is how long he stays as an owner.

The sport is filled with former athletes and celebrities who have come and gone in ownership roles through the years.

While many in the sport hope Jordan can help attract more fans and businesses, he needs to remain in the sport to help achieve some of those goals.

Denny Hamlin, who is partnering with Jordan on the new team with Bubba Wallace as driver, told NBC Sports and Fox in an exclusive interview this week that he is confident he can create a program with staying power.

“He has me to help him with the day-to-day stuff,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Obviously, I’ve got a day job, racing a car and that’s what I’m going to continue to do for years and years with my FedEx team, but I know enough about this sport that I can help guide this ownership team in the right direction.”

The team is expected to align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Another key will be the personnel hired to run the team with Hamlin racing and Jordan busy as owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and his other business ventures.

“I think we’re going to have the ability by starting a team from scratch essentially of hiring the best people available at every position,” Hamlin said. “Believe me, since this became public knowledge, we’ve already started those conversations.

“We’re going to give Bubba the best possibility or chance to win in Year 1. I believe that he can win in the first year, but I’m also not naive to think this is an easy business either. It’s hard to win.

“Two years ago, I didn’t win a race. I’ve got 12 years experience and I’m with the best team. My teammate, Kyle Busch, is one of the best, and hasn’t won yet in 2020. It’s not easy. It’s going to be difficult, but I have very good faith that Bubba is going to have everything that he needs to be capable of winning.”

If so, that should keep Jordan in the sport for a long time.

3. TikTok the timing was right

For all the time Ryan Vargas spent searching for sponsorship, networking in the NASCAR garage and looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series, he could have not imagined how he landed a deal with this year’s hottest social media property.

Credit goes to Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas who designs paint schemes for some NASCAR teams.

Pistana created a TikTok car for Vargas because Vargas uses the social app so much. Pistana posted his concept scheme for Vargas on social media in July.

TikTok soon saw the image and talks began.

TikTok
Ryan Vargas’ TikTok car for JD Motorsports mirrors the design Vargas’ friend, Ryan Pistana, created in July and posted on social media. (Photo: JD Motorsports)

“They loved the scheme, they loved the sport,” Vargas told NBC Sports. “They’re very enthusiastic about jumping in.”

TikTok also had a good representative in Vargas, who has more than 40,000 followers and nearly 600,000 likes. Vargas’ TikTok videos are a mix of fun, behind the scenes images and inspiration.

Within about two months, TikTok completed a six-race deal with Vargas and JD Motorsports that will begin next week at Talladega Superspeedway. The agreement allows Vargas to run the rest of the season.

Those six races equal the number of races Vargas has run in the series since last year. He ran three races last year and three this season.

When he hasn’t been racing, he’s often been on the road crew for JD Motorsports. In the last month, Vargas was a mechanic for BJ McLeod’s car at Richmond and Daytona, drove for the team at Darlington (finishing 25th) and was a mechanic for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car at Dover.

“I learn just by doing that,” Vargas said of his role as mechanic at the track. “So when I hop into the car, I know what I want changed.”

It’s a great learning experience but drivers want to drive and Vargas is no different.

“I would be lying to you if I said that didn’t kind of sting sometimes, your friends are out there racing and doing what they want,” he said. “I’ve experienced what it’s like to have pretty much everything fall apart. I was very close to being completely done racing at the end of 2018, so I know what it’s like to sit out and not be in the car.”

Vargas credits a meeting with Mike Davis, director of brand strategy for JR Motorsports and co-host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download, with helping him push through after the 2018 season.

“His piece of advice to me, be present, have your gear and never stop working,” Vargas said of what Davis told him in their meeting.

Vargas has kept following his dream. Now he has a ride for six races thanks to social media.

4. A fan’s last ride

For nearly 20 years, Kenneth Chase took grandson Brendon Harmon to NASCAR races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

They’d travel from Chase’s home in Sebago, Maine and camp with friends and family. Sometimes the group was so large, they’d need a second camper to accommodate everyone.

The trips started when Harmon was about 5 years old. They continued when Chase, known as Pa to his grandchildren, was found to have prostrate cancer.

Kenneth Chase with grandson Brendon Harmon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014. (Photo: Brendon Harmon)

As his grandfather went through treatments in 2012, Harmon decided he wanted to take him to the Daytona 500.

Harmon worked two jobs and saved more than $3,000 so he could take his grandparents and mom to the 2013 Daytona 500. He paid for the plane tickets, race tickets and hotel.

Chase later got colon cancer. Doctors removed the tumor. The cancer returned. They did another surgery. The cancer came back and spread.

Chase died Aug. 25. He would have been 77 years old Saturday.

“He’s what I aspire to be some day,” Harmon said of Chase. “I really hope my future grandkids think of me the way I think of him.”

Harmon has found a way to honor his grandfather. The NASCAR Foundation and Martin Truex Jr. Foundation partnered for the Nominate a Cancer Hero program. The program auctions off space on a NASCAR Truck or car to put a person’s name for this weekend’s Las Vegas races. More than 40 drivers are participating. The program raised about $100,000.

Harmon found out about the auction shortly before it closed. He didn’t have enough money to provide a winning bid but asked friends for help and they rallied to provide the winning bid of about $2,800 to have Chase’s name on Alex Bowman’s car Sunday at Las Vegas.

Chase was a Dale Earnhardt fan. He switched to Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson after Earnhardt’s death. Chase remained a Hendrick fan after that, so putting his name on a Hendrick car was perfect for Harmon.

“He gets to go fast one more time,” Harmon told NBC Sports. “He gets to feel the race car one more time and hear the race car one more time.”

Harmon will gather with family Sunday and have a cookout at his house, serving deer steak and chicken on the grill. He’ll also have ice cream. Chase would eat ice cream, often chocolate, as he watched the races on TV.

Watching Sunday’s race on NBCSN and knowing his grandfather’s name will be on Bowman’s car will be special for Harmon.

“It’s going to kind of be a mixture of tears with joy,” he said.

5. Learn by example

The Xfinity playoffs begin Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

While Chase Briscoe enters after his seventh win of the season, tying regular-season champ Austin Cindric for the most victories this season, rookie Harrison Burton looks to take the lessons he’s learned this season and turn them into a title run.

Burton told NBC Sports that one of the areas he’s improved most this season is “using my head and thinking about things.”

He notes his third-place finish at Kansas Speedway was a turning point.

“I think Kansas was probably one of the most fun races I ever lost,” he said. “I was really thinking, how can I beat Austin (Cindric, who finished second to Brandon Jones)? What can I show him to make him do something that I want him to do? (It’s) things I listen to Denny Hamlin talk about and say on his radio. Using the mental side of the game to their advantage. That has been really fun to go to the places where that is a big deal and try to make the most of it.”

The key, Burton said, is having a car that will allow a driver to think as they’re hitting their marks in each corner.

“When that becomes muscle memory, that’s when you free up your brain and you’re able to strategize in your head,” he said. “You’re able to show people lines that you know are going to hurt their tires but it’s fast. Then you run them down on a long run because they have been doing that.”

Who has taught Burton a memorable lesson in such a situation?

“Briscoe does a good job of that, of showing you a different lane and catching you with a different lane and then he has the ability to pass you in a completely different (lane),” Burton said.

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Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”