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Ryan Truex replaces Blake Koch at Kaulig Racing in Xfinity Series

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Ryan Truex will drive the No. 11 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series, replacing Blake Koch, the team announced Tuesday.

Koch drove the No. 11 in the team’s first two seasons.

Truex, the younger brother of 2017 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., will compete in his first full-time season in Xfinity.

The announcement comes after it was announced last week that the 25-year-old driver parted ways with Hattori Racing Enterprises in the Camping World Truck Series.

On SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint,” Truex discussed the move to Kauling Racing, which he said reminds him of Furniture Row Racing, the team his brother competes for.

“Really excites me for the future,” Truex said. “I’m annoying. I’ve just been kind of floating around the past few years and bugging people, trying to keep my name out there and doing everything I can and luckily it’s worked out.”

Truex said getting the deal with Kaulig Racing was “kind of roller coaster,” with him not thinking it would get done at one point.

“I’m honestly glad it’s done and we can focus on going out and performing and doing our jobs,” Truex said.

Last year was Truex’s first full-time season in the Truck Series. He earned eight top fives, 13 top 10s and two poles. He finished the season ninth in the standings.

Koch, in his second season with Kaulig Racing, earned five top 10s and his first pole (Talladega). He made the playoffs but failed to advance out of the first round, finishing 11th.

Truex has 39 Xfinity starts since 2010. He has two top fives with a best finish of second in 2012 at Dover from the pole. That race was one of 13 Truex competed in for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Truex won back-to-back K&N Pro Series East championships in 2009 and 2010.

“When we started this team two years ago I knew we had the potential to be one of the strongest teams in the Xfinity Series and I think we’re within reach of that goal,” team owner Matt Kaulig said in a press release. “Ryan is going to be a great addition to the team and I have some high hopes for this season. Each year we keep improving as a team and I think this season we’ll be able to get some wins and make another run in the playoffs. Everyone at Kaulig Racing is excited to have Ryan on board and it should be a great, fun year.”

Kaulig Racing is part of a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

“Luckily having the Childress ecosystem around us I can go talk to Austin (Dillon), talk to Ty (Dillon), talk to (Daniel) Hemric, and get their insights and what they think I need to do or what I need to change to get used to these cars,” Truex said.

Kaulig is also the CEO and owner of LeafFilter Gutter Protection, which was the primary sponsor for Koch the last two seasons.

On SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive,” Kaulig said that Bar Harbor Sea Food, which backed Truex in the Truck Series, will be his primary sponsor with LeafFilter still involved in some capacity. Other sponsorship will be announced at a later date.

Also appearing on the “The Morning Drive,” Koch said LeafFilter Gutter Protection not returning as the primary sponsor is why he’s no longer driving the No. 11.

“I knew they were looking (for a driver with a sponsor),” Koch said. “I didn’t have time to get one, really. I got the official word a couple of days ago, but I pretty much knew in mid-December that I was going to have to figure something out. So it wasn’t a complete shock, because everything wasn’t officially done until yesterday.”

Koch said there is no hard feelings between him and Kaulig.

“I don’t want people mad at Matt Kaulig thinking he kicked me out,” Koch said. “This is a mutual thing. We talked and Matt owns LeafFilter. He was putting  a lot of his own money into having me drive a race car. You just can’t do that forever.”

On “The Morning Drive,” Kaulig said the team is adding 15,000 square feet to its shop in Welcome, North Carolina, which is on the RCR campus, and it plans to field a second car this season.

Kaulig said there’s a “100 percent chance” he’d bring Koch back to drive the second car, but added there’s no hard date for when the second team needs to be in operation, saying it may not make its first start until a few races into the season.

“We’re shopping the second car right now, but we won’t run the second car without sponsorship,” Kaulig said.

John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
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One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

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Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
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Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

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UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
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UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.