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Corey LaJoie, Cole Whitt to drive No. 72 for TriStar Motorsports in Cup

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TriStar Motorsports will field its No. 72 Chevrolet in the Cup Series again this year with Corey LaJoie and Cole Whitt sharing seat time in the car, the team announced Tuesday.

LaJoie, who drove for BK Racing last year, will be the primary driver. Whitt, who piloted the No. 72 full-time last season, has elected to scale back his schedule to shift his focus.

The team has leased a charter from Front Row Motorsports, ensuring the No. 72 a starting spot in all 36 points races.

LaJoie, 26, is the son of two-time Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie. He will drive the No. 72 in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.  He enters the season with 34 Cup starts and a best finish of 11th in last year’s July race at Daytona.

“It’s such a great opportunity to work with TriStar Motorsports,” LaJoie said in a press release. “I hope to use the learning experiences from my 2017 rookie season and work hard for some great finishes this year. It’s my goal to continue building a successful team with (team owner) Bryan (Smith), while honoring the legacy his dad, Mark, left behind.”

Whitt, 26, has 148 Cup starts since 2011. Last year was his third full-time season in the series. His best finish last season was 12th in the Brickyard 400.

“I want to thank TriStar and the Smith family for allowing me to do something I feel is the right decision for me and my family,” Whitt said in a press release. “I am excited and a little nervous to say that I will be racing a limited schedule this year. I am looking forward to taking the next step in my life and trying to spend most of my time with my family. Stepping back from racing is a hard choice but I strongly believe this is the right path. TriStar has been an amazing blessing to me and my family and I look forward to what the future holds for both of us.”

The season will mark the team’s first full year since the death of former owner Mark Smith in July. His son Bryan Smith took over control of the team, which has competed in NASCAR since 1989.

“We are taking a different approach with our competitive platform for 2018 by utilizing two drivers,” Bryan Smith said in a press release. “It is an opportunity we feel is the best direction for this season and accommodates the goals of both drivers as well as the team. We are more than pleased with Cole’s efforts in 2017 and are extremely glad to have him back this season. He has been an integral part of our return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and we appreciate his contributions to our team. We are equally as pleased to add Corey to our driver roster. His attitude, desire and ability are a welcomed addition and we feel he will be a great fit. We feel both drivers embody the core elements of who we are as a team and are confident each will contribute to the betterment of our program.”

TriStar will announce sponsorship and its plans in the Xfinity Series at a later date.

Austin Dillon’s car fails pre-race inspection, will start from rear

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Bristol, Tenn. — Austin Dillon‘s No. 3 Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection three times Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Dillon will start from the rear and his car chief, Greg Ebert, has been ejected from the event.

Dillon had qualified 18th.

Dillon will have to serve a 30-minute practice hold in two weeks at Darlington Raceway.

Kyle Larson seeks turnaround at ‘by far my favorite racetrack’

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – With his team in a mini-slump in midsummer, Kyle Larson is back in his happy place, and the Chip Ganassi Racing driver wouldn’t mind returning more often.

“I love racing here,” Larson said Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I wish we could race here weekly. I think our sport would be in a good spot if we could.

“I didn’t watch a ton of NASCAR growing up, but I’d never miss a Bristol race. If you were to ask me what Bristol race stands out, I couldn’t tell you. I just loved watching Bristol. It was always a lot of fun. Ever since they added the progressive banking, it’s been a lot better, too, as far as style of racing goes. It’s by far my favorite NASCAR track.”

The love of Bristol grew only stronger Friday night as he won the Food City 300 and scored his first victory in 18 Cup and Xfinity starts at the 0.533-mile oval.

Larson will be trying for his first win in NASCAR’s premier series at the track – and his first in Cup this season – while starting from the pole position in tonight’s race.

A victory would be a welcome result for Larson’s team, which is virtually locked into the playoffs but has only two top 10s in six races since his memorable runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at Chicagoland Speedway.

While Chevrolet teams Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing seem to have gotten faster in recent weeks, Larson’s No. 42 Camaro seems to have tailed off slightly after easily being the best Chevy in the first half of the season.

“I don’t know where we might be off,” he said. “Nobody really honestly knows where other teams have gotten speed from, so we’re working on all areas, really, I’m pretty sure, to try and get faster. We have moments where we’re really fast, but I would say we’re just a little inconsistent from track to track.

“You look at last year, we were good everywhere. This year, we’re good at our good tracks. Not as good at the tracks that we have struggled at years prior.”

But what about starting and finishing 17th last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, where he won three consecutive races from 2016-17?

A loose wheel after his first pit stop mired Larson in traffic and out of sequence, and then contact on a restart hampered into using an older set of tires for the last run of the race.

“It just snowballed into a bad run where I felt like we were going to have a shot to run top 3 or 5, but it just doesn’t show for it, and other people look at it as we just ran bad all day,” he said. “If you look at lap times, we were running some of the fastest laps of the race, just buried in traffic. I feel like we’re not that bad. We just had a little bit of a bad luck that cost us finishes we deserved the last few weeks.”

The urgency to maximize his speed stems more from being well positioned in the playoffs than making the 16-driver field. Larson is one of three provisionally qualified who have no playoff points yet.

“That part is a little frustrating,” he said. “It makes you more nervous when it comes to the playoffs, but the good thing is there’s been three guys taking up all the playoff points, so the other ones don’t have a whole lot, either, but every point matters.

“You look at it as you need to win some stages and win a race, but I also view Bristol as being my best opportunity to get some playoff points. I feel like we can win both stages and win the race. Not easily but this is our best shot. That five to seven points would be huge.”

And after getting bumped from the lead by race winner Kyle Busch at Bristol in April, Larson has earned some leeway in playing rough – not that he plans to use it.

He prefers the “options” afforded by the 2007 addition of progressive banking (which was retrofitted in 2012 in a manner that often makes the top groove the fastest).

“If there was progressive banking 20 years ago, the racing would have been a lot better back then,” he said. “I’m not a fan of the bump and run. I’m just a fan of Bristol.

“I’d much rather see two to three wide racing at Bristol than single file. I think the racing is really good, and that’s why I love coming here to race.”

Staff picks for Bristol night race

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Here’s who NBC’s NASCAR writers think will triumph tonight under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway (6:46 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Dustin Long

Ryan Blaney gets the win he should have had at this track in April.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Larson. On Thursday, he told reporters he was convinced he could sweep both stages and win. On Friday, he took a big step toward convincing the rest of us.

Daniel McFadin

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins in his last good shot to get into the playoffs with a victory.

Dan Beaver

Really? I’m the only one going with Kyle Busch? I just hope everyone in my fantasy NASCAR league ignores him as well.

Trophy for Charlotte Roval race revealed

Dustin Long
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BRISTOL, Tenn. — The trophy for the Sept. 30 Cup race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval was revealed Saturday prior to the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The trophy is inspired by Bank of America, which sponsors the 400-kilometer race.

It is designed to resemble the Bank of America building in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina.

The track also announced a Sammy Hagar concert the night before the race. The “Rock the ROVAL” concert will be held at 9 p.m. ET on pit road.

 

Photo: Daniel McFadin
(Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)