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Matt Crafton hopes dirt racers show Truck regulars respect at Eldora

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Who isn’t playing in the dirt tonight?

That’s almost an easier question to ask than who will be competing in the Camping World Truck Series’ sixth annual Eldora Dirt Derby.

There will be 39 drivers competing for spots in the 32-truck field, including Cup drivers Ryan Newman and Ty Dillon. Then those lucky drivers will set out to claim Eldora’s Golden Shovel.

Among the series regulars is Matt Crafton.

The two-time series champion is the only former Derby winner in the field. The ThorSport Racing driver claimed his only win of 2017 at Eldora, a reward for having set out to better himself at dirt racing the last few years.

Matt Crafton (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

“I feel it’s difficult,” Crafton said Monday in media teleconference. “But a lot of the dirt guys probably don’t think so. I came from an asphalt background, and I’ve raced some dirt in the last four or five years just because I knew we were going to Eldora, and last year I just went and bought my own dirt car, just bought my own modified and went and raced, oh, 12, 15 races last year and put a lot of focus on it just because I thought that was such a cool race to be able to win and get that golden shovel and that trophy and say we won on asphalt, we won on dirt, we’ve won some other places.  So that was a very sweet victory for sure.”

He’s winless this season, as he was entering this race in 2017, but Crafton doesn’t see “why we can’t” become the first repeat winner of NASCAR’s only national level race on dirt.

“We definitely should be able to if we put ourselves in the right position,” Crafton said. “There’s got to be a lot of the dirt ringers, if you want to call them that, and the guys that race dirt every week.”

Who are some of the dirt “ringers” who look to prevent Crafton’s repeat bit?

There’s Stewart Friesen, the dirt modified winner turned Truck regular who finished runner-up to Crafton last season.

Then there’s 63-year-old John Provenzano, a dirt specialist making his Truck debut.

Dirt modified drivers Kyle Strickler and RJ Otto will also make their series debuts with smaller teams.

“They’re going to be very tough, and hopefully they race with respect and don’t tear you up,” Crafton said. “That’s some of the things that I worry about. A lot of them are coming out here, and it’s going to be their one shot to drive a truck, and they don’t get to go race Martinsville or any other place, and they’re going to get to come to Eldora, and hopefully they respect us like we would respect them if we came into their series on one of their big shows.”

Logan Seavey stands by his truck during practice for the  Eldora Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Crafton may as well have been talking about Logan Seavey.

The 21-year-old native of Sutter, California, is a Toyota Racing Development driver set for his NASCAR debut tonight with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Sutter is the 2017 POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series champion and currently leads the point standings while driving for Keith Kuntz Motorsports.

“I guess I was the next guy in line,” Seavey told NBC Sports. “I was sitting there talking with Jack (Irving)(Toyota Racing Development’s Director of Team & Support Services) one day and he just randomly said, ‘Hey, do you want to run Eldora?’ Of course the answer is ‘Yes.'”

Seavey has never competed in a race at Eldora and wasn’t expecting to until later this year.

“I think for all disciplines of dirt racing Eldora is the Mecca of racing,” Seavey said. “It’s definitely a huge one on the bucket list and like I said before, I never really expected my first time there to be in a Truck. I would have more thought a midget or a sprint car.”

Seavey, who is driving the No. 51 Toyota, once thought the idea of competing in NASCAR as a “pretty far fetched goal” until TRD came calling.

“That path became a lot more clear,” Seavey said. “It’s definitely a possibility now. It’s definitely one of my goals, try to make it racing in NASCAR.”

He barely had time in recent weeks to prepare for his first NASCAR race due to his busy midget schedule that included six races (and one win) in four states over 10 days. That resulted in roughly four hours spent at KBM in two separate visits.

But his resources in preparation included Christopher Bell, who earned his first Truck Series win in 2015 at Eldora while racing for KBM.

“He had lot of advice to give me this week,” Seavey said. The biggest piece of advice? “I think it’s just find your limit in practice. You don’t want to have to run real hard in the race and not know how the truck’s going to react. That’s something that happened to him last year. He ran hard in the middle of the race and spun out and wrecked his truck. I think you’re going to have to find your limits in practice … just get as comfortable as possible. That way you can limit your mistakes throughout the race and hopefully come out of there with a clean truck.”

In two practice sessions Tuesday night at Eldora, Seavey placed 14th in the first and sixth in the final session, where he also had the second-best 10-lap average behind Crafton.

Seavey said there is “definitely a fine line” when it comes to racing his own race and competing for the win against series regulars who are also gunning for points.

“At the end of the day if you want to make it in this sport, you gotta run up front and you gotta win races,” Seavey said. “I think that’s your No. 1 goal, to run up front and win. You obviously want to gain the respect of the other racers, especially if you’re hoping to compete in the series later. But at the same time, you might not get to that series if you don’t run hard and try to win. … But you obviously got to do it with respect and not make other people too mad and make yourself look bad.”

Vote for best 2018 Cup paint schemes

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It’s time to take stock of the 2018 Cup season.

That means voting in the best paint schemes of the year tournament.

The NBC Sports tournament has now reached its final four.

Here’s the bracket so far.

Bubba Wallace, RPM reinlist US Air Force as two-race sponsor

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Richard Petty Motorsports will continue to receive support from the United States military. On Friday, they announced the US Air Force will continue as a primary sponsor in 2019 as well as a major associate sponsor throughout the season on Bubba Wallace’s No. 43.

The two races for which the Air Force will be the primary sponsor are Saturday, July 6 at Daytona International Speedway (4th of July weekend) and Sunday, Nov. 10 (Veteran’s Day weekend) at ISM Raceway. Last year during his rookie campaign, Wallace finished in the top 15 in both of those races. He was 14th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and 10th at ISM.

“The Air Force continues to see benefits from our partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports and driver, Bubba Wallace,” said Major Ross McKnight, Chief, Air Force National Events Branch at Air Force Recruiting Service in a press release. “Wallace Jr. and his personality align well with our target audience’s interests and the Air Force’s commitment to teamwork and technology. The combination of Bubba Wallace and the iconic No. 43 provides a continuing sponsorship opportunity that reflects our Air Force core values of Integrity, Service and Excellence, as well as has a positive impact on generating public awareness about the U.S. Air Force, our people and our mission.

“Like NASCAR, much of our work is based on science, technology, engineering and math principles combined with teamwork and training. This sponsorship is a great way to highlight that connection.”

Last year, Wallace visited four Air Force bases. He participated in drills at each and flew in an F-16 with the 77th Fighter Squadron “Gamblers” at Shaw AFB in South Carolina.

“I was really impressed with all the different aspects of the Air Force, and the different opportunities they offer,” said Wallace Jr. “I was able to visit different bases and see the Airmen in action and actually participate myself. That gets me excited and then I’m able to talk to inspiring students who are looking at a career in the Air Force. I’m pretty humbled to represent the Air Force.”

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John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe approved to run for Xfinity Rookie of the Year

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NASCAR has approved John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe to compete for the Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year title in 2019, NBC Sports has confirmed.

Nemechek made 18 Xfinity starts in 2018 with Chip Ganassi Racing while Briscoe made 17 with Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.

Nemechek will compete for GMS Racing in the No. 23 Chevrolet. Briscoe will drive the No. 98 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

When Nemechek was announced on Dec. 6 as joining GMS Racing, a team press release said he would compete for Rookie of the Year. But a NASCAR spokesperson said his eligibility had not been decided on at the time.

The Rookie of the Year title was not mentioned in SHR’s Nov. 27 press release about Briscoe going full-time.

The Xfinity rookie field next year will include Nemechek, Briscoe, Noah Gragson in JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet and Justin Haley in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet.

Briscoe said in an Q&A on Reddit he was “honestly surprised” he was approved.

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Richard Childress Racing reveals Daytona 500 cars, sponsors and Xfinity details

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WELCOME, N.C. – Richard Childress Racing kicked off its 50th anniversary Friday at its headquarters in Welcome, North Carolina, with announcements about the 2019 season.

RCR announced Daniel Hemric will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet in his rookie Cup season. Hemric had originally been announced as driving the No. 31.

Hemric, who moves up after two years in Xfinity, drove the No. 8 in his two Cup starts in 2018.

Richard Childress Racing

Hemric will be sponsored by Caterpillar, Bass Pro Shops, Liberty National Life Insurance, Cessna and VF Workwear.

Cessna is also a sponsor at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Growing up in Kannapolis, it was all about racing,” Hemric said in a press release. “I always dreamed of having the opportunity to drive for RCR and for Richard himself. Now, two iconic numbers, the 3 and the 8, are going to be under one roof. I know it makes Richard happier than anybody, just understanding what that means for the sport of NASCAR and how our fans are going to be able to connect with that.”

RCR also confirmed NBC Sports’ report that Luke Lambert would be the crew chief for Hemric.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

The team revealed gold-themed cars Hemric and teammate Austin Dillon will drive during Speedweeks in Daytona to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary.

Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet will be sponsored by Bass Pro Shops in the Advance Auto Parts Clash.

The scheme for the exhibition race is based on the car Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove in the 1998 All-Star Race.

Xfinity Series

Team owner Richard Childress confirmed Tyler Reddick would be the organization’s only full-time Xfinity Series driver in 2019.

The defending series champion will drive the No. 2 Chevrolet and be paired with crew chief Randall Burnett, who worked with Matt Tifft on the No. 2 in 2018.

Childress said its second Xfinity car will be the No. 21 “more than likely.”

Technical Alliance

Childress confirmed the teams that will be full members of a technical alliance with RCR in 2019.

In Cup, RCR will be joined by StarCom Racing (No. 00), Germain Racing (No. 13) and Richard Petty Motorsports (No. 43).

Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series (No. 11 Chevrolet) will also be a part of the alliance.

Childress said ECR engines would be provided for all those teams.

Charter

Childress said the team would sell a team charter to StarCom Racing that had been leased to the team in 2018.

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