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Friday 5: Why Christopher Bell won’t have a full-time Cup ride in 2019

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Leavine Family Racing’s announcement Wednesday that it will align with Toyota and have Matt DiBenedetto drive the No. 95 car next season was not a surprise.

But it’s understandable to ask why Christopher Bell isn’t in that car next year.

Bell has been dominant in Xfinity for Joe Gibbs Racing this season and said in August he feels ready for Cup. He has finished in the top five in nearly 60 percent of his starts this year and set a series rookie record with his sixth Xfinity win last weekend at Dover International Speedway. This is after he won the Camping World Truck Series title last year for Toyota at Kyle Busch Motorsports.

So why wasn’t Bell introduced as the driver of the No. 95 car?

“Between ourselves and Joe Gibbs Racing, we’ve been very intentional about Christopher’s development,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “Was there some conversation? Absolutely. But we collectively decided to stay the course and genuinely believe it will serve Christopher to invest another year (in Xfinity). It’s not going to hurt him.

“One of the challenges of this new alliance is next year we’re … starting from some respects from ground zero (with a new partner in Leavine Family Racing). I don’t think it’s fair to put a rookie driver in the midst of that. This is why Matt will be a good fit. His experience will lend itself to building this alliance and building the level of competitiveness.”

Leavine Family Racing owner Bob Leavine watches the action during the Southern 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Leavine Family Racing replaces Furniture Row Racing, which will cease operations at the end of this season, in the Toyota camp. But the two teams are very different. Leavine Family Racing is behind where Furniture Row Racing was when it joined Toyota in 2016. Furniture Row Racing had already won in Cup. Leavine Family Racing has not. Even though both are single-car teams this year, car owner Bob Leavine said his team has 35 employees, about half the number that work at Furniture Row Racing. Leavine also said he doesn’t have the budget Furniture Row Racing has.

Wilson’s focus of building Leavine Family Racing is understandable.

Wilson confirmed that Toyota Racing Development will support five Cup teams next year — the four Joe Gibbs Racing teams and Leavine Family Racing — and no more.

But there’s still a way for Bell to run some Cup races next year. Leavine said he planned to ask Wilson about Toyota Racing Development providing an extra engine to run Bell from time to time.

“That’s for them to decide,” Leavine said. “We’re just going to be available if they want to do it to put it all together and make it all work.”

Joe Gibbs Racing, which will provide the cars to Leavine Family Racing, also would have to be able to build cars for those extra races.

Wilson is open to the idea of a second Leavine Family Racing car running at times if it makes sense.

“We’ve not made any definitive plans along those lines but certainly it gives us some options,’’ he said. “The challenge in doing that is making sure that you do it in a manner, not that you expect to win per say, (but) you can risk spreading your resources too thin.

“Next year will be our first year with LFR and the priority needs to be building their capabilities and building their success, so if we have the opportunity to do something creative like that without compromising our primary mission, then we might take a look at that.”

2. What’s next for Toyota’s youngsters?

Even with Noah Gragson leaving the Toyota lineup after this season to drive in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, Toyota still has a bounty of young talent.

Among those who have yet to reach the Truck Series are Hailie Deegan and Logan Seavey.

Deegan returns to the track this weekend for the first time since her K&N Pro Series West win two weeks ago in Meridian, Idaho.

The 17-year-old is fifth in the points in her first season in the series. Is her win and two runner-up finishes this season enough to have her run a Toyota Truck at Martinsville or Phoenix later this season?

“There’s no plans right now to put her anywhere this year,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “We’re still working very closely with Hailie and the family about the right steps, the next steps. I don’t think we’ve made any definitive decisions at this point.”

So what about a Truck next year?

“There’s not a plan,” Wilson said. “You need to put her experience in perspective. She’s literally only run 20-something races on pavement and is 17 years old. She just need mores races, more laps, more seat time. There’s not a burning urgency of we’ve got to get her in a truck.”

A possibility for her could be to move to the K&N Pro Series East next year and run the full season there.

Another Toyota driver looking to move up the development ladder is Seavey, who leads the USAC National Midget standings and seeks to become the third rookie to win that championship.

The 21-year-old Seavey, whose background is on dirt tracks, made his Camping World Truck Series debut in July at Eldora Speedway and finished eighth after leading 53 laps.

So what’s next for Seavey?

“We have a lot of faith and belief in Logan,” Wilson said. “What we’ll see with Logan is just more pavement time. We’ve got some great relationships across the Super Late Model ranks and I would expect next year that we give him some more opportunities with (those) races and maybe some K&N and ARCA. He’s definitely on the right track and we’re excited about his potential.”

3. Right from the start

Kyle Busch and wife Samantha have been open about their struggles to have children and that they had to go through in vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in May 2015.

Since their son’s birth, they’ve created the Bundle of Joy Fund that gives grants to couples who need such treatments to have children. Those treatments can cost $15,000 or more and insurance doesn’t cover it.

Kyle and Samantha Busch pose with son Brexton and many of the families that have had children through grants from the Bundle of Joy Fund. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The Bundle of Joy Fund has led to the birth of more than a dozen children. Many of those families gathered in August for a play date and to all be together for the first time.

Kyle and Samantha both recently announced that they are wanting to give Brexton a baby sister and said they planned to share all the ups and downs they go through during this process publicly.

“If we only showed the good times, and we only showed when it was a success and went well, that’s not fair to all the women that have (not had stories that have gone like that),” Samantha Busch told NBC Sports.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, and it is a little scary to know that things may come up down the road that may not be as easy as last time, but for all those couples out there that need to go through this or have gone through this and need to know that they’re not alone and need to understand that this can happen to anybody, I think it’s important to start from the beginning this time.’’

Samantha said she has begun taking a shot a night to prepare her body for the process and will be scheduled to have additional shots before the in vitro fertilization takes place.

4. No to the Roval theory

The notion that the end of the Charlotte Roval race was the final straw that led to Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus splitting after this season is not true, they say.

“Not even close,” Johnson said.

“I think it was already done” by then, Knaus said of the decision.

Johnson was second and in a position to advance to this round of the playoffs but challenged Martin Truex Jr. for the win and spun in the final chicane. The result was that Johnson lost enough spots and Kyle Larson gained a spot on the last lap to forge a three-way tie among Johnson, Larson and Aric Almirola for the final two transfer spots. Larson and Almirola advanced based on their best finish in the first round was better than Johnson’s best.

Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson discuss their plans to split after this year. (Photo: Dustin Long)

That was … heartbreaking,” Knaus said Thursday of the Roval finish, (but) that was not part of it. I wanted to win that race just as bad as he did. 

“I beat myself up more than I probably ever blamed Jimmie for what happened there. I could have probably come on the radio and said one or two things and he probably would have maybe thought and checked up a little bit, but my last words to him was ‘go get his ass.’”

Said Johnson: “I was crossing the start/finish line watching the white flag wave when he said that… yeah, that is what we do, we are there to win.”

5. New frontier 

With Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus splitting after this season, Knaus will become William Byron’s crew chief.

Byron is excited about the opportunity to work with the seven-time champion crew chief and knows it will push him to be better.

I think Chad is going to be brutally honest with me, and I’m okay with that,” Byron said Thursday. “I want to succeed in this sport. That’s my number one goal, and I’ll do whatever it takes to do that.”

Although Knaus is 47 and Byron is 20, Byron says he sees similarities with Knaus.

Probably attention to detail,” Byron said. “Type A personality. I don’t like excuses so that will fit well.”

Knaus said he’s “so geeked up” to be working next year with Byron and the No. 24 team, a team Knaus worked for when he started at Hendrick Motorsports in 1993.

Jimmie Johnson said he thinks the pairing of Knaus and Byron will be good.

“I am really excited for William,” Johnson said. “We have chatted quite a bit about it, and I feel that William is a lot like me. He likes to be coached along. I think there are some personalities that liked to be coached and others that don’t thrive or succeed in that environment. William is a lot like me in that he likes to be coached and with Chad’s wisdom and years and experience his intensity and desire to win, I think it could do a lot of good for him.”

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JR Motorsports reveals 2019 schemes for Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier

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On Tuesday, two 2019 paint schemes for JR Motorsports were revealed.

Noah Gragson‘s Armour livery for his new No. 1 Chevrolet will sport a blue, gold and white paint scheme.

Justin Allgaier revealed a special paint scheme honoring America’s farmers. Sponsor Brandt posted a video to go along with the announcement that juxtaposes the wrapping of the Chevrolet Camaro with the use of their equipment and a poem by Walterrean Salley.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. named pace truck driver for 2019 Daytona 500

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No matter who wins the pole for the 2019 Daytona 500, they will start behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has been named as the pace truck driver for the season opening race.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner will lead the field to green for the 61st edition of the “Great American Race” in a Chevrolet Silverado pace truck. It will be the first time a truck has been used as a pace vehicle for the Daytona 500.

Chevrolet has previously paced the Daytona 500 on 12 occasions: seven with Camaro and five with Corvette.

“I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of success at Daytona over the years, and now I can’t wait to get out on that track in a Silverado,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “Away from the track I’ve driven Chevy trucks all my life, and I’m excited to have this unique experience of pacing the Daytona 500 with the Silverado.”

This year Earnhardt was the Grand Marshal for the Feb. 18 running of the 500, giving the command to start engines.

Earnhardt won the 2004 and 2014 editions of the 500. He has two July victories on the track as well.

“Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the perfect choice to pace the race because of his enthusiasm for the sport, his long history with Chevrolet and his love of trucks,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports in a press release. “It’ll be exciting to have Dale lead the field to green in the strongest, most advanced Silverado ever.”

 

NASCAR partners with Sportradar for gambling fraud detection service

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NASCAR has entered a multi-year agreement with Sportradar to make use of its sports betting fraud monitoring services, the two companies announced Tuesday.

As part of the agreement, Sportradar’s Fraud Detection System (FDS) will monitor domestic and global betting activity for signs of fraudulent activity for all three of NASCAR’s national series: the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

NASCAR will also have use of Sportradar’s Education and Prevention Services, which includes on-site workshops for NASCAR drivers, teams, officials and associated stakeholders delivered by Sportradar’s integrity and educational experts. Sportradar’s Integrity Services will also help NASCAR develop a full-fledged betting integrity program, including betting-related rules and policies.

NASCAR and Sportrader have an established history. In 2015, SportsData, a subsidiary of Sportrader, partnered with NASCAR to distribute its live timing and scoring data to third-party digital outlets.

The announcement of the partnership is the last step in NASCAR embracing sports gambling following a ruling by the Supreme Court in May that allowed states to decide if they allow sports betting.

In October, Dover International Speedway in Delaware became the first track that hosts NASCAR to introduce at-track betting.

That weekend NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the sanctioning body will add rules clarifying its policy for competitors in 2019.

“I think for ’19 we’ll have some rules that we’ll put in place,” Phelps said. “For right now, there’ll be betting here. We’ll study and see how that goes, but I think we’ll have some rules in place for sponsorship, for what betting looks like and continue to see what happens in the landscape overall.”

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NASCAR Cup Series race start times announced for 2019

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NASCAR has announced its race start times for the 2019 Cup Series season, with a notable change in start time for the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After a start time of 3 p.m. ET this year, next season’s race will begin at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on NBCSN.

“Moving the start time for the September race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is fitting because it will deliver a better experience for our fans attending the race, and kick off the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in primetime,” said Steve Herbst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Broadcasting and Production in a press release. “Each race weekend, including Las Vegas, is unique, and we work collaboratively with broadcast partners, teams and tracks to ensure the ideal timing is selected for our events.”

Other notable start times:

  • The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 17 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
  • The March 31 race at Texas Motor Speedway will start one hour later, moving from a 2 p.m. ET start to 3 p.m. ET. The race also moves to FOX.
  • The start time for New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s July 22 starts one hour later, moving from 2 p.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET.
  • Martinsville Speedway’s Oct. 28 playoff shifts a half-hour later to a 3 p.m. ET start.

Here’s the full schedule with start times and TV and radio networks:

DATE

RACE

NETWORK

RACE START (ET)

RADIO

Sun, Feb 10, 2019

Daytona 500 Qualifying

FOX

12:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 10, 2019

The Clash

FS1

3:00 PM

MRN

Thu, Feb 14, 2019

Duel at Daytona

FS1

7:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 17, 2019

Daytona 500

FOX

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 24, 2019

Atlanta

FOX

2:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Mar 03, 2019

Las Vegas

FOX

3:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Mar 10, 2019

ISM Raceway

FOX

3:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 17, 2019

Auto Club Speedway

FOX

3:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 24, 2019

Martinsville

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 31, 2019

Texas

FOX

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Apr 07, 2019

Bristol

FS1

2:00 PM

PRN

Sat, Apr 13, 2019

Richmond

FOX

7:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Apr 28, 2019

Talladega

FOX

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, May 05, 2019

Dover

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sat, May 11, 2019

Kansas

FS1

7:30 PM

MRN

Sat, May 18, 2019

All-Star Open

FS1

6:00 PM

MRN

Sat, May 18, 2019

All-Star Race

FS1

8:00 PM

MRN

Sun, May 26, 2019

Charlotte

FOX

6:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jun 02, 2019

Pocono

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Jun 09, 2019

Michigan

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Jun 23, 2019

Sonoma

FS1

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jun 30, 2019

Chicagoland

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sat, Jul 06, 2019

Daytona

NBC

7:30 PM

MRN

Sat, Jul 13, 2019

Kentucky

NBCSN

7:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Jul 21, 2019

New Hampshire

NBCSN

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jul 28, 2019

Pocono

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Aug 04, 2019

Watkins Glen

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Aug 11, 2019

Michigan

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sat, Aug 17, 2019

Bristol

NBCSN

7:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Sep 01, 2019

Darlington

NBCSN

6:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Sep 08, 2019

Indianapolis

NBC

2:00 PM

IMS

Sun, Sep 15, 2019

Las Vegas

NBCSN

7:00 PM

PRN

Sat, Sep 21, 2019

Richmond

NBCSN

7:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Sep 29, 2019

Charlotte

NBC

2:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Oct 06, 2019

Dover

NBCSN

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 13, 2019

Talladega

NBC

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 20, 2019

Kansas

NBC

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 27, 2019

Martinsville

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Nov 03, 2019

Texas

NBCSN

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Nov 10, 2019

ISM Raceway

NBC

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Nov 17, 2019

Homestead-Miami

NBC

3:00 PM

MRN

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