Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin could end winless streaks at Martinsville

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The clock is ticking loudly for five drivers.

Four Cup races remain in the 2018 season and that is bad news for at least one of the full-time drivers who won last year but are winless this year.

Entering Sunday’s race at Martinsville (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman have yet to accomplish what they did in 2017 – win.

If Larson, Stenhouse or Newman fail to win any of the remaining four races, it will not be entirely out of the ordinary. Larson has a two-year streak of victories while Stenhouse’s only career wins came last year on a pair of plate tracks and Newman has only one victory since 2013.

But for Johnson and Hamlin, it will put them in unchartered waters. Neither driver has failed to win since they earned their first Cup victory as a rookie.

Johnson’s first victory came at Auto Club in 2002 in his 13th start. Technically, he has had one winless season. He started three races in 2001 in preparation for his full-time campaign. But no one expected him to win that year – and more importantly, he never stopped once he started.

The possible ending of a 16-year winning streak looms large.

“It’s high on my list for sure to get that steak alive,” Johnson said earlier this month. “Other than the obvious, I mean it’s just the obvious things, I want to keep that streak alive. I know it’s in us. I guess you do hang on to some stats that float around there although I don’t spend a lot of time looking at them, I take pride in the fact that we have made every Playoff that NASCAR has had so far.”

Johnson qualified for the 2018 playoffs, but in the split second he had to consider on the last lap at the Charlotte Roval whether it was more important to advance to the second round or win, he opted to try and get that elusive victory.

“To have 16 winning seasons, I sure as hell want 17 winning seasons,” Johnson said. “The Roval, I had a look at one and certainly took a shot at it. Then (at Dover) we were just frothing at the mouth ready for that opportunity and didn’t even get to take the green unfortunately. At least on my list to keep that streak alive. Obviously, now that the championship opportunity is closed out, that is the next target to have.”

Johnson won three times in 2002 and in the 15 years that followed, he has won at least twice per year.

In stark contrast, he has only two top fives in 2018. Johnson finished third at Bristol in April and was fifth at the Charlotte oval in May.

For so long, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus made wining look easy. This year was a reminder that it is not.

“It’s important to try to win this season,” Knaus said. “You guys rely on stats way more than what I do. But, yeah, contrary to what people believe we go to the race track to win every week. So, that is kind of the goal and that is what we are going to do.

“It’s very difficult. We at times made it seem very simple to win races. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have made it seem very simple to win races from time to time, but it’s really difficult. So, a lot of the stars have to align and like I mentioned before, I think we are in a position right now where we are getting pretty close to the stars getting right where we need them to win some races. We are going to some great race tracks.”

It has been 55 races since Johnson scored his latest win at Dover last June.

Hamlin’s winning streak is equally impressive. He won twice in his rookie season of 2006, sweeping both Pocono races and has a current streak of 12 years.

Hamlin has come closer to victory lane on many more occasions than Johnson this year. In 32 races, Hamlin has nine top fives. Earlier this month, he had a shot at winning Dover before crossing under the checkers second to Chase Elliott.

Hamlin’s winless streak stands at 43 races. He last visited victory lane at Darlington last September.

This week will be critical. That loud ticking sound heard by Johnson and Hamlin comes from multiple grandfather clocks that are handed out as Martinsville trophies.

Both drivers count Martinsville as one of their best tracks.

Johnson has a career average finish of 7.9 in 33 starts there, which places this track just behind Auto Cub (7.2 in 24 starts). He has visited Martinsville’s victory lane nine times – most recently in 2016.

Hamlin’s career average of 10.1 in 25 starts places this track third on his list behind Darlington (6.2 in 13 starts) and Richmond (9.6 in 25 starts). He has five Martinsville wins. His most recent victory there came in 2015.

Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne also won races in 2018, but neither driver has a full-time ride this year.

Kenseth is running a part-time schedule with Roush Fenway Racing. He is entered this week at Martinsville and will close out the season at Phoenix and Homestead. Trevor Bayne will be in the car for Texas.

Kahne was forced to retire before the end of the season for medical reasons.

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Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

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Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.

Penalty report from Homestead-Miami Speedway

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NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.

Cup Series

Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

Xfinity Series

Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Truck Series

Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. NBC Sports has asked the team if it will appeal the suspension.

Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.

Other

NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.

Truck Series gets minor name change for 2020

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Four days after the end of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, NASCAR announced the series will receive a minor name change for the 2020 season.

The series will be called the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series when the season starts in February at Daytona International Speedway.

This is the second name change for the series in two years.

This season saw the name change from the Camping World Truck Series, which had been the title from 2009-2018.

Gander Outdoors and Camping World are owned by the same company.

Next year will also see a different name for the Cup Series. With the series going to a new sponsorship model, it will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.

Silly Season Scorecard: Post-Miami edition

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NASCAR’s championship weekend in Miami has come and gone and with it came a flurry of driver announcements from teams about the 2020 racing season.

Among them was the news that Cole Custer is being promoted by Stewart-Haas Racing to the Cup Series, where he will take over the No. 41 Ford driven by Daniel Suarez this year.

Here’s a look at all the official driver announcements made so far for next season.

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

No. 36: Front Row Motorsports announced Nov. 13 it was parting ways with Matt Tifft so he could focus on his health following his seizure at Martinsville in March. Tifft said he could not commit to racing in 2020.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

JTG Daugherty Racing: It was announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. The team said that an announcement on car number and sponsor would come later.

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

Corey LaJoie – The driver hasn’t announced his plans for 2020, but he said in October he and Go Fas Racing were “working toward” him returning to the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year and that “2020 driver negotiations are still ongoing.”

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Has not announced its driver plans for 2020, but Richard Childress said after Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity title that it would field a full-time entry.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

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