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Tanner Berryhill ready for Cup debut in last elimination race

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You’re forgiven if you don’t know Tanner Berryhill’s name.

It’s been four years since the last of his 40 Xfinity starts and three years after his one-off start in the Monster Energy Open.

Now the 24-year-old is set to make his Cup debut in Sunday’s playoff elimination race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC), which will set the championship four in Miami.

Berryhill grew up in Bixby, Oklahoma, racing Bandoleros, sprint cars and midgets thinking he “would be Jeff Gordon.”

Like Gordon in the 1992 Cup finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Berryhill’s debut will be in one of the most important races of the year.

In the summer of 2017 Berryhill was contemplating making a “clean break” from NASCAR.

While he loves racing, being a “salesman” had come to dominate his time in the sport.

“That’s kind of what it takes to be a driver in NASCAR these days is to find sponsors all the time and beat the streets for that,” Berryhill told NBC Sports. “I tried that with my own team and I was carrying so many hats, it just didn’t work out and I got told ‘no’ too many times, it got me a little discouraged.”

Studying finance at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte – where he’ll graduate in December – Berryhill was about ready to embrace working for his family’s construction business in Oklahoma.

The years since 2015 hadn’t seen him completely on the racing sidelines. Berryhill competed in the Chili Bowl Nationals, late models and other midget races.

“I’ve been ready to go this whole time, just been waiting for somebody to call me to put me in (a ride),” Berryhill said.

The first call from Victor Obaika, owner of Obaika Racing, came in May.

Berryhill had worked on the team’s Xfinity operation last year helping put cars together and he and Obaika had talks in late 2016 about a racing opportunity.

Dan Stillman, who had been the crew chief of Berryhill’s family Xfinity team in 2014, was now with Obaika. Stillman suggested Berryhill be given a chance earlier this year.

Berryhill’s first shot at NASCAR in three years came in September in the inaugural Xfinity race on the Charlotte Roval.

“I was a little nervous to be honest to be going in driving it, but as soon as I got on the track I was like, ‘Oh, this is exactly what I remember,'” Berryhill said. “I didn’t have any issues getting up to speed. I feel like Lap 2 on track I was maximizing the car.”

But problems with the brakes on the No. 97 Chevrolet prevented him from making the field.

“I think (Obaika) was happy with what I did in practice, the way I held myself and whatnot,” Berryhill said. “Gave me another chance to come (to Phoenix) and do it.”

Unlike his first attempt to qualify for a Cup race – also at Phoenix in 2015 – only 40 cars are entered and Berryhill is guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup of Sunday’s race.

That race just happens to be the final elimination race of the playoffs as seven drivers will compete for the last three spot in the championship four.

“I understand the implications I could cause by messing somebody’s race up, and I’m going to do everything I can to not do that,” Berryhill said. “That’s not how I want to be remembered in this sport.”

Berryhill cites his career so far as evidence to those competing up front shouldn’t have to worry about him.

“I’ve raced 40 Xfinity races,” Berryhill said. “I’ve never been in a car capable of not going a lap down, to be honest. That said, I’ve dealt with leaders lapping me for 40 races. I have plenty experience of staying out-of-the-way, not causing trouble.”

Though Berryhill concedes he had a late-race encounter with Kyle Larson in the 2014 Xfinity race at Darlington, “which is in my opinion still ridiculous.”

Berryhill has consulted with drivers he’s close to on how he should navigate Phoenix should a tense situation arise, asking, “Where should I go to get out-of-the-way? Where is the best way?”

But Berryhill is “just focused on having a good race. Keeping a car clean and taking what I can get. If I’m faster than someone, I’ll go past them. It’s as simple as that. We’re racing.

“I’m not going to be dumb or foolish. We’re building this program from the ground up.

“You got to start somewhere.”

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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