2019 Cup Rookie of the Year battle an unconventional three-man race

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Before Tuesday, the known Cup Series rookie class for 2019 consisted of Daniel Hemric and Ryan Preece after both drivers were announced as moving up to Cup on Sept. 28.

On Tuesday, Matt Tifft threw his hat in the ring when he revealed he will compete for Front Row Motorsports next season, driving the No. 36 Ford.

Hemric will drive Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 Chevrolet and Preece will drive JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 Chevrolet.

Together, the three drivers comprise an unconventional rookie class. A class that, compared to recent years, is older, lacks championships and hasn’t visited Victory Lane as often in NASCAR’s national series.

This class will be the first since 2015 to not include a driver who won a title in one of NASCAR’s lower national series. Brett Moffitt won Rookie of the Year that season in a class that included Matt DiBenedetto and Jeb Burton.

Experience is another factor.

Both Tifft and Hemric make their transitions to Cup after two full-time seasons in the Xfinity Series. They were teammates at RCR this season. Tifft drove for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017.

Preece is the outlier in multiple ways.

The accomplished modified racer from Berlin, Connecticut, will be full-time in Cup after not being full-time in any NASCAR series since 2016. He’s also the only one of the three drivers with a NASCAR win.

After he competed full-time for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2016, Preece made 19 starts over the next two seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. The opportunity was a result of a gamble on himself that led to his first career win in his second start with the team.

Preece’s 2017-18 record

  • Starts: 19
  • Wins: 2
  • Top fives:  11
  • Top 10s: 14
  • Laps Led: 218

 

Age is another unusual aspect. Going against the recent trend of NASCAR’s “Youth Movement,” Preece and Hemric will be 28-years-old when they start their rookie campaigns. Tifft turns 23 in June.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2013 was the last Rookie of the Year who was 25 or older.

Hemric, who calls Kannapolis, North Carolina, home, piloted RCR’s No. 21 Chevrolet from 2017-18 in Xfinity and made his first two Cup starts this season

Despite no wins, Hemric powered his way into the Championship 4 each season.

Hemric goes to Cup having earned five runner-up finishes, the most for a Xfinity driver without a win. He also won a series-leading nine stages this season.

Hemric’s 2017-18 Xfinity record

  • Starts: 66
  • Wins: 0
  • Top fives: 23
  • Top 10s: 36
  • Lap led: 510

MORE: Daniel Hemric’s journey to NASCAR aided by Xfinity mechanic

Like Hemric, Tifft will take the green flag in the Daytona 500 without a NASCAR win to his name, but he proved he can run with the leaders.

The native of Hinckley, Ohio, who two years ago underwent brain surgery to remove a low-grade tumor, has made 102 combined NASCAR starts in Xfinity and the Truck Series.

Of Tifft’s nine Xfinity top fives, six came this season. Four have come on road courses including a second-place result this year at Road America.

He made the playoffs in each Xfinity season.

Tifft’s 2017-18 Xfinity record

  • Starts: 66
  • Wins: 0
  • Top fives: 8
  • Top 10s: 32
  • Lap Led: 49

Should Preece, Hemric or Tifft manage to win a race in 2019 and go on to claim the Rookie of the Year title, they’ll be first to do so since Joey Logano in 2009.

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NASCAR America: Daytona 500 ‘Turning Point’ came on Stage 2 pit stop

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The moment that set up Denny Hamlin‘s Daytona 500 win on Sunday came on Lap 108, according to NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte.

That’s when Hamlin made a pit stop near the end of Stage 2.

“(Crew chief Chris) Gabehart calls his car to pit road,” Letarte said. “He doesn’t care about stage points. He cares about four fresh tires on a hot, slick Daytona track.”

Then on Lap 122, during the stage break pit stop, Gabehart decided to put only fuel in the No. 11 Toyota when he was 21st.

“On Lap 163 he got 6 seconds of gas, that’s it, no tires,” Letarte said. “That gave him track position (eighth) in front of all of those accidents. The turning points to this race was before Stage 2 even ended.”

Watch the above video for more.

Garrett Smithley in Spire Motorsports car at Atlanta as entry lists released

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Garrett Smithley is listed as the driver of Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Smithley, a native of Peachtree City, Georgia, competes in the Xfinity Series with JD Motorsports and made three Cup starts last year.

Spire purchased Furniture Row Racing’s charter after the team closed at the end of last season. It fielded Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 in the No. 40 in a partnership of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Quin Houff also will compete for Spire this season.

Click here for the preliminary Cup entry list.

Click here for the preliminary Xfinity entry list.

Click here for the preliminary Truck Series entry list.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Daytona 500 recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and recaps all the action from Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett will discuss all the major storylines from the race that saw Denny Hamlin claim his second 500 win.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

‘Bizarre’ Daytona 500 marks Jamie McMurray’s likely final Cup start

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If Sunday’s Daytona 500 turns out to be Jamie McMurray‘s 583rd and final Cup start, then the race threw all it could at him as a going away present.

McMurray finished 22nd in what the Chip Ganassi Racing driver called a “bizarre” Daytona 500.

The 43-year-old driver had to start his 17th “Great American Race” at the rear due to a rear gear change. By Lap 19 in he was in 19th.

His day was complicated on Lap 50 when he was caught up in a six-car wreck, which damaged his right front fender. With repairs made to his No. 40 Chevrolet, the 2010 Daytona 500 winner continued.

Even with the damage, McMurray managed to navigate his way up to 10th by Lap 84.

He then led the field from Laps 164-169, with just the last two laps under green.

Then chaos reigned.

The final 20 laps saw three multi-car wrecks, but McMurray managed to avoid the ones that caught 21 and seven cars.

“Certainly, a bizarre 500 to have so much green-flag racing and then so many wrecks at the end,” McMurray said. “It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps. It’s part of it. You were able to get big runs. It seemed like as the sun went down those runs happened more often. When the Daytona 500 is on the line, people are willing to take big risks. They just all waited to the end.”

But McMurray couldn’t avoid the last major wreck. While running eighth he was ensnared in a nine-car melee that resulted in the overtime finish. 

“I’m thrilled I made it as long as I did,” said McMurray. “I made it through two or three wrecks I should have been in and didn’t get torn up. It is just part of it. It is what it is and I’m just thankful I’m safe. This is just one of those places you come to that there are a lot of unknowns and certainly after flipping at Talladega (last April), speedway racing was a little different in my mind.”

McMurray will now transition to an analyst role for Fox Sports.

Should the native of Joplin, Missouri, never make another Cup start, he ends his career with seven wins, 63 top fives and 168 top 10s.

He exits the NASCAR stage after 581 consecutive Cup starts.

Next week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the first without McMurray since the Oct. 20, 2002 event at Martinsville Speedway. That was the race after McMurray scored a surprise first career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway driving Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge in substitution of an injured Sterling Marlin.

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