Jimmie Johnson says Hendrick will know his future within 4-6 months

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Jimmie Johnson has heard questions about his NASCAR future throughout this career-worst season, especially since a recent extension of primary sponsor Ally came without a new driver deal.

Soon, he knows the definitive question about how much longer the seven-time champion will drive the No. 48 Chevrolet in Cup will come from the most important person of all: team owner Rick Hendrick.

“I’ve got to start spending some time on it first and foremost, because in the next four to six months, Rick is going to start asking me,” Johnson told NASCAR on NBC’s Jeff Burton in an exclusive sitdown interview that will air Sunday on NBC before the race at Kansas Speedway (coverage will begin at 1 p.m. ET). “I know it’s out there.”

Has the Hendrick Motorsports owner asked about whether Johnson’s future will include racing in Cup beyond the end of his current contract (which expires after the 2020 season)?

“He’s hinted,” said Johnson, who turned 44 last month. “He hasn’t put the true pressure on me yet. I’m very thankful to have Rick as an owner and to be in this position with Ally that, ‘Hey look, we’re going to (sponsor the car). We want you as long as you want to drive.’

“I don’t think many drivers get that opportunity. So I’m so thankful for that. I want to keep racing. I’d like to not race 38 times a year at some point in the next couple of years. I love racing in general. I love our sport. I want to be involved in our sport. I also love other types of racing. I’ve got to balance family, the schedule and then some other goals that I have to complete in other series, too, at the same time and make a decision on all that within four to six months.”

Johnson said on Wednesday night’s NASCAR America Motor Mouths that he remains interested in running IndyCar races on road courses.

He told Burton that he would make the decision with the input of Jeff Gordon (who hand-picked Johnson to drive for Hendrick); longtime friends such as Rick Johnson; his wife, Chandra and their two young daughters, Genevieve, 9, and Lydia, 6.

“My kids, in this next phase of my life, need to have a seat at the table when we have that conversation. All that is going to be very difficult to communicate with a 6-year-old. I don’t know how that’s going to work out, but I want her to be a part of it.

And of course, he also will rely on the advice of Hendrick, whom he has driven for since entering the Cup Series in 2002.

“He’s like a dad, and everybody who has worked for him knows that,” Johnson said. “In some ways, that takes a lot of pressure off. In other ways, it puts pressure on.

“It’s a big decision that I know he doesn’t want to put unneeded pressure on me for, and I feel like through his experiences with drivers retiring, he doesn’t want to push on a driver staying any longer than they feel like they want to, so I think we’re in a good spot, and we’ll just see where it ends up here. Hopefully, I can defer as long as I can and wait maybe nine months, but I don’t think that’s really going to happen.”

Processing the decision probably will be tabled until after the final five races of the 2019 season.

Johnson said he is most focused on ending a 90-race winless drought that dates to June 4, 2017 at Dover International Speedway. He is encouraged that his qualifying and finishing averages are “way up” since the arrival of crew chief Cliff Daniels two months ago.

“I really feel like there aren’t any big obstacles ahead of us,” Johnson said. “Cliff has really brought me back up and has me so excited and so ready for each and every week, that I’m in the best place I’ve been mentally for years. So, absolutely, I am ready for this fight.

“I expect to win this year.”

Johnson, who has 83 career victories, missed the playoffs this year for the first time since NASCAR introduced the postseason structure in 2004. On Motor Mouths, he told Kyle Petty and Marty Snider about the lack of respect he feels he’s received from playoff drivers (video below).

“I used to be feared on the track and there was a certain level of respect that took place,” he said. “That hasn’t been there in a couple of years. I’ve been used up way more (by other drivers), and I’ve let it slide. I’m not where I should be. I get it.

“But when my car is right, I expect that same respect back. And I’m not getting that respect back. And I just have to go fight for it.”

Martin Truex Jr. on Cole Pearn’s departure, what he seeks in next crew chief

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. got a phone call from Cole Pearn on Sunday and Truex quickly had a very bad feeling about it.

“When he started talking it was in the back of my mind that, ‘This is not good. I feel like something big is about to come,'” Truex recalled. “Sure enough, it was surprising.”

Pearn had called to tell Truex what everyone else would learn the next day: after five years together, he was resigning as his crew chief and leaving NASCAR.

Truex discussed the end of Pearn’s tenure and what he wants from his next crew chief during a break from giving out Christmas toys to patients at Levine Children’s Hospital.

“Thought I could get a couple more years out of him, to be honest,” Truex said before admitting he completely understood Pearn’s reasons for getting out of NASCAR while seemingly at the top of his game: a long season that keeps him from seeing his family.

“I understand the grind, I understand just how hard he has to work to produce a level of competition that he does,” Truex said. “I’ve seen it first hand, his hours and what’s he’s willing to do. I don’t know that there’s anyone in the garage willing to put as much work into racing as he did.”

He continued: “It’s time for him to move into doing something else. His kids are growing up too fast and he doesn’t get to see them that much. It was big decision for him and I know … he feels somewhat like he let all us down. I told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do what’s best for your family, we all understand and all our guys will understand, we’ll go on and try to the best with someone else filling his role.'”

When it comes to figuring who will take over as crew chief on the No. 19 Toyota, Truex said, “We’ve got a few guys in mind. I feel like we’re narrowing it down. We should know something in the next couple of days for sure.”

Whoever takes over will follow in the wake of a crew chief who worked with Truex to produce 24 wins in five seasons, four appearances in the Championship 4 and the 2017 Cup title.

How did half a decade of success with Pearn change what Truex wants from a crew chief?

“Honestly, that’s a good question,” Truex said. “Obviously, I need to find somebody that has his demeanor, a guy that approaches racing the way he does, because it’s kind of what works for me. I feel like we approach racing the same way, Cole and I did. Our attitudes and just the way we thought about things was so similar. We could almost finish each other’s sentences.

“It’s so weird, we’re so different people outside of racing. In racing, that’s just the way we grew up. Our dads racing and racing go-karts and moving up through the ranks ourselves. We just did things a lot the same and we had similar beliefs in the way we did things. Just kind of the same thought process.”

Truex believes he and Pearn “approached a lot of things together more so than me being a rookie and him being a veteran like it was when I first started.

“No question, he was really good at getting the most out of me and I’ll need somebody to do that,” Truex said. “I’m not the most outspoken guy and so I need sometimes somebody to pull that information out of me, especially when it comes to the cars and building the cars. When they’re not good enough, how do you make them better? He was really good at that. I feel good about the guys we’re talking to and we’ve got a few options there and hopefully it’ll work out.”

Kyle Busch Motorsports announces 2020 driver, crew chief lineup

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced its driver-crew chief roster for the 2020 Gander Outdoors Truck Series season on Wednesday. It includes the addition of veteran Danny Stockman.

Stockman will be in charge of the No. 51 Toyota, which will be driven by Kyle Busch, Chandler Smith and more drivers to be announced at a later date.

Stockman was a long-time crew chief at Richard Childress Racing, most recently working with Austin Dillon in the Cup Series this season. He was Dillon’s crew chief when he won his titles in the Truck Series (2011) and Xfinity Series (2013).

Ryan “Rudy” Fugle will be paired with Christian Eckes on the No. 18 Toyota. Fugle worked on the No. 51 this year as it won six races, including all of Busch’s five wins and Greg Biffle‘s victory. Fugle has led KBM teams to five owner titles (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019) and two driver titles (2015 and 2017).

Mike Hillman Jr. will be the crew chief for Raphael Lessard‘s rookie season in the No. 4 Toyota. Hillman has two Truck Series titles, including Toyota’s first in 2006 with Todd Bodine.

 

DGR-Crosley switches from Toyota to Ford beginning in 2020

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Ford Performance is strengthening its driver development program by joining forces with DGR-Crosley, which announced its move from Toyota to Ford Wednesday.

The multi-year agreement will see team co-owner David Gilliland, a former Cup Series driver, lead the team’s driver development program as it field entries in late models, the ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

“We’re very excited to have DGR-Crosley come to Ford as part of our long-term efforts to develop drivers for NASCAR,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “We have just scratched the surface of what is possible in developing the next generation of Ford drivers with people like Chase Briscoe, and we believe a coordinated effort with a team like DGR-Crosley will help move that process forward successfully.

“David Gilliland was a trusted and valued Ford driver in NASCAR for many years, and we look forward to renewing that relationship with him in this new effort.”

Said Gilliland: “I’m super excited about the partnership with Ford and how things are lining up for 2020. I spent a lot of time racing Fords throughout my career, and it’s really special to now be able to bring them into our race shop. A lot of time and consideration was spent on this decision, and internally we know that this is the move that we needed to make in order to advance our program to the top level. We have a great group of hard-working, talented people at DGR-Crosley, and with Ford coming on board, our future is really bright. We’re excited for all the things ahead.”

DGR-Crosley will announce its driver lineup at a later date.

The team first entered the Truck Series in 2018. Tyler Ankrum won its first race this year at Kentucky Speedway, qualifying for the playoffs in the process.

It fielded a team record five entries in the playoff race at ISM Raceway.

Brennan Poole to compete full-time for Premium Motorsports in Cup Series

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Former Xfinity Series driver Brennan Poole will compete full-time in the Cup Series in 2020 with Premium Motorsports, Poole announced Wednesday on social media.

Poole, 28, will drive the No. 15 Chevrolet and would make his Cup debut in the Daytona 500.

He joins a rookie class that includes Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

“I’ve been working towards this moment since I was 5 and feel blessed to have the caliber of people surrounding me that I have in this next chapter of my racing career,” Poole said in a press release. “I look forward to the opportunity to showcase our sponsor partners, both new and existing, who are supporting me at the highest level of NASCAR competition.”

Poole takes over the car that was driven by Ross Chastain in a majority of his Cup starts in 2019.

A native of The Woodlands, Texas, Poole drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series from 2016-17. His best finish was second in the 2017 race at Kentucky Speedway.

He made 13 starts in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2019, driving for On Point Motorsports. His best result was second in the May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m very happy to welcome Brennan and his group to the Premium Motorsports family,” team owner Jay Robinson said in the press release. “Brennan is a very talented and dedicated young man, I believe he has a very bright future in the NASCAR Cup Series.”