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‘Big 3’ finally graduate from Xfinity Series

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It finally hit Cole Custer on Friday night.

His full-time Xfinity Series racing career is over.

“I guess I didn’t really realize it till tonight,” Custer said after being recognized for his Championship 4 appearance in Miami during the Xfinity and Truck Series Awards Ceremony. “I’ve been in the Xfinity Series a while now, and it’s going to be a little sad leaving for sure. It’s what I’ve been used to the last few years.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver – who totaled nine wins in 104 Xfinity starts since 2016 – isn’t the only one whose time on the circuit effectively came to an end with a graduation of sorts in front of peers at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Joining him in the jump to the NASCAR Cup Series are the two drivers who completed the series’ dominating “Big 3” – Christopher Bell and two-time champion Tyler Reddick.

Just like a senior in high school, the realization this chapter in his career was over hit Bell hard last week as he prepared for the season finale.

“Honestly, it was such an emotional week going into Homestead, because I’m very reluctant to change,” Bell said. “I like my routine, and it was tough. I kind of savored every moment of it. My last time sitting in an Xfinity car, my last time going to the races, my last time flying with this group of people. It was an emotional week for sure. Honestly, now that the season’s over it’s definitely behind me. I get the vibe I’m not an Xfinity driver anymore.”

Bell, who won 16 times in 74 starts since 2017, is “nervous” about his move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Leavine Family Racing for his rookie Cup season in 2020. Fortunately for Bell, he’ll do so with the person he considers his “rock,” crew chief Jason Ratcliff.

“He’s the guy who’s going to bring me comfort to the Cup Series,” Bell said. “So my boss stays the same. Just getting to know the people, getting to know the mechanics and the ins and out of their shop will be a process.”

Reddick, who has nine wins in 84 Xfinity starts, enters the Cup Series as the first two-time defending Xfinity champion since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2013.

He’s actually glad his promotion by Richard Childress Racing is happening at the same time as Custer’s and Bell’s.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun that we’ll be racing against each other for the rookie battle,” Reddick told NBC Sports on Wednesday. “It’s also cool, too, because I feel like you often make that step alone by yourself. In recent years, some of these guys do. Granted, we’ll all be with different teams, different manufacturers, organizations. Honestly, I have this feeling the three of us will probably lean on each other quite a bit because we’re all going to be going through a very similar experience for the first time in our careers. I don’t think we planned on that yet, but I have a feeling that could very well happen.”

Well, it depends on where they’re racing.

“I think if we’re all running about 20th, we’ll probably lean on each other,” Bell joked. “If one of us succeeds, then we’re definitely not going to be talking to the other two giving away what we know. We all three have a really good relationship. I definitely expect us to communicate a lot.”

With this chapter of their careers over and new challenges in front of them – like the Cup Series’ own “Big 3” in Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. – it’s time to get a new name for their trio.

Even though he doesn’t like change, Bell is already testing out a new title.

“We’re kind of going to be the ‘Three Amigos,’ right?” Bell said. “Everyone’s kind of got your little cliques going on. At least we got a couple of familiar faces moving up with us.”

The NASCAR Xfinity Awards Show can be seen at 9 p.m. ET on Dec. 1 on NBCSN

Jim France bullish on the future: ‘We’re getting some momentum back’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a rare interview Friday, NASCAR CEO and chairman Jim France said he’s bullish about the momentum of his racing series, particularly since last year’s ISC merger.

“Very much so,” France said when asked if he’s looking forward to the return of stock cars to Daytona International Speedway next month for Speedweeks. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus has been on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said with a laugh. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

France spoke with a small group of reporters after a major news conference at Daytona involving the IMSA Series that will create a bridge for the premier sports car classes at Daytona and Le Mans.

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, who is also the chairman of IMSA.

Kaz Grala returning to Richard Childress Racing for select Xfinity races

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Kaz Grala will return to compete for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series this year in select races, the team announced Friday.

Grala, 21, will be one of three drivers to pilot the No. 21 Chevrolet during the full season, joining Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo.

Grala made five starts in the No. 21 in 2019, earning a best result of fifth at Road America.

“I learned a lot as a driver working with RCR last year, so I feel confident that our existing chemistry as a team will lead to even better results in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season,” Grala said in a press release. “RCR’s Xfinity Series program is top-notch, and with the No. 21 car running all year, I am excited to be a part of the team chasing yet another owner’s championship. I’m very grateful to Richard Childress for giving me this opportunity to further my career.”

No sponsors were part of the announcement.

“Kaz showed quite a bit of speed and promise in the No. 21 car last year for RCR,” Richard Childress said in a press release. “I’m confident the results will show in 2020, especially after a year under his belt in our proven Xfinity program.”

A ‘crucial’ year for Hailie Deegan’s career begins today at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Hailie Deegan will be racing a sports car today at Daytona International Speedway with an eye toward her future in stock cars.

Signed by Ford Performance to a developmental deal that will put her in a full-time ARCA car (and possibly a truck race or two) this season, Deegan was surprised when the manufacturer also expressed a desire to put her in a few IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge events.

The first will be Friday’s season-opening BMW Endurance Challenge, a four-hour warmup race at Daytona International Speedway ahead of Saturday’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Deegan and Xfinity Series veteran Chase Briscoe will start 20th in the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.

MEET HAILIE DEEGAN: ‘I put my helmet on the same way as everyone else’

“I originally never planned on this, but (Ford) came to me and were like ‘we want to get you on our IMSA program,’” Deegan said. “’That’s what we did with Briscoe, (Cole) Custer, (Austin) Cindric. All the guys that came through the ranks with Ford.’

“When they told me that, I was excited because more road courses will be in the NASCAR world, and there already are quite a few. I think what makes an all-around good driver are the ones that are good at every single type of track.”

There’s been much talk of adding road and street races to the Cup schedule in the next few years, and the Xfinity Series schedule just expanded to five road courses with the move from the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 that will be driven by Hailie Deegan and Chase Briscoe.

Deegan, 18, still remains a long way from the top two national series, but they are her goal, which makes 2020 critical for earning results.

“This is the year that’s very important and crucial to my career because it decides contracts for years out with sponsors getting behind you for the higher levels,” said Deegan, who had three K&N Series victories in 2018-19. “If we can do good this year, I feel I can get more people behind me so we can go in the top three level series (of NASCAR), and have sponsors that want to stay with me full time while I’m there.

“My goal is to win a few races in the ARCA Series, which is going to be hard. There are a lot of good guys, good cars this year.”

Aside from running full time in ARCA for DGR-Crosley, Deegan would “love to do a truck race” if the sponsorship materializes, “but funding right now is all focused on ARCA so we can try to work toward those championships and winning races. I know I want to be in a good car with good people behind me. If we can focus on that, hopefully everything else will come along.”

Click here to read the full version of this story from NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk.

2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Start time, TV schedule, lineup and more

Speedy Cash expands deal with Front Row Motorsports, John Hunter Nemechek

John Hunter Nemechek
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After sponsoring John Hunter Nemechek in two of his first three Cup Series starts last year, Speed Cash has expanded its backing of Nemechek for the 2020 season, Front Row Motorsports announced Friday.

Speedy Cash, an omni-channel financial services provider specializing in short-term loans, will be on Nemechek’s No. 38 Ford for multiple races, including events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

It will serve as an associate sponsor throughout the year for both Nemechek and Michael McDowell and his No. 34 Ford Mustang team.

Speedy Cash sponsored Nemechek last November in his Cup debut at Texas Motor Speedway and in the season finale at Miami. Nemechek finished 21st at Texas, the best of his three starts filling in for Matt Tifft in the No. 36 Ford after he stepped out of the car due to suffering a seizure.

Nemechek will be part of a deep rookie class in Cup this year after he raced full-time for GMS Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2019.

“As a driver, partnerships like this one with Speedy Cash are so important to our entire team,” Nemechek said in a press release. “It’s always great to see partners expanding their involvement in the sport. For me, Speedy Cash is pretty cool. If you need cash, there are so many easy ways you can get it using their services. I enjoyed getting to know them in the last few races of the 2019 season and we’re going to work hard to make them proud in 2020.”