John Hunter Nemechek ready for even better Round 2 at Darlington

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Earning the first top-10 finish of your NASCAR Cup career is a significant accomplishment for a Cup rookie.

Doing so at one of the toughest tracks in the sport makes it an even greater and sweeter achievement.

Such was the case Sunday for John Hunter Nemechek at Darlington Raceway. In just his eighth career Cup start, he finished a career-best ninth.

“We came in with no expectations, we just kind of had the mindset to run every lap and learn the most that we possibly could,” Nemechek said in a media teleconference. “And while doing that we made the right adjustments all day.

“We stayed on top of the race track and we kind of ran our own race and it led to us running top 15 most of the day, which is a really great accomplishment for myself and Front Row Motorsports for my first time being at Darlington in a Cup car and just trying to learn.”

Not only did Nemechek learn, he may have taught the venerable “Lady In Black” a few lessons as well.

“It’s definitely a hard race track, but, overall, the pit crew did amazing,” Nemechek said. “(Crew chief Seth Barbour) and myself did great at communicating.

“The engineers were awesome. It was a full team effort and we stayed on top of it, so it was definitely a great day and something to be proud of for us.”

It was also Front Row Motorsports’ best effort ever on a mid-range track (between one and two miles). Darlington is 1.366 miles in length.

“It’s pretty amazing to have that accomplishment and hopefully we can continue to have the momentum roll our way,” Nemechek said. “It came down to the final restart and we had our car tuned up for the end.”

Nemechek was one of two rookies to end Sunday’s race in the top 10. Tyler Reddick finished seventh.

“I was hoping we were gonna have a couple more laps,” Nemechek said. “I think we could have got Reddick and Erik Jones (finished eighth), but, overall, a solid day.  I’m looking forward to going back to Darlington on Wednesday.”

Tonight’s race has had its start time pushed forward to 6 p.m. ET because of the threat of rain.

How he performed Sunday and hopes to perform tonight, weather permitting, is quite the juxtaposition for Nemechek compared to his first-ever visit in a race car to Darlington last year in the Xfinity Series.

He started 16th and finished 21st, one lap down from the leaders.

“We weren’t very good at Darlington last year in the Xfinity Series, so for myself to kind of go there with an open mindset (for Sunday’s Cup race), a lot of preparation was done, a lot of video was watched,” he said. “(I also) talked to quite a few Cup drivers during the quarantine about Darlington when we knew that we were going back there and just tried to be a sponge and just soak everything up.

“I would say Darlington last year I didn’t really like the place. It definitely was a struggle for myself and for our team last year. We weren’t that great.

“So coming into Darlington this year it was completely different than the Xfinity car, just trying to make the most of the situation. And with no practice I definitely (feel) like it almost gave our team a little bit of a better opportunity to run good as we didn’t have time to either mess up our car or our adjustments and set up through practice.

“But it didn’t really allow others to make major gains through practice, where we might not be able to do the same, so it was a lot of fun being able to tame the Lady in Black, and I had a blast.

“It’s a place I really like now, not really from last year, but being able to slide around and tire wear, being able to run multiple grooves, it was overall just a really fun race and really great just to be back in the seat.

“I think from a confidence standpoint it definitely makes me feel really good to be able to go back there.”

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Daytona road course entry lists

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NASCAR’s national series will make their debuts on the Daytona road course this weekend. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck events will be held without any practice or qualifying.

NASCAR is prohibiting drivers from competing in more than one series this weekend on the Daytona road course in an effort to get extra track time. NASCAR states that is to make the event fair for everyone.

Sunday’s Cup race will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the races at the Daytona road course 

Cup – Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for the race at the Daytona road course.

JJ Yeley is in the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase is in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Gray Gaulding is in the No. 53 for Rick Ware Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports.

Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for Motorsports Business Management.

Reed Sorenson is in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports.

Click here for Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – UNOH 188 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Andy Lally is back in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car after finishing fifth last week at Road America.

AJ Allmendinger, who finished second last week at Road America, is in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

IMSA driver Earl Bamber will make his Xfinity debut this weekend in the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing.

Brandon Gdovic will make his second start of the season, driving the No. 26 for Sam Hunt Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Sunoco 159 (Noon ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered in the race that will be held before the Cup event on Sunday on the Daytona road course.

Alex Tagliani will drive the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Click here for Truck entry list

Silly Season Scorecard: Christopher Bell moves back to JGR

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No surprise that Christopher Bell moves over to the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing next season with Leavine Family Racing being sold and Erik Jones not remaining with JGR beyond this season. Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement Monday.

While JGR lets the 24-year-old Jones, who has 133 Cup starts go, it brings in the 25-year-old Bell who has made 22 career Cup starts. Jones said before Sunday’s race he was “blindsided a little bit” by JGR’s move.

It’s part of the building momentum of Silly Season. In the last week, Team Penske signed Brad Keselowski to a reported one-year extension and Bubba Wallace said he has an offer for next year not only from Richard Petty Motorsports but also Chip Ganassi Racing.

Here’s how the Cup Silly Season scorecard looks as of Aug. 10.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said in a press conference Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through at least 2021.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 10: Aric Almirola is in a contract year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto is in a contract year at Wood Brothers Racing. He said after the Aug. 9 Michigan race: “I haven’t really talked about that stuff for next year yet, but we’ve just been so focused and head down on digging and trying to make the playoffs and run well. We haven’t even really talked about it, so, hopefully, I stay here for a very long time to come and that’s what they had expressed to me when I came over here.”

No. 32: Corey LaJoie is in a contract year at Go Fas Racing.

No. 42: Matt Kenseth told NBC Sports on Aug. 8 in regards to talks with Chip Ganassi Racing for next year: “We really haven’t had any very meaningful discussions really about any of that to be honest with you.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace said Aug. 9 he has an offer from Richard Petty Motorsports and an offer from Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 car next season.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Leavine Family Racing announced it was selling its assets earlier this week. The buyer has not been announced. Christopher Bell will move to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for 2021.

Christopher Bell to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021

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Christopher Bell will drive for the No. 20 next season for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team announced Monday, a decision that was expected with Erik Jones’ contract expiring after this season and it not being renewed. 

“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity I have this year with LFR and I want to finish this season strong for Bob (Leavine) and everyone there,” Bell said in a statement from the team. “At the same time, I’m extremely excited to return to Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2021. It’s an organization I’m very comfortable with and have had a lot of success with.”

Said car owner Joe Gibbs: “We are excited to bring Christopher into our Cup Series program starting in 2021. He obviously had tremendous success in the Xfinity Series with us and we look forward to his return to JGR.”

Bell drove for JGR in in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and 2019, winning 15 races, before moving to the Cup Series and Leavine Family Racing this season. Leavine Family Racing announced last week that it has been sold.

Entering Sunday’s race at the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC), Bell is 19th in points. His best finish this season is fourth at the first Pocono race in late June.

Xfinity playoff grid after Road America

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Brandon Brown extended his hold on the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid last weekend at Road America after struggles early in the race.

Brown needed to be pushed back to pit road before the field took the green because of a mechanical issue. He fell a lap down as his crew diagnosed the issue, got his lap back, scored four stage points in the second stage and finished 12th, one spot off his best career finish on a road course.

MORE: Brandon Brown wants to reward father with a special celebration

MORE: Austin Cindric wins at Road America 

Brown’s effort and Jeremy Clements misfortune in being collected in a crash to finish 29th led to Brown extending his lead on Clements for the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid to 53 points. Myatt Snider is 73 points behind Brown. Eight races remain until the Xfinity playoffs begin Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at the playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Those shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Xfinity playoff grid.