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Cole Whitt joins TriStar Motorsports for full-time Cup ride

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cole-whittCole Whitt will drive full-time for TriStar Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series this season in the No. 72. TriStar returns to the Cup level after a three-year absence.

It will be Whitt’s third full-time Cup season in four years. He ran 26 races in 2016 for Premium Motorsports and in two Xfinity Series races for TriStar.

Whitt, 25, will be sponsored by the Florida Lottery for the Daytona 500 and by RTIC Coolers, Rinnai and Carolina Skiff throughout the season. Frank Kerr will be the crew chief.

TriStar and Whitt are guaranteed a starting spot in the 40-car field after leasing a charter from Front Row Motorsports that it acquired BK Racing.

“I’m looking forward to being back in the seat at TriStar Motorsports for the Monster Energy Cup Series for 2017,” Whitt said in a press release. “We are glad to have Florida Lottery back with us for the season opener at Daytona and are fortunate to continue and expand our relationship with Rinnai, RTIC Coolers and Carolina Skiff throughout the year.”

Whitt has 112 starts in the Cup Series since 2011, but has yet to record any top five or top-10 finishes.

Owned by Mark Smith, TriStar Motorsports has fielded cars in 197 Cup Series races since 1989. In 2013, it competed in 15 races with Mike Bliss, Alex Kennedy and Jason Leffler, who was killed three days after his lone start at Pocono Raceway in a sprint car race at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey.

“We are taking a different approach and expanding our competitive platform for 2017,” Smith said in a press release. “It is an opportunity we feel is the best direction for this season and we are pleased to have Cole and his partners involved in those efforts.”

Whitt will attempt to make the Daytona 500 in one of the Feb. 23 qualifying duels.

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Denny Hamlin claims first road course win in Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen

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Like Joey Logano in 2015, Denny Hamlin claimed his first win since the Daytona 500 with a victory in the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.

Hamlin led the final 10 laps and outran Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski in a shootout after a restart with four laps to go.

It appeared a replay of the Daytona 500 finish between Hamlin and Truex might unfold. But excitement happened behind. As they exited the final turn, Keselowski got into Truex and spun him into the inside wall as Hamlin went on unscathed for the win.

“I overshot the corner (at Sonoma) and I didn’t want to do it this time and so I probably under drove and allowed those guys to get closer than I should have,” Hamlin told NBC Sports.

It’s Hamlin’s first road course win of his Sprint Cup career after coming within one turn of winning at Sonoma Raceway in June. Hamlin overshot the final turn after passing Tony Stewart for the lead. Stewart slammed Hamlin and claimed the win.

Hamlin’s enthusiastic burnout destroyed the tires on his No. 11 Toyota, forcing Hamlin, who woke up with back spasms Sunday morning, to gingerly exit the car and walk to victory lane.

“I really doubted being in the race car today, I’ll be honest with you,” Hamlin said, as he waited for his car to be pushed to victory lane. Hamlin stuck through the pain for his 28th Sprint Cup win.

“Should have won both road course races, which we never would have predicted at the beginning of the year,” Hamlin said. “This is a good sign, I’ve finally won at all the (different style) race tracks. It’s a great accomplishment for us.”

The top five was Hamlin, Joey Logano, Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger and Tony Stewart.

MORE: Point standings after Watkins Glen

MORE: Race results

HOW DENNY HAMLIN WON: Hamlin led the final 10 laps and held off the threat of Martin Truex Jr., who spun in the final turn from contact with Brad Keselowski.

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Joey Logano led seven laps before being called for speeding on pit road. Despite suffering front end damage, Logano used multiple late-race cautions to get back to second place … Tony Stewart fell back in the pack early after missing the bus stop, but also used late race cautions to earn a top five in his last start at the road course where he had five wins … Trevor Bayne finished ninth for his best-career finish in two WGI starts and his fifth top 10 of the season …

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: A crash on a Lap 53 restart included Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon and Greg Biffle. … The race went green with 34 to go. The lap wasn’t over before a crash unfolded with pole-sitter Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Alex Kennedy. Edwards  finished 15th … Kennedy brought out the caution again with 14 laps to go after breaking down on the frontstretch … On a restart with seven laps to go, David Ragan, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto wrecked at the exit of the bus stop and brought out the second red flag, which lasted 16 minutes and 44 seconds … Half a straightaway from the finish, AJ Allmendinger made contact with and wrecked Kyle Larson near the pit road entrance. Instead of a top five, Larson finished 29th.

NOTABLE: Jimmie Johnson earned his fourth DNF in the last nine races … Kevin Harvick’s DNF was his second of the year (Daytona II) … Danica Patrick led 11 laps just prior to the halfway point. She had led 10 laps in the previous 21 races.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Of course it’s going to be crazy, it’s Watkins Glen. This is an awesome track and feelings are going to get hurt.” – Joey Logano, who finished second in the Cheez-It 355.

NEXT: Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 20 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Kyle Busch won 2015 Sprint Cup title, but Harvick, Logano earned more


Kyle Busch capped his 2015 championship season by earning a combined $8,393,925 from race winnings, special awards and from the Sprint Cup points fund.

But it was Kevin Harvick who earned the most money among Sprint Cup drivers in 2015 at $11,730,460, according to NASCAR officials. A significant part of why Harvick amassed more earnings than the younger Busch brother was because the latter missed the first 11 races of the season recovering from racing-related injuries.

A total of 44 drivers earned more than $1 million this past season,

Joey Logano earned the second-highest amount ($9,663,863) followed by Kyle Busch ($8,393,925), Jimmie Johnson ($8,152,877), Jeff Gordon ($7,614,469), Brad Keselowski ($7,477,096), Denny Hamlin ($7,473,268), Matt Kenseth ($6,806,416), Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($6,761,500) and Martin Truex Jr. ($6,751,609).

Eleventh through 20th were Ryan Newman ($5,923,403), Carl Edwards ($5,787,488), David Ragan ($5,757,006), Kurt Busch ($5,752,866), Clint Bowyer ($5,702,243), Jamie McMurray ($5,680,016), Aric Almirola ($5,598,831), Greg Biffle ($5,555,082), Austin Dillon ($5,186,719) and Kyle Larson ($5,092,490).

From 21st through 30th were Trevor Bayne ($4,947,485), AJ Allmendinger ($4,872,864), Kasey Kahne ($4,863,754), Paul Menard ($4,635,345), Casey Mears ($4,633,656), Tony Stewart ($4,519,999), Sam Hornish Jr. (4,482,286), Danica Patrick ($4,097,299), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($3,985,317) and David Gilliland ($3,962,669).

From 31st through 40th were Cole Whitt ($3,718,652), Justin Allgaier ($3,350,649), Landon Cassill $3,258,211), Alex Bowman ($3,206,163), Michael Annett ($3,151,990), JJ Yeley ($3,036,443), Matt DiBenedetto ($2,981,653), Brett Moffitt ($2,959,923), Jeb Burton $2,176,387) and Josh Wise ($2,029,497).

Also topping the $1 million mark: Ryan Blaney ($1,673,128), Michael McDowell ($1,672,860), Xfinity Series regular Brian Scott ($1,093,844) and Alex Kennedy ($1,052,077).

As for the earnings from special awards, here’s the breakdown:

* Kyle Busch, $151,500, for the Sunoco Diamond Performance and Goodyear Tires awards.

* Kevin Harvick, $604,364, for awards including 3M Lap Leader, American Ethanol Green Flag Restart and the Mobil 1 Driver of the Year Award.

* Kurt Busch, $200,000 for Ingersoll Rand Power Move Award and Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr., $100,000 for MOOG Steering and Suspension Problem Solver of the Year Award.

* Joey Logano, $130,000 for Coors Light Pole Award.

* Matt Kenseth, $100,000 for Sherwin-Williams Fastest Lap Award.

* Brett Moffitt, $51,500 for Sunoco Rookie of the Year award.

A total of 78 drivers earned money for competing in at least one of this year’s 36 races.

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Ryan Ellis to make Sprint Cup debut at Phoenix

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Phoenix International Raceway and the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 will mark the Sprint Cup debut of Ryan Ellis.

The 25 year old will make his first Sprint Cup start in the No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport Racing. The No. 33, which will be sponsored by Science Logic, has been driven in 2015 by Ty Dillon (four races), Brian Scott (nine races), Alex Kennedy (11 races), Mike Bliss (two races) and in one race each by Michael Annett, Derek White, Travis Kvapil and B.J. McLeod.

Ellis told he doesn’t see this as an opportunity leading to a full-time ride with Circle Sport.

Ryan Ellis “It is more about the opportunities being available and proving to Cup teams that I belong in that garage area and that I can handle not only the car, but the competition,” Ellis said. “It is a matter of proving yourself in that capacity and having Cup team owners think of you if someone gets sick or hurt at the track. It’s how Brett Moffitt got his ride this year.”

Ellis makes his debut after competing in 29 Xfinity Series races since 2012 and 20 Camping World Truck Series races in the last two seasons. The Ashburn, Va. native has never finished in the top 10 in either series.