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Chase Elliott to drive JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevy in Xfinity opener

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Chase Elliott will drive JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, the team announced Thursday.

The NASCAR Racing Experience 300 will mark a return of sorts for Elliott, who earned JR Motorsports’ first NASCAR championship when he captured the 2014 Xfinity Series title. He also won the 2016 Xfinity opener for JRM.

“This is more than just putting a driver in a car,” JRM general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller said in a media release. “Chase is family to us and an integral part of our history.

“He helped kick-start our run of championships back in 2014 and has driven our cars to victory in several prestigious events, including a win at Daytona in 2016. We jumped at the chance of having one of our own return for this race.”

Chase Elliott won the 2016 Xfinity season opener for JR Motorsports. (Getty Images)

The car will be sponsored in the race by AfterShokz, a headphone brand and current partner of Elliott, who was voted NASCAR Cup’s Most Popular Driver in 2018.

“I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel for JRM in Daytona,” Elliott said. “Kelley, Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and the entire organization have been so great to work with over the years. We won this race back in 2016, and this year we’re looking to get back into victory lane with AfterShokz.”

Elliott, who earned his first three NASCAR Cup wins last season, has five career Xfinity Series wins, all with JRM.

The 23-year-old Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, will be one of several drivers who will pilot the No. 8 Xfinity Chevy in 2019 for JRM. The other drivers include Jeb Burton, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Spencer Gallagher, Ryan Preece, Zane Smith and Ryan Truex.

Other drivers for JRM in the Daytona Xfinity opener include Michael Annett (No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet), Justin Allgaier (No. 7 BRANDT Professional Agriculture Chevrolet) and Noah Gragson (No. 9 Chevrolet).

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State Water Heaters to sponsor Jeb Burton’s 5 races with JR Motorsports

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JR Motorsports on Wednesday announced that State Water Heaters will sponsor Jeb Burton’s five-race stint in the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series.

State Water Heaters has been involved with the Burton family since 2007, starting first with Jeb’s father, Ward Burton, in NASCAR Cup and the NASCAR Truck Series, as well as with Jeb Burton in the Truck Series and in Late Models.

“I’m very excited to continue my partnership with State Water Heaters and make the introduction between them and JR Motorsports,” Jeb Burton said in a media release. “State has been an amazing partner over the years and has become family – helping me from the very start of my career going back to Late Models.”

Burton will debut the black, orange and blue No. 8 State Water Heaters Chevrolet Camaro at Texas Motor Speedway (March 30), as well as Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 25), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Sept. 7), a return stint to Texas (Nov. 2) and the season finale at Miami (Nov. 16). Alsco and Ultimate Headers will serve as associate partners for those same five races.

Burton will share driving duties of the No. 8 through the course of the season with Spencer Gallagher, Ryan Preece, Ryan Truex and Zane Smith.

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Brennan Poole returns to full-time NASCAR competition in Truck Series

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Brennan Poole will be back in a full-time NASCAR ride in 2019 racing for On Point Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

Poole, who competed for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series from 2015-17, will drive the No. 30 Toyota.

“I am extremely excited about driving for On Point Motorsports this season,” Poole said in a press release. “From the very first moment I set foot in the On Point Motorsports facility, I continue to be so impressed with what the team has put together for the 2019 season. We have a great opportunity to surprise a lot of people and we are ready to go racing.”

The 27-year-old driver made two Truck Series starts last year with NextGen Motorsports in the playoff races at Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. He also served as a test driver for GMS Racing in the Xfinity Series in May when Spencer Gallagher was serving a suspension.

Last June, Poole also served as a relief driver for Natalie Decker in an ARCA Racing Series race at Pocono Raceway. Poole finished eighth.

That month, Poole also filed a lawsuit against CGR and Spire Sports and Entertainment for breach of contract in a North Carolina court. He also sued Spire for breach of fiduciary duty and professional negligence. Both parties denied any wrong doing.

Poole’s new home, On Point Motorsports, made five Truck Series starts last year with Scott Lagasse, Jr., Jeb Burton and Austin Theriault.

“We have put a tremendous amount of sweat and tears into the development of On Point Motorsports and the results show when a driver of the caliber of Brennan Poole is excited about being a part of this,” said team manager Steven Lane in a press release. “We have worked very hard as an organization to build this program and we are very excited to welcome a driver with the talents of Brennan to our team. We definitely have some exciting times ahead for all of us.”

JR Motorsports reveals new car number, driver assignments

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JR Motorsports on Friday used the announcement of a car number change to reveal its driver lineup for a new No. 8 car in the Xfinity Series.

What was the No. 9 team in 2018 will become the No. 8 team in 2019 with an assortment of drivers including Zane Smith, Jeb Burton, Ryan Truex, Spencer Gallagher and Ryan Preece.

Noah Gragson, the rookie who was originally announced to take over the No. 1 Chevrolet, will now drive the No. 9.

Meanwhile, Michael Annett, who has driven the No. 5 since he joined JRM in 2017, will now drive the No. 1.

The No. 1 has history with the Annett family, as sprint-car racing legend Sammy Swindell drove it in a car owned by Michael’s father, Harrold Annett.

Only the car numbers are changing on Gragson’s and Annett’s cars. The previously announced crew chief and roster lineups will remain the same.

Justin Allgaier will continue to drive the No. 7.

MORE: JR Motorsports, GMS Racing join forces on driver development program

The No. 8 has a long history in the Earnhardt family, with team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving it in the Cup Series from 1999 – 2007. His grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, also drove it, as well as Junior’s father, Dale Earnhardt.

“Everybody remembers the number on the side of the car,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a press release. “The No. 8 is very special to me and to JR Nation. There’s a lot of history with the No. 8 in my family and in NASCAR. It’s time to write some new stories and continue to add to the number’s rich heritage.”

Taylor Moyer has been named the crew chief of the No. 8. Moyer, 31, joins JRM after serving as an engineer for Hendrick Motorsports on the cars driven by Kasey Kahne and William Byron.

Gallagher will race for JRM after stepping away from full-time race at the end of 2018 to move into a leadership role at GMS Racing. 

Preece drove for Joe Gibbs Racing part-time the last two seasons and will drive for JTG Daugherty Racing full-time in the Cup Series this season.

Smith, a member of NASCAR Next, is making his debut in the Xfinity Series this year.

Truex, the brother of Cup driver Martin Truex Jr., joins JRM after competing full-time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2018. Truex Jr. won two Xfinity championships for Earnhardt while driving the No. 8 in 2004-05.

Burton, the son of former Cup driver Ward Burton, made three Xfinity starts for Richard Childress Racing last year.

Here’s when each driver will race the No. 8 this season. This makes up only 24 of the season’s 33 races.

Gallagher – Daytona International Speedway (Feb. 16), Talladega Superspeedway (April 27) and the return event at Daytona (July 5).

Preece – Atlanta Motor Speedway (Feb. 23), Auto Club Speedway (March 16), Pocono Raceway (June 1) and Watkins Glen International (Aug. 3)

Smith – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (March 2), Bristol Motor Speedway (April 6), both Richmond Raceway events (April 12 and Sept. 20), Dover International Speedway (May 4 and Oct. 5) and Iowa Speedway (June 16 and July 27)

Truex – ISM Raceway (March 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 14), Charlotte Motor Speedway (Sept. 28) and Kansas Speedway (Oct. 19)

Burton – Texas Motor Speedway (March 30 and Nov. 2), Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 25), Chicagoland Speedway (June 29) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16)

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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