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Silly Season: Handful of unannounced rides in Cup, Xfinity for 2019

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It’s now December and there’s not a NASCAR race in sight until February.

But there’s still some announcements waiting to be made for teams and drivers in preparation for 2019.

Here’s a look at unannounced changes in Cup and Xfinity through two weeks of the offseason.

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto announced Sept. 7 that he would not return to the team after this season.

No. 77: Spire Sports + Entertainment purchased Furniture Row Racing’s charter and will go racing in 2019. The group will use the car number 77. A driver has yet to be announced (announcement made Dec. 4).

XFINITY RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

JR Motorsports: Team still has one open car. It has not been announced if Noah Gragson will drive the No. 9 or No. 1.

No. 23: GMS Racing hasn’t announced a replacement for Spencer Gallagher, who retired from competition after this season (announcement made Oct. 19).

RCR: Hasn’t announced which car Tyler Reddick will drive. Both the No. 21 and No. 2 are open.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 1: Kurt Busch joins Chip Ganassi Racing for 2019 and brings along sponsor Monster Energy (announcement made Dec. 4)

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22).

No. 13: Ty Dillon said he will remain at Germain Racing for the 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 24)

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn move to Joe Gibbs Racing from the defunct Furniture Row Racing team (announcement made Nov. 7)

No. 31: Daniel Hemric replaces Ryan Newman at Richard Childress Racing for 2019 (announcement made Sept. 28).

No. 36: Matt Tifft joins Front Row Motorsports in a third car for the 2019 season (announcement made Nov. 27).

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28).

No. 47: Ryan Preece replaces AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28).

No. 95: Matt DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing for 2019. Leavine Family Racing also switches to Toyota beginning next year (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 97: Tanner Berryhill will compete full-time for Obaika Racing (announcement made Dec. 3)

CUP DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

AJ Allmendinger: He told NBC Sports on Nov. 17 that he didn’t have any races for 2019 lined up at the time.

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement that he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Jamie McMurrayHas yet to announce what he’ll do in 2019 but it won’t be a full-time ride in the No. 1 car at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Daniel Suarez: With Martin Truex Jr. taking over the No. 19 in 2019, Suarez is looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.” Suarez is the favorite for the No. 41 ride.

XFINITY DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

John Hunter NemechekRan limited schedule in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 this year. Ross Chastain will drive it full-time next year.

Ryan Truex: Was replaced at Kaulig Racing by Justin Haley.

Ryan ReedLost ride at Roush Fenway Racing after sponsor Lilly announced it was leaving the team (announcement made Oct. 15).

CREW CHIEF CHANGES

No. 3: Danny Stockman replaces Justin Alexander as Austin Dillon‘s crew chief in 2019 (move confirmed Nov. 26)

No. 11: Mike Wheeler will not return as Denny Hamlin‘s crew chief for 2019 (announcement made Nov. 16). No replacement has yet been announced.

No. 24: Chad Knaus replaces Darian Grubb as William Byron‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 48: Kevin Meendering replaces Chad Knaus as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 95: Mike Wheeler joins the team and replaces Jon Leonard, who moved back to Richard Childress Racing to be an engineer on Austin Dillon’s team.

XFINITY SERIES

ANNOUNCED CHANGES FOR 2019

No. 1: Noah Gragson replaces Elliott Sadler at JR Motorsports for 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 25).

No. 4: Blake Koch will take over this ride with JD Motorsports in 2019 (announcement made Dec. 4).

No. 11: Justin Haley replaces Ryan Truex at Kaulig Racing after two season in the Truck Series (announcement made Dec. 1).

No. 18: Jeffrey Earnhardt will compete in nine races for Joe Gibbs Racing (announcement made Nov. 10).

No. 22: Austin Cindric will drive full-time for Team Penske (announcement made Nov. 8).

No. 42: Chip Ganassi Racing signs Ross Chastain to drive the No. 42 full-time for 2019 (announcement made Nov. 9).

No. 98: Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to drive the team’s second Xfinity car and be a teammate to Cole Custer (announcement made Nov. 27).

RCR: Both Matt Tifft and Daniel Hemric will move up to Cup. Tyler Reddick moves from JR Motorsports to RCR for the 2019 season. Reddick’s car number, sponsor and crew chief will be announced later (announcement made Oct. 31).

Jeffrey Earnhardt to run select Xfinity races for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019

Photo: Xtreme Concepts
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Jeffrey Earnhardt will drive nine Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019, the team announced Saturday.

Xtreme Concepts will serve as the sponsor.

The grandson of NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt will make his debut in the No. 18 Toyota Supra on Feb. 16 in the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway. Details on the rest of his schedule will be announced before the start of the 2019 season.

“I’ve worked incredibly hard for this opportunity and I’ve got to thank Xtreme Concepts for making it happen,” said the 29-year-old Earnhardt in a statement. “You see the level of expertise Joe Gibbs Racing has and the caliber of equipment they bring to the racetrack every week. As a driver, it’s exactly where you want to be. It’s the best opportunity I’ve had in my career and I plan to make the most of it.”

“From the time we first came to NASCAR in 1992, we’ve always put forth maximum effort to have the best possible results on the racetrack,” said Coy Gibbs, JGR Vice Chairman and COO, in a statement. “Our Xfinity Series program is the perfect example of what happens when preparation meets execution. We’ve had both up-and-coming and veteran drivers achieve success in our race cars, and that success has translated to the partners they’ve represented. We think Jeffrey Earnhardt has the talent to win races and deliver strong results for Xtreme Concepts.”

Xtreme Concepts provides turnkey security solutions, along with training and technology integration to U.S. government, military and commercial clients on a global scale.

“We believe motorsports is an incredibly strong platform to highlight the many services Xtreme Concepts can provide, and we also believe in Jeffrey Earnhardt,” said Landon Ash, founder, Xtreme Concepts, in a statement. “I know firsthand how just having the opportunity to show what you can do is all you need to find success. It’s how we’ve grown Xtreme Concepts since our founding in 2008 to a worldwide leader in security concepts and solutions. Jeffrey has been an excellent representative for Xtreme Concepts and our brands like iK9, and through this endeavor with Joe Gibbs Racing we plan to grow together.”

Martin Truex Jr. explains frustration with Jimmie Johnson about Roval finish

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DOVER, Del. – Martin Truex Jr. explained his anger Saturday with Jimmie Johnson over Johnson’s actions on the final lap of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

“I was mad, of course,” Truex told NBCSN during a morning practice session that was canceled by rain. “It’s natural. It’s human to get mad in situations like that. That was a big race. That was a big day. We put so much effort into that and there were so many things surrounding that race that made it special to me and reasons that I wanted to win, mostly for my guys and the effort they put in, so yea, I was mad about the outcome and the way it went down.

“I was not mad at all, and I think people got the wrong impression, I was not mad at all about Jimmie trying to win. That’s his job. That’s what we all try to do every single weekend. He was trying to win the race. I get that.

“I was mad that he screwed up. I told him. I said, ‘I give you a lane,’ I got tight in Turn 4, NASCAR Turn 4 (on the oval). I was like, well I’m not going to slow down and block him, brake check him, whatever. I’m going to give him the inside lane because I don’t want him on my right side because if I give him the right side, he’s probably going to clean me out. I gave myself the best opportunity to win.”

Instead, Johnson locked his brakes entering the final chicane, spun and then made contact with Truex. Instead of winning – and scoring five playoff points – Truex finished 14th. Johnson fell from second to eighth and then was eliminated from title contention when Kyle Larson passed the stalled car of Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s less than 100 yards from the finish line. That put Larson, Aric Almirola and Johnson into a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots. Larson and Almirola advanced via the tiebreaker (best result in that round).

Johnson said he made a mistake in that chicane.

Friday, Johnson said that he would have done the same thing but made a couple of changes.

Jimmie Johnson: ‘My desire to win has never been stronger’

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DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson would go for the win entering the final chicane at the Charlotte Roval if he had to do it again.

“I still have got to make that move,” Johnson said Friday at Dover International Speedway. “I still got to try for it.

“I would have made a small brake bias adjustment, and I think I would have modulated the brakes a little bit different entering the corner. Looking back, I was a little lower than I typically was entering that braking zone and had a bit more steering wheel input in the car and that’s initially why the left front locked up.

“I would change a couple of things, but I don’t know how I don’t go for it.”

Even though Johnson was in a position to advance to the second round of the playoffs, he attempted to maneuver around leader Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap. Johnson spun after his brakes locked, lost six positions and finished eighth.

“It wasn’t this desperate move to try to pass him in that braking zone,” Johnson said. “My intent was to be alongside of him, one side or the other because I felt that would have tripped him enough to where I had a real shot on the exit of the corner to the start/finish line.”

Johnson was eliminated from title contention when Kyle Larson passed Jeffrey Earnhardt’s stalled car less than 100 yards from the finish line. That was the one position Larson needed to forge a three-way tie for the final two transfer spots with Aric Almirola and Johnson. Larson and Almirola advanced via a tiebreaker (best finish in the first round).

The result has provided a week’s worth of second-guessing of Johnson and the No. 48 team.

“I’ve thought about it a lot and what I would do differently,” he said. “I would just like to learn from my mistakes. I do feel bad for my team and the fact that we didn’t advance and how much we put into that, but countless text messages, phone calls, walking though the shop, they’ve all supported my decision to race for the win.

“The other piece that weighs on me … I feel bad for Martin and that No. 78 team. I hate that my mistake affected them and could impact their season to some degree. I don’t like that aspect to it, but it is racing and I know in my heart that it was a legitimate attempt at winning the race and a mistake was made. I didn’t go in there to try to move him out of the way and wreck him and create all of this havoc. I’ve moved on and did have a good week but there are a couple of things that still linger.”

Johnson comes to a track where he’s won a record 11 times and is the site of his most recent victory in June 2017.

“My desire to win has never been stronger,” said Johnson, who is on a career-long 52-race winless streak. “I’m happy last week that people were able to see that.

“But when I’ve been criticized about my commitment and desire while running 20th, this is the same fire has been there. I think it’s unfair to be judged by the performance on track. It’s a collective group that puts the car in position to win.

“We’re at my favorite race track and absolutely do I want to win the race. I will do everything in my power to win the race, but it takes a collective group to have the car, the pit stops, the strategy and I don’t know if this weekend is that weekend. But if there is a track I can make up a tenth (of a second) or two for the team, this would be one of them.”

Friday 5: Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being ‘bullied’ on the track

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Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being “bullied” on the track and says he’s “not going to take shit” from other competitors.

Earnhardt, who has had an indirect role in key moments in recent races, made his comments Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Dialed In” show.

“You don’t want to feel used, and I feel like we have been used here lately,” Earnhardt told host Claire B. Lang. “We’re tired of being the victims. Whether we start making the other people the victims, whatever it takes, but we don’t want to keep feeling like we’re being bullied and we feel like we are right now.”

Earnhardt’s latest frustration is with Daniel Hemric. They raced together into the final chicane of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. Earnhardt’s car spun after contact from Hemric’s car.

Earnhardt’s car stalled less than 100 yards from the finish line. That allowed Kyle Larson’s wrecked car to pass him and gain the one position he needed to advance to the second round, which begins this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

“I like to think that I race clean and give people room and then they do shit like that, it gets under your skin,” Earnhardt said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the contact from Hemric.

This marked the third time in the last four races that Earnhardt has had an impact on a race.

At Indianapolis, he and Landon Cassill wrecked, setting up the final caution that changed the race’s outcome.

Of that incident, Earnhardt said: “We went into the corner and his story and my story are two different things.”

That caution eliminated Denny Hamlin’s lead and allowed Brad Keselowski to pass Hamlin coming to the white flag and win.

A frustrated Hamlin said afterward: “Just those meaningless cautions at the end by drivers multiple laps down. What they’re doing crashing with three laps to go, I have no idea. It cost us the race.”

Earnhardt did not appreciate Hamlin’s comments.

“The meaningless driver comment was just not smart,” Earnhardt told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It shows a lack of respect for me or anyone else that are back there that are fighting to make a career out of this.”

At Richmond, Earnhardt caused the only caution of the race — other than the two stage breaks — after contact from Matt Kenseth. NASCAR penalized Kenseth for a commitment line violation and speeding entering the pits on Lap 321. His contact with Earnhardt led to a caution at Lap 327.

On the radio after the incident, Kenseth said: “Tell him, my bad. I drug up the splitter and hit. My bad. Tell him I’m sorry about that.”

Earnhardt was frustrated about that incident as well.

“He can say he was on the splitter if he wants … I don’t agree with what he says,” Earnhardt said.

“It does suck. These guys that feel they can pick on us and use us as a crutch to make their day better. Who knows. There have been several races we didn’t fire off that great, I was wishing for a caution. Maybe I’ll start doing the same. Maybe I’ll use them to get a caution so we can come in and work on our car and make it better.”

2. Manufacturer support

Throughout NASCAR’s explanation this week for deciding on a 2019 rules package that includes a tapered spacer to limit engines to 550 horsepower at many big tracks and 750 horsepower at other tracks was how that could help entice more manufacturers to enter the sport.

It’s no secret that NASCAR would like at least another manufacturer at the Cup level.

“It’s not just today,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said about the impact of the new rules package. “It kind of falls into where we want to go with the next Gen car.

“A lot of that is going to be based on new technology in the car and a lot of that is going to be based on efficiencies, potentially for the team owners, (manufacturers), putting an engine in place from a horsepower level that could be more relevant in the future that could attract new (manufacturers), which is key and make the owners that we have in this sport healthier and also attract new owners.”

A new manufacturer or manufacturers could be critical to the sport. Even with the charter system, teams must still rely heavily on sponsorship to fund teams. Additional manufacturers could provide greater financial support for charter teams and potentially balance the competition.

Toyota, which backs five teams, has won 12 of 29 races this season. Ford, which backs more than twice as many teams as Toyota, has won 15 of 29 races. Chevrolet has two wins this season (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500 and Chase Elliott at Watkins Glen).

O’Donnell said that NASCAR is hearing from manufacturers investigating the series.

“Lot more of our calls are being answered, a lot more meetings are taking place with potential new (manufacturers),” he said. “I think where we landed on 2019 sets us up well for the immediate future but long-term as well.”

We’ll find out.

3. Step forward

Chase Briscoe’s victory in last weekend’s Xfinity race at the Charlotte Roval was another key moment for Ford and its driver development program.

Briscoe was the first driver signed to the multi-tiered program Ford announced in January 2017.

Briscoe and Austin Cindric joined Brad Keselowski Racing’s Camping World Truck Series team in 2017. Each won a race.

Cindric is in the Xfinity playoffs this season. Briscoe isn’t because he’s not running the full schedule. Other Ford development drivers are Cole Custer, who also is in the Xfinity playoffs and has one career series win, and Ty Majeski.

“It won’t pay dividends until they actually get to the Cup level because that’s ultimately the goal of what we want to do,” said Mark Rushbrook, Global Director, Ford Performance, of the driver development program. “But we are happy with the start that we’ve had to our development program over the last two years and look forward to continuing to expand that,”

4. Betting at the track

With sports betting legal in Delaware, fans will be able to bet for the first time at a NASCAR track this weekend.

Dover International Speedway will have two kiosks accepting sports bets.

Sunday’s race will have extra gambling options, including bets on driver vs. driver, number of cautions and if the winning car number is an even number or odd number, among other prop bets.

Betting won’t be limited to Saturday’s Xfinity and Sunday’s Cup race. Fans can bet on pro football, baseball, college football, MMA and other sports at the kiosks.

5. Say what?

Consider this: Jimmie Johnson has more wins at Dover (11) than 28 other Cup drivers entered this weekend have in their Cup career.

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