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Parker Kligerman will not return to No. 96 Cup car

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Parker Kligerman said Friday that he will not drive the No. 96 Cup car for Gaunt Brothers Racing this season.

Kligerman ran 14 races for the team last year, finishing a season-high 15th in the Daytona 500 and also in the fall Talladega playoff race. Kligerman ran four races with the team in 2018, placing a season-best 23rd at Sonoma.

“It was a super cool opportunity,” Kligerman told NBC Sports of driving for Gaunt Brothers Racing. “I didn’t think I was going to get a second shot at Cup. Then I had that opportunity at the Coke 600 (in 2018 with the team) and last year we did way more races than I ever thought we would do and got to be a part of the Toyota family.

“I felt like we really, as race team, improved and improved and improved and got to where our last race at Texas was one of our best races of the year. We were just solid, speed-wise and execution and all that stuff. It was cool to see that and be a part of that. That’s why I did that. I felt like we were building something.

“(Owner Marty Gaunt) has been great to me, super open to the process in the offseason. In my position, being a driver that doesn’t have any personal funding, you always know, especially being a part-time driver, you’re on borrowed time. I’m very happy for them. I wish them all the best.”

Kligerman said he does not have any rides for 2020 in any of NASCAR national series. Kligerman is a NASCAR on NBC broadcaster and co-host of the show “Proving Grounds” on NBCSN.

The team has not announced its plans for the 2020 season. Daniel Suarez, linked to the team, has not announced his plans for this year after losing his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing after last season.   

Gaunt Brothers Racing debuted in 2017, running one race with D.J. Kennington. The team ran 22 races the following year between Kligerman, Kennington, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Jesse Little. The team ran 15 races last year with Drew Herring running once along with Kligerman’s 14 starts.

Decade in Review: Best NASCAR finishes of the 2010s

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From Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010 to Sunday Nov. 17, 2019, there were 3,564 days that went by on the calendar.

In that time span, NASCAR’s three national series held 924 points races.

That’s a lot of races, but unfortunately not every one had a memorable finish.

What were the best race finishes of the 2010s?

NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers compiled 21 memorable finishes from across the decade and then voted on them.

More: 10 most memorable quotes of the 2010s

More: 10 best drivers of the 2010s

More: 10 most memorable moments and stories of the 2010s

Here are the resulting 10 best finishes in NASCAR from the last decade:

 

1. Watkins Glen International, Aug. 12, 2012

To borrow a phrase from “Saturday Night Live’s” famous club critic, Stefon, this finish had everything.

On the last lap around the New York road course, the rumble began when the second place car of Brad Keselowski made contact with and spun leader Kyle Busch in the esses. Then it was on. Keselowski, the eventual Cup champion, and Marcos Ambrose, the defending race winner, took part in nothing short of a brawl, aided by a track coated in oil that had leaked onto the surface.

The two drivers went off course twice in the bus stop, kicking up a cloud of dirt.  Ambrose slid going into Turn 5 and recovered enough to deliver a shot to Keselowski’s rear bumper, opening the door for Ambrose. Keselowski then returned the favor in Turn 6, sending Ambrose off course and setting up a drag race to the final turn. Ambrose’s position on the inside line prevailed, as he beat Keselowski through the final right-hander and went on to claim his final Cup Series win.

On this day, the best club in New York was called “The Glen.”

2. Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Sept. 30, 2018

The drama from the last lap of the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400 came in the final turn and ensured the Roval’s historic Cup debut would not be forgotten.

Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. led Jimmie Johnson, who hadn’t won (and remains winless) since the June 2017 race at Dover. As they approached the frontstretch chicane, Johnson moved to Truex’s left side for a pass. But Johnson’s brakes locked up and sent his No. 48 into a spin that ended with it hitting Truex’s right rear, which turned the No. 78 around.

That’s when Ryan Blaney swooped in to take the checkered flag and score his only win of the year.

Almost forgotten in the chaos was Kyle Larson. Larson had been limping his battered No. 42 Chevrolet around the track following a wreck. He bounced off the wall twice in the final turns and passed the prone car of Jeffrey Earnhardt right before crossing the start-finish line. That gave Larson a 25th-place finish. That one extra spot placed Larson in a tie with Johnson and Aric Almirola for a transfer spot to the Round of 12. But the tiebreaker did not favor Johnson.

3. Chicagoland Speedway, July 1, 2018

Usually when the two frontrunners in a race make contact twice in the last lap and the second contact results in the first-place car going into a slide and the second-place car pancaking the wall, it’s not likely you’ll see a 1-2 finish between those same cars.

Don’t tell that to Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

This last-lap duel between them included Larson’s failed “Slide Job!” on Busch exiting Turn 2 and the first contact between them.

Then in Turn 3, Busch gave a push to Larson’s rear bumper, which sent the No. 42 into a slide as Busch contacted the wall.

Thanks to a 55-lap green flag run to end the race, the third-place car of Kevin Harvick couldn’t overtake either as Busch won and Larson finished second.

(Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

4. Daytona 500, Feb. 21, 2016

The Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing had the front of the field locked down for most of the 2016 Daytona 500. That was true right up to the checkered flag.

Denny Hamlin was fourth at the white flag before a push from Kevin Harvick in the outside lane propelled Hamlin to the rear bumper of leader Matt Kenseth entering Turn 3. Kenseth’s attempt to block a move by Hamlin to the inside resulted in slight contact that had Kenseth successfully avoid a spin or worse.

That set up a drag race between Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. and Hamlin winning his first Daytona 500 by .010 seconds, the closest finish in race history.

5.(tie) Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 25, 2012

There’s last-lap passes for the win and then there’s what James Buescher did in the 2012 Xfinity Series season opener.

Buescher, driving the No. 30 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports, was in 11th place as the field navigated through Turn 4 for the last time.

Buescher technically passed the 10 cars in front of him. In reality, he avoided a really big wreck.

It would be the only Xfinity win for the cousin of Chris Buescher. James would go on to win that season’s Truck Series title, earning four of his six career Truck wins.

Also, what’s up with cars sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and wacky Daytona wins?

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

5. (tie) Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 28, 2018

Martin Truex Jr. was two turns away from winning his first short track race in the Cup Series.

Then Joey Logano pulled the rug out from underneath him.

After a spirited six-lap battle between the drivers, the playoff race came down to the final two turns. Logano gave Truex’s rear bumper a shove, drove underneath him and the two made contact as they exited Turn 4. Truex got sideways, Logano won and Truex finished third after Denny Hamlin snuck by him.

The win locked Logano into the Championship 4.

Three weeks later, Logano would pass Truex late in the season finale to win the race and his first Cup title.

7. Sonoma Raceway, July 26, 2016

If Tony Stewart was going to get his 49th and final Cup Series win on any type of track and in any fashion, it had to be a road course and it had to involve some bent fenders.

Stewart earned the eighth and final road course win of his career on this day after a last-lap duel with Denny Hamlin. Stewart lost the lead on the back half of the course. But opportunity presented itself in Sonoma’s signature hairpin turn.

Hamlin wheel hopped as he entered the turn, which left the inside open to Stewart. He took advantage and while Stewart passed Hamlin, he delivered an authoritative door slam to Hamlin’s car before racing to the checkered flag.

8. Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nov. 20, 2016

Jimmie Johnson only led three laps all night in the 2016 season finale. They were the only three that mattered.

Johnson, who started from the rear due to failing pre-race inspection, only took the lead on the overtime restart, taking it from Kyle Larson. Johnson then held off Larson and Kevin Harvick to claim the win and his record tying seventh Cup title.

9. Auto Club Speedway, March 24, 2013

Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin made contact multiple times during the last lap around the 2-mile track in Fontana, California.

The last instance allowed Kyle Busch to streak by on the outside for the win as Hamlin slid toward the inside wall and Logano scraped along the outside wall. Hamlin’s car would impact the wall nose-first with the incident injuring his back.

Hamlin would sit out the next four races before returning at Talladega.

 

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

10. Daytona 500, Feb. 20, 2011

Trevor Bayne might be the epitome of a one hit wonder in NASCAR.

A day after turning 20, Bayne made his second career Cup start. It came in “The Great American Race” driving for the historic Wood Brothers Racing.

On the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Bayne received a pushes from Bobby Labonte and Carl Edwards over the last two laps.

Bayne would not win again in 187 Cup starts, the last start coming in 2018.

Honorable Mentions: 2018 Daytona 500, 2011 Coca-Cola 600, 2016 Truck Series race at Canada, 2015 Martinsville Cup playoff race and 2015 Truck Series race at Charlotte.

Now’s your chance to vote. What is the best finish of the 2010s?

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Decade in Review: Most memorable NASCAR moments of the 2010s

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The NASCAR of 2010 and the NASCAR of 2019 offer completely different landscapes, from different postseason formats, rules packages, series sponsors and a rapidly changing driver pool driven by the “youth movement.”

A lot happened over the last 10 years, but what are the moments that defined the sport in the 2010s?

Here are 10 moments and stories as voted on by NBC Sports’ writers.

 

1. Aug. 5, 2018

It was a Sunday that began a new era for NASCAR.

Just after 5 p.m. ET, NASCAR’s soon-to-be-voted most popular driver, Chase Elliott, claimed his first career Cup Series win after a late-race duel with Martin Truex Jr. at Watkins Glen International.

The victory on the New York road course came in Elliott’s 99th Cup start and deep into his third full-time season of competition.

Roughly two hours later and more than 300 miles away in Sag Harbor Village, New York, NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France was arrested on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance.

France took a leave absence and later pled guilty to the DWI charge. He was replaced in his position by his uncle, Jim France, one of the sons of NASCAR founder William H.G. France.

Jim France is now the permanent CEO and Chairman of NASCAR.

In the past year, while staying out of the spotlight, Jim France has overseen the integration of the sanctioning body with its track operation arm, International Speedway Corp., the merging of NASCAR with ARCA (which goes into full effect next year) and the Cup Series’ transition to a new premier sponsor model starting next year.

Elliott has won six times in the last two seasons and has been voted most popular driver both years.

 2. Johnson ties Petty and Earnhardt, Nov. 20, 2016

Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying seventh Cup Series title did not come easily.

After starting the season finale from the rear of the field due to a pre-race inspection failure, the Hendrick Motorsports’ driver did not lead in the season finale until an overtime restart to finish the race.

He led the final three laps and solidified his name as one of the greatest to drive a stock car, alongside Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Johnson’s seven titles are spread out over 11 years and multiple playoff formats.

3. Playoff elimination format introduced, 2014

NASCAR unveiled a new post-season format in 2014 that ensured the championship would be decided among four drivers in the final race of the season.

A field of 16 drivers are now whittled down over three rounds with the Championship 4 settled on after the Round of 8. In the finale, the highest placing driver is the champion.

Kevin Harvick claimed the first title under this format, earning his first championship in the process. So far all six championships under the elimination format have been claimed by the winner of the season finale.

Kyle Busch’s 2019 title made him the first repeat champion of the playoff era.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)

4. “Spingate,” Sept. 7, 2013

 Richmond Raceway was the site of the 2013 Cup regular season finale and a race manipulation scandal that had far reaching consequences.

Michael Waltrip Racing was at the center of “Spingate,” which got its name from the alleged intentional spin conducted by Clint Bowyer in the closing laps of the race, one part of a plan intended to get Bowyer’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr., into the playoffs.

The plan, while initially successful, eventually backfired.

NASCAR fined MWR $300,000, the largest fine in the sport’s history, and docked Bowyer and Truex’s teams 50 points each. Truex was knocked from playoff eligibility and replaced by Ryan Newman.

Further controversy over alleged coordination between Team Penkse and Front Row Motorsports resulted in Jeff Gordon being added as a 13th driver to the playoff field the following weekend.

As a result of the controversy, NAPA Auto Parts withdrew from sponsoring Truex’s team after the season and began sponsoring Chase Elliott at JR Motorsports (and eventually at Hendrick Motorsports).

Truex wound up at Furniture Row Racing in 2014 and three years later won the Cup championship with the single-car team.

Michael Waltrip Racing closed its doors after the 2015 season.

5. Tony Stewart’s final championship run, 2011

 When the 2011 Chase for the Cup began, two-time champion Tony Stewart entered the postseason with no wins and believing his team was a waste of space in the playoff field.

Then Stewart reeled off five wins in 10 races, including the season finale in Miami, where he beat Carl Edwards and clinched the title in a tiebreaker over Edwards.

Stewart remains the only Cup driver to earn their first win of the season in the playoffs and go on to win the championship.

(Getty Images)

6. NASCAR returns to dirt, July 24, 2013

Arguably one of the most anticipated NASCAR events since the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series returned NASCAR to its roots in 2013 with its first race at Eldora Speedway, the dirt track owned by Tony Stewart.

Austin Dillon claimed the win in the inaugural event and other winners of the Eldora Dirt Derby include Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe.

7. Juan Pablo Montoya, a Jet Dryer and a Tweet, Feb. 27, 2012

Twitter as a social media platform has existed since 2006. But NASCAR Twitter™ came into its own late on a Monday night during the rain delayed Daytona 500.

With 40 laps left the and the race under caution, something broke on the No. 42 Chevrolet of Juan Pablo Montoya as his car entered Turn 3. His car then slammed into a jet dryer, causing a fiery explosion, spilling gas across the track and destroying Montoya’s car.

No one was hurt, but it led to scenes of track workers cleaning up the mess with Tide, drivers racing each other to a port-a-potty and the cherry on top, Brad Keselowski’s tweet from inside his No. 2 Dodge during the red flag.

Keselowski sent the tweet at 9:58 p.m. ET and NASCAR Twitter was born.

8. “Five Time,” Nov. 21, 2010

Jimmie Johnson got his decade off to a notable start by accomplishing a feat no one had done before or will likely repeat.

Johnson successfully won his fifth-consecutive Cup title, two more than the previous best feat of three straight by Cale Yarborough (1976-78).

Next season will be Johnson’s final full-time Cup campaign and he’ll try to start the next decade just like he started this one, by making some championship history with his eighth title.

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

9 (tie). Danica Patrick’s Daytona 500 pole, Feb. 17, 2013

Danica Patrick’s NASCAR career ended after 252 national series starts, the last coming in the 2018 Daytona 500.

Patrick never won in her time in a stock car, and the long-term impact of her time in NASCAR and her popularity likely won’t be evident for a while.

But there’s one thing that can never be taken away from her time in the sport: her pole for the 2013 Daytona 500.

That’s how Patrick started her first full-time season in Cup, by becoming the first woman to win the pole for a Cup Series race.

 9 (tie). Trevor Bayne’s only Cup Series win – Feb. 20, 2011

Trevor Bayne only won once in his Cup Series career and boy did he make it count.

The day after his 20th birthday, driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford in his second career start, Bayne survived the second green-white-checkered finish attempt of the Daytona 500 and won the “Great American Race.”

Bayne would make 187 Cup Starts, with the last coming in 2018 with Roush Fenway Racing.

9 (tie). Enter the Roval – Sept. 30, 2018

Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and NASCAR couldn’t have asked for a better debut for the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

It all came down to the last lap and the final turn on the new road course, which combined Charlotte’s traditional oval and the revamped infield circuit, the first of its kind in NASCAR.

Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson made contact and spun while racing for the lead, Ryan Blaney stole the win and Kyle Larson drove his battered No. 42 Chevy by the prone car of Jeffrey Earnhardt to pick up the one spot necessary to force a tiebreaker with Johnson and Aric Almirola and advance to the second round of the playoff.

Come back tomorrow for the best race finishes of the 2010s.

Now it’s your turn to vote. What was NASCAR’s most memorable moment of the 2010s?

 

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Jack Hawksworth’s unexpected NASCAR adventure

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When last week started, Jack Hawksworth didn’t know he would end it by making his NASCAR debut.

That changed Tuesday morning when the 28-year-old British sports car driver received a text from a friend at Toyota letting Hawksworth know a seat was waiting for him at Joe Gibbs Racing, a result of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s departure.

Hawksworth was in Chicago, on a brief vacation from his full-time job competing in IMSA before he was going to fly home to England for the first time in weeks.

Instead, he found himself flying to Charlotte, North Carolina, later on Tuesday. Waiting for him was a couple of hours in the Toyota Racing Development simulator, a seat fitting, a NASCAR mandated drug test and a JGR crash course in the world of NASCAR.

It was “completely, absolutely nuts,” Hawksworth told NBC Sports of his whirlwind week. It was all made possible due to his work with Lexus and TRD over the last three years in IMSA.

Hawksworth said a potential NASCAR opportunity “had been talked about” earlier in the year “but it obviously had never come to fruition at any point.”

Three days after receiving the text message, Hawksworth arrived in the garage at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a track he’d competed on in IndyCar and just four months earlier in IMSA, where he had won in the GTD class.

But walking into the NASCAR garage for the first time – for his first NASCAR event in any capacity – brought about a feeling he hadn’t had since late 2011 when he first visited the U.S.

“It literally felt like I was just arriving in America again,” said Hawksworth.

The Basics

With the help of crew chief Ben Beshore, the rest of the No. 18 team and his teammates in Christopher Bell and Brandon Jones, Hawksworth spent two practice sessions Friday figuring out how to handle a stock car.

“I was able to jump into basically a plug-and-play situation were everything was ready to go,” Hawksworth said. “The mechanics were on the ball with everything. Ben was able to get me up to speed with everything, explain how everything worked within the series.”

Hawksworth described the “huge difference” between NASCAR and what he’s used to driving in a Lexus sports car around the same track.

“Suddenly the braking zones were double the length of what I’m used to and the corner speeds were much lower,” Hawksworth said. “I found the car quite easy to overdrive, so I have to basically rein it in a little bit, so I have to slow myself down and kind of back up my entries to the corners and try to drive to the limit of the vehicle.”

He also had to get acclimated to a manual H-pad transmission.

That’s one of the areas Bell and Jones provided insight on, as well as how to navigate the pit road speed limit.

“It really was a good atmosphere within the team,” Hawksworth said. “The accommodation of the three of us really helped us lift our game up.”

It all led to Saturday, where a “confident” Hawksworth put the No. 18 Toyota on the front row, qualifying second to Austin Cindric.

“I didn’t really have any pre-conceived idea of how the race would play out or how qualifying would play out,” Hawksworth said. “I was just trying to approach it with an open mind and do the best job that I could.”

As the field rode around the track during the race’s warm-up laps, Hawksworth experienced a surreal moment that reminded him of his childhood.

Jack Hawksworth navigates Mid-Ohio. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

“I used to have a game which I had on my computer when I was little, I think it was ‘NASCAR 95’ or something like that,” Hawksworth said. “The view inside the car as I was doing the warm-up lap reminded me of that computer game, especially when you got Austin’s No. 22 accelerating next to me and it would pop up just outside my left window net.”

Welcome to NASCAR

Once the green flag dropped, Hawksworth was all business.

“I knew it was a 75-lap race. I just wanted to get through the first lap and hold position,” he said. “Once I got through Turn 1, I just wanted to settle into a rhythm really, try to evaluate how the car was, just like I would in any other race.”

It wasn’t a flawless first stage for Hawksworth. On Lap 15, while trying to hold third place, he was hit from behind by Cole Custer in the final turn, which resulted in both cars going around, but they were able to continue.

Hawksworth finished outside the top 10 in the first stage after most of the leaders stopped to pit before the stage concluded.

He would have a much more enjoyable second stage. On the initial restart, he made a three-wide pass to move into fourth.

Two restarts later on Lap 37, Hawksworth cleared Bell for the lead entering Turn 3 as a multi-car wreck unfolded in Turn 2. Three laps later, he claimed the stage win under caution.

“I felt like I was beginning to understand the restarts,” Hawksworth said. “I was beginning to understand how the other guys were racing. In the end it felt like we were in position to compete and have a go at trying to win the race.”

Then the day fell apart.

A slow pit stop resulted in Hawksworth restarting deep in the field where the racing was like a “dogfight.”

He went off course on Lap 67 while ninth and got grass on his grille, which would take a toll on his front brakes.

“End of the race kind of a bit of a write off,” said Hawksworth, who brought the No. 18 Toyota home in 15th.

He didn’t have much time to stick around. Hawksworth left the track for a two-and-a-half hour drive to Detroit for a seven-hour flight to England, followed by the drive to his apartment in Bradford, where he discussed his weekend via phone.

At home, he took the time to watch his NASCAR debut on TV, where he got a kick out of seeing “cars going around with half the body work missing.”

What stood out to him days removed from the event?

“I really enjoyed the experience and it was just something completely unique and completely different atmosphere to anything that I’m used to,” Hawksworth said. “To pinpoint one weird thing is difficult because everything felt strange.”

Hawksworth is definitely open to stepping into the NASCAR world again if the opportunity arises. It won’t be next weekend at Road America, as that conflicts with an IMSA race. Matt DiBenedetto will be driving the No. 18.

But when NASCAR races on the Charlotte Roval on Sept. 28-29, there’s no IMSA conflict.

“I feel like I’d go in there with experience and with a race underneath I think we could go in and be serious contenders to win,” Hawksworth said of a hypothetical second start. “I’d relish the chance to have another crack at it.”

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Matt DiBenedetto to drive Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity car at Road America

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Matt DiBenedetto announced Tuesday that he will drive the No. 18 Xfinity car for Joe Gibbs Racing next weekend at Road America.

Jeffrey Earnhardt was scheduled to run that car at Road America before parting ways with sponsor iK9 on Aug. 7.

This will be DiBenedetto’s first Xfinity start since 2016 when he ran 19 of the season’s 33 races. He last ran at Road America in 2014, finishing 11th for car owner Curtis Key.

DiBenedetto will be able to run Road America because the Aug. 24 race comes on the final weekend off for Cup.