Daytona 500

Bubba Wallace
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Bubba Wallace feeling positive after reunion with crew chief

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On Jerry Baxter’s first day as crew chief of the famous Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 car, he called Bubba Wallace into his office.

He had some questions for the driver.

“It almost felt like a principal’s office type visit,” Wallace recalled Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “He was like, ‘Hey man, looking at these notes, some of these races, you guys really didn’t have the best races, just by looking at setup notes … Do you know why we ran this way or why you ran this?'”

The grilling from Baxter made Wallace “excited” for the 2020 Cup season, which is just over four weeks away.

“Because he’s going through, doing everything that he can already, as a crew chief would and should, but just seeing certain things that stick out to him that like ‘Ah, I don’t really know about that,'” Wallace said. “So we can go to some of these places and try new changes, new setups, something that’s totally different, something that’s kind of Jerry Baxter’s style.”

It’s a style Wallace is familiar with and which proved successful for him early in his NASCAR career.

Baxter was Wallace’s crew chief at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series from 2013-14. They won five races, including four in 2014. Baxter joins RPM after leading Brett Moffitt to four wins in the Truck Series last year at GMS Racing.

Baxter is reunited with the 26-year-old Wallace ahead of Wallace’s third full-time campaign driving the No. 43 Chevrolet.

“I don’t think there’s been a birthday or a holiday that’s gone by where we haven’t communicated with each other or just random times throughout the week,” Wallace said. “I keep my boat at his house. I see him usually about every weekend. Any day we have off throughout the summer … Or he’ll send me a picture right before I climb in the race car and say ‘Hey, thanks for letting me take your boat out.’ It’s good to have that relationship off and away from the race track, then once we get to the race track we know kind of how to work with each other. It’s just a matter of going back to old files and digging up that relationship.”

Together Wallace and Baxter will try improve on a 2019 season where Wallace only had one top-10 finish, a third-place result in the Brickyard 400. That was down from three top 10s in his rookie year. He placed 28th in the standings both years.

But with Baxter’s process at play, Wallace is allowing himself to be positive about his prospects in 2020, which is unusual for him.

“I’m not really the one to carry a lot of optimism,” Wallace said. “I like to keep it real and then be realistic about everything. Going into this year I’ve said it to many people, that I’m very optimistic about this season, I feel good about it. It’s the best I’ve felt about a race season in a long time. It’s going to be fun when we go to Daytona.”

When the Daytona 500 arrives on Feb. 16, it will be Wallace’s 77th Cup Series start and his third start in the “Great American Race.”

But for Baxter, who has been a crew chief in NASCAR off and on since 1986, including 12 Cup races, it will be his first Daytona 500 calling the shots atop a pit box.

Wallace gave Baxter some advice on how to approach the Daytona 500 experience recently over dinner with him and his wife.

“Him and I are kind of the same,” Wallace said. “We both love racing, but we never had dreams of being where we were. It just kind of worked out. We’re here together, we met and crossed paths. God put us in situations to help us work together and grow together.

“I told him, ‘No matter what, when you get down to Daytona … you’ve been on the Truck and Xfinity level for a while, but when you get to Daytona and you get to experience your first Daytona 500, it’s the coolest thing ever … don’t forget to set aside some time for yourself to be able to take in the moment, whether it’s race day, whether it’s the middle of week down there, whatever it is because there’s only one first time Daytona 500.’

“Obviously, mine was pretty remarkable, but I want Jerry to kind of sit back, relax, take it all in and enjoy the show. … If you can, separate yourself from your job for a split second and just kind of put yourself in a third-person perspective and see everything around that’s going on.”

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Kaulig Racing, Justin Haley will attempt to make Daytona 500

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Kaulig Racing announced Friday it and driver Justin Haley will attempt to make next month’s Daytona 500, which would be the team’s first Cup Series race.

Kaulig Racing, which competes full-time in the Xfinity Series, will field Haley in the No. 16 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet.

Without a charter, Haley is not guaranteed a spot in the 500.

Haley drives the No. 11 Chevy full-time for Kaulig in the Xfinity Series. Haley will try to make the “Great American Race” after his surprise upset win in last July’s rain-shortened Cup Series race at Daytona. 

“I am eager to try and qualify for the Daytona 500,” Haley said in a press release. “It is an honor for me to compete for a starting spot in Kaulig Racing’s first NASCAR Cup Series race. The F.O.E. has been with me since 2016. The Eagles were on my car when I won in July at Daytona, so it’s a great fit for them to be back on my car as we try to lock ourselves into the Daytona 500.”

Kaulig Racing has been competing in the Xfinity Series since 2016. It will field three entries in the Xfinity Series season opener with Haley, Ross Chastain and A.J. Allmendinger. Chastain won last July’s Xfinity race at Daytona for the team’s first NASCAR victory.

”I am super excited to attempt not only our first NASCAR Cup Series race, but our first Daytona 500!” said team owner Matt Kaulig in a press release. “To be competing at the World Center of Racing on the main stage is incredible, especially for our team that began just four years ago. I have all the confidence in the world that Justin Haley will make everyone at Kaulig Racing proud and truly let everyone know that Kaulig Racing is here to compete.”

David Ragan to compete in Daytona 500 for Rick Ware Racing

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David Ragan is back.

Well, at least for one race. The two-time Cup Series winner who retired from full-time Cup competition at the end of 2019 announced Friday he will contend in the Daytona 500 next month. He will drive the No. 36 Ford for Rick Ware Racing.

Ragan will be sponsored by Select Blinds and Speedy Cash. Select Blinds sponsored him in a few races last year at Front Row Motorsports.

The No. 36 was fielded by Front Row Motorsports in 2019, but the team scaled down to two cars for 2020 after the departure of Matt Tifft and his sponsorship. Front Row Motorsports confirmed to NBC Sports that Ragan’s car will be prepped by the team and the No. 36 will have a Rick Ware Racing charter, guaranteeing it entry in the 500.

Both of Ragan’s Cup Series wins came on superspeedways. He won the July race at Daytona in 2011. That was followed in 2013 when he earned Front Row Motorsports’ first Cup win at Talladega.

 

Kyle Larson ready to fly to Chili Bowl, Australia and Daytona

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Fresh off an 11-day trip over the holidays where he raced midget cars in New Zealand, Kyle Larson will do even more frequent flying over the next month to race.

Now that he’s back in the U.S. – he was at Daytona Beach International Speedway on Thursday to take part in a sponsorship announcement – Larson heads to Tulsa, Oklahoma on Sunday to spend the next week preparing for and racing midget cars in the annual Chili Bowl Nationals.

As soon as the checkered flag falls in Tulsa for the final time on January 18, Larson will once again be hopping a plane and flying back across the Pacific Ocean to compete in several sprint car races in Australia.

Then it’s back across the ocean and very little rest afterward as Larson will be back to his regular job, preparing for the season-opening Daytona 500 on February 16.

Larson talked about his upcoming expeditions Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track.”

Here are some of the highlights:

On the Chili Bowl: “It’s definitely tough to describe. … It’s one of the biggest races everywhere. Nothing I’ve been to is like the Chili Bowl. It’s all in one building. There’s 350 competitors there, all the fans and trailers are in one building. It’s pretty incredible, the atmosphere and parties are some of the funnest times of the year. … And having Tony Stewart out there on the tractor on the racing surface and multiple grooves to race on, gosh, there’s just no other event like it. You can’t really explain it to somebody and give a good idea. They just have to go for themselves and experience it. Definitely any fan that’s never been definitely should (go) at least once in a lifetime.”

Christopher Bell has won the Chili Bowl the last three years. How do you beat him this year? “Our car has been really good ever since I got my own midget. We’ve only lost one time in it. … Christopher is obviously an amazing driver and you can never count him out. I think it’s going to be a little tougher this year maybe than years past. We’re less than a week away so we’ll get a good idea of who’s fast this Monday morning (in practice).”

Look back on last season, when you had your career-best finish in Cup (sixth place) and also won the $1 million prize in the All-Star Race at Charlotte: “If you could almost forget about the first 10 races, it was a pretty good year. We had some bad luck and blown tires and stuff like that, and mistakes on my part and crashes, but after the first 10 we finally found some momentum. Winning the All-Star Race kind of turned our season around, we became more consistent and started getting more top-five and top-10 finishes. Obviously, you want to make the final four and give yourself a chance for the championship, but it was pretty good and hopefully this year we can be better. I know we can. We ended better than where we began last year. Our cars are better, our team is better. If we can start off the Daytona 500 with how we were performing at the end of the year, hopefully we can contend for more wins and contend for a championship.”

Where does the team need to improve the most? “Every area needs to get a little bit better. If every area on this race team can get better, we can contend more often. If we can get everything better and I limit my mistakes and limit mistakes on pit road, I think we’ll run better and be in the top 10 a lot more. … I feel like the last two-thirds of the season I was a much smarter racer and that really helped us out. We just have to be smarter.”

Thoughts on this year’s Daytona 500, which will be your seventh: “It’s definitely one that’s tricky. Everybody gets caught up in a wreck and we seem to get caught up more often. When I ran out of fuel (on the last lap of the 2017 Daytona 500), that was definitely heartbreaking. I’m hoping this year we can get it done. If we can just not get in a crash, we leave ourselves a better opportunity.”

There are devastating fires currently throughout Australia. Are you still planning on racing there after the Chili Bowl? “They’ve been racing there since October and even with the fires going on, that doesn’t seem to be affecting the racing down there at all. You hate to see the damage that’s been done in that country, but the races are still on as scheduled. I haven’t got an email that my flight’s cancelled, so I’m going.”

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Ganassi, AdventHealth deal includes Daytona 500, Coke 600 starts for Ross Chastain

Ross Chastain
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Chip Ganassi Racing announced an expanded relationship with sponsor AdventHealth Thursday, that will include sponsorship in four Cup Series races in 2020.

The deal will see the health system on Kyle Larson‘s No. 42 Chevrolet in the Feb. 9 Busch Clash and in the Oct. 18 playoff race at Kansas Speedway.

It will also sponsor Ross Chastain in starts in the Feb. 16 Daytona 500 and the May 24 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with Chastain driving the No. 77 Chevrolet as part of a relationship with Spire Motorsports. CGR will prepare Chastain’s car in those races.

Chastain, who will compete full-time in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig Racing, continues to be a CGR development driver after he signed with the team in 2018.

“To have the opportunity to run the Daytona 500 is awesome, and it’s great to do it this year with AdventHealth on board my car,” Chastain said in a press release. “I’ve only had one start in the Daytona 500 (finished 10th in 2019 with Premium Motorsports), and can’t wait to run that race again in what I know will be a competitive car. I’m also looking forward to racing the Coca-Cola 600. That’s another iconic race that all of us want to win.”

Chastain, a Florida native, won the Xfinity Series race at Daytona last July for his second career Xfinity win.

AdventHealth has been a partner of CGR since 2016. It sponsored Jamie McMurray in last year’s Busch Clash and Kurt Busch in last year’s Fall race at Kansas. It also sponsored Larson when he won last year’s All-Star Race.