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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).

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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Matt Tifft to drive third car for Front Row Motorsports in 2019

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Front Row Motorsports will field a third Cup car in 2019 driven by Matt Tifft, the team announced Tuesday.

Tifft, 22, makes the move to Cup after two full-time seasons in Xfinity, one with Joe Gibbs Racing and one with Richard Childress Racing.

Tifft has 77 Xfinity starts since 2015 with no wins, nine top fives and 38 top 10s. He finished seventh and sixth in the point standings.

Tifft joins Michael McDowell and David Ragan at Front Row Motorsports.

Sponsors and crew chief pairings will be announced at a later date.

Tifft will drive the No. 36 Ford, a number which has special meaning to him.

“I drove earlier in my career under Ken Schrader (in ARCA), that was his number back in the day,” Tifft said in a live video announcement on NASCAR’s YouTube page. “Obviously it fits into the 30 series of numbers for Front Row Motorsports. For him being my early mentor, the coincidence of that being my number now is really cool.”

David Ragan and Michael McDowell compete against each other in 2018. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Tifft will compete for Rookie of the Year against Ryan Preece and former RCR teammate Daniel Hemric.

In August, a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of BK Racing’s assets, including its charter, to FRM. The No. 23 team completed the season under the BK Racing banner, as required by the charter.

Owned by Bob Jenkins, FRM debuted in Cup in 2005 when it made 13 starts with seven drivers. It didn’t compete in a majority of the races with one driver until 2009 with John Andretti (34 starts).

David Gilliland was the first driver to start all 36 races for the team in 2011. Gilliland and Ragan were full-time in 2012 and the team has had two full-time cars each year since, culminating in Ragan and McDowell as its drivers in 2018.

“We’ve made it clear in recent years that it was our intent to continue to invest in NASCAR and expand to a three-car team,” Jenkins said in a press release. “Not only are we here to stay, we’re here to grow.

“We already have two proven veterans in our line-up, and now we’ll get to add an impressive young talent and championship contender who will inject some new energy into the group. With the introduction of the Ford Mustang into the Cup Series, 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting season for us.”

Matt Tifft, Chase Briscoe each get engaged

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Xfinity Series drivers Matt Tifft and Chase Briscoe each announced they were engaged to their girlfriends over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Tifft, 22, proposed to girlfriend Jordan Holt.

Tifft just completed his second full-time season in the Xfinity Series as a driver for Richard Childress Racing.

Briscoe, 23, got engaged to Marissa Cooper.

Briscoe ran part-time this season, competing for Roush Fenway Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste. He won the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval for SHR and the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.

 

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Christopher Bell wins at Phoenix to clinch spot in Xfinity title race

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Facing a must-win situation, Christopher Bell did just that, winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at ISM Raceway to clinch a spot in the Championship 4 at Miami.

Bell entered the race 34 points out from the final transfer spot. He started 38th after his No. 20 Toyota did not get through inspection in time to qualify.

The rookie marched through the field and took the lead for good on Lap 108 when he passed John Hunter Nemechek.

Bell led 94 laps and beat Daniel Hemric, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric and Ryan Preece.

It is Bell’s seventh win of the season, a rookie record.

“I’ll be honest after (DNFs at) Kansas and Texas I kind of just accepted we wouldn’t be able to get there,” Bell told NBC. “Just came over here with a ‘Let’s have fun attitude.’ … We didn’t really make our way up front that fast. I kind of got stalled out once I got into the top 15. I knew this thing was really fast because yesterday in practice it was really good. That clean air just meant so much. My pit crew did an amazing job … We’re going to (Miami), baby.”

Justin Allgaier, who won five races this season, was eliminated from title contention. He placed 24th, one laps down after he lost his brakes with about 20 laps to go.

Elliott Sadler, who will not compete full-time after the end of the season, was also eliminated.

Austin Cindric and Matt Tifft were the other drivers eliminated.

The Championship 4 will be Cole Custer, Bell, Hemric and Tyler Reddick

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

MORE: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Daniel Hemric earned his fifth runner-up finish without a Xfinity win … Matt Tifft placed third, his best result since he finished second at Road America … Austin Cindric earned his third top five in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Akinori Ogata extended the series’ streak of incidents on Lap 1 to three races when he wrecked in Turn 3. He finished 33rd … After winning the first two stages, Justin Allgaier placed 24th, one lap down. He suffered damage from contact with John Hunter Nemechek on Lap 145. He then lost his brakes with about 20 laps to go, but finished the race.

NOTABLE: Chevrolet clinched its 19th manufacturer championship in the series at the start of the race … Christopher Bell’s seven wins are the most by a non-Cup driver in Xfinity since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won seven times in 1998.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: ”Disappointment. At the end of the day we did everything right this year. We had a great season. Today we did everything right at the beginning part of the race. That was probably the most frustrating part. We led a lot of laps. We won both stages. All things considered it was going to be a great day. Ultimately at the end, getting ourselves in that bad position, getting caught up in that little of a crash and losing brakes. At that point it was survival, gain as many points as we can gain.” – Justin Allgaier after he was eliminated for title contention.

WHAT’S NEXT: Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 17 on NBCSN