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General Motors to open technical center in Charlotte area

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General Motors announced Thursday plans to open a new technical center dedicated to performance and racing in Concord, North Carolina.

With the Charlotte Technical Center, GM will join Toyota and Ford, NASCAR’s other two manufacturers in having a tech center in the Charlotte area.

Toyota’s facility is in Salisbury and Ford’s is in Concord. Chevrolet does have a simulator facility located in Huntersville.

GM’s 75,000-square-foot facility is expected to open in the middle of this year.

According to a press release, GM’s facility will focus on “transferring knowledge and resources from the racing programs to core vehicle engineering” and will eventually “house future technology and engineering development capabilities.”

“We’re thrilled to expand GM’s U.S. footprint by establishing a greater presence in Charlotte, a community that has become a racing and engineering mecca,” Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports, said in the press release. “The new facility will be close to a number of key Chevrolet and Cadillac racing partners, teams and suppliers. This will allow for improved collaboration as well as access to some of the industry’s best talent.”

The facility will feature Driver-in-the-Loop simulators, vehicle simulation, aero development and other practices designed to advance racing and production capabilities.

In another area of development for Chevrolet, the 2020 class of the Drivers Edge Development program has been announced.

The program consists of driver who compete for GMS Racing and JR Motorsports.

This year’s six-member class includes returning members Sheldon Creed, Noah Gragson, Sam Mayer and Zane Smith – and the new additions of Tyler Ankrum and Connor Mosack.

Creed, Mayer, Ankrum and Smith will compete for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series this season.

Creed, Ankrum and Smith will race full-time. Mayer, 16, will compete part-time. He made three starts last year while running in the ARCA Menards Series East where he won the championship.

This will be Sheldon Creed’s second full-time truck season with GMS Racing.

Ankrum, the 2019 rookie of the year, drove for DGR-Crosley last year when it was under the Toyota banner.

Smith competed part-time for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series last year driving the No. 8 Chevrolet.

Gragson returns for a second full-time Xfinity season driving JRM’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

Mosack, 18, will race for JRM in a late model. In 2019, Mosack raced late models at Hickory Motor Speedway, finishing third in points and took top rookie honors. He earned seven top five and 25 top-10 finishes in 27 starts at the venue.

Silly Season scorecard: Early December update

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As NASCAR begins to move deeper into the offseason, it has seen a flurry of driver announcements from teams about the 2020 racing season.

The most recent addition to the list came Tuesday, when Corey LaJoie announced on the “Sunday Money” podcast that he will be running a second full-time season in Cup with Go Fas Racing.

Also, Stewart Friesen will return to Halmar Friesen Racing for a third full-time season in the Truck Series. The team will switch from Chevrolet to Toyota Trucks in 2020, as well.

Here’s a look at all the official driver announcements made so far for next season.

 

OPEN CUP RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

No. 36: Front Row Motorsports announced Nov. 13 it was parting ways with Matt Tifft so he could focus on his health following his seizure at Martinsville in March. Tifft said he could not commit to racing in 2020.

 

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 32: Corey LaJoie will return for a second straight full season with Go Fas Racing and the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

No. 37: Ryan Preece moves over from the No. 47 to the No. 37. He will have a new crew chief, Trent Owens, who has been crew chief on the No. 37 for the past three seasons.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 47: JTG Daugherty Racing announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. On Dec. 2, the team announced Stenhouse will drive the No. 47, with Brian Pattie serving as his crew chief.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

 

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

 

ANNOUNCED PLANS IN OTHER NASCAR SERIES

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Has not announced its driver plans for 2020, but Richard Childress said after Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity title that it would field a full-time entry.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

 

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Halmar Friesen Racing — Stewart Friesen will return for a third full-time season in the No. 52 Truck. The team will also switch from Chevrolet to Toyota Trucks in 2020.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

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Corey LaJoie among NASCAR drivers entered in Snowball Derby

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A handful of NASCAR veterans are entered into the 52nd annual Snowball Derby, the Dec. 8 Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

An updated entry list for the race has 55 drivers, including the new entry of Cup Series driver Corey LaJoie.

LaJoie, who drove for Go Fas Racing this season, will compete for Jamie Yelton’s Fat Head Racing. It’ll be his first time in the race since 2017.

“I keep saying I’m going to keep going down there until I win one,” LaJoie told Speed51.com. “I keep getting closer each and every time.  I’ve broken a couple of times, and another time we just didn’t have our stuff together.  Hopefully this time, we can get down there and get close.  If I can see the front near the end of that thing, I’m going to make something happen.”

Other entries include 2020 Xfinity Series driver Harrison Burton, former Cup driver David Gilliland, former Roush Fenway Racing driver Ty Majeski and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson. Derek Kraus, this year’s K&N Pro Series West champion, has also been added to the entry list.

Chandler Smith, the 17-year-old driver who made four starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series this year, is also entered.

JR Motorsports’ late model driver Josh Berry is entered as well.

Noah Gragson won the race last year for KBM. Busch himself is a two-time winner of the event.

Other past winners include Darrell Waltrip, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Elliott.

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Who will take over for Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car in 2021?

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CONCORD, N.C. — How does one replace an icon in a sport? And with whom?

Car owner Rick Hendrick faces those questions with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s announcement that the 2020 season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver.

Hendrick was ready with a response during Thursday’s media session with Johnson at the Hendrick Motorsports complex.

“I’ve already picked a guy,” Hendrick said before a dramatic pause.

“Jeff Gordon is coming back.”

Everyone laughed.

But the reality remains, the No. 48 car — the most successful car in the 2000s — is open for 2021. As for Hendrick’s plans in finding a driver?

“We’ve got another year,” he said, turning the conversation to getting Johnson a record eighth championship.

The No. 48 car’s opening likely will create a frenzy among free agents and drivers with contracts that give them the chance to opt out of deals. While the car is winless in its last 95 races and Hendrick’s last title came in 2016, the organization remains among the best in the sport and such an opening is a rare opportunity for any driver.

So who could be that driver?

Hendrick has trended toward hiring younger drivers in the last 15 years. Five of his nine hires in that time featured drivers age 24 or under at the beginning of their first season with the organization.

Brian Vickers was 20 when the 2004 season began. Kyle Busch was 19 at the start of the 2005 season. Chase Elliott was 20 at the beginning of the 2016 campaign. William Byron was 20 at the start of the 2018 season, and Alex Bowman was 24 when he began that year.

One of the benefits for Hendrick is that he already has a sponsor in Ally, which recently signed an extension through the 2023 season. Unlike other teams where driver hires might be made based on how much sponsorship a driver can bring, Hendrick has time and leverage in making this selection.

“They’re really very supportive and wide open to what happens,” said Gordon, co-owner of the car, about Ally. “So ’21 definitely things are going to change. So we’ve got to evaluate and look at what type of driver is going to suit that car.”

The driver social media already has in the No. 48 car in 2021 is Kyle Larson. He has acknowledged having a contract through the 2020 season and has professed a loyalty to Chip Ganassi Racing, his home for his entire Cup career. Larson would be 28 years entering the 2021 season. One concern for Hendrick might be Larson’s dirt track racing. Hendrick used to allow Kasey Kahne to do that and changed his mind after Kahne escaped a flip one night.

There are other drivers to consider.

Erik Jones signed a one-year extension with Joe Gibbs Racing to go through the 2020 season. Jones will be 24 by the time the 2021 season starts. That would mark the start of his fifth Cup season. He’s already made the playoffs the past two years and will be among those expected to make the playoffs in 2020. His playoff luck, though, has been awful. Accidents marred his 2018 playoffs and mechanical issues, including his car failing post-race inspection led to his early exit in this year’s playoffs.

Matt DiBenedetto also has a contract only for the 2020 season. He joins the Wood Brothers, replacing Paul Menard, for the upcoming year. DiBenedetto has earned the respect of many for how he’s climbed the ranks, often with poor equipment. He’s turned that into better rides and nearly won the Bristol night race before Denny Hamlin passed him late in the event. DiBenedetto will be 29 entering the 2021 season. That would be his seventh full-time Cup season.

Of course, if Hendrick wanted to change things up, there could be other options.

Brad Keselowski once drove for JR Motorsports and ran nine Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports early in his career. In 2009, with no room for Keselowski at Hendrick for a full-time ride, Keselowski made plans to move to Team Penske the following season. Hendrick told The Associated Press in 2009 of Keselowski: “Wherever he goes, he’ll always be close enough for me to get him and bring him back.” Whether that remains possible remains to be seen. Keselowski signed a multi-year contract extension in July 2017. The 2012 Cup champion will turn 37 shortly before the 2021 Daytona 500.

Another driver move that could be enticing would be Chase Elliott’s close friend, Ryan Blaney, joining him at Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. Blaney, who has made the playoffs each of the past three years, is settled in at Team Penske, signing a multi-year contract extension in July 27. But what does Blaney say of some hopes of some fans? He told NBC Sports: “That’s what they say, that’s not something I’ve really thought about at all.” Blaney would be 27 entering the 2021 campaign.

Other possible candidates could include Ross Chastain, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, Corey LaJoie and JR Motorsports drivers Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson, should they have a breakout season. 

Chastain will be 28 entering the 2021 season. He has proven spectacular in the Xfinity and Truck series and could be the type of racer Hendrick appreciates. Chastain’s teammate at Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series is Haley, who would be 21 at the start of the 2021 season. Haley finished third in the Truck playoffs in 2018 and placed 12th in the Xfinity playoffs this year. He also won the rain-shortened Daytona Cup race in July.

LaJoie will be 29 entering the 2021 season and has done a lot with the equipment he has. Bowman showed that someone who starts out in less-than-stellar equipment can win races for Hendrick. Could LaJoie be that type of candidate?

Nemechek will be 23 going into the 2021 season. His plans for next year have yet to be announced with GMS Racing announcing it will not return in the Xfinity Series. Nemechek showed well in the final three Cup races for Front Row Motorsports for Matt Tifft and that could be a spot for him next year. Gragson, who will be 22 entering the 2021 campaign, completed his rookie Xfinity season this year for JR Motorsports. He went winless but had nine top-five and 22 top-10 finishes. Hemric will be 29 when the 2021 season begins. The key for him is he needs to win.

Of course, many things will change before Hendrick Motorsports is ready to announce Johnson’s successor. Whenever that day is.

But, no, it won’t be Jeff Gordon.

Daniel McFadin and Nate Ryan contributed to this report

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Harrison Burton among NASCAR drivers entered in Snowball Derby

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A handful of NASCAR veterans will compete in the 52nd annual Snowball Derby, the Dec. 8 Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The early entry list for the race has 53 drivers, including 2020 Xfinity Series driver Harrison Burton, former Cup driver David Gilliland, former Roush Fenway Racing driver Ty Majeski and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson.

Chandler Smith, the 17-year-old driver who made four starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series this year, is also entered.

JR Motorsports late model driver Josh Berry is entered as well.

Noah Gragson won the race last year for KBM. Busch himself is a two-time winner of the event.

Other past winners include Darrell Waltrip, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Elliott.