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Five intriguing changes for NASCAR in 2019

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The 2019 NASCAR season is one of significant change.

From a multitude of drivers and crew chiefs switching teams to a brand new rules package in the Cup Series, the NASCAR we’ll see in action in February will be a far cry from what we saw in November.

 

Which changes have us the most eager to get the season underway in 31 days?

Same Team, Different Car

How long will it take before Chad Knaus accidentally visits the wrong hauler during a race weekend?

It seems like a plausible scenario given that NASCAR’s most successful crew chief of the 21st Century is working on a car not driven by Jimmie Johnson for the first time since 2001.

2019 sees Knaus instead shepherding the sophomore effort of fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron in the No. 24 Chevrolet.

Meanwhile, Johnson and the No. 48 team will head to Speedweeks in Daytona with Kevin Meendering as its crew chief. After three years working with Elliott Sadler in Xfinity, Meendering gets his first shot in Cup with a seven-time champion near the end of his career.

It truly is a brave new world.

Old School Sonoma

A Cup Series road course will see a major change to its circuit this year.

No, Watkins Glen is not going to run “the Boot.” But Sonoma Raceway is bringing back “the Carousel.”

Almost lost in the hoopla of the inaugural race weekend on the Charlotte Roval last year was a press conference announcing the course alteration for Sonoma’s June 21-23 Cup race weekend.

The move, made to commemorate the track’s 50th anniversary, returns the track to its original 12-turn, 2.52-mile layout.

Cup races used “the Carousel” until 1998, but that was on a 1.99-mile layout. IndyCar also raced on “the Carousel.”

You can see the revised layout below.

 

Graphic courtesy Sonoma Raceway.

 

Ryan Preece

In the Cup Series’ rookie class for 2019, Ryan Preece stands out in a significant area.

He’s actually won a NASCAR race.

While Matt Tifft, Daniel Hemric and Tanner Berryhill have never visited victory lane, the new driver for JTG Daugherty Racing enters this season with two Xfinity Series wins. Both came on short tracks at Iowa and Bristol Motor Speedway.

MORE: Ryan Preece turns the page on his career

Those two oval wins are more than the number earned by the driver he replaces in the No. 47 Chevrolet. AJ Allmendinger ended 2018 with three NASCAR wins, but all came on road courses.

Preece hasn’t competed in Cup since he ran five races in the series in 2015, but it will be interesting to see what the 28-year-old can muster in a rookie campaign that coincides with the introduction of a rules package intended to create closer racing.

Restrictor Plates-ish

The 2019 rules package – complete with a tapered spacer – will make its superspeedway debut with the season’s first visit to Talladega Superspeedway in April.

This is significant because it will be the first NASCAR race on a superspeedway without a restrictor plate since 1988.

While the tapered spacer is meant to serve the same, but more efficient purpose of the restrictor plate, we won’t know how it performs until the series visits Alabama. Taking into account how Stewart-Haas Racing dominated at Talladega last October, it will be interesting to see what kind of race unfolds.

Fewer Cup-backed cars in Xfinity

The Xfinity Series will have a little bit less competition in 2019.

A full field will now consist of 38 cars, down from 40. But the series will also have less of a Cup Series influence.

There will be two less Cup-backed teams in the series with Roush Fenway Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing shutting down their Xfinity operations. Roush fielded two cars in 2018 with the No. 16 and No. 60 while Ganassi was set to field Ross Chastain in the No. 42.

Richard Childress Racing will not have just one full-time driver in the series with Tyler Reddick in the No. 2 Chevrolet. They’re expected to field a second car with the No. 21.

Just two years ago RCR fielded as many as five cars throughout the season.

MORE: Five Can’t Miss NASCAR Cup Races in 2019 Beyond the Daytona 500

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NASCAR Cup car from 1989 ‘found’ in Ireland, still runs strong on original tires and motor

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We’ve all heard stories of old race cars that were discovered in someone’s barn or garage or similar places. Usually, they’re all rusty or falling apart or are in dire need of a makeover.

But here’s a story you likely haven’t heard before. It turns out the No. 31 1989 Chevrolet Lumina, which competed in four Winston Cup races in 1991 (as the No. 53) and 11 races in 1992 (as the No. 31), was recently “discovered” by guys from the drift racing web site DriftGames.Life (DGL).

But instead of finding it in a barn or well off the beaten path, the DGL team found the car tucked away in a museum at Ireland’s Mondello Park International Race Circuit, near Dublin.

“We were walking down pit lane at Mondello Park and came across probably the most insane thing you’re ever going to see in Ireland, a fully fledged NASCAR,” said DGL’s Dave Egan, who narrates the video below. “We’re going to get our full Cole Trickle on because ‘Days of Thunder’ was (the thing) when I was younger. That was the best film, with Tom Cruise, and this is the car from that era. It’s old-school NASCAR.”

This is no replica or show car. It’s the actual race car — and it’s in great condition (except for a few old tire scuff marks from the usual beatin’ and bangin’ that goes on in Cup racing).

Photo: Reddit.com

Here’s the back story: Irish entrepreneur, former race car driver and former Lola Race Cars owner Martin Birrane wanted to go NASCAR racing in the U.S., so he formed “Team Ireland” in 1991, becoming one of the first foreign owners to field a team in NASCAR’s premier series.

With a chassis built by and purchased from Dale Earnhardt Inc., complete with a Richard Childress Racing motor, the team ran four races in 1991, two with Bobby Hillin Jr. behind the wheel of the No. 53, and two other races with John Paul Jr. in the driver’s seat.

Birrane brought Hillin Jr. back to drive in 1992 in the rechristened No. 31. The car’s best finish with Hillin Jr. behind the wheel was 13th in that year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Later that same season, the car was disqualified at Charlotte following the Mello Yello 500 (Hillin Jr. finished eighth in the race before the DQ) for using illegal cylinder heads. Because the team could not afford to pay the hefty $50,000 fine levied by NASCAR (one of the highest penalties assessed at the time), as well as being unable to attract additional sponsorship, that ultimately and abruptly ended Team Ireland’s and Birrane’s brief foray into NASCAR.

After the team disbanded, Birrane brought the car back to his homeland. The car was brought back to life recently by the DGL crew, with Irish driver Ian Beatty putting it through its paces at Mondello Park, which Birrane and now his family owns.

Beatty took the car for a spin on, believe it or not, with the same tires that it had after its Charlotte DQ, rubber that is over a quarter-century old.

It’s a handful,” Beatty said of his experience driving the car. “It’s a bit like driving a bus with 850 horsepower. … And of course these tires are 20-30 years old, so there’s no grip on them. It’s a handful, but it’s fun.”

One humorous highlight of the ride came before Beatty took it onto the track – he got stuck trying to climb through the window and couldn’t slide down into the seat because the old-fashioned steering wheel blocked him. The team had to remove the steering wheel and then Beatty was able to get to work.

Birrane passed away last June at the age of 82. Hillin Jr., who now runs an oil company in Houston, fondly recalls his time with Team Ireland.

“Martin was a true gentleman,” Hillin Jr. told NBC Sports. “I liked him a lot. I feel bad that I lost touch with him.

“Martin will be remembered for somebody being a pioneer and coming over here and doing a NASCAR team and investing in NASCAR. … I don’t think the sport really appreciated what he had to offer when he was here, and it’s too bad.

A diecast model of the Team Ireland Chevrolet Lumia (photo courtesy RacingChampions.Blogspot.com).

“I was never able to go to Mondello Park, but I was pretty impressed with him because he really was committed to NASCAR and wanted to make a go of it, to the point where he was flying in from London for all the races, sometimes week to week or once a month. It was kind of too bad the way things turned out.”

Then, Hillin Jr. added: “The biggest thing I remember is people loved the car and the big Irish cloverleaf on it. I don’t know how many of those people were Irish, but they sure loved it.”

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Drivers to take part in Cup Las Vegas organizational test

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Las Vegas Motor Speedway has announced a roster of 14 drivers who will take part in the first Cup organizational test of the year on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.

The test on the 1.5-mile track will be one of the first opportunities for teams to test the 2019 rules package that includes a tapered spacer.

The drivers who will take part:

Brad Keselowski (Team Penske)

Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports)

Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing)

Ryan Newman (Roush Fenway Racing)

Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing)

Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing)

Landon Cassill (StarCom Racing)

Matt DiBenedetto (Leavine Family Racing)

Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing)

Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing)

Ross Chastain, David Ragan and Drew Herring are also scheduled to be at the track. They will be driving manufacture wheel force cars.

The test will be the first on-track time for Kurt Busch, Newman, Preece and DiBenedetto with their new teams.

The test is tentatively scheduled to run from 11 am to 9 pm ET on Jan. 31 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET on Feb. 1.

A section of the main grandstands and pit road will be open to fans at the test.

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Here’s what is new in 2019 for Cup teams

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The 2019 NASCAR season is now within view as we have entered the month of January.

That means a lot of highly anticipated changes in the sport will be visible on track.

Before we get to what to expect from each team specifically, here’s what Cup teams will be dealing with in 2019.

Inspired by what was used in the 2018 All-Star Race, the new rules package will feature a tapered spacer to control the engines instead of a restrictor plate. Teams will have 550 horsepower at tracks 1.33 miles and larger and 750 horsepower at tracks shorter than 1.33 miles.

Some crew chiefs, including Cole Pearn, have said the new package could result in racing that resembles what is seen in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Teams

One team that will not be present this year is Furniture Row Racing, which ceased operations on its No. 78 Toyota after 2018 due to a lack of sponsorship.

Rick Ware Racing will field two cars with two charters. It has not announced drivers for either car.

Spire Sports + Entertainment will field the No. 77 with a charter purchased from Furniture Row Racing. A driver has not been announced.

Obaika Racing will field rookie Tanner Berryhill in the No. 97 in its first full-time season.

(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)

No. 00 Landon Cassill (57th)

What’s new: Cassill is slated to compete full-time for StarCom Racing, which bought a charter from Richard Childress Racing. Cassill, with 29 starts, is the only driver with more than seven for the team.

What’s the same: StarCom will again compete with a Chevrolet model in its second full season of competition.

 

Chip Ganassi Racing

No. 1 Kurt Busch (7th)

What’s new: Kurt Busch moves from Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Jamie McMurray, who drove the No. 1 for nine years. McMurray will be an analyst for Fox Sports. CGR will be the sixth team Busch has competed for in Cup.

What’s the same: Matt McCall is back to crew chief the No. 1 after four years with McMurray.

 

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (8th)

What’s new: Keselowski will have a new spotter after the departure of Joey Meier.

What’s the same: Crew chief Paul Wolfe and Keselowski enter their ninth season together. With the separation of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, that makes Wolfe and Keselowski the longest-tenured driver/crew chief pairing in the series.

 

Photo: Daniel McFadin

No. 3 Austin Dillon (13th)

What’s new: Dillon will have Danny Stockman Jr. as his crew chief, replacing Justin Alexander. Stockman is Dillon’s fourth crew chief in six full-time seasons in Cup. Dillon won a Xfinity and Truck Series title Stockman. Dillon will also have a new teammate in Daniel Hemric.

What’s the same: Dillon’s scheme for the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona will be a tribute to Dale Earnhardt’s scheme in the 1998 All-Star Race.

 

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (3rd)

What’s new: Harvick will have Hunt Brothers Pizza as a primary sponsor after years of support in the Xfinity Series. He will also have a new Mobile 1 paint scheme.

What’s the same: Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers enter their sixth year together at Stewart-Haas Racing.

 

No. 6 Ryan Newman (17th)

What’s new: Newman replaces Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth in the No. 6 Ford after five years with Richard Childress Racing. Scott Graves will be Newman’s crew chief.

What’s the same: The No. 6 team enters the season looking for its first win since 2011.

 

Richard Childress Racing

No. 8 Daniel Hemric (2019 is rookie year)

What’s new: Hemric moves up to Cup after two years with Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series. He steps into what was No. 31 car.

What’s the same: Luke Lambert returns as crew chief for the operation after five years working with Ryan Newman.

 

No. 9 Chase Elliott (6th)

What’s new: Chase Elliott enters the Cup season as the Most Popular Driver for the first time in his career after he earned his first three series wins in 2018.

What’s the same: Will have the same set of three Hendrick teammates for consecutive seasons for the first time in his Cup career.

 

No. 10 Aric Almirola (5th)

What’s new: Enters the season having won a race the previous year for just the second time in his career.

What’s the same: Johnny Klausmeier will crew chief the No. 10 for the second year.

 

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (11th)

What’s new: Will be paired with crew chief Chris Gabehart, who replaces Mike Wheeler after Hamlin went winless for the first time in his Cup career in 2018.

What’s the same: Entering his 14th full-time year with Joe Gibbs Racing, he’s the team’s senior driver by two years over Kyle Busch.

 

No. 12 Ryan Blaney (10th)

What’s new: Blaney enters 2019 as the only Team Penske Cup driver without a championship after Joey Logano won it last year.

What’s the same: His mustache is still better than yours.

 

No. 13 Ty Dillon (27th)

What’s new: Germain Racing is moving its shop to Richard Childress Racing’s campus in Welcome, North Carolina.

What’s the same: Germain remains a member of RCR’s technical alliance.

 

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (12th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced

What’s the same: Bowyer will be paired with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz for a third year.

 

No. 15 Ross Chastain

What’s new: Chastain will moonlight in the Xfinity Series full-time with Chip Ganassi Racing.

What’s the same: Returns to Premium Motorsports full-time in Cup.

 

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (18th)

What’s new: Will have veteran Ryan Newman as his teammate, replacing Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 Ford.

What’s the same: Stenhouse remains winless on non-restrictor plate tracks in his Cup career.

 

No. 18 Kyle Busch (4th)

What’s new: Is scheduled to make his 500th Cup start in the Feb. 24th race at Atlanta. Will have a new teammate in the form of 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.

What’s the same: Will have Adam Stevens as his crew chief, marking their fifth year together in Cup.

 

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

No. 19 Martin Truex Jr. (2nd)

What’s new: Will compete for Joe Gibbs Racing after the closing of Furniture Row Racing. He replaces Daniel Suarez.

What’s the same: Truex is joined at Joe Gibbs Racing by crew chief Cole Pearn.

 

No. 20: Erik Jones (15th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Jones will have Chris Gayle as his crew chief for the third consecutive year.

 

No. 21 Paul Menard (19th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced

What’s the same: The world is still deprived of a Paul Menard Twitter account.

 

No. 22 Joey Logano (1st)

What’s new: Like every other Ford team, will have to adjust to the new Mustang body after winning the title with the Fusion

What’s the same: Enters his seventh Cup season with Todd Gordon as his crew chief.

 

No. 24 William Byron (23rd)

What’s new: Will enter his sophomore season under the guidance of Chad Knaus, the most successful active crew chief in NASCAR. This will be Byron’s first season in NASCAR without rookie stripes after previously competing in Xfinity and the Truck Series for just one season each.

What’s the same: Jeff Gordon is still the last (and only) driver to win in the No. 24.

 

Photo by Daniel McFadin

No. 32 Corey LaJoie (34th)

What’s new: LaJoie, who got married on New Year’s Eve, is set to compete in his first full-time Cup season with Go Fas Racing, replacing Matt DiBenedetto. LaJoie will be paired with crew chief Randy Cox.

What’s the same: Go Fas Racing is still a small operation with 17 employees.

 

No. 34 Michael McDowell (26th)

What’s new: No major changes announced

What’s the same: Front Row Motorsports remains with Ford.

 

No. 36 Matt Tifft (Rookie year)

What’s new: Joins Front Row Motorsports in a third car after multiple seasons in the Xfinity Series. Tifft got engaged over the offseason.

What’s the same: Tifft enters the season with no victories in 102 starts in the Xfinity and Truck Series.

 

No. 37 Chris Buescher (24th)

What’s new: Will have a new teammate in rookie Ryan Preece, who replaces AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger is now an analyst for NBC Sports.

What’s the same: Winless since he won at Pocono in 2016 with Front Row Motorsports.

 

No. 38 David Ragan (25th)

What’s new: No major changes announced

What’s the same: Enters sixth full-time season with Front Row Motorsports, making him the team’s longest-tenured driver.

 

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

No. 42 Kyle Larson (9th)

What’s new: A new teammate in Kurt Busch, who takes over for Jamie McMurray, who had been Larson’s only teammate in Cup so far.

What’s the same: Larson will compete on dirt whenever he’s allowed to.

 

No. 43 Bubba Wallace (28th)

What’s new: Wallace will be without sponsor Click n’ Close after just one year.

What’s the same: Richard Petty Motorsports remains in a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

 

No. 41 Daniel Suarez (21st)

What’s new: Suarez replaces Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing after two seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

What’s the same: Suarez and the No. 41 will be sponsored by Arris.

No. 47 Ryan Preece (2019 is rookie year)

What’s new: Preece moves to Cup full-time after two years in Xfinity racing part-time for Joe Gibbs Racing. JTG Daugherty Racing will now receive engines from Hendrick Motorsports.

What’s the same:JTG Daugherty Racing continues a technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports.

 

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (14th)

What’s new: Johnson will have a new primary sponsor for the first time in his Cup career with Ally Financial and a new crew chief in Kevin Meendering, who replaces Chad Knaus.

What’s the same: Johnson remains the only active Cup driver with multiple championships.

 

No. 88 Alex Bowman (16th)

What’s new: In his second full-time season with Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman can no longer be mistaken for a rookie. Bowman will sport a new Nationwide paint scheme this season.

What’s the same: Greg Ives returns as Bowman’s crew chief on the No. 88 Chevrolet.

 

No. 95 Matt DiBenedetto (29th)

What’s new: DiBenedetto replaced Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing after two years at Go Fas Racing. LFR will compete under the Toyota banner after being a Chevrolet team. Mike Wheeler will crew chief the No. 95.

What’s the same: 2019 will be LFR’s fourth full-time season in Cup. The team is winless since it first went Cup racing in 2011.

 

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Germain Racing relocates race shop

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Germain Racing announced Wednesday that it has moved its race shop to Welcome, North Carolina, to be closer to technical alliance partner Richard Childress Racing’s shop. Germain Racing’s previous shop had been in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Richard Petty Motorsports, also aligned with Richard Childress Racing, moved its race shop to the RCR campus last year. Germain Racing’s shop also will be on the RCR campus.

“We are committed to our technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing,” team owner Bob Germain said in a statement from the team. “As we prepare for this upcoming season of competition, it is logistically beneficial to be closer to their headquarters. We are looking forward to strengthening our relationships with our alliance teammates in order to advance our engineering strategies and improve on-track performance. This is an exciting move for our team and partners, and I know it will be a valuable one for our overall race program.”

Ty Dillon, driver of the No. 13 for Germain Racing, finished 27th in the points last season, his second with the team. Dillon had a career-best finish of sixth at Daytona last July.