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Kyle Busch, JGR teammates take 4 of 7 fastest spots in first of 2 Cup practices

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Kyle Busch led a Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut in Friday’s first of two NASCAR Cup practices at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch paced the 40-car field with a top speed of 200.285 mph, followed by JGR teammates Martin Truex Jr. (200.200) in second, Erik Jones in fourth (200.156) and Denny Hamlin was seventh-fastest (200.044). Ryan Preece was third-fastest in a Chevrolet at 200.169 mph, while Ryan Newman rounded out the top five at 200.093 mph.

Click here for the full practice speed chart.

The second Cup practice session of the day is scheduled later this afternoon at 3:05-3:55 p.m. ET.

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State Water Heaters to sponsor Jeb Burton’s 5 races with JR Motorsports

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JR Motorsports on Wednesday announced that State Water Heaters will sponsor Jeb Burton’s five-race stint in the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series.

State Water Heaters has been involved with the Burton family since 2007, starting first with Jeb’s father, Ward Burton, in NASCAR Cup and the NASCAR Truck Series, as well as with Jeb Burton in the Truck Series and in Late Models.

“I’m very excited to continue my partnership with State Water Heaters and make the introduction between them and JR Motorsports,” Jeb Burton said in a media release. “State has been an amazing partner over the years and has become family – helping me from the very start of my career going back to Late Models.”

Burton will debut the black, orange and blue No. 8 State Water Heaters Chevrolet Camaro at Texas Motor Speedway (March 30), as well as Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 25), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Sept. 7), a return stint to Texas (Nov. 2) and the season finale at Miami (Nov. 16). Alsco and Ultimate Headers will serve as associate partners for those same five races.

Burton will share driving duties of the No. 8 through the course of the season with Spencer Gallagher, Ryan Preece, Ryan Truex and Zane Smith.

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Social Roundup: NASCAR community celebrates Christmas

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Just like that Christmas came and went.

If you’re not ready to say goodbye to the holiday just yet, we’re here to help courtesy of social media roundup of how the NASCAR world celebrated Dec. 25th.

While Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell were busy racing in New Zealand, here’s a look at how the rest of NASCAR’s stars spent their holiday.

 

In the below video, Kyle Busch‘s son, Brexton, receives a go-kart as a gift. The go-kart was built by Corey LaJoie.

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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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AJ Allmendinger uncertain when, where he’ll race next

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — AJ Allmendinger, making his final start for JTG Daugherty Racing Sunday, says he is not sure when and where he’ll race again after this weekend.

“As of right now, I have zero races planned,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “I’ve got nothing. Maybe there are races that crop up over the course of the season. I’ll say for sure, let’s go 95 percent sure, that I definitely won’t be racing a full season in anything.”

The 36-year-old Allmendinger is being replaced by rookie Ryan Preece next season in the No. 47 car Chevrolet.

Allmendinger said he’d like to run the Xfinity and Cup road course races next year. His lone Cup win came in 2014 at Watkins Glen. His two Xinity wins also came on road courses – Road America in 2013, Mid-Ohio in 2013.

“If I could put together a deal to run all the road courses or most of the road courses in Xfinity and Cup, that would be fun,” Allmendinger said. “It’s me, so if there’s a chance to race anything I’ll go do it. We know the way the situation is in the sport, need sponsorship and everything happened pretty late so a lot of stuff was being filled up. Even the stuff that’s not announced we know is full.”

Sunday will be Allmendinger’s 371st career Cup start.

“I think mentally right now with zero races on board I have to prepare that it could be my last race,” Allmendinger said. “Do I expect it to be my last race ever? No, but as I stand right now to prepare for it mentally, I have to get ready for that. There’s a chance it might be.”

He debuted with Red Bull Racing in 2007. He drove for Team Penske in 2012 before losing that ride after 17 races when NASCAR suspended him for violating its Substance Abuse Policy. Allmendinger later said he was given a pill from a friend that he thought was an energy supplement but was the prescription drug Adderall. He later returned to Team Penske to win those Xfinity races. 

He also won the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona and finished third in the Champ Car Series in 2006, winning five races.

How does Allmendinger look back upon his career?

“There’s not a lot of people in this world who can say they’ve won a Cup race, Xfinity races, a Rolex race outright, they’ve won Champ car races and might have won an Indy 500 if my seat belt didn’t come off,” he said.