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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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Joey Gase joins MBM Motorsports in Xfinity, Cup

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MBM Motorsports announced Wednesday it has signed Joey Gase to compete for the team in the Xfinity and Cup Series this season.

Gase will compete full-time in Xfinity driving the No. 35 Toyota. He will race part-time in Cup in the No. 66 Toyota, beginning with an attempt to make the Daytona 500. MBM does not have a charter for the No. 66, meaning he must qualify for the race if there are more than 40 cars entered.

Gase has 208 Xfinity starts and has competed full-time since 2014. Last year he drove for Go Green Racing and finished 20th in the standings.

He also has 30 Cup starts since 2014.

“I am very excited and thankful for the opportunity Carl (Long) and MBM Motorsports is giving me this year,” Gase said in a press release. “Every offseason is stressful when you don’t know what your plans for the following season will be. This offseason by far has been the most stressful of my career with some unforeseen things happening. One evening I was sitting in my office trying to figure out what my next move should be and then out of the blue Carl gave me a call and we talked for about two hours over the phone and now here we are. MBM Motorsports has grown and improved their program a lot over the last two years, especially the end of last season. I am very excited to be a part of that growth in 2019.”

Eternal Fan, Donate Life, Medline, Agri Supply, Pro Master and Page Construction will be among the partners supporting Gase this season.

“Having an experienced driver in Joey Gase to start our season is a huge blessing,” MBM team owner Carl Long said in the press release. “He has worked hard to bring sponsorship to MBM. Today’s driver has to be gifted in handling a car and promotions. Lucky for us Joey is one of the best in all of NASCAR at doing both. Look for us to turn heads this year!”

 

Tentative NASCAR Speedweeks schedule at Daytona

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NASCAR has released a tentative schedule for next month’s Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, which will culminate in the 61st Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.

Here’s the complete schedule for NASCAR Speedweeks, which is subject to change.

All times are Eastern.

Schedule includes all available TV and radio info.

Friday, Feb. 8

Noon – 7 p.m.  – Cup garage open

Saturday, Feb. 9

8 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

10:35 – 11:55 a.m. – Final Cup practice for Advance Auto Parts Clash (Motor Racing Network)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. – Daytona 500 qualifying practice (MRN)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. – Final Daytona 500 qualifying practice (MRN)

6:30 p.m. – Random drawing for Clash starting position/pit position

Sunday, Feb. 10

7 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

10 a.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting

12:10 p.m. – Daytona 500 qualifying; impound/single car/two rounds (Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

2:30 p.m. – Clash Driver introductions

3 p.m. – Advance Auto Parts Clash; 75 laps/187.5 miles (Fox Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Monday, Feb. 11

No track activity

Tuesday, Feb. 12

No track activity

Wednesday, Feb. 13

7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Daytona 500 media day

Noon – 5 p.m. – Truck Series garage open

Thursday, Feb. 14

11 a.m. – 5 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

11:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. – Truck Series garage open

2:35 – 3:25 p.m. – Truck Series practice

3:30 – 11 p.m. – Cup garage open

4:30 – 5:25 p.m. – Final Truck practice

5:15 p.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting

6:20 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

7 p.m. – Daytona 500 qualifying race No. 1; 60 laps/150 miles (Fox Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

8:45 p.m. – Daytona 500 qualifying race No. 2; 60 laps/150 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Friday, Feb. 15

9 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Cup garage open

9:30 a.m. – Truck garage opens

10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:05 – 12:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. – Cup practice

2:05 – 2:55 – Final Xfinity practice

3:05 – 3:55 – Cup practice

4:40 p.m. – Truck Series qualifying; Single truck/two rounds

6:15 p.m. – Truck driver-crew chief meeting

7 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

7:30 p.m. – Truck Series NextEra Energy 250; 100 laps/250 miles (MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, Feb. 16

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

9:40 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single car/two rounds

10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

12:05 – 12:55 p.m. – Final Cup practice

2 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity Daytona 300; 120 laps/300 miles (MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 17

8 a.m. – Cup garage opens

12:30 p.m. – Driver crew chief meeting

1:45 p.m. – Driver introductions

2:30 p.m. – 61st Daytona 500; 200 laps/500 miles (Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

JR Motorsports announces driver, crew chief lineup

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JR Motorsports announced Monday the driver, crew chief lineup for its four Xfinity Series entries this season, including two returning drivers.

The entries include the full-time efforts of veterans Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett, in addition to rookie driver Noah Gragson.

Alllgaier, the senior driver with the team at four years, will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet under the direction of crew chief Jason Burdett, who has led the team since 2015.

At 32, Allgaier is the oldest driver at JRM. He’s older than Annett by 18 days.

Annett is back in the No. 5 Chevrolet for his third season with the team. He is paired with crew chief Travis Mack, who took over crew chief duties on the No. 5 for 13 of the last 14 races in 2018.

Gragson makes the move to the Xfinity Series after two seasons in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Gragson will step into the No. 1 Chevrolet to replace Elliott Sadler who stepped away from full-time racing after 2018. Gragson will have crew chief Dave Elenz and the crew that worked with champion Tyler Reddick in 2018 on the No. 9 team.

The No. 9 team will be a multi-driver effort this season anchored by eight races with Zane Smith in the cockpit. The team will be led by first-time crew chief Taylor Moyer. Moyer joins JRM after four years with Hendrick Motorsports as a race engineer for Kasey Kahne and William Byron.

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Roush Fenway Racing won’t field Xfinity Series team in 2019

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Roush Fenway Racing will not field a team in the Xfinity Series for the first time in more than a quarter century, RFR President Steve Newmark confirmed Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Roush Fenway Racing first ran in the Xfinity Series in 1993 with Mark Martin, who won seven of 14 starts that season. The organization has won a record 138 Xfinity races. Roush Fenway Racing also has captured five Xfinity driver titles — Greg Biffle in 2002, Carl Edwards in 2007, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011-12 and Chris Buescher in 2015.

Newmark told Claire B. Lang on SiriusXM’s “Dialed In” that the focus is on strengthening the Cup program with Stenhouse and Ryan Newman, who joins the team to drive the No. 6 car this season.

“We’re going to focus exclusively on both of those Cup teams (in 2019) and realized we needed to allocate all of our resources there,” Newmark told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ve fluctuated on the number of the teams in the Xfinity Series and a lot of that has been based on need. We’ve been four, we’ve been one, and I think (2019) we’ve decided on how we’re positioned we’ll step out of that for a year and see how that goes and just focus all the resources, all the engineering, all the wind tunnel on making sure that we perform to our expectations at the Cup level.”

Asked if sponsorship was a key factor in the decision, Newmark said: “There’s no doubt that sponsorship plays a factor in everything that we do. For better or worse that’s the way NASCAR is structured right now and sponsorship is the lifeblood for the teams. My hope is that at some point in time we continue to evolve to a model that moves a little bit way from that. But that was just a factor. We had a great run with Lilly Diabetes, five full seasons, we handled the Ford driver development program last year and the Xfinity Series is something that Jack (Roush) has always been passionate about.

“But when we look at where we are and what we needed to focus on, we just felt like that all the resources should be dedicated to Cup. We’ve always used Xfinity as a feeder series … for Cup, and when we look at our drivers, we’ve got those guys locked up and we think that they’re going to be with us for a number of years. We look at the engineering talent, we look at our crew chiefs, and we kind of felt like we had all the pieces of the puzzle in place and so really what we need to do is go out and execute at the Cup level and we’ll see where we end up in Xfinity in the future.”

Last season, Roush Fenway Racing fielded two full-time Xfinity teams: Ryan Reed in the No. 16 and Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Ty Majeski splitting time in the No. 60 car as Ford development drivers. Reed finished 11th in the points.