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Friday 5: Cup rookie will ‘Turn the Page’ to new chapter

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HARRISBURG, N.C. — Wailing strands of a saxophone leap from Ryan Preece’s phone. The distinctive opening notes of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” take Preece back in time even as the NASCAR Cup rookie looks ahead.

“If you listen to the lyrics, there’s a lot of things I can relate to,” Preece tells NBC Sports. He speaks while seated at a table that comfortably accommodates 10 people in the competition room at JTG Daugherty Racing, his new home after running limited Xfinity races the past two years with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Although Seger’s song is about a musician, it could be about the highs and lows of a racer. Preece, born 17 years after the song’s debut, has lived life in the spotlight and experienced the late-night road trips on his circuitous path to Cup.

On a long and lonesome highway

The song’s opening line resonates with Preece. The 28-year-old Connecticut native raced modifieds throughout the Northeast and traveled to the South numerous times in his quest to reach NASCAR’s premier series. There were many nights on the road.

Preece worked his way to the Xfinity Series in 2016 but had limited success with an underfunded JD Motorsports team. With no other opportunities after that season, Preece returned home and faced the likelihood he would race modifieds the rest of his career.

Things changed when Carl Edwards shocked the sport by announcing in January 2017 that he would no longer compete. Joe Gibbs Racing suddenly had some Xfinity races available.

If Edwards had not left the sport, “I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” Preece said. 

“There was no talk of going anywhere. When I went home, I went home (after 2016). I spoke to a few teams and the (cost to run those cars) were so high. I just figured I could go make a living running a modified and winning. It wasn’t a sense of I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond … this was my best chance at being successful.”

Preece spent 2016 living in former Cup crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion’s race shop before moving back home after the season. After Edwards’ announcement, Manion called Preece and told him to contact JGR.

“I was going to figure a way out,” Preece said. “That was the chance I was waiting for.”

He gathered enough money for two races, won at Iowa and got two more races that season. That turned into 15 races in 2018. He won at Bristol. His success that season led to the ride at JTG Daugherty Racing in place of AJ Allmendinger.

When you’re ridin’ sixteen hours

and there’s nothin’ much to do

And you don’t feel much like ridin’

you just wish the trip was through

A crew member often played the song on long road trips and it has remained with Preece since, a reminder of those all-night drives from one region of the country to another to race.

As he plays the song on his phone, Preece slips back to the past. He recalls a time he raced at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, finished around 11 p.m. and drove through the night with his team to be at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for a race that Saturday. He won that weekend.

Preece smiles at the memory.

Here I am

On the road again

There I am

Up on the stage

Here I go

Playin’ star again

There I go

Turn the page

“When I was younger, I was like that’s pretty catchy,’’ Preece said of the song. “As you grow older and you go through different events and different situations in your life, you start to relate to it. Every time there has been a great moment in my life, the more I can relate to that song.”

He hopes to add to the collection of memories this season with the No. 47 team. Preece is ready for the season to begin. He’ll get an early start. His team will be among those that will test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Jan. 31 – Feb. 1.

Shortly after that, he will be off to Florida to compete in his first Daytona 500.

Even as he heads on a new journey with Cup, Preece won’t leave the modified series behind. He plans to run a few races this season when his schedule allows.

But after years of going back-and-forth from the Northeast to the South, Preece has one trip left. He heads to Connecticut today to retrieve the last of his belongings and complete the move he and his wife have made to North Carolina. He also will tow his modified with him.

He plans to leave Connecticut at 3 a.m. Sunday. He knows through experience that’s the best time to depart to avoid New York traffic snarls.

One more overnight road trip. This time he’s headed for a new journey and a chance to turn the page in his racing career.

2. Study habits

Coleman Pressley admits he’s a “huge note taker” and he’s been doing just that as he reviews film and prepares for his first season as Brad Keselowski’s spotter.

Pressley, the son of former Cup driver Robert Pressley, spent the past four years spotting for AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing. Pressley became available after Allmendinger was not brought back for this season.

One of the biggest challenges for Pressley will be Daytona Speedweeks and the Daytona 500. Keselowski is among the sport’s premier drivers at that track and Talladega. He and former spotter Joey Meier — they had been together since 2006 until parting after last year — were among the top driver/spotter duos, winning four of the last 17 plate races (only teammate Joey Logano matches Keselowski’s record in that span).

Pressley, who doesn’t have as much experience spotting a car at the front of the field at a plate track, has been studying how the race is different there than in the middle of the field.

“I went to school the last two or three weeks just learning what the first two or three rows do,” Pressley told NBC Sports. “It’s amazing how much the draft changes in the first three rows then it does in the 10th or 12th row. I’m learning from arguably the best superspeedway racer right now.

“I feel like I’ve learned more in two or three times sitting down with Brad than in four years of spotting. He’s that good at it. It’s like dealing with AJ at a road course. AJ is so good at a road course, I learned a lot from him there.”

One of the challenges with racing at Daytona is how the lead car controls the field and moves up and down the track, blocking the run from the cars in the lanes behind. It’s critical for the spotter to tell the driver which lane is making a move so the driver can block and remain in the lead.

“Everything that we’re reviewing is more situational,” Pressley said. “Like what happens when three cars are this close and this lane is a car length apart. … Does this change if you’ve got a slower car third in line or what happens if there’s three lanes. We’re trying to make sure that when we get there, when I’m on the roof, that when I see something I know what is going to happen.”

Pressley already has watched last year’s Daytona 500 multiple times and planned to watch the race with Keselowski this week.

3. Caution laps won’t count

South Boston Speedway will not count caution laps this season for its local division races 150 laps and shorter, the track announced this week.

It’s an interesting concept. While it’s not something that could be done for a 500-lap Cup race, maybe it is something to ponder for the K&N Pro Series. Possibly a Truck race. Or maybe don’t count caution laps in the last 50 laps of a Cup or Xfinity race at a short track.

Maybe that is extreme, but with NASCAR President Steve Phelps saying last fall that “everything is in play” when examining the sport, why not consider such an idea?

Cathy Rice, general manager at South Boston Speedway, a .4-mile track, told NBC Sports that the change — caution laps did not count previously for local races 75 laps or less — was made to give fans more racing.

What if the race has several cautions and the night stretches on? Rice, entering her 31st season at South Boston, said they would shorten the event. It goes back to her belief that they should limit the racing to three hours (not including practice and qualifying). If the first race takes the green flag at 7 p.m., then the checkered flag should wave on the final race by 10 p.m. so fans can return home at a reasonable time.

“I’m pretty hard on that … that’s what we want to do, that’s what we’ve got to do,” Rice said.

Rice said she’ll keep a close eye on how long the races go with the caution laps not counting. The rule may work perfectly or may need some tweaking, but for Rice it was worth trying after fans had told her they wanted more green-flag racing.

That’s what they’ll get this season.

4. Close quarters

Daniel Suarez’s first time on the track with his new team at Stewart-Haas Racing was Wednesday and Thursday at a Goodyear tire test at Auto Club Speedway.

Two other cars were there, including Suarez’s former team, the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing now driven by Martin Truex Jr.

5. NBC SPORTS SCORES app 

The NBC SPORTS SCORES app is a new way to engage, read and watch all of the content across our platforms.

Available on iOS and Android, the NBC SPORTS SCORES app has up-to-date scores, standings, schedules, podcasts, access to NBC Sports radio content, videos and more.

You can also get all of the latest NASCAR news on the app from NASCAR Talk. All of the NBC SportsTalk sites are available on it.

Click on the links below to download the brand new NBC SPORTS SCORES app via iTunes and Google Play.

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/nbc-sports-scores/id1123078102?mt=8

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nbcsports.news&hl=en_US

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New Cup driver, spotter combinations set for 2019

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A number of Cup drivers will have new spotters this season, including former champion Brad Keselowski.

Coleman Pressley will be Keselowski’s spotter this season, Team Penske confirmed.

Pressley replaces Joey Meier, who had been Keselowski’s spotter since 2006. Meier announced in November that he would no longer be Keselowski’s spotter.

Meier will spot for Paul Menard this season, a team official confirmed to NBC Sports.

Pressley, the son of former NASCAR Cup driver Robert Pressley, had been the spotter for AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing from 2015-18.

With rookie Ryan Preece taking over the No. 47 car for Allmendinger this season, Preece will have Stevie Reeves as his spotter, a spokesperson with JTG Daugherty confirmed to NBC Sports. Reeves had previously been the spotter for Menard at the Wood Brothers.

Former champion Kurt Busch also will have a new spotter this year. He’s moving from Stewart-Haas Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing. Tyler Green, who had been the spotter for Jamie McMurray, will remain with the team and work with Busch this season.

Michael McDowell also will have a new spotter this year. He’ll work with Frank Deiny Jr. Rookie Matt Tifft will have Chris Monez as his spotter. Monez worked with multiple drivers in the Xfinity Series last year.

Matt DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing this season and will be paired with Doug Campbell, who was the team’s spotter last season.

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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Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace lead Cup drivers in gained Twitter followers in 2018

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We’re now in the final hours of 2018 and as we all reflect on its highs and lows, it’s time to follow-up on one lingering thread from the beginning of the year.

On Jan. 2 we published a post looking at how many Twitter followers each full-time Cup driver had that day.

Now we’ve gone through and tallied up their totals 12 months later.

These numbers come with a bit of an asterisk. In July, Twitter undertook a campaign to purge the social media platform of bot accounts and the accounts of NASCAR drivers and teams were not left untouched.

On Jan. 2, Jimmie Johnson led all full-time Cup drivers with 2,636,014 followers. According to Kickin’ the Tires, Johnson lost roughly 60,000 followers in the purge, putting him at around 2.6 million. At press time on Dec. 31, his follower count had risen to 2,645,151. He’s the only active Cup driver with more than a million followers.

Overall, Chase Elliott and Bubba Wallace had the largest net gains in followers. Elliott added 74,572 followers in the year where he was voted the Cup Series’ Most Popular Driver. Wallace added 57,163 followers in a year where he finished second in the Daytona 500 and was the subject of a Facebook Watch series that documented the build up to his start in the race.

Denny Hamlin saw the largest net loss of followers. On Jan. 2 he had 763,325 followers. Five months after the purge, Hamlin has 721,289 followers for a let loss of just over 42,000 followers.

Here’s each Cup driver’s follower count on Jan. 2 and their count 12 months later (post bot account purge).

 

Driver                     Jan. 2 total                Dec. 31 total

Jimmie Johnson – 2,636,014                    2,645,151 (Net gain of 9,137)

Kasey Kahne – 963,189                             985,387 (Net gain of 22,198)

Kevin Harvick – 954,433                           981,109 (Net gain of 26,676)

Kyle Busch – 899,151                                 897,231 (Net loss of 1,920)

Brad Keselowski – 766,394                       756,456 (Net loss of 9,938)

Denny Hamlin – 763,325                            721,289 (Net loss of 42,036)

Chase Elliott – 733,157                               807,729 (Net gain of 74,572)

Clint Bowyer – 626,345                              666,390 (Net gain of 40,045)

Joey Logano – 472,237                              481,538 (Net gain of 9,301 in title season)

Martin Truex Jr. – 423,074                         446,344 (Net gain of 23,270)

Ryan Newman – 367,002                            360,882 (Net loss of 6,120))

Kyle Larson – 349,659                                395,424 (Net gain of 45,765)

Kurt Busch – 342,699                                 376,789 (Net gain of 34,090)

Jamie McMurray – 317,209                         317,617 (Net gain of 408)

Trevor Bayne – 272,939                              260,528 (Net loss of 12,411)

Austin Dillon – 270,967                                278,484 (Net gain of 7,517)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 227,632                    228,456 (Net gain of 824)

AJ Allmendinger – 217,197                           216,738 (Net loss of 459)

Ryan Blaney – 161,730                                 213,678 (Net gain of 51,948)

Ty Dillon – 156,602                                      159,270 (Net gain of 2,668)

Darrell Wallace Jr. – 126,473                      183,636 (Net gain of 57,163)

David Ragan – 121,643                                120,490 (Net loss of 1,153)

Aric Almirola – 112,423                                127,860 (Net gain of 15,437)

Michael McDowell – 88,435                       88,340 (Net loss of 95)

Alex Bowman – 58,194                                77,965 (Net gain of 19,771)

Erik Jones – 53,041                                     68,140 (Net gain of 15,099)

Matt DiBenedetto – 49,495                        59,864 (Net gain of 10,369)

Daniel Suarez – 41,081                                52,589 (Net gain of 11,508)

Chris Buescher – 38,981                             27,868 (Net loss of 11,113)

William Byron – 36,169                                55,416 (Net gain of 19,247)

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