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Reports: Daniel Suarez to drive for Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Multiple reports state that Daniel Suarez will drive the No. 96 Cup car for Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2020.

The team has not made any an announcement.

Toby Christie reported Friday at tobychristie.com that a deal was done for Suarez to drive the full Cup season for Gaunt Brothers Racing. Motorsport.com reported Monday that Suarez would join Gaunt Brothers Racing for the full season.

Suarez would replace Parker Kligerman, who confirmed to NBC Sports on Friday that he would not return to the No. 96 car this season.

This would be the fourth Cup season for Suarez. He drove for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017-18 before being replaced by Martin Truex Jr. Suarez moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019 and was replaced after the season by rookie Cole Custer.

Suarez continues to seek his first Cup win. He has eight top-five and 32 top-10 finishes in 108 Cup starts. He won the 2016 Xfinity title, a year after winning rookie of the year honors in that series.

Gaunt Brothers Racing debuted in 2017, running one race with D.J. Kennington. The team ran 22 races the following year between Kligerman, D.J. KenningtonJeffrey Earnhardt and Jesse Little. The team ran 15 races last year with Drew Herring running once along with Kligerman’s 14 starts.

Parker Kligerman will not return to No. 96 Cup car

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Parker Kligerman said Friday that he will not drive the No. 96 Cup car for Gaunt Brothers Racing this season.

Kligerman ran 14 races for the team last year, finishing a season-high 15th in the Daytona 500 and also in the fall Talladega playoff race. Kligerman ran four races with the team in 2018, placing a season-best 23rd at Sonoma.

“It was a super cool opportunity,” Kligerman told NBC Sports of driving for Gaunt Brothers Racing. “I didn’t think I was going to get a second shot at Cup. Then I had that opportunity at the Coke 600 (in 2018 with the team) and last year we did way more races than I ever thought we would do and got to be a part of the Toyota family.

“I felt like we really, as race team, improved and improved and improved and got to where our last race at Texas was one of our best races of the year. We were just solid, speed-wise and execution and all that stuff. It was cool to see that and be a part of that. That’s why I did that. I felt like we were building something.

“(Owner Marty Gaunt) has been great to me, super open to the process in the offseason. In my position, being a driver that doesn’t have any personal funding, you always know, especially being a part-time driver, you’re on borrowed time. I’m very happy for them. I wish them all the best.”

Kligerman said he does not have any rides for 2020 in any of NASCAR national series. Kligerman is a NASCAR on NBC broadcaster and co-host of the show “Proving Grounds” on NBCSN.

The team has not announced its plans for the 2020 season. Daniel Suarez, linked to the team, has not announced his plans for this year after losing his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing after last season.   

Gaunt Brothers Racing debuted in 2017, running one race with D.J. Kennington. The team ran 22 races the following year between Kligerman, Kennington, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Jesse Little. The team ran 15 races last year with Drew Herring running once along with Kligerman’s 14 starts.

Matt DiBenedetto to drive Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity car at Road America

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Matt DiBenedetto announced Tuesday that he will drive the No. 18 Xfinity car for Joe Gibbs Racing next weekend at Road America.

Jeffrey Earnhardt was scheduled to run that car at Road America before parting ways with sponsor iK9 on Aug. 7.

This will be DiBenedetto’s first Xfinity start since 2016 when he ran 19 of the season’s 33 races. He last ran at Road America in 2014, finishing 11th for car owner Curtis Key.

DiBenedetto will be able to run Road America because the Aug. 24 race comes on the final weekend off for Cup.

Jack Hawksworth joins Joe Gibbs Racing for Mid-Ohio Xfinity race

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Jack Hawksworth, a former IndyCar driver and current IMSA racer, will make his Xfinity Series debut this weekend in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).

Hawksworth takes the place of Jeffrey Earnhardt, who announced Wednesday morning he had parted ways with sponsor iK9 and wouldn’t be competing this weekend.

Hawksworth, 28, has two IMSA wins this year, including a GTD class win at Mid-Ohio in May.

“I’m excited to be joining the Joe Gibbs Racing team and driving the No. 18 iK9 Toyota Supra this weekend at Mid-Ohio,” Hawksworth said in a press release. “It’s a fantastic opportunity in a completely different series, against completely different competition and in a different type of racing.

“From a personal perspective, I’m very excited to experience something new and to be challenged in a new way. It’s going to be very different, I’m sure it’s going to be difficult and there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve with it, but I’m going into it with a championship-winning organization so that gives me a lot of confidence. I look to get out there and do a good job and looking forward to getting out on the track.”

A native of Bradford, England, Hawksworth competed in IndyCar from 2014-16, with the final two years racing for A.J. Foyt.

He earned one podium finish in 2014 on the Houston street course.

“As we head in to the second road course of the season, we’re fortunate to have a veteran like Jack Hawksworth be able to come out of the Lexus program to help out the Toyota family and our team in the No. 18 iK9 Supra this weekend,” said Steve DeSouza, Executive Vice President of Xfinity Series and Development for Joe Gibbs Racing in a press release. “He will bring a great deal of experience and a history of success to JGR this weekend.

“I think he’ll be a great asset to our team and be someone that both Brandon (Jones) and Christopher (Bell) can look to for advice on how to get around Mid-Ohio. He’s proven he can win at the track and no reason not to continue that this weekend with the 18 team.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt parts ways with sponsor IK9, won’t race at Mid-Ohio for JGR

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The remainder of the 2019 racing season for Jeffrey Earnhardt is unclear after the grandson of seven-time NASCAR champion and Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt tweeted this morning that he has “parted ways” with sponsor IK9.

IK9 had sponsored Earnhardt in five of his seven Xfinity Series starts this season. Those five races were in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Earnhardt’s other two Xfinity starts were for XCI Racing. IK9 also sponsored Earnhardt’s sole Cup start for XCI Racing this season at Talladega.

Earnhardt tweeted: “Just wanted to let ya’ll know that iK9 and I have parted ways and wanted to thank them for the opportunity to race with @JoeGibbsRacing & @ToyotaRacing. Wish them the best in their future.”

As recently as Aug. 5, Joe Gibbs Racing tweeted Earnhardt would be competing in this weekend’s Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

 

According to a JGR team statement, “IK9 remains a sponsor with us and will be on the car this weekend as scheduled. He (Earnhardt) is parting ways with IK9 as he indicated in his tweet. We will announce the driver for this weekend for the No. 18 IK9 Supra soon.”

The son of former racer Kerry Earnhardt and nephew of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeffrey Earnhardt has one top-five (a career-best third at Charlotte) and two other top-10 finishes (sixth at Atlanta, eighth at Texas) in his seven Xfinity starts this season. All three of those finishes were with JGR.

“Jeffrey has a great relationship with JGR and Toyota and that has not changed,” a Jeffrey Earnhardt Inc. spokesman said in an email to NBC Sports.

It’s unclear whether Wednesday’s news will impact the 30-year-old Earnhardt’s tenure with XCI Racing.

Earnhardt has 76 career Cup starts, 73 Xfinity starts, 10 Truck Series starts and has also competed on the Pinty’s (Canada), K&N East and Whelen Euro series.

IK9 issued this tweet Wednesday afternoon: