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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.

Auto-Owners Insurance to continue backing Martin Truex Jr. through 2021

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Auto-Owners Insurance will continue as a sponsor of Martin Truex Jr. and Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota through the 2021 Cup Series season, according to the company’s website. JGR announced a multi-year deal with the company in 2019.

Like the last two seasons, the company will be on Truex’s car in eight races in 2020: Atlanta (March 15), Bristol I (April 5), Kansas I (May 31), Michigan I (June 7), Brickyard 400 (July 5), Kentucky (July 11), Michigan II (Aug. 9) and Martinsville II (Nov. 1).

The insurance provider has sponsored Truex since 2016 when he drove for Furniture Row Racing.

Truex earned a series-best seven wins in 2019, his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing. He enters his second year with the organization, but will have a new crew chief in James Small.

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NASCAR cuts spoiler as part of changes to short track package

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NASCAR revealed changes Tuesday for Cup teams at short tracks in 2020, including the championship event at Phoenix Raceway, in an effort to improve the racing at those tracks.

The racing quality at short tracks last year drew much criticism, leading NASCAR President Steve Phelps to say in November at Miami that “our promise to our fans … is that we are going to provide the best racing we can at our short tracks.”

Among the changes for those specific tracks:

  • A significantly smaller rear spoiler, which shrinks from an 8-inch height to 2.75 inches.
  • The front splitter’s overhang will now measure a quarter-inch (down from 2 inches), with approximately 2-inch wings (reduced from 10.5 inches).
  • Alterations to the radiator pan, removing its vertical fencing in an effort to reduce front-end downforce. The dimensions of the pan remain the same.

The changes are similar to what was used in 2017-18. The package will be used for 14 races — 11 on short tracks and the three road course events.

Tracks with changes will be Bristol, Dover, Martinsville, New Hampshire, Phoenix, Richmond, the Charlotte Roval, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

Phoenix Raceway will host the championship race Nov. 8. It is the first time the track has hosted the Cup title race.

Five of the 10 playoff races will feature this new package. Those races will be Richmond (Sept. 12), Bristol (Sept. 19), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 11), Martinsville (Nov. 1) and Phoenix (Nov. 8).

Bristol, the Roval and Martinsville are all cutoff races in the playoffs.

The short package will make its debut March 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

“Our goal has always been to provide the best possible racing for our fans, regardless of venue,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, in a statement. “The 2019 Cup Series race package delivered some of the most exciting races on intermediate and larger tracks that our sport has seen, however we felt we could make improvements to short tracks and road courses. We believe we have found the right balance for 2020 that will allow teams to build off their previous knowledge of this package and showcase exciting side-by-side racing at tracks of all sizes.”

O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that the changes made for 2020 will carry over to the Next Gen car.

“The good news for the future car is it has those built in already, which will be a bonus based on what we learned,” O’Donnell said.

Frustration built last season for competitors and fans with the racing at short tracks.

Martinsville prominently illustrated the issues at short tracks last year. Brad Keselowski won the spring race after leading 446 of 500 laps. Martin Truex Jr. won the fall playoff race, leading 464 of 500 laps.

The Richmond playoff race had six lead changes among three drivers. Truex, the race winner, and Kyle Busch, who finished second, combined to lead 311 of 400 laps.

After Corey LaJoie comments, NASCAR says ‘efforts continue’ on short track package

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Cup driver Corey LaJoie stated on a podcast Thursday what he believes will be the series’ short track rules package in 2020, but NASCAR told NBC Sports that “those efforts continue” and that officials will provide “more information when appropriate.”

The racing quality at short tracks last year was a hot button issue, leading NASCAR President Steve Phelps to say in November at Miami that “our promise to our fans … is that we are going to provide the best racing we can at our short tracks.”

LaJoie, who is entering his second full-time Cup season with Go Fas Racing, detailed what he said the changes would be at short tracks on the “Sunday Money” podcast he co-hosts. The podcast is produced by Motor Racing Network, which is owned by NASCAR.

Here’s what LaJoie said.

“So we are going to have a low downforce package. The 750 (horsepower package) is going to have a comparable sized spoiler to what it had in (2018). It’s going to be a little bit bigger than what it was in 2018, not much. Less than three inches. The spoiler’s only going to be as tall as my cellphone.

“It will take the amount of downforce we had last year at the short tracks and cut it in half. So we had about 3,400 pounds of downforce is what they said last year and it should be about 1,700. So that’s a lot. It’s up to Goodyear, the ball’s going to be in Goodyear’s court to make a little bit softer tire that degrades a little bit so we can move around and lay some rubber down at places like Richmond and Martinsville. I don’t know what they’re going to do at Dover. I assume they’re going to be low downforce there as well, Phoenix. So hopefully it provides a little bit better racing.”

Asked in November if NASCAR would cut the rear spoilers on cars for short tracks, Phelps said: “Yes, could we go to something that is a lower downforce package and do we think that will probably be one of the answers that we could look at to be successful on the short tracks? Yes. Whether it’s cutting off the spoiler, other opportunities for us to take some of the downforce off there, those are things that we’ll explore.”

Martinsville prominently illustrated the issues at short tracks last year. Brad Keselowski won the spring race after leading 446 of 500 laps. Martin Truex Jr. won the fall playoff race, leading 464 of 500 laps.

The Richmond playoff race had six lead changes among three drivers. Truex, the race winner, and Kyle Busch, who finished second, combined to lead 311 of 400 laps.

The championship finale moves to Phoenix this season for the first time.

Here is NASCAR’s full statement to NBC Sports on Thursday:

NASCAR is working closely with our industry partners and race teams to improve the racing on short tracks and road courses. Those efforts continue, and we look forward to providing more information when appropriate.

Probable 2020 milestones in the Cup Series

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The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season is nearing with the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16.

There are a lot of changes this year.

Now it’s time to look at some of the accomplishments that could or likely will be achieved over the course of the 36-race season, for both drivers and teams.

Jimmie Johnson

The seven-time champion will have one last go at earning a record eighth title before retiring from full-time Cup racing. He’ll also try to end a 95-race losing streak that dates to June 2017. A win by Johnson would give him 84 and move him into a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth all-time.

Kyle Busch

The defending Cup champion is within milestones in all three of NASCAR’s national series. He’s four Cup wins away from 60, four Xfinity Series wins from 100 and four Truck Series wins away from 60. Busch has said once he reaches 100 Xfinity Series wins he’d stop competing in the series unless car owner Joe Gibbs needed him to fill in.

With 56 career victories, Busch is seventh on the all-time wins list. Dale Earnhardt is sixth with 76 victories.

A win by Busch this year would give him wins in 16 straight seasons. That would match Jimmie Johnson’s streak from 2002-17. Richard Petty had 18 straight seasons with a win (1960-77) and David Pearson had 17 straight seasons with a win (1964-80).

Kevin Harvick

The 2014 Cup champion needs one win to reach 50 for his career. He’s currently tied for 11th on the all-time wins list with his team owner, Tony Stewart. Harvick has 1,151 starts across NASCAR’s three nationals series. Thirty four starts this year will match him with Richard Petty for second all-time. Joe Nemechek has the most all-time with 1,188.

Denny Hamlin

After earning six wins in 2019, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver needs three more to reach 40 Cup wins. He’s currently tied with Hall of Hamer Bobby Isaac. Should Hamlin win the Daytona 500, he’d be the first driver to win the race in back-to-back seasons since Sterling Marlin (1994-95).

Martin Truex Jr.

The 2017 Cup champion could reach 30 career wins this season. He has 26. Of note, every eligible retired driver who has 30 or more Cup wins is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Five active drivers have 30 or more wins: Brad Keselowski (30 wins), Kurt Busch (31), Hamlin (37), Harvick (49) and Kyle Buch (56).

Ryan Newman

In his second season with Roush Fenway Racing, Newman is within two victories of 20 career wins. He’s been stuck there since 2017 when he won the spring race at Phoenix Raceway. A win would give Newman a victory with all four organizations he’s competed for in Cup (Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing are the others). Roush is winless in the last 91 races.

Kurt Busch

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver should reach 700 Cup Series starts this season. He’s 16 starts away from the mark and is scheduled to reach it June 14 at Sonoma Raceway. Among active full-time Cup drivers, Busch’s 684 starts are the most.

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Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano

The Team Penske drivers should both reach 400 career starts this season. Logano will reach the mark in the Daytona 500, while Keselowski needs 23 starts. He’s scheduled to make start No. 400 on Aug. 9 at his home track of Michigan International Speedway (Keselowski has yet to win there).

More: Team Penske changes up crew chief lineup

Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola

McDowell and Almirola are each set to reach 350 Cup Series starts this season. McDowell is scheduled to reach that mark Sept. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Almirola would reach it Oct. 25 at Texas Motor Speedway. With 321 starts, McDowell trails Landon Cassill (324 starts) for most starts among active full-time drivers without a win. StarCom Racing has not announced its plans for Cassill in 2020.

J.J. Yeley

The veteran driver is set to compete full-time for Rick Ware Racing this season. It would be his first full-time Cup season since 2007 when he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing. Yeley is nine starts away from his 300th Cup start. He is scheduled to reach the mark April 19 at Richmond Raceway.

Notable veteran drivers without Cup wins: Matt DiBenedetto (176 starts), Ty Dillon (126 starts), Corey LaJoie (93 starts), Bubba Wallace (76 starts), William Byron (72 starts) and Ryan Preece (41 starts).

Rookie winner?: Should Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek or Brennan Poole win a race this year, they’d be the first full-time Cup rookie to win a race since Chris Buescher in 2016.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Team Milestones

Wood Brothers Racing

If Matt DiBenedetto wins a race in 2020, he would earn Wood Brothers Racing its 100th Cup victory. The team has 99 wins in 1,582 starts since 1953.

Stewart-Haas Racing

Four wins away from 60 Cup wins since its inaugural season in 2009. Seven poles away from 60.

Chip Ganassi Racing

Two wins away from 20 Cup victories since 2001 (includes five wins under the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing banner).

Richard Childress Racing

3,000 combined Cup starts. Needs six, or three races with its two teams. Scheduled for March 1 at Auto Club Speedway. Team is winless since the 2018 Daytona 500 (71 races).

Team Penske

2,000 combined Cup starts. Needs 21, or seven races with its three teams. Scheduled for March 29 at Texas Motor Speedway.

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