Kevin Harvick wins first Daytona 500 qualifying race

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Kevin Harvick won Thursday night’s first Daytona 500 qualifying race.

He led 44 of 60 laps and beat Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Paul Menard, Matt DiBenedetto and Martin Truex Jr.

“It handled good when we were behind cars,” Harvick said. “Last week taught us that we needed to have track position. They did a good job on pit road and got on and off pit road and then we had a couple Ford Mustangs behind us as well. Ricky and Paul worked with us and we were able to keep the track position and our cars were fast enough together to keep everyone else back there.”

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman finished 12th and qualified for the Daytona 500 after he placed ahead of Tyler Reddick and Ryan Truex. Truex failed to make the Daytona 500.

The only caution was on Lap 26 when Jimmie Johnson made contact with Kyle Busch on his left rear on the backstretch. Busch spun unharmed onto the apron. Busch finished 18th, one lap down.

The contact was similar to what happened between Johnson and Menard in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash.

Click here for the results.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Preece bounced back to finish 10th after he was caught speeding on pit road early in the race … Matt DiBenedetto (fourth) earned his best finish in a Daytona qualifying race in four starts … Daytona 500 pole-sitter William Byron led 16 laps but didn’t engage in competitive racing for the final run to save his car for Sunday.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Matt Tifft placed 19th after he was caught speeding twice on pit road … Brad Keselowski placed 20th after he was penalized for pitting outside his box and speeding on pit road while serving his first penalty.

NOTABLE: Kevin Harvick won his second Daytona 500 qualifying race (2013) and has finished in the top three in his last three starts.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “He ran into me. Flat out. Watch the television.” – Kyle Busch to reporters on his incident with Jimmie Johnson

QUOTE OF THE RACE NO. 2: “I thought I knew where I was with my right front and I just had it wrong.” – Jimmie Johnson to reporters.

Guide to 2019 Cup Series paint schemes

Stewart-Haas Racing
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We’re less than a day from having cars on-track at Daytona International Speedway to begin the 2019 Cup Series season.

Below is an updated guide to confirmed series paint schemes for this season.

Which is your favorite?

MORE: Full speedweeks schedule

No. 00 – Landon Cassill

Cassill’s Daytona 500 car

Star Com Racing

No. 1 – Kurt Busch

Chip Ganassi Racing
Gear Wrench Instagram

No. 2 – Brad Keselowski

Team Penske
Team Penske

No. 3 – Austin Dillon

Dillon’s Daytona 500 car celebrating Richard Childress Racing’s 50th anniversary.

(Richard Childress Racing/HHP/Harold Hinson)
(Richard Childress Racing/HHP/Harold Hinson)
(Richard Childress Racing/HHP/Harold Hinson)
(Richard Childress Racing/HHP/Harold Hinson)

No. 4 – Kevin Harvick

 

Stewart-Haas Racing

Hunt Brothers Pizza Twitter

No. 6 – Ryan Newman

Roush Fenway Racing
Roush Fenway Racing
Performance Plus Oil
Roush Fenway Racing

No. 8 – Daniel Hemric

The car Hemric will race in the Daytona 500 honoring Richard Childress Racing’s 50th anniversary.

RCR
RCR
RCR

No. 9 – Chase Elliott

Hendrick Motorsports

 

Hooters
Kelley Blue Book
Hendrick Motorsports

No. 10 – Aric Almirola

No. 11 – Denny Hamlin

No. 12 – Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney Twitter account

No. 13 – Ty Dillon

Germain Racing

No. 14 – Clint Bowyer

Stewart-Haas Racing
Stewart Haas Racing
Stewart-Haas Racing
Stewart-Haas Racing

 

No. 17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

Roush Fenway Racing

 

Sunny D Racing

No. 18 – Kyle Busch

Joe Gibbs Racing

No. 19 – Martin Truex Jr. 

Martin Truex Jr. Twitter
Joe Gibbs Racing

No. 20 – Erik Jones

Joe Gibbs Racing

No. 21 – Paul Menard

Wood Brothers Racing

No. 22 – Joey Logano

No. 24 – William Byron

Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports

No. 32 – Corey LaJoie

Go Fas Racing

No. 34 – Michael McDowell

Front Row Motorsports

No. 36 – Matt Tifft

Tifft’s Daytona 500 car

Front Row Motorsports

No. 37 – Chris Buescher

Buescher’s Daytona 500 car

Photo: Dustin Long

Buescher’s car will feature seven different monthly themes throughout the season to spotlight different brands sold at Kroger

March

April

May

June and July

Back-to-School

Fall

No. 38 – David Ragan

No. 40 – Jamie McMurray

McMurray is scheduled to make one start so far in 2019 as part of a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports.

No. 41 Daniel Suarez

No. 42 – Kyle Larson

Chip Ganassi Racing

No. 43 – Bubba Wallace

Wallace’s car for the Daytona 500

Plan B Sales

 

No. 47 – Ryan Preece

JTG DAUGHERTY RACING

No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson

Hendrick Motorsports

No. 88 – Alex Bowman

Hendrick Motorsports

 

Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports

No. 95 – Matt DiBenedetto

 

Leavine Family Racing
Matt DiBenedetto Twitter

 

Friday 5: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning Xfinity races

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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Jeffrey Earnhardt sighs and says “too long.”

He rests his head in his hand and stares ahead.

“It’s been too long,” Earnhardt says since he last won a race. “Hell, I can’t remember. That’s pretty sad. It’s been a while.”

A journey that started with racing a Yugo — yes, a Yugo — and later moved from small team to small team in NASCAR, now has its reward more than a decade later.

Earnhardt will drive in nine Xfinity races for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, beginning with the Feb. 16 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. 

The expectations are high — “it’s wins or nothing” he saidbut the pressure can’t compare to what Earnhardt faced to reach this point.

“The pressure to go and get in a car that is capable of winning, that’s the pressure I’ve been looking for my whole life,” he said, wearing a black Joe Gibbs Racing T-shirt in a conference room at the team’s Cup headquarters.

Instead, the pressure has been to survive in the sport. Beginning with the Yugo.

He begged his father for a couple of years to let him race. His dad eventually relented, saying Earnhardt could compete if he found a car and sponsorship to pay for it. Earnhardt got the Yugo and sponsorship for it.

He never won in that car. But he didn’t drive it long.

“I ended up flipping it,” Earnhardt said of a race at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Virginia. “Because it was so slow. A guy shoved me off in the corner and turned me sideways and another car came and hit the front end of the car … and turned me head-on into the outside wall. Flipped. Landed on its roof.

“I was like, ‘Man, this thing is going to catch on fire.’ I’d seen too many movies. I ended up getting my shoelace hung on the brake pedal and didn’t think I was going to make it out alive. Everyone was like, ‘You’re fine, we’ve got you.’ ”

He thought everything would be fine when he joined Dale Earnhardt Inc. and drove in what is now the K&N Pro Series East Series in 2007-08.

“Signed a four-year contract at 17 years old and thought, this is going to be a walk in the park,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “Everything is going to be taken care of.”

But his ride went away after DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing in November 2008. The struggle to find rides began. Earnhardt ran one K&N Pro Series East race and two Xfinity races in 2009. He ran five Truck races in 2010. In 2011, he drove in two Xfinity races and five Truck races.

Earnhardt fought in one MMA bout in 2012 — he won — but realized afterward that he still wanted to race.

“I did the MMA thing to try to find something that gave me that rush that I get in a race car and it still wasn’t the equivalent,” Earnhardt said.

He continued to search for rides.

“What my grandfather did and his legacy means the world to me,” Earnhardt said of the late Dale Earnhardt. “I would hate to not think that I gave literally everything I possibly could to make it continue.”

He’s driven in 151 races in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks but never with a team that could compete for wins. His best Xfinity finish is 12th at Bristol (2014) and Talladega (2015). His best Cup finish is 11th in last July’s Daytona race.

With JGR, top 10s should be common. Earnhardt will drive the No. 18, a car that won twice last year with Ryan Preece at Bristol and Kyle Busch at Pocono and saw Noah Gragson finish second with in his Xfinity debut at Richmond last year.

“I was talking on the phone with my manager and I was like, I’ve gone from the struggle of trying to keep the car under me for the whole entire race and not wreck to now the struggle is going to be those late-race restarts when you’re on the front row,” Earnhardt said. “That’s a new challenge, it’s a good challenge.”

2. Reversal of fortune

What would have happened had NASCAR disqualified cars last year that failed inspection after a race instead of doing it this season?

Two Cup races would have had different winners.

Kyle Busch would have finished the season with a series-high nine wins instead of being tied with Kevin Harvick at eight.

Harvick would have lost his win at Las Vegas after his car was found to have an issue with the rear window during an inspection at NASCAR’s R&D Center. That would have given Busch, the runner-up, the win.

Also, Harvick would have lost his Texas win for an issue with the spoiler — also discovered at the R&D Center. But runner-up Ryan Blaney was penalized because his car failed inspection and the win would have gone to Joey Logano, who finished third in that race.

Nine cars that finished in the top four in a Cup race last year failed inspection after the event and would have been disqualified under this year’s rules.

3. Disqualification penalty appeals

Should a vehicle be disqualified after failing inspection after the race, the team can appeal. They will have to pay a non-refundable appeal filing fee of $5,000.

Unlike a regular appeal, which features a panel of three people, the race disqualification appeal will be heard by one person. It could be one of the 28 people listed in the rule book as appeal panelists or it could be the Final Appeal Officer or their alternate.

One thing to note in this particular type of case is that the decision of that one panelist is final. The decision cannot be appealed to the Final Appeal Officer.

4. Charter transfers

With a new season, comes the transfer of charters in Cup.

Six of the 36 charters have changed teams for this season.

The charter that was with BK Racing’s No. 23 car last year, which Front Row Motorsports purchased, will be with the No. 38 car of David Ragan.

The charter that had been with Ragan’s team goes to teammate Matt Tifft. Front Row Motorsports added a car, growing to a third team this season.

The charter with Richard Petty Motorsport’s No. 43 car with Bubba Wallace goes to Rick Ware Racing and will be aligned with the No. 51 car and driven by B.J. McLeod in the Daytona 500.

The charter that was with Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 car last year goes to RPM’s No. 43 car this season.

Furniture Row Racing’s charter was purchased by Spire Motorsports and be used with the No. 77 car. That will be No. 40 for Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 and then go back to No. 77 the rest of the season. 

The charter that had been with the No. 72 car of TriStar Motorsports moves to the No. 52 car at Rick Ware Racing.

5. Rule changes

NASCAR came out with a bulletin this week that updated its rule book.

Among some of the changes:

— Drivers must have all four tires below the orange box at the commitment line to enter pit road. That had been the case last year at all tracks except Martinsville. Drivers needed to only put two tires under the orange box there. Now, they will have to adjust at Martinsville.

— A pit crew member’s foot must not touch pit road before the vehicle is one pit box away from its assigned pit box or the equivalent marked distance. Should a crew member’s foot or both feet touch the pit road surface too early, the pit crew member can re-establish their position back to or behind the pit wall before servicing the car to avoid a penalty.

— A sixth person can go over the wall during a pit stop but that person’s duties are limited to servicing the driver in their health and well-being, assisting with safety systems, window net, helmet and cooling ventilation hose, radio system replacement, steering wheel wiring, providing personal medical supplies and cleaning the windshield. Such a person, though, is not allowed to help repair the body and/or mechanical components on the car.

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Richard Petty Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports announce crew chief changes

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Bubba Wallace will have a new crew chief in 2019 with Drew Blickensderfer leaving to take the same position with Front Row Motorsports.

Richard Petty Motorsports said in a statement it will announce a new crew chief “at the appropriate time.” Meanwhile competition director Philippe Lopez will lead the No. 43 team’s efforts to prepare for the season.

Wallace finished the 2018 season 28th in points. He earned three top 10s, including second place in the Daytona 500.

Blickensderfer, who was with RPM since 2012, heads to Front Row Motorsports, which announced its crew chief lineup Wednesday.

Blickensderfer will be paired with Michael McDowell on the No. 34 Ford. Blickensderfer replaces Derrick Finley, who will serve as FRM’s technical director.

Mike Kelley joins FRM to crew chief rookie Matt Tifft and the No. 36 Ford. Kelley was previously with Roush Fenway Racing where he was crew chief on the No. 60 Xfinity car. Kelley is a two-time Xfinity champion, winning with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011 and 2012.

Seth Barbour will return for his second full season as crew chief on David Ragan‘s No. 38 Ford. He joined the team in the middle of the 2017 season as a crew chief for Landon Cassill.

The crew chief moves come as the team recently announced it had moved shop locations.

 

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Matt Tifft celebrates significant milestone about brain surgery recovery

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NASCAR Cup rookie driver Matt Tifft was in a celebratory mood Wednesday — and for good reason.

Tifft, who will drive for Front Row Motorsports this season along with David Ragan and Michael McDowell, took to social media to update followers that he has reached a significant milestone in his ongoing recovery from brain tumor removal surgery on July 21, 2016.

MORE: Matt Tifft starting to feel like normal human again after brain surgery removed low-grade tumor

MORE: Matt Tifft to drive third car for Front Row Motorsports

Tifft told followers his recovery has been so good that he won’t have to undergo another routine followup brain scan and exam for at least a year.

“It’s a huge step,” Tifft said in a Twitter video. “Almost three years out from surgery now. It’s really awesome to see that nothing has come back. … Hopefully, I can keep the good health up for many more years to come.”

Tifft competed in just 10 races in the 2016 Xfinity Series before undergoing surgery. He came back to run full Xfinity seasons in 2017 (finished 7th) and 2018 (6th, including a career-best six top-5s and 19 top-10s.

Check out Tifft’s post and video from Wednesday:

By comparison, here’s how Tifft’s brain looked six months after surgery in January 2017.

Follow @JerryBonkowski