Young NASCAR drivers Cole Custer, 19, Austin Cindric, 19, Chase Briscoe, 23 and Ty Majeski, 23 will pair up to compete in ultra-fast Ford Mustang GT4s for Multimatic Motorsports on the afternoon before the Rolex 24 At Daytona green flag drops.
And while some of those NASCAR stars have a bit of road course experience, the opportunity to run in next weekend's endurance race on the 3.56-mile Daytona road circuit will be both an eye-opener and an adrenalin rush.
Cindric, who finished third in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series last year, is the only one of the four to have notable time competing in road racing. He finished 14th in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class in the 2016 Rolex 24. And in addition to next Friday's Continental Tire race, he will again race in the twice-around-the-clock Rolex season opener, this year driving in the Prototype class.
For Custer, Briscoe and Majeski this will be their debut on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile Daytona road course that incorporates both the track's famous high-banked speedway and it's technical, infield course.
Not only will the young drivers benefit from road course experience, but the extra time competing together as they head into a season featuring unique and exciting seat plans in the Xfinity Series. While Custer returns to the series in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Cindric, Briscoe and Majeski will share Roush Fenway Racing's No. 60 Ford under the guidance of two-time series champion crew chief Mike Kelley.
The four-hour sports car race will be a good -- and competitive get-to-know-you -- opportunity for the Roush teammates to learn about each other and for the brand of racing.
"Definitely something totally different from what I'm used to doing and growing up doing,'' said Briscoe, last year's Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year. "It's cool, I'm glad Ford is letting us do it. It's been nice to be able to come here and be with people I know like Cole, Austin and Ty.
"I'm excited to come back for the race. It's cool how many fans come just to watch practice. I'm excited to see what this place is like come race weekend.
"I've only run two road course races my entire life so it's going to be a big challenge. Just trying to figure out where to find some speed at. You feel like you're getting everything you can out of it and you're still two seconds off the pace."
Actually, Briscoe wasn't too far off the pace at all.
During the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 test two weeks ago, drivers and teams turned three days of laps. Cindric and Briscoe were second fastest in the opening session and Custer and Majeski were third.
In four more sessions, the NASCAR pairings were primarily top-10 on the practice chart. Cindric and Briscoe were consistently top-six among the nearly 40 teams that participated.
"Chase and I were teammates (at Brad Keselowski Racing) in trucks, so we have a pretty good working relationship already," Cindric said. "So for us to share a car is pretty easy. I do have a bit of a senior role if you will, because I have (road racing) experience, but I think we'll all be fine. He's gotten right up to speed and I couldn't be happier to be a part of it. I honestly think we have a shot at a podium or win.
"It's more of a program from Ford for Chase and Ty to get them some road race experience. Cole has a lot of road course experience. It's a fun program to be a part of and super unique to what any other manufacturer is doing, cross-pollinating their development programs which is kind of a new concept."
While Custer -- last year's Xfinity Series breakout star and winner of the season finale in Homestead, Florida -- may have some road course experience, his driving partner Majeski does not. At all.
"Turning right is (the biggest adjustment), something I've literally done none of my entire life,'' Majeski said with a laugh. "Just a whole different set of instincts to get speed out of these cars and I'm learning all I can.
"Only my second time ever on road course and multi-class thing is a lot different. Everything seems different, huge new experience. I'm leaning on Scott Maxwell, my teammate, a lot. It's been a huge learning experience so far, but gone well so far. Looking forward to sinking my teeth in even more.
"It's just different. ABS brakes, traction control, no spotters, big mirrors, just a whole different world, different experience in general but a lot of fun. You can drive these cars really hard because of all the gadgets on them."
Not only will Majeski get some tutelage from his co-driver and sports car standout Maxwell, but Custer has also proven himself one of NASCAR's better road course competitors despite his early experience level.
He has three top-10 finishes in three Camping World Truck Series road course races, including a pole position and runner-up finish in Canada in 2016. His best road course finish in three Xfinity Series races last year was an eighth place at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
"Always good to get out there and feel different characteristics of a road course and I've learned a lot from Scott Maxwell,'' Custer said. "Ford had the idea to get us all more experience. It's a really great thing them helping us.
"I think every driver wants to run these road course races, especially ones that are prestigious like this.''
--Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.
Fittingly, Patrick will take her final bow on NASCAR's and IndyCar's biggest stages and her most renowned sponsor, "GoDaddy" will provide the primary funding for her farewell.
"First and foremost, GoDaddy is such an appropriate fit, a great fit,'' Patrick told the NASCAR Wire Service shortly after her news was released.
"It's so exciting as we have so much history together but also because I feel like people were starting to wonder what was going on. And there were some points in time where I was a little frustrated too, but it's nice to be able to announce something.''
Patrick still hasn't revealed which teams she will be driving for in either of the races, but did confirm news will be coming shortly about her Daytona 500 plans. Patrick drove for Stewart-Haas Racing all five of her full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series seasons from 2013-1017.
"We are getting close on that stuff and we need to be, right,'' Patrick said. "We're on track in the next couple weeks.''
"So that [announcement] will be coming up soon.''
In the meantime, Patrick, 35, said she's been overwhelmed by the positive response not only in anticipation of her final two races, but now with the news her car will carry GoDaddy livery.
"It's absolutely [appropriate],'' she said. "They have been the biggest brand along with my brands. They have been my biggest sponsor, they've done the Super Bowl commercials, the most everything.
"Of course on track, one of those big moments was being on pole for the Daytona 500. That was a really big deal and starting next to Jeff Gordon. That was pretty cool. Even just the announcement of moving from IndyCar to NASCAR was a big deal. They've been a huge part of my life, not just my career.''
Patrick is the only woman to have led laps both in the Daytona 500 (nine) and the Indy 500 (29) - two of the world's most renowned races. She won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and finished eighth.
She has six top-10s in seven Indy 500 starts with a best of third place in 2009. Both those career highlight races were in GoDaddy livery.
"You could say, ‘we're getting the band back together,''' GoDaddy Chief Marking officer Barb Rechterman said of the company's alliance with Patrick.
"It makes sense in that our goals are so well-aligned. She's passionate, tenacious and creative just like so many of our customers who are also looking to leverage the power of the internet and turn their ‘side hustle' into a full-time business.
"Danica absolutely epitomizes the heart of our GoDaddy customers. We love it.''
In making the announcement just before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup's Homestead season finale last November that she would no longer compete fulltime, Patrick was understandably emotional. She was also, however, firm in her commitment to "go out" in a big way. Which is much like the way she came into the sport.
She recently released a book, "Pretty Intense," launched a clothing line named "Warrior," and has her own California vineyard, "Somnium," Latin for the word, "dream."
Patrick has been named one of TIME Magazine's "Most Influential People" and her appearance in 13 GoDaddy Super Bowl commercials is most all-time among celebrities.
"It was the first thought in my mind of who would be the most perfect fit so I'm grateful it fits,'' Patrick said of partnering again with GoDaddy. "It's really amazing how perfectly aligned the brands are from where we've come from, to where we are now, and the whole process in between.
"We've always been on the same page brand-wise and evolution-wise.
"It's a perfect fit, such a great story.''
With real possibilities for a storybook ending.
--Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.
"I want to make it clear to everybody on the (conference) call, I know you thank me for the time, but it's an honor to be able to sit here and take questions for the Hall of Fame," Evernham said.
"I can do this all day if you want,'' he added, with a laugh.
He certainly would have plenty to discuss in his NASCAR Hall of Fame career that began at Bill Davis Racing guiding a young Jeff Gordon before serving as crew chief for three of Gordon's four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships at Hendrick Motorsports and then owning a flagship team himself that led to some of the sport's great crowning moments.
Under Evernham's leadership with the famed "Rainbow Warriors" No. 24 Chevrolet team, Gordon rolled to 47 premier series wins in just seven full seasons before Evernham transitioned to a completely new role and fresh challenge: Premier series ownership.
Evernham operated and succeeded in similar style, spearheading Dodge Motorsports' triumphant return to Monster Energy Series racing in 2001. Fellow Hall of Famer Bill Elliott earned Evernham Motorsports its inaugural victory in that 2001 season finale at Homestead, Fla. - the first of 15 total wins for Evernham's team.
And the veteran Elliott added a dramatic Brickyard 400 trophy for the team the very next year - in one of the most celebrated victories in NASCAR.
Young Washington-state bred Kasey Kahne joined the operation to earn Rookie of the Year in 2004 and then immediately challenge for the series championship with six wins the following season. Kahne also hoisted all five of the Evernham team's XFINITY Series race trophies as well.
It is the definitive modern day NASCAR success story of a two-fold career that produced trophies, championships and ultimately, Hall of Fame recognition alongside the most important people in the sport's history.
No question, Evernham's work with a young Gordon is what put his name in the NASCAR vocabulary.
He is only the third designated "crew chief" to be voted into the Hall of Fame, and the first in five years. And considering he worked with Gordon for a relatively short term - seven years - the huge success they enjoyed is even more remarkable.
Obviously, Gordon's immense talent had a lot to do with the results, but Evernham proved to be an expert at making it all possible.
"You know, there's a big difference in what I call 'coaching' and 'managing,'" Evernham said. "I don't like to be a manager. I don't like to be a business-type manager where you're just directing people. But I really enjoyed the coaching, working with people together, solving problems, being part of a team, that kind of environment.
"Whether I should try to think I deserve to be even mentioned in a Lombardi style or not, that's kind of who I patterned after. Tough on people, drive them hard, but cared about them. You've got to be able to have that compassion along with determination.
"That part I enjoyed. I loved working down on the floor with the guys. I loved being at the race track.''
Evernham still insists that it was a difficult decision to step off the pit box with certain future Hall of Fame driver in order to develop his own team with Dodge.
But the New Jersey native also conceded, it was just in his makeup, to pursue and continually challenge himself. The opportunity with Dodge was intriguing and proved Evernham's abilities on a grander scale. And he certainly delivered on the big stage - again.
"It wasn't a no-brainer,'' Evernham explained of his decision to leave the championship Hendrick organization to start his own.
"It was a really, really, really interesting opportunity. It was something that I struggled with because Hendrick was my home. Rick Hendrick has been good to me. I had a lot of my success and things there. It was a tough decision to look at where I really wanted to go, what I thought I could do."
"The emotional connection to Hendrick and to Jeff was very, very tough for me,'' Evernham said. "But the excitement of being able to take that challenge, just to see if you could do it. ... I don't know, it's that Evel Knievel in all of us knowing that if I don't make that jump, I'm going to bust my butt, but I still really want to do it."
And Evernham landed the jump.
The opportunity to field cars for a former champion in Elliott along with the promise and results of a handful of young drivers - such as Kahne, Casey Atwood, Jeremy Mayfield and Elliott Sadler - made Evernham's gamble worth it.
And when he decided to walk away from the daily demands of either working as a crew chief or a team owner, Evernham had to feel absolutely proud of his effort -- an effort long applauded and now officially recognized as Hall of Fame worthy.
Married to racer Erin Crocker and father to two-year old Cate as well as 26-year old Ray J from his first marriage, Evernham now works as a consultant for Hendrick Motorsports and hosts the popular Velocity network show, "AmeriCarna."
"When I look at the guys that I'm in there with, it blows me away,'' Evernham said, anticipating the heralded ceremony Friday night in Charlotte. "I have been for months, struggling to find the right words to describe it, which I still haven't, and that will be a problem I guess Friday night if I don't get those words completely.
"I can tell you that it really truly just amazes me because I have never held myself in the same light as I hold a lot of those people. When you're growing up, you're thinking, 'Man, if I could only be as smart as that guy, or if I could only ever be as good as that guy.'
"Now going into the Hall of Fame with some of them, ahead of some of the others, it just totally blows me away.''
--NASCAR Wire Service, special to Field Level Media
The genuine excitement and gratitude for earning a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame was evident last week as Ron Hornaday Jr. spoke to reporters about the upcoming milestone in his life.
The always colorful, ever humble four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion was upbeat recalling important moments in his career and telling classic stories about those who helped him make the big time.
And while the 59-year old Californian may not have ever predicted he would be a NASCAR Hall of Famer one day, he definitely knew the sport's truck series was destined for greatness. And both of their paths have led to similarly significant achievements.
"They [NASCAR] had a five-year plan for the trucks and I think the first year, we exceeded that five-year plan of what we thought it was going to do," said Hornaday, who also exceeded his own expectations, winning 51 races in a four-championship 17-year career competing in the truck series. Three of his four titles came after the age of 40. He won the 2009 championship at the age of 51.
Hornaday also won four times in the XFINITY Series and finished a career best third place in the 2004 championship. He finished top-five in the championship in three of the four full-time seasons he ran in that series.
Hornaday won two NASCAR Southwest Series titles in what was the preamble to his Hall of Fame tenure in NASCAR's trucks.
"I was pretty humbled," Hornaday said of getting the news last May that he was NASCAR Hall of Fame bound. "I thought it was pretty cool to be the first one [truck champion] in there.
"I hope I can represent the truck series since they put my career on the map, what they've done for my whole family. Definitely I owe everything to NASCAR and the France family for starting the truck series and the phone call from [the late Dale] Earnhardt of giving me an opportunity to make it big time.''
In a certain sense, Hornaday was able to pay it forward as well. Often, NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series drivers have referred to "Hornaday's Couch" - the furniture they slept on while temporarily staying with the veteran and his wife at their home as the young racers found their path in the sport too.
"When I met Jimmie Johnson at a Chevrolet function, he was coming from off-road [racing] and he told me he was moving down, doing this and that,'' Hornaday recalled of his fellow Californian. "I told him, ‘don't go rent a place, that's a waste of money. Save some money, buy your own house then.'
"He might have stayed three to six months, maybe a year. It's something where when you have a big enough place, they're all hanging out on the couch.''
"And," he added, "We still have that couch by the way."
The couch, part of "Camp Hornaday," certainly boasts a pedigree, having hosted a couple young, budding champions. Not only did the seven-time champion Johnson spend time bunking with Hornaday and his wife, Lindy, but so did fellow Californian, 2014 Monster Energy Series champ Kevin Harvick.
It all speaks to Hornaday's laidback, welcoming nature. He is friendly and fun, but behind the wheel of a race car, he made magic - often beating drivers half his age.
In preparing for the upcoming Hall of Fame induction, Hornaday conceded it's still pretty incredible to realize how far his career went, and how successful NASCAR's trucks - the youngest of the three major series - would be. Hornaday said he never imagined having such a historic role in the series.
"I was just glad to be a part of it, get an opportunity to do it," Hornaday said of the mid-1990s when the series originated and began to flourish.
"I was racing for Wayne [Spears] at the time and asked him if he was going to run the whole Truck Series. I told him what I had the opportunity to do and he told me, I should take it. It was probably the best choice I ever made in my career.
"When you have two successful businesses out of Californian - my wife and I did - to get up and move [to North Carolina], it was kind of a gamble. It worked out for us though. Very fortunate for that.
"We had to do it, we had to go win, we had to put food on the table."
And he did more than that. Now he will bring home a Hall of Fame ring and abounding, well-deserved recognition for his contributions to the sport. Already highly regarded, Hornaday is one of the most popular selections to the Hall.
As he closed out his telephone press conference with the national media last week, Hornaday quickly offered a personal and wonderful summation.
"Just a heads up,'' he said, with a slight laugh. "I can drive a race car. I'm not good at standing in front of my peers with a monkey suit, telling them how good I am.
"It's all about everybody that ever helped me out. Hopefully I can do well and not get tongue-tied.
"Thank you guys, for everything, all the years."
--By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service, Special to Field Level Media
Ken Squier, the man who coined the phrase "The Great American Race" to describe the Daytona 500 will formally join NASCAR's "Greatest" later this week. The co-founder of Motor Racing Network (MRN) and longtime voice of the sport will become the first broadcaster among the Hall of Fame's legendary list of inductees.
The 82-year old Vermont native is a broadcast icon, setting the standard for calling NASCAR race broadcasts. He famously worked NASCAR's flag-to-flag network television debut, the 1979 Daytona 500 featuring post-race fisticuffs between Bobby and Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough and his smooth voice and polished insight made him a broadcast favorite for decades thereafter in a sport he famously described as "common men doing uncommon things."
Squier will forever be most associated with that historic '79 Daytona race telecast and selling the NASCAR product to network television. It's a source of great pride and he is certainly accustomed to the questions about the landmark race and the scuffle in the closing credits.
"They were on each other, both (Donnie Allison and Yarborough) as determined as any race drivers that ever walked the face of the earth,'' Squier recalled of the tangle.
"They were not going to give it up. There you saw the result.
"It was a very dramatic moment.''
And as for the overall significance of the broadcast?
"It was a matter of introducing people from Manhattan into the scope of American stock car racing,'' he said. "In the bread basket of America, that was the name of the tune that turned people on the most at that time.
"Having them, CBS, take an interest in it. ... we did a group of races before we ever did the Daytona 500 and they did so well. It was like everything the network did in those days. They spent the time, spent the energy, forethought to really put together what it was about.
"This was a new page.''
It was new to many of Americans and set a high bar for race excitement, but for Squier, calling NASCAR races was essentially old hat. He began race play-by-play for the MRN network he co-founded in 1969 - before getting the call regularly for the television broadcasts.
In addition to his talent behind the microphone, in 1982 Squier is credited for helping to develop the sport's first "in-car camera" - a hugely popular and unique broadcast feature still used today in later variations.
That camera was an invaluable tool in giving the world a glimpse of the most popular Daytona 500 victory in modern time - Dale Earnhardt's 1998 triumph.
Squier remembers how emotional the steely Earnhardt was after that win, and how emotional everyone on pit road was for Earnhardt to finally win after 20 tries. The car in Earnhardt's famous No. 3 Chevrolet picked up the amazing greeting the champion received after pulling onto pit road headed to the Daytona 500 victory lane for the first time.
"Just how emotional he could be, he pretty much always hid it, but you couldn't hide that,'' Squier recalls of the afternoon.
Squier was also in the television booth for the FOX Sports pre-race show before its full season debut in 2001 when the seven-time champion Earnhardt was killed in the final corner of the final lap of the Daytona 500 - a race ultimately won by Michael Waltrip in a car Earnhardt owned.
Humbled and awed by his historical selection to the sport's great Hall of greats, Squier still insisted he was most pleased to have witnessed the competition and tell the stories of all the great men and women behind the steering wheel and behind pit wall.
"I guess what's most impressive, is the competition,'' Squier said last week when asked what memory stands out the most of his NASCAR broadcasting career.
"What you have today, that is the fruit of it. It's pretty good tasting."
--By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service, special to Field Level Media
Sargeant is no stranger to the series, having raced six times in the trucks since 2015. But at 19, he will be one of the freshest faces.
"I'm really excited to be joining a championship-caliber team in GMS Racing for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season," said Sargeant in a team statement. "[Team owner] Mike Beam and everyone at GMS Racing has put so much effort into this No. 25 team during the offseason and I can't thank them enough for this opportunity."
Veteran Doug Randolph will take on crew chief duties, but other specifics including sponsorship and potential teammates will be announced at a later date.
--Field Level Media
Robert "Red" Byron was a true NASCAR original -- the sport's first crowned champion (Modified Series) and first Strictly Stock Series (the current-day Monster Energy Cup Series) title winner -- and now he will join the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a nod to his historic achievements and the exciting foundation he helped establish for the sport.
Byron's racing career will be formally honored as he is inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame during its Jan. 19 ceremony in Charlotte, N.C., joining a fittingly accomplished class that also includes the late engine builder/team owner Robert Yates, Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr., championship crew chief Ray Evernham and pioneering broadcaster Ken Squier.
Byron, who passed away in 1960 at the age of 45, was the sport's first champion, and bona fide head-turner. He answered his 1948 Modified Series title in 1948 with that historical Strictly Stock crown a year later winning two of the eight Strictly Stock races that season en route to that championship in a car owned by another NASCAR Hall of Famer, Raymond Parks.
Like many others of his era, Byron's story and his contributions to the sport are even more incredible considering his service to his country long before he thought about a checkered flag.
He served in the United States Army Air Corps in the Pacific during World War II. Assigned to Alaska's Aleutian Islands, Byron suffered a severe injury to his left leg while flying in a combat mission during the war and later had to wear a specially created steel leg brace while racing. A version of the brace, which had to be attached to the clutch pedal of his race cars, is mounted in one of his cars displayed in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It hardly slowed Byron down. The Virginia native-turned Anniston, Ala. resident had nine top-10 finishes in 15 starts, winning a pair of races and a pair of pole positions in three years of Strictly Stock competition.
He won on the Daytona Beach, Fla., road course in 1948 -- earning one of the most iconic checkered flags in NASCAR history -- and he answered the victory at another of the sport's most storied facilities, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway months later.
He was recognized in 1998 as one of NASCAR's all-time Top 50 drivers for his historic efforts.
"In so many ways he was the perfect first champion," the late NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. once said of Byron. "A guy who loved racing so much, he refused to give it up. And he loved his country so much he gave it all he had."
Following his stock car career, the former flight engineer turned his focus to developing a sports car to race in the famed 24 Hours of LeMans in France, but Byron died of a heart attack while finalizing details for the effort.
--Field Level Media, special from NASCAR Wire Service
Newly-crowned Monster Energy Series champion Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota) joins Chase Elliott (Chevrolet), Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola (Ford) on the 1.5-mile Fort Worth high banks Tuesday and Wednesday.
Elliott is debuting the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after previously piloting the No. 24. And for Almirola, this will be his first formal outing in the No. 10 Ford since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason after a six-year tenure with Richard Petty Motorsports.
The test session also marks the on-track debut of the Camaro ZL1, the new model Chevrolet will field in the 2018 Monster Energy Series, replacing the Chevy SS.
"The new Camaro ZL1 is a great looking race car with a lot of heritage behind it, which will make it a big hit with fans," seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said at the car's August unveiling. "And as someone who's enjoyed the ZL1 on the street, I'm really looking forward to getting this new race car on the track."
The next preseason test is for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series test at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Jan. 17, its goal to help teams get accustomed to the new optional engine approved for use in 2018.
The Monster Energy Series will have an organizational test Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- with one car from each organization allowed laps at the 1.5-mile facility that will host its first ever Playoff race on Sept. 16.
NASCAR's Daytona Speedweeks begins officially Feb. 11 with Daytona 500 pole qualifying followed by the Advance Auto Parts Clash. The 60th running of the "Great American Race," the Daytona 500, is Feb. 18.
--Field Level Media, special from NASCAR Wire Service
The honorees revealed Friday also include Carl G. Fisher, the founder of Indianapolis Motor Speedway; U.E. "Pat" Patrick, a team owner who won the Indianapolis 500 three times; John Buttera, who built title-winning drag race vehicles; Bob Tullius, a sports-car driver and team owner; and Fred Merkel, a motorcycle-riding legend.
"Our inductee classes are always intriguing but this year is even more so," MSHFA president Ron Watson said. "Howard Hughes and Jeff Gordon in the same class -- that is probably the best example we've ever had to illustrate the breadth of our inductee roll."
The announcement was made at Daytona International Speedway, with Tullis, 87, on hand.
"To be here at Daytona makes it even more special," Tullis said, according to Autoweek.com. "My first race at Daytona was in 1962. ... The honor to be selected by your peers is far and above other kinds of awards."
Gordon captured NASCAR's top-series title in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001, the fourth-highest total in history. His 93 Cup Series wins rank third as part of a career that included starts in 797 consecutive events.
The eccentric Hughes founded Hughes Aircraft, built the "Spruce Goose" aircraft and set many air speed records in the 1930s.
--Field Level Media
Chip Ganassi Racing is known for competing in the IndyCar Series, NASCAR Series and the Xfinity Series, among others. The company also entered the IMSA Series in 2004, capturing its first overall victory two years later.
Ganassi will be charged with giving the command, "Drivers, start your engines," before the road-course race that begins Jan. 27 and goes for 24 hours.
"This is a really big honor for me to be recognized by a race that has meant so much to me over my career, both as a driver and an owner," Ganassi said.
Chip Ganassi Racing owns seven victories in the IMSA series opener.
Ganassi was a successful businessman and former race driver when he formed his company in 1990. In 2001, he bought a majority stake in Sabates' Team SABCO NASCAR team. He later moved his CART team to the rival Indy Racing League, which is now known as the IndyCar Series.
Ganassi teamed with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2008, merging their NASCAR operations into Ganassi's shop. The Earnhardt name was dropped in 2014.
Current Chip Ganassi Racing drivers include Scott Dixon and Ed Jones.
--Field Level Media
Patrick announced her retirement following the 2017 NASCAR season after being replaced by the Stewart-Haas Racing team. However, Patrick said she would ideally walk away from competitive racing after competing in this year's marquee NASCAR and Indy events.
Patrick raced in IndyCar from 2005-11 and spent the past eight years in the NASCAR Series.
"It's taking longer than I'd like it to take, I'll be really honest with you," Patrick said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday, per USA Today. "I thought it was going to be a quicker process, but you know, you can't rush things. I'm a big believer - more and more all the time - of letting things flow and just letting things take shape in the way that they would, and that's kind of why I ended where I ended with finishing up (my) full-time career last year and doing the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 for this year. I was just like, I didn't push anything, and I just let things flow, and it turned out to be just perfect. Honestly, I'm excited and just so grateful. ...
"So similarly with the teams I'm going to race for - or the team - in NASCAR and in IndyCar, I'm pushing politely, but you can't make things happen before they're ready to happen. So I kind of thought it would get more simple. There's less people involved, less sponsors, less things. Well, it's still complicated. It's still complicated. So it's just taking a little bit of time, but we'll hopefully have something to announce soon enough."
The Daytona 500 is in February and the Indy 500 in May.
--Field Level Media
Childress, 72, and his wife were upstairs in their Reedy Creek home when they were alerted by the sound of glass breaking downstairs at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. The NASCAR Hall of Famer grabbed his handgun, went downstairs and fired shots at three men, who appeared to be armed and whose faces were mostly covered, according to police.
It was unknown if Childress' shots struck any of the assailants, who promptly fled the scene and remain at large.
Childress will not face charges for firing his weapon, as the North Carolina Castle Doctrine allows individuals to defend themselves against home invasions.
Per the police statement, Childress told the sheriff that "the only reason he and his wife were here today was because of God and the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms)."
Childress offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, per the Winston-Salem Journal.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LAS VEGAS -- Understandably, the proudest moment of Martin Truex's racing life was simultaneously a source of enormous frustration for Kyle Busch.
But both drivers recall with indelible clarity the closing laps of the Nov. 19 Ford Eco-Boost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race that made Truex a champion and Busch a disappointed runner-up for the title.
For the record, Truex powered his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota across the finish line, with Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota .681 seconds in arrears. But the outcome was in doubt for the final 17 laps, after Busch passed Kevin Harvick for second place on Lap 250 of 267 and took off after Truex, who had claimed the lead off pit road for a restart on Lap 234.
With Busch driving a faster long-run car, Truex found a small patch of grip high in Turn 4 and kept Busch's Camry in his mirror.
"For me, it's probably one of my proudest moments, because I got put in that position, and my guys said, 'Here it is; it's all up to you now; here's the lead with 32 laps to go -- show us what you've got,'" Truex told the NASCAR Wire Service.
"It's definitely one of the proudest moments of my career to be able to bring it home for them, after all they've done for me and giving me the opportunity they have and putting me in a position to be a champion. I was glad I could hold up my end of the deal."
Though Truex hasn't watched a replay of the race in its entirety, he relishes the memory of every second of the closing green-flag run.
"I can remember every single one of those laps," Truex said. "I can remember everything that happened, everything I thought, when I missed the line, when I hit it, and, most importantly, when I found that little patch of grip up there off of Turn 4.
"That was the game-changer for me."
For Busch, not so much.
"I tried that same patch -- it didn't work for me," Busch said after Wednesday's Myers Brothers Awards ceremony in the Encore Theater. "I tried to get as close to the wall as I could off of (Turn) 4. I was way too loose. I just didn't have the drive-off that I needed, and I think that was a lot to do with being in his wake, just being behind him and having the aero deficiency that I had."
The final 15 laps weren't just a two-car battle. Enter Kyle Larson, who charged past Harvick for the third position on Lap 252 and, running against the outside wall, quickly rolled up near Busch's back bumper and began contemplating his prospects of passing the No. 18.
"I got to third, and I felt like, if I was going to win or pass those guys -- which I felt like I could -- I needed to pass them before 10 (laps) to go," said Larson, who was eliminated from championship contention by an engine failure at Kansas Speedway.
"I felt like, once we got to 10 to go, I needed to respect them and kind of let things play out between those two... I didn't want to screw one guy and not the other."
Interestingly, Busch contemplated letting Larson pass him in the closing laps.
"I actually though about, with maybe 15 to go, something like that ... he (Larson) was really close to me, and I was like, 'I wonder if I let him go, and he gets in-between us, if he'll go and try to race Truex and pass Truex and help Truex come back to me," Busch said.
"So I thought about doing that, but I said I can't give in to that at this moment of letting somebody else within the battle, because, if he doesn't go up and pass the 78, he just pushes me further behind. That's why I stayed the way we were and tried to fight it out."
With Truex making ground near the top of the track, Busch tried a low line, and with three laps left, he lost momentum off Turn 2. With a head of steam around the top, Larson was there to give the No. 18 a nudge.
"I was hoping to launch him forward, but I kind of got him squirrely," Larson said. "I'm glad he didn't hit the wall, because I was just trying to help him out. Not that I wanted him to win over Martin. I just wanted to get him closer to make the racing more exciting, I guess."
In the moment, Busch understood Larson's intent.
"I knew that was a moment of help," Busch said. "It wasn't a moment of trying to screw with me at all. I knew what that was. It's just that these cars are so loose on the straightaways, with not a lot of downforce, and of course we were on older tires, with higher air pressure and everything like that, and it got me juked up.
"But I was expecting that, and I was fine with it. It was all good."
In the end, the bump from Larson didn't help enough to put Truex's title in jeopardy. But it helped to make the final 17 laps of the event some of the most riveting in recent memory.
TRUEX JR., POLLEX WIN MYERS BROTHERS AWARD
--Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. and long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex earned the prestigious Myers Brothers Award, not for Truex's accomplishments on the race track, but for their unrelenting generosity off the asphalt.
Pollex has been battling ovarian cancer since her diagnosis in 2014 and recently had a recurrence that has required chemotherapy. Nevertheless, she and Truex have maintained a commitment to charitable causes that took root more than a decade ago.
"It's been a crazy, crazy year for both of us, both personally and professionally, with my cancer and...," Pollex said with a catch in her voice.
"Don't do that, 'cause I'm going to cry," Truex interjected. "This is an unbelievable honor to receive this award. We definitely didn't see it coming. It was unexpected. Sherry and I have been very fortunate in our lives to have all the things we needed.
"We've had great families, great parents that raised us right and taught us right from wrong. I think they probably deserve a lot of the credit for us being who we are and being able to give back and help people... We've learned so much from past champions, and just everybody in the sport that's so willing to give back.
"We don't deserve all the credit for this. I think we've learned a lot of lessons from a lot of people in this room."
KESELOWSKI GRATIFIED BY HONORS TO TRUCK TEAM DRIVERS
--Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, won't be fielding a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team in 2018, but his Brad Keselowski Racing team is departing on a high note.
BKR driver Austin Cindric made the Championship 4 race at Homestead and finished third in the final standings. Teammate Chase Briscoe earned Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors and was voted the series' most popular driver.
"I'm proud of him," Keselowski said of the latter distinction for Briscoe. "I'm proud of the marketing team at BKR as well. They put a lot of effort into that, in trying to promote and do those things and help those guys launch their careers with some kind of star power and branding efforts.
"It's something we've taken very seriously, and it's good to see it take a foothold."
Both Briscoe and Cindric will drive partial schedule in Roush Fenway Racing's No. 60 XFINITY Series Ford next season, along with RFR development driver Ty Majeski.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LAS VEGAS -- Tony Stewart had some sage advice for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as NASCAR's most popular driver faced his first season of retirement from full-time driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
"Stewart told me that first year's a weird one," Earnhardt said on Tuesday night before a gala at the Cosmopolitan simultaneously celebrating his career and his partnership with Nationwide Children's Hospital.
"I'm starting to understand a little bit of what he meant."
Earnhardt won't be away from the race track, though. He will be highly visible as the co-owner of his four-car JR Motorsports NASCAR Xfinity Series team and in his new role as a broadcaster for NBC Sports. For Earnhardt, that's the saving grace.
"It's felt weird, to be honest with you," said Earnhardt, who made his last run in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "Being finished with the season and knowing that you're not going to go back and start another one is a weird feeling. Being away from the sport is so weird.
"Just being home for Thanksgiving is a very odd feeling and not a comfortable feeling at all. I'm always going to want to be at the track, and always want to be around the sport and involved in the competition somehow, some way. If I ever thought I was just going to quit cold turkey, I must have been kidding myself, because just being away for a couple days, it's difficult."
Tuesday night brought finality. It was the last event in the year-long "Appreciati88ion" tour celebrating Earnhardt's contribution to the sport, with proceeds from the night benefiting the Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Earnhardt and long-time brand manager Mike Davis emceed the show themselves, with Davis introducing a parade of surprise guests who shared stories about the driver in a "This is Your Life" sort of format.
Seven-time champion and Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson took credit for getting Earnhardt to don Spandex and begin a regimen of bike riding, as well as for convincing him to start using Twitter.
NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton recalled the first time he summoned Earnhardt and crew chief Tony Eury Sr. to the sanctioning body's hauler for the first time, after Earnhardt's mouthing off on the radio at Bristol crossed the line.
Newly crowned Monster Energy Series champion Martin Truex Jr. made an appearance, along with "Dirty Mo Posse" members T.J. Majors (Earnhardt's long-time spotter), Shawn Brawley (Truex's former roommate at Dirty Mo Acres) and Josh Snider (Truex's first public relations representative).
Both Eurys were there -- Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. -- as well as drag racer Brandon Bernstein, who showed Earnhardt the ropes when he signed with sponsor Budweiser.
Dale Jarrett, whom Earnhardt credits with providing emotional support after the death of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., in the 2001 Daytona 500, joined former crew chief and fellow NBC broadcaster Steve Letarte on stage.
The program concluded with an appearance by former NBA star Charles Barkley who also provided retirement advice.
"You've got to find something to do," Barkley said over and over again.
For Earnhardt, that shouldn't be a problem.
In addition to his presence at the race track, Earnhardt is heavily involved in charitable work. Tuesday also marked the launch of the Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund for pediatric injury rehabilitation, funded by a gift of $88,888.88 from the driver and his wife.
Earnhardt has made regular visits to the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and has taken both wife Amy and members of the No. 88 race team to the facility. Now that the Earnhardts are expecting their first child in May, the mission of the hospital has even greater meaning to the couple.
"Yeah, I think it does, especially some of the situations that the children and the parents are in," Earnhardt said. "They're clinging to the last hope, and obviously, the hospital's been able to save a lot of kids lives there that are born prematurely, and so forth -- saving lives that they wouldn't even have a chance of saving 10 years ago.
"Last time we went with the race team, we met some parents with a child that was born 20 weeks, I believe, premature, and we were in the hospital with the parents in the unit with the child on its birthday, on the day it was supposed to be born. And they had in front of them a healthy child. They could hardly get two words out without crying over their joy of having the opportunity to have that care, and that their child's life was saved, and they're going to take home a healthy baby.
"Those experiences you have really lock you in."
One thing Earnhardt won't be using to fill his time is an appearance on "Dancing with the Stars," which reportedly has been trying to enlist the driver for the television series.
"That's never going to happen, I promise you," Earnhardt said. "There's nothing in this world that would get me out on their dance floor."
What if Nationwide offered another gift to the fund?
"I would match it just to be able to stay off the dance floor," Earnhardt said. "I'd be willing to do a lot of things. That's not one of 'em."
As expected, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s final race in the premier Cup series brought down the house before the 400-mile race even began. When it was over, Martin Truex Jr.'s heroic stretch drive clinched the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, and the two longtime friends ended up in an extended hug shortly after the trophy presentation.
Truex persevered over the final stretch with not the fastest car, but one carrying the gutsiest driver. He found a way to hold off the faster Toyota of Kyle Busch while under extreme pressure, ginning up two-tenths of a second with some offbeat paths through the corners that had the additional benefit of creating enough air turbulence to keep Busch at bay.
Busch's Toyota had been four-tenths of a second faster on worn tires, but the one-two punch of Truex was too much.
The championship winner relied on an old short-track trick of not looking back.
"Turn that mirror down," Truex said to himself, "and hit your marks." Initially that wasn't quite enough. "You've gotta find something before they get to you," he recalled. "I found two-tenths and that's all it took."
Earnhardt may not have won a title in 19 seasons, but he championed NASCAR racing throughout his career, creating fans in a much different way than his seven-time champion father.
His stats don't measure up to those of another driver -- Matt Kenseth -- who began at the same time and who is retiring for at least a year. But Earnhardt was fast enough to win 26 races, including eight majors at Daytona and Talladega. He never banged fenders to do it -- although he bent some sheet metal while congratulating Truex on the cool-down lap.
"I high-fived him with my race car," Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt went on to declare his crew "top drawer" and friends for life with the sort of keen loyalty that his father was known for. He thanked team owner Rick Hendrick, himself no stranger to tragic family deaths.
"Rick has been like a father to me," he said. "He's helped me more than anybody I know, just like he's done for others. I'll miss trying to make him proud when I was behind the wheel."
Throughout his career, nobody ever intimidated Earnhardt, but out of the car he declined to play the tough-guy role like "The Intimidator," the father he loved but chose not to always emulate. Earnhardt's thank-you speech to fans in the stands from his car before the race as well as to those watching on television summed up his dedication and was yet another reminder of why he's been a people's champion.
So, is this the new NASCAR, the touchy-feely version? Not really.
Before the night was over, championship contender Brad Keselowksi responded to a journalist's question by saying the Toyotas of Truex and Busch had an unfair advantage. Busch initially had a difficult time coming to terms with the fact another Toyota driver had him covered. The kinder, gentler version of NASCAR will have to wait, although first there's the championship celebration to consider.
Truex and his team were the sentimental favorites due to girlfriend Sherry Pollex's battle with cancer, crew chief Cole Pearn's loss of his best friend to an infection that suddenly claimed his life and the fatal heart attack of crewman Jim Watson during the playoffs. Then Furniture Row Racing team owner Barney Visser had a heart attack that required bypass surgery and missed the Homestead race while recuperating in Colorado.
But there was more to Truex's eight-win campaign capped off by the victory Sunday. In an age of entitlement that has countless people complaining snidely through social media, Truex counted his blessings win or lose over the course of a season where he might have won several more races.
In a manner far more transparent than most professional drives care to allow, he recounted often enough why he could accept unwanted outcomes on the track due to life's higher priorities. Then he flat refused to lose in Homestead. It's difficult not to admire such stuff in champions.
For his part, Earnhardt counted it a victory to make it to the finish of his last Cup race, albeit three laps down due to a slow start and then a brief meeting with the wall that cut a tire. Nobody expected him to win -- unlike, say, the Talladega race last month where he won the pole -- and that was forgivable.
He has embraced the role of the sport's Most Popular Driver ever since he took over the mantle of the Earnhardt legacy after the fatal crash of his father. At the close of this season, surely the popularity became a distraction.
In a similar mode to Truex's equilibrium, the son of the seven-time champion never complained about his fate, which included the pertinent issue of not having Earnhardt Sr.'s other-worldly talent behind the wheel or his stamina.
If Earnhardt saw the sport of stock car racing as a test of manhood, it came down to what kind of man he wanted to be. His popularity is due to an honest effort to share his own experience and world view, one that is passionate about racing but never too far away from humor. He may not have the swagger, but he surely has the Earnhardt confidence.
It's hardly the end for the host of Dirty Mo's radio show. Earnhardt, who will work as a broadcaster for NBC Sports next year, repeated his plans to race in the Xfinity Series occasionally in cars fielded by his own team and will pursue another championship next year with Elliott Sadler as a follow-up to JR Motorsports driver William Byron's title run on Saturday.
When New Jersey native Truex first migrated south, he slept on the sofa at Earnhardt's house. Both had been surrounded by racing from birth due to the participation of their fathers. In the case of Truex, his father was a classic weekend warrior who succeeded in NASCAR's lower ranks when not busy building a frozen seafood empire. Harvesting clams was honest work, yes, but Truex wanted to get away from the seafood business "as fast as I could."
The two young drivers later became teammates at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and have long since been hunting friends. One wonders, sometimes, about the conversations between the two drivers while on the hunting trail. Likely as not, the two talked about life and racing more than they talked about hunting.
It was evident on Sunday that these two who have dedicated their lives to racing reaped a fitting reward.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The final race came down to the final laps, among the top cars from the dominant manufacturer, and ultimately, the most successful driver won the championship.
But even still, 2015 series champion Kyle Busch couldn't take much comfort in fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing winning his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
Busch, driving for affiliate Joe Gibbs Racing, would have much preferred that he had made up the final .681-second distance between the race winner and champion and his slot in second place.
"It wasn't quite what we wanted there at the end," said Busch, who closed on Truex Jr. doggedly in the final 10 laps. "I thought we had a really great race car, especially on the long runs we were really, really good.
"Just came down to there at the end not having enough tire when I got to (Truex Jr.), so I just overused my stuff, and I knew I overused my stuff when I was running with (Joey Logano, then holding second place) trying to get by him and just overworked everything.
"And got to (championship-eligible Kevin Harvick), got by him pretty quick, I tried to make sure that I could do that pretty quick so then I could have at least a little more tire life, but didn't seem to pay me off any when I got to (Truex Jr.)."
Busch led 43 laps and held a 21.4-second advantage as part of a fuel strategy play on Lap 216 of 267, but he was forced to surrender the lead to pit. He worked backed through the field because of his strength on lengthy runs and overtook Kyle Larson -- who led a race-high 145 laps -- for second place.
Busch's five wins this season were second only to Truex Jr.'s eight.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The crew in black and yellow fire suits went methodically about its business, check-listing last details before the beginning of the final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
A few feet away, the crew in the red and black fire suits was performing the same series of tasks, but a throng of onlookers and well-wishers pressed in at every movement.
It was a surreal scene, or rather scenes, both on Sunday and 14 years ago. But in each case, the careers and personas of NASCAR's most popular driver and his understated friend and contemporary had intersected.
In 2003, it was in the garage bays in the hours before Matt Kenseth finished off his first and only championship at NASCAR's highest level.
On Sunday, it was as he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. posed for a series of photographs for friends and family beside their cars staged in Turn 4 as they prepared to undertake their final races before retirement.
Earnhardt Jr. eventually broke from his gathering, slinked under a rope and waited through a television interview to speak with Kenseth. He'd been "adamant" Kenseth said, that their cars be parked next to each other for their moments, and was particularly intrigued that they were both using versions of their early career paint schemes for their farewells.
They shared a quip and a hug and then prepared to get on with the last vestiges of their careers.
In keeping with their divergent personalities -- Earnhardt Jr. -- compelled to accommodate the scores who wanted to share in the moment with him -- and Kenseth joined the field of cars to begin the start of the race, and NASCAR's 14-time most popular driver slowly drove pit road to exchange handshakes with crewman from other teams waiting near the wall.
Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth have always been different people seeking the same career goals, since they entered first the Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) and then Cup together, and it can be argued that Kenseth accomplished more.
Both won the Daytona 500 twice, but Kenseth claimed the 2003 championship and contended for others more frequently than his friend, who finished a career-high second in the same season.
Kenseth won 39 career Monster Energy Series races, Earnhardt Jr. 26.
When Earnhardt Jr. won consecutive Xfinity titles in 1998 and 1999, Kenseth finished second and third, respectively.
But Earnhardt Jr. always was and always will be the focus. It was his birthright and burden.
Understated and wry, Kenseth saw up close the scrutiny and demands on his friend and wanted no part of them. He learned that early.
In 2002, the bachelor Earnhardt Jr. hitched a ride with Kenseth and his wife, Katie, driving back from a race at Rockingham, when they cruised into a McDonald's. Earnhardt Jr. was inundated. Kenseth and Katie walked to the front of the line. Demands came with such fame and Earnhardt Jr. came to accept them as his part of the bargain.
NASCAR legend dictates that Kenseth's march to his championship for Roush Racing was so banal -- after winning one race he entered the final 226 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson -- that it prompted the series to institute the first version of what was then called the "Chase" in 2004.
Earnhardt Jr. arrived in third place, 264 behind for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and still gathering momentum as the standard-bearer of the sport and a crossover marketing star just two years after his father and namesake perished on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
In keeping with the Budweiser sponsorship on his red No. 8 Chevrolet, the mood on the edge of his camp that November was festive bordering on hysterical. Such was the reason that security stations theater ropes several feet beyond the mouth of his garage bay so crewman could work and push through mobbing fans carrying gear back to their transporter.
Kenseth's crew went about its business unbothered.
Ultimately, their departures from the series were in keeping with the way they conducted their careers, or at least had them dictated to them.
Returning this season after missing half of the 2016 season because of a recurrence of concussions, Earnhardt Jr. announced in April that he would discontinue full-time racing at the end of the season. A hashtagged farewell tour ensued, allowing his scores of fans and appreciative admirers to partake in his moment.
Kenseth, who will be replaced next season at Joe Gibbs Racing by 21-year-old Erik Jones, refused to accept a lesser job and eventually accepted his career was over.
Earnhardt Jr. chugged a beer as a massive mob surrounded his rubber-clumped car and engaged in a long embrace with team owner Rick Hendrick after exiting the car following a 25th-place finish.
Hendrick, whose son Ricky died with nine other Hendrick family members or employees in a 2004 plane crash, claimed Earnhardt Jr.'s helmet as a souvenir and slid away from the scene. He'd done the same in 2015 after four-time series champion Jeff Gordon's last race as a full-time driver at Homestead and wouldn't be without a token from someone he said he loves "like he's flesh and blood."
"I don't want to get any more helmets," Hendrick said, becoming emotional. "He and I have such a special relationship. We were talking about it. Now we can go fishing.
"So it's unbelievable to see his driving career come to an end, but he's excited about the next stage and I am too, We have a special bond, so we are going to do a lot of fun things together, and that's a commitment we made this year, early on when he told me he thought it was time. I've turned the page now and we're going to start planning the trip tomorrow morning."
At the absolute end of pit road, in the quiet, Kenseth sipped on a sports drink and joked with crew chief Jason Ratcliff. It was fitting.
There is the feeling that their paths will cross again, as Earnhardt Jr. remains around the sport as an Xfinity Series team owner and NBC analyst.
Kenseth, with three daughters younger than eight and another imminent, said his life will become filled with recitals and sports events. In the near term, he planned to "go up to Wisconsin and be cold."
"That was fun," he said of exiting alongside Earnhardt Jr., including taking a group photo with their teams on Friday. "We went for a bike ride when we were in Darlington and I told him this was going to be it, but I never really announced it just because I kind of knew by September, I pretty much had my mind was made up the way things were going and kind of knew it then.
"It's kind of cool we came into Cup together and now we go out together."
And in their own ways.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
1. (2) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 267.
2. (3) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 267.
3. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 267.
4. (9) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 267.
5. (18) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 267.
6. (19) Joey Logano, Ford, 267.
7. (5) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 267.
8. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267.
9. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267.
10. (21) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267.
11. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.
12. (16) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 267.
13. (13) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 266.
14. (26) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 266.
15. (6) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 266.
16. (15) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 265.
17. (30) David Ragan, Ford, 265.
18. (20) Aric Almirola, Ford, 265.
19. (12) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 265.
20. (29) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 265.
21. (14) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 265.
22. (8) Kurt Busch, Ford, 265.
23. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 265.
24. (23) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 265.
25. (24) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 264.
26. (32) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 264.
27. (22) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 264.
28. (33) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 264.
29. (11) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 264.
30. (31) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 263.
31. (34) Corey LaJoie (i), Toyota, 261.
32. (36) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 259.
33. (27) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 234.
34. (10) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, Brakes, 225.
35. (37) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Engine, 212.
36. (38) * David Starr (i), Chevrolet, Brakes, 175.
37. (25) Danica Patrick, Ford, Accident, 139.
38. (39) * Ray Black II (i), Chevrolet, Too Slow, 49.
39. (35) * Joey Gase (i), Toyota, Accident, 4.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 131.9 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 2 Mins, 11 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.681 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 26 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 4 drivers.
Lap Leaders: 0; M. Truex Jr. (P) 1-12; K. Larson 13-82; B. Keselowski (P) 83; K. Larson 84-121; K. Busch (P) 122-123; K. Larson 124-145; K. Busch (P) 146; K. Larson 147-161; M. Truex Jr. (P) 162-175; K. Busch (P) 176; M. Truex Jr. (P) 177; K. Busch (P) 178-216; M. Truex Jr. (P) 217-267.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Larson 4 times for 145 laps; M. Truex Jr. (P) 4 times for 78 laps; K. Busch (P) 4 times for 43 laps; B. Keselowski (P) 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 42,2,18,4,78,24,41,11,22,14
Stage #2 Top Ten: 42,78,4,18,2,41,20,22,24,11
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- According to NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, you don't have to look far to find the next generation of stars.
"They are here," France said Sunday morning before the Ford EcoBoost 400 during a question-and-answer session with reporters at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "They are here, and they've got to develop their performance, but they're doing well. You look at Ryan Blaney, you look at Chase (Elliott) almost making the final here in Miami. Go down the list. We've got a loaded group.
"But it's true, we're in a transition, too. But that happens from time to time, not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens. But we're excited. We've got a great, great bunch of 19-, 20- (year-olds), and they're talented, so we're in good shape."
NASCAR president Brent Dewar, who appeared with France on the dais, echoed those sentiments.
"We anticipate every decade you're going to go through this rotation, and between NASCAR Next and Drive for Diversity, these young stars that you're talking about have all come through those classes, and they're all good wheel men and women that are coming up through these series. And I think that's the key thing, and we're working with them in terms of how they work outside the car.
"And I think the other part is if you look at most sports, name any other major sport where you get to have a 15- to-20 year career at the highest level. It just does not exist. Those are exceptions. It's the norm here. So if you look at all the ones you take and you add 20 years, you're going to be somewhere around the age of a Dale Jr. and a Matt Kenseth, so they were those same very 19 , 20 , 21 year olds years back."
France's and Dewar's comments were juxtaposed against the backdrop of a sea change in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, from which the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is retiring after Sunday's race. Kenseth, the 2003 champion, also faces a hiatus from NASCAR's premier series, and Danica Patrick announced Friday she will race for the last time in the series in the 2018 Daytona 500.
"Dale Jr. has made an obviously big contribution on and off the track for a long time," France said. "So while we're going to miss him for obvious reasons, he's not going to be that far away, being an owner and working with NBC.
"So he's going to be glued to the sport, and that's a good thing for us."
Both France and Dewar expressed optimism about the state of the sport and were thankful for the dialogue and collaboration between the sanctioning body, team owners, manufacturers, drivers and race tracks toward a long-term strategic plan for the sport.
"Well, I'm really more optimistic right now, and I know you may expect me to say that, but we've made the transition largely," France said. "We've gotten the council meetings going. We've gotten charters in position so we can get our interests aligned more closely with drivers, OEMs and the charters and the team owners.
"We have the young drivers already in place. We'd like a couple more, of course. We've got some diversity with Bubba Wallace going in the 43 car (as the only African-American driver competing at NASCAR highest level). We like that. We'd love to see more of that. And we like all the changes that we've made in the last four or five years, including stage racing this year. It has created the things that we thought were important."
And just as the sanctioning body has collaborated extensively with race teams on the evolution of the racing on the track, so too has NASCAR and the industry worked to improve the overall business model.
"The difference is now we have a mechanism of working together and a process to do that, and we're all in," Dewar said. "From tracks to teams to drivers, we're all in, and we're trying to focus on the sport, the business behind the scenes, and just continue to make continuous improvement to do that.
"I'm making it sound easy. It's really hard. It's really, really hard. At the end of the day, they're racers. Race car drivers want to win, and team owners want to win, and we want them to win. We want to cultivate and nurture that as much as possible, but there's still a business behind all these sports, and we need to make continued improvement on the business side."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- In opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Championship 4 driver Martin Truex Jr. brushed the outside wall hard enough to scraped the paint off the right rear of his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.
Truex's team took great care in repairing that area of the car, which is extremely sensitive from aerodynamic standpoint. Clearly, it was a job well done.
In final practice, Truex posted the fastest lap -- by a bunch. He toured the 1.5-mile speedway in 31.543 seconds (171.195 mph). Clint Bowyer was a distant second at 169.790 mph. Kyle Busch was the second-fastest Playoff driver, sixth overall at 169.492 mph.
"I thought we were pretty close," Truex said after Happy Hour. "Need to get the balance a little better, but I think we definitely have enough speed to do what we need to do. Just have to get the balance right.
"Conditions, trying to plan on finishing this race at night is part of what we're trying to figure out. I think we changed enough and made enough adjustments today and we learned a lot. That gives us a lot to look at tonight and make the right decisions based off of that."
As the series leader in victories with seven, Truex is quietly confident entering the season finale. He'll start on the outside of the front row next to pole winner Denny Hamlin.
"I feel really good," Truex said. "We've been in this position before -- I've raced for a championship here twice now. Came out on top of one and not the other -- I'm 50-50, and those are pretty good odds with four of us, I'd say.
"I feel good, we've got good speed, and I just need to make sure we get the balance right for tomorrow and you never know how these things are going to play out. We'll just try to do our normal deal and make smart decisions and be around at the end of this thing and have a shot at it."
NASCAR MANUFACTURERS ENJOY FRIENDLY RIVALRY
Off the race track and outside the showroom, NASCAR's three manufacturers -- Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota -- enjoy a friendly rivalry, though the car makers aren't averse to a few well-place digs at each other.
Toyota North America group vice president of marketing Ed Laukes, for example, was quick to remind Chevrolet U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports Jim Campbell that Chevy didn't have a driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4.
Ford and Toyota are set to decide the title between them in Sunday's Ford Eco-Boost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (on NBC at 3 p.m. ET). Chevrolet, on the other hand has all four title contenders in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
"I'm going to congratulate Jim on his championship in the XFINITY Series, and then at that point I'm glad he made his remarks so Dave (Pericak, global director of Ford Performance) and I can take it from this point forward," Laukes quipped. "Anything else you want to add before you move on?"
"I want to thank you for William Byron," Campbell retorted, referring to Byron's move from a Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra to a JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro this season. Next year, Busch will drive a Chevrolet in the Cup series for Hendrick Motorsports.
The banter aside, Campbell talked proudly of the introduction of the Camaro ZL1 in the Cup series next year and wistfully about the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. from NASCAR's foremost series.
"The Earnhardt family and Chevrolet have a long history together," Campbell said. "We all watched Dale Jr. grow up around the track. He worked in his father's dealership, the lube rack, changed oil as a mechanic and technician ...
"He worked his way up with his brother and his sister, Kerry and Kelley, then graduates into XFINITY, wins 24 races, then two championships. That was back to back. It was incredible. Moves up to the Cup Series, obviously, at DEI, then later with Hendrick. Delivered 26 wins."
Asked whether Ford might counter Chevrolet's elevation of the Camaro with a move to the Mustang in the Cup series, Pericak was noncommittal.
"We always look at what's going on in the showroom, where we're going with our product development cycle plan," Pericak said. "We introduced the new Fusion a couple years ago. We will be looking at introducing a new car in the future. We have not submitted anything as of yet, but stay tuned."
NASCAR, GOODYEAR ANNOUNCE MULTIYEAR RENEWAL OF PARTNERSHIP
NASCAR and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber company first became partners in racing in 1954, and neither entity saw any reason to change that relationship.
On Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR and Goodyear announced a multiyear extension to the partnership that will keep Goodyear as the exclusive tire supplier for all three of the sanctioning body's top national touring series -- Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck.
"We've had a storied history with Goodyear, more than 64 years, a great long-running partnership," said NASCAR president Brent Dewar. "We're entering into a new multiyear agreement with Goodyear. We're very proud of that. We've been entering this phase of increased collaboration with the race teams and the drivers, through the council process, and we're really proud of what Goodyear brings.
"When we talk about what makes great racing, it's where the rubber meets the road, and the tracks -- each of the tracks is very different. I had the pleasure of going to Akron, going to the facilities with (Goodyear president) Rich (Kramer) and the team, to see these made-in-America, hand-crafted specialty tires designed for each of the unique tracks, whether it's the surface, whether it's the banking, whether it's the size of the track ... it's truly remarkable.
"This is about innovation. NASCAR is a sport founded on innovation, and as we look to the future, partnering with the research and development with Goodyear, we could not be more proud of that."
Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott has a profound appreciation of the stability the long-term relationship with Goodyear has brought to the sport.
"To put these tires through what we put them through is definitely unfair to them," Elliott said. "We're asking them to do a lot of things that shouldn't work, with the cars so close to the ground and very little air getting to the tires to help them cool off. All those things matter, and as time goes, we're making those things nothing but harder and harder by sealing them off and the things we do to try to make 'em go fast.
"Confidence is everything, especially when you're driving off into the corner, at however fast we're driving off into the corner these days. It's good to know that you've got some confidence underneath you, and it has been there for a long time."
Under the agreement, Goodyear remains the "Official Tire of NASCAR."
In a move that should delight drivers and crew chiefs alike, NASCAR on Saturday informed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams they could purchase one additional set of new tires for use in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Teams will now have 10 sets of new tires in addition to their qualifying tires, which drivers must use to start the Ford Eco-Boost 400. Last season teams had 13 sets of tires available. ... Championship 4 driver Kevin Harvick sat out the first 15 minutes of final practice because of two inspection failures last weekend at Phoenix. When he did hit the track, Harvick was 18th fastest in single-lap speed at 166.795 mph, slowest among the four title contenders. Playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski were sixth and 11th fastest, respectively. The longer the run, the better Harvick's car was relative to the others. "Everything is fine right now," he said after Happy Hour. "We kept the car clean and I feel like we have speed, and the car hangs on really good. Everything is good so far."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- With a dramatic run late in Friday's knockout qualifying session at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Denny Hamlin knocked Championship 4 contender Martin Truex Jr. off the pole for Sunday's Ford Eco-Boost 400 (on NBC at 3 p.m. ET).
Hamlin covered the 1.5-mile distance in 31.038 seconds (173.980 mph) in the final round, edging Truex (173.952 mph) by .005 seconds for the top starting spot in the race that will decide the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Truex, in turn, was .004 seconds faster than title contender Kyle Busch (173.930 mph). Championship 4 drivers Brad Keselowski (172.452 mph) and Kevin Harvick (171.876 mph) qualified fifth and ninth, respectively, with Harvick sawing on his wheel in Turn 1 on his money lap to save a car that was unexpectedly loose.
The Coors Light Pole Award was Hamlin's second of the season, his second at Homestead and the 26th of his career. And he won it despite brushing the wall out of Turn 4 on his final lap.
"We had them there by a little bit, and I messed up (Turns) 3 and 4 a little bit," said Hamlin, who was eliminated from the Playoff last Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. "Honestly, it was a great run, and we did great adjustments there.
"Our FedEx Camry was obviously very fast that last run. I love this race track, and wish we would have our chance, but that will be another day, another year for us."
Truex was happy to be the fastest among the championship contenders, but he's fully aware the trophy won't be awarded until Sunday.
"That was a bit dramatic," Truex said with a wry smile. "We missed it a little bit in that last round, lost more grip than I anticipated. We made some adjustments knowing it was going to go that way, just not far enough... It was just five one-thousandths off from being a perfect day...
"I think we definitely wanted to be first to get that first pit stall, but aside from that, we're all up front, we're all close to each other, and this is a track you can pass on. Just in general I was proud of my team for having a good, solid day. We had a shot there and just missed it a little bit there in Round 3. Good, solid effort and that's what we needed to do today, and we'll get to work and see what we can do on Sunday."
Harvick was fourth fastest in the first round and fifth in the second, but his No. 4 Stewart-Haas racing Ford broke loose as he started his third-round lap.
"Just about spun out there going into Turn 1," Harvick said. "It was definitely sideways. It kept turning, but the back tried to go the other way."
Busch was pleased with his lap but felt he had the car to challenge for the pole in a race where the highest finisher among the Championship 4 wins the series title.
"We had a pretty good first round and second round, and when Martin went out there and ran an oh-something (31.043 seconds), I felt like there was a .90 out there and an opportunity to beat him and go for the pole," Busch said.
"Trying to cut my Turn 1 entry, I got to the bottom too soon, hit the apron and messed up the exit off (Turn) 2 and felt like I tried to get a little more back in (Turns) 3 and 4 than I needed to and probably messed up down there."
Keselowski, who had as-yet-unresolved brake issues during Friday's opening practice qualified at the top end of his expectations.
"It was probably a tad bit higher than I thought we would end up... but I'm not complaining," Keselowski said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not make a run in the second round after posting the 15th fastest lap in the first. In his final run in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Earnhardt will start from the rear of the field because of an engine change during opening practice.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying -- Ford EcoBoost 400
1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 173.980 mph.
2. (78) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 173.952 mph.
3. (18) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 173.930 mph.
4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 172.678 mph.
5. (2) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 172.452 mph.
6. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 172.359 mph.
7. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 172.205 mph.
8. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 172.106 mph.
9. (4) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 171.876 mph.
10. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 171.789 mph.
11. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 171.255 mph.
12. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 171.124 mph.
13. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 172.403 mph.
14. (77) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 172.166 mph.
15. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 172.155 mph.
16. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 171.996 mph.
17. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 171.652 mph.
18. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 171.592 mph.
19. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 171.298 mph.
20. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 171.206 mph.
21. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 171.011 mph.
22. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 170.913 mph.
23. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 170.670 mph.
24. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 172.414 mph.
25. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, 170.951 mph.
26. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 170.881 mph.
27. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 170.773 mph.
28. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 170.713 mph.
29. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 170.632 mph.
30. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 170.616 mph.
31. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 169.737 mph.
32. (13) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 169.646 mph.
33. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 168.676 mph.
34. (23) Corey LaJoie(i), Toyota, 167.177 mph.
35. (83) Joey Gase(i), Toyota, 164.654 mph.
36. (33) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 164.629 mph.
37. (15) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 163.651 mph.
38. (66) David Starr(i), Chevrolet, 163.512 mph.
39. (51) Ray Black II(i), Chevrolet, 158.777 mph.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Joe Gibbs couldn't stay angry at Tony Stewart forever.
In fact, he couldn't stay angry for very long at all--once he got over the shock of Stewart's planned departure from Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 season.
In what remains one of the most surprising decisions in NASCAR racing in the 21st century, Stewart announced in July 2008 that he was leaving JGR to partner with Gene Haas, whose Haas CNC Racing team had been an also-ran since its inception.
We all know the rest of the story. The partnership that formed Stewart-Haas Racing transformed the team into a perennial title contender. Stewart won the Monster Energy Cup Series championship in 2011, winning five times during the Playoff and beating Carl Edwards on a tiebreaker.
Three years later, Kevin Harvick claimed the championship trophy for SHR.
Back in 2008, however, there was little to mitigate Joe Gibbs' shock or chagrin when Stewart told the team owner of his future plans.
"It's because of Joe that I even tried to do something like this and be a car owner," Stewart said on Friday during a press conference featuring representatives of the Championship 4 teams--Joe Garone (Furniture Row Racing), Walt Czarnecki (Team Penske), Gibbs and Stewart. "I always respected Joe. We've got a great relationship obviously, as you can tell.
"I remember the day that he was ready to strangle me, the day I walked in and said I was going to be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing. The moment he stopped trying to strangle me is when I said, 'I have the opportunity to be like you.' That's when he let go of my neck. Kind of hard to argue with that when you say you're trying to be like one of your heroes."
DALE EARNHARDT JR.'S LEGACY INVOLVES MORE THAN JUST DRIVING
When the checkered flag waves on Sunday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will be over.
And though Earnhardt says he will run two or three NASCAR Xfinity Series races for his JR Motorsports team next season, his appearances behind the wheel will be few and far between.
Nevertheless, Earnhardt will maintain an enduring presence in the sport as he continues to provide opportunities to aspiring drivers. On Saturday at Homestead, three of his JRM drivers--on markedly different career arcs--will compete for the series championship.
Veteran Elliott Sadler, 42, Justin Allgaier, 31, and Sunoco rookie William Byron, 19, will race for the title against Richard Childress Racing's Daniel Hemric in the Ford Eco-Boost 300. That Earnhardt has three quarters of the Championship 4 field under his roof is emblematic of his contribution to the sport as a team owner.
And though Earnhardt will have plenty to occupy his time in his final weekend as a Cup driver, he'll immerse himself in the Xfinity race as soon as he finishes his post-practice debrief for the No. 88 Chevy.
"I'll get a headset and come out to pit road and sit on the pit wall and watch the Xfinity race unfold," Earnhardt said on Friday morning before opening Cup practice. "It's really a proud moment for all of us, my sister (Kelley Earnhardt Miller) and everybody at JR Motorsports to have the opportunity to be here at the final race racing for a championship, whether it's one car or three or four.
"There's a lot of pride in that. We came close last year (with Sadler), and even when the checkered flag fell, the pride in my heart was the same as it was on the first lap. I just thought it was so special to be there."
JR Motorsports has come light years since its 2005 debut at Homestead with driver Mark McFarland.
"We were kind of a patchwork of a ragtag crew, and we ran 20th all night, and we thought it was so awesome just to be there," Earnhardt said. "We were so proud to be in the race and just be competing. 'There goes our car!' It was awesome.
"So I don't take that for granted, and I know how hard it is to be good and be competitive so there is a lot of pride that we are even in the position to win a championship. Hemric is a worthy opponent. I know RCR will put everything they have to give him the best opportunity."
Three of the four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series contenders also have driven for Earnhardt--Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Fellow Hendrick driver Chase Elliott won the NASCAR XFINITY Series title for JRM in 2014.
Early in Friday's opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, Dale Earnhardt Jr. informed his crew via radio that something had broken in the engine of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. The issue necessitated an engine change, and Earnhardt will start his final race in the No. 88 from the rear of the field under NASCAR's one-engine rule. ... Championship 4 contender Brad Keselowski also had issues in practice, but not under the hood of his No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Keselowski didn't like the way his brakes felt, and the team spent time working on them in the garage stall late in the session. Keselowski was 20th fastest, compared with Playoff rivals Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick, who recorded the three fastest laps in opening practice. ... Despite Keselowski's issues, and despite the long odds against him in most Las Vegas sports books, Team Penske executive vice president Walt Czarnecki bristled at the characterization of Keselowski as an underdog. "The fact that we are here (in the Championship 4) does not make any of us underdogs," Czarnecki said.
Patrick made the announcement at a press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway. She will also participate in the Daytona 500 in February prior to May's Indy 500.
The decision comes after Patrick was unable to find a NASCAR arrangement for the 2018 season.
"Nothing that was being presented excited me, then about three weeks ago, I just blurted out, 'What about Indy? Let's end it with the Indy 500,'" Patrick said between tears at the press conference. "This ignites something in me. But I am done after May.
"Everyone needs to put their mind there. My plan is to be at Indy, and then I'm done."
Patrick, 35, was let go by Stewart-Haas Racing even though she had one season remaining on her contract. SHR replaced her with Aric Almirola.
She attempted to find another ride but there wasn't much interest in a driver who has never won a NASCAR race and stands a disappointing 27th in this season's points standings. Patrick's highest NASCAR season finish is 24th.
"I feel like this is where my life should be headed, and sometimes we just get nudged there," Patrick said. "Sometimes it's big nudges, and sometimes it's little. But I definitely was faced with situations at the beginning of the year that I'd never faced before. I never had sponsor issues.
"But it made me think about things. And I'm excited about the next phase, trust me."
Patrick spent seven years as an IndyCar driver before making the move to NASCAR in 2012. Her best finish in a NASCAR race was when she placed sixth in Atlanta in 2014.
Her lone IndyCar victory was in 2008 at a race in Japan. She also finished third in the 2009 Indianapolis 500.
But there were times where Patrick became frustrated that she couldn't find the speed to compete with the elite NASCAR racers.
"It's super competitive," Patrick said. "It's twice the field of IndyCars, 40 instead of 20, basically. The cars make a big difference. I feel like there's a lot out of your control as a driver, and that's frustrating. I tried every approach I could to figure out how to make the car go fast.
"Do I push people? Do I let them do their job? Do I question them? Do I ask for other things? I tried every approach, and, really, all that ended up happening was I lost my crew chief the first time around with Tony Gibson. I didn't end up wanting that to happen. So I was like 'Well, shoot, nothing really worked.' So here I am."
Despite the lack of on-track success, Patrick has been popular with advertisers over the years. Her former IndyCar sponsor GoDaddy produced Super Bowl advertisements featuring her that were both controversial and racy in nature.
Patrick has posted seven top-10 finishes in 189 career Cup starts entering Sunday's Ford Eco-Boost 400 (on NBC at 3 p.m. ET) at Homestead.
Editor's note: NASCAR Wire Service contributed to this report.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Memories of his formative nine seasons with his family team will be easily conjured for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In his final race as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver -- Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBC) -- the sport's most popular figure will utilize a No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with an aesthetic reminiscent of the one in which he made his Monster Energy Series debut in 1999.
Amid personal acrimony with stepmother and now-defunct Dale Earnhardt Inc. team owner Teresa Earnhardt, the now 43-year-old Earnhardt Jr. joined HMS for 2008, finding a career opportunity and a father figure in Rick Hendrick.
A decade later, there are no regrets, Earnhardt Jr. said. But there were some decisions that he would like to have made differently.
"One in particular ... whatever the hell I was thinking when I thought that I didn't need to work with Tony (Eury) Sr. anymore," he said of his uncle and former crew chief, with whom he claimed 15 of 26 wins and the 2004 Daytona 500. "We had won six races in 2004 and in a matter of just a few weeks at the end of the season our relationship deteriorated and I had the audacity that I thought that I knew what was best for me at the time and make the choice -- or was part of making the decision -- to work with someone else, which was ridiculous."
Earnhardt Jr. had never won as many as six races in a season before 2004 and didn't win another six again, total, until the 14th race of the the 2014 season. But Eury Sr. was replaced with Pete Rondeau, who had 12 previous Cup starts and Earnahrdt Jr. slumped from fifth in the points to 19th with just one race win in 2005.
Rondeau was fired after 11 races, with Steve Hmiel taking over for the next 15 -- helping him win at Chicago -- before Earnhardt Jr.'s cousin, Tony Eury Jr., assumed control to end the year. Eury Jr. stayed with Earnhardt Jr. into 2009, the exception being his departure for the final 14 races of the 2007 to integrate with the system at Hendrick. Eury Jr. was eventually replaced early in the 2009 season.
"I regret that," Earnhardt Jr. said of deposing his uncle. "That's probably my biggest [regret] in motorsports as a driver, was that decision because it did nothing and it made our relationship a challenge to repair. Like I say, we'd won a lot of races together and he had been a big reason why I even got in the Xfinity car to begin with. He was my biggest supporter and we had won so many races together.
"I don't know what ... I got confused there a while thinking that I knew better than anyone else what was best for me."
Eury Sr. eventually served as competition director for JR Motorsports -- which is co-owned by Earnhardt, his sister Kelley, and Hendrick -- before being fired in 2012.
Though he still believes moving to Hendrick was a personal and professional revelation, Earnhardt Jr. said he does allow himself to wonder what would have become of the team had his father not perished on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. DEI merged with Ganassi Racing from 2009 before vanishing after the 2013 season.
"I would only be guessing on the outcome of such things, but yeah, you always wonder what Dad would be doing if he were still around, what he would have done with DEI, where it would be, what we all would be doing," he said. "Would it look completely different than it looks today? I don't have any clear idea what it would look like, but it certainly wouldn't be what we have today. And everything, I think, would be completely different.
"The sport would be a little different with his influence throughout the years and I think he certainly would have had a good impact on the sport. But considering how things worked out, coming to work with Rick was a huge break for me and really a great opportunity. But I certainly think about the what-ifs, but I don't know if I had stayed at DEI, if it would have made much of a difference for the end result for that place. It was a very challenging time for the company and it was a difficult decision to make, but I think it was the right one."
He's got the stats and he's got the confidence. He and his team have plenty of motivation to bring a racing title back to sports-crazed Denver.
But as the Chase Elliott versus Denny Hamlin feud has shown, rubbing is racing. Will there be some contact among contenders at the Homestead-Miami Speedway? If so, how will Truex respond?
The results of the race will not be mailed in. Nor will they be decided by a panel of journalists or the usual pre-race palaver among the contending drivers, including Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
Harvick, for instance, has declared himself free to chase the favored Toyotas of Truex and Busch after a late-season burst of speed from his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
The 2014 champion said he has no pressure. And, if you believe that, let's talk about beachfront lots in Antarctica.
Harvick, Keselowski and Busch each have a championship. Stepping up to multiple championships really elevates a career. There's only been three in the last 20 years. Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are recognized as super heroes when it comes to stock car racing.
So, the pressure is not only on the favorite Truex, but also on the guys trying to get that second trophy and the first with Monster Energy's name on it.
Truex says he's not worried that he's the only driver who has not previously won a title. He says that means, "It's my turn."
Still, getting that first one must be nerve-wracking. In the last 20 years, there's only been 10 different NASCAR champions. There are plenty of talented drivers who still don't have one -- including Carl Edwards, who was leading last year's playoff chase in the late stages and who lost to Tony Stewart on a tie-breaker in 2011.
There are other circumstances that can serve to motivate Truex beyond the confidence from leading 2,175 laps this season, winning seven races and three poles.
His longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, is again fighting ovarian cancer.
During the summer, Crew Chief Cole Pearn lost his best friend from his hometown in Canada to a freakish, deadly infection.
One of the crewmen on the Furniture Row Racing team, Jim Watson, died unexpectedly from a heart attack during the playoffs at age 55.
As if that's not enough to keep a team focused on getting the job done, team owner Barney Visser suffered a heart attack Nov. 4 and underwent bypass surgery.
It was Visser who rescued Truex from the slag heap at Michael Waltrip Racing after the cheating scandal of 2013. A man who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur and the only front-line team owner who wears a beard, iconoclastic Visser has pretty good vision. Some people put their money under mattresses. Visser put his money into them.
With a fortune from selling mattresses and furniture after starting with pillows, Visser built his team into a winner under the guidance of veterans Joe Garone and Mark McCardle (now working at Chip Ganassi's team). He saw the future in Truex, an even-keeled and smart athlete who needed only the right platform underneath him.
Four years and 11 victories later, Truex needs one more to get to the top of the heap. He'll have to do it with the recovering Visser back home in Colorado instead of in Florida.
"The story for me and my career would be a lot different if it wasn't for him and his team and what he's built," said Truex, who had two victories before joining Furniture Row.
"Just so proud of what he's done and so proud to be a part of his team, and I feel like we've come so far together in just four years. It's really amazing. Just thankful and glad he's healthy and healing up, and he's going to be able to join us again at the racetrack pretty soon."
There has been panic from contenders at Homestead since it first became the final race of the postseason, but generally there's been excellent execution leading to memorable finishes. Truex expects to be in the thick of it with an attitude that sounds typically matter-of-fact without being too chill.
"I don't think it's any extra pressure at all," he said in comments to reporters after the last round in Phoenix. "I mean, I think it's -- I have a lot of respect for all three of these guys. Two of them were in the final four when I made it in 2015. Definitely have a little bit of experience in this position, but you know, honestly just excited about the opportunity. I feel like we're in a whole lot better spot as a team than we were the first time we had a shot at it, and we're going to go out there and just do the best job we can do."
Other than winning, the other die-cast memory moments of Truex, this year have been races where he led a lot of laps but came up short. Most recently, Harvick caught and passed him in the closing stages at the Texas Motor Speedway, which indicates maybe the Toyotas no longer have the edge on 1.5-mile tracks over the Fords. (Chevy, of course, has gone missing among the playoffs finalists.)
Given Truex's record six victories this year in Camrys on 1.5-mile tracks, I would expect to see him leading at Homestead in the late stages, barring errors in the pits. But I also expect to see a yellow flag at an inopportune time when the leader has to pit for fresh tires and give up track position, or, stay out and risk running to the finish on worn rubber.
A late yellow may not be the only problem for whoever is leading as the laps wind down. This year, there are more drivers than ever capable of winning who are no longer in the playoffs such as Kyle Larson, Elliott, Hamlin and last week's winner Matt Kenseth. So, the mix at the front of the field could get interesting when it comes to late-race pit strategy.
Early on, stages will matter for the title contenders only in terms of predictable cautions and track position strategies. Bonus points will not matter to the race's big cheeses, because the title goes to whichever one has the best finish. A crew chief might even call in one of the four contenders to pit before the end of a stage to avoid a packed pit road and then re-start at the front.
Toyota's Busch and Ford's Harvick and Keselowski are formidable talents. There's reason to believe each will have a good day when it counts. On the other hand, there have been meltdowns such as a poor race by Truex. and Furniture Row in 2015 or Busch's offkey performance in last year's finale after his title run in 2015. Last weekend, Keselowski struggled all day at Phoenix and was lucky to advance to the finale.
There also have been miraculous comebacks from the surely dead like Johnson's seventh title performance last year or Kurt Busch's incredible victory in the first year of the Chase in 2004. Busch had brake problems, lost a wheel and then came from the back of the field to win.
Will there be contact as in last year's block-and-wallop between Edwards and Joey Logano? Absent any magic lamp with a genie, rubbing fenders may be the path to holding the Cup at race's end.
Thus far, Truex's winning style has been to run to the finish in his Toyota like a train without having to crease any sheet metal. But what happens if there's a crowded field of aspirants, including non-playoff drivers, on late-race restarts?
In any event, it would not be wise to bet against a determined man who washes away the sadness of illness and tragic misfortune by hitting his marks on the track -- and possibly this time another car.