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Press Pass: Justin Allgaier
Justin Allgaier talks about finishing third in the Dollar General 200 Fueled By AmeriGas and how this is his strongest start of any season.
One crew member reinstated, one suspended by NASCAR
NASCAR reinstated crew member Michael Casto on Tuesday after he successfully completed NASCAR's Road to Recovery Program. Casto was a crew member with Stewart-Haas Racing 's No. 4 team and driver Kevin Harvick when he was suspended after the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, the August Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International . Ryan D. Hess, a crew member with BK Racing , was placed on indefinite suspension on Tuesday by the sanctioning body.
Top pit crews of 2016 as voted on by coaches
RELATED: Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew When we decided to start the All Pit Road Team five years ago we wanted to make it as legit as possible. In the past, we had crew members vote on who they thought were the best of the best. This year we changed it up a bit and sent out a ballot to each organization and had one coach's ballot turned back in from each organization. We had a great response from the coaches, and below are the crewmen who were selected. Just like last year, only members of the 16 Chase pit crews were eligible for the awards. If there was a tie in voting, the crewman whose team finished highest in the points won. Front Tire Changer First Team: No. 41 Shane Pipala (5) Second Team: No. 2 Hunter Masling (5) Third Team: No. 11 Dustin Necaise (4) Honorable Mention: No. 19 Clay Robinson (3) Front Tire Carrier First Team: No. 19 Kevin Harris (4) Second Team: No. 22 Dylan Dowell (3) Third Team: No. 11 Brandon Pegram (3) Honorable Mention: No. 2 Jeremy Ogles (3) Jackman First Team: No. 22 Ray Gallahan (4) Second Team: No. 11 Nate Bolling (4) Third Team: No. 42 Graham Molatch (4) Honorable Mention: No. 41 Sean Cotten (3) Rear Tire Changer First Team: No. 11 Mike Hicks (7) Second Team: No. 22 Zach Price (4) Third Team: No. 18 Jake Seminara (4) Honorable Mention: No. 19 Kip Wolfmeir (3) Rear Tire Carrier First Team: No. 11 Heath Cherry (4) Second Team: No. 19 Matt Ver Meer (3) Third Team: No. 20 Blake Haugland (3) Honorable Mention: No. 41 Dwayne Moore (3) Gasman First Team: No. 11 Caleb Hurd (4) Second Team: No. 22 Kellen Mills (2) Third Team: No. 18 Tom Lampe (2) Honorable Mention: No. 41 Justin Wilson (2) Pit Crew of the year (Voted on by pit crew coaches) Joey Logano , Team Penske No. 22 (5) Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 (4) Kurt Busch , Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 (4) Mechanix Wear Pit Crew of the Year (Voted on by crew chiefs) Jimmie Johnson , Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 For more pit crew news, visit PitTalks.com.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. cleared to resume NASCAR competition
RELATED: Dale through the years " Recovery timeline CAIN: Dale Jr.'s strong stand makes him, sport better NASCAR premier series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . has received medical clearance to resume his racing career, Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday. Earnhardt Jr., 42, was sidelined for the final 18 races of the 2016 season after suffering a concussion. On Wednesday, he participated in an on-track testing session at Darlington Raceway under the supervision of Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. Earnhardt was cleared by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh. Collins, who consulted with Dr. Petty following Wednesday's on-track activity, has overseen Earnhardt's rehabilitation program and also treated him for a similar injury in 2012. "I expected things to go really well yesterday, and that’s exactly what happened," Earnhardt said of an afternoon spent behind the wheel at the 1.366-mile South Carolina track. "Actually getting in a race car was an important final step, and it gives me a ton of confidence going into 2017." Earnhardt completed 185 laps in his No. 88 Chevrolet during the course of the nearly five-hour session. Crew chief Greg Ives was on hand to oversee his driver’s efforts as well. Earnhardt, recently voted the series most popular driver for the 14th consecutive season, said he expects to do more testing in January "to help knock the rust off." RELATED: Junior wins NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award "When it's time to go to Daytona, I' ll be ready," the winner of 26 premier series races said. The 2017 racing season officially gets underway with the 59th running of the Daytona 500 , scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Earnhardt will not compete in the annual non-points, season-opening race, The Clash at Daytona International Speedway (Feb. 18, 8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Instead, HMS officials said Alex Bowman , who filled in for Earnhardt in 10 of the final 18 races of 2016, will drive the team's No. 88 entry. Bowman won the pole at Phoenix in November, his first in the series. "Everyone agreed that he more than earned (the opportunity)," Earnhardt said, "and (sponsor) Nationwide was 100 percent on board." RELATED: NASCAR community reacts to Junior's return It's possible Earnhardt could participate in up to two additional tests – Hendrick Motorsports is one of four teams expected to take part in a Goodyear tire test scheduled for Jan. 10-11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway , and the season's first organizational test is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31/Feb. 1 at Phoenix International Raceway . Collins called Earnhardt "one of the hardest-working patients I've ever encountered." "He's done everything we've asked, and we believe he is ready to compete at a professional level again and can withstand the normal forces of a race car driver," Collins said. "Dale has been very open with us, and we've had plenty of time for his treatment, so we feel very good about his long-term prospects and how this has been managed by everyone involved." Team owner Rick Hendrick said he's proud of Earnhardt "for listening to his body and standing up to take responsibility for his health. "He's worked extremely hard and set a terrific example for others," Hendrick said. "It's great news as we go into the offseason, and we can't wait to see him back on the race track at Daytona." In addition to Bowman, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon also drove for the team in eight starts during Earnhardt's absence. Earnhardt was 13th in points with six top-five finishes before being sidelined prior to the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and wound up 32nd in the final standings. The 2012 injury forced him to miss two races; he finished 12th in points that season. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR's Champions Week 2016: A look behind the scenes
Editor's note: This story contains some strong language. Rick Hendrick stands onstage in a ballroom at the Wynn Las Vegas casino and hotel several hours before the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet on Friday. He is wearing an untucked dress shirt, dress pants and sneakers. In front of him sit 144 tables, each full of glasses and plates and surrounded by empty chairs. A couple dozen chairs hold cardboard pictures of who will sit in them tonight. Tony Stewart 's picture -- on table 14, like his car number for his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet -- is directly in front of Hendrick. In the back of the hall, Hendrick's speech scrolls by on a giant teleprompter. Hendrick reads along. The microphone is not on, and though I'm standing only 10 feet from him, I can barely hear him. He is practicing modulating his voice so he doesn't yell into the microphone during his speech 10 hours from now. As owner of Hendrick Motorsports , this is his 12th premier series championship, so he has the hang of this whole speech-giving thing. To Hendrick's right, Tony Stewart -- the man, not the cardboard picture -- enters. He struts past tables, emphasis on strut. Every time I see Stewart at 2016 NASCAR Champion's Week events, he bounces around like a caged man about to be set free after his last banquet as a NASCAR driver. He interrupted an interview I was doing with Denny Hamlin yesterday to report to Hamlin that he had 29 hours left ... but who's counting? It's in the 50s outside, but Stewart is wearing black shorts and a gray T-shirt. His scruff looks like what another man's would if he hadn't shaved in a week. For Stewart, that's probably 30 minutes. All in all, he looks incredibly spry considering last night he repeatedly slugged heaping gulps from a bottle of tequila. As he nears the stage, Stewart sees Hendrick speaking. "Hurry up!" Stewart says and throws his arms up in mock frustration. Hendrick doesn't hear him, so Stewart repeats this as he gets closer to the stage. Stewart climbs the stairs to give Hendrick a hug. They stand with their arms around each other for a minute or two. Perhaps aware he looks like he came from the gym, Stewart assures Hendrick that physical contact is OK. He is not soaked in sweat. He is dressed like that, he says, because he hasn't gone to bed yet. It is 10:30 a.m. If Stewart ever had a Give A Rip gene (doubtful), it turned dormant this week. He has been in peak Stewart form, messing with everyone about everything and dropping smart aleck comments like confetti everywhere he goes. But in a few hours, Stewart will return to this stage and leave it almost speechless. Of all the big surprises in this three-day celebration of the 2016 NASCAR season, that might be the biggest. • • •
Despite team changes, Kenseth remains focused for '17
His car chief has departed and his over-the-wall crew is expected to have a slightly different look for the upcoming season. The rules package will be new and there's another team in the Huntersville, North Carolina, to Denver, Colorado, pipeline. But don't expect Matt Kenseth , driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR's premier series, to fret about the alterations to the racing landscape. "Worry never gets anything fixed or makes anything better," Kenseth said. He has rolled with the changes in the past, during a lengthy 13-year career at Roush Fenway Racing and the previous four at JGR. Rule changes, personnel moves, team expansion and contraction, Kenseth has seen it all before, adapting as best he can while seldom falling out of contention. "Nobody does a perfect job at this but I've gotten better through the years," Kenseth said. "I focus pretty hard on not worrying about things that I can't control because worrying never helps. Everybody worries to a certain extent. I try not to because it's not productive." JGR added a fourth team in 2015, bringing Carl Edwards into the fold to join Kenseth and te ammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch . A technical and engineering alliance with Furniture Row Racing was undertaken for 2016. That alliance has since expanded -- Furniture Row will add a second team for 20-year-old Erik Jones to go along with that of driver Martin Truex Jr . for the 2017 season. "We've definitely been expanding fast and there are definitely concerns that come with that," Kenseth said. "But there are also benefits too. We learned a lot from Martin and Cole (Pearn, crew chief) this year." In the meantime, the clock is ticking. At 44 and with the future of one-time teammate Greg Biffle undetermined, Kenseth has inherited, temporarily at least, the title of the series' oldest full-time competitor. His career starts mark of 614 is now tops among active drivers; his 38 wins rank 20th overall and he is tied for No. 2 among those currently competing. The 2017 season will be his 18th as a full-time racer at NASCAR's top level. He has finished as high as second on two occasions, in 2006 and '13, but hasn't made it to the final round under the current elimination-style format since its debut in '14. It's been more than a decade since Kenseth won NASCAR's top prize and each season that passes represents another opportunity lost. "I think after you win one you look at it like that," he said. "But certainly as you get older you realize that 'OK, one more passed by and there's not as many (opportunities) in front of me.' "When you're 33 or whatever, you don't really think like that. …" The future might look a bit grim if Kenseth and his team, under the guidance of crew chief Jason Ratcliff, had been struggling. But that hasn't been the case. Only three other drivers -- Jimmie Johnson (20 wins), Kevin Harvick (16) and Joey Logano (15) have won more races since Kenseth packed his bags and headed to JGR in 2013. Kenseth and Busch are next in line with 14 victories each. A new season will bring with it new opportunities. And change. Car chief Jeff Meendering has moved on to become crew chief for a new XFINITY Series team fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing . The race-day pit crew changes have yet to be determined. Aero package updates and other matters await. Kenseth has seen it before. "I think I've done a good job of keeping it in perspective," he said. "There are a lot of things you can control. And a lot you just can't." &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
Kyle Larson, Target give back in many ways
The NASCAR racing season ended last month but someone forgot to tell Kyle Larson . The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver will be on the road for the holidays, traveling with his family to Sydney, Australia to race sprint cars for a week or so. Once he returns stateside, he'll be heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the annual Chili Bowl Nationals Jan. 9-14. There are times when the 24-year-old NASCAR driver isn't behind the wheel. Wednesday was one of those rare occasions. Larson, along with members of his No. 42 team, spent the afternoon at the Milton Boys and Girls Club in Charlotte, handing out early Christmas gifts provided by sponsor Target. "Target (does) a lot for different communities and charities," Larson said. "It was cool to come here and give these kids gifts. … They had a good time; they were all smiling, dancing on (one of the games) over there." A wide variety of board games, electronic games and even a virtual reality unit were among the items delivered. "It feels good to do a small part of giving back," said Larson, who will begin his fourth season as a full-time competitor in NASCAR's premier series in 2017. "Target is the one donating all the gifts, I'm just donating my time and having a good time with it. I've gotten to do a lot of stuff with them this year, donating books to different schools, a lot of toys. … It's been a lot of fun. It's the first year I've really gotten to do this stuff more often and I'm hoping to do a lot more next year." According to team officials, Larson and Target joined together in '16 to provide toys to children affected by flooding in West Virginia; delivered 50 backpacks and back-to-school supplies to a disadvantaged elementary school in Darlington, South Carolina; and visited two elementary schools in Dallas, Texas, to donate gift cards and books in support of Texas Motor Speedway 's Speeding to Read program. Additionally, Larson and Target representatives visited Target House at St. Jude Children's Hospital and also donated library supplies to a school in the Phoenix area. Wednesday's gathering helped Larson, who hails from Elk Grove, California, get in the Christmas spirit. He and his family, girlfriend Katelyn Sweet and son Owen, will move up their holiday visits with other family members due to their upcoming trip to Australia. "My favorite time of the holiday season is just getting to spend time with a lot of the family I don't really get to see throughout the year," he said. "We travel so often that I don't ever really get to go home to California and see them. … So we'll go to California next week and get to hang out with all of them." Larson won his first premier series event in 2016, at Michigan International Speedway , and qualified for NASCAR’s championship-determining Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Although he was one of four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16, he finished a career-best ninth in the final points standings.
Buescher prepares for move to JTG Daugherty Racing
RELATED: Drivers on the move for '17 " Final standing s NASCAR premier series driver Chris Buescher says he remains under contract with Roush Fenway Racing , but for the second consecutive season the Prosper, Texas native will drive for a team other than RFR when 2017 arrives. The end of November brought with it confirmation that the 24-year-old will compete full-time in a new, second entry to be fielded by JTG Daugherty Racing for the upcoming year. JTG Daugherty had one full-time team with driver AJ Allmendinger in the No. 47 Chevrolet in 2016. Buescher, the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, spent '16 driving the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports where he earned his first premier series win in the weather-shortened Pocono event and made the 16-team Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Heady stuff for a rookie. RELATED: Buescher wins at Pocono "It was pretty incredible," Buescher said of his season with Front Row and crew chief Bob Osborne. "I'm just so proud of Front Row Motorsports and the No. 34 team for what we were able to accomplish … to get that first win and have a lot of good runs along the way, be competitive at different types of tracks was a blast. "Unfortunately we didn't perform as well in the Chase as we would have liked … (but) I learned a lot along the way." Buescher's victory came at Pocono Raceway in August. It was his 27th career start. Having his 2017 plans in place eases much concern but Buescher, 16th in points for 2016, said there are "still a lot of moving pieces floating around." Some are comparable to what he faced heading into this past season when he transitioned from the XFINITY Series; others are entirely different. "It's actually really similar to this year with Front Row," Buescher said of the situation with JTG Daugherty. "This year with Front Row was a loan as well. It was a little bit easier with the (technical) alliance that Front Row and Roush have with the manufacturer (Ford) being the same." However, JTG Daugherty Racing fields Chevrolet entries and enjoys a technical alliance with the three-team Richard Childress Racing organization. RCR provides engines through Earnhardt-Childress Racing as well as engineering support. "There are some unknowns to work through," Buescher said. "But I'm still under contract with Roush Fenway." Team personnel and other aspects of the new entity have yet to be announced. Cars won't be on the track for competition until February. Until then, Buescher said he will be looking over notes from the previous season in an attempt to better understand what worked, what didn't, and why. "That's pretty much the bulk of what we can do (for) next season … as we kind of wait out the calm before the storm," he said. &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
By the Numbers: Petty vs. Earnhardt vs. Johnson
Jimmie Johnson tied Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with his seventh premier series title this year. Below is a comparison of stats between the three drivers, with the obvious caveat that Johnson is still an active driver. Note : Graphic by Mike Sales
Kaz Grala lands full-time 2017 ride with GMS
STATESVILLE, N.C. (December 5, 2016) -- GMS Racing announces today that Massachusetts-native Kaz Grala will pilot the No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado full time in 2017, across all 23 races of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS). The soon-to-be 18-year-old rookie, a part-time driver at GMS Racing in 2016, accomplished three top-10 results in only nine races and has now earned a larger opportunity to step up to full-time competition in one of NASCAR's premier racing series. In recent years, Kaz has made a name for himself in Late Model racing by breaking records. In his first race at fabled Hickory Motor Speedway, Kaz won the 2013 UARA 150 and became the youngest winner in series history. The following year, he became the youngest NASCAR winner in Caraway Speedway history when he held off the Whelen All-American Series National Champion to win the 171-lap event. In 2015, Kaz won his Pro All Stars Series debut at South Boston Speedway with a dominant performance, leading 131 of 150 laps. Kaz differentiates himself by tearing up road-course events each year. He has won the 12 hours of NJMP, the 13 hours of VIR, and competed in the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona, the pinnacle of sports-car racing in America. Kaz made it to the final round in NCWTS qualifying in all but one race in 2016. He scored his first top-10 finish in only his second start in the series at Dover International Speedway . In his first race at Gateway Motorsports Park , Kaz brought home yet another top-10 finish. At the rookie's home track, New Hampshire Motor Speedway , he brought home his best finish of 2016, a 7th-place result. "I am beyond thankful to have an opportunity with GMS Racing to run full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2017. This organization has been on a steep rise the past couple of years, and it's been fun being a part of it in 2016," remarked an excited Grala. Joining the GMS Racing stable in 2017 is veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter who claims time in the principal team role in all three of NASCAR's top racing series, dating back to 1986. Baxter has worked with a variety of NASCAR notables and most recently recorded four seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports and in 2016 with rookie Chase contender Christopher Bell . "I'm looking forward to next season with GMS and working through this transition with Kaz. I really enjoy helping young drivers get started in this series and developing their talent, and I saw what Kaz accomplished in the few races he ran last season," said Baxter. Next season Baxter will tackle year seven in the Camping World Truck Series and looks to add to his series resume of nine wins, 38 top-five finishes, 67 top-10 finishes, six pole-qualifying positions and 1,426 laps led, with the No. 33 team and Grala. Kaz further described his eagerness for next season, "GMS Racing has really gone out of their way to bring some of the best people in the industry on board, and Jerry Baxter is no exception. I'm extremely excited to get to work with Jerry, who not only is a great match for me personality-wise, but also is very accomplished in the NASCAR world. I am looking forward to returning to the No. 33 Chevy Silverado, which I made a few starts in this year. Hopefully Jerry's experience on top of the box will complement my Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender status, and bring success to the team next year." In three full-time seasons in the NCWTS, GMS Racing has earned seven wins and recently captured the 2016 Driver Championship with longtime competitor Johnny Sauter . The success was a result of the perfect combination of veteran skill and young talent. When he's not improving his race skills to become an accomplished NASCAR driver, Kaz is an honor-roll high school senior at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts. The 17-year-old who has a birthday on December 29th is currently interviewing with colleges for the fall of 2017. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt