Post-Race Reactions: Fast Five 225
Kevin Harvick, Nelson Piquet Jr., Parker Kligerman and James Buescher comment on their solid runs at Chicagoland Speedway.
K&N East champ Justin Haley joins GMS Racing for 2017
RELATED: See which drivers, crew chiefs are on the move in '17 Statesville, N.C. - Two wins, 13 top- five finishes and 14 top-10 results in just 14 races. That is what it took for Justin Haley to claim the 2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (NKNPSE) Championship. On Saturday night, the 17-year-old will accept his title in front of his family, teammates and competitors. Today he announces that he will be taking the next step in his career by joining GMS Racing for the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) season. Haley, who has competed in a total of six NCWTS races over the past two seasons with one top-10 finish, will pilot the No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado beginning at Martinsville Speedway . Haley's rookie season will be directed by second-year crew chief Kevin Bellicourt. "I'm so excited and thankful for this opportunity with GMS Racing. The past few years in K&N has been an effort to get to the next step in my career and I don't think we could have done any better than joining GMS, especially at this point in time," Haley said. "Everyone knows what they've been able to accomplish over the last year and it's that type of consistency and drive that every driver wants to see when making a decision like this. Kevin Bellicourt coming on for 2017 is one of the most exciting parts of this deal. He's had a lot of success with young drivers and I can't wait to see what we're able to accomplish." The Indiana native began his racing career in 2008, at the age of nine years old. He has earned wins in quarter midgets, micro sprints, the CRA Late Model Sportsman Series, JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour, ARCA Racing Series and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. In 2015, Haley completed his first full-time season in the NKNPSE with six top- five and 10 top-10 finishes, and a ranking of sixth in the point standings. He followed that up in 2016 by earning his first NKNPSE win at Greenville-Pickens Speedway after starting from the second position and his second victory at Columbus Motor Speedway where he started from the pole position. With only one finish outside of the top five and no result worse than ninth, Haley claimed the NKNPSE title by a 22-point margin. Bellicourt joins GMS after completing his first year as a NCWTS crew chief with ThorSport Racing and driver Ben Rhodes , earning two top- five and five top-10 finishes. He also earned the 2015 NKNPSE Championship with driver William Byron. "There are a lot of great things happening at GMS Racing," said Bellicourt. "It's one thing to watch the progress and success from a distance, but to now be a part of what is coming together is a completely different experience and I'm thankful for chance to be here. Justin is a great driver, who has had a lot of success fast , but he has handled it like a driver who has been doing this for years. I'm excited to see what he's able to do once we get him in the No. 24." Bellicourt and Haley join a GMS Racing team that garnered six wins with four different drivers last season, as well as the 2016 NCWTS Championship with veteran driver Johnny Sauter r. Haley will unite with Sauter and 17-year-old Kaz Grala, who returns to the team after competing in nine NCWTS races in 2016. Haley and Grala will both compete for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2017. Additional details on sponsorship for all three drivers will be announced at a later date.
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;
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, 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;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Dale Jr. turns 185 laps in Darlington test session
In a teleconference on Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaks down his over five -hour test session at Darlington Raceway as part of being medically cleared to return to NASCAR competition.
Final Laps: Dillon tracks down Chicagoland win
Austin Dillon takes two tires, with 22 laps to go, to get out in front of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to win the Fast Five 225 .
Post-Race Reactions: EnjoyIllinois.com 225
Hear what all the top finishers in the EnjoyIllinois.com 225 had to say about a race that included 50 passes for the lead in Chicago.
Post-Race Reactions: American Ethanol 225
The top- five finishers comment on an exciting night filled with strategy and determination.
Five drivers strive to join Sauter in Truck Series Championship 4
RELATED: Truck Series Chase Grid " Driver standings With two races left in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, only Johnny Sauter has a sure-fire berth in the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . The rest of the title-hopeful roster is a five -driver pour into a three-driver funnel. The Championship 4 field for the series' inaugural Chase finale will get clarity after Friday night's Lucas Oil 150 (10 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Phoenix International Raceway . William Byron, Christopher Bell , Matt Crafton , Timothy Peters and Ben Kennedy will aim to join Sauter in the Championship 4, but two drivers will be eliminated in Friday's Round of 6 finale. Sauter clinched his spot with a victory at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago, then blocked anyone else from an automatic berth with a back-to-back win at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. He's the only driver who can afford to be conservative at Phoenix. "We're peaking at the right time but we need to peak in a few weeks when it really counts at Homestead," Sauter said. Byron and Bell, two Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates with limited experience on the Arizona oval, may be in the best position to join him. Byron is the top points-earner among the five remaining drivers hoping to transfer, with Bell just one point behind him. Their KBM organization also has solid footing at Phoenix. The Kyle Busch -owned group won four straight races at the 1-mile track from 2011-14. Plus, the 18-year-old Byron has some level of confidence by competing in a race-winning chassis -- the same one that he drove to a triumph in the Chase opener at New Hampshire and that Erik Jones powered to Victory Lane at Phoenix in 2014. "It's a little bit of pressure for everyone who is not locked in," Byron said. "Hopefully we can capitalize on that and have the finish we need in order to get to Homestead. I think we're going to have a really good shot at a win, so if we can do that, it would be the easiest way to ensure we are in the Championship 4 next weekend." Bell, 21, will also be at the controls of proven equipment, driving the same KBM truck that spurred him to victory at Gateway Motorsports Park . He also finished second to Byron using the same chassis in the Chase opener at New Hampshire. "I expect that we'll be really fast again this week," Bell said. "I feel we are in a good enough position points-wise that if we just go out and have a solid day and not make any mistakes then we should advance." Not much distance separates the three drivers behind the Kyle Busch Motorsports duo in the standings. Two-time series champ Crafton sits three points behind Bell, with Peters -- the defending race winner - another point back. Kennedy, smarting from a pair of mid-pack finishes in the round's other events, is just 13 points behind Crafton's grasp on the provisional final transfer spot. Of the six, only Peters is seeking his first win of the season. A repeat of his late-race surge to victory in Phoenix's 150-miler last year would be well-timed. "I'd say we have momentum on our side, we've been strong through the Chase and at short tracks this season," Peters said. "I think we have a good Toyota Tundra this weekend and this team has the heart to come back and go for the win."
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