A father of a boy and two girls with another baby girl on the way, Kenny Habul balances being a successful business owner, race car driver and family man. While in Ohio last Thursday afternoon, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and his family visited the Nationwide Children's Hospital (NCH) and made a $100,000 donation on behalf of everyone at his company, SunEnergy1. For more than half a century, Nationwide has partnered with NCH to provide life-saving care to children and their families. The third annual Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio was part of the company's effort to raise awareness and more than $4 million for NCH and its wide-ranging, world-class research efforts. RELATED: Drivers form lasting bond with Patient Champions In his 11th career XFINITY Series start and second of the season, Habul qualified 15th and finished 28th. Last month, Denny Hamlin drove Habul's SunEnergy1 No. 20 Toyota Camry to New Hampshire Motor Speedway's Victory Lane.
The Nationwide Patient Champions give the command for the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
RELATED: Answers on multiple packages " Darlington's throwback gallery Perhaps somewhat overshadowed by all the talk about Darlington Raceway 's "throwback" platform this weekend is the return of NASCAR's low downforce package, incorporating aerodynamic changes first unveiled at Kentucky Speedway earlier this year. Three significant changes have been incorporated into the Sprint Cup Series package for Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) that differs from the package used in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky in July. The Darlington spoiler will be 3-1/2 inches (instead of 3 inches) and the splitter will feature a 1/4-inch leading edge. Also, the tires to be used at Darlington were built specifically for this particular low downforce package. The build was determined after a one-day test in July with drivers Matt Kenseth ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske ) and Tony Stewart ( Stewart-Haas Racing ). There is no change in the size of the splitter extension panel, which was set at 25 inches for the Kentucky event. Driver feedback, for the most part, was positive following Kentucky. But Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for Kenseth, noted that differences in the two tracks and other considerations would have an impact this weekend at Darlington. "It's going to be a lot different … because we haven't run at Darlington at this time of year in a while," he said. "… Darlington is unique anyway -- you run right around the fence, which makes it difficult to pass, but I thought the aero package was good and we were able to work on the car and find some speed and nothing negative with it." Fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards said he's looking forward to putting the low downforce package back on the track. "The way we've been running lately and the way this package drove at Kentucky, I mean to me Darlington is going to be like Christmas in September. I'm pumped," he said. So About Those Tires The tire combination selected by Goodyear will feature the same left-side tire code used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year with a right-side tire code that was run at Kentucky. "We had a very minimal change in grip at Kentucky from what we raced there in 2014," Greg Stucker, Director of Race Tire Sales for Goodyear, told SiriusXM NASCAR on Wednesday. "Just a little bit more grip on the left-side tire, and the results of that particular event I think were very, very positive. "I think the low-downforce package showed a lot of potential. I think a lot of people walked out of there thinking that was a really nice package. It certainly reduced grip, put a lot of control back into the drivers' hands. Did a lot of things that I think people were looking for." Stucker said a "considerable amount of grip" has been added to the Darlington tires, with hopefully will offset some of the aerodynamic grip lost with the aero changes on the cars. "The reduction in downforce going from the standard 2015 (package) to the low-downforce package increased lap times by about three-quarters of a second, 7/10ths to 8/10ths, something like that," he said. "That much slower. When we put the grippier setup on, it gave us about that same 7/10ths to 8/10ths back." A December test at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2014 actually provided some of the initial data for the low downforce tire build. "We went back there again in March of this year to confirm that tire package for a low-downforce setup that at the time was thought to be run in the (Sprint) All-Star Race," Stucker said. "So we had a lot of work done in a similar configuration. Historically Darlington and Charlotte are similar. We run the same right-side tire there, slightly different left. But it gave us a real good starting point for where to go back to Darlington so we did that." Riding a Blue Streak The teams and track officials aren't the only ones on board with this year's "throwback" theme for the Bojangles' Southern 500 . Even Goodyear is going retro, returning to a logo design used in the 1970s. At that time, the logos and markings on each tire were hand-painted -- that won't be the case this weekend -- "but they'll definitely have the looks of what we ran back in the '70s," Stucker said. "We had not yet gone to Eagle on our race tires. They were still called Blue Streak Specials." The yellow Goodyear lettering seen on today's Goodyear Eagle tires came into use in 1992.
Check out Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide car being wrapped for Daytona International Speedway.
RELATED: Practice 2 results Justin Marks sped to the top of the leaderboard late in Friday's final NASCAR XFINITY Series practice at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, piloting his No. 42 Chevrolet around the road course at 95.574 mph. That was just quick enough to unseat Ty Dillon from the top spot. Dillon, who led Friday's opening practice and was looking for a sweep, had a best speed of 95.538 mph, which looked like it would hold up. That ended up being good for second place. Marks hasn't raced an XFINITY Series car since the season-opening race at Daytona, in which he finished 34th in the No. 29 Toyota. Alex Tagliani (95.205 mph) was third in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, followed by Chris Buescher (95.152 mph) and Elliott Sadler (94.965 mph). Chase Elliott , who finished eighth in the final session, spent time in the garage so his team could swap his transmission after the driver reported a small vibration on his second run, according to JR Motorsports. Next on the docket for the XFINITY Series is qualifying, which takes place Saturday at 11:15 a.m. ET. The Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 follows at 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). Opening practice RELATED: Practice 1 results A late mock qualifying run vaulted Ty Dillon to the top of the leaderboard in Friday's opening NASCAR XFINITY Series practice at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Dillon topped Brian Scott 's best speed with approximately 90 seconds remaining in the opening 55-minute session with a pace of 95.660 mph. Scott, his Richard Childress Racing teammate, settled for second in the session at 94.937 mph. In a practice session that saw its leaderboard get topsy-turvy as teams made late runs in qualifying trim, Boris Said piloted the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to third place (94.825 mph). Regan Smith was fourth at 94.755 mph and defending race winner and series points leader Chris Buescher taking fifth (94.736 mph). Buescher enters Saturday's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM) 24 points ahead of both Chase Elliott and Dillon. Elliott finished seventh in the first practice. Dillon, of course, was involved in a pit-road tussle with Smith following last week's race at Watkins Glen. They avoided each other in Friday's opening period of on-track activity. RELATED: Smith, Dillon get physical post-Watkins Glen Seven NASCAR XFINITY Series teams lost 15 minutes of on-track time as a result of recent minor infractions. The following XFINITY Series teams served 15-minute practice time deduction penalties during the opening practice: Richard Childress Racing No. 2 (driver Brian Scott ), Team Penske No. 22 ( Alex Tagliani ), JGL Racing No. 26 ( Tomy Drissi ), Richard Childress Racing No. 33 ( Brandon Jones ), Jimmy Means Racing No. 52 ( Joey Gase ), Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 ( Boris Said ) and JR Motorsports No. 88 ( Ben Rhodes ). The seven teams were penalized for issues arising at Watkins Glen this past weekend (late exiting garage).
LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Team owner Jack Roush sparked rumors that XFINITY Series points leader Chris Buescher could soon be competing for a Sprint Cup Series title in a Wednesday night interview with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, noting that the 22-year-old is "ready" for Cup racing and there's consideration for putting him in a car "sooner, rather than later." This was all news to Buescher. "(We've talked about) absolutely nothing. That has caught me so off-guard," Buescher said Friday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, site of Saturday's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). "My dad called me and asked me about it and I said 'I don't know what you're talking about right now.' And then the radio interview … came up, and it's nice to hear. It's awesome being recognized or being considered to move up." It's easy to see why Buescher would garner consideration from the longtime Roush Fenway Racing owner, given that his career has taken off at a tremendous rate since picking up his first career national series victory in this very race a year ago. A 2014 season that started with him failing to qualify for the season opener at Daytona hit its stride midway at Mid-Ohio with a win, sparking a streak of dominance that has seen him lead the series' regulars with an average finish of 8.4 in 2015. RELATED: Buescher seeks separation in standings at Mid-Ohio While it's hard to resist the temptation to think about where he could be racing next year, Buescher is keeping his expectations tempered. "Sooner rather than later is a very broad statement," said Buescher, the only XFINITY regular with multiple wins this year. "I don't know when that would be, by any means. My progression has typically been a little slower than a lot of the guys that I've grown up racing around, when you look at a lot of the guys that are in this series, they typically don't spend as much time in each series as I have. I'm OK with that, though. I like the fact that I've been able to get a lot of seat time in each division that I've run and been able to move up when I feel like I'm ready." Set in motion from Kyle Busch 's injury to start the season, Buescher has six Sprint Cup starts under his belt this year, which have mostly come when he hopped in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports ride previously inhabited by David Ragan , who filled in for Busch in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18. His average finish in six races is 26.7, but he's managed to finish better than where he started in every race except last weekend at Watkins Glen. Buescher also mentioned there are no current plans for him to get any more Cup seat time this year, but didn't rule out spot starts as necessary. Either way, he knows the extra laps behind the wheel amidst the stronger competition are just as important as finishing position right now, and he's willing to put in the time to learning the ropes. "I've had a lot of fun doing the Cup races with Front Row Motorsports . I think it has been a very big learning experience. I've learned a lot going through it. I realized it's not a 'drop in, good to go, go win a race,' it's going to be a learning curve for me," Buescher said. "I'm ready for the challenge, but it will be a challenge and lot of learning that will go along with it, whenever it may be ... I think I'll be ready for it. We'll find out sooner than later." For now, Buescher is focused on pursuing a championship in the XFINITY Series. In that regard, the series points leader says that the on-track incidents with teammate and championship hopeful Darrell Wallace Jr . are a thing of the past. "We've got everything rolling along pretty smooth right now," he said. "We've taken care of all of our issues. We feel like, or we know that the best way to make all of our teams competitive is to work together and we've had meetings to to basically very firmly say that and get that out there. It's all good and we've all been over-working on sim before this race; watching video, trying to review; going around on some pace car rides this morning with all of our teammates. We feel good about where we're at right now. "Obviously it wasn't so much fun earlier, but it's on the right path. We feel like we're focused on going out there are getting more wins for our organization. This year's been really good for us on the XFINITY side. We're the only organization that has any XFINITY regulars with any wins, which is pretty special to me, I would say."
Team Penske driver gets ready for Mid-Ohio race in a different way LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Plenty of drivers have their particular ways of preparing for an upcoming race track, whether it's watching tape, talking to veterans, poring over data from previous races, etc. And then there are some that ride around on their bicycles to glean the ins and outs. Yes, bicycles. Alex Tagliani , a road course pro set to take the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang around Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the second consecutive year, took a lap around the winding, 2.258-mile track on his man-powered two-wheeler on Thursday night to get a feel for it -- at a much slower speed, of course. "For the first time in so many years last night I was biking around the track; it was my first time with a bicycle and it's really amazing how much the elevation is," Tagliani said Friday, ahead of Saturday's Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). "When you're driving the car, everything looks a lot flatter. You see that there’s a little bit of up and down, but with the bike I was getting 50 kph (approximately 31 mph) down Turn 4 and 15 kph (approx. 9 mph) going up some hills, so there is a huge elevation change in the track and even some banking in some places. "It was quite fun to have that sort of perspective for the first time and when you drive any other car, the track doesn't really feel the same. Downforce helps a lot with cars that have a lot of movement like the XFINITY cars and a lot of body wall. It changes a lot, too, so you have to approach the track a little bit different, but it's fun ... just look at the small, minor details that you don't see when you're sitting in your car." It certainly didn't hurt that Tagliani, who finished fifth in this race last year after starting second, picked up an early win to build some momentum for the weekend, either. "My wife was out there, too, with the baby and the stroller. I was not the slowest one out there."
RELATED: Watch Smith's late pass to steal the win from Tagliani at Mid-Ohio LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Regan Smith ended a 52-race XFINITY Series winless streak in Saturday’s Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course -- but at what cost? That's the question runner-up Alex Tagliani , who Smith moved out of the way coming around the final corner of the 2.4-mile road course, found himself asking after the race. The No. 22 Team Penske driver, whose only scheduled XFINITY start this season came this weekend, felt that Smith's aggressive move was out of line based on how the two had raced throughout the event's 75 laps -- and it's something he won't forget. "The pass I put on Regan early on, it took a lot of time to put that pass in because I know he's working for the championship and he was very vocal about what happened last weekend so he seemed to be very aggressive, too," Tagliani said after the race. "I'm a little guy, so I didn't want to get into a fist fight. Knowing what I know now, I probably would've done a little bit less of an in-between pass, and it's really unfortunate what happened at the end. Take your point and walk away happy, but to celebrate this way ... winning this way is not winning for me. "From my perspective, there's going to be some bumpers. That's going to happen and I know that. The thing is, where I really don't appreciate is moving. I don't respect his win today. He didn't really try. He could've tried Turn 2 and put the fender on me and just moved me out of the way a little bit and get a run on the back straightaway. He could've bonsaied me going into Turn 4. He could've come out of 4 and just dove on the inside of (Turn 5). He could've done all kinds of things, but he never tried." The "last weekend" that Tagliani refers to is the late-race fracas between Smith and Ty Dillon , who finished third at Mid-Ohio and sided with Tagliani in their joint post-race press conference, when the JR Motorsports driver vehemently disagreed with Dillon's move on him that left Smith with a 20th-place finish. RELATED: Smith offers his side of Watkins Glen incident Thus, it's interesting that the roles were nearly reversed, and Smith saw things in a different light. To hear the two drivers each describe the final lap, it's like they weren't even at the same race. "We took the white flag, I made an adjustment inside the car with something I can do," Smith said. "Went into Turn 1 and pretty much sailed it in there because I at least needed to close it up and make him nervous. As soon as I got on his bumper, I noticed him start to get a little more squirrelly, a little bit more trouble through the corners and that allowed me to stay with him that whole last lap. We went through Turns 9 and 10 and that allowed me to stay right on his back bumper and was pushing him through there and just letting him know that I was there and right on top of him. We went in the carousel and he went to play it cautious ... and I pretty much went the speed that I thought I needed to go, which was a little bit faster than the speed he thought he needed to go and just kind of pushed him up the race track a little bit. I hate doing that to him; he's raced me clean throughout the years ... these wins are hard to come by and it’s been a long time since I've had one. I was pretty hungry and after last week, I was even more hungry. "The fact of the matter is, I moved him out of the way and he finished second. I didn't wreck him, I didn't spin him, I didn't do anything like that. Obviously, I don't expect him to be happy about that. I wouldn't be either. I've been on the receiving end of many of them here on these road courses. We had to take that opportunity." While Tagliani likely won't see Smith on the track for at least the rest of the season -- he has no other scheduled XFINITY starts announced, and Smith's plans for next year are still up in the air -- this one is sure to sit heavy on his mind for some time. He'll be waiting. "I thought maybe it was a mistake on my part, to think that because I'd (raced him clean) early in the race, he was going to race me clean until the end. I was unprepared," Tagliani said. "Next time I will be prepared."
LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Perspective. A week ago, Regan Smith was caught up in a fiery post-race fracas with XFINITY Series championship rival Ty Dillon after an on-track mixup at Watkins Glen International. On Thursday, he walked with eyes wide and jaw agape through the neonatal intensive care unit at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, which cares for infants born as young as 24 weeks -- roughly five and a half months. Smith, a recent first-time father to a nearly 6-month old son, Rhett, and JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott toured the hospital on behalf of the Patient Champions program, which pairs drivers with children who have completed or are undergoing treatment at the hospital. "Talking about perspective, if (feuding with Dillon) is the worst thing we have going on ..." said Regan, before trailing off. "We're standing here in a hospital right now with kids that have a lot of serious things going on. It was a race. We'll move onto the next one. Naturally, there's a lot bigger things going on in the world." The program, which pairs 10 drivers with 10 "Patient Champions" from the hospital, is in its third year in NASCAR since the sanctioning body began racing at the road course in the XFINITY Series in 2013. Patients, who are afflicted with diagnoses ranging from Autism to Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis to Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and everything in between, have a hand in designing their drivers' respective paint scheme themselves -- Smith's purple, giraffe-embroidered No. 7 Chevrolet is a sight, for sure -- and are recognized throughout the weekend at the race track. Front and center at the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 driver/crew chief meeting on Saturday, the group of children received a 30-second standing ovation from some of the biggest names in the sport, before breaking off to the garage area to hang out with their paired driver and, yes, sit in their actual race cars. Through its The 1989 World Tour partnership, XFINITY gifted each of the Patient Champions with a Taylor Swift-themed canvas bag filled with an iPad mini, CD, signed photo, thumb drive, t-shirt and third row tickets to her show when she rolls into Columbus in mid-September As the race prepared to get underway, the Patient Champions held one of the most important jobs of any race weekend -- co-grand marshals. Giving the command to start engines is certainly a moment that will stick with these children throughout their lives. Visiting the hospital is one that is sure to linger in the minds of Smith and Elliott. "I think more than anything, it's just knowing that these kids have gone through a lot and continue to go through a lot and just being able to hang out with them and mess around and play with them," said Smith, who legitimately could not wipe the smile off his face after receiving a tin of cookies from his Patient Champion, Laynie Roll. "I think, for me, the NICU hit close to home. Just because we're not far removed from having a baby that small. I shouldn't say 'that small,' but having a baby of that age. To see some of the 24-week-old babies that are that premature, it's incredible to even think that 30, 40 years ago, it probably would've been a different outcome. As they've learned, as this hospital has grown and as we've gotten smarter as a whole, to see that they're able to have a baby that is that little surviving, some of them breathing on their own is incredible." For Smith, the experience was one that brought up many questions, invoking his inquisitive, curious side as the hospital's neonatology chief Dr. Edward Sherman brought he and Elliott through the department. The new father clearly has an invested interest in the well-being of children overall and wanted to make sure he brought as much joy as possible to every patient he came in contact with, enthusiastically drag racing toy cars in the lobby and later, painting wooden toy chassis in the arts and crafts room with patients. Elliott, still just 19 years old, maintained a reserved, tentative approach. The sobering experience was a lot to take in for anyone, let alone someone who just graduated from high school last year. It was a similar, somewhat intentional pairing to 40-year-old Brendan Gaughan and 20-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski 's visit last year. Needless to say, the reigning series champion walked out of Nationwide Children's Hospital differently than when he walked in. "I think (their strength) is the key to it all. Seeing these kids and what they go through makes you sit back and realize how fortunate we are to really do what we love to do," Elliott said. "Don't take anything for granted, because you don't know when anything can happen at any given point. That's just life. Just very fortunate to be here and come see things first-hand. This hospital and Nationwide , the things that they do for them to make this happen is huge. It's cool to see it and be a part of it. "I got to see this race weekend last year and ran the race and got to see … (last year's race-winner) Chris (Buescher) had a young boy on his car. I didn't have anybody on my car and we obviously didn't win that day, but it was cool to see the joy that brought. It makes you sit back and realize that a bad day at the race track could be a lot worse." ******* At the conclusion of the 2014 running of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200, Luke Benner stood in Victory Lane in front of a giant trophy with a No. 1 finger in the air. Standing next to him was race-winner Chris Buescher , who'd just picked up his first career NASCAR victory -- but let the spotlight shine on Benner, his Patient Champion. "It was a really humbling win for me," Buescher said Friday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. "(I did feel extra pressure to win) and it probably had something to do with the fact that they said 'We're on the car now and we expect you to win, so you better.' They were not shy about what they were hoping to get out of the weekend. "They've been awesome. The whole Benner family has been a lot of fun to deal with and be around. To create a friendship and follow Luke's progress … they (came) back this weekend even though we have a new Patient Champion on the side of our car. We'll have William Schaffer on board and his family out here this weekend, but we'll also have the Benners, so we (had) a lot of kids running around our area trying to keep everything going forward. It'll be exciting that there's that little bit of extra pressure but at the same time, there's 10 of us that have the extra pressure so it evens out, I'd say." And that's what it's all about. Creating a special bond between patient and driver -- a mutually beneficial relationship that truly represents the communal spirit that makes NASCAR such a unique sport and experience through and through. It's clear that the sanctioning body, its teams and, most importantly, its drivers value and care for its fans and the relationships bonded -- especially with those in need. Even for Nationwide , which gave up its entitlement sponsor position of the series at the conclusion of last season, to remain so visible and charitable is nothing short of incredible. "These are kids that have gone through a lot, but because of the hospital and what they can do there, they can come out of it as a success story and they're special, unique kids that can talk through the challenges and what they've overcome," said Jim McCoy, director of sports marketing for Nationwide . "For us to highlight those stories in a national way through a race, putting (the patients') face on the car, having them come out to the race track and just enjoy time not thinking about whatever ailment that they have, it brings a lot of meaning to what we do and why we look forward to this race every year." All in all, while Saturday's race was won by Smith, the ones that walked away champions were Aiden VanWagner (Patient Champion of Elliott Sadler ), Alexandra James (Patient Champion of Ben Rhodes ), Dominic Clarke (Patient Champion of Darrell Wallace Jr .), Evan Kern (Patient Champion of Chase Elliott ), Kylee Leonard (Patient Champion of Alex Tagliani ), Laynie Roll (Patient Champion of Regan Smith ), Michael Galiher (Patient Champion of Ryan Reed ), Owen Mattie (Patient Champion of Brian Scott ), Roger "Mikey" Allen (Patient Champion of Brendan Gaughan ) and William Schaefer (Patient Champion of Chris Buescher ). Roll, race-winner Smith's Patient Champion, received an extra special experience, as she helped Smith celebrate in Victory Lane after the race at Mid-Ohio. "To come out here, they get to experience something that they're not going to get on a daily basis or in any normal sport," Buescher said. "You're not going to get the all access, come in the garage, sit in the cars, be on the pit box during the race. It's all stuff that is very unique to our sport and is very close up and all the Patient Champions get to do that this weekend." "It's very cool that we were able to carry it on."
Nationwide Series champion, team to spend Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott and members of the No. 9 JR Motorsports team will be on the road Tuesday as they travel to Columbus, Ohio, home of the series sponsor, to be honored for their 2014 efforts. The day-long schedule will include a visit to the Nationwide Children's Hospital, a Marketing University panel discussion, autograph session, broom ball at Nationwide Arena, team dinner and taking in the Columbus Blue Jackets-Philadelphia Flyers NHL contest. Elliott, who turned 19 on Nov. 28, became the youngest driver to win the series title this season. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year winner, Elliott scored his first series win at Texas Motor Speedway , and came back a week later to win his second race, at Darlington Raceway . He added a third victory later in the season at Chicagoland Speedway . With crew chief Greg Ives leading the team, Elliott ended the year with 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes. He and teammate Regan Smith placed 1-2 in the series’ points standings. JRM, which fields three teams in the series, is co-owned by Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr ., sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Sprint Cup team owner Rick Hendrick. Elliott wrapped up the title with one race remaining, thanks to a fifth-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway . "It's just been a very, very fun road," Elliott said. "I feel very fortunate to have not just this year with Greg and with Dale and Kelley and Mr. Hendrick, and just honestly, the best group of people that you could possibly have surrounding you in racing in the past five years that I've been short track racing and whatnot. "I feel like I've had the absolute best possible people there, too, and I feel like all these people along the way have made me look a heck of a lot better than I really am. It's been an honor to work with these guys, and not just this year, but all along the way." Nationwide Insurance, which has served as series sponsor since 2008, will be replaced by XFINITY beginning in 2015. However, the company will remain involved in the sport through team sponsorship with Earnhardt Jr. as well as sponsor of the series’ race at Mid-Ohio. "What they've done with this series … (it’s) in a whole lot better place than it was when they started," Earnhardt Jr. said of Nationwide ’' involvement. "They've done a wonderful job being a part of our sport and representing our sport. They really love this series, and this series fit them very well." Ives, who will move over to become crew chief for Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Sprint Cup team, and Earnhardt Jr. will be unable to join the team on the trip to Columbus due to their participation in a Goodyear tire test at Charlotte Motor Speedway scheduled for the same day. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule