BK Racing shuffle: Ragan, DiBenedetto won't return
BK Racing will have a significant overhaul to its driver lineup for 2017 with announcements on consecutive days that primary drivers David Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto would not return to the team next season. DiBenedetto, touting the promise of an exciting announcement in the future, announced Thursday night on Twitter that he would not return to the Charlotte-based team. Ragan's departure was the next bit of news, with the Ron Devine-owned organization confirming that transition Friday afternoon. I've decided to go in a different direction next year. Exciting announcements coming soon. It's been a great ride @BKRacing_2383 Thank you! — Matthew DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) December 8, 2016 In two years with the organization, DiBenedetto logged 68 starts with one top-10 finish. That finish, in April 2016 at Bristol, was a sixth-place result -- he finished one spot ahead of 2014 champion Kevin Harvick -- and resulted in an emotional, memorable on-air interview. "I can only say so much at this time," DiBenedetto said Thursday night on SiriusXM Radio. "I've been in talks with BK, and no hard feelings. I'm appreciative of everything they've given me. … Just kind of evaluating the team situation for next year. From my end there's a little too much unknown, so I just had to make that decision. I'm excited about what the future has to hold here still, and obviously everyone will have to stay tuned." Devine confirmed DiBenedetto's parting through a statement released later Thursday evening. "Our 33rd- and 34th-place finishes this year did not produce the results we were hoping to achieve," Devine said. "I am, however, very proud of Matt DiBenedetto and his many accomplishments over the past two years. He is a wonderful driver and a special person. I am confident that Matt will go on to be a very successful NASCAR driver, and I believe it is the right time to release him so that he can pursue other opportunities. "Myself and everyone at BK Racing wishes Matt all the best in his future endeavors. I am looking forward to much success for both Matt and BK Racing ." Devine struck a similar tone in his statement on Ragan's release, hinting at measures to better its results next season. " BK Racing has agreed not to renew David Ragan 's contract for next year," Devine said. "Everyone wishes David the best of luck in his career. BK Racing will continue to restructure as an ongoing effort to improve our on-track performance ... and we will be announcing our 2017 driver lineup in the near future." DiBenedetto and Ragan were the primary drivers for BK Racing in 2016, but the organization also fielded Toyotas in spot duty for Jeffrey Earnhardt , Ryan Ellis , Dylan Lupton , Robert Richardson Jr ., and Michael Waltrip. The team has been full time in NASCAR's premier series since 2012, when it debuted as a two-car outfit with drivers Landon Cassill and Travis Kvapil . Ragan, 31, has two victories in NASCAR's top division since he began full-time competition in 2007. He won at Daytona International Speedway driving for Roush Fenway Racing in July 2011 and handed Front Row Motorsports its first victory at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2013. Ragan finished 33rd in the final standings in his only season for BK Racing . His most recent top-10 finish was in March 2015 in a fill-in role for the injured Kyle Busch in Joe Gibbs Racing 's No. 18 Toyota. DiBenedetto missed one race in 2016, at Texas Motor Speedway in November, after not being medically cleared following a wreck in the NASCAR XFINITY Series the day prior. He was cleared from concussion protocol in time for the next race. DiBenedetto, 25, also has 68 career starts in the XFINITY Series. &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;
Dale Jr ., Kyle Busch win Can-Am Duels at Daytona
MORE: Full starting lineup for 500 RELATED: Can-Am Duel 1 results " Can-Am Duel 2 results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Retaking the lead with five laps left in the first of Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel 150-mile qualifying races, Dale Earnhardt Jr . cruised to a dominating victory and grabbed the third staring spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500 . RELATED: See the best photos from the Can-Am Duels In the second Duel, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch took the checkered flag under caution after a wild last-lap wreck took out the cars of Jimmie Johnson , Martin Truex Jr ., Matt Kenseth , AJ Allmendinger and Danica Patrick and damaged the No. 41 Chevrolet of Kurt Busch . Kenseth will go to a backup car and start from the rear in the Daytona 500 , surrendering the second starting spot he earned during last Sunday’s time trials. "I guess it was quiet and calm there for a long time, and the last lap just went kind of crazy," Busch said. "Great car. These guys at Joe Gibbs Racing did a phenomenal job this winter building some new pieces for us to come down here with and have some fun. "Looking forward to starting the Daytona 500 in the fourth spot, but I think I will actually get the outside front row now that Kenseth got caught up in that mess and tore up his car." RELATED: Dale Jr . wins on 15-year anniversary of dad's death Driving a chassis nicknamed "Amelia" for famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, Earnhardt won his Duel for the second straight year and for the fifth time overall. The two-time Daytona 500 winner drove Amelia in all four restrictor-plate races and the Duel last year, winning two points races as well as the Daytona qualifier. Earnhardt held off 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano and rookie Ryan Blaney , who drove their Fords to second and third, respectively. Kevin Harvick finished fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin and Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott . With Blaney finishing highest in the first Duel among the four "open" drivers who had to race into the field, Michael McDowell earned a spot in the Daytona 500 based on his qualifying speed from last Thursday, the third fastest among the "open" drivers. Blaney was already locked into the field as the fastest qualifier among the "open" drivers. RELATED: Which Open drivers are in, out of Daytona 500 ? "You all know what it means to be in the 500," McDowell said. I've been on the other side, too, where I've been loading up, too, and going home on a Thursday night. I definitely appreciate it when we make the races. "It's definitely a big thing for our team, Circle Sport and Leavine Family Racing . We're going to have two cars in the Daytona 500 , especially for a small team. To really start out the year well, it's very important. This is such a huge race." Earnhardt got the lead on Lap 55 of 60, diving to the inside and pulling up beside Hamlin, who was leading at the time. Earnhardt stayed out front for the final five laps, bringing his total for the race to 43. "Denny is such a great plate racer," Earnhardt said. "There are a lot of guys that are really good at it these days. I knew he was going to be real tough to get around. When he got the lead (during a sequence of green-flag pit stops), I didn’t know if we were going to be able to get around him. He’s got a great car and he’s real smart. "For whatever reason, I was able to get to his quarter-panel, (and) he saw we had a pretty good run. I don’t know, I didn’t think I was going to clear him. We got away from him so he couldn’t side draft us, I guess. I was really surprised as anybody that we got by him. He’ll be tough on Sunday." With Brian Scott spinning off Turn 4 and slamming into the inside wall on the final lap, Earnhardt crossed the finish line .183 seconds ahead of Logano, who also finished second to Hamlin in last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race. The first Duel sets the inside lane for the Daytona 500 . Hence, Earnhardt, Logano, Blaney, Harvick and Hamlin will line up third, fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th behind Elliott on Sunday. Jamie McMurray , Kurt Busch , Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon finished second through fifth in the second Duel and will line up behind Kyle Busch in the outside lane on Sunday, provided none of those drivers has to go to a backup car, and provided Elliott chooses the inside lane for the start of the race (the pole winner has lane choice). With Matt DiBenedetto finishing highest among the "open" drivers in the second Duel, Robert Richardson Jr . earned the last starting spot in the Daytona 500 on speed, given that DiBenedetto already was locked into the field as the second fastest "open" qualifier during time trials. With Richardson and DiBenedetto in the race, BK Racing has all four of its cars in the field. The cars of David Ragan and Michael Waltrip are chartered and therefore guaranteed starting spots. "Two weeks ago I was at home working on my ranch, got a phone call from Lane Segerstrom from (sponsor) StalkIt, saying he was trying to put a deal together trying to run the Daytona 500 ," Richardson said. "This was two weeks ago. A lot of guys start preparing for this race as soon as the season ends from last year. "I'm very, very honored to be a part of BK Racing , having another opportunity to run here at the Daytona 500 . I've been in it once before, but this one is very, very special to me. My wife and I welcomed our brand new baby boy who was born in early December. Every bit of the earnings we get from this race are going to go into a college fund for him." Failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 were Cole Whitt , Josh Wise , David Gilliland and Reed Sorenson .
Dale Earnhardt Jr . leads final practice at Daytona
Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s No. 88 Chevrolet -- now affectionately dubbed "Amelia" -- showed no signs of slowing down in Saturday's final Sprint Cup practice at Daytona International Speedway . The Hendrick Motorsports driver topped the leaderboard with a fast lap of 197.131 mph around The World Center of Racing, bookending Daytona 500 practice sessions as he led opening practice earlier in this week. Earnhardt will start third in Sunday's Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) beside teammate and pole-sitter Chase Elliott . RELATED: Earnhardt's 'Amelia' taking flight again at Daytona Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski and Wood Brothers Racing 's Ryan Blaney -- whose team has a technical alliance with Penske -- drafted together throughout the session, putting them at the top of the leaderboard behind Earnhardt. Logano was second-fastest in his No. 22 ride (196.369 mph), while Blaney came up third in the No. 21 (196.288 mph). Keselowski rounded out the Ford trio with a fast lap of 196.262 mph from his No. 2 machine. A pair of Stewart-Haas Racing cars -- Kurt Busch (196.061 mph) and Kevin Harvick (196.014 mph) -- completed the top six, respectively. Bush's No. 41 team made extensive repairs to his car after incurring damage during the last-lap wreck of Thursday's Duel No. 2. Jimmie Johnson (18th-fastest), Matt Kenseth (21st-fastest) and Brian Scott (23rd-fastest) were the drivers in today's practice now wheeling backup cars after wrecking in the Duels. Martin Truex Jr . and AJ Allmendinger , who did not turn a lap in the final session, will also come from the rear in backup rides. Only 25 of the 40-car field participated in Saturday's final practice. FULL PRACTICE RESULTS Pos Car Driver Speed 1 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr . 197.131 2 22 Joey Logano 196.369 3 *21 Ryan Blaney # 196.288 4 2 Brad Keselowski 196.262 5 41 Kurt Busch 196.061 6 4 Kevin Harvick 196.014 7 16 Greg Biffle 195.959 8 24 Chase Elliott # 195.839 9 14 Brian Vickers 195.814 10 15 Clint Bowyer 195.763 11 38 Landon Cassill 195.236 12 7 Regan Smith 195.135 13 5 Kasey Kahne 194.397 14 23 David Ragan 194.384 15 *26 Robert Richardson Jr . 194.342 16 6 Trevor Bayne 194.280 17 46 Michael Annett 194.221 18 48 Jimmie Johnson 193.719 19 1 Jamie McMurray 193.075 20 95 Ty Dillon (i) 192.951 21 20 Matt Kenseth 192.806 22 43 Aric Almirola 192.201 23 44 Brian Scott # 192.160 24 31 Ryan Newman 191.111 25 34 Chris Buescher # 190.392
Issues for Pastrana, Richardson Jr ., Hamlin early
Travis Pastrana spins twice, Robert Richardson Jr .'s engine goes up in a fireball and Denny Hamlin has to change his carburetor.
Dale Jr .: Bowman 'deserves' to run The Clash
RELATED: Dale Jr . set for Daytona return in 2017 " Format set for The Clash Dale Earnhardt Jr . is set to resume his NASCAR career at Daytona International Speedway in February, but one week later than he potentially could. It's a move borne of deference and appreciation for the driver who admirably filled in last season during his recovery from a neurological ailment. Both Earnhardt and substitute driver Alex Bowman meet eligibility requirements for The Clash, a non-points exhibition race scheduled Feb. 18 (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the 2.5-mile Florida track. But Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Bowman would drive the team's No. 88 Chevrolet in the invitational, a week before the season-opening Daytona 500 . Earnhardt had heard rumblings about rules for the Clash format and field as last season drew to a close. His hunch that 2016 pole winners would make up the majority of the starting lineup was correct. The Clash rules were still up in the air when Bowman -- who ran 10 of the 18 races Earnhardt missed in the second half of last season -- claimed the first Coors Light Pole Award of his career in November at Phoenix International Raceway . After watching the qualifying results play out on pit road, Earnhardt's first words to Hendrick general manager Doug Duchardt were that Bowman should keep the driver's seat for the Daytona preliminary.
Earnhardt Jr .: I feel stronger than before
RELATED: See Junior's 2017 car " Wedding plans " Contract talks coming soon Wednesday's test at Darlington Raceway confirmed what Dale Earnhardt Jr . already suspected -- that he has recovered from a concussion suffered at midseason of 2016, and that he is fit and healthy enough to resume competing in NASCAR's premier series. While this year's incident, which caused Earnhardt to miss the final 18 races, was the second time he had been sidelined due to a concussion, Earnhardt made no bones about his eagerness to climb back in the No. 88 Chevrolet when the 2017 season gets underway. Saying he feels he has "a lot left in the tank," Earnhardt spoke about his recovery, his return and what lies ahead during a national teleconference Friday. "I wouldn't be coming back to the seat and wanting to drive and be excited about driving cars if there was any risk other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday," the 42-year-old Earnhardt said. "I feel very confident in what I've seen in myself in my improvement and what my doctors are telling me about my future and the risk that I'm taking, and my ability to be able to withstand the normal wear and tear of not only driving a race, but getting in that unfortunate accident from time to time. "We all feel pretty confident that not only am I as healthy as I was before the symptoms came last year but I'm actually stronger. Having gone through this before also gives me additional confidence. This isn't uncharted territory for me. I know what I need to feel personally to know that I'm as strong as I need to be and healthy. I'm certainly feeling that way. But I'm also hearing the affirmation from my doctors that I can go back and drive race cars." Earnhardt worked with Dr. Micky Collins of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh throughout his recovery. Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty was on hand at Darlington to monitor Earnhardt's progress. After a brief pre-test evaluation by Dr. Petty to determine a baseline, Earnhardt said he spent the afternoon running multiple laps around the rugged 1.366-mile track. During frequent breaks he was re-evaluated by Dr. Petty. While Earnhardt said he hoped to see the results of his responses to the stimuli of being back in a race car remain constant, they actually improved throughout the course of the day. "You sort of get acclimated and up to speed with what it takes to drive a race car," Earnhardt said. "Those systems strengthen through that process. Rather than see them sort of flat line and stay the same, which was what I was hoping for, they actually got stronger. "I felt like throughout the day I got more and more comfortable in the car ... it felt like an old shoe by the end of the day." Once the session ended, he said, "We felt really, really confident that healthwise I was 100 percent and ready to get back in the car." Although the 2017 season won't officially get underway until Feb. 26 with the running of the Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Earnhardt said he will also participate in an organizational test scheduled for Jan. 31/Feb. 1 at Phoenix International Raceway . The focus of that test won't be to monitor his health, but to simply give him more time behind the wheel and help the team prepare as the new season approaches. "Testing is kind of boring but I'm ready to get more and more laps in the car," he said. "I feel real, real confident and my self-confidence is real (crucial) for me to perform well. The more I can do to help build my confidence before we go to Daytona the better so I'm excited." Team owner Rick Hendrick said having NASCAR's most popular driver cleared to return to competition was "a great Christmas present for our company and our fans." "By Dale going to the right person and working his butt off, it has made him stronger," Hendrick said. While he has been cleared to return to competition, Earnhardt said he will continue with some of the exercises and programs used during the recovery process. According to Dr. Collins, continued participation would only further strengthen those systems affected. "I'm all for that," Earnhardt said. "I want to be as sharp ... hell, maybe this is something I should have been doing all along. There is a lot of ... stuff on computers that athletes do that don't even have concussions that I have at my fingertips today. ... There is a lot of stuff that I can continue to do that will keep me sharp and keep me ready to go." He doesn't expect to be monitored by NASCAR officials any differently than any other driver going forward, and there are no safety changes being made by the team as a result of his latest incident. As confident as he was before Wednesday's test, Earnhardt admitted he was "anxious" to get behind the wheel. He said he even had trouble sleeping the night before. Any lingering concerns were erased as soon as he hit the track. "Darlington is a tough track, but the nerves were gone after about four laps and then it was ‘Let's just run, let's run some more, put some tires on and go some more,'" he said. &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;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 Earnhardt Jr . injury timeline
Dale Earnhardt Jr . was cleared to compete in 2017 after sitting out much of the 2016 season, Hendrick Motorsports officials announced Dec. 8. A crash at Michigan International Speedway in June is believed to be the cause of Junior's injury, and the ever-popular driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet said in July that he was going to focus on being healthy and ready to compete at the 2017 season opening Daytona 500 . Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman split fill-in duty for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 88 car for the second half of the 2016 season. Read through the progression of Dale Jr .'s injury and recovery through the timeline of events below.
Six stupid GIFs to celebrate Dale Jr .'s return
Dale Earnhardt Jr . has been medically cleared to race in 2017, his team announced Thursday. That's good news. As you share this good news on your social media platforms, below are six ridiculous GIFs that ought to help you get your message out. 6. What we need ... 5. Special delivery 4. Party crasher 3. Too cool 2. 'Round and 'round 1. The return
Earnhardt Jr . back and 'stronger than before'
During a teleconference, Dale Earnhardt Jr . gave an update on his recovery process and how he feels that he is stronger than before being sidelined due to concussion-like symptoms.