Nationwide to give fans inside look at Dale Earnhardt Jr .
NASCAR fans will get an inside look into Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s return to racing beginning next Tuesday thanks to a six-part series provided by Nationwide Insurance. Nationwide is the official primary sponsor of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Earnhardt in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . "Unfinished Business" documents the offseason preparation and work behind Earnhardt's return to competition following last year's injury-shortened season. NASCAR's most popular driver missed the final 18 races of the year after suffering a concussion. The series is scheduled to go live on the Nationwide 88 Facebook page each Tuesday between Jan. 24 and this year's Feb. 26th running of the Daytona 500 . Two episodes will air the week leading into the season-opening race. A preview (trailer) of the series was posted to the Nationwide 88 Facebook page Thursday. "Based on everything that happened last year, we wanted to really capitalize on Dale getting back in the car and all the excitement and interest, just the fans' general hunger for as much Dale Jr . content as we could provide," Jim McCoy, director of sports marketing for Nationwide, told NASCAR.com. "Going into the offseason as we did our production shoot for 2017 as we normally do, we wanted to add on a new layer ... a behind-the-scenes unique look around Dale. The offseason processes around production shoots, around designing the car, all the things that go into getting ready for Daytona. And having a real personal view from Dale conveying that." Each segment of the six-part series is short, informative and entertaining. For 2016, Nationwide produced a successful paint scheme unveil for Earnhardt's No. 88 entry. But following his injury officials wanted to go a little deeper this year. Portions of the series include Earnhardt's wife, Amy, car owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Greg Ives. "Just the people that are really close to everything ... that fans don't normally get," McCoy said. Earnhardt's prior medical condition didn't hinder the process, but sensitivities surrounding the issue were addressed with the Hendrick organization. McCoy said it is "a very small part of this six-episode series." "This is truly more about getting ready for Daytona; we absolutely touch on the subject of him being out of the car because you have to," he said. "But I would say the majority of it is around what goes into the offseason preparation, why he is even more excited for this year and all that." Among the information provided to fans will be why there may be a different look to this year's No. 88 Nationwide paint scheme. Earnhardt has always been actively involved in determining the appearance of his race cars and coming up with the look for this year's car was no different. "There was a unique little nugget that came out that we'd not heard on him growing up around his grandfather and his dad racing based on the car coming back from the race track," McCoy said. "The lighter cars you could always tell how the race went based on where the tire marks were, the dirt and everything else. On a white car you always had a better sense of that and we've really transitioned to a lighter paint scheme this year with more white mixed into it. "He pulls in some of those personal stories that we hadn't heard and I think the fans will get a really big kick out of learning a little bit more about why he likes lighter paint schemes." Earnhardt has 26 career wins in NASCAR's top series, and his final three -- at Talladega, Daytona and Phoenix in 2015 -- came with Nationwide on the car in a primary role. The company, which previously was the title sponsor for what is now the XFINITY Series, has been affiliated with Earnhardt and his family for many years. McCoy said the series sponsorship, which ran from 2008-14, was crucial in helping to prepare Nationwide for its relationship with Earnhardt. "We learned a lot and we would not have been ready and in position to be able to take over as majority primary (sponsor) of the No. 1 driver in the sport, for the fans' demands and what they would want out of a sponsor," he said. "I think the Nationwide Series allowed us to really learn and do a lot of great things. "But we've taken the program to new levels and heights in partnership with Dale. He's our best customer and we can authentically connect with him and our products and services because it's real. It's been real since he was 16 years old. As we're trying to expand the message of who Nationwide is and what we do, the many sides of our company." &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
JR Motorsports hires new ruff and tumble security guard
RELATED: Read more Inside Groove Following its expansion from two to four full-time teams to compete for the 2017 XFINITY Series championship, JR Motorsports deemed it necessary to increase its security presence on site at its Mooresville, North Carolina shop, as well. Better be prepared to greet this guy when you visit today. #Gus #Watchdog pic.twitter.com/QIovzzM3vQ — Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) January 19, 2017 Who's a good boy? Officer Gus is a good boy.
JR Motorsports ramps up with 2017 expansion
RELATED: Driver Tracker " On the move: Changes in store for 2017 The encore for an organization that placed both of its full-time drivers into the Championship 4 field in the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase last year has the chance to be even greater. JR Motorsports has that unique possibility, an opportunity granted by not sitting still. Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier return to the fold after prosperous debut years with the team, but that's where the offseason status quo ends. JRM plans a full-court press for the upcoming XFINITY season, expanding from two to four full-time drivers in an all-out push to bring home the championship it barely missed out on in 2017. "To have that opportunity to go up against three teammates, to see the growth in our shop, to see the growth in our teams, it's really, really fun to watch," Allgaier said. "I feel like if you came back here next year and said we'd have four cars from JR Motorsports in the final four, it wouldn't surprise me at all." A four-car sweep for the Homestead-Miami finale in November would mean stellar introductions by the two newest faces in the JRM stable: up-and-coming teenager William Byron, a NASCAR Next alum, and 30-year-old vet Michael Annett , back in XFINITY after a three-year stint in NASCAR's top division. The addition of Byron, a 19-year-old prospect in the Hendrick Motorsports system, actually counts as a reunion. The Liberty University student was a former driver for JRM's Late Model program on the weekly and touring level. His teammates have already seen what he can do in top-level equipment. Byron won seven times in his rookie NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, with only a crucial engine failure in 2016's penultimate race keeping him from the championship fight. It's the reason Sadler has touted him as "a star of the future" and why Allgaier echoed the thought, calling Byron "an absolute class act and an amazing talent." Kelley Earnhardt Miller -- who co-owns JRM with her brother, Dale Earnhardt Jr . -- spoke with tones of regret in describing how Byron got away in late 2015, snapped up by Kyle Busch Motorsports and seemingly earmarked for an upward career arc in the Toyota pipeline. That changed last August when team owner Rick Hendrick brought him back into the Chevrolet camp, cognizant of the creeping advancement in age of his Monster Energy Cup Series roster. "For that to all come back full circle, we're real excited about it," Earnhardt Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio last month. "He's just a great kid and a good family, and his story is just so cool -- doing the computer racing [on iRacing] and then telling his dad he wants to race and then not racing until he was 15. It's just a good story. But Mr. Hendrick deserves the credit there, trying to look at his next moves because he's going to have some drivers that are on the retirement horizon in the next several years, so smart move for him to make all that happen." Said Byron: "I just remember their ultimate goal for me when I started racing Late Models was so I could race an XFINITY car there. In a weird way, I got back to that and it's going to be really cool to return next year." To accommodate the escalated XFINITY Series growth, which Earnhardt Miller said has maxed out the team's resources, JR Motorsports has closed its truck series operation. Cole Custer , who drove the JRM No. 00 truck the last two seasons, has since moved on to Stewart-Haas Racing 's XFINITY program. As in past years, JR Motorsports plans to run an extra XFINITY entry in select races with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne behind the wheel for two races each. But at the heart of its growth are the core four XFINITY regulars, a direction chosen in light of new driver participation guidelines that go into effect in 2017. The continuity will keep JRM from scrambling to shuffle its roster once the Chase playoff begins and the limits on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers moonlighting in the XFINITY ranks become more stringent. But the organization will still need to make inroads against stout competition, especially Joe Gibbs Racing , which won 19 of the 33 XFINITY races last season and took the other two spots in the four-driver championship round. Reminded of the heady assignment a day after last season's finale, Allgaier was unwavering. "Even with the Gibbs guys," Allgaier said. "I don't know, I just feel like with the packages that we've seen of what's a possibility for the XFINITY Series next year, the work that we're doing at the shop and the cars and just all the things that we've been working on, I really think next year's an opportunity for us at JR Motorsports."
Dale Jr ., Kahne to run two races each for JRM
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 12, 2017) -- Continuing a tradition of running his own JR Motorsports Chevrolets each season, Dale Earnhardt Jr . is scheduled to make a pair of starts in the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro this season in races at Bristol Motor Speedway (Aug. 18) and Richmond International Raceway (Sept. 8). Long-time JRM driver Kasey Kahne will drive the car at Daytona International Speedway (Feb. 25) and Talladega Superspeedway (May 6). Scott Radel, director of engineering at JRM, has been tabbed to crew chief all four races. Radel has been a JRM engineer since 2013, and previously worked for Hendrick Motorsports . He won championships with JRM in 2014 and with two other teams as an engineer. Radel brings 20-plus years of experience in calling races. "I am looking forward to the opportunity to be atop the pit box for these four races, with Dale and Kasey behind the wheel," said Radel, a 44-year-old Ohio native. "JRM has had tremendous success over the past three seasons, and the ability to field a fifth entry is one that will help continue building on that momentum in 2017." Earnhardt Jr ., who won for the first time in a JRM Chevrolet last year at Richmond International Raceway , will return to the .75-mile D-shaped oval for one of his two scheduled races, and the other will be in the Bristol night race. Sponsorship for both events will be announced at a later date. Earnhardt Jr . has made 40 starts in NASCAR XFINITY Series competition for JRM, winning at Richmond. In that span, he’s earned 20 top-five and 28 top-10 finishes. He owns four career NXS victories in six starts at Richmond and grabbed his lone win at Bristol in 2004. Kahne, as he did last season, will run in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in Hellmann's colors, and follow that up with Armour backing at Talladega Superspeedway . The No. 88 "All Star car" has been a full-time car the past two seasons, but with JRM's expansion to four full-time teams and the addition of new drivers William Byron and Michael Annett , it will be a fifth JRM entry in the four races named. Kahne has made 24 starts in JRM Chevrolets, with one victory at Daytona in 2014, and added 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.
Darlington announces 2017 throwback theme
RELATED: See the 2016 Darlington retro schemes DARLINGTON, S.C. (Jan. 18, 2017) -- Another historic celebration of the sport is in store for Darlington Raceway in 2017. The track is pleased to announce "Year 3" of its award-winning throwback campaign for the Bojangles' Southern 500 race weekend on Sept. 1-3, 2017. The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR will be celebrating the 1985-89 era of the sport in 2017, which like the 1975-84 period it celebrated in 2016, was a time of exceptional growth and exposure for NASCAR. "The track will be celebrating the 1985-89 time period of the sport during our throwback weekend in 2017," Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said. “As we enter the third year of our throwback campaign, we’ll be focusing on drivers, personalities and moments that were compelling in that timeframe, such as the emergence of Dale Earnhardt Sr., Bill Elliott winning the first Winston Million, and the growth of the NASCAR XFINITY Series (formerly the Busch Grand National Series). It will be an exciting era for the track and industry to celebrate." As the sport moved into the late 1980s, NASCAR champions such as Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace, among others, made a tremendous impact on the sport and will be celebrated during the Labor Day weekend festivities. This year is also the 50 th anniversary of Richard Petty's one and only Southern 500 victory (1967). The honoring of champions from 1985-89 is just one part of the track's overall strategy to celebrate its history. Darlington Raceway 's throwback campaign focuses on specific eras plus the historic moments and drivers that made impacts at "The Track Too Tough to Tame." For the third straight year, Darlington Raceway is also excited to announce it will once again highlight its rich history with a commemorative ticket design for the Bojangles' Southern 500 linking the past, present and future. "We’ve enjoyed producing the commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program,” said Tharp. “It’s important that our fans who attend the Darlington Raceway NASCAR weekend walk away with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport." The retro design will link 1987 Southern 500 champion Dale Earnhardt, who ranks second all-time with nine NASCAR Cup Series wins at Darlington Raceway , as well as 2016 Bojangles' Southern 500 winner Martin Truex Jr . These special tickets will be used for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 . Tickets are expected to be mailed to customers starting in mid-June. There will also be a retro-style ticket for the NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 that will be unveiled at a later date. Ticket renewals have been mailed so current fans can renew their seats and race day experiences for the 2017 Labor Day weekend. Renewing tickets early guarantees seats at the track's best prices prior to the opening of all remaining seats to the general public on February 22. Renewing customers receive many great benefits for being a loyal customer, including the raceway's best pricing, for Labor Day weekend. Renewal benefits include: -The track’s best prices for the Bojangles' Southern 500 -Convenient five-part payment plan -Special renewal pricing for Darlington Stripe Zone Hospitality ($30 savings) -Special renewal pricing for pre-race pit passes ($10 savings) -Special renewal pricing for all-inclusive driver intros, pre-race concert and pre-race pit road access ($15 savings) -Special renewal pricing for FanVision rentals ($25 savings) -Special renewal pricing for Racing Electronics scanner rental ($15 savings) -Special renewal opportunity to purchase NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 tickets for just $25 each when you renew your Bojangles Southern 500 ticket package ($5-10 savings) Guests may renew their tickets and campsites by calling 866-459-RACE (7223) or visiting www.DarlingtonRaceway.com/renewals. The renewal deadline is Friday, Feb. 10. The Tradition Continues on Labor Day weekend as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 ® is set for Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. The NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 will race on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. You can keep up with all of the latest news from Darlington Raceway at DarlingtonRaceway.com, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DarlingtonRaceway and on Twitter at Twitter.com/TooToughToTame.
Charitable foundations of NASCAR drivers
NASCAR drivers make a big difference off the track and in communities across the country. Here's a look at drivers' charitable foundations, as well as the causes and initiatives supported by those organizations. Clint Bowyer : The 79 Fund The 79 Fund was established by NASCAR driver and Emporia, Kansas, native Clint Bowyer to benefit the children of Emporia. Clint's desire to use the Emporia Community Foundation for his charity came from knowing the funds could be used in a variety of ways to help the children of Emporia. " Learn more here. Kyle Busch : The Kyle Busch Foundation The Kyle Busch Foundation is committed to empowering children, families and communities to overcome hardship by providing essential tools (financial, material and experiential) to allow them to live their best lives possible, while fostering a stable and inspiring environment to live, learn and challenge themselves, as well as ensuring their day-to-day needs are met. " Learn more here . Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon : Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma The Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma's mission is to discover and share the best ways to prevent and treat severe injuries in children. Events such as the Dillon brothers' annual 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament help benefit the Childress Institute. " Learn more here . Dale Earnhardt Jr .: The Dale Jr . Foundation The Dale Jr . Foundation is a charity dedicated to giving underprivileged individuals with a focus on youth, the resources to improve their confidence and education, and the opportunity to achieve extraordinary goals. " Learn more here . Denny Hamlin : The Denny Hamlin Foundation The Denny Hamlin Foundation is committed to raising awareness and funds for the specific needs of children with cystic fibrosis. They partner with organizations that focus on cystic fibrosis research, treatment advances and overall quality of life care. The Foundation also supports children with other chronic diseases. " Learn more here . Kevin Harvick : The Kevin Harvick Foundation The mission of the Kevin Harvick Foundation is to support programs that positively enrich the lives of children throughout the United States. " Learn more here . Jimmie Johnson : The Jimmie Johnson Foundation The Jimmie Johnson Foundation currently focuses on funding K-12 public education, primarily through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Champions Grant program, which have been awarded to school projects located in California, Oklahoma and North Carolina, where the Johnsons grew up and currently reside. In addition, each year the Foundation selects five charities that support K-12 public education to be featured on Johnson's Blue Bunny Helmet of Hope. Blue Bunny Helmet of Hope charities receive a cash grant and national exposure on the helmet worn for a select Cup race. Finally, the Team Up For Technology program encourages individuals to nominate a K-12 public or charter school in the United States with the winning school selected to receive a $48,000 cash grant for a technology makeover. " Learn more here . Kasey Kahne : The Kasey Kahne Foundation The Kasey Kahne Foundation is committed to raising awareness and funds for charities supporting chronically ill children and their families. The Kasey Kahne Foundation strives to empower youth and inspire their future through education by donating to programs dedicated to fulfilling children's needs for success. " Learn more here . Brad Keselowski : Brad Keselowski 's Checkered Flag Foundation Brad Keselowski 's Checkered Flag Foundation strives to support those who have sacrificed for our country, to include military members, veterans, first-responders among others. Since its inception, CFF has hosted or participated in events with the Wounded Warrior Project, the Armed Forces Foundation, The Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Detroit F.I.R.E. benefit team. " Learn more here . Joey Logano : The Joey Logano Foundation The mission of the Joey Logano Foundation is to inspire and assemble the NASCAR community to assist those across the nation who are in need of a second chance due to natural or human disaster. The Joey Logano Foundation partners with other organizations to provide comfort and relief to those in need after such unforeseen circumstances. " Learn more here . Ryan Newman : Rescue Ranch Formed in 2012 on 87 acres in Statesville, North Carolina, Rescue Ranch promotes humane education by focusing on rescuing on a fundamental level through hands-on learning and care for animals. Rescue Ranch promotes, through its education, respect for all animals, as well as, agricultural, environmental, and wildlife conservation, and facilitates rehabilitation, rescue and responsible pet ownership in order to enhance the human-animal bond. " Learn more here . Elliott Sadler : The Hermie & Elliott Sadler Foundation The Hermie and Elliott Sadler Charitable Foundation is dedicated to raising autism awareness and promoting research for a cure while also supporting initiatives that improve educational opportunities for children and their families. The Foundation provides support to projects that share the ideals and concerns of the Sadler family. " Learn more here . Martin Truex Jr .: The Martin Truex Jr . Foundation The Martin Truex Jr . Foundation raises awareness and funding for childhood and ovarian cancer initiatives. " Learn more here .
Auto-Owners Insurance expands sponsorship pact with Furniture Row Racing
RELATED: New looks for 2017 DENVER, Colo. (Jan. 16, 2017) -- Furniture Row Racing announced that Auto-Owners Insurance has agreed to a multiyear primary sponsorship for Martin Truex Jr .'s No. 78 Toyota Camry in the NASCAR Cup Series. The Fortune 500 company, which joined Furniture Row Racing in 2016 as a primary sponsor for three races, will double that amount in both 2017 and 2018. The six races the Auto-Owners Insurance paint scheme will adorn Truex's No. 78 Camry in 2017 will be at Kansas Speedway (May 13), Michigan International Speedway (June 18), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 23), Richmond International Raceway (Sept. 9), Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 7) and Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 12). Auto-Owners Insurance, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016, provides auto, home, life and business coverage for NASCAR fans and customers through local, independent agents in 26 states. The company is based in Lansing, Michigan. "Teaming up with Furniture Row Racing has been an outstanding fit for Auto-Owners, and we are excited to continue our partnership for the 2017 and 2018 seasons," said Mary Pierce, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Auto-Owners. "Martin and the No. 78 team have pioneered their way to excellence at the highest level of NASCAR. We truly admire their hard work and consistency, and look forward to being a part of their continued success." The Auto-Owners Insurance blue hue shared a competitive experience with Furniture Row Racing in 2016. In the three races that Auto-Owners Insurance was the primary sponsor, Truex won the prestigious Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina, finished seventh at the fall race in Martinsville, Virginia, and was eighth at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. "There was indeed something special about the success of the blue Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry last year and we are more than thrilled that the company is expanding its partnership with Furniture Row Racing for the next two seasons," said Furniture Row Racing team president Joe Garone. "Auto-Owners Insurance has been a winning company for a century and we are humbled that they have placed their confidence in our race team." Truex was equally excited to hear about the new sponsorship agreement. "Winning the Southern 500 -- a triple crown race -- with the blue Auto-Owners Insurance paint scheme was without a doubt one of the main highlights of my racing career," said Truex. "We want to give Auto-Owners Insurance more success as we look forward to the 2017 season. I was able to visit the Auto-Owners Insurance headquarters in Lansing and came away feeling proud to be associated with a company that has had 100 years of success."
Christopher Bell claims 2017 Chili Bowl victory
Photo: Toyota Racing Christopher Bell rang in the start of his 2017 season with perhaps the biggest win of his burgeoning racing career -- the 31st annual Chili Bowl. Bell, a full-time driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series , won what many consider to be the world's most prestigious sprint car race after midnight ET on Sunday morning. Over the course of a week, he outlasted 364 other drivers who entered -- a Chili Bowl record -- and ended Rico Abreu's two-year reign as champion. Bell is regarded as one of the finer dirt racers in the country, and he was equally adept on pavement as well. The 22-year-old advanced to the Championship Round in the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase as a full-time rookie in 2016. In 2015, he won at Eldora Speedway in his third career series start. Making the victory even sweeter is that Bell is an Oklahoma native -- he was born in Norman, about 125 miles southwest of the event site in Tulsa. "Oh my God, I just won the Chili Bowl," Bell said after climbing out of his machine. "This was a long time coming and a dream come true." C Bell up on the wheel tonight! #cbnationals @CBellRacing — Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) January 15, 2017 Nice job C Bell! — William Byron (@WilliamByron) January 15, 2017 Daryn Pittman, a fellow Oklahoma native, finished second to Bell with Justin Grant, Tanner Thompson and Jake Swanson rounding out the top five. In all, four drivers with recent NASCAR experience qualified for the championship race. Abreu finished 11th after starting 25th in the 25-driver championship field, needing a champion's provisional to make the final field. Roush Fenway Racing 's Ricky Stenhouse Jr . finished 16th and Chase Briscoe, the newest full-time driver for Brad Keselowski Racing, was 22nd in the A-Main. The Chili Bowl is a week-long event with five days of practice and qualifying events to set the 25-car field for the main event. Saturday started with two O-Feature races -- the top four finishers from each O-Feature event advanced to the corresponding N-Feature races. Then the top four finishers from each N-Feature race advance into the M-Feature races. The format was used all the way up to the A-Main finale, although drivers also could qualify for the A-Main throughout the week. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson , who has stayed behind the wheel all offseason, including a racing trip to Australia -- failed to advance to the championship race after making the A-Main for five consecutive years. Abreu did not make it out of the F-Feature due to a tire issue, but he received a past champion's provisional. Stenhouse, another Chili Bowl veteran, won his B-Feature to advance into the championship race. Justin Allgaier , who will drive in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for JR Motorsports in 2017, was ousted after the C-Feature. His most eventful moment of the week, though, came Friday when his car flipped on the last lap of his race.
Toyota pipeline flows freely with youth, talent
RELATED: First look at new Toyota race car The expeditious elevation of Daniel Suarez into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last week reinforced the importance of a feeder system for teams hoping to groom young, talented drivers for future endeavors at the top level. "Look around. What would we have done?" Joe Gibbs, founder and owner of Joe Gibbs Racing , said Jan. 10 following two whirlwind announcements at the organization's headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina. Suarez, the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion and the first Mexican-born driver to win a national series title in NASCAR, was scheduled to return to the XFINITY Series this year to defend his title. But the surprising departure of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Carl Edwards created an unexpected opening within the JGR camp and the organization's No. 19 entry. RELATED: Edwards steps away, Suarez to replace " Full timeline Fortunately for JGR, the 24-year-old Suarez was waiting in the wings. Instead of competing full-time in the XFINITY Series, Suarez will now take over the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entry vacated by Edwards for 2017. He will also compete in a select number of NXS races. "I think the hard work, working on developing young guys is a big part of this," Gibbs said of organization's XFINITY Series effort. "Thank goodness (Suarez) was there and we had done that." Suarez is one of several drivers in a Toyota pipeline that has become filled with young talent. The automaker, which made its NASCAR debut in 2004 in the Camping World Truck Series, continually seeks to identify gifted drivers from a variety of racing's lower levels, then assist them and their teams as they move through the ranks. Erik Jones will compete full-time in 2017 for Furniture Row Racing as a teammate to Martin Truex Jr . in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after racing for JGR's XFINITY Series program a year ago. RELATED: FRR adds Jones to its growing team Christopher Bell will once again drive for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series after finishing third in points last year. Although he was sidelined for part of the '16 season following surgery for a brain tumor, Matt Tifft , 20, made 10 XFINITY Series starts for JGR last year as well as 10 NCWTS starts for Red Horse Racing. Ben Rhodes (19) and Cameron Hayley (20) competed last season for ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Truck Series. "Our farm system is going to continue to be something that we invest in," David Wilson, President & General Manager, Toyota Racing Development, USA, told NASCAR.com. "It's validation and it just furthers our resolve that in spite of the inherent risk … the return on that investment is still going to be good and it's going to validate our commitment." Wilson was scheduled to attend this past weekend's Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. The prestigious event, which concluded Saturday night, was won by Bell. MORE: Bell triumphs at Chili Bowl "I want to show them how important it is for them to be representing our brand," Wilson said. With more than two dozen of the 300-plus participants at the Chili Bowl affiliated with Toyota, Wilson said there is "no doubt" that someone from the group "is going to be in an announcement like this that happened (at JGR) five years from now." Having an abundance of talent is a good problem, but it is still a problem, in part because of the limited number of seats/rides available in the various series, according to Ed Laukes, Vice President of Integrated Marketing Operations for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA. "We are always concerned about being overloaded with the young guys as they're coming through the ranks," he said, "because we don't want to have that talent get developed around TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and our guys, and then they end up with another company, with another manufacturer, with another race team." Toyota officials are eager to help identify and work with drivers and teams as they grow, according to Laukes. But ultimately, it's up to owners to continue to invest in their own programs or, as Furniture Row Racing did last year, make the switch to Toyota to further enhance their efforts. Furniture Row made the switch from Chevrolet to Toyota for 2016. The Denver, Colorado-based organization has since added the second team, opening up an opportunity for Jones to move up to the premier series. "That's always going to be the secret sauce in the whole thing," Laukes said. "Because we can't do it as a manufacturer. We're not a team owner, we never have been and we have no plan of being a team owner. … "But it always is a concern. We do a lot of stuff in Late Model, a lot of stuff in Midgets. We’ve been around a lot of those series for a long time." JGR develops and draws talent from more than just the organization's XFINITY Series program. Kyle Busch Motorsports plays a key role in the process as well. Gibbs said Busch, the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and driver of the team's No. 18 Toyota, "has been very good at analyzing and discovering young talent. "He still races in Late Models and all that kind of stuff," Gibbs said. "I talk to him a lot and say, 'Hey, who do you see?' Or ask him an opinion. I've asked him for his opinion on Daniel, on Erik. And he’s normally pretty much spot-on. He's really good, I think, at evaluating drivers." While Busch has been criticized by some for competing in, and often dominating, races in other series, running those events has allowed him to evaluate his KBM equipment as well as the younger drivers. "For us, when we put somebody in his trucks, we pretty much know they're going to be in the best stuff," Gibbs said. "Now, it's up to them. And if they can't get it done with Kyle, then odds are there's something wrong. … "Hopefully that's the way it is with our XFINITY program. We know (we have) the best crew chiefs, best motor, best car. If they can't get to the front with that, then odds are … that's what you're evaluating. We're all looking for that special driver." &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;gt;
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.