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One crew member reinstated, one suspended by NASCAR
NASCAR reinstated crew member Michael Casto on Tuesday after he successfully completed NASCAR's Road to Recovery Program. Casto was a crew member with Stewart-Haas Racing 's No. 4 team and driver Kevin Harvick when he was suspended after the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, the August Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International . Ryan D. Hess, a crew member with BK Racing , was placed on indefinite suspension on Tuesday by the sanctioning body.
UNOH, Daytona announce multi-year partnership
Daytona International Speedway announced today a multi-year partnership with University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) for the school to secure the naming rights of the Fanzone, the 211,636-square foot entertainment hub located in the infield of the "World Center of Racing." UNOH, located in Lima, Ohio, invented the first high-performance motorsports degree program in the country, and in 2006, opened the largest U.S . facility dedicated to learning the science of high-performance vehicles – a seven-acre, 70,000-square foot high performance motorsports complex. The UNOH Fanzone, which first opened in 2005 at the "World Center of Racing," is located between the NASCAR premier series garages and NASCAR XFINITY Series garages and puts fans in the middle of the event action with fan forums, historic displays, autograph sessions, entertainment and merchandise as well as access to pre-race activities. Other amenities include the Fan Deck on top of the NASCAR premier series garages and garage viewing windows with autograph slots. "We're excited to continue to grow our relationship with the University of Northwestern Ohio," Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile said. "UNOH is widely recognized throughout the country for their motorsports degree program. We look forward to them engaging with our fans in the UNOH Fanzone, which delivers the most fan-friendly, hands-on experience in all of motorsports." "We are thrilled to expand our partnership with Daytona International Speedway and have another venue to share with motorsports fans the unique educational opportunity students can get at the University of Northwestern Ohio," UNOH president, Dr. Jeffrey A. Jarvis said. "Students from all 50 states and 49 countries have attended the University and we have UNOH graduates working in all facets of motorsports from dirt-track teams all the way up through NASCAR to NHRA and beyond. The UNOH Fanzone experience will bring to life what our students experience in the classroom and shop every day." UNOH will also continue to serve as the Official Education Partner of Daytona International Speedway and have an on-site marketing presence at the facility including event signage, display space, tickets and hospitality. Financial terms were not disclosed. In 1992, UNOH invented the first high-performance motorsports degree program in the country and has since been training students with the latest technology available in the industry. Students receive first-hand motorsports mechanical training from instructors who’ve spent years in the field. Tickets for the 59th annual DAYTONA 500 and other Speedweeks events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter , Facebook , Instagram , Pinterest , YouTube and Snapchat (username: DISupdates), and by downloading Daytona International Speedway 's mobile app, for the latest Speedway news throughout the season.
NASCAR industry to salute U.S . military with XFINITY Series tribute
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In a show of appreciation for the United States Armed Forces, NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers will bear the names of active military units and installations on their race car windshields during Friday's Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Marine Raider Battalion and the USS New York (LPD-21) are among the military units and installations from all five branches that will replace the " XFINITY " header on NASCAR XFINITY Series cars. NASCAR: An American Salute ™ ( #NASCARSalutes ) is the industry's collective expression of reverence, respect and gratitude for those who have served and continue to defend the United States today. Last month, NASCAR together with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race teams honored 40 fallen service members with 600 Miles of Remembrance, a similar tribute during Memorial Day Weekend. RELATED: See all cars in 600 Miles of Remembrance "NASCAR's long-standing tradition of honoring the U.S . Armed Forces will never waver -- it is woven into the fabric of our sport," said Brent Dewar, chief operating officer, NASCAR. "We have a unique opportunity with the NASCAR XFINITY Series to pay tribute to the military units and bases integral to preserving our country's freedom." Several NASCAR XFINITY Series teams have personal or direct connections to the units displayed on their race cars. Driver Brendan Gaughan 's windshield will read "23RD STS," representing the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron ( U.S . Air Force) from Hurlburt Field in Fort Walton, Florida. Gaughan is one of a handful of civilians recognized as an Honorary Member of the Combat Control Association. Elliott Sadler 's windshield will be adorned with Fort Campbell to honor JR Motorsports employee Lee Langley, who served for six years at the Army base as an infantry team leader in the 101st Airborne Division. Ty Dillon and Brandon Jones both work with Hope 4 Warriors and will honor 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines and 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, respectively, from Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Justin Allgaier will honor the U.S . Air Force 469th Flight Training Squadron through a personal connection, as Allgaier is friends with Major Robert Harms, one of the pilots serving in that specific unit. The squadron operates out of Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. "I always look forward to getting a chance to pay homage those who serve our country at Daytona each year," Allgaier said. "We're thankful to Comcast for providing the space on all of our cars to support these military heroes and to NASCAR for continuing their NASCAR Salutes program. This year there's a personal tie for me as I get to display the squadron of one of my friends. We love that we're able to support our military, but a sticker or event will never be enough to truly give them all the credit they deserve for what they do." The special windshield tribute is one of several military activities planned for the Independence Day Weekend races at Daytona International Speedway , culminating with Saturday's Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola (7:45 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The race track will again host and recognize three recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award given to military service members, continuing a tradition dating back several years. The Medal of Honor recipients in attendance this weekend will include Staff Sergeant Ty Carter, Command Sergeant Major Gary Littrell and Captain Florent Groberg, each representing the U.S . Army. NASCAR together with Daytona International Speedway and race teams will host hundreds of active military and veterans, and their families, during the race weekend. Among them will be the 65th Infantry Regiment of the U.S . Army, nicknamed "The Bourinqueneers," a Puerto Rican regiment that was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in April. Several active military members present for Saturday's Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola will take part in a special moment of recognition for the U.S . Armed Forces before the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Pre-race activities will also feature a flyover of four F-16s from the 93rd Fighter Squadron from Homestead Air Reserve Base during the national anthem, which will be performed by the U.S . Army Maneuver Center of Excellence Band from Fort Benning, Georgia. The national anthem will be performed as 200 military members unfurl a giant American flag in the infield. Retired U.S . Air Force Sergeant Kelly Miller will be grand marshal for Friday's Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola. A Subway franchisee, Miller served as an aeromedical service specialist, responsible for the healthcare of Air Force pilots and flight crews. Retired Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Fred Gardner, also a Subway franchisee, will serve as the honorary starter. Gardner operated the Terrier missile first control system during Mediterranean tours. Additional live coverage of the Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola and Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola can be found on NASCAR.com .
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;
Top pit crews of 2016 as voted on by coaches
RELATED: Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew When we decided to start the All Pit Road Team five years ago we wanted to make it as legit as possible. In the past, we had crew members vote on who they thought were the best of the best. This year we changed it up a bit and sent out a ballot to each organization and had one coach's ballot turned back in from each organization. We had a great response from the coaches, and below are the crewmen who were selected. Just like last year, only members of the 16 Chase pit crews were eligible for the awards. If there was a tie in voting, the crewman whose team finished highest in the points won. Front Tire Changer First Team: No. 41 Shane Pipala (5) Second Team: No. 2 Hunter Masling (5) Third Team: No. 11 Dustin Necaise (4) Honorable Mention: No. 19 Clay Robinson (3) Front Tire Carrier First Team: No. 19 Kevin Harris (4) Second Team: No. 22 Dylan Dowell (3) Third Team: No. 11 Brandon Pegram (3) Honorable Mention: No. 2 Jeremy Ogles (3) Jackman First Team: No. 22 Ray Gallahan (4) Second Team: No. 11 Nate Bolling (4) Third Team: No. 42 Graham Molatch (4) Honorable Mention: No. 41 Sean Cotten (3) Rear Tire Changer First Team: No. 11 Mike Hicks (7) Second Team: No. 22 Zach Price (4) Third Team: No. 18 Jake Seminara (4) Honorable Mention: No. 19 Kip Wolfmeir (3) Rear Tire Carrier First Team: No. 11 Heath Cherry (4) Second Team: No. 19 Matt Ver Meer (3) Third Team: No. 20 Blake Haugland (3) Honorable Mention: No. 41 Dwayne Moore (3) Gasman First Team: No. 11 Caleb Hurd (4) Second Team: No. 22 Kellen Mills (2) Third Team: No. 18 Tom Lampe (2) Honorable Mention: No. 41 Justin Wilson (2) Pit Crew of the year (Voted on by pit crew coaches) Joey Logano , Team Penske No. 22 (5) Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 (4) Kurt Busch , Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 (4) Mechanix Wear Pit Crew of the Year (Voted on by crew chiefs) Jimmie Johnson , Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 For more pit crew news, visit PitTalks.com.
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.
69 things to love about Greg Biffle
Since announcing his departure from longtime team Roush Fenway Racing following the 2016 racing season, Greg Biffle has tackled the offseason with a seemingly new outlook on life -- at least evidenced by his tweets following the announcement. In celebration, it's only appropriate to share a list of 69 things to love about Greg Biffle -- in both his storied racing career and off-track pursuits. Racing, in general 1. First driver to win both an XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series championship. 2. Has a dozen poles or more and multiple wins in all three national series. 3. Committed to Roush Fenway Racing for 19 years -- something nearly unheard of by today's standards. 4. Made his first NASCAR-sanctioned start in 1989 (in the NASCAR Northwest Series) -- before Kyle Larson , Chase Elliott , Austin Dillon , Trevor Bayne , Ryan Blaney , Chris Buescher , Landon Cassill , and Joey Logano were born. 5. Finished second in the #NASCARHoleshot Challenge... 6. ... but didn't faceplant into the wall like winner Clint Bowyer . 7. Won Roush Fenway Racing 's first NASCAR championship In 2000, @gbiffle won the first championship in #RFRDriven history pic.twitter.com/0XbByzfvab — Roush Fenway Racing (@roushfenway) November 21, 2016 8. Made a start in the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race. 9. Raced in IROC in 2003. 10. Reached 218 mph in a test at Texas in 2009 -- a record speed in a stock car at the track. 11. Was discovered and recommended to Jack Roush by late racing legend Benny Parsons. 12. He's not afraid to drag race. Camping World Truck Series 13. Won the 2000 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. 14. Earned the title of 1998 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year 15. Won approximately one-third of the races in the 1999 Truck Series season (nine out of 25). 16. Drove one of the best Truck Series paint schemes ever. On this day in 1999, @gbiffle scored his 9th career @NASCAR_Trucks win at @LVMotorSpeedway #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/ULRTsHLksO — OreiusCentaur (@OreiusCentaur) September 24, 2016 17. Led more 2,000 laps in the Truck Series, despite making only 81 starts. 18. Helped broadcast a Truck race for MRN. In the @MRNRadio booth for the Truck race @kansasspeedway pic.twitter.com/6BwLzus12z — Greg Biffle (@gbiffle) May 7, 2016 XFINITY SERIES 19. Won the 2002 NASCAR XFINITY Series championship. 20. 2001 NASCAR XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year. 21. 2002 NASCAR XFINITY Series Most Popular Driver. 22. Holds the record for fastest XFINITY Series qualifying lap at Bristol Motor Speedway . 23. Has led more than 4,000 laps in the XFINITY Series. PREMIER SERIES 24. Got called a bug-eyed dummy by Sterling Marlin. 25. He knows what he’s good at: All his wins have come at tracks between 1 mile and 2.5 miles in length. 26. His 2005 season was like Mark Martin’s 1998 -- a solid season by all accounts, but not quite enough to win the championship. 27. Held the title of the oldest full-time Sprint Cup driver in 2016. 28. Got in a fight with Tom Logano at Auto Club Speedway in 2009.
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;
Kyle Larson, Target give back in many ways
The NASCAR racing season ended last month but someone forgot to tell Kyle Larson . The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver will be on the road for the holidays, traveling with his family to Sydney, Australia to race sprint cars for a week or so. Once he returns stateside, he'll be heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the annual Chili Bowl Nationals Jan. 9-14. There are times when the 24-year-old NASCAR driver isn't behind the wheel. Wednesday was one of those rare occasions. Larson, along with members of his No. 42 team, spent the afternoon at the Milton Boys and Girls Club in Charlotte, handing out early Christmas gifts provided by sponsor Target. "Target (does) a lot for different communities and charities," Larson said. "It was cool to come here and give these kids gifts. … They had a good time; they were all smiling, dancing on (one of the games) over there." A wide variety of board games, electronic games and even a virtual reality unit were among the items delivered. "It feels good to do a small part of giving back," said Larson, who will begin his fourth season as a full-time competitor in NASCAR's premier series in 2017. "Target is the one donating all the gifts, I'm just donating my time and having a good time with it. I've gotten to do a lot of stuff with them this year, donating books to different schools, a lot of toys. … It's been a lot of fun. It's the first year I've really gotten to do this stuff more often and I'm hoping to do a lot more next year." According to team officials, Larson and Target joined together in '16 to provide toys to children affected by flooding in West Virginia; delivered 50 backpacks and back-to-school supplies to a disadvantaged elementary school in Darlington, South Carolina; and visited two elementary schools in Dallas, Texas, to donate gift cards and books in support of Texas Motor Speedway 's Speeding to Read program. Additionally, Larson and Target representatives visited Target House at St. Jude Children's Hospital and also donated library supplies to a school in the Phoenix area. Wednesday's gathering helped Larson, who hails from Elk Grove, California, get in the Christmas spirit. He and his family, girlfriend Katelyn Sweet and son Owen, will move up their holiday visits with other family members due to their upcoming trip to Australia. "My favorite time of the holiday season is just getting to spend time with a lot of the family I don't really get to see throughout the year," he said. "We travel so often that I don't ever really get to go home to California and see them. … So we'll go to California next week and get to hang out with all of them." Larson won his first premier series event in 2016, at Michigan International Speedway , and qualified for NASCAR’s championship-determining Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Although he was one of four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16, he finished a career-best ninth in the final points standings.