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Determination, focus drive Martin to Hall of Fame
RELATED: Learn more about the Class of 2017 " Martin's top moments Mark Martin is respected and revered for a 31-year NASCAR racing career that includes 40 Cup victories, 49 XFINITY wins and five heralded IROC championships. He is considered one of the most talented, highly focused and broadly successful competitors in NASCAR history. And later this week, Martin will formally acquire a designation that makes him most proud of all: NASCAR Hall of Famer. "When I'm introduced at a function, now people can call me something, I'll have a title," Martin, 58, said this week with a laugh. "Prior to that, you kind of had to search for a title, although I had done a lot of cool and amazing things in my career." His long list of "cool and amazing things" is what earned Martin this highest of honors. He joins Benny Parsons, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks in this year’s Hall of Fame class and will be formally inducted Friday in Charlotte (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). RELATED: Parks set early standard " Prolonged excellence Childress' hallmark For Martin, it is a story of supreme determination and talent. In addition to his 40 wins and five championship runner-up finishes in NASCAR's highest level, Martin proved to be one of the series’ most diverse competitors -- ever. He won four GT class championships competing in the Rolex 24 during the 1990s. And his five IROC titles -- and four more runner-up IROC championship finishes -- showed Martin’s great ability bettering the best drivers across all forms of racing from NASCAR to IndyCar to sports cars to sprint cars. It is certainly something that separates and elevates him to the highest of standards through four decades of the best competition in multiple genres. So understandably, Martin had to really think about what in his vast career makes him most proud. "I don't know if there's a single thing," Martin said. "One thing, I would have to say the fact that I made it to NASCAR at such a young age (22). At the time it was an amazingly young age, then I fell on my face and had to go home and start my career again. "So I would say perseverance, if you want to sum it up in one word. Having to start my career all over again and building my way back. Having a second chance is probably the biggest thing." "And the second thing is what I did in the IROC Series." Martin has acknowledged that he was as focused and intense as they came. He was the first driver to seriously incorporate fitness training into his race preparation -- something that may have eased his ability to compete at such a high level even into his 50s. That determination to find an edge was apparent in the garage, even from an early age. He was among the rare drivers to frequently be seen looking into the hood of his car and working alongside the crew. It was the way he was raised by his father Julian, who took great care in guiding his son's passion. There are photos of Martin’s earliest racing days clearly showing how Julian Martin had gone so far to alter his son's first race cars out of love and safety -- mounting the steering wheel in the middle of the car instead of having it on the far left. Dad and son travelled from their native Arkansas throughout the Midwest following the racing dream and they were very close -- now the hard work rewarded with Martin’s long list of achievements and this highest of NASCAR's high honors. Heartbreakingly, Julian was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Nevada mountains in August of 1998, also taking the life of Martin’s stepmother and 11-year old stepsister. Martin remembers immersing himself in competition as best he could to deal with the tragedy. Martin won the night race at Bristol two weeks after losing his father. Immediately after climbing out of his car in Victory Lane, he emotionally thanked the race fans for "their sympathy, love and support" saying their "love for our family has meant everything." "I felt it was my obligation and responsibility to go racing and that's what my dad would have wanted," Martin acknowledged last week. "It was tough, but it would have been tough sitting on a couch in a daze, too. "To me, racing was sort of a responsibility that I had. I felt responsibility toward the 50 or 100 people that supported the (then-Roush Racing) 6-car and a responsibility to race. I just didn't feel like missing a race because I was grieving. … To me, at the time, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do. "It did help me cope with the horrendous loss I was experiencing because I did have to pick up and go racing." And for Martin, the success he would later experience in the second half of his career is as impressive and inspiring as anything he accomplished. He came as close as he ever had to winning the Daytona 500 in 2007, losing the race to Kevin Harvick by a mere 0.02-seconds -- a hood-length -- in a photo finish that marked Martin’s best ever showing in the Great American Race. RELATED: Closest finishes in the history of the Great American Race Two years later, at the age of 50, Martin challenged Jimmie Johnson for what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, winning five races and claiming seven pole positions. Martin led the standings after each of the opening three Chase races, only to finish runner-up to Johnson, a seven-time winner on the year. It marked the fifth and final time Martin was a championship runner-up in an amazing 20-year span of his career. It is a remarkable accomplishment and something he says he is at last comfortable enjoying, free of any near-miss regret. "I never scored enough points to win one, and that's that," Martin said, when asked about it last week. "I would have won one if I had scored more points than anyone else. … and I let that take an enormous amount of joy (from me). "It's something I let go of and I refuse to allow that to rob me of joy. I have a lot to be thankful of, be grateful for. I accomplished a lot in my career and I’m not sour about the things I didn't accomplish." The attitude accompanies good reason -- because by all standards Martin accomplished so much and is admired by so many. Later this week, he will be fittingly celebrated in all the glory he deserves for a career that showed everyone what hard work and mental focus could produce. Forever more, Mark Martin shall be known and introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. "It means more than anything I achieved while I was racing because I was so busy racing, anything I achieved I never paid attention to," Martin said. "I was just storming ahead worried about how I would win the next race. "Now that I've had some time to soak it in, it's the last big deal, the big win, the crown jewel of my career. "Don't forget the people in the Hall of Fame are my heroes, the founders of the sport, the real men that did it with their bare hands. I'm a little bit uncomfortable going in there with them, to be honest with you, because I don't feel like I belong in that kind of company." Perhaps once he stands on stage -- properly celebrated and duly honored -- Martin will accept that he is absolutely a part of that good company. The best. &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;
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."
NASCAR TV schedule: Jan. 16-22
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.
Tire limits, plate-race tweaks among 2017 rules updates
RELATED: Driver Tracker " Photo gallery: Who's on the move for 2017 NASCAR competition officials issued memos detailing rule book changes for the 2017 season in its three national series, including limits on tire allocation, restrictor-plate and spoiler size, and an allowance for drivers to use biometric devices. The 80 total pages of revisions released Friday afternoon pertain to Sections 20 (Vehicle and Driver Safety specifications) and 21 (Pit Equipment and Crew Safety specifications) across the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series . Among the highlights in the rules updates: • NASCAR set its regulations on tire allocation for all three series in 2017. In the Monster Energy Cup Series, the number of tire sets available to teams per event dropped for 13 of the 36 points-paying races and increased for eight events compared to last year. With the exception of the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway , the number of tire sets was only adjusted by one. Teams will have two fewer sets in the season-ending event this season, a reduction from 2016's 12 sets to just 10 in 2017. Tracks with one fewer set of tires allowed next season: Daytona (500 only), Phoenix (both races), Auto Club, Martinsville (both races), Bristol (both races), Kansas (both races), Kentucky and Chicagoland. Tracks with an additional set of tires allowed next season: Talladega (both races), Sonoma , Daytona (July only), New Hampshire (both races), Watkins Glen and Darlington. • In 2017, Monster Energy Cup teams will be required to start the race on the tires they used in Coors Light Pole Qualifying. This change does not apply to the XFINITY or Camping World Truck Series. • Drivers in all three series may use biometrics devices in their vehicles in 2017. The wrist-worn health tracking devices may not transmit data, may not connect to the vehicle in any way and must operate on an internal battery. Devices eligible for use are certain models made by Garmin, Misfit, Polar, Samsung, Tom Tom and Jawbone. • The 2017 aerodynamic package for non-restrictor plate tracks in the Monster Energy Cup Series will feature a shortened rear spoiler, measuring 2.35 inches tall. The standard rear-spoiler height for premier series teams last season was 3.5 inches, with a 2.5-inch tall spoiler used at Kentucky and both Michigan races as auditions for this season. • For superspeedway events at Daytona and Talladega, the restrictor plate opening will be smaller by 1/64 of an inch -- reduced from 57/64 to 7/8. The change affects only the Monster Energy Cup and XFINITY series for those two tracks. • Additional safety guidelines were issued for restrictor-plate events for Monster Energy Cup and XFINITY teams. Among them, the previously optional roof hatch is now mandatory as an alternate escape route. Competition officials have also required the use of energy-absorbing materials to strengthen the area occupied by the drivers' feet in the cockpit. • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams will be required to carry a roof-mounted camera assembly at all times, whether in use by broadcast partner networks or not.
Report: Gaughan to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500
RELATED: Buy tickets for Daytona Brendan Gaughan has not made a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start since 2015, but the veteran racer is attempting to qualify for the 2017 Daytona 500 (Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal . Gaughan told the newspaper that he will be driving the car Michael McDowell (the No. 59 for Leavine Family Racing ) piloted to a 15th-place finish in last year's race with Mark Beard as the car owner. Beard made two starts in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series in the 1980s and has been a car owner in both the XFINITY Series and ARCA Racing Series. "They bought the old Leavine car, they've hired ECR to do motors -- real racing motors -- and they asked if I would be interested," Gaughan said. "So it's got Richard Childress motors, and I'm going to have a Richard Childress pit crew -- my guys -- and so we're going to the Daytona 500 and see if we can qualify." Gaughan will be driving for a team that does not have a charter, meaning he will have to qualify his way into the "Great American Race" via qualifying speeds and/or the Can-Am Duel races. Fellow NASCAR XFINITY Series competitor Elliott Sadler will be driving an open entry for Tommy Baldwin Racing in attempt to make the race as well. RELATED: Sadler teams up with TBR for Daytona 500 attempt Should the 41-year-old Gaughan make the race, it will be his second start in the sport's season-opening event. He finished 19th in the 2004 edition of the race. Gaughan is set to compete full time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2017. The campaign will mark his fourth straight season in the No. 62 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing . Last year, he posted a career-best 16 top 10s in the series.
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.
Ford Performance announces NASCAR driver development program
Ford Performance announced Thursday another major push in its NASCAR initiative, launching a driver development program ahead of the 2017 season. The first phase includes an agreement with Brad Keselowski Racing, placing new Ford signee Chase Briscoe in a full-time ride in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series . Ford Performance indicated that other stages of the driver development program would be announced at a later time. The program is designed to cultivate home-grown talent for all Ford teams in NASCAR. According to the news release, current teams will be consulted about driver selection and placement, but their contractual ties will reside with Ford, which will also use signees in product development and testing. "We're making a commitment to win long-term in NASCAR," Dave Pericak, Ford Performance's global director, said in a release provided by the manufacturer. "We have been increasing our engineering support and our technological development at the team level, and now we're looking to work with our teams to find the best available drivers coming up in the sport." The move further strengthens the ties with the automaker and team owner Brad Keselowski , which will field Ford trucks full-time for Austin Cindric and now Briscoe this season. Briscoe, a 22-year-old Indiana native with a rich sprint-car racing pedigree, landed the ARCA championship in 2016, riding a six-win season to the series crown. "This is a big day in the history of BKR," Keselowski said in the news release. "To be recognized as a true partner to Ford and Ford Performance and what they are trying to do speaks directly to the hard work our team has put in over the last several years. It is an honor, frankly, and it is really what BKR is all about -- providing young, talented drivers with championship-caliber equipment to continue to hone their craft and showcase their talents. "We have been fortunate to have had a lot of success together with Ford across the three major NASCAR touring series and to now elevate that relationship in an official capacity is a testament to what we set out to do." The move marks the second significant boost for Ford's racing program ahead of the season. Stewart-Haas Racing 's four-car organization has joined the Blue Oval camp for 2017, helping Ford Performance increase its numbers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage. That expansion also included the birth of a NASCAR XFINITY Series program for SHR, with Cole Custer competing full-time and Kevin Harvick driving on a part-time basis. </p>
Elliott Sadler, TBR team up for Daytona 500
RELATED: Buy tickets for Daytona HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (January 12, 2017) -- Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) announced today that the team will compete in the 59th running of the Daytona 500 with Elliott Sadler behind the wheel of the No. 7 Golden Corral Chevrolet. Sadler, a 16-year veteran of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , will be running double-duty during NASCAR's opening weekend competing in both the Cup and XFINITY Series. The Emporia, Virginia native and Baldwin have a relationship dating back to their days at Robert Yates Racing when Baldwin served as crew chief for Sadler. "This is a great opportunity for me and everyone affiliated with Tommy Baldwin Racing ," said Sadler. "I love the Daytona 500 and to have Tommy and Golden Corral offer me this opportunity is awesome. Tommy and I have known each other a long time. We actually won a qualifying race for the Daytona 500 together back in 2006. We're gonna rekindle some of that magic and work our tails off to get our car in the race. I know Tommy is putting a lot of effort into this and we're gonna go out and get the best result we possibly can for him and TBR's partners." Golden Corral returns for their seventh season together and will bring back their popular 'Top 10 Kids Eat Free' promotion. If Elliott Sadler finishes in the top-10 at Daytona, kids 10 and under will eat free at Golden Corral restaurants nationwide on Monday, February 27th. "We are excited to be working with Tommy Baldwin Racing for the seventh season," said Shelley Wolford, Vice President of National Marketing and Media at Golden Corral. "We will be cheering Elliott on to qualify at Daytona and then race for a Top 10 Kids Eat Free finish." "We look forward to having Elliott join TBR and Golden Corral for the upcoming Daytona 500 ," said team owner Tommy Baldwin. "Elliott has always been a strong restrictor plate racer which makes this a great opportunity for everyone involved. We know our fans look forward to the 'Top10 Kids Eat Free' promotion every year so we want to capitalize on that and finish the Daytona 500 strong."
Suarez's ascent latest success for NASCAR's development programs
RELATED: Full coverage of JGR changes " What Suarez, Edwards said HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Less than two months after becoming the first foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR national title, Daniel Suarez can add another accomplishment to his fast-growing resume. The 25-year-old will become the first Mexican-born competitor to race full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , the sanctioning body's top level, when he gets on track next month at Daytona International Speedway for Joe Gibbs Racing . Suarez was officially introduced Jan. 11 as the driver of the organization's No. 19 Toyota for the 2017 season. He replaces veteran Carl Edwards , who is stepping down from full-time competition to pursue other interests. The Monterrey, Mexico native is a product of two of NASCAR's base programs aimed at finding and cultivating talent while providing opportunities for advancement. While competing in the NASCAR Mexico Series (2011-2014), Suarez was tabbed for NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program in 2013-14, which spotlights minority as well as female competitors. He was also a member of the NASCAR Next Class -- aimed at preparing youngsters for potential careers in NASCAR -- from '11-13. RELATED: More about NASCAR Next " Drive for Diversity "We started this dream 10 years ago with NASCAR, and right now to be in this position, to be in this opportunity is just something amazing for me and for everyone that has been helping me, of course," Suarez said. Suarez was a 10-time winner in the NASCAR Mexico Series, and won three times in the K&N Pro Series East as he began to make the transition from Mexico to the U.S., making his national series debut in 2014. By 2015, JGR signed him to full-time status in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and he was running a partial slate in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series . He responded by winning three times in 2016 and capturing the XFINITY title. "We're very proud that it validates our diversity plan in a significant way," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said the morning after Suarez captured the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "All kinds of conversations on what we’ve said through the years is these things take time to find the kind of talent that can actually compete at a high level on the biggest stages, and he's done that." Suarez joins a growing list of drivers that have come up through the NASCAR Next and/or Drive for Diversity programs to reach its top level. Among them: Kyle Larson ( Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) became the first D4D and NASCAR Next graduate to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race this past season. NASCAR Next grad Chase Elliott ( Hendrick Motorsports ) qualified for the series’ Chase in 2016 and captured Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. This season, former JGR teammate and NASCAR Next grad Erik Jones will race fulltime in the Monster Energy Cup Series for Furniture Row Racing . RELATED: Driver moves, other changes for 2017 On the Drive For Diversity front, crew chief Dave Rogers understands what a victory by Suarez at the top level would mean. "We're going to go to every race, we're not going to have expectations to win, but we're going to go to the track knowing that we can if we do everything right and the right situations come up, we can put ourselves in Victory Lane," Suarez’s crew chief said. "The neat thing about this is history. Very seldom in life do you get to sit down and say 'Hey, I'm part of history right now' … This is a living, historic event. This is a really big deal. So every opportunity is an opportunity for history." Suarez became the eighth foreign-born race winner in NASCAR’s national series with his victory this past June at Michigan international Speedway. RELATED: Relive Suarez's first win " Recap the history-making title season He will have a veteran crew and a talented group of teammates, Kyle Busch , Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin , at his disposal. All that remains for him is to slide behind the wheel and fire the engine. "When you are with the right team, you know that the opportunity will come, and it will come at the right time," Suarez said. That time, it seems, is now. &amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;