Next stop for NASCAR is Chicagoland Speedway for Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400, opening race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The ten-race title series will conclude in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Junior is the top seed with four wins during the regular season, a total matched by Kyle Larson – who is seeded Number-2. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and defending champion Jimmie Johnson hold spots three through five in the sixteen-man field … The next three races comprise the opening round, after which the bottom four drivers will be eliminated from title contention. Any one of the sixteen qualifiers that wins a race at Chicagoland Speedway, New Hampshire or Dover will automatically advance to the second round that opens October 8th at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Danica Patrick revealed on her Facebook page Tuesday that she will not be returning to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. Her post came just hours after S-H-R announced that Smithfield Foods would be joining the organization next season to sponsor an unnamed driver and team. In nearly five full seasons behind the wheel of the Number-10 Monster Energy Series entry, Patrick has failed to qualify for the post-season playoffs and never finished higher than twenty-fourth in the point standings. She ended the 2017 regular season twenty-eighth with a best finish of tenth in her twenty-six starts … And speaking of the Smithfield Foods announcement from earlier in the day on Tuesday, the Virginia-based company is currently sponsoring the Number-43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford for Aric Almirola. Team owner Richard Petty was not pleased with the day’s developments. A statement from Petty was released late yesterday afternoon, confirming that Almirola would not return in 2018 and reading, in part: “Over the past few months, Smithfield had continually told me they wanted to be with us and I recently shook hands on a deal to extend our relationship. I come from a time when we did major deals with sponsors like S-T-P on a handshake. I’m sad to see this is where we are now. This decision is unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction.”
When a new NASCAR season begins in February, rising star Chase Elliott will be reunited with the number synonymous with his legendary racing family and rookie William Byron will take the wheel of one of the most iconic cars in motor sports history.
In 2018, 12-time NASCAR Cup Series champions Hendrick Motorsports will introduce the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro to its four-car team with Elliott in the driver’s seat. The Dawsonville, Georgia, native raced the No. 9 to the 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series title, and his Hall of Fame father Bill Elliott memorably drove it to 38 Cup-level wins and the 1988 series championship.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever drive the ‘9’ again,” said Chase Elliott, 21, who is currently in his second season driving the No. 24 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports. “It’s a huge deal to my family and everyone back home (in Georgia), and I hope all of our fans will be pumped to see it back on the racetrack. There’s a legacy attached to that number, and I want to carry it on. I think it’s awesome that Hendrick Motorsports and NAPA wanted to do this. It’s impossible not to be excited.”
When Byron starts his first career Daytona 500 next year, it will be in the iconic No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet made famous by four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon and his storied Rainbow Warriors team. Byron will begin his 2018 rookie season at the same age Gordon was (20) when he made his Cup debut in 1992.
“Jeff and Jimmie (Johnson) are the drivers I’ve always watched most closely and tried to learn from,” said Byron, 19, who grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and signed with Hendrick Motorsports in August 2016. “I didn’t think I could be more motivated, but when Mr. (Rick) Hendrick called to tell me (about driving the No. 24), it took things to another level. I have so much respect for all the people who have contributed to the success of the ‘24.’ I know it’s rare to have the chance to be part of something like this. I’m going to make the most of it.”
Next season, Elliott and Byron will team with the No. 48 of seven-time Cup champion Johnson, 41, and the No. 88 of 24-year-old newcomer Alex Bowman in the Hendrick Motorsports stable.
“I know what the ‘9’ means to Chase and his whole family,” said Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “They’ve contributed so much to our sport, and I’m happy we can honor that history by bringing the number back. I think fans will really love seeing it out there. I told Chase we’d only do it if he promised to win a bunch of races, so I’m going to hold him to that.
“The ‘fit factor’ is something I’ve always believed in, and that’s what I see with William and our organization. He reminds me a lot of Jeff at that age with regard to being a special talent and having a great head on his shoulders. But William is also his own person with his own career ahead of him. It’s going to be fun to watch him jump in the ‘24’ and show what he’s capable of.”
The debut of the No. 9 will mark the first time in nearly a decade that Hendrick Motorsports will field a new car number for one of its full-time teams. The most recent addition was the No. 88, which was added in 2008 when driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the organization.
“I’m excited about the future,” Hendrick said. “We’ve made some management decisions recently that I feel really good about. Looking at next year, Jimmie will continue to be a leader and help set the tone. Alex is chomping at the bit and ready to go. When you add the (new) Chevrolet Camaro race car into the mix, it’ll definitely be a new look for us. Everyone’s energized.”
Following the 2017 season, Hendrick Motorsports will withdraw its No. 5 car number from competition. It was the organization’s first car number and has run full-time since the team was founded in 1984. The No. 5 was raced to Hendrick Motorsports’ first victory at Martinsville Speedway during its inaugural season, and Terry Labonte drove it to a Cup Series championship in 1996.
“That was by far the hardest part (of the car number decisions),” Hendrick said. “The ‘5’ means so much to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports and to a lot of our fans. The memories and the history will always be there, and I won’t rule out bringing it back some day. Never say never.”
Next season, Elliott and the No. 9 will be fielded by his current No. 24 team while Byron and the No. 24 will be fielded by the current No. 5 team.
- 9 QUICK FACTS:
· Will make its Hendrick Motorsports debut with driver Chase Elliott in 2018
- Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott raced it in the NASCAR Cup Series for the first time in 1976
- 1988 Cup Series championship with Bill Elliott; raced to 38 of his 44 career Cup wins
- 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship with Chase Elliott
- 53 combined points-paying wins in Cup Series competition with five drivers
- 24 QUICK FACTS:
· First fielded by Hendrick Motorsports with Jeff Gordon in 1992; driven by Gordon until 2015
- Currently raced by Chase Elliott, who debuted in 2016 and won Cup Series rookie of the year
- With Gordon, four Cup Series championships and all 93 of its points-paying Cup victories; race wins include three Daytona 500s and a record five Brickyard 400s
- 48 QUICK FACTS:
· First fielded by Hendrick Motorsports with driver Jimmie Johnson in 2001
- With Johnson, a record-tying seven Cup Series championships and 83 of its 86 points-paying Cup wins; Johnson’s wins include two Daytona 500s and four Brickyard 400s
- From 2002-2016, 5.3 average wins per year and 3.4 average championship points finish
- 88 QUICK FACTS:
· First fielded by Hendrick Motorsports with driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008
- With Earnhardt, nine points-paying race wins, including the 2014 Daytona 500
- 74 combined points-paying wins in Cup Series competition with five drivers: Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Buck Baker; 1999 Cup championship with Jarrett
ABOUT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS:
Founded by Rick Hendrick in 1984, Hendrick Motorsports has earned 249 points-paying race victories and a record 12 car owner championships in the premier NASCAR Cup Series. The organization fields four full-time Chevrolet teams on the Cup circuit with drivers Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Headquartered in Concord, North Carolina, Hendrick Motorsports employs more than 600 people. For more information, please visit HendrickMotorsports.com or interact on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Bristol Motor Speedway was no match for Kyle Busch this past week as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver collected three wins in a four-day stretch including Saturday’s Monster Energy Series race. After winning Wednesday in the Camping World Truck Series, Busch returned to “Thunder Valley” to claim victory in Friday night’s X-finity Series race. Then on Saturday, he got the best of rookie Erik Jones as well as the half-mile Tennessee oval, keeping the Number-18 Toyota in front over the final fifty-six laps and beating Jones to the checkered flag by nearly a second-and-a-half. It’s the second time in eight years that Busch has won all three races across NASCAR’s three national series in the same week at the same track. He first accomplished the feat in 2010, also at Bristol. Jones did his best to deny Busch his “Tennessee Trifecta” on Saturday night, starting from the pole and leading a race-high 260 laps. They exchanged the lead three times during the final stage before Busch asserted himself down the stretch. After laboring through much of the regular season without a Cup Series victory, the 2015 champion now seems to be building momentum for another title run. Busch has two wins in his last four starts and has climbed to second in the point standings … Denny Hamlin finished third on Saturday and Matt Kenseth was fourth, giving Toyota a sweep of the top four spots. Kurt Busch completed the top five in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford … With just two races left in the regular season, Jamie McMurray leads Clint Bowyer by fifty-eight points in the fight for the final playoff spot … Paul Menard finished sixteenth on Saturday night, just two days before his 37th birthday.
Kevin Harvick lived up to an old nickname of “The Closer,” taking command in the second half of the race and leading the final seventy-one laps to notch his second victory of the season. The race ended some twenty-three hours after it originally started on a Saturday night, when just forty-eight laps were run before rain moved in and pushed the event to a late-afternoon green flag on Sunday. Kyle Busch started third and was dominant throughout the first half of the race, leading 184 of the first 250 laps. But what appeared to be a broken part on the suspension of his Number-18 Toyota sent the car spinning across the track. Contact from Justin Allgaier ended Busch’s day with a thirty-ninth-place finish. Harvick entered the fray soon after, charging from his Number-24 starting spot to grab his first lead at Lap-286 of five hundred. Harvick ran consistently among the top five the rest of the way, passing Denny Hamlin seventy-one laps from the finish and never looking back to record his thirty-third career win – loosening Joe Gibbs Racing’s tight hold on short-track competition in 2016. Before Bristol, J-G-R had won all three races run on ovals less than one mile in length … Harvick’s margin of victory over runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Junior was two seconds with Hamlin finishing third, Austin Dillon fourth and rookie Chris Buescher fifth.
“Mother Nature” was the only one able to slow Kyle Busch down Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway as he stormed to his forty-ninth career Truck Series win. The start of the race was delayed two hours by rain but once the green flag flew, Busch did too. He started from the pole, led throughout the first stage, won Stage-2 and closed the night by leading the final thirty-seven laps. Busch’s ride was not completely without a challenge. He was tagged with a speeding penalty on pit road at the end of the second stage and restarted at the rear of the field. It took him less than fifty laps to track down race leader Matt Crafton and when he did, Busch drove off to his third win of the season in seven starts. Crafton started sixth and led twice for ninety laps en route to his runner-up finish. John Hunter Nemechek came home in third place with rookie Grant Enfinger and Ben Rhodes completing the top five. This is Busch’s fifth Truck Series victory in “Thunder Valley,” easily topping the track’s win list … Wednesday’s race produced just six lead changes among four drivers: Busch, Crafton, Rhodes and Austin Cindric. There were five cautions for thirty-one laps … With just two races remaining in the regular season, there are three drivers battling for the final two playoff spots. Rhodes comes out of Bristol with a seventeen-point lead over Ryan Truex, who carries a nine-point edge over Enfinger in the fight for what would be the final post-season berth.
As expected, Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that 19-year-old William Byron will drive its Number-5 Monster Energy Series Chevrolet beginning with the 2018 season. He’ll replace Kasey Kahne, who’s leaving the organization at the end of this year. Sponsorship for Byron will come from Axalta Coating Systems and Liberty University, which currently support him in the NASCAR X-finity Series. In 2016, Byron turned in the most successful rookie season in the twenty-two-year history of the Camping World Truck Series with seven victories. This year, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native progressed into the X-finity Series, where he’s earned three wins and ranks second in the regular-season standings driving for Junior Motorsports, a Hendrick Motorsports affiliate. Virginia-based Liberty University began its support of Byron in 2014 when he drove late models for Junior Motorsports. He’s a sophomore student working toward an undergraduate degree in business communications through the school’s online education program.