Thursday, December 15, 2016

UPDATED: DiBenedetto To GoFas Racing In 2017; Charter Swap Makes Wood Brothers A Chartered Team

Matt DiBenedetto will drive the #32 GoFas Racing Ford in 2017.

"I am very excited to join Go Fas Racing for the 2017 season,” said DiBenedetto, who comes to GFR after running for BK Racing last season. In two years of NASCAR premier series competition, he has 68 starts and a season-best finish of sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016. “We have a great group of people that I am very excited to work with this season. I am thankful for the opportunity and I look forward to representing the team and sponsors to the best of my ability.”

"This will be our first season in the premier series with one driver running the complete season for us,” said GoFas Racing owner Archie St. Hillaire. “We believe Matt's driving ability and a fleet of newer race equipment purchased this off-season will elevate our program to new levels in 2017.

Backing for the team will come from Can-Am/Kappa, Keen Parts, Visone RV and Really Cheap Floors, with the potential for some of Scott's former RPM sponsors to transfer to GFR next season.

"We're also talking with RPM about maintaining some of the No. 44 sponsors on our car," revealed St. Hillaire in an exclusive Sirius XM NASCAR Radio interview. "Three-quarters of our sponsorships are already sold; more than we’ve ever had."

GoFas has purchased six cars from Richard Petty Motorsports; one superspeedway car and six downforce machines.

St. Hillaire confirmed that he has leased GoFas Racing's 2016 charter to Wood Brothers Racing for use on their No. 21 Ford. GoFas will race using the charter campaigned by driver Brian Scott and the No. 44 Ford last year; leased from RPM. Scott announced his retirement from the sport prior to the season final at Homestead Miami Speedway.

RPM is expected to field only a single car next season; the No. 43 Smithfield Ford driven by Aric Almirola.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Earnhardt Confident, Contemplative Ahead Of Daytona Return

After weeks of conjecture and uncertainty, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. confirmed last week that he will return to NASCAR premier series competition in 2017, after missing 18 races this season with a concussion.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver completed a clandestine test at Darlington (SC) Raceway last Wednesday, under the watchful eye of NASCAR officials and neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, before being declared symptom-free and ready to race.

“The test… couldn’t have gone any better,” said Earnhardt afterward. “NASCAR was really great to put it together. I appreciate them creating rules for drivers in this type of situation to be able to get in a car. It really helps build your confidence to know that everything is working like it’s supposed to work… before you get back into a full race weekend. 

“We just ran laps,” he said. “We put tires on, ran 15 laps at a time (and) took about a 20-minute break. Dr. Petty was there. We did a personal evaluation before I got in the car to set a baseline and Dr. Petty evaluated me after each run to see if everything was good. A lot of the things that he was checking -- visual and balance and so forth -- actually strengthened throughout the process. You sort of get acclimated and up to speed with what it takes to drive a race car, and those systems strengthened through the process. 

“Throughout the day, I got more and more comfortable in the car. It felt like an old shoe by the end of the day. I was happy with the speed we had. That wasn’t really the ultimate goal, but we had great speed. By the end of the day, we felt really confident that health-wise, I was 100-percent ready to get back in the car.”

Earnhardt admitted nervousness prior to the Darlington test, saying, “I have nerves and butterflies every time I get in a race car. But I was certainly very anxious to get in the car (last week). As soon as I got my feet on the ground in Darlington, I was in my suit and over by the door, wondering if the car was ready to go. I couldn’t wait to get in there and see what I felt like. 

“I had a hard time sleeping the night before. It had been a long, long time since I had drove a car. As soon as I got out there… it came right back to me. It wasn’t like I had to re-learn to do it all over again. It felt very comfortable. Of all the tracks we could have gone to, Darlington was a good choice to put me through the test, physically and mentally. I was a little bit nervous about that. Darlington is a tough track, but the nerves were gone after about four laps.

“Then it was, `Let’s just run. Let’s run some more, put some tires on and go some more.”

Earnhardt said it has been a long road back to where he was pre-injury, saying, “I worked with Dr. Micky Collins, and we worked -- not only to get healthy and back to being a normal human being again -- but to get stronger than we were before. I wouldn’t be coming back to the seat if there was any risk, other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday. I feel very confident in what I’ve seen in myself, what my doctors are telling me about my future, the risks I am taking and my ability to be able to withstand the normal wear and tear of driving a race and getting in that unfortunate accident from time to time. 

“Not only am I as healthy as I was before the symptoms came last year, but I’m actually stronger. This isn’t uncharted territory for me, so I know I’m as strong as I need to be. I’m feeling that way, and I’m also hearing the affirmation from my doctors that I can go back and drive racecars.”

The 14-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver said he returns to the cockpit with a new appreciation for his life and career.

“You certainly realize things that you might be taking for granted,” he admitted. “(You) learn to appreciate a lot of different parts and aspects of your life a lot more. When you get something taken away from you, you realize what it is worth. We gripe about our schedule… but when you are watching your friends out there on the track and watching your crew work without you, it really puts things into perspective. It helps you appreciate what you’ve got. 

“I definitely feel recharged and energized about the opportunity to be able to come back and race,” he said. “I felt like I have a lot left in the tank (and) I’m excited about getting to Daytona. We are going to test in Phoenix, which I’m really looking forward to. Testing is kind of boring, but I’m ready to get more and more laps in the car, so I feel confident in myself. Confidence is really critical for me to perform well. The more I can do to help build my confidence before we got to Daytona, the better.

"I'm cleared and I am healthy,” assured Earnhardt. “That’s not patting myself on the back, that’s from my doctor's mouth. I had to work really hard to get to be a human being be normal. Then I had to work even harder to be able to drive race cars; to be a professional race car driver. The distance between just being myself and being a race car driver… was another handful of responsibilities.” 

The third-generation NASCAR driver also commented on the role he has played in spotlighting the impact of concussions on professional athletes, saying "It is not something that I intentionally wanted to spearhead, but I have seen a culture change tremendously.

“I think everyone in general -- not just athletes, but the public, the doctors...everyone -- we are all learning something new every day,” he added. “Mickey sees two dozen patients a day with various types of injuries, and every day he learns something new. He has seen a million people with the same thing that I had, but every day he learns something new. It's incredible the progress that is being made. It is happening right in front of us. It is being taken more seriously, and I think that is great.

“I don't want anyone to go through the injury (I did), much less the rehabilitation. But it is great for folks that do get injured to know there is something that can be done. There is a place to go to get help. That’s something people are becoming aware of; that there are ways to get help so you can get healthy and return to the activity that you love.”

Friday, December 09, 2016

Haley To Truck Series With GMS Racing

2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Justin Haley will join GMS Racing for the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. 

Haley, who will accept his NKNPSE championship trophy Saturday night in Charlotte, NC, will drive the No. 24 Chevrolet beginning at Martinsville Speedway, under tutelage of 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,” said Haley. “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.” 

Bellicourt joins GMS after completing his first year as a NCWTS crew chief with ThorSport Racing and driver Ben Rhodes. 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.” 

Additional details on sponsorship for all three drivers will be announced at a later date.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Junior's Back! Earnhardt Cleared For Competition After Darlington Test

After missing 18 races this season in the aftermath of a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to resume NASCAR competition. He will return to the wheel of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in the 2017 Daytona 500.

Earnhardt’s road back to the cockpit ended at Darlington Raceway last Wednesday, where he completed a nearly five-hour test session observed by NASCAR officials and Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. He turned 185 laps during the session, which followed more than 15 hours in a racing simulator as part of his recovery plan.

Earnhardt was cleared Wednesday evening by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, in consultation with Dr. Petty.

“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt said. “I expected things to go really well yesterday, and that’s exactly what happened. Getting in a race car was an important final step, and it gives me a ton of confidence going into 2017. Thanks to the staff at Darlington for hosting our team and to NASCAR for giving us the opportunity to put a car on the track. I’ll do more testing in January to help knock the rust off. When it’s time to go to Daytona, I’ll be ready.”

In Earnhardt’s absence, Alex Bowman ran 10 races in the No. 88 Chevrolet, with four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon driving eight times. Bowman earned the team’s lone Coors Light Pole Award, at Phoenix International Raceway. Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports have elected to have Bowman drive the car in the season-opening, non-points Clash at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 18.

“Alex did such a great job in the car this year, and I felt like he deserved another opportunity,” Earnhardt explained. “When I spoke with Rick (Hendrick) and the team about him driving The Clash, everyone agreed that he more than earned it, and Nationwide was 100-percent on board. I’m really grateful to him and Jeff (Gordon) for what they did for our team, and I’m glad Alex is getting another run with us.”

Monday, December 05, 2016

BREAKING: HScott Motorsports To Close Its Doors

Harry Scott, Jr. 
HScott Motorsports informed its employees last week that the organization will not field a NASCAR entry during the 2017 season.

"Over the past several months, I considered a number of options for moving forward with the team,” said team owner Harry Scott, Jr., in a written statement. “Regrettably, there are no viable sponsor/driver options immediately available to allow the team to participate in 2017. One thing I learned about NASCAR is that it is a 'people business.' I will forever be grateful to the men and women who worked tirelessly to make HScott Motorsports successful. This includes our dedicated employees, sponsors and partners. We were fortunate to have the support of world-class sponsors like Brandt, DC Solar, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Pilot Flying J, and 5 hour ENERGY. Our racing program would not have been possible without the assistance of Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports, and Chevrolet."

The charter owned by HScott Motorsports and used by its No. 15 team this season has been sold to Premium Motorsports. The charter that was leased for the No. 46 team was sold by Premium Motorsport to Furniture Row Racing. 

"I love this sport and being part of it,” said Scott. “I invested in NASCAR because I truly believe it represents the best racing competition in the world and the best people in all sports. Looking back, I will always be especially proud of the unprecedented success of our NASCAR K&N Series teams, including four consecutive championships and for the lifelong friendships that were forged over the last seven years. 

"My hope is that we were able to develop drivers that will thrive at the highest levels for years to come.”

Grala To Truck Series With GMS Racing In 2017

Massachusetts native Kaz Grala will drive the No. 33 GMS Motorsports Chevrolet full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series next season. 

The soon-to-be 18-year-old rookie drove part-time for GMS Racing in 2016, with three Top-10 results in nine starts. He advanced to the final of qualifying in all but one race, and recorded a best finish of seventh at his home track, New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

“I am beyond thankful to have an opportunity with GMS Racing to run full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2017,” said Grala. “This organization has been on a steep rise the past couple of years, and it’s been fun being a part of it in 2016.” 

Veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter will oversee the operation, after spending the 2016 campaign with rookie Chase contender Christopher Bell. “I’m looking forward to next season with GMS and working through this transition with Kaz. I really enjoy helping young drivers get started in this series and developing their talent, and I saw what Kaz accomplished in the few races he ran last season,” said Baxter. 

There is no word yet on sponsorship, and the status of Ben Kennedy – drove the No. 33 Chevrolet last season – is unknown.

COMMENTARY: Stewart Receives Fitting Send-Off At Champion's Banquet

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is not often left speechless.

But Saturday night at the Wynn Las Vegas, the retiring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver was surprised with the announcement of a $1.8 million donation in his name to the EB Research Partnership, a global non-profit organization dedicated to curing Epidermolysis Bullosa; a serious skin disorder. The announcement came following a surprise appearance by Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, a friend of Stewart’s and a leading proponent of the EB Research Partnership.

The announcement came from Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, who joined NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton on stage, and brought both Stewart and Vedder close to tears.

The motorsports industry originally planned to raise $1.4 million for the cause, corresponding to Stewart's iconic No. 14 car number. But a herculean effort led by Stewart’s longtime business manager, Eddie Jarvis, soon surpassed the $1.4 million goal by a longshot, as individuals and corporations stepped forward to express their affection and admiration for one of NASCAR’s greatest champions.

“I was totally blown away and caught off guard,” said an emotional Stewart afterward. “I really don’t know what to say, to be honest with you.”
“This is un(effing) believable,” said a stunned Vedder, adding, "Are we on television? I'll pay the fine."

The honor was fitting for Stewart, whose charitable foundation has contributed more than $6.5 million over the years to organizations benefitting three of his favorite causes; children, animals and injured racers. In addition to those cash contributions, Stewart meets with literally dozens of handicapped and terminally ill children each season, while steadfastly refusing any publicity or credit for his efforts.

"Tony wanted to have a very low-key sendoff during his final NASCAR season,” said Helton. “He was pretty emphatic about it. (But we) as an industry felt it was important to honor him. People know how passionate he is about motorsports, but he's equally passionate about helping others. On behalf of the entire motorsports industry, we felt this collective donation in Tony's name was a fitting tribute to all that he's accomplished during his NASCAR career."

Eddie Vedder and Tony Stewart
It was all that, and more.

"The pain these kids (with EB) face is constant, and yet they still find ways to stay upbeat," said Stewart Saturday night. "You quickly realize that your idea of a bad day is nothing. It puts your life and the things you take for granted in perspective. But it also makes you mad, because this is a devastating disorder that no one should have to endure. Yet it exists, and after seeing it, you want to do anything you can to make it go away."

EB sufferers lack proteins that bind their skin together, resulting in painful wounds that never heal, the fusing of fingers and toes, along with blisters, intense pain and disfigurement. The condition can also cause blisters in the eyes, mouth, esophagus. The condition affects one in every 50,000 births -- roughly 25-30,000 people in the United States alone – and has no known cure.

“When I first heard about it, it was quite hard to grasp the intensity of the condition,” said Vedder. “It’s about the most insane skin disorder you could imagine. It is diabolical. It’s very hard to describe until you meet the young folks with it, and they make you realize how much you take for granted. These are some of the strongest, coolest, most admirable people on the face of the Earth.”

Those words – strong, cool and admirable – apply equally to Tony Stewart, and it was nice to see him honored in his final trip to the champion’s stage as a driver.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

IT'S OFFICIAL: Monster Energy To Back NASCAR's Premier Series

NASCAR and Monster Energy have announced a multi-year agreement that will make Monster the entitlement sponsor of the premier series, as well as the annual NASCAR All-Star Race. Monster Energy, which will begin its tenure as naming rights partner on Jan. 1, 2017, will become only the third company to serve as the entitlement sponsor in NASCAR premier series history, following RJ Reynolds and Sprint/Nextel.

As part of the agreement, the brand also becomes the Official Energy Drink of NASCAR.

“Monster Energy is a brand built on excitement and enthusiasm, qualities that align with NASCAR,” said Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO. “This sponsorship position is the most unique in all of sports and entertainment, and we are thrilled to have a partner that will help us further elevate the series. Today’s announcement is the culmination of a thorough search, one that resulted in the right partner at this important time in our sport’s history.”

“Monster Energy has an established and versatile history in motorsports, and we’re thrilled to take this historic next step,” said Rodney Sacks, Monster Beverage Chairman and CEO. “We feel strongly that our brand is a perfect fit for this sport and its star athletes. We look forward to interacting with the millions of passionate NASCAR fans week-in, week out.”