Paul Menard

NASCAR: Entry list set for Sprint Unlimited; David Gilliland out, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the fourth driver to be added to Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited to fill the 25-car field.

Stenhouse is in the race after David Gilliland’s team withdrew. A spokesperson for Front Row Motorsports said the team did not have sponsorship for the event and elected to skip it.

Others who were eligible to compete in the 75-lap exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway but won’t are Brian Scott, Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger.

Replacing them are Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Casey Mears and Stenhouse.

NASCAR announced in December it was expanding the Sprint Unlimited field to 25 teams. The event is open to all 16 Chase teams from the previous season along with pole winners from last year, former Unlimited winners and former Daytona 500 winners. Any remaining spots go to the highest remaining drivers in points.

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2015 SPRINT UNLIMITED AT DAYTONA
Entry List

1-Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing/McDonalds)
2-Brad Keselowski (Team Penske/Miller Lite)
3-Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing/Dow Chemical)
4-Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing/Jimmy John’s + Budweiser)
5-Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports/Great Clips)
10-Danica Patrick (Stewart-Haas Racing/GoDaddy)
11-Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing/FedEx Express)
13-Casey Mears (Germain Racing/GEICO)
14-Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas Racing/Mobil 1 + Bass Pro Shops)
15-Clint Bowyer (Michael Waltrip Racing/5-Hour Energy)
16-Greg Biffle (Roush Fenway Racing/Ortho)
17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing/Fastenal)
18-Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing/M&Ms)
19-Carl Edwards (Joe Gibbs Racing/Arris)
20-Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing/Dollar General)
22-Joey Logano (Team Penske/Shell-Pennzoil)
24-Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports/AARP Drive to End Hunger)
27-Paul Menard (Richard Childress Racing/Peak-Menards)
31-Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing/Caterpillar)
41-Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing/Haas Automation)
42-Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing/Target)
43-Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports/Smithfield)
48-Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports/Lowe’s)
78-Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing/Furniture Row)
88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick Motorsports/Nationwide Insurance)

NASCAR: Casey Mears to compete in this year’s Sprint Unlimited

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Casey Mears will join the 25-car Sprint Unlimited next week, a team spokesperson confirmed Friday. The Germain Racing driver will be the third competitor to be added to fill the field.

Brian Vickers, Brian Scott and AJ Allmendinger each were eligible for the event but those teams have pulled out. That’s allowed Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Mears to join the field.

The 75-lap exhibition race, which will be held Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway, will have an expanded field this season. NASCAR announced in December that all 16 Chase drivers were eligible for the event along with pole winners from last year, former Sprint Unlimited winners, and former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full time in 2014. If any of the 25 spots remain, then those highest in the points not yet eligible would qualify.

Vickers, who won a pole last year, will not compete because he will skip the first two points races of the season as he completes his recovery from off-season corrective heart surgery. Richard Childress Racing confirmed that Scott, who won a pole last year, will not compete.

Tad Geschickter, owner of JTG Daugherty, told MotorsportsTalk that the team did not know it would be eligible to compete in the non-points race until December and was unable to find sponsorship for it. Thus, Allmendinger, eligible because he was in last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, will not compete in this event.

NASCAR: Jay Robinson buys Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 36 team, re-numbers to No. 62

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Under the new banner of Premium Motorsports, Jay Robinson has purchased the assets of the No. 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team from Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Reed Sorenson drove the No. 36 TBR Chevrolet full-time last year and finished 34th in Sprint Cup points. His best result was a 14th in the Chase race at Talladega Superspeedway.

In a short release from this morning, Premium announced that the car would be re-numbered to No. 62 for the upcoming season. Sponsor and driver announcements for the car were noted to be “forth coming.”

However, it has been reported by several outlets that, for the season-opening Daytona 500, the No. 62 will be prepared by Richard Childress Racing and driven by RCR Xfinity Series veteran Brian Scott.

That would create, essentially, a five-car RCR squad for the Great American Race – RCR’s main trio of Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, and Paul Menard, then Scott and his Xfinity teammate, Ty Dillon, in affiliated cars. Ty Dillon is driving the No. 33 for Circle Sport Racing in partnership with RCR.

Catchfence.com and Motorsport.com are also additionally reporting that Slugger Labbe, RCR’s head of research and development, will serve as crew chief for Scott and the No. 62 team during Daytona Speedweeks. Labbe stepped down from his role as crew chief for Menard last October to take his current position.

Scott drove a Circle Sport/RCR machine to 25th in his Daytona 500 debut last year.

Paul Menard shooting for better performance with new crew chief Justin Alexander

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When a Sprint Cup driver is paired with a new crew chief, usually one of the first things the new duo does is start with a bonding experience.

It could be as simple as dinner or drinks, giving each other an opportunity to get to know the other one better and to start building a foundation of communication upon.

When Slugger Labbe moved to a new role last October overseeing research and development at Richard Childress Racing, team engineer Justin Alexander was promoted to replace Labbe as Paul Menard’s crew chief.

Given that the move came while the season was still underway, and that Menard and Alexander already had a working relationship, they skipped the usual dinner or drinks in favor of something a bit unconventional to begin the bonding process.

“Actually, the first thing we did together as a driver-crew chief was we went to a shooting range and shot guns,” Menard quipped during last week’s NASCAR media tour in Charlotte.

That was just another step in a getting-to-know process that began early in 2014 when Alexander became Menard’s lead engineer after more than a decade at Hendrick Motorsports.

“It was great to get to know Justin since the first part of last year,” Menard said. “He impressed me with how he handled himself and his knowledge of cars.

“We made the decision to try something different in October and it’s paying off,” Menard said of Alexander replacing Labbe. “We had a great run in Miami and some fast cars at the end of the year.

“What’s nice about (Alexander’s) engineering mentality is it’s kind of yes or no, so you kind of get to the point really quick. We don’t mince words very much, we just get to the point and try to figure it out.”

Alexander is used to success: During his 11-year tenure at Hendrick, he was first a shock specialist and then lead engineer at different times for both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

Alexander likes what he sees in Menard, the veteran Cup driver in terms of tenure at RCR. He likes the communication the two have established.

“There’s things I have to see in him and I recognize things when he says them certain ways,” Alexander said. “There’s a trust we have to build with each other. So obviously hanging out and being friends away from the racetrack just strengthens that bond there and it ultimately carries over into race weekend.”

Menard, who finished 17th, 16th and 17th from 2011-13, is looking to make a big gain after last season’s 21st-place finish.

That also includes making the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time.

“Last year, I feel like we had fast cars and were fairly consistent,” said Menard, whose lone Cup win came in the 2011 Brickyard 400. “We just had a string of bad luck in the summer. Everyone has that. You can pinpoint some races you’d like to have back.

“The fact of the matter is we never won a race. To get into the Chase, you don’t have to win a race, but we show up every week to win races. I think Justin has a great handle on the race cars, and with this sport being so engineering-based, and with the lack of testing this year – there’s really no testing to speak of – a lot of our information comes off the computer.

“Justin is really good with that. James (Small), our engineer, is awesome on the simulation. We try to rely on that and me to give them feedback they need to get the cars to react the way I need them to. A lot of that falls on my shoulders and kind of what I need and how to go about getting it.”

But the thorn in Menard’s side has long been his performance – or lack thereof – on short tracks.

“Short tracks have been our weakness, frankly, and it’s something we need to get better at,” he said. “Bristol has actually been one of our best tracks. I don’t really consider it a short track with the way you drive it and the way the car loads up.

“Places like Richmond have been a struggle, New Hampshire has. If I could pinpoint it, we’d fix it. But the way the car loads up and transitions from brake to acceleration and trying to find the balance and me trying to give the right input to Justin to try and fix it, there’s not much we can do.

“The engineers are burning the computers up, trying to find different packages. We get to the track and have two or three different options to try, depending on what I tell ‘em. That’s about all you can do, is be prepared when you show up and then try to figure it out.”

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NASCAR: Fans to help crew chiefs set Sprint Unlimited starting lineup, pit positions

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Select fans will be paired with each crew chief for a random drawing to determine the starting lineup and pit road positions in NASCAR’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race on Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR says that fan drawings will be held Feb. 13 at the main stage of the Sprint Fanzone at DIS, starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.

“Anticipation for the start of the NASCAR season is at an all-time high among fans and drivers,” NASCAR executive vice president/chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said in a release. “Fans have a unique opportunity to participate in key elements of the event, making this year’s Sprint Unlimited even more exciting.”

Last year, fans were allowed to vote on the length of the race segments, which was won by Denny Hamlin.

As for this year’s race, NASCAR will use a two-segment format of 25 laps and then 50 laps. A competition caution will be waved at Lap 25.

In December, NASCAR expanded the Unlimited field to include all 16 Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers. The 25-driver field will also include 2014 Sprint Cup pole winners, former Unlimited race winners, and former Daytona 500 pole winners that competed full-time in 2014.

Three eligible competitors – 2014 Chaser A.J. Allmendinger and 2014 Cup pole winners Brian Scott and Brian Vickers – will not compete in the Unlimited for various reasons. Allmendinger and Scott’s teams are not fielding cars for the event, and Vickers is recovering from December heart surgery (he will return to racing at Las Vegas in March).

All open positions for the Unlimited will be filled based on 2014 driver championship points. As of now, the top four provisional drivers respectively are Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Casey Mears, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Team representatives have already confirmed that Bowyer and Menard will compete in the Unlimited.