WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA feat. Rico Abreu, crew chief Darian Grubb at 5 p.m. ET

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Here is what’s on tap for today’s episode of NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for online/mobile devices:

· No doubt about it – Rico Abreu’s star has taken off over the last few days. On Saturday night, he won his first Chili Bowl and this morning, the sprint car standout was announced to run full-time in the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship. We’ll take a look at his incredible story.

· NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast stops by the Joe Gibbs Racing shop in North Carolina to speak with Darian Grubb, who will become crew chief for the incoming Carl Edwards this season. We’ll also hear from former crew chief/driver tandem Frank Stoddard and Jeff Burton about JGR’s shuffle atop their pit boxes and how it will affect the team.

· Our series of Top Storylines for 2015 continues with a focus on Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. After a year that was not up to his high standards, can Johnson return to form and challenge for a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup? And can Gordon recover from last year’s Chase heartbreak to make one more run for his fifth title?

· With 33 days left until the Daytona 500, we’ll look back on Mario Andretti’s 1967 Daytona 500 victory. His win in the Great American Race would be the first step in earning his eventual distinction as the only driver ever to win the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, and the Formula One World Championship.

· And last but not least, we’ll have a light-hearted Top-5 in store for you: The best on-track bloopers from 2014.

If you plan to stream, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified. Once you plug those pieces of information in, you’ll have access to the stream.

Again, CLICK HERE at 5 p.m. ET to watch NASCAR AMERICA.

NHRA to expand field sizes for 2020 Countdown playoffs

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Field sizes for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs could substantially increase for the upcoming 2020 season, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

The previous standard to qualify for the playoffs was the top 10 ranked drivers following the last regular season race before the Countdown begins, the U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis. That standard remains in place.

Now, in light of Wednesday’s announcement, additional drivers in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car “Nitro” classes will be eligible for the six-race Countdown playoffs if they compete in all 18 regular season events and run a minimum of two qualifying sessions at each of those 18 events.

Given that most of the 18 NHRA regular season events have as many as four qualifying sessions, the new expanded field could potentially add several Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to the Countdown field. For example, if there are 16 full-time teams that compete in all 18 regular season races for the upcoming season, all 16 teams will likely qualify for the playoffs.

If those additional drivers meet the new standard, their point standings will also be reset after the U.S. Nationals, as has always been the case for the top 10 Countdown qualifiers.

Changes will also take place in Countdown qualifying for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which have smaller season schedules than their counterparts in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 13-race regular season, additional Pro Stock drivers who have competed in all 13 prior events as well as took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will be eligible for the Countdown.

Because it contests only an 18-race overall season schedule, Pro Stock’s portion of the Countdown is only five races, rather than six as in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, which has a 16-race overall season schedule, in addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 11-race regular season, riders who have competed in all 11 regular season events and took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will also be eligible for the Countdown.

As in Top Fuel and Funny Car, all Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers/riders that qualify for the Countdown after the U.S. Nationals will have their points reset.

Speaking of points being reset, the NHRA also announced that heading into the Countdown, Top Fuel and Funny Car will see first and second place be separated by 20 points, while each subsequent position will be separated by a 10-point differential.

In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, first and second place heading into the Countdown will be separated by 20 points, while second through fifth place will be separated by 10 points and all positions below fifth place will be separated by five points.

And has been the case in the past, all drivers/riders that reach the Auto Club Finals season-ending race will earn points-and-a-half for qualifying and each round run.

According to a NHRA media release, “NHRA officials made this change in order to better reward driver endurance and encourage participation in regular season events.”

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