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Drivers, fans, and teams prepare for a busy 2014 NASCAR season

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It has been about a month since fans were able to enjoy the thrill of speed, horsepower, and Earth-shattering noise at their local NASCAR event. Some race junkies are starting to feel symptoms of withdrawal, and are busy trying to find at least some sort of racing fix to get them through the next two plus months. If you are amoungst this group of hardcore addicts, ESPN has a cure for your ills.

NASCAR fans looking for some off-season action will have the opportunity to relive some of the highlights of the 2013 season when ESPN2 airs a pair of programs on Sunday, Dec. 15. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season will be reviewed in a half-hour program airing at 4 p.m. ET, immediately following a program reviewing the NASCAR Nationwide Series season that airs at 3:30 p.m.

Live NASCAR racing will return to ESPN in 2014, with the entire NASCAR Nationwide Series season airing across ESPN networks. In addition, the final 17 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, including all 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, will air on ESPN (14 races) and ABC (three races).

Even though NASCAR news is scarce this time of year, there are still numerous announcements being made regarding the line-up of next years teams. Swan Racing announced recently that it is expanding to a multicar organization in 2014 and will compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with rising stars Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt driving Toyota Camrys.

"When we launched Swan Racing we pledged to race hard every lap of every race. That's what we have done and what we will continue to do. We learned a lot this year and now is the time to plan for the long term future by adding more resources to be more competitive," said owner Brandon Davis.

This is a major step for Swan Racing as it seeks to improve its organization and to be more competitive in the upcoming season.

"The team is expecting steady improvement and we are in good position to deliver," said Kligerman. "Personally, I am looking forward to working with Cole as a teammate and as a competitor for Rookie of the Year honors."

Swan Racing competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2013 with several drivers including Michael Waltrip who racing the No. 26 Toyota in the Daytona 500 with a special paint scheme dedicated to the victims of the shootings and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct. David Stremme then drove the No. 30 for the next 25 races. The team then auditioned several drivers including Whitt, Kligerman, and Kevin Swindell.

"I am really impressed by how everything is coming together for Swan Racing. This is the place to be and we are going to truly take the next step in 2014," said Whitt. "Parker and I will learn a lot from each other next year while racing hard every lap of every race. I'm ready to get started!"

Swan Racing is preparing to move into its new shop in Statesville, NC. The 25,000 square foot facility will provide the team enough space to accommodate the two teams and even grow if necessary.

"This is an important moment for this young team," said Swan Racing general manger, Bray Pemberton. "Things are falling into place and we are really looking forward to 2014. In the coming weeks we will make decisions on a number of additional details such as car numbers, hiring a crew chief and the addition of new sponsors," he said.

In the Sprint Cup side of the garage, Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) announced the signing of 22-year-old Dakoda Armstrong, who will assume driving duties of the No. 43 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS). The multi-year contract marks an ongoing commitment towards winning as the RPM team looks to build upon recent success.

"We want to win races for 'The King,'" Armstrong said. "I'm ready to take the next step in my career and RPM is an organization where I believe I can make that happen. Our team and sponsors are as committed to winning as I am, and I'm looking forward to a successful season and future together."

WinFieldTM, Armstrong's primary sponsor during his tenure with Turn One Racing and Richard Childress Racing, will continue its sponsorship for the majority of the 2014 season; Fresh From Florida will sponsor the remaining three races. Furthering continuity for the No. 43 race team, Crew Chief Philippe Lopez will again oversee Armstrong from the pit box.

"Dakoda and WinFieldTM will help us continue the success of our No. 43 Nationwide Series program," said Richard Petty, a seven-time NASCAR champion and co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports. "Dakoda is a driver who has grown up in the sport and has paid his dues. He has proven himself at every level and we will now give him the tools he needs to be successful in the Nationwide Series and believe he can win races for us."

Armstrong joins an RPM team that has enjoyed immediate success with its NNS program since fielding a full-time entry in 2012. The No. 43 Ford Mustang team has 23 top-10 and seven top-five finishes. In 2012, the No. 43 team finished fifth in the final championship standings.

Armstrong has a strong open wheel and stock car racing background, having raced in the United States Auto Club (USAC) Midget and Sprint Series before graduating to stock cars and the ARCA Series. Armstrong is a three-time winner in the ARCA Series and competed full-time in the NCWTS for Turn One Racing in 2013. He now joins the NNS full-time where he has seven career starts.

RPM's newest member makes his race debut in the No. 43 WinFieldTM car at Daytona International Speedway's historic 2.5-mile oval February 22, 2014.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, known worldwide for their precision aerobatics, will return to Daytona International Speedway to perform the flyover for the prestigious 56th annual DAYTONA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opener on Sunday, Feb. 23.

It’s the fourth consecutive year that the flying team, officially known as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, will be at the “World Center of Racing” to perform the flyover for “The Great American Race.” For the 2013 DAYTONA 500, the Thunderbirds were unable to fly their signature "Delta" formation flyover due to cloud ceilings below mandatory minimums.

“We’re deeply honored and privileged to have the USAF Thunderbirds return, and we’re looking forward to witnessing an exhilarating flyover during the pre-race ceremonies for the DAYTONA 500,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said. “The sight and sound of the Thunderbirds flying above Daytona International Speedway will give goose bumps to the thousands of race fans in attendance and the millions more watching on FOX Sports.”

After the federal budget sequester took effect in the spring, the flying team was forced to cancel all but one of their 2013 performances. In October, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Thunderbirds will be back on the road next year.

“We are absolutely excited for another opportunity to showcase American air power at one of the signature events in our great country,” said Lt. Col. Greg Moseley, Thunderbirds commander and lead pilot. “The Daytona crowd is incredible, and we plan on giving them a flyover they deserve.”

Assigned to Air Combat Command, the squadron is composed of 12 officers and more than 100 enlisted Airmen serving in about 30 Air Force job specialties.

Since the unit's inception in 1953, more than 350 million people in all 50 states and more than 60 countries have witnessed the distinctive red, white and blue jets in thousands of official aerial demonstrations.

Tickets for the 56th annual DAYTONA 500 are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or visiting the speedway's website.

Fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for the latest news all season long. Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways,HOAs,elections, and restaurants.

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