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In 2014, NASCAR drivers are sillier than ever

Drivers in NASCAR come and go, but the changes seem bigger than ever for 2014. Allgaier is a familiar face in NASCAR, but a rookie in Cup.
Drivers in NASCAR come and go, but the changes seem bigger than ever for 2014. Allgaier is a familiar face in NASCAR, but a rookie in Cup.
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

There have been numerous changes to the line-ups and teams in NASCAR during the offseason. Some marquee drivers have gone to different organizations, while new blood has been brought into the series. The only thing for sure is that you will need a spotting guide to tell who is where, and in what car.The second part of the silly season round-up will focus on a few of the changes that have taken place in recent months, and how they might affect the season as a whole.

Phoenix Racing, now known as HScott Motorsports, recently announced that Justin Allgaier will be the driver of the No. 51 BRANDT Chevrolet SS during the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

"This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I intend to make the most of it," said Allgaier. "I am very grateful to Harry Scott and BRANDT for having faith in me to compete against the best drivers in the world."

Allgaier has four starts for HScott Motorsports and will compete for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors after finishing fifth in the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship points. Labonte, the 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion, has won 21 NSCS races in his career, which started in 1991, and will bring veteran leadership to HScott Motorsports this season.

"Justin has worked extremely hard to get to this level and he is ready to take the next step," said team owner Harry Scott Jr. "Working with competition director and crew chief Steve Addington, I think the No. 51 can turn some heads this year."

BRANDT will be the primary sponsor for the No. 51 for 21 races during the 2014 season. The agriculture retailer and manufacturer of agricultural specialty products has been active in NASCAR since 2011 and sponsored the No. 51 for four races in 2013.

"The entire BRANDT team is excited about moving to the next level," explained Rick Brandt, company president and CEO. "We looked long and hard at this opportunity and ultimately we decided that we needed the broader footprint that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series affords us to drive our business forward. This is about taking our brand to the millions of fans who watch the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series."

Joining BRANDT on the car are The National FFA, TradeMark Nitrogen, Nutrients for Life Foundation, Precision Tank and Grigg Brothers. Together, these partners are supporting the only true ag-focused car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

"We are proud to help field the 'Ag' car," said Brandt. "This is an effort to raise awareness and build a positive reputation for agriculture of all kinds. We believe passionately that agriculture is the essential industry and we're doing our part to get that message out."

The team also hired NSCS veteran Steve Addington to serve as competition director and the crew chief for the No. 51 driven by Allgaier. Jimmy Elledge, who served as interim crew chief for Allgaier in 2013, remains with the team and will be crew chief for Labonte's No. 52 team.

"I could not be more proud to represent BRANDT, a leading company that's headquartered about 13 miles from where I grew up, as we make the leap to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series," said Allgaier.

Allgaier, 27, joins Bobby Labonte as teammates at Phoenix Racing. Labonte will drive the No. 52 for several races in 2014, including the season-opening Daytona 500. Labonte has won 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in his 22-year career and won the series championship in 2000.

"I am truly looking forward to the 2014 season," said Scott. "We have two great drivers in place with Justin Allgaier and Bobby Labonte, we've partnered with great sponsors and the team is ready and excited for Daytona. Now that we have launched the HScott Motorsports brand, everything is in place. We can't wait for the season to get started and to get back to racing."

James Finch, former owner of Phoenix Racing, has remained a trusted advisor to the team and will be listed as the owner of Labonte's No. 52 Chevy.

Eric McClure will make a return to NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, joining Front Row Motorsports for the season-opening Daytona 500 in the No. 35 Ford Fusion. The veteran driver will carry the support of Hefty®/Reynolds Wrap® as primary sponsor in what would be his first start in "The Great American Race."

McClure is an 11-year veteran of NASCAR's Nationwide Series. He earned a career-best eighth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway last February in the Nationwide Series' season opener. The 35-year-old Chilhowie, Va., native also has three career Sprint Cup starts. The Daytona 500 would be his first Cup start for Front Row Motorsports.

"This is an exciting time for me and certainly our sponsoring brands as well," said McClure. "In our sport, and for my family, there is nothing greater than the Daytona 500 and this opportunity will enhance our program in a unique way. Front Row and I have a history together; they have always represented their partners and ours in a professional manner. They are very strong on the superspeedways and I enjoy this type of racing more than any other. Racing in the Daytona 500 has always been a dream of mine and I look forward to getting to Daytona, working with this team, and trying to achieve this goal."

Front Row Motorsports has become a top team to watch on NASCAR's superspeedways, with a win and six top-10 finishes in restrictor-plate races over the past two seasons. That track record certainly helps in developing partnership opportunities with organizations like Hefty®/Reynolds Wrap®.

"We know our cars are really strong at the plate races and we're making a lot of gains on the other tracks, too, and that's getting people's attention," said team owner Bob Jenkins. "Hefty® and Reynolds® are household names, and we're excited to represent such a respected company on our car with a veteran driver like Eric behind the wheel."

Another notable silly season change occurred in the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (CGRT) stable, where Juan Pablo Montoya's former seat will be taken by rookie sensation Kyle Larson. The team, which will celebrate its 25th year with the start of the 2014 season, began as Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 1990, and is recognized as one of the most successful teams in the motorsports industry.

Beginning with their first win in 1994 at Surfers Paradise, Australia, the organization has compiled historic victories in some of the most iconic races around the globe. CGRT has claimed five wins in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, four Indianapolis 500s, a Daytona 500 and a Brickyard 400 victory. In total CGRT has claimed 17 series championships and more than 150 race victories.

Currently CGRT fields seven cars in three different series that feature an all-star cast of international talent. The teams include four cars in the IndyCar Series, two cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and one Prototype in the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The organizations drivers are Scott Dixon (New Zealand), Tony Kanaan (Brazil), Charlie Kimball (USA), Ryan Briscoe (Australia) – IndyCar, Jamie McMurray (USA), Kyle Larson (USA) – NASCAR, Scott Pruett (USA), Memo Rojas (Mexico) – IMSA.

The changes aren't limited to the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage. In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, 20 year-old Harrison Rhodes will make his first start on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway later this month, driving the HOODZ No. 24 Toyota Camry for SR2 Motorsports. HOODZ Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning and DUCTZ Air Duct Cleaning and HVAC Restoration have joined on to partner with Harrison and SR2 Motorsports for the race weekend.

“I am extremely excited for the opportunity to drive the #24 HOODZ & DUCTZ Toyota at Daytona, explained Rhodes. “Our partnership with HOODZ Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning and DUCTZ Air Duct & Dryer Vent Cleaning is of great benefit for all parties and I know we will have great success. We are also excited to have Vecoplan back on the car as an associate sponsor as they lead the industry in commercial shredding systems.”

In 2013, Rhodes got his feet wet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series making seven starts throughout the season, while also making numerous starts in a super late model in races across the South East. Harrison nearly triumphed at the Myrtle Beach 400 in November, leading laps late in the race before a broken water pump ended his day with just two laps remaining in the event.

SR2 Motorsports is moving into their third season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Harrison behind the wheel. The team plans to move forward this season concentrating heavily on their No. 24 entry while running select races with two cars.

“Harrison is a great young driver that I have been watching a lot this past season,” stated Jason Sciavicco, team owner. “He shows great poise behind the wheel, has shown significant improvement in the Nationwide Series car, and is excellent working with his marketing partners. I’m very proud to have Harrison and be representing great companies such as HOODZ, DUCTZ, and Vecoplan at Daytona.”

HOODZ Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning and DUCTZ Air Duct Cleaning and HVAC Restoration come on board as primary partners for Harrison Rhodes in the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway. HOODZ and DUCTZ are both headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, owned by BELFOR Franchise Group, a multi-concept franchise system of BELFOR USA. HOODZ is part of an internationally known and respected entity. HOODZ cleans commercial kitchen exhaust systems, adhering to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard- 96, devoted to ventilation and fire protection of commercial cooking operations. HOODZ takes pride in being the largest self-performing kitchen exhaust cleaning company in the country, and every operator is fully insured and bonded.

For over 10 years, DUCTZ has been a leader in the Air Duct Cleaning Industry, setting standards across the country. DUCTZ technicians are trained and certified at the DUCTZ Headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Adhering to the EPA Checklist, certified to industry NADCA standards and proving their worth on every job, customers and national accounts trust their Air Duct Cleaning, Dryer Vent Cleaning, Duct Sealing and Filtration upgrades to DUCTZ.

“We are delighted to partner with SR2 Motorsports and Harrison Rhodes for this exciting race,” said Andrew Mengason, Belfor Franchise Group COO. “The collaboration is very fitting. Harrison is a young, up-and-coming driver with incredible potential and a fantastic career in his sights. This is much like our business as we continue to grow our network of operators, and develop breakthrough processes and technology to allow this industry to thrive.”

Vecoplan Inc. will also be onboard as an associate partner for Harrison Rhodes for Daytona as well. Vecoplan is the global leader in technologically advanced machinery and systems for shredding and recycling. We design, engineer, manufacture, install, and provide start-up training on, as well as ongoing parts and service for individual machines and complete systems used to shred plastics, wood, paper, tires, medical waste, and broad range of other materials.

“The DRIVE4COPD 300 is another opportunity for Vecoplan to support a good cause,” explained Len Beusse, COO of Vecoplan. “Plus this is a quality race team in Jason Sciavicco’s SR2 Motorsports, and a fine young man in Harrison Rhodes.”

20 year-old Rhodes is excited about these new partnerships as well as working with SR2 Motorsports No. 24 Toyota crew chief Bobby Burrell at Daytona in a few weeks. After passing his drafting test a few weeks back at Daytona, Rhodes couldn’t be more excited about his first career restrictor plate NASCAR race.

“Words cannot express my excitement to be racing at Daytona International Speedway,” stated Rhodes. “This will be my first restrictor plate race and I am prepared for the challenge! I am expecting great results and to gain essential experience that will help me in my career moving forward.”

Fans can watch Harrison make his Daytona International Speedway debut live on ESPN. The race will take to the air live at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opens with the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Feb. 23. The race will be televised live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET. The cars will also be on track throughout the "SpeedWeeks" leading up to the "Great American Race," including the Budweiser Duels qualifying races, which will be televised live on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

Over the next couple weeks, this column will strive to provide full coverage of the events leading up to the Great American Race at the end of February, including an interview with perennial contender David Ragan, as well as a few moments with one of the most awesome, and probably off-the-wall drivers to ever put on a driving suit; Kenny Wallace!

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