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Off season notes: Viva Las Vegas, Burton gets a ride, Owens to the big leagues

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As NASCAR heads to Las Vegas this week, teams are starting to make more moves in preparation for the 2014 season.

Popular driver Jeff Burton who was released from Richard Childress Racing this season will take on a part time role at Michael Waltrip Racing the team announced Monday. In his new role with the team he will test and drive in a select number of races next season in the No. 66 Toyota Camry.

The driver who has won 21 times is taking over a role held by Mark Martin this past season. Burton’s first outing with the team will be testing Dec. 9 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The first scheduled NASCAR Sprint Cup race for Burton will be the March 9 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The team will continue field the No. 15 Toyota for Clint Bowyer and the No. 55 with driver Brian Vickers in 2014. Burton will test for Vickers until late January when Vickers returns from medical leave.

“Michael Waltrip Racing has two teams and drivers racing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2014 and our third team will play a very important role in that pursuit,” said team co-owner Rob Kauffman. “We were extremely fortunate to have a driver as experienced and respected as Jeff Burton come available. He will be able to have an immediate impact as we continue to strive for that last one percent that separates champions from contenders.”

The team said Michael Waltrip will drive the No. 66 in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.

Richard Petty Motorsports also announced Monday that Trent Owens has been hired as the leader of Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Ford team beginning immediately. Owens has made his name known in the NASCAR Nationwide Series over the past seven years as a crew chief at both Braun Racing and Turner Scott Motorsports. The 38-year-old is a five-time winner on the Nationwide circuit with five different drivers. This will be Owens first full-time opportunity to be a crew chief at the Sprint Cup level

NASCAR is in Vegas this week with events starting Tuesday and leading up to the final awards banquet Friday night. Two days later, on Monday, teams will be testing changes in the Gen-6 car for 2014 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. No word on how many teams will be present for the one day test session.

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