Age is just number, right? Well, that’s at least what one driver in the ARCA Series says.

2013 marked the start of one young man’s journey to the top. Actually, that journey started years ago. Since he was a nine-year-old, Michael Lira has always been in the seat of a race car.

Lira currently races for Kimmel Racing – owned by fellow driver Will Kimmel. Working with Will and his father Bill Kimmel, the two have created one of the top teams in the ARCA Series. With Lira joining the organization late last year, Kimmel Racing has begun to see an added level of success.  

“He definitely helps because he’s out there driving,” Lira said of his teammate. “I have been switching over to his radio channel – asking him a lot of questions because he is running really well. It has been huge to have him as a mentor – especially with the places that he has been too and knows already.”

Splitting time between the team’s flagship cars, the no. 68 and No. 69 Fords, Lira is going to be running 14 of the 20 events in the division this season. In addition to racing in the ARCA Series, he hasn’t forgotten about where he came from either.

Lira and his father have been able to raise the funding to race. With the ownership of Gary Yeoman’s Ford in Daytona Beach, Florida, the father-son combination has worked their way up through the stock car ranks. The family’s Ford dealership is one of the most successful in the country, and it is the number one seller of Roush Mustangs and Roush Performance Parts in the world. Due to the dealership’s success, the pair has also developed a relationship with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Jack Roush.

“My dad and I have a good alliance with Mr. Roush," Lira said. "Our dealership, Gary Yeoman’s Ford, is the number one seller of Roush Mustangs and Roush Performance Parts in the world. They are good friends. Jack has helped me here and there. We use all Roush-Yates stuff. I want to do as many races as I can possibly do. ARCA is my main focus, but I won’t be able to race Daytona, Talladega or Michigan I believe because I don’t turn 18 until July next year."

After running eight races so far in this season, Lira has three top-10 finishes. Kimmel, however, has four in just seven starts. With his experience, he has been able to help his 17-year-old driver at tracks he has never been to. But even while running for a team that is finding success, both drivers have had trouble attaining additional sponsorship – the bread and butter of achieving their goals on and off the race track.

Running on a part-time basis has helped him develop to the level of competition. When he isn’t racing in the ARCA Series, the Florida-native is racing Super and Pro Late Models with his family. But the best part about this year in his mind is that he is able to gain experience on a weekly basis.

“The biggest thing is that we are not running for points," he explained. "It is like a giant test session for me. Every time you come back to a track for a second time – a lot of these short tracks that I went to that I didn’t test at – I felt like I was a lot better at the end of the race than I was at the first lap. If we came back here (Pocono) next week, I feel like we’d be setting ourselves up for a really good run, so we have a good future here.

“For the short track races, we kind of just showed up on race day and tried to learn the track in the two short 45-minute practices. After the race – I feel a lot better about it. I feel like when we go back to these tracks in a year or two when we are back and I have been to all of these tracks, it is going to be huge for me when I’m in the car.”

As he prepares for 2015, Lira will be entered in nearly every event in the ARCA Series. Since he doesn’t turn 18 until next July, he is restricted from competing in the restrictor plate events, along with a few other races. With hopes of racing full-time sooner rather than later, the high school student is focused on just getting better with time.

Since the father-son tango has a relationship with Roush, they are hoping to piece together a development deal in the near future. Roush is a partner with Kimmel Racing, but they also worked closely with Roulo Brothers Racing in ARCA as well. Most of Roush’s developmental drivers – including Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher – started out their deal with the organization by racing for the Roulo’s. However, before they can come up with a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing, Lira will need to find just a drop more speed on the race track.

“We’re hoping to work out a development deal soon, but we need to get more top-fives and start winning races before we can start talking about that,” Lira said. “Obviously, equipment is huge for everybody. You see people who move up quick and have good funding behind them and they can run well. You have to make sure that when you move to a new team or a new car that you have good people around you. More than expertise, it is about the people that are around you.” 

On Sunday morning, just hours before the Brickyard 400, Roush Fenway Racing officially announced Carl Edwards’ departure from the organization. Edwards’ story is well known. He snuck into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage area to hand out business cards, and after racing for the Mittler Brothers, Cousin Carl caught the eyes of Jack Roush.

Over the past several seasons, the team’s performance has depreciated, and it has shown since Edwards finished second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings in 2011. With Edwards departing the only team he has known in NASCAR’s top-tier division, Roush has to move on – whether they want to or not.

“We made him an offer, but I believe his decision was not based on – NASCAR racing, Cup racing is a big-time sports entertainment thing today.  Like football and baseball and basketball, athletes move around.  We wish it wouldn’t happen, but there’s curiosity about what another team’s situation would look like and I think that although I shouldn’t speculate, I think Carl wanted to try something different before he saw his career get in its middle term and its final years,” Roush said on Sunday morning.

Replacing Edwards will be Trevor Bayne – the 2011 Daytona 500 winner. Bayne has struggled with his health over the past several years, and announced late last season that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – a disease that disrupts the nervous system. Fortunately, the 23-year-old doesn’t have any serious symptoms of the disease, and it will not have an effect on his career. He’s been racing on a part-time schedule for the Wood Brothers – a Roush satellite team, but with Advocare moving up the ranks with him, Bayne will be able to race full-time at NASCAR’s top division.

This will leave Greg Biffle as the team’s lead driver. Biffle has struggled on a higher level compared to Edwards this year. He has just five top-10s along with a pair of top-fives. With 3M likely resigning as Biffle’s primary sponsor, Roush does have some long-term security. However, as a 44-year-old, he might be nearing the end of his prime.

“It doesn’t look different than when Mark Martin stepped away and we were left with Greg and Carl to go forward.  We’ve been in this business, as I said, for 27 years counting and we have made it our habit, our practice, our preference to bring drivers in,” Roush said. “We’ve brought in 23 drivers that had never been part of NASCAR before and 19 of them are still in this sport and 17 of them have won races, so we’re pretty much on time. We may have more rookies, but Ricky and Trevor and Greg are gonna be great.  I’m real excited about that for next year and not less excited than I’ve been at any time in the past.”

 “Certainly the focus of our leadership is gonna be with Greg Biffle and the things that he does with the race car and the leadership he provides for the engineering initiatives we take.  We had that split with Carl and Greg together this year, so that will be a little different next year, but Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) is ready to step up.”

Now, Stenhouse will be the team’s No. 2 driver. Like Biffle, he has struggled this year as well. In a season in which he has been reunited with Mike Kelley – the same crew chief that led him to two Nationwide Series titles, the sophomore driver has four top-10s, but sits 27th in points. However, the team has faith in him – just like they did with Edwards and Biffle over a decade ago.

Roush has certainly struggled with consistency this season. Their strength has moved away from the intermediate tracks, and is slowly reeling towards the short tracks – the minority of the schedule. Edwards has been the team’s lead driver since Matt Kenseth made the move to join Joe Gibbs Racing after the completion of the 2012 season. However, neither Edwards nor Biffle have been able to step up to the plate. Although he has to wins this year, the 34-year-old has struggled, and he understands that.

"Right now, the mission is to win this championship, this race. This is my decision. It's a decision I made, and I didn't take it lightly,” Edwards said. “Sometimes you just want to make a change, and opportunities present themselves and you say, 'Hey, what was that like to not take that opportunity?'"

It is likely that Edwards will be joining Joe Gibbs Racing – a Toyota organization – in a fourth vehicle. The team has run a fourth car in the past with David Gilliland and Joey Logano in 2008, as well as Elliott Sadler in select races last season. However, they have never run a fourth car on a full-time basis after starting the No. 11 team with Jason Leffler in 2005 before Denny Hamlin took the reins of that car.

As he stated, Edwards’ deal has been completed with another organization. Although he did not admit to signing the Missouri-native, team owner Joe Gibbs, admitted to having discussions to start a fourth team. If this were to happen, Edwards would be driving a non-Ford owned car for only the second time in his career. The lone occasion which he didn’t race a car with the blue oval on the nose was in 2002 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Gateway with Fred Bickford where he raced a Chevrolet.

“Carl Edwards has been a part of the Ford family for a decade, and it will certainly be tough to see him leave Ford and Roush Fenway Racing. During Carl’s time with Roush, he has represented Ford Motor Company with the utmost class, both on and off the track. We at Ford Racing did everything to facilitate keeping Carl a part of the Ford Racing & Roush Fenway family, but in the end that option did not come to fruition,” said Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing.

For the future, Roush does have some promising drivers moving up the ranks. Chris Buescher, winner of the 2012 ARCA Series title, is racing the team’s No. 60 car in the Nationwide Series, and sits seventh in points. Buescher is a candidate for Bayne’s part-time ride at the Wood Brothers and would be the ideal scenario for both sides. However, Ryan Reed is also in the Nationwide Series. Reed has struggled slightly more than Buescher, but is starting to gain momentum after being labeled one of the series’ most frequent crashers earlier in the year.

The Roulo Brothers team in the ARCA Series – Roush’s satellite team in that division, has Kyle Benjamin and Kyle Weatherman in their stable as well. They are expected to move up the ranks like Buescher and Reed over the next few years – giving Roush some stability for the future.

“Our goal when we bring drivers up through the system is to retain them – to have them start with us, to win championships and then to retire with us, so this is all part of the process.  I think if you talk to Greg and Jack they would tell you that they have some unfinished business. They set out a while ago to be the first tandem to win the Truck, the Nationwide and the Cup championship,” said Steve Newmark, President of Roush Fenway Racing. “It’s always disappointing when you lose a driver that you bring up through the organization.  I think everyone is aware that we pride ourselves on being a driver development program.  It’s in our DNA and our heritage.”

In a career that is coming to a close, Terry Labonte doesn’t have many chances to prove he’s still a great racecar driver. However, Labonte avoided all of the chaos at the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday to finish 11th while racing for Go FAS Racing.

Go FAS Racing is an underfunded team which has used multiple drivers this season. Labonte, 57, has raced for Go FAS Racing since 2011 – primarily at the restrictor plate tracks. Since the team owned by Frank Stoddard, a former crew chief for Roush Fenway Racing and Bill Davis Racing, has an average finish worse than 30th since they opened their doors during the 2011 campaign, having Labonte behind the wheel gives them the confidence that they need.

Although he has never finished inside of the top-10 with the team, it is due to being highly conservative during the plate races. Labonte has seldom been seen racing in the midst of the ‘pack’ during the events he races for the organization because they simply can’t afford to get caught up in the ‘big one.’ Sunday’s result was his seventh top-20 finish for Go FAS Racing in 19 starts. It might not seem like a great result, but for a small team – finishing inside of the top-20 is like a victory.

However, next year, the team will need to find a new driver for the four restrictor plate races.

Why?

Well, after competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for what is now 37 consecutive seasons in some way, shape or form – Labonte is putting an end to his career. Making just four starts this year - Labonte has taken it easy ever since ending his full-time career in 2004. Since then, he has raced on a part-time basis for Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Petty Enterprises and a few smaller organizations for one-off starts.

“I’ve been dragging this retirement out for about seven years. I told him I really mean it this time,” Labonte said at Daytona to MRN.

Now, Labonte is set to make his final start at the Talladega Superspeedway in October. It is going to be an emotional one for the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, but if he can finish his career with a solid finish, the team’s credibility might just grow a drop entering 2015.

Labonte will take the green flag for the 890th and final time at the Talladega Superspeedway. There are only two drivers that have made more starts in NASCAR history – Richard Petty (1185 starts) and Ricky Rudd (906). Labonte has 22 wins, 182 top-fives, 361 top-10s along with 27 poles in his historic career. 

The famous No. 21 Ford has a vacancy for the 2015 season. Trevor Bayne, who has driven for the Wood Brothers since Texas in 2010, is set to move over to Roush-Fenway Racing on a full-time basis next year as Roush will bring back the No. 6 car which was driven by Mark Martin for nearly two decades.

However, the Wood Brothers have plenty of options to fill their coveted seat, in part due to their alliance with RFR. This year, Bayne has recorded three top-20s in the No. 21 car, each of which has come at intermediate tracks. But this team has not raced full-time since they attempted to do so in 2008, but missed a handful of events with Jon Wood and Marcos Ambrose.

Now that the team is looking for a new driver, they might just go back to racing on a full-time basis. The Wood Brothers have not run more than 17 races per year since Bayne joined the team, even after winning the 2011 Daytona 500. They just have not been able to piece together more sponsorship packages to run additional events.

Rumors have been swirling around that Sam Hornish Jr., the former Indianapolis 500 winner, might be able to piece together some funding to run full-time with the Wood Brothers next year. But history shows that the Wood Brothers are by far less successful when they run their No. 21 car on a full-time basis. Just look at what they did in the 1970s – winning over 50 races while racing on a part-time basis each season. And since Morgan Shepherd won a race for the team in 1993, the Wood Brothers have won a mere two races (not including Michael Waltrip’s All-Star Race victory).

Hornish is currently racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, and he has already won a race this season. But like Hornish has said in the past, he won’t race in the Cup Series if he doesn’t have a chance to win races week-in and week-out. That might take him out of the picture since the team has yet to score a top-10 finish at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since Las Vegas of 2012.

With Roush’s heavy alliance with the organization, they might encourage the Wood Brothers to stay racing on a part-time basis with one of RFR’s developmental drivers.

Currently, Roush has Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed racing in the Nationwide Series. Reed is struggling more than initially thought, partially because he has finished on the lead lap just three times this year. Although he has showed signs of improving, Reed is not going to be ready to tackle the Sprint Cup Series for at least another season.

That leaves Buescher, the younger cousin of former Camping World Truck Series champion, James Buescher. After missing the season-opener at Daytona because the entire Roush camp struggled to create a strategy to lay down respectable laps, Buescher has raced his way into the top-10 in points. Buescher would make a good candidate for the No. 21 seat as he has had similar results to that of Bayne’s when he started his Nationwide Series career.

Even though Buescher stated that he is going to run at least one more season before running full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he did admit that he would like to get at least some experience in NASCAR’s top-tier division before tackling it for the entire season.

Ryan Blaney will also be a candidate to race the No. 21 car next year. Even though the Wood Brothers don’t work with Team Penske too much, they are both Ford teams. Blaney made his Cup Series debut at Kansas, and ran inside the top-20 until having to make a late race pit stop. It appears as if he will move up to the Nationwide Series on a full-time basis next year, and racing with the Wood Brothers would save Team Penske the trouble of having to field a third Cup Series team for Blaney – enabling them to possibly run Juan Pablo Montoya in some additional events.

Then there are some other drivers who might be able to seal the deal with the Wood Brothers. Here are some of the possible candidates:

-Elliott Sadler: Sadler drove for the Wood Brothers to start his career, but was not extremely successful with the exception of his fuel mileage win at Bristol in 2001. Currently, he drives for JGR as a title contender in the Nationwide Series, and he might be able to bring over his sponsorship to the Wood Brothers to run full-time with a Cup Series team.

-Regan Smith: Smith has a strong relationship with Chevrolet, so it is unlikely he will go to the Wood Brothers. However, if they offer him a full-time deal, he might just take it after racing in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports since last year.

-Josh Wise: Wise has shown in the past that he is capable of running well if given the equipment. He clearly outran Danica Patrick in the No. 7 Chevrolet in multiple Nationwide Series races in the past, but he has been stuck racing for underfunded teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. A part-time move to the Wood Brothers would help build Wise’s brand, especially if he can take all of his Reddit.com followers with him.

-Parker Kligerman: Kligerman is still searching for a ride in basically anything that has a motor and four tires. The former Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has notably been looking in the Verizon IndyCar Series for a ride, but he has yet to seal a deal. Racing for the Wood Brothers would enable him to run at the intermediate tracks, his strong suit, and he would be able to get the exposure of racing in the Cup Series which 

Even while having the most dominant car at Pocono on Sunday, Brad Keselowski’s luck ran out as the laps winded down. Keselowski led 95 of the 160 laps at the Tricky Triangle for the Pocono 400, but was unable to secure his second victory of the year.

After securing a gap surpassing one second over Dale Earnhardt Jr., the No. 2 team made a decision that ultimately cost him the win. Keselowski fell back behind Earnhardt Jr. by approximately two-three tenths of a second in a desperate attempt to get a piece of debris off of his Ford.

“I was trying to do something to help my car out and I knew it was going to break and I was going to get passed, so I was trying to make whatever move I could do to help clean it off, and I’m not sure I did enough to make a difference,” Keselowski said.

The debris on his grille caused the temperature to sky rocket on his engine. However, Keselowski wasn’t the only one to have trash on the front-end of his car. Earnhardt Jr. also has debris on his car, but it was not as severe as Keselowski’s. Keselowski was never able to get close enough behind Earnhardt Jr. to get the debris off his front bumper, causing him to lose horsepower on the straightaways.

“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it, but it probably shouldn’t have. It was one of those deals - I think I was going to get passed because I was really down on power down the straightaway. It’s hard hard to say,” he said.

Keselowski now sits fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after entering Pocono eighth in points. With a win and seven top-10s this year, he has been able to illustrate his consistency throughout the year. His teammate, Joey Logano, experienced an engine failure which sent him back to finish 40th after losing oil pressure under caution.

Even while having the most dominant car at Pocono on Sunday, Brad Keselowski’s luck ran out as the laps winded down. Keselowski led 95 of the 160 laps at the Tricky Triangle for the Pocono 400, but was unable to secure his second victory of the year.

After securing a gap surpassing one second over Dale Earnhardt Jr., the No. 2 team made a decision that ultimately cost him the win. Keselowski fell back behind Earnhardt Jr. by approximately two-three tenths of a second in a desperate attempt to get a piece of debris off of his Ford.

“I was trying to do something to help my car out and I knew it was going to break and I was going to get passed, so I was trying to make whatever move I could do to help clean it off, and I’m not sure I did enough to make a difference,” Keselowski said.

The debris on his grille caused the temperature to sky rocket on his engine. However, Keselowski wasn’t the only one to have trash on the front-end of his car. Earnhardt Jr. also has debris on his car, but it was not as severe as Keselowski’s. Keselowski was never able to get close enough behind Earnhardt Jr. to get the debris off his front bumper, causing him to lose horsepower on the straightaways.

“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it, but it probably shouldn’t have. It was one of those deals - I think I was going to get passed because I was really down on power down the straightaway. It’s hard hard to say,” he said.

Keselowski now sits fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after entering Pocono eighth in points. With a win and seven top-10s this year, he has been able to illustrate his consistency throughout the year. His teammate, Joey Logano, experienced an engine failure which sent him back to finish 40th after losing oil pressure under caution.

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