U.S. Navy Officer trying to climb NASCAR’s ranks while serving country

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At local tracks throughout the country, numerous stories unfold from youngsters trying to work their way to NASCAR’s top levels to mothers, fathers or even grandparents racing because there’s nothing else quite like it.

Among those stories is one that involves 27-year-old Jesse Iwuji (pronounced ee-WOO-jee).

He’s a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.

The Navy Times details Iwuji’s desire to climb NASCAR’s ranks, starting in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. He’s raced Late Models at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway this season.

Iwuji, who played free safety on the football team, graduated from the Naval Academy in 2010 and was commissioned as a Surface Warfare Officer. The Dallas native is assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and is a student services officer.

Iwuji has served on two Arabian Gulf deployments, totaling 15 months. His service obligation ends in 2017.

Speed always has fascinated him. In 2010, he bought a Dodge Challenger and set a goal of driving it 200 mph in the Mojave Mile. He eventually accomplished that goal and turned his focus to racing. Iwuji is approved in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series to run on any track 5/8 of a mile or smaller and any road course.

“This is the most out-of-the-box-type thing I’m doing, and I’m going to make it happen,” he told the Navy Times.

Just like any driver, Iwuji is looking for sponsorship. He admits his role as an active-duty soldier is “helping me a lot because people are more supportive of what I’m doing, because I’m blazing a new trail.’’


Kevin Harvick wrecks on Lap 37 of Auto Club 400

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Kevin Harvick‘s bid to win a fourth consecutive Cup race ended on Lap 37 of Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Harvick and Kyle Larson were racing for third place out of Turn 2 when they made contact. It appeared Harvick drifted down into Larson.

The contact sent Harvick’s No. 4 Ford into the outside wall before it slid to the backstretch apron.

Harvick’s team made repairs to his car and he was able to continue. When the race resumed Harvick was two laps down.

He finished Stage 1 in 36th, three laps down.

The Stewart-Haas-Racing driver had started 10th and made it into the top five by Lap 14.

Harvick entered the race having won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. Just like Atlanta, he proves no one is better at tire management in Cup.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. swoops in and ends Kevin Harvick’s streak.

Daniel McFadin

I’m going with the hot hand. No, not Kevin Harvick. Kyle Larson, the winner of four consecutive races at 2-mile tracks.

Jerry Bonkowski

While I wanted to stay with Jimmie Johnson until he finally won a race, I’m going in a different direction and picking Kyle Larson to win this one.

Aric Almirola feels like a ‘rookie driver again’ with Stewart-Haas Racing

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Eleven years after he first climbed in a Cup car, Aric Almirola feels like a “rookie driver again.”

That’s thanks in part to the rejuvenating effect of being the newest driver of Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford.

Almirola, who turned 34 Wednesday, will compete in his fifth race for SHR today at Auto Club Speedway. After the first four, Almirola is 10th in the point standings.

“I am literally showing up every weekend with a blank slate,” Almirola said Friday at Auto Club Speedway. “I’m studying driver data and watching old race footage and doing all the things that I’ve always done, but now I have a new team and teammates to lean on and it’s just so different than anything I’ve had in the past, so the learning curve is still there and I feel like I’m learning every week and getting better every week.”

With the West Coast swing coming to a close, Almirola said Fridays on race weekends have been the “most difficult part of the week.”

“We show up with no history together, no notebook and every driver wants something a little different,” said Almirola, who was third fastest in Friday’s lone practice session. “So just trying to figure that out and figure out the differences between me and my teammates so that Johnny (Klausmeier), my crew chief, can hone in on something better to show up with and for me to gain confidence in that to unload off the truck at a place like (this), where you’re running 215 mph down into Turn 1 and your first lap on the race track is a qualifying lap. It’s really difficult.”

Almirola said the Friday difficulties are exasperated by the shortened practice times for teams.

But Almirola is helped through leaning on advice and data from his three teammates – Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer.

“To look at all their driver data and to see that they all do something a little different and they all want something a little different out of their race car, it gives me confidence to just go over there to Stewart-Haas Racing and just do what I do,” Almirola said. “They’ve got fast race cars and they’ve got really smart people and they’ll be able to conform and work around my style and that I don’t have to adapt and drive like anybody else. That’s been the most eye-opening thing for me is that all of those guys are always fast, and they always run up front and they qualify up front and they race up front and they all do something different.”

After being able to arrive at the track with “loads of confidence” in the early years of his Cup career, Almirola said he had “been beat down” over the “last several years” due to mediocre results. He arrived at SHR after six seasons and just one win with Richard Petty Motorsports.

Almirola said signing with SHR gave him “a new lease on life and with my career.”

“It makes me happy in not only our team, but in myself to be able to get in that car and go get the job done to be able to at least be competitive and on a level playing field with at least two of my other teammates,” Almirola said. “We’ve got one (Harvick) that’s just incredible right now and they’ve been doing a great job, but I think for us as a new team and a new group of guys all working together I feel like we’re off to a really good start.”

Almirola has 10 starts at Auto Club Speedway, but he’s never finished better than 11th. He was one of the 13 drivers who did not get to qualify for today’s race after their cars failed inspection. He will start 27th.

The 2-mile track actually played a small role in Almirola’s recovery from a back injury last year.

“Six weeks after I broke my back (at Kansas Speedway) I went to Ford’s seven-post shaker rig and sat in my race car on that shaker rig with the car running a mock lap around this race track and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Holy cow, is it really that rough?’” Almriola said. “Then we showed up back here and the answer is yes, it really is that rough.  But my back feels great. … I feel like I am better than 100 percent.

Today’s Cup race at Auto Club: Start time, lineup and more

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NASCAR’s West Coast swing comes to a close this afternoon with the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Kevin Harvick will attempt to win his fourth consecutive race for the first time in his career. He has one win at the 2-mile speedway (2011).

Below is all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The cast of the movie Super Troopers 2 will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:47 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (400 miles) around the 2-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. Cassadee Pope will sing he National Anthem at 3:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race beginning at 3:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 3 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 61 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won this event last year. Brad Keselowski placed second and Clint Bowyer was third.

CARS TO REAR: Alex Bowman (engine change), Gray Gaulding (engine change), Daniel Suarez (backup car), Michael McDowell (rear gear change).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup