Five Sprint Cup drivers to watch at Kansas

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Keep an eye on these drivers during Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway on NBC.

Jimmie Johnson

The slump is officially over for Johnson, whose win last week at Charlotte continued what’s been a stout Chase so far for him. If not for penalties at Chicagoland and Dover, Johnson could’ve won three of the four Chase races, and he’s led nearly100 laps more in the Chase (363) than he did in the entire regular season (266). He finished 17th in May at Kansas —where he’s a 3-time winner. Expect him to be much stronger Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr.

A win at Kansas has been so close, yet so far away for Truex on several occasions. The latest near-miss was in May when he led 172 laps from the pole only to be knocked out of contention when a flying bolt head got lodged behind his right-front wheel and forced him to pit. Truex sits 19 points ahead of the cut line but with Talladega looming, he desperately wants a win (like everyone else) to avoid potential disaster next week.

Kevin Harvick

He has been beset by mechanical setbacks in the last two races (37th at Dover – track bar mount failure; 38th at Charlotte – electrical/engine), but he may have been saved by another at Charlotte when Denny Hamlin‘s engine blew late in the going. That allowed Harvick to pull within eight points of the cut line going into Kansas — where he’s finished first or second in four of the last six races, including a second in May.

Joey Logano

Before crashing at Kansas in the spring, Logano had rattled off two wins – the 2014 and 2015 Chase races – and five consecutive top-five finishes there. He’s on the outside looking in (six points behind the cut line) after being one of multiple Chasers in trouble at Charlotte. If he keeps clean this weekend, he figures to put himself in at least decent shape for Talladega

Kasey Kahne

Kahne missed the Chase, but he too has benefited from Hendrick Motorsports’ late-season uptick. He’s posted five top-10 finishes in the last six races (including a season-best third last week at Charlotte), and hasn’t finished worse than 14th in the last eight races. Like Johnson, he stands to be better at Kansas this weekend than he was in the spring (finished 16th).

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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