KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 16:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Xfinity Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 16, 2016 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
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Carl Edwards gutted after another home-track victory slips away

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – With a steely smile and stiff upper lip, Carl Edwards politely weaved through throngs of longtime friends and well-wishers, flagging down Kevin Harvick’s car at the victory lane gate.

Edwards leaned through the window to offer a lengthy congratulations and then graciously completed the rest of his postrace interviews.

He delivered a good-natured slap on Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren’s shoulder with a “thanks for everything,” joked with Austin Dillon about his playoff beard and stopped when a member of the track’s color guard asked him for a selfie before exiting the media center.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Edwards said.

Outwardly, the Columbia, Mo., native, who started his career on short tracks across Kansas and Missouri, seemed to be handling his runner-up finish to Harvick in the Hollywood Casino 400 – the hometown race Edwards desperately wants to win even more than the Daytona 500.

But looks were deceiving.

“I’d rather not talk about that,” Edwards said with a half-smile that seemed to indicate his joke was a half-truth. “It’s tough. There’s so many people that come to this racetrack that support me and have supported me. Not just when I’m racing here, but Capitol Speedway, Old Summit, Callaway Raceway, Godfrey, all these places I raced growing up. It’s a really special place for me.

“As much fun as I had racing up front, yeah, it stings. There are negative emotions tied to not winning here with that fast of a car, but that’s the way it goes.”

Edwards led 61 laps and was in first on a restart with 30 laps remaining when he lost the lead to Harvick.

After slipping to third behind Kyle Busch, he furiously battled by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate for a second – the same place he finished to Jimmie Johnson at the 1.5-mile oval eight years ago.

This didn’t have the same dramatic ending – Edwards slapped the turn 4 wall on the last lap while attempting an optimist slide job on Johnson – “both of them were pretty painful.

“I was pretty sure we were in control of the race,” he said. “I felt really good about it. That race here in 2008 with Jimmie, I felt like we were really in control of that one. We let that one go, too.

“These I remember more just because they are so special. Fortunately, we get to race here twice now every year so I cannot wait to come back again. I wish we could line the cars back up again and go, but I’ll wait. Just like anything, you learn from your wins, but you probably learn more from your defeats. We’ll go back and look at that restart.”

Harvick, who has been working on honing his restart technique for a year, timed the green flag perfectly in his No. 4 Chevrolet, leaving Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota in the dust with a push from Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy.

“I think the key to the restart was just timing,” Harvick said. “The rest of it we’ll keep to ourselves.”

The other key was Edwards’ battle with Busch, which chewed up too many of the remaining 30 laps to make a run at Harvick.

“I knew if I could clear Kyle quickly, I could maybe catch Kevin,” Edwards said. “My car was faster than Kyle’s. He was good there for a lap or two, then I felt like I was quite a bit faster. I just needed to get by him.

“But he was doing his job. He was racing as hard as he could.”

Though teammate Matt Kenseth led a race-high 116 laps from the pole position, Edwards said his Camry was the best of the day after qualifying second.

“That’s what’s frustrating,” he said. “You should win with the fastest car, especially when you start on the front row. I take responsibility for that. I could have done something different on that restart, possibly hung on, and I wouldn’t have been in that position.

“But, man, I raced as hard as I could all day. We didn’t make hardly any mistakes. So we can keep our heads up.”

He also will enter Talladega Superspeedway in relatively safe position for advancing to the Round of 8. Edwards is 24 points ahead of the current cut line.

“Day or two will pass, maybe the sting will wear off and I’ll be more excited about the points situation going into Talladega,” he said. “Because that’s the bright side.”

Nature’s Bakery in discussions with Stewart-Haas Racing about Danica Patrick sponsorship

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 11:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Nature's Bakery Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE – Stewart-Haas Racing and Nature’s Bakery, primary sponsor since last year for Danica Patrick, are “in discussions” regarding their partnership, the team confirmed to NBC Sports in a statement.

The news that seems to cast doubt on the sponsor’s future was first reported by the Associated Press.

The baked goods company became Patrick’s primary sponsor last season and was on the No. 10 Chevrolet for 28 races in 2016. It was slated to be the primary sponsor for more than 20 races this year.

Nature’s Bakery replaced GoDaddy, which left Patrick after sponsoring her in IndyCar and NASCAR for several years.

During media appearances Tuesday at the Charlotte Convention Center, Patrick wore a firesuit emblazoned with Tax Act, a sponsor for the partial season the last few years,  instead of Nature’s Bakery.

Here is the statement from Stewart-Haas Racing:

Nature’s Bakery and Stewart-Haas Racing are in discussions about how the sponsorship might look in 2017. Both sides have options, and it’s a matter of determining what is best for both parties.

Stewart-Haas Racing remains focused on its preparation for the 2017 NASCAR season where it will again field four entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series while also introducing a full-time NASCAR XFNITY Series team.

Kurt Busch ready to reclaim NASCAR Cup championship for himself, Ford

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Just barely falling short of winning the Race Of Champions championship this past weekend has Kurt Busch pumped up to win another kind of championship.

And it’s a Monster, indeed.

Busch, who was the first driver to win the then-new Chase for the Nextel Cup format in 2004, would like nothing more than to become the first driver to win the rebranded Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

What’s more, if Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion – which will also continue to be sponsored by Monster Energy as well – has an added bit of incentive tacked on from his championship run 12 years ago.

Busch is the last Ford-powered driver to bring a NASCAR Cup championship to the blue oval company. Since Busch’s championship with Jack Roush Racing in 2004, there have been 12 Chevrolets, one Dodge and one Toyota that have NASCAR’s most coveted crown.

But not Ford. Busch has high hopes of changing that 0-for-14 streak.

“It is a special homecoming feeling to head back to work with Ford and to have them with our power and our bodies at Stewart-Haas Racing,” Busch said Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “It really feels neat to come back to a place where I’ve seen the faces before and the way that the structure has been polished up on and the way that there’s more depth with Ford Performance.

“The best thing that I’ve seen already come out of things is that the engineering staff at Stewart-Haas.  It’s like they just opened up a whole new book of things to look at and to advance our program further from where we were with GM.”

Admittedly, while the entire Stewart-Haas organization is excited about its first season with all-new Ford power and bodies, there could still be a learning curve of getting used to a different manufacturer after SHR’s previous long tenure with Chevrolet.

But even without any preseason testing, Busch remains optimistic that he and his teammates can come out strong right from the start of the season.

“The teams have more depth,” he said. “There’s more simulations. It used to be the driver and the crew chief came back with a notebook. Now the notebook has been used by the lead engineers.

“Limited track time saves money, but you spend more on personnel to make the cars faster, safer, stronger. I’ve seen some of the drawings. We had to change a few of our suspension settings. There might be a few bugs here or there, but I’m not too worried about it.”

Competing in this past weekend’s Race Of Champions in Miami added yet another excerpt to Busch’s vast racing resume, including NASCAR to drag racing, midget cars to Legends cars and bandolero’s, and even drove in the Indianapolis 500.

But the ROC was definitely an adventure.

“The Race of Champions is very unique and it’s a lot of fun,” Busch said. “It’s a chaotic, frat house feel and to race against the Europeans, the South Americans, it truly was a unique challenge and all the different vehicles that the Race of Champions puts you in and how it’s structured and how it all works, but it’s the fun, it’s the other side of it too.

“After my first race Sunday, I got beat by Hinchcliffe (IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe) by only a fraction of a second and I was feeling a little down.

“And I said, ‘I think I’ve got the wrong mentality. I just need to go like this is a green-white-checker every time I go out there. Just grab gears, hard on the brake, hard on the gas, just attack the track and go for it.’

“And then I started winning. I was able to get on the other side of the second bracket that I needed to get in and then Kyle was winning as well.  He was beating guys like Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, and the next thing you know we advanced as the NASCAR group as brothers and represented the USA in the finals against (Sebastian) Vettel. That was an incredible feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Busch also regaled the media with the funniest part of this past weekend’s ROC.

“For some reason everybody was forgetting what gear to put their car in when they were leaving the staging area on Sunday,” he said. “Scott Speed literally drove through (Helio) Castroneves in the staging area and wrecked two cars.

“My little brother (Kyle Busch) thought he was in first gear, but he was in fast reverse and he backed into another car. I was like, ‘Guys, why are we all so nervous as the American team?’”

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Xfinity drivers respond to NASCAR’s new point system

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Brennan Poole, driver of the #48 DC Solar Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for Safety 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16, 2016 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE – While what was known as the Chase format was slow to arrive to the Xfinity Series, its replacement is being introduced to all three of NASCAR’s national series this season.

The three full-time Xfinity drivers present at the NASCAR Media Tour on Tuesday shared their thoughts on a format that awards points over the course of three segments, with the first two giving points to top-10 finishers. Those points will accumulate all the way through the second round of the playoff.

Here’s what Xfinity drivers had to say about the new points format.

Brennan Poole – No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing

“I think it’s cool. I think it gives an opportunity to a lot of drivers like myself to gain some bonus points. You win one of those stages, (those) points stay with you through the (playoff) so you can kind of give yourself a little more of a cushion when the playoff starts. I’m pretty excited about that. I think it’s great the way they’re doing it, where they’re just throwing the caution. I think for me, one of things I was concerned about was that it would be a break and we would stop, kind of how we did the Dash 4 Cash races … I think it’s going to change strategy, I think crew chiefs are going to have some headaches in the beginning. What’s going to happen when the caution comes out in the middle of one of  these stages?

Cole Custer – No. 00 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing

“We’ll see. I think we’re still trying to figure out if it’s going to affect our strategy or not. You’re definitely going to be trying to race harder for those bonus points and everything. I think that’s going to be interesting. And there’s going to be a lot more to talk about it in the race and I think it’s going to be a good thing for the sport.”

William Byron – No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports

“I think it’s going to be similar to (the Camping World Truck Series) but at least there’s something of a reward when that caution comes out (to end a segment). I think that’s going to be good if we qualify well … start on the pole and lead a segment to get a few bonus points … If you have a crash late in the race or something like that you still get to benefit from the race say if you dominated a race and you lose a race with five to go or on a green-white-checkered. You still get something.

Cole Custer eager for jump to Xfinity Series with Stewart-Haas Racing

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Texas Roadhouse 200 presented by Alpha Energy Solutions - Practice
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Cole Custer is in a position that likely makes him the envy of many of his fellow young drivers – not to mention a lot of fans who dream about being race car drivers.

Custer, who turned 19 on Monday, is essentially having a brand new team being built around him. He’s moved up from the Camping World Truck Series (finished 10th last season) to a full-time Xfinity Series ride in 2017.

What’s more, it’s the first time Stewart-Haas Racing has built an Xfinity team since its formation. While Custer’s father, Joe, is former general manager at SHR (he’s now in a similar position with the organization’s Formula One team), this isn’t a case of nepotism.

No, the younger Custer has earned his way into an Xfinity ride with his talent, and it just so happens that it’s with the same team his father is an executive in.

Custer earned two wins, nine top-fives, 24 top-10s and five poles in 42 Truck races over the last three seasons.

He also made five scattered Xfinity starts in 2016, earning one top-five and a pair of top-10 showings.

But now in 2017, Custer moves up to NASCAR’s junior league – comparable to Minor League Baseball’s highest level, Triple-A.

While such a move may intimidate or be heady for another 19-year-old, it’s not for Custer. He’s been around racing his whole life and is ready to step up to the next level.

Even though he admits there will be some things to get used to, he’s up for the challenge. And with a new team that has a lot of experience among its members, Custer is cool, collected and, most importantly, confident.

“Coming from the Truck Series, it’s a new competition level,” he said Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “I’m going to have to step up a little bit and it’s going to be a different challenge, but I think we can do it and we have a great team.

Custer is so confident in his own skill and his team’s ability that he’s already upgraded his expectations for the season, not fearful to boldly predict that if everything goes right, the new first-year team could wind up winning the Xfinity Series championship.

“I think so,” Custer said. “We have some great people that are smart and capable enough to do it. “At the start of the year, my expectations are a little bit lower, like just being in the top-10. But from what I’ve seen in the off-season, we have some awesome people that will make some fast cars and I think we’ll have a shot at it.”

Admittedly, there have been growing pains within the new team. While some members are SHR mainstays, there are also several new members to the organization. Trying to get them all to gel and mold together has been a challenge at times.

“It’s definitely been tough,” Custer said. “Our guys are working extremely hard right now, getting cars together. I can’t stress enough how hard they’re working.

“You’re creating a fab shop that never hung Xfinity bodies before. You learn how to do that and everything else that goes with it. It’s not easy but we have some awesome people that are really smart and that are going to get it together, so I think we’re going to have a strong team.”

While Custer has a literal luxury of having the minds of several drivers to draw from – including team co-owner Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick – it’s Kevin Harvick that Custer is leaning upon and trying to learn the most from.

“I’ve tried to get most of my advice from Kevin Harvick,” Custer said. “I’ve related to him more since he runs a lot of Truck and Xfinity races, so he can help with that. He’s kind of my go-to guy right now, but there’s a lot of great drivers at Stewart-Haas, so if I get a little information from any of them, I think that would be a great thing.”

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