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Five drivers to watch at Talladega

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Although Talladega Superspeedway can be unpredictable, here are five drivers you should not keep an eye off of this weekend.

Brad Keselowski

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. absent, Keselowski has taken the mantle of top restrictor-plate racer in the Sprint Cup Series. His five plate wins since 2009 are the most of any driver, and he’s won the last two plate races. And who can forget his clutch victory in the 2014 Talladega Chase race when he was 19 points below the cut line? He’s only seven points back this time around.

 Austin Dillon

His advancement out of the Round of 16 was a surprise to some. But an advance out of the Round of 12 wouldn’t be. He’s still looking for his first Sprint Cup win, but Dillon’s been a solid competitor on plate tracks. Not only is he one of two Chasers with top-10 finishes in all 3 plate races this season, his career average finish on plate tracks (14.46) is second all-time only to Dale Earnhardt.

 Kyle Busch

The other Chaser with top 10s in all three plate races this season? That would be Busch, who’s posted finishes of third, second, and second in those events. Additionally, his 4.8 average finish in the Chase is the best among the 12 remaining drivers. But we all remember what happened to him at Talladega in 2014 when he seemingly was set to advance to the next round and didn’t after getting collected in a crash. Nothing is a given.

Matt Kenseth

Not far behind Busch on Chase performance is his teammate Kenseth, who’s posted an average finish of 5.4 during the playoffs. He’s a past winner at Talladega (2012 Chase race), but he hasn’t finished better than 14th in a plate race since the start of the 2015 season. Like Busch, Kenseth stands a good chance of making the Championship at Miami – if he can survive this weekend.

 Martin Truex Jr.

Truex comes to Talladega with a 13-point cushion, but gremlins have hurt him so far in the Round of 12 (clutch problems at Charlotte, fuel system issues at Kansas). He can ill afford to have another setback. He’s one of five Chase drivers who have never won a plate race in the Sprint Cup Series.

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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