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Kasey Kahne on recent turnaround: “We’re all enjoying (racing) again”

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TALLADEGA, Ala. – Kasey Kahne has again found the enjoyment that comes with being a racecar driver.

“It’s fun to drive (the cars),” Kahne told NBC Sports about how well the No. 5 team has been performing lately. “It’s great to work with everybody right now and we’re all enjoying (racing) again.”

In the last 10 races, Kahne has earned six top-10 finishes, including a season-best third place at Charlotte Motor Speedway two weeks ago. Kahne has been noticeably happier around the Sprint Cup Series garage while praising Hendrick Motorsports for the cars the organization has been bringing to the racetrack.

It’s a much different scene from the first half of the season. With just six top-10 finishes in the first 17 races, including one DNF, Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden struggled to find a common balance. The areas the team worked in didn’t translate to any improvements. Kahne failed to make the Chase for the second consecutive year.

Then suddenly, the team hit on it.

“They’ve all been working in the right areas, which you can work really hard in other areas and not always make those gains but for whatever reason, this swing at it the guys have worked in all the right areas,” Kahne said. “They’ve all worked together, put their heads together and figured where we were lacking and how we need to be better. And we’re still getting better each week, still improving, which is great, especially this time of year for Jimmie (Johnson) and Chase (Elliott), who are battling for a championship. To still have the cars being improved is incredible.”

When asked in what specific areas the team worked to find improvements, Kahne noted the biggest difference didn’t have to do with the car at all. Yes, he admits, Hendrick Motorsports has found more speed, but his group of guys has also worked hard at being better together. That includes the communication between engineers and the crew chiefs and the trust they have in what Kahne is saying.

“Things that we didn’t have early in the year and we’ve been building, making better each week for the last seven or eight,” Kahne said.

That includes the relationship between Kahne and Rodden. Kahne admits it took time for the two to get on the same page. Rodden analyzed things one way. Kahne communicated things in another. There was also a certain feel the driver was looking for.

“So it took some time to get that trust in each other and the direction we need to go and both of us be behind one another,” Kahne said. “Not just him being behind me, but me being behind him, and that goes along with our engineers, as well.”

Now, Kahne says he and Rodden talk every day, every week. While he has yet to lead a lap this season, Kahne has nine consecutive top-15 finishes, which lead the series. His average finish since Bristol in late August has been 9.0, which is second-best in the series.

Kahne considers it being back on a high. The team survived the low, which he said goes back to last year, and stayed together. It makes it more fun, Kahne said, to make the improvements they have. The goal is to end the year on this high and build toward 2017.

With his contract at Hendrick Motorsports expiring at the end of the 2018 season, Kahne stated in August if he hasn’t performed by then, he would “need to leave.” Kahne stands by his statement, but that doesn’t mean he’s put any additional pressure on himself.

“That’s why I’m here,” Kahne said. “I’m racing in the Sprint Cup Series to perform and to do well and to be at Hendrick Motorsports you have that opportunity because Mr. (Hendrick) gives it to us. There were times we were maybe a little behind as a company, but overall, everything’s right there and it’s how we take it and what we do with it as a team. We’ve been doing a much better with it. If we keep doing this, then our performance is going to keep improving and we’ll be winning races again and everybody’s going to be happy.”

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NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

Long: Hall of Fame moment is special for father and son

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CHARLOTTE — Sleep has not come easy for Doug Yates in some time.

It has only gotten worse lately.

He can’t stop thinking of his father, Robert, who battles liver cancer. Robert has undergone chemotherapy, but at one point doctors said they weren’t sure what how to treat the 74-year-old former NASCAR team owner and engine builder who was selected to the 2018 Hall of Fame Class on Wednesday.

That helpless feeling of not solving a problem counters what Robert and Doug have done all their lives. If there was an issue with an engine, they worked harder and longer until they fixed the matter.

This they can’t.

While Robert Yates undergoes experimental treatments, Doug is there to help take care of his father. There are bad days, Doug says, wincing.

“What I see is a man who is broken down and built back up because he is watching his father,’’ said Whitney Yates, Doug’s wife. “Sometimes (Robert) is so sick he can’t do anything and Doug is there.’’

They are more than father and son. They share a treasured relationship not every boy and his dad experiences, their bonds woven early and strengthened with each day together.

Doug fondly recalls sleeping on a cot in a race shop when he was about 5 years old while his father worked on an engine through the night. They traveled to races together. Doug reminisces of a trip to Richmond where his father, tired from work, told his son, then 12, to take the wheel while he slept. Yet, when a deer ran across their path, it was Robert who asked his son if he saw that.

They often went to the race shop together. Although family, Robert was still the boss. He would be hard on his son at times, but Doug cherishes even those memories.

Robert was only teaching his son what it took to succeed. Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett won two Daytona 500s and Davey Allison won another for Robert Yates Racing. Jarrett won the 1999 Cup championship with the team. As an owner, Robert Yates won 57 Cup races and 48 poles.

Now, Doug is the boss. He oversees the “vision” his father had of the Roush Yates Engines shop, which powered Kurt Busch to a Daytona 500 win and Ford teams to four other victories in the season’s first 11 races.

“He wants to make (his dad) proud,’’ Whitney said of Doug. “He’s always trying so hard.

“Doug is always moving the bar. I think Robert is so proud of that.’’

While Doug does what he can for his father and the family business, he couldn’t control what happened at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The past three years Robert, Doug and the rest of the family came to the Hall of Fame to see if Robert would be selected. Five are chosen each year. Robert ranked sixth in votes received twice, just missing enshrinement.

Robert Yates reacts after he is announced to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Each time, Robert said the voting panel got it right.

“Selfishly, I didn’t think so, but he did,’’ Doug said. “That was a lesson for me. Everything happens for a reason.’’

As Wednesday approached, Doug Yates’ anxiety grew. It was worse Wednesday morning and throughout the day.

As Doug walked into Hall of Fame, ahead of his father, he conceded he was “nervous.’’

He also was prepared.

Doug stocked multiple tissues in the pockets of his slacks.

“If he didn’t make it, I was going to break down,’’ Doug said of his father making the Hall of Fame. “If he did, I was going to break down.’’

Robert also felt nervous.

“If I don’t get in,’’ Robert told himself before the announcement, “that’s the reason to work real hard to be here next year to get in.’’

The family didn’t have to wait long to celebrate.

Robert Yates, who received 94 percent of the vote, was announced first.

“Wow,’’ Doug said. “I’m glad that’s over.’’

His father, sitting a row in front of Doug, reached back. Doug leaned forward. They held hands. 

After that it was a matter of relishing what had happened as four other men — Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ken Squier and Ron Hornady Jr. — were selected to join Robert Yates in the next Hall of Fame Class.

Doug stay composed throughout. He wiped his eyes once.

When the ceremony ended, Robert Yates reached his arm around wife Carolyn and embraced her.

“My family means so much to me because they allowed me to work night and day,’’ Robert Yates said. “Do I love engines? Yes, whether one cylinder, two cylinders, six or 12 or 24. I love engines.’’

That passion led him to this moment.

“I feel like I could take a jack,’’ said the former jackman.

“I don’t know if I’ll sleep tonight.’’

Doug Yates will.

His father will be in the Hall of Fame.

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