JGR juggernaut’s toughest challenges could come from within

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Car owner Joe Gibbs says it gets easier for his team now.

Really.

All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars advanced to the Round of 8 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Never has an organization held half the remaining eight spots in the Chase since the elimination-style format debuted in 2014.

“I think from here on out, it’s pretty easy,’’ Gibbs said of managing four teams as they race for a title. “Everybody is geared up and is going for a win. That’s the game plan.’’

In others words, it should be just like what it has been all season.

Of course, with more at stake, more than fenders can be bruised among teammates — just look at Kevin Harvick confronting teammate Kurt Busch after Sunday’s race on pit road.

Remember, Carl Edwards bumped Kyle Busch out of the way on the last lap to win at Richmond in the spring. If it can happen then, what’s not to say it couldn’t happen now?

“We compete hard,’’ Edwards said of racing teammates in the upcoming round. “We work hard beforehand to help each other prepare. We battle hard on the racetrack. If we can keep it at the level we’ve had all year, it’s going to be great. There’s no reason all four of these cars can’t be in the race at Homestead.’’

But can four teams truly survive each other to make it to Miami in less than a month?

“You hope that the racing doesn’t change,’’ Matt Kenseth said. “I think it’s just business as usual.’’

Just as challenging could be what this means for the other four teams vying for the championship. Joe Gibbs Racing’s four teams have combined to win 11 of 32 races this season. JGR cars already have won this season at the next two tracks — Busch won at Martinsville and Texas in the spring.

Left to compete against the JGR cars for the title are Harvick and Kurt Busch for Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson and Team Penske’s Joey Logano. They have combined for 10 wins this season.

Logano’s car owner, Roger Penske, isn’t worried about facing all four Gibbs cars with just one car left in the Chase.

“They’re going to be fighting each other, which is important,’’ Penske told NBC Sports. “Quite honestly, how do you keep all four of those guys under the roof, where we have all of our efforts on Joey and certainly Brad (Keselowski) will do everything he can to help him.

“We’ve raced these guys all year long. They’ve been tough. Jimmie Johnson, don’t count him out. Kurt Busch … we know is a heck of a driver, and Harvick is probably one of the best.’’

Johnson, Harvick and Logano each won in the last round. A Joe Gibbs Racing driver hasn’t won in the first six races of the Chase. The team’s last victory was by Hamlin at Richmond, the final race before the playoffs began.

Even so, Busch and Kenseth both were the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the first five Chase races. That streak ended Sunday when they joined Edwards in riding at the back all day at Talladega. Kenseth was 28th, Edwards 29th and Busch 30th.

That’s all they needed to do to advance. Now, it will take much more, and they could be racing teammates for the final transfer spot.

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. While still in the rumor stage, there’s a lot of talk that IMS may change the race to something akin to its Verizon IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix race in mid-May, where half the race is run on the infield road course and the other half on the traditional racetrack surface.

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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