Chase favorite? It’s easy to pick … or is it?

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The Round of 8 has yet to run its first race and half the championship field is all but set some would believe. 

Shortly after Jimmie Johnson won earlier this month at Charlotte, expectations increased that he would make it to Miami because this round sets up so well for him, beginning with Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway on NBCSN.

Then, the thinking goes, Kevin Harvick, will make it to Miami for a third consecutive year because of his dominance at Phoenix, figuring he’ll win there next month for the seventh time in the last nine races.

Such an outlook leaves Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch fighting for the final two spots.

“You can go off of numbers as much as you want, and they’re there for a reason, but what you’ve done in the past doesn’t predict what’s going to happen in the future as much as you think in this sport,’’ Logano said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. “You never know what is going to happen.’’

Even if it is Johnson in this round?

It’s hard to ignore Johnson’s success at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix.

— He’s won eight times at Martinsville.

— He’s won the last four Texas fall races.

— He has 17 top-10 finishes at Phoenix in his last 22 starts, including four wins.

“You just cannot take anything for granted,’’ said Johnson, noting how an inexpensive part eliminated him in last year’s Chase. “Sure they are great tracks, sure we expect to be competitive, but if you have a bad race at one of the three, and you don’t win, you aren’t going to make it. 

“You need to have three clean ones or win. Three top threes or three top fives to advance with points, I believe. It’s no lay up by any means.’’

Even with that belief, Johnson admits that things are different this time. He said Friday that “this Chase has such a different feeling than Chase’s I’ve won in the past.’’

What’s so different?

“There are eight guys on the table, and then it goes down to four with equal points at Homestead,” he said, noting that in Chases he’s won the list of contenders was much less at this point.“You can’t build a feeling or pick a favorite. It is fun to do, and it creates conversation, but it is impossible to truly pick a favorite at this point.”

Logano, who is coming off a win at Talladega last weekend, is confident his team can be that favorite.

We talk about pressure a lot in the Chase, and a lot of teams crack under it,’’ Logano said. “I believe the 22 team thrives under it. I think we’re excited about that, and I think it’s something that makes us strong. These are three good race tracks for us as well. We’ve won at Texas before (2014). We’ve come close here. Phoenix, we’ve been consistently in the top five, so I think there are three good racetracks to help us get to the next round, and honestly, we don’t think about what other teams have. 

“We think about what makes them strong at each track, but the fact that we can’t go out there and beat them, we know we can do that. We know we can come out here and win all three of these races, so we know we can do that. We’ll go out there and try to.  You have to have an attitude like that or you shouldn’t even strap into the seat.”

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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