How a two-week head start on the title race affords a better choice for Jimmie Johnson

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FORT WORTH, Texas – While the competition renews its battle for the three remaining championship berths this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson’s team is two weeks ahead of the game.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion, who advanced to the title round for the first time with Sunday’s victory at Martinsville Speedway to open the Round of 8, said the head-start is affording Hendrick Motorsports more wisdom in choosing its No. 48 Chevrolet for the Nov. 20 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“(The Martinsville win) has given us some flexibility,” Johnson said Wednesday during a media availability in Charlotte. “The car we raced in Darlington and a new car we built are both going back to the wind tunnel, and we’ll let the wind tunnel determine which one goes. It’s given us a little time to complete a second car and make a decision between those two.”

Johnson also triumphed at Charlotte Motor Speedway to open the Round of 12. Locking up a berth through the races at Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway allowed more tuning on his car at Martinsville, where he won at the 0.526-mile oval track for the first time in three years.

“I think it helps,” he said. “The freedom we had to not worry about Talladega opened up some extra time to prep for Martinsville. That’s what I’ve seen so far this week. We did our Tuesday debrief, and we couldn’t get through the Texas prep quick enough because we’re all here to talk about Homestead.

“We stayed long and talked about Homestead, and that led to more conversations (Tuesday) night. So instead of obsessing over (the next two races at) Texas and Phoenix — we’re definitely giving it time and attention — but the obsession is about Homestead. If we can just get a day or two ahead or a few steps ahead and be that much more prepared, the better.”

Johnson, who still could be considered the favorite Sunday at Texas having won the AAA 500 in four consecutive seasons, has no preference on his three opponents in the championship round but jokes he will enter as the underdog at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His average finish of 14.1 at the 1.5-mile track ranks fourth among remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers.

But perhaps the reason Johnson hasn’t won at Miami is because he rarely has entered the race needing a victory. In his first four championships, he was protecting a points lead and finished ninth, seventh 15th and fifth.

“The thing that’s hard is you’re so damn nervous, especially when you’re protecting,” he said. “The fact you run so close to the wall at Homestead when you’re protecting something, you’re so nervous that you’re going to (damage the) right side (of) the car.

“I think the cars were better than (the results). I’m not sure they were dominant cars, but they were better. I was driving around a little concerned, a little scared.”

This is the first time Johnson will contend for the title since the playoff structure was altered in 2014, awarding the championship to the best finish of four contenders at Miami.

The last two instances in which Johnson entered the finale trailing in the standings, Johnson he finished second in 2010 (winning his fifth championship) and led 25 laps in 2012 before a gear failure.

“That was our most competitive race there,” he said. “I’m certainly believing we can race for it. You have to. I think you have to win to win (the championship).”

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: New Jersey

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After a week of NASCAR America returns today with the next edition of “50 States in 50 Show,” with a look at the state of New Jersey, which is the home of Martin Truex Jr., Hall of Fame nominee Ray Evernham and the subject of today’s segment, Wall Stadium Speedway.

The 1/3-mile speedway is located in Wall Township, which is about 40 miles east of the Trenton.

Evernham called into NASCAR America to discuss the track, which has been hosting races since 1950.

“Growing up on the Jershey shore, there was a lot of stock-car racing in that area,” Evernham said. “That was a pavement track and it was a Saturday night place to go. .. The racing was great. It’s because of the banked track. There was a lot of dirt tracks and flatter tracks around there, but at the time Wall promoted that it was banked just like Daytona (International Speedway).”

Watch the video for more from Evernham, Truex about the track.



NASCAR America: Aric Almirola recounts Kansas crash that caused back injury

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Last Saturday, Aric Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports announced Almirola would miss at least eight to 12 weeks with a T5 compression fracture in his back. The injury is a result of a violent three-car accident the previous weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Following the announcement, Almirola sat down with NASCAR America to gives his account of the accident. The interview can be watched in the above video.

MORE: Almirola’s greatest pain is not being able to fulfill children’s wishes

Following Almirola’s account, NASCAR America analysts Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty discussed the accident and the state of safety in the sport today.

With the many years his family has been in the sport and the tragedies it has experienced seen, including the death of his son Adam Petty in a 2000 Busch Series practice session at New Hampshire Motor speedway, Kyle Petty said Almirola’s accident hits “close to home.”

“When you’ve been in the seat and another family trusts you to take care of their son or their husband or their father, whatever it may be, and it’s our responsibility to look after Aric,” Petty said. “We talk about frontal impacts, we talk about rear impacts, we talk about side impacts. There’s been so much written and spoken about concussion. … But how many times do you see a car fall out of the air? You can’t cover everything. That’s what NASCAR continues to look at, that’s what we all continue to look at. But this sport is never, ever, ever, ever going to be completely safe.”

Watch the rest of the video below for all of Petty and Kligerman’s thoughts on the Almirola and safety in NASCAR.

Ryan Blaney to drive Kyle Petty’s 1987 paint scheme in Southern 500

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The countdown to this years’ throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway began Monday with Ryan Blaney revealing his retro paint scheme on NASCAR America.

With the help of NBC Sports analysts Kyle Petty, Blaney announced his No. 21 Ford will have Petty’s 1987 paint scheme in the Sept. 3 Southern 500, which will air on NBCSN.

This is the third year for NASCAR’s throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway

Kyle Petty’s Ford Thunderbird from the 1987 season. Source: Wood Brothers Racing.

Petty drove for Wood Brothers Racing from 1985-88, when he earned two of his eight Cup wins with the team and scored 19 top five and 48 top-10 finishes. He placed in the top 10 in points in three of his four seasons with the Wood Brothers.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Petty’s win in the Coca-Cole 600.

Blaney will be making his third start in the Southern 500. His best finish in his first two starts was 13th last season.

“When he was with us, Kyle used to build his own aluminum seats,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said in  press release.. “He won a total of eight Cup races. He’s a talented singer and guitar player. He’s done great work with the Victory Junction Camp and the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, and he’s an excellent TV commentator.

“Kyle can do anything he wants to do. He’s that talented. We’re happy to have his name back on our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion for the Southern 500 at Darlington.”

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See the characters NASCAR drivers will voice in ‘Cars 3’

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Last February it was announced that NASCAR drivers Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr. would lend their voices to Pixar’s new movie Cars 3.

Now it’s less than a month from the film’s June 16 release date.

While the character’s names were part of the February announcement, NASCAR revealed the character designs Monday afternoon on Twitter.

Blaney’s character is Ryan Inside Laney.

Wallace’s character is Bubba Wheelhouse

Elliott’s character is Chase Racelott

Suarez’s character is Danny Swervez.

The animated movie will also feature the voices of Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty, Ray Evernham, Humpy Wheeler, Mike Joy and Shannon Spake.

Richard Petty and and Waltrip were voices in the original Cars (2006) in addition to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mario Andretti.

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