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Everything is new again for Clint Bowyer in first season with Stewart-Haas Racing

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – This season will be the second reboot for Clint Bowyer in as many years and his enthusiasm for it shined through Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour.

Bowyer bounded onto the stage with a wave.

“Hi everyone, remember me?” Bower asked. “It’s nice to be happy. It’s fun to be happy, believe it or not.”

After a very long season with now-defunct HScott Motorsports, Bowyer will take to the track in the No. 14, driven for the last eight seasons by Tony Stewart.

“A lot of thought really goes into the new season, with a new life, and a new chance, new crack at bat, manufacturer, sponsors, teammates and a new organization,” said Bowyer, who will drive a Ford for the first time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. “What an unbelievable opportunity it is to go out, do what you do, and do it in first-class equipment. That’s all they do, and that’s all they talk about, and that’s all they care about. It’s guys with their heads down working to build cars that win races.”

Four years ago, Bowyer and his team at the time, Michael Waltrip Racing, were caught up in a race manipulation scandal at Richmond International Raceway. Two seasons later, MWR announced it was closing its doors and Bowyer would be without a ride.

Then Bowyer was thrown a really big life-preserver. The native of Emporia, Kansas, was announced as the eventual successor to Stewart, who retired from NASCAR competition after last season.

But before the keys were handed to Bowyer, he had to endure a season with HScott Motorsports. An eight-time winner in the Cup Series, Bowyer went from Daytona to Homestead without a win for the fourth straight season. He drove the No. 15 car to one top five (Bristol I) and three tops 10s. He finished a career-worst 27th in the points.

“At the end of the day, relevancy in this sport is everything, and I’ve lost that a little bit,” Bowyer said last week. “Not a little bit. A lot.’’

Now part of a top-tier team for the first time since his six Cup seasons (2006-11) at Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer is not taking the opportunity for granted 33 days before the Daytona 500.

“Hey, let’s face it, you’re not given anything in this series,” Bowyer said. “It’s very challenging and difficult to win races. You’re only as good as the people around you. From (Mike Bugarewicz) my crew chief to my teammates, the sponsors … everything at Stewart-Haas is all-in to win races.”

And if he wins a race, what will it mean to the driver who hasn’t visited a NASCAR victory lane since 2012?

“Will it be special? You’re damn right it will,” Bowyer said. “The last time I won a race … you headed to the next one wanting to win it. Success makes you hungry for more success. It’s been a while. But I need to re-establish myself as a consistent frontrunner. We need to perfect that … and then win races.”

And the races will look different this year after NACAR on Monday announced new race and points formats for all three national series. All races will be broken into three segments, with points awarded to the top 10 drivers in the first two segments before points are awarded to all drivers at the end of the race.

Bowyer said it wasn’t a “sales pitch” before launching into why he’s satisfied with the new layout of the sport.

“I’ve said for years I believe it’s time to look for some sort of opportunity to break these races up,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of long runs, and I know fans aren’t either. I’m really happy that NASCAR looked at that and decided to make a move, a very bold move … I like protecting the team or teams that dominated the season and even dominated the Chase in years past that didn’t come out victorious in the championship because of a blown tire or something out of their control.”

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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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