Photo courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway

Byron, Custer, Gallagher wrap up two-day Xfinity test at Atlanta

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A two-day test that featured three promising young drivers who will be racing full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the first time this season, ended Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

William Byron, Cole Custer and Spencer Gallagher, who all jumped to the Xfinity Series after previously having competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, welcomed the opportunity to learn about one of the sport’s most well-known race tracks.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Portraits
William Byron (Photo Getty Images)

Byron, who won seven races in a Truck last season and was named the series’ rookie of the year, is now in the JR Motorsports fold.

“It’s great to know they’ve had that history and I know they bring good race cars to the racetrack,” said Byron, who will drive the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports. “Every time that you know you’re going to sit in something that’s going to be successful, that definitely makes it exciting.”

As for the new racing format being brought to NASCAR this year, featuring three stages to a race, Byron is looking forward to it.

“I think it’s going to be new for all of us, but I think it’s going to make it more exciting,” Byron said. “There’s going to be more on the line early in the race, so you definitely have to push yourself to get those segment wins and try to get some bonus points.”

Cole Custer
Cole Custer (Getty Images)

Custer, meanwhile, will highlight Stewart-Haas Racing’s first foray into the Xfinity Series. While there likely will be a learning curve for both Custer and his team, he’s confident that things will fall into place quickly.

“I think we have some really great people and a lot of great resources with Ford and at Stewart-Haas, so I think we’re going to have some awesome cars and we’re going to see what happens,” Custer said.

With three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart as team co-owner, along with former Cup champs Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, as well as Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick, Custer has a strong group of drivers to learn from.

“They’ve kind of volunteered,” said Custer, who will drive the No. 00 Ford Mustang. “Kevin has tried to help me a little bit. He’s definitely one of the greatest ones to ask because he’s run so many Xfinity races. He’s also been awesome in the Cup series. He’s obviously one I really want to talk to.”

Spencer Gallagher
Spencer Gallagher (Getty Images)

Gallagher, who will drive the No. 23 Chevrolet Camaro for GMS Racing, will have fond memories of his previous tenure in the Truck series.

“I’m certainly going to miss running around in the Camping World Truck Series,” he said. “But being able to get into these Xfinity cars and show the series what GMS Racing has to offer is a real opportunity and privilege for me. I cherish that and look forward to it.”

While he’ll be at Daytona for the Xfinity Series season opener on Feb. 25, Gallagher values the two days he had at Atlanta because it will be more like the other tracks he’ll be racing on for most of the season.

“Plate racing is really its own gig,” Gallagher said. “The first time you come to Atlanta, to an intermediate track, one of the styles you’re going to be running the rest of the year, that’s where you see a lot of people’s programs are really shaken out.”

The Xfinity Series races at Atlanta on Saturday, March 4 in the Rinnai 250, part of a doubleheader that day that also includes the Active Pest Control Camping World Truck Series. The Folds of Honor Quick Trip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Series race takes place on Sunday, March 5.

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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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