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Alliance brought success and mistrust: ‘There were times teams thought we were fibbing’

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Rodney Childers called Kenny Francis last week, and the longtime friends who worked together a decade ago at Evernham Motorsports had a typically pleasant conversation.

But there are limits now to what topics can be broached between Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, and Francis, the former crew chief for Kasey Kahne who was moved to Hendrick’s technical director in 2014.

Since Stewart-Haas Racing’s announcement nearly a year ago about switching to Ford this season, its dynamics have changed with Hendrick, which had supplied Chevrolet chassis and engines to SHR for several years. After the announcement in February 2016, Hendrick continued to supply chassis and engines to Stewart-Haas last season but stopped sharing setup data.

“One reason I came here (to Stewart-Haas) was the relationship with Hendrick and Kenny Francis,” Childers said during the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “That led me to being here. All of that has always been good. Kenny and I are good friends and always will be.  On the other hand, we don’t like to be outrun, (and) they don’t like to be outrun.”

It was Stewart-Haas that had been outrunning Hendrick more often the last few seasons since Childers and Harvick were paired as a championship duo in 2014.

Last fall, Jimmie Johnson said the formidable pairing of Childers and Harvick “changed the game” and made Hendrick question whether it still was sensible to share setup data with a rival.

During last week’s podcast, Childers said the teams’ successes inherently created an atmosphere of mistrust at times.

“There were times it worked good,” Childers said. “Other times, other (Hendrick) teams thought we were fibbing about our notes, and we thought they were fibbing about their notes.

“It ends up just being a headache. We tried to always focus on the team and car.”

But when it worked well, the partnership could be unstoppable for both sides. Childers recalled an instance in which he duplicated the No. 48 Chevrolet’s setup in Harvick’s car at Dover International Speedway (where Johnson has a record 10 victories).

“We had the splitter heights wrong, and (Johnson crew chief) Chad (Knaus) was nice enough to send a sim file,” Childers said. “Next thing, we were fastest in (final practice). Those things happen.”

In the 2014 Southern 500 won by Harvick, Johnson used the No. 4’s setup after qualifying 26th.

“Halfway through, we’re leading, and they came from the back to second,” Childers said with a laugh. “They’re getting ready to outrun us with our setup.

“I liked the relationship. I thought it was fine. Some didn’t like it. Those (Hendrick) guys were great to me. It didn’t matter if it was the engine, chassis or whatever. No one treated me bad.”

In its switch to Ford this year, SHR has started building its own chassis, which made for a difficult transition but should allow more long-term autonomy.

“We’ve got to stand on our own two feet,” Childers said. “If I want a different chassis built, it’s easier to do that. We’ve got designers to do that and get it made and not share it with the rest of the world. Hopefully, it all works out.”

You can listen to the NASCAR on NBC podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Knaus will be the featured guest on Wednesday’s episode of the podcast.

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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