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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 67: Darrell Waltrip

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A Drivers Council. A traveling safety team. A charter system to ensure valuation for teams in its premier series.

When Darrell Waltrip, who won championships in 1981, ’82 and ’85, looks around at how NASCAR rapidly has evolved in the 21st century, there is a familiarity to its appearance.

“All the things that are happening today are things that have progressed over the years, they’re things we complained about over the years,” the Fox Sports analyst said during the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Things that we asked for and now they’re finally coming to fruition.”

Waltrip also can relate to the 2017 comeback of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has returned after missing the second half of last season with concussion symptoms.

While practicing for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July 1990, Waltrip suffered a broken arm, leg and concussion in a crash. He missed six races and was out of the car for most of two months before returning with a third at Richmond International Raceway.

Waltrip said his rehabilitation was “more for me than it was for anybody. I wanted to prove to myself that my career wasn’t over, and I could come back and better than I ever had been. And I was. I was in the best shape I’d been in.

“I couldn’t believe the desire I had to get back in the car and race again,” he said. “I missed it so much. I missed the track and missed the people but more than anything else, winning was more important than getting hurt.

“I think that’s where Dale Jr. is. You can’t race and be careful. You’ve got to let it all hang out. If you go in thinking, ‘I’m not going to wreck,’ you’ll get in a wreck.”

Echoing recent comments by Richard Petty, Waltrip said his opinions about Earnhardt Jr.’s recovery were shaped from knowing the 42-year-old virtually since birth.

“He grew up in the sport, and I still call him ‘Junebug,’ ” Waltrip said. “I still see him as a little kid. I watched him grow up and know what a quality guy and great kid he is. He wants to get back in the car, and he’d like to win a championship.

“He’s not going to win seven, but I think if he won, he would think his career would complete. Not that it isn’t complete (now), but I think it would mean a lot to him.”

During the podcast, Waltrip also addressed:

–His offseason left knee replacement (and the 1990 crash at Daytona that started the problems necessitating the first of several surgeries involving his left leg);

–The impact of stage racing on the 2017 season;

–How it felt to wait three years to become a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

You can listen to the 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.

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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