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Big steps: Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones have best Cup career finishes

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Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones on Sunday took the biggest steps yet in their budding NASCAR Cup careers.

The Cup rookies and Toyota drivers both earned career-best finishes – both top-10 showings – in NASCAR’s premier series.

Suarez finished seventh, while Jones was right behind in eighth in the Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

It was Suarez’s fourth Cup race, all in 2017, while it was Jones’ seventh career Cup start (four in 2017, three in 2015).

“It’s a big deal because in the last two races we have struggled,” Suarez said. “We didn’t have the speed and the communication wasn’t great, but we’ve been working very hard trying to work on chemistry, communication and for sure we’ve been getting better.

“(Saturday) in the last practice, in the happy hour, I felt very good about the car. I feel like we were going to have a shot to have some fun in the race and I wasn’t wrong. The team did a very good job.”

Suarez’s finish was helped immensely by a lightning-fast pit stop to take two tires.

“The guys did an amazing job,” Suarez said. “They just did exactly what they had to do: a fast pit stop, two tires and the car was almost as good as four tires.”

Jones, meanwhile, had an inkling heading into Sunday’s race that a strong finish was potentially in the cards.

“We had it kind of coming here in the last couple of weeks,” Jones said. “We just had a few issues to iron out whether it be on pit road or on the race track. Just bad circumstances.

“Finally, everything kind of played out the way we needed it to. Didn’t quite work out at the end the way we were hoping. … We felt like we had a fifth place Camry but it just wasn’t in the cards. Good restart at the end, and we got back up to the top 10.”

Jones may have had a bit of an edge in Sunday’s race because he was among 13 teams that tested at Phoenix in early February.

“I think it helped a lot,” Jones said of the test. “It was able to at least give us a good baseline to start with.

“I think every time we start coming back to these tracks for the second time we’re just going to be that much better and that much stronger. It was a big deal. I hope we test somewhere else this year for sure.”

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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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