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Newcomer Clint Bowyer is at front of the pack at Stewart-Haas Racing

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Will success spoil Clint Bowyer?

By comparison to the struggles he went through during his forgettable 2016 campaign with HScott Motorsports. Bowyer is having a championship season of sorts in 2017.

In his first six races with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017, Bowyer has one top-five and three top 10s (which equals the number of top 10s he had in all of 2016 with HScott Motorsports).

He also earned his first top-five finish (third at Fontana) in 53 starts, dating back to a fifth at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2015.

Tony Stewart’s successor in the No. 14 Ford is the highest-ranked driver in the Stewart-Haas Racing stable at eighth heading into Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Yep, that’s right. The first-year SHR driver is ahead of teammates Kevin Harvick (10th place), Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch (19th) and Danica Patrick (29th).

The start is a far cry from the way 2016 ended in 27th place.

Bowyer also has been the highest-finishing SHR driver in three of the last four races, a stretch he hopes to extend this weekend with a decent overall record at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway and its totally repaved racing surface.

In 22 starts at the Fort Worth track, Bowyer has yet to win, but he has three top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes. His most recent top-10 was an eighth in spring 2014, and his last top-five was runner-up in spring 2011.

His average finish is 15.5 and average start is 17.4.

But with the TMS repave, all bets are off, Bowyer said.

“Whatever has been the key to success is Texas is probably the opposite of what you will want to do this weekend,” he said in a team media release. “It’s literally a whole new ballgame.”

That can mean just about anything.

Drivers won’t get their first chance to feel out the new surface – which includes a reconfigured Turns 1 and 2 (each cut from 24 to 20 degrees of banking and widened from 55 to 80 feet) – until Friday’s practice session.

While Bowyer is looking forward to return to TMS because it’s one of his favorite tracks on the Cup circuit, the repaving is a whole other matter.

“I’m not a fan of repaves,” he said. “It’s disappointing for everybody, including the tracks, but it was time.

“Tracks are like a bottle of wine in that they age really well. But, at some point, you pop the cork and drink the wine. After you drink it, the bottle is empty and it’s time for something new.”

Part of the impetus for the resurfacing, the second since the track first opened in 1997 (it also was repaved in 2001), were lengthy rain delays that impacted all three NASCAR and IndyCar race weekends last year.

Whatever the new surface throws at Bowyer and the rest of the NASCAR Cup brigade, he’ll be ready.

“In years past, it’s been tire management and finding a groove where you can work, but I really do think that will be all thrown out the window,” Bowyer said. “Now, you will probably need to find the shortest way around the track, which means riding around the bottom will be the fastest way around.”

TMS used to be one of the fastest tracks on the Cup circuit before yielding its unofficial king of speed reputation to other tracks.

“For Texas it’s all about having the sheer speed,” Bowyer said. “On those 1.5-mile tracks, you have to have a car that unloads fast. You can be a little bit tight or a little bit loose but, if that car isn’t making grip, making downforce and having the speed on the racetrack, then you are going to struggle.

“Unloading a fast hot rod right off the truck is going to be so important because you are going to have to qualify well and have that track position to be a contender.”

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Christopher Bell takes pole for tonight’s Xfinity race in Iowa

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Christopher Bell will start from the pole in tonight’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa Speedway. It marks Bell’s first NASCAR Xfinity Series pole in only his second career start in the series.

Bell, who is currently ranked second in the Camping World Truck Series, covered the .875-mile oval with a best lap of 133.305 mph. Kyle Benjamin was a close second (133.294), followed by defending winner Sam Hornish Jr. (133.260), Elliott Sadler (132.990) and Justin Allgaier (132.89).

Sixth through 10th were William Byron (132.520), Dakoda Armstrong (132.286), Brennan Poole (132.186), Matt Tifft (132.059) and Ty Majewski (131.998).

A total of 40 cars made qualifying runs.

Click here for the full qualifying results.

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Carl Edwards surfaces, doesn’t miss racing: ‘I’m enjoying life and it’s good’

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Cancel the APB, take his face off the milk cartons.

Carl Edwards has been found. The former NASCAR Cup star surfaced Saturday at Sonoma Raceway – representing a former sponsor at an event that had been previously scheduled.

Edwards is happy, hale and hearty.

Yet if you think that returning to a racetrack means Edwards will be getting behind the wheel of a race car once again, forget about it.

But he hasn’t lost his wicked sense of humor, either.

“I’ve been talking to a bunch of people and weighing my options — no, just kidding,” he said with a laugh, according to JeffGluck.com.

Then Edwards got serious.

“I haven’t talked to anyone and I haven’t even considered coming back,” Edwards said. “Not right now.

“I think it’s pretty clear if I really want to do something, then I would do it. But like I said in January, I would talk to Coach (Joe Gibbs) first — and I haven’t had any conversations about that.”

Gluck noted that Edwards did write a thank-you note to Gibbs recently that reiterated the opportunity to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing and that the organization supported him when he decided to leave racing after last season.

Given that racing has been part of his life for more than half his life, it was interesting to hear Edwards, who turns 38 in August, say he hasn’t kept up much with NASCAR nor watched many races since he walked away from the sport.

But he is doing some good. He’s continuing to fly medical patients to treatment in his private plane.

Saturday was the first time Edwards has been at a racetrack since Atlanta Motor Speedway in early March.

He then added, per ESPN.com, “I’m probably happier and more content [than in March],” Edwards said. “You know how change is. You make a change, and there always is good and bad and there’s uneasiness. But, man, I’m enjoying life and it’s good.”

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Kyle Larson Express earns second straight pole, Danica Patrick to start sixth

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Kyle Larson continues to lead the way in NASCAR — both literally and figuratively.

The current NASCAR Cup points leader will also start Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at Sonoma Raceway from the pole for the second straight race, having done so in last week’s eventual win at Michigan International Speedway.

“This is cool to get a pole on a road course in my home state,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “This is the closest track to Sacramento and Elk Grove, where I grew up, so lots of friends and family here.”

And to make things even sweeter, Larson (qualified with a field-best speed of 95.295 mph) will start Sunday’s race alongside Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray, who qualified on the outside of the front row with his own effort of 95.204 mph.

“I thought I did a really good job,” McMurray told FS1. “I don’t feel like I gave up, or that there was a corner that stuck out. Overall, it was a really good lap, but Kyle just got a little bit more.”

It was also Larson’s third pole of 2017; he also started from the front at Fontana (where he also won) in March.

Here’s the rest of the top 10 qualifiers:

Row 2: Martin Truex Jr. will start third, alongside Kyle Busch, still searching for his first Cup win since last year’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Row 3: A.J. Allmendinger starts fifth alongside Danica Patrick, who had the best qualifying effort of all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers.

It was Patrick’s best Cup qualifying effort since starting fourth at Charlotte in May 2014, and her third-best Cup qualifying effort ever. It also marked the sixth time since she joined SHR that she out-ran all of her teammates, per RacingInsights.com.

“I feel like I can drive this place in my sleep just because I’ve driven so many laps here over the years,”Patrick told FS1. “Man, I hope Sunday’s good and everything falls right. It’s great, it’s nice, it’s been a tough go of it this year. It feels good to have a good starting spot and let’s hope we start clean and have a smooth day.”

Row 4: Ryan Blaney will start seventh, next to Chase Elliott, who was forced to go to backup car after wrecking in practice Friday.

Row 5: Chris Buescher starts ninth, his best career qualifying effort, alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Only 38 cars are qualified for Sunday’s race. Matt Kenseth didn’t get an attempt in Saturday, so he’ll start from the back of the pack.

Click here for the full qualifying field results.

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Trevor Bayne: ‘The hardest it’s ever been to leave home to come to the race track’

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Yes, Trevor Bayne wants to win, but he can’t wait to get back home after Sunday’s race and see his family and newborn son.

“This was probably the hardest it’s ever been to leave home to come to the race track,’’ Bayne told reporters Saturday before qualifying at Sonoma Raceway.

His son, Levi Jensen Bayne, was born June 20 after a challenging birth.

Bayne and wife Ashton went to the hospital at 6 a.m. on June 19 to induce so their son would be born before Bayne left for this weeknd’s Cup race in Northern California.

Hours later, the baby still hadn’t arrived.

“We induced Monday at 6 a.m. and at midnight still hadn’t had a baby,’’ Bayne said. “She labored all day, and he kind of stopped progressing. I guess … at about 8 o’clock that night, the nurse was checking to see how dilated she was and he grabbed her hand. His hand was above his head and grabbed the nurse and she freaked out. She moved his hand and thought that would helped him progress. At midnight that hadn’t happened. So they decided to do a C-section.

“It’s so hard when you love somebody and you want the best for them, but you’re not in control. Not being in control in the operating room was wearing me out. I just had to keep going back and praying and saying, ‘Lord, I trust you, you’ve brought us this far and whatever good you have for us, I’m going to leave him in your hands.’

“They got (Levi) out and gave him to me, and Ashton was like falling asleep in the middle of it. I couldn’t watch them do the incision, but I watched them sew her back up and that was probably a bad idea. She’s tough, I’ll tell you that much. They found (Levi’s) umbilical cord was around his neck and that’s why he didn’t progress, so it’s a really good thing they did the C-section.

“The next day .. we brought our little girl (18-month-old Elizabeth Kate Bayne) in and she was loving on him and smiling like crazy. Ashton obviously was recovering. This was probably the hardest it’s ever been to leave home to come to the race track. Thursday morning, we left the hospital at 7:30, got home and spent two hours getting them sorted, and I had to leave to fly here. I wanted to stay home. Offseason babies are awesome because you can stay home for a couple of months.

“Everybody is good. Can’t wait to get home to them.’’

Before he does, he has Sunday’s race. Bayne enters this weekend 18th in the points. His best finish is 23rd in two previous races at Sonoma.

Loaded em up and got them all home! Now it gets real! @ashtonbayne lookin good 2 days after birth!

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