Photo courtesy Stewart-Haas Racing

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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

NASCAR America’s Jarrett, Letarte, Petty recap 2017, make 2018 predictions

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The 2017 NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series seasons have only been over for a few days.

And while it’s understandable that on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Steve Letarte, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty reflected back on the recently completed race seasons, they also took a very bold move:

The new season is still three months away, but our analyst team is ALREADY making predictions for 2018.

We don’t want to spoil the surprise or show their hands. If you want to hear how they’re already viewing 2018, click on the video above.

Justin Hartley from NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ on Dale Jr.’s special bond with fans

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Even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now officially retired as a NASCAR Cup driver, the special bond between the former driver of the 88 will likely never go away.

Sure, Alex Bowman is replacing Junior in the 88, which will likely pick up some of Junior Nation to cheer for him. Others will gravitate to cheer for other drivers, perhaps youngsters William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and others.

But one thing is for certain: once a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation, ALWAYS a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation.

Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin on NBC’s top-rated “This Is Us,” is proud to call himself a card carrying member of Junior Nation. In the video above, Hartley shows what it’s like to be a Dale Jr. fan, what the third-generation driver meant to so many people for so many years, and how his legacy will continue on for decades to come.

Check out the video above to see what Junior Nation is all about, as well as thoughts from our NBC analysts, Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett.

NASCAR America: Nate Ryan on how 78 rode roller coaster to Cup crown

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If the 2017 NASCAR Cup season was an amusement park ride, it definitely would be a roller coaster for Martin Truex Jr., crew chief Cole Pearn and the rest of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team.

Up and down the season went, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

There was adversity on the track and tragedy off the track, with Pearn losing his best friend to a freakish infection, and team member Jim Watson passing away in Kansas one day before the Cup race that Truex would go on to win and dedicate to his fallen teammate.

And through it all, Truex and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex dealt with the recurrence of ovarian cancer with strength, inspiration and fortitude.

The 78 team’s dedication, sticking to the plan and rallying together as a family was the difference.

NBC Sports’ and NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan presented a touching pre-race tribute to Truex and his team before Sunday’s race. On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, Ryan gave an updated version of that tribute, capping it off with the best way possible: recalling how Truex and the 78 team won it all.

Check out the video above to see Nate’s touching piece.

 

Scan All: Miami — the best from the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400

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This week’s Scan All: Miami combined not only regular scanner traffic from team radios during Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, but also studio cut-ins of Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn talking about their road to the Cup championship.

Here’s some of the best exchanges:

Martin Truex Jr. on coming into the race: “I felt good all weekend, I really did. I was relaxed and knew that no matter what happened, we had a great season and a lot to be proud of and a lot to build upon for the future.”

Truex on his team radio just before the green flag: “We’ve been working a long time to get here. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of you guys and what you’ve done. Thank you for an unbelieveable season. Let’s cap it off tonight.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. just before the green flag: “I just want to thank everybody that’s had an impact on my career. I’ve made friendships and relationships that’ll last a lifetime, and I’m just so thankful for that.”

Aric Almirola on his last start for Richard Petty Motorsports: “King, if you’re on the air, thanks for that phone call six years ago. It’s been a lot of fun driving this 43 car.”

Crew chief Darian Grubb to Kasey Kahne on his final start with Hendrick Motorsports: “I know it’s an emotional day for everybody. I’m proud to be able to call you teammate and even more proud to be able to continue to call you friend after this, bud.”

Kahne’s reply (while holding back tears): “Thank you guys for everything, man.”

Kahne’s spotter, Kevin Hamlin, to Grubb: “Man, you’ve got to make him cry before we go green?”

Cole Pearn on Kyle Larson getting a run: “The 42 is running the wall. He’s hauling ass.”

Clayton Hughes, spotter for Truex: “How about this, Martin Truex Jr., you are the champion, baby!”

Truex in studio cut-in on winning championship: “It was our time. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was our time. Sometimes, things are meant to be.”

Check out the whole Scan All segment in the video above.