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Bump & Run: Is a changing of the guard taking place?

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Parker Kligerman, who will be on NASCAR America from 5:30-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, joins Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in discussing key topics in NASCAR in this week’s Bump & Run.

Six drivers in the top 16 in points are age 26 or younger — Erik Jones (20 years old), Chase Elliott (21), Ryan Blaney (23), points leader Kyle Larson (24), Trevor Bayne (26) and Joey Logano (26). After seven races in the season, is this an official changing of the guard in the Cup series? 

Parker Kligerman: Considering earlier this year when we did this feature, when asked to name a certain driver we had our eye on for 2017, I answered with a group. Specifically the 26-and-under group. Because, no doubt in my mind, this year is a turning point. There are enough uber-talented drivers in cars with astronomical funding levels. It was only logical we would see these young drivers become a conversation point. 

With that said, I do not think the guard has changed yet. Not until we get to the Championship Four, and we are not talking about an eighth championship for J.J., or a second for Brad K., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, or Matt Kenseth, or a first for Denny Hamlin or Martin Truex Jr., but we are talking about how the average age of the Championship Four is far from midlife crisis age, and the 26-and-under drivers are the main contenders. Maybe even the winner. Only than can I say the guard officially has been changed. Right now, the guards are just swapping shifts. 

Nate Ryan: It definitely is evidence that a new era is dawning, but I’m not ready to say the group once known as the “Young Guns” is ready to ride off into the sunset. It’ll be at least a few more years — and several victories, plus maybe a championship — for that youthful crop to have displaced Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth et al. 

Dustin Long: No, it’s not a changing of the guard. Seven races is not enough. Just look at the number of wins those six drivers have combined to score this season: One. That’s not a changing of the guard. Yes, this group is gaining more attention with four of them in the top six in points heading to Bristol, but until they show this type of dominance — and win more often — for a full year will it be a changing of the guard.

The next two weeks feature Cup races at short tracks (Bristol and Richmond). Which driver or team will you be watching closely to see how they fare?

Parker Kligerman: Kyle Busch: I know … How boring! But bear with me: Kyle is EXCEPTIONAL at these two tracks, but his race cars have been nothing of the sort in 2017, aside from Martinsville (a short track). In my time at Kyle Busch Motorsports, it was these two tracks that I watched him very closely and realized I had some serious work to do to be able to consider myself win-worthy. His ability to deal with a very, very loose race car on the entry of the corners is what makes him so good at Richmond. But he can shoulder only so much. Will JGR bring cars worthy of his talent, similar to Martinsville?  

Nate Ryan: Joe Gibbs Racing and in particular Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Either could win at both races, and that would help quell the incessant questions about why JGR has struggled off the starting line in 2018. 

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. He has only one finish better than 10th so far this season. He won at Richmond last fall. I would expect him to run well at both tracks and climb higher in the points. This also could be a chance for him to score some stage points. He has only 14 this season — nine came at Martinsville in the first stage. If Hamlin doesn’t run well in these two races, then it would raise some red flags, especially with how the JGR cars have not been as strong on the bigger tracks. This is a two-race stretch for Hamlin to collect some much-needed points.

Which streak is likely to continue: Hendrick Motorsports is winless in the last three years at Bristol and Richmond; Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last eight races at Bristol and Richmond.

Parker Kligerman: I think HMS stays winless. Odd, I know, to bet against the team that just won the most recent race. But it’s hard for me to feel confident in any car out of that stable except the 48. And I know the 48 has momentum, but from what I saw at Martinsville, there is work to be done. Add in the 24 has not closed one out yet. The 88 seems to be looking for a bit of consistency, and the 5 is still lost. I don’t like the chances of HMS in the next two races.

Nate Ryan: Hendrick Motorsports, though I wouldn’t count out a breakthrough by Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose resurgence at Texas Motor Speedway seemed legitimate. 

Dustin Long: Hard not to go with Hendrick remaining winless at Bristol and Richmond in recent times. I’ll be interested to see how the Hendrick cars do the next couple of weeks since these tracks, particularly Richmond, have not been their best. After some sub-par performances, these tracks are an opportunity for the HMS teams to build some momentum. Question is if they will.

Watch Parker Kligerman on NASCAR America today from 5:30-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Dale Jr’s priorities shifted last season while away from track (video)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is unsure how the rest of his life will look now that he’s made the decision to retire.

On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Greg Biffle and Kyle Petty discussed how Junior’s time away last season prepared him for his retirement decision.

Sponsor expanding its partnership with Danica Patrick’s team

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Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that Code 3 Associates will partner with One Cure initiative for three races on Danica Patrick‘s car this season and that Code 3 Associates will add another race on Patrick’s car.

Code 3 Associates is using its partnership with One Cure, a project led by the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center, will be on Patrick’s car at Kansas Speedway (May 13), the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 20) on All-Star weekend and Aug. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Code 3 Associates will serve as the primary sponsor of Patrick’s car June 25 at Sonoma Raceway.

“We need a new way to find potential cures for cancer, and pets may provide the answer,” said Dr. Rodney Page, director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center. “Cancer is cancer, so what is learned in pets being treated for cancer holds promise to benefit people and vice versa. This approach is known as comparative or translational oncology, and it is the core of the One Cure concept. This partnership helps educate more people about comparative oncology and improves the lives of all cancer patients, whether they have two legs or four.”

“Code 3 Associates has championed animal welfare for more than 25 years, and One Cure allows us to take what’s learned from treating animals that are fighting cancer to people who are fighting the same battle,” added Nan Stuart, founder, Code 3 Associates. “Danica and Stewart-Haas Racing have been strong advocates for animal welfare and this extension of our partnership with them helps more people understand and appreciate One Cure’s mission.”

The car for Kansas will feature the upcoming “Wonder Woman” movie on it. The movie debuts June 2.

 

NASCAR America live at 6 pm on NBCSN: Exclusive Dale Jr. interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6 to 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda hosts from Stamford, Connecticut, along with Kyle Petty and Greg Biffle.

Here’s what’s on today’s show:

* We continue to follow up on Tuesday’s major announcement of Dale Earnhardt’s retirement at the end of this season. One of the biggest elements of today’s show is the exclusive interview our Marty Snider had with Junior. Check out the video above for some of that interview.

 Which drivers in the Cup Series’ current crop of young talent could ultimately replace Earnhardt as the face of the sport?

* Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler also joins the show to share his reaction to yesterday’s news. Sadler joined JR Motorsports last season, but his friendship with the Earnhardt family goes back much farther.

* The next stop on NASCAR America’s My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows tour of the USA is The Bay State: Massachusetts. This state has seen major success recently with its Boston pro sports teams, and it’s also home to one of New England’s premier short tracks, Seekonk Speedway.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Cup season could lead to greater ticket sales

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he will retire from the NASCAR Cup Series after this season could help minimize attendance declines that have become common at tracks.

Asked about the impact Earnhardt could have in the final 28 races of the season, Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., likened Earnhardt to another famous athlete.

“Dale Jr.’s announcement yesterday is significant, it’s similar to when Michael Jordan decided it was time for him to retire from basketball,’’ Smith said Wednesday in a conference call with investor analysts. “The opportunity for fans to see Dale Jr. race one more time is certainly special and something we expect will be inspiring to a lot of fans to come to races.’’

Speedway Motorsports Inc. reported that admissions revenue was down 4.5 percent in the first quarter this year compared to the same time last season. The first quarter covered race weekends for Atlanta and Las Vegas. SMI reported that attendance at Atlanta was “up a little bit” and attendance at Las Vegas was “down a little bit” but did not provide numbers.

Earnhardt will be the fourth major NASCAR driver to leave the Cup series since last year Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart ran their final races last season. Carl Edwards announced before the season that he would not race this year.

International Speedway Corp., which owns tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway, cited the absence of Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt (when he missed the last 18 races of last year) as impacting admission revenue last season.

ISC reported its fourth-quarter admissions revenue was down 9.3 percent last year from the previous season. The company hosted Cup races at Darlington, Richmond, Chicagoland, Kansas, Talladega, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead during that quarter.

“The impact of Jeff Gordon’s retirement was underestimated, which was compounded with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing races throughout the season,’’ said John Saunders, ISC president, in January about one of the reasons for the decline.

Earnhardt’s announcement that this will be his last Cup series already has some fans purchasing or looking to purchase tickets.

Richmond International Raceway reported an increase in interest for this weekend’s race after Earnhardt’s announcement. Richmond also is selling tickets to its fall race weekend. Earnhardt is scheduled to compete in both the Xfinity and Cup races there Sept. 8-9.

The series heads to Talladega next weekend and Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, anticipates more Earnhardt fans showing up.

“If you’re going to go see him one more time, why wouldn’t you go to the track where he runs the best,’’ Lynch said. “We think that’s the a positive for Talladega. He’s always been great at Talladega. It’s an Earnhardt track. I hope folks will take the attitude that ‘Wow, I’ll get two more chances to see him,’ see him next weekend and come see us again in October.’’

The greatest demands for tickets likely will come for races at the end of the season.

Earnhardt’s final Cup race will be Nov. 19 at Homestead. The track is selling three-day weekend packages. Deposits for single-day tickets, which go on sale May 5, are being taken. That race sold out last year.

The week before Homestead, the series races at Phoenix Raceway. The track is in the renewal process for the Nov. 12 race with fall race ticket holders. The track is selling tickets to its new Club 64 section above Turn 1 now. Grandstand tickets and camping go on sale June 2.

The week before Phoenix, the series races at Texas Motor Speedway. The track is selling weekend ticket packages only at this point. The track will sell individual tickets to its fall Cup race in June. A date has yet to be determined but it will come after the June 10 IndyCar race there.

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