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From cap and gown to helmet and firesuit, today will be memorable for Austin Cindric

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CONCORD, N.C. — Austin Cindric will walk across a stage to receive his diploma and then walk into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage shortly afterward this morning.

“Off to the real world,’’ Cindric said.

The 18-year-old driver for Brad Keselowski Racing will graduate from Cannon School, a college preparatory school, and then make the short drive to Charlotte Motor Speedway for tonight’s Truck race. Today also is his mother’s birthday.

Cindric’s father, Tim, is president of Team Penske and serves as a race strategist for IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden. Tim Cindric will attend his son’s graduation before flying back to Indianapolis as the team prepares for next week’s Indianapolis 500.

Austin Cindric ranks 15th in the points after four races this season. He’s coming off his first career top-10 finish, a 10th-place result last weekend at Kansas Speedway.

“I didn’t think it was going to take me 10 (career) truck races to finish in the top 10 with the speed we’ve shown,’’ he said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I feel like a lot of drivers go through the same things. I think I’m jelling really well with my team. I think it’s only a matter of time before we start being a threat.’’

As for additional education? Cindric says that could come later.

“I think education is extremely important,’’ he said. “Obviously, my parents would as well. It was kind of hard to convince my mom on the fact that I should focus on the racing deal.

“Really in NASCAR, or in many sports, or any other forms of racing, you only get one true shot at it. I feel this is it for me. I feel like a lot of NASCAR teams don’t look at you when you’re kind of past 21 or 22 years old. You’re still a young guy, but you’re not the young guy.

“So being 18 and being in the Truck series, I think is extremely critical. I need put every ounce of effort into making that better … learning as much as I can, being at the shop every day. I think it’s all extremely important. You can always go back to school. I’m fully prepared to go to college, and I think years on, whether the racing thing is going the way I want it to or not, I feel l’ll do some online classes and learn more.

“Racing is my full focus right now. I’ve got to make sure I can say that I’ve done all that I can to make sure that happens.’’

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Ford chooses Sebastien Bourdais replacement for Le Mans (and it isn’t Tony Stewart . . . yet)

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Ford has chosen a replacement for injured Sebastien Bourdais at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to announce the driver soon – but don’t hold your breath NASCAR fans.

It isn’t Tony Stewart, who has indicated his desire to run the renowned event.

While taping an upcoming episode Thursday of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said the three-time champion, who retired from NASCAR’s premier series last year, still is lobbying “every time he sees us” to race a Ford GT car.

“We love Tony, and he wants to get behind the wheel of that GT but not at LeMans” in 2017, Pericak told NBC Sports at the Ford Performance Technical Center.

However, the new co-driver will be relatively inexperienced on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe road course in France. Pericak said Ford’s high-tech simulator (which mainly is used for NASCAR but also is used for sports cars and street models) at its North Carolina facility would help prepare the replacement.

“We will be using the simulator heavily between now and then for that driver to become fully up to speed not only in the GT but at Le Mans,” Pericak said. “There’s a great example of where we’re going to get tons of hours behind the wheel before that driver gets on an airplane and heads over the France.

“The realism is unbelievable. It’s a fantastic tool to have with this situation. Otherwise, you pick a driver, send him to Le Mans and take your chances. We’re going to be much more prepared. We already have the simulator ready to run that track because we ran it all last year.”

Returning to France last year, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Chip Ganassi Racing GT driven by Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.

Bourdais, who suffered pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an Indianapolis 500 qualifying crash last Saturday, was released from an Indianapolis hospital Thursday.

“Thank God, he’s going to be OK,” Pericak said. “We’ve talked to him, he’s in good spirits, but we’re really pleased he’s going to make a full recovery.”

Pericak said an announcement of Bourdais’ replacement was likely Thursday or Friday.

NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)