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FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 05: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, walks through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Alex Bowman driving for GMS Racing in Atlanta Truck race

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Alex Bowman isn’t getting much time off between NASCAR starts.

Two weeks after he drove Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s No. 88 in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, Bowman will make his first start this year in a race that counts. He will drive GMS Racing’s No. 24 truck in the Camping World Truck Series’ Active Pet Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bowman is filling in for Justin Haley, who at 17, is too young to race on tracks 1.5-miles long or bigger due to NASCAR rules.

The defending K&N East Pro Series champion, Haley turns 18 on April 28.

The race will only be Bowman’s second start in the Truck Series. He made his first in 2015 at Michigan International Speedway for JR Motorsports. He started 16th and finished 11th that day.

Bowman continues to capitalize on his performance last season when he helped fill in for Earnhardt in the No. 88 while he recovered from a concussion. Bowman made 10 starts in the No. 88, which included winning the pole for the fall race at Phoenix Raceway. That qualified him for the Clash, which he finished third in.

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NASCAR entry lists for Atlanta Motor Speedway

HAMPTON, GA - FEBRUARY 28:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet, leads the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2016 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Speedweeks is finally over and all three of NASCAR’s national series will once again be in action this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

It will be the last time the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series will be at the same track until May.

Kyle Busch will start in all three races.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three events, beginning with the Cup Series’ Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500.

There are 38 cars entered into the Cup race. A full field would be 40 cars.

The trip to the 1.5-mile track will be the first start of the season for Derrike Cope, Timmy Hill, rookie Gray Gaulding and Reed Sorenson.

Last year, Jimmie Johnson won his first race of the season after short pitting and leading the final 45 laps for his fifth Atlanta win.

Click here for the full entry list.

Xfinity Series – Rinnai 250

A full field of 40 cars are entered into the Xfinity Series race.

There are eight Cup drivers in the field: Kyle Busch, Ty and Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Last year, Busch led 119 of 163 laps to win the Atlanta race, the first of three straight wins for Busch.

Click here for the full entry list.

Truck Series – Active Pest Control 200

There are 34 trucks entered into the second truck race of the year.

A full field in the Truck series is 32 trucks. Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch are the only Cup drivers entered into the race.

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 24 truck for GMS Racing in place of Justin Haley, who isn’t old enough to run on tracks 1.5-miles or larger.

Last year, John Hunter Nemechek won the race after leading the last eight laps, including the final two in an overtime finish.

Click here for the full entry list.

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Kurt Busch tells tearful mother ‘We conquered Daytona’

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 05:  Kurt Busch and his mother Gaye Busch arrive on the red carpet prior to the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas on December 5, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As the celebration carried on from Sunday night into Monday morning, the congratulations rolled in for Daytona 500 champ Kurt Busch.

In between those texts Busch took time to make one call after his dramatic win Sunday night.

He called his parents, who had not attended the race.

His mom answered. 

She was crying.

“We conquered Daytona,’’ Busch told his mom, Gaye.

It meant as much to her that Busch made it through the chaotic race unscathed.

“For years, my mom, she’s always had a displeasure for Daytona and Talladega because … you’re a victim of circumstances a lot of times,’’ Busch said Monday morning at a breakfast honoring the winning team.

He said his mom’s “nightmare’’ came true two years ago when younger brother Kyle broke his right leg and left foot in a crash during the Xfinity race at Daytona. Kyle Busch missed the first 11 races of the Cup season before going on to win the championship.

“She just always thought that Daytona and Talladega were the toughest on her boys and she just wanted us to come home safe,’’ Kurt Busch said.“When I called her, I felt like I had placed this sword in the stone and said we conquered Daytona. She was crying, so happy that I was safe.’’

Many others were happy for Busch. He said of the more than 500 texts he received, three from one family stood out.

Busch received texts from Mario, Michael and Marco Andretti. Mario Andretti served as grand marshal of Sunday’s Daytona 500, a celebration of his victory in that race 50 years ago.

“That meant the world to me,’’ Busch said.

Busch drove for Michael Andretti’s team in the 2014 Indianapolis 500, finishing sixth and earning rookie of the year honors, and had Marco Andretti as a teammate.

“It was really neat to see the Andrettis reach out from the IndyCar world,’’ Busch said.

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Ryan: What Brian France was trying to say before Daytona 500 … and other stray thoughts

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Cars race during the 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 26, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Imagine this beginning to the drivers meeting at Atlanta Motor Speedway this coming Sunday.

NASCAR chairman Brian France, sporting a cowboy hat, snakeskin boots and a faded pair of Wranglers, strides with purpose to a mic at the front of the room and says something akin to the following:

“OK, boys, I don’t usually talk competition, but this is the last race on this old pavement. You’ve got to be careful and conserve those tires! And don’t come looking to NASCAR if you wear them tires out too much! That’s on you, boys — not Goodyear. Let’s go racin’!”

Wouldn’t that seem slightly odd from France, whose greatest strength as NASCAR czar has been his boardroom comfort with cutting multimillion-dollar (sometimes multibillion-dollar) deals that have provided long-term financial security?

Well, it wasn’t that far from what happened before Sunday’s 59th running of the Daytona 500.

In an address and approach that even France twice admitted was unusual for him, he commandeered the start of the prerace meeting and spent about 90 seconds sternly admonishing Cup drivers for something they hadn’t done yet.

NASCAR chief racing developmental officer Steve O’Donnell tried to explain what France meant after the race.

“His point today was just the way we have seen the racing play out,” O’Donnell told a small group of reporters. “Drivers are really learning and getting used to the pack, and so his point was we know drivers are going to be aggressive. Don’t come to NASCAR if something were to happen if you attempted to block.”

But had any drivers recently complained to NASCAR about blocking? “No.”

Had he planned to make that statement? “Not sure. You’d have to ask Brian.”

OK, so how to unpack this?

First, it is peculiar to take a stand on scolding drivers who feel aggrieved after blocking, because it virtually never happens.

It’s the drivers who are blocked who get angry and vow retribution. They don’t look for help from NASCAR, though. The justice gets meted out at their own hands, i.e. with a flick of the wheel into someone’s rear fender.

And for the drivers who block and then get dealt vicious payback? They usually provide a sheepish shrug and “I was just trying to do everything I could to win.”

How would it make sense to lobby NASCAR to punish a driver for action that another driver forced them into taking? Well, it doesn’t.

So what were the point of France’s words, which sometimes can be opaque enough to require translation?

Well, it’s hard to ignore the fact that last week was rough as far as the leadership of NASCAR being questioned, and this certainly seemed a visible move by France to dispel the notion he isn’t engaged (as others have intimated in the past).

In the context of the conclusion of Speedweeks, his point also seems clearer. Factoring in two red flags, the Xfinity race went well past three hours Saturday because of a vast array of moronic driving, which also was evident during Friday’s truck race.

NASCAR couldn’t afford to have its signature event marred by rampant amateurism, and that almost seemed as if it were the underlying thrust of France’s comments, which might have been taken thusly by some: “This is the biggest race of the year. Don’t screw this up like the young punks the past two days with dumb blocking moves and then whine about it.”

–The debut of stages made pacing a theme for scrutiny, but they had nothing to do with the biggest problem of elapsed time at Daytona International Speedway: the speed of the track cleanup.

The Xfinity race was marred by two red flags that took more than 45 minutes, and the Daytona 500 race was stopped for 17 minutes to tidy the messes left by a relatively benign six-car crash that usually doesn’t cause such a long break.

During his weekly spot on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, O’Donnell said improving the efficiency of track cleanup was the single-most important issue to fix from Speedweeks.

A broken splitter stuck underneath a SAFER barrier was a culprit Saturday and another splitter got stuck Sunday. O’Donnell said it took too long to remove the splitter the second time and also to get the oil off the track. “Anything we can do to speed that process up, we’ll do it.”

From a vantage point in the press box, some of the cleanup problems could be attributed to poor execution with trucks failing to put SpeedyDry down in the right places to absorb the oil (some of which was against the wall, which makes the process difficult on a high-banked track). That required multiple passes to address the mess.

This might necessitate NASCAR rethinking its approach to track cleanup as it did with track drying a few years ago.

The problem with the splitter likely will be reviewed at the NASCAR R&D Center this week. Again, it’s more challenging to remove debris from a barrier at a high-banked track, but it’s worth analyzing if there’s a reason why those pieces detached from cars during wrecks on consecutive days.

There’s been some debate over the merits of Kurt Busch’s win in the Daytona 500 squelching a triumph featuring some of the youthful storylines that seemed promising in the closing laps. NASCAR certainly has been pushing the narratives of Chase Elliott (who was leading until running out of fuel until two laps remaining), Kyle Larson (leading on the last lap when his tank ran dry) and runner-up Ryan Blaney.

That said, the career arc of crew chief Tony Gibson, a local hero born and raised in Daytona Beach, undoubtedly makes Busch’s win a heartwarming one. Affectionately known as “Old Man,” Gibson is one of the truly good-hearted dudes in the NASCAR garage, and his loyalty to his team deservedly was rewarded Sunday.

NASCAR heavily has promoted the next wave of young stars, so it’s hard to see how it would have been displeased with Elliott, Larson or Blaney winning. But officials privately took umbrage at the suggestion that Busch’s win somehow didn’t “save” Sunday’s race … because they believe the race (and its late drama around fuel mileage) stood on its own merits regardless of who won or how many caution flags occurred in the process.

Was this the weirdest Daytona 500 since the 2011 victory by Trevor Bayne in the rise of tandem racing?

It certainly seemed so. Hard to recall any Cup race in recent memory when so many favorites were eliminated before crunch time.

–Speaking of Bayne, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he heard from some angry competitors in the wake of Daytona. Ditto for 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, who seemed to race as if his job were on the line in the season opener.

–Now that Kurt Busch finally has a restrictor-plate win in his 64th attempt, who are the most talented active drivers without a Daytona 500 win?

The list starts with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. But there’s a significant dropoff to the next group. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson both proved in the past two seasons they are worthy of winning here, but neither has endured the kind of agony and near-misses that made Dale Earnhardt’s quest for a Daytona 500

Keselowski and Kyle Busch seemingly are starting to be tortured by the same demons that plagued Earnhardt for so long … and seemed to follow Tony Stewart for most of his Daytona 500 career.

At least Smoke finally had something to celebrate Sunday after 17 winless shots.

–There were some facets of Monster’s debut as title sponsor (such as a lack of signage and activation at Daytona) that seemed curious. But bringing Rob Gronkowski to the Daytona 500 was a huge coup for the energy drink brand.

Even if you aren’t a fan of the New England Patriots or bro party culture, it still is easy to be amused by the zeal and zest for life incessantly embodied by the man playfully known as “Gronk.”

Gronk attend. NASCAR win.

Long: Tony Stewart finally gets chance to go to victory lane after a Daytona 500 win

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart was among the last to arrive to Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane Sunday night.

The future NASCAR Hall of Famer walked in to little fanfare, as cameras of all shapes and sizes focused on Kurt Busch, who drove through a maze of wrecked vehicles and then by fuel-starved cars in the final laps to win Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Stewart, now just a NASCAR owner after retiring from the series last season, arrived to the packed victory lane moments before Busch emerged from his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Stewart was finally in victory lane for a Daytona 500.

No other track has teased, tormented and tortured Stewart like Daytona. Sure, he has 19 total wins here, but it only makes what transpired in 17 Daytona 500s so vexing.

“We probably could have, should have won four or five of them and they got away,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart’s longtime crew chief who later became the competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Few hurt as much as the 2007 race when Stewart had one of the dominant cars before losing control and crashing into Busch.

Their paths intertwined in the 2008 Daytona 500 when Busch pushed Ryan Newman by Stewart on the final lap to help Newman win. Stewart finished third.

Stewart said he couldn’t look at Zipadelli for the week after that race, feeling he cost the team the win by not moving up to block Newman’s run.

There were other disappointments.

A favorite in 2002 after his Clash win, Stewart ran only two laps before his engine blew. He finished last. So frustrated, Stewart drove back to North Carolina instead of flying home.

Such disappointments became a pattern. The three-time series champion would excel in the events leading up to the 500 but be denied a victory in the sport’s biggest race.

His chances of winning faded in his final years driving in the series. His final three Daytona 500 appearances ended in finishes of 41st, 35th and 42nd before he missed last year’s race because of a back injury suffered a few weeks before the race.

No year could compare to 2001. Stewart tumbled down the backstretch and was taken to Halifax Health Medical Center. As Stewart was being treated, Dale Earnhardt was transported there after suffering fatal injuries in his last-lap crash.

Stewart went on to become one of the dominant voices in the garage in the following years. Five years after Earnhardt’s death, Stewart complained about the style of racing and said that if it continued “we’re going to kill somebody.’’

Stewart hated how blocking became prevalent — and necessary — to win restrictor-plate races. Even though he missed last year’s 500 because of his back injury, he made it clear he wouldn’t come back to run this event one more time because he never had won it.

It appeared as if his streak would continue Sunday even as an owner. Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer were eliminated by accidents. Kevin Harvick’s damaged car finished 22nd.

When Busch was the only SHR car left on the lead lap, Stewart moved to Busch’s pit box.

Although Busch ran near the front it seemed only a matter of time before something would happen to him. After all, Busch was winless in 63 career restrictor-plate points races before Sunday.

Even when Busch crossed the finish line ahead of Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger, Busch’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, didn’t react. It took him a few moments to register what had happened. Stewart helped.

“You just won the Daytona 500!’’ Stewart told Gibson.

Stewart then turned to Zipadelli.

“Hey buddy, we finally got one of these.’’

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