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Photo courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway

Atlanta to host 2,500th race in Cup history, last on current surface

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This weekend’s NASCAR action at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with all three major series running, will provide some interesting storylines.

First and perhaps most important, Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 will be the last race ever held on the current track surface.

A complete repaving of the 1.54-mile high-speed quad oval track is slated to begin later this spring.

To make Sunday’s race all the more unique and momentous, it will also be the 2,500th race in Cup history.

AMS, which first opened in 1960, has had the same racing surface for the last 20 years, since its last repaving in spring 1997. That makes it the second oldest current surface in NASCAR.

During that time, it has played host to 31 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, 19 Xfinity Series races and 15 Camping World Truck Series events.

Among some of the highlights over the years on the outgoing surface:

* Dale Earnhardt’s 0.01-second margin of victory over Bobby Labonte in 2000. It would be Earnhardt’s 75th career Cup win and the second-to-last win of his storied career (won at Talladega that fall).

* In his third Cup start after the tragic death of Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, Kevin Harvick would take the re-numbered No. 29 to victory lane at Atlanta, capturing a 0.006-second margin of victory over Jeff Gordon.

* Carl Edwards’ first Cup win and the first of two wins for him in both Atlanta races in 2005.

* AMS’s first-ever night race in 2009.

* Sunday marks AMS’s 102nd 500-mile race. No other track on the circuit has hosted as many races of that length.

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Sunday could also be a big day for defending and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Having won both the 2015 and 2016 Cup races at AMS, Johnson is looking to become the first driver in track history to win three consecutive races there.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen won four times in as many years (1961 to 1964) at AMS, but they were not consecutive. Another Hall of Famer, Cale Yarborough, also won three straight spring races (1967 to 1969), but failed to win any of the fall races those same years at the track.

Johnson is also looking to extend his overall supremacy at the track, being the only active driver to have ever won there five times in a career (all on the current racing surface).

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most wins ever at AMS with nine triumphs.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Next two months critical to determining if he will race beyond 2017

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a wide-ranging conversation with reporters Saturday night, Dale Earnhardt Jr. expounded on how long he intends to race in NASCAR, confirming he will wait “a couple of months” to decide.

Earnhardt, who is in a contract year with Hendrick Motorsports, told writer Tommy Tomlinson about the timeline in an ESPN The Magazine story published this week.

After missing the last half of the 2016 season with concussion symptoms, Earnhardt said Saturday he wants to affirm his well-being but likely will re-sign if things check out.

“I told (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) I’d like to get a couple of months under my belt to get confidence in my health,” he said. “When I got hurt last year and what I saw it put the company through, how I saw it frustrate certain aspects of the company, it put a strain on our relationships. Our (sponsors) were worried about my future.

“Rick and everybody was worried. I don’t want to do that again. So I want to get some races under my belt and get confidence in my health before I can commit to him. I don’t want to make any promises I can’t deliver on, and so once I feel like I think I’m good.”

Earnhardt, who turned 42 last October, has suffered at least five concussions during his career. Richard Petty recently said he was disappointed the 13-time most popular driver decided to return instead of retiring.

Earnhardt respects Petty’s point of view (“it just shows he cares about me as a person”) but wants to drive beyond 2017.

“I think I can withstand the wear and tear of driving these cars to do a couple of more years,” he said. “I’m ready to do it because I want to race. I want to be here.

“I used to try over the last year or two to put a number on it and say this is when I’m going to retire. This will be the year, the day, the age. I’ve decided that maybe it’s best that I don’t considering my health. I can’t really try to put a date on it because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me going forward.”

At a Phoenix International Raceway test session two weeks ago, Earnhardt talked with Carl Edwards, who is stepping away from NASCAR this season. He advised Earnhardt to consider only himself in thinking about the future.

“He said, ‘Man it was a real easy decision to make when I didn’t worry about anyone else or worry about how it affected anyone else,’” Earnhardt said. “That’s the hard part for me. There are so many moving parts to what we have going on. There’s a lot of elements, and it’s not an easy decision to say when is the time to hang it up.

“There was a lot of time in there during the recovery where there were days I was 90% sure I wasn’t going to drive again. … I had to decide for myself if I wanted to drive anymore. I’m not going to race because any other reason than I want to be out there. I don’t think it’s smart for any other reasons.”

Earnhardt said he talked most about furthering his career with Dr. Micky Collins, who kept reminding him that having passion was the key.

“There are motivations to racing,” Earnhardt said. “The fans, the camaraderie and all the great things you get to experience. But if I’m going to come back, I’ve got to be racing because I want to be out there.

“I couldn’t put myself through the chance that I could put myself back in rehab for months and months going through that crap again if I really didn’t want to be out there. I couldn’t do it because of contracts or responsibilities or we just ain’t ready to retire, or we don’t have our ducks in a row from a financial standpoint. We can’t keep racing because of those things. It’s too much of a risk I think.”

On the bad days during his recovery, Earnhardt said he thought every day about life outside the car.

“Me and (his wife) Amy and whomever would have conversations,” he said. “We’d get into scenarios or situations and go, ‘Wow, this is what it would be like.’

“I don’t know if we ever got 100% to feeling like retirement would be like. I certainly got a glimpse into what that side of life would be like. Let me tell you: It’s a lot less stress. I really never knew how much pressure all the drivers are under until I got out from under that. Man, it is a mess.

“So, I don’t know whether I’m right about this or not, but I think for the longest time, I let racing be who I was instead of what I did. So maybe (I’ll) enjoy it more and not let it become so stressful that it’s unenjoyable. Maybe I’ll just try to focus on letting it be what I do instead of who I am. Like Richard Petty said, I’ve got a whole other life beyond driving, and I really believe that.

“I have a lot of things I’d love to do. Outside of having a family, there’s a lot of business that I’d love to see if I can succeed at. I think we got a glimpse of what that would be like. It looks pretty awesome.”

ARRIS extends sponsorship agreement with Joe Gibbs Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 ARRIS Toyota, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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ARRIS has renewed its multi-year sponsorship agreement with Joe Gibbs Racing, the company announced. ARRIS will sponsor Daniel Suarez in 22 races this season (up from 17 last year with Carl Edwards).

“We had a great run with the legendary Carl Edwards, and now we’re proud to continue our work with JGR by extending our race-day sponsorship to 22 events in support of Daniel Suárez’s history-making trajectory,” said Ron Coppock, Executive Vice President, Global Marketing and Customer Operations at ARRIS in a statement. “Daniel represents the future of racing, and we’re looking forward to joining him on the podium in his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.”

ARRIS also announced that it is continuing its support of young Latin American drivers by renewing its sponsorship of Abraham Calderon, who won the Freightliner Truck Series in Mexico last year, and sponsoring 21-year-old Mexican driver Fabian Welter, who is in the Telemex Driver Development Program.

ARRIS first became involved in NASCAR in 2014 with its sponsorship of Edwards and Suarez.

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NASCAR heist movie ‘Logan Lucky’ gets new August release date, new photo

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Daniel Craig, Adam Driver and Channing Tatum in “Logan Lucky.” (FINGERPRINT RELEASING/ BLEECKER STREET)

The Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway won’t be the only NASCAR action you’ll be able to see the weekend of Aug. 18.

That’s also when the NASCAR heist movie Logan Lucky will be released, Variety reports.

A new publicity shot from the movie has also been unveiled.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11-13, Magic Mike) the movie stars Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street, Magic Mike) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as brothers who plot a heist of Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600.

The movie also stars Daniel Craig of James Bond fame.

NASCAR drivers who will make cameos in the film include Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.

Production of the film took place at Charlotte last year during both of NASCAR’s race weekends at the 1.5-mile track. Atlanta Motor Speedway was also used as a shooting location.

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NASCAR America: Drivers react to Carl Edwards’ departure from sport

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When the NASCAR season gets underway over the course of the next two weeks, it will be without Carl Edwards behind the wheel of a car for the first time since 2004.

NASCAR America asked his former peers in the Cup Series, including Jimmie Johnson, how they view Edwards’ surprise departure from the sports

“I think he’s at peace with it and in a good place,” Johnson said. “Every driver has to decide for his own health, what best for his family and is he satisfied in the car. It’s not easy to make that decision. I’m glad he’s at that point and can recognize it and stepped away on his own term.”