NASCAR’s Next Generation: Rico Abreu

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Rico Abreu is like any young race car driver.

When asked what’s on his bucket list not related to racing, the 23-year-old’s first answer – like the three NASCAR Next drivers before him – was skydiving.

Rico Abreu is not like any other young race car drivers.

The St. Helena, Calif.-native is 4-foot-4, a result of living with achondroplasia, a bone-growth disorder not shared by anyone else in his family.

That doesn’t impede Abreu, who won the 2015 Chili Bowl. He is scheduled to race in about 120 races in seven different classes in 2015.

When Abreu spoke with NASCAR Talk, he was more than week removed from winning his first stock car race, in the K&N East Pro Series at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed

NASCAR Talk: What’s the most races you’ve ever been in in one week?

Rico Abreu: I ran five in a row, five nights in a row. That was earlier in June in the USAC-Indiana Midget week. It’s five nights throughout Indianapolis race tracks.

source: Getty ImagesNT: How tiring was that?

Abreu: It wasn’t too bad because in open-wheel racing, they start around 4:30 p.m. and then they end up finishing around 10:30 to 11 p.m. You kind of have that morning and early afternoon to relax and not be too hard on yourself where K&N or NASCAR races is a little bit different where you have to be up at 8 o’clock for a driver’s meeting at nine and practice at 10:30, qualifying at 1 o’clock then you race anywhere from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

NT: What were you doing when you got the call about being part of the current NASCAR Next class?

Abreu: I believe I was at a sprint car race, and (I got) a text and it asked if we’d be willing to find the time and I was really happy to be apart of the NASCAR Next group. I wanted them to understand my schedule and how busy I am with my racing … I have 120 races this year on my schedule, so it’s really hard to get away and do something with them. Everyone worked really good with everyone at NASCAR Next and they worked out my schedule so it all works out where I can be at a majority of the events, but there’s only a few I can’t get to.

NT: What’s the worst accident you’ve ever been in?

Abreu: I crashed at Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (Angell Park Speedway) and wound up with a broken collarbone. That was probably the hardest crash I’ve ever had. A guy moved up on me and kind of pinched me into the wall and our cars are open-wheeled, the sprint cars, so it’s really easy to flip and be in a really vicious, violent crash. The walls are really short there, so I easily went over the wall and kept going outside of the track about 100 feet.

Video: Abreu’s wreck at Angell Park Speedway

NT: What do you remember seeing?

Abreu: At that point you’re hanging on, and once I was done crashing, I went to get out and right when I got out my collarbone instantly started being in pain, so I knew something was wrong. I had the guy that works on our car drive me to the hospital and got some X-rays and they told me it was broken. So I headed back to Indianapolis. It was about six-hour drive, drove all the way back to Indianapolis. Went to OrthoIndy to a Dr. Kevin Scheid, he takes care of a lot of IndyCar drivers. It was a pretty crazy week, because I went in there Monday morning at 9 a.m. and he said to come back at 1 o’clock and I was in surgery by 1:15 and he fixed my collar bone; plated it, screwed it and then I was actually home by 2:45. It was about an hour and a half and I was already fixed up. I took about 15 days off, I went back for a check-up and he said I was good to go. and I started racing again.

NT: What do you consider your theme song?

Abreu: I’ve always liked the song “Redneck Yacht Club” by Craig Morgan. I just like the lyrics to it and I don’t know, I’ve always liked the song. I know all the words. I sing it every now and then when I’m in a good mood.

NT: I know you got your start racing motorcycles, but what’s your earliest clear memory related to racing?

Abreu: Probably about 1998 or ’99 I went to a World of Outlaw sprint car race at Calistoga Speedway, about 10 minutes from my house. Jac Haudenschild won the race and he was running the top lane by the wall and everyone was on the bottom, so it was really exciting to watch and that’s where I fell in love with the sport of open-wheel racing.

NT: What do you remember about the first time you got on a motorcycle?

Abreu: I remember getting a motorcycle for Christmas. I don’t know how old I was. We have a lot of vineyards in our backyard, obviously, I’m from wine country, so we live on a vineyard. I remember being able to ride it through the vineyard rows and then out back behind a pond at our house. I remember I took it out through the mud and got it all muddy the first day I got it. My dad wasn’t too happy about that.

NT: Do you consider that the best Christmas gift you ever got?

Abreu: Yeah, I’d say so.

NT: Since your dad (David Abreu) runs a vineyard, do you consider yourself a wine person?

Abreu: Yeah, I’m into it quite a bit. I enjoy being able to be around him and everyone at our ranch. We have a couple of different ranches and he has about 20 ranches that he takes care of, so any chance I’m home, I’m definitely outside with them. I really enjoy getting to go to dinner with my dad, just understanding it more and more, the wine side of it and all the different kinds of wines.

NT: What’s your favorite kind of wine?

Abreu: I like some white wine. My dad doesn’t make any white wine, but a couple of his clients do that are really good. There’s a case of Sauvignon blanc that I really enjoy trying at dinner with him. He’s always into trying new wines or drinking really vintage Cabernet from the early 1900s, which is different for me because it’s got a different taste being an older wine with all this sediment in the wine. That’s something he enjoys doing, drinking an older bottle of wine at dinner with the family.

NT: What’s it like to grow up in wine country?

Abreu: It’s a beautiful area. I grew up on a ranch, so I always had a lot of stuff to do. We had a lot of livestock on our ranch. I raised market hogs for 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) for 10 years. I spent a lot of time doing that. We didn’t just raise them for one show a year, we raised them year around for like 10 shows.

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NASCAR America MotorMouths: Is Kyle Busch the Tiger Woods of NASCAR?

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On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths, a caller — “Texas Tommy” from Corpus Christi, Texas — offered a question that got analysts Kyle Petty and Steve Letarte thinking and talking.

Given how Tiger Woods won The Masters this past Sunday in dramatic fashion, and also given how much success Woods has had in his career, “Texas Tommy” wanted to know whether Petty and Letarte agreed if Kyle Busch — with all the success he’s had — is the Tiger Woods of NASCAR?

He’s about the best driver NASCAR has and (most) dedicated of races he’s put in in the Cup, Truck and Xfinity Series,” “Texas Tommy” said. “He’s about the best driver that I can come up with next to Jimmie Johnson. He’s shown promise in every series and he has no stop in him.”

Tiger Woods, after winning The Masters this past Sunday. Is Kyle Busch the Tiger Woods of NASCAR?

Petty both agreed and disagreed.

That’s a valid point if we look at wins and what he does on the racetrack,” Petty said of Busch. “Yes, (Busch) has those numbers. Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters and 15th major, all that. You look at all that and what Kyle Busch has done at a relatively young age, Tiger Woods did the same thing at a young age.

The problem is, and the difference is, Tiger Woods has the entire sport of golf on his shoulders. It grows, it falls, it goes to the left, to the right. Everything Tiger does, every fan that follows golf is watching, whether you like Tiger Woods or not.

Kyle Busch doesn’t have that. He isn’t that way, he doesn’t have that connection to the fans, for whatever reason. People love to boo him, but if they boo him, they’re not going to follow him. I don’t know if we have that Tiger Woods personality or person (in NASCAR). I think Kyle (Busch) moves the needle for me. What he does on the racetrack, what he does in the garage area or on the radio, he moves the needle. Jeff Gordon moved the needle, then Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. moved the needle, and then there’s been nobody since.”

Letarte, former crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., agreed with Petty, yet also added he believes Chase Elliott has the potential to become NASCAR’s version of Tiger Woods – but with a caveat.

“Tiger Woods doesn’t move the golf needle, he moves the needle outside of golf,” Letarte said. “That’s really what we’re talking about. Let’s be clear. There are very few people in any sport that transcend their sport. Tiger Woods is one of them.

“Jeff Gordon was on Saturday Night Live, he was outside of NASCAR. In the current world of NASCAR, Clint Bowyer has a great personality, but doesn’t have Tiger Woods numbers on the race track. Kyle Busch, I’m not going to say he has Tiger Woods numbers, but he’s one of a few that have great numbers but lacks the relatability, the needle, outside the sport. You can’t generate it, something has to cross.

You have to have someone like perhaps Chase Elliott, someone who has the opportunity and the image and the ability.”

And then came the caveat from Letarte:

“But then Chase Elliott has to deliver the numbers that we’ve never seen before, because that’s what Tiger Woods did. You’ve got to start talking 10-win seasons and championships. … There is no recipe. It just happens.”

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All-Star Race features longer final stage, technical changes

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The Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race will feature a longer final stage for $1 million and some technical changes that could be implemented in the Gen 7 car.

NASCAR announced the technical guidelines and race format Wednesday night.

The two technical changes for the May 18 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be:

# A single-piece carbon fiber splitter/pan that is expected to offer improvements in ride height sensitivity for drivers. This is expected to provide a more stable aero platform and create more consistent performance in traffic.

# The car will be configured with a radiator duct that exits through the hood as opposed to the current design, which exits into the engine component. This feature is expected to create improved aerodynamic parity and reduce engine temperatures.

“Throughout its history, the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race has provided a platform to try new and innovative ideas, some of which we have incorporated on a full-time basis,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Last year’s all-star rules package resulted in one of the most exciting all-star races in history. With a similar package, and added elements that we could see in the next generation race car, we expect another must-watch event.”

The format for the race is similar to last year with the exception of the final stage. That stage will be 15 laps — five laps longer than last year’s race. That will make the race 85 laps total.

The first stage will be 30 laps and the next two stages will be 20 laps each. Green flag and yellow flag laps will count in the first three stages. Only green flag laps will count in the final stage.

Each stage must end under green. Overtime procedures will be in place for each stage. If the race is restarted with two laps or less in the final stage, there will be unlimited attempts at a green, white, checkered finish.

As was the case last year, there is no mandatory pit strategy.

The Monster Energy Open, which also will be held May 18, will be three stages. The first two stages will be 20 laps. The final stage will be 10 laps. That is the same as last year.

Each stage winner in the Monster Energy Open advances to the All-Star Race.

Those eligible for the All-Star Race are winners from last season and this season, previous all-star winners who are competing full-time in the series, Cup champions who are running full-time in the series, the three stage winners from the Monster Energy Open and the winner of the fan vote, which is underway at nascar.com/fanvote.

Drivers who are eligible to compete are:

Aric Almirola

Ryan Blaney

Clint Bowyer

Kurt Busch

Kyle Busch

Austin Dillon

Chase Elliott

Denny Hamlin

Kevin Harvick

Jimmie Johnson

Erik Jones

Brad Keselowski

Joey Logano

Ryan Newman

Martin Truex Jr.

Kevin Harvick won last year’s All-Star Race. Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and AJ Allmendinger advanced to last year’s All-Star Race by winning a stage in the Open. Chase Elliott was the fan vote winner.

Also, the format for All-Star qualifying will remain the same. Qualifying will include a pit stop.

Weekend passes for the All-Star Race are $79 per person and include admission to the May 17 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Charlotte, All-Star qualifying, the Monster Energy Open on May 18 and the All-Star Race after that. Kids 13 and under get in free on May 17 and for $10 with an adult purchase on May 18. For more ticket information, call 1-800-455-FANS or visit CharlotteMotorSpeedway.com.

 

Two-day Xfinity Series tire test concludes at Iowa Speedway

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While the Xfinity Series — as well as the Trucks and Cup teams — are off this weekend for Easter, five Xfinity teams were still in action Tuesday and Wednesday for a Goodyear tire test at Iowa Speedway.

The test on the 7/8-mile oval was in preparation for the speedway’s race weekend on June 15-16.

Teams that took part in the test were the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (driver: Cole Custer), the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (Tyler Reddick), the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet (Justin Haley), the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Christopher Bell) and the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet (John Hunter Nemechek).

Custer, Bell and Nemechek are all past winners at Iowa. Custer, who won there in the K&N East Series, is looking forward to returning to the track in hopes of securing another win there.

We were able to do a lot of different things and I think we found a little bit, for sure,” Custer said. “Our team has always struggled a little bit on short tracks so to get to come and test at one is a huge deal for us and I think it will help us a ton when we come for the race. We still have to get it a little better to be with that 20 car (Christopher Bell), but we’re right in the ballpark and just need a few more adjustments.

Everybody has worked so hard to get us where we are right now. Every single track we go to, we can compete for wins. I love the surface here, it’s so bumpy and so wore out it makes for good racing. It’s one of the best tracks we go to.”

Rain threatened to disrupt Wednesday’s action, but held off until the session was completed.

“It’s a good thing we came and did this tire test because we would have rolled into this race a good bit off the pace of the guys we need to compete with for the championship this year,” Reddick said. “We know we have to work on something and hopefully with all this data we were able to acquire, we’ll have a good sense of direction in the next coming weeks.

We found out we have some work to do compared to Cole (Custer) and Chris (Bell), especially. They were just able to be a lot more consistent and fire off faster and end the run faster, almost faster than we could start ours. That’s not very good for us but gives us something to chase after and work for.”

The next Xfinity Series race is the Dash 4 Cash event at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, April 27. Custer, Reddick, Austin Cindric and Justin Allgaier will compete for the $100,000 bonus to the highest-finishing driver in that race.

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NASCAR America MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET with special guest Ryan Newman

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with Krista Voda, Steve Letarte, Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

Cup driver Ryan Newman will be a call-in guest.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online 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 enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Also, immediately afterward, tune in to the NASCAR America Debrief show on the NBC Sports’ YouTube channel at 6 p.m. ET with Ryan, Letarte and Petty.