Tony Stewart challenges Brian France on approach

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CHARLOTTE – Tony Stewart said Thursday he was reprimanded by NASCAR Chairman Brian France last August at Pocono Raceway for speaking his mind too often.

That ordinarily might have turned off the mercurial three-time series champion, but he said France needs to do more of it – in part, because Stewart wants his peers to stand up to the man running the show more often.

“I want to see Brian France at the track more,” Stewart told “Sirius Speedway” host Dave Moody during an appearance on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel as part of the Sprint Cup Media Tour.

“I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than just showing up and patting the sponsors on the back and going up in the suite. I want to see him down there in the trenches with everybody and understanding what’s truly going on. I think that’s where he needs to be for a while.”

Stewart referenced the Pocono meeting several times Thursday during multiple sessions with reporters, once noting that “Brian France gave me a message at Pocono last year that just because I didn’t like something didn’t mean I was right.” He brought it up unprompted when asked about how he had encouraged a dirt track to water its surface.

“Sometimes, they need a little help with making decisions; sometimes, they don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said. “Brian France cautioned me on making too many suggestions last year. So I’m going to try to keep my ideas to myself a little bit. There are some places that welcome our ideas.”

As a member of the newly formed driver council that began meeting with NASCAR officials last year, Stewart does have the chance to voice his opinion to the sanctioning body.

But he believes other stars should be more candid – particularly in meetings with Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vice president of innovation.

Asked by Moody how many other drivers were willing to tell France that he was wrong, Stewart said no one.

“That’s the problem,” Stewart said. “The problem for us, which is getting better, it’s much, much better.

“I know they’re going to freak out about this, but it’s got a lot better to where we have the driver council now. Now we meet with NASCAR more frequently. Gene’s been a part of those meetings. The whole demeanor of the meetings are different than when Gene started and had his idea of going one way, and all the rest of us were telling him we needed to go in a different direction.”

Asked if he received “adequate hearing” from NASCAR, Stewart told Moody, “I didn’t last year” and again mentioned a debate over last year’s rules package with France, who apparently took the side of Stefanyshyn, a former GM executive with no racing experience before joining NASCAR.

After a disappointing start to the season, NASCAR experimented with a high-drag rules package favored by Stefanyshyn and a low-downforce approached favored by drivers such as Stewart, who was outspoken about his preference

“I had a disagreement with Brian France, he came up to me at Pocono and gave me a hard time saying just because it was my idea doesn’t mean it was right,” Stewart said. “And I sat there, in my head was saying, ‘Wait a minute. You’re standing up for a guy who’s never worked on a race car, never been a  part of a race team that now is making decisions on what the rules package is going to be vs. guys who have been driving race cars for 20 or 30 years? So you’re telling us that that guy’s smarter than what we all are?’

“And that’s where Brian France and I tend to disagree a lot.”

Asked whether he had discussed it further with the NASCAR chairman, Stewart laughed and said, “No. You never see Brian France. He shows up at the drivers meeting, and you never see him after that.

“I picked up what Brian was putting down, and he’s right. It’s their series. They’ve got to make the decisions. Just because it’s my idea doesn’t mean it’s the right idea, but I’d like to think in the 37 years I’ve been in racing that I’ve learned a thing or two.”

France has said he has stayed away from the driver council meetings because he wants drivers to speak their minds.

“And he might be right, because a lot of guys won’t call a spade a spade, but I’d like for him to be there because I want to make sure the stuff I’m talking about, I want to make sure before I leave that room, he understands,” Stewart said. “I want to see he cares enough to be there. Not sit there and get a report from somebody. When it comes to me dealing with the All Star Series (a sprint car series he owns), I’m there. I’m listening to people. I want to know  what they’re doing.”

“I’m saying it because I care. I’m not trying to pick a fight with him.”

Stewart said too many other drivers are worried about clashing with France.

“That’s why I’m saying he needs to be (in the meetings),” he said. “But nobody wants to disrupt the apple cart. No one wants to make Brian mad. But we’re all in it together. If it doesn’t work for one, it doesn’t work for all of us.

“Brian’s got a lot invested in this. He’s emotionally invested. It’s what his family has built. I know Brian France cares. But I think there’s a lot of things that got lost in translation from a driver talking to somebody in the trailer to when it gets to him. Who knows what it sounds like by the time it gets up there, or if it even gets up there. So that’s why a lot of us would like to see him there. Even if he doesn’t say anything. We just want to know that he’s hearing what we’re saying.”

Brad Keselowski wins Xfinity race at Charlotte in overtime finish

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CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his second win in as many starts this season.

Keselowski, who started on the pole, won over Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

Keselowski also won at Phoenix.

The overtime finish was setup by a debris caution with two laps left in the original 200-lap distance.

The final 28 laps were ran following a one hour rain delay.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

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What’s next for Danica Patrick after the Indy 500? Dreams, downtime and waffles

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Danica Patrick was a 14-year-old growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, she had a firm idea of what she’d be doing 20 years later.

A reporter from her hometown newspaper recently reminded her of that in a recent interview when he brought a prescient artifact from those teenage years – an essay that she crafted as an up and coming go-kart driver about her racing accomplishments.

“I’m breezing through it, and then at the end, it said, ‘I wanted to race Indy cars,” Patrick, 36, said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I was 14. I told him, ‘See? If this isn’t an example of “Write that shit down,” nothing is.’

“This is manifesting. You have write it down and you have to imagine what you want. So I do that as much as I can.”

Heading into the final start of her career in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Patrick already seems to have a solid idea of the next 20 years — in part, because of having some glimpses into her post-racing life.

There has been plenty of downtime since her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500 three months ago. She has taken vacations (including an India trip to meet the Dalai Lama with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers) and created several new routines on her suddenly free from racing weekends.

“I make waffles on Sundays now,” she said. “That’s pretty fun.  In the summer, there’s like farmers market.  I can’t wait for that.  I mean, there’s going to be probably some new stuff that I don’t know yet.

“The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress.  Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95% of that weekend. That’s uncomfortable.”

But testing her comfort zone is appealing to Patrick, who has spent most of her adult life testing the boundaries of gender norms in her profession. Though the pressure of race weekends might disappear, her incessant quest for challenges probably will remain.

Now that racing is over, Patrick still has a winery, a clothing line, a cookbook and a fitness manual to promote – and more is on the way.

“I just have a habit for pushing myself to uncomfortable spaces, making them comfortable for me,” she said. “At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage.

“As an example, I went bungee jumping a long while back, like 10 years.  I’m super scared of heights.  I’m still scared of heights.  But I just like to know that if I want to do something, I am brave enough and confident enough to do it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still something that’s easy to me afterward. I just like to know I can get past the fear if I have to.

“I’m OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I’m ready for that.”

So what specifically is on tap? Talk shows? Another book?

Patrick demurs when pressed.

“I think I have definitely big dreams and aspirations for myself, for all my companies, for the kind of emotion I want to have on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a good, easy, happy, calm, joyful, exciting, adventurous life.  If I say I want it, there’s a very good chance that’s what I’ll get.”

In the short-term, there’s hosting an ESPN awards show that will keep her busy through July.

And after that, her schedule will free up just as Green Bay Packers training camp begins for Rodgers, the two-time MVP quarterback.

“I’m thinking I’m going to have plenty of time to write a cookbook in Green Bay,” she said.

Xfinity race at Charlotte resumes after rain delay

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CONCORD, N.C. — The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway has resumed after a one hour rain delay. 28 laps remain in the 200-lap event.

Brad Keselowski is the leader.

The top five is completed by Daniel Hemric, Ryan Truex, Brandon Jones and Ryan Sieg.

Erik Jones fastest in final Coke 600 practice

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Erik Jones topped the final one-hour practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver posted a top speed of 187.045 mph.

Jones was followed by Kyle Larson (186.664 mph), Ryan Blaney (186.104), Joey Logano (186.047) and Denny Hamlin (185.938).

Logano recorded the most laps in the session with 55.

Jones had the best 10-lap average at 184.579 mph.

The final practice session came after rain forced the cancellation of a morning session.

Click here for the practice report.