HHP/Harold Hinson

Special delivery: Dale Earnhardt-themed helmet one of many unique designs for Tony Stewart

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart didn’t know what his helmet for tonight’s Coke Zero 400 would look like before it arrived.

All he knew was that it would be “cool.’’

When he saw the Dale Earnhardt-themed helmet, cool wasn’t the word that came to mind.

“It was … badass,’’ Stewart told NBC Sports.

Stewart is celebrating his final season driving in the Sprint Cup Series with a different helmet for nearly every race. The only instruction he gave artist Nick Pastura, who has designed Stewart’s helmet the past seven years, is “do what you want to do.’’

It’s led to a variety of helmets from Speed Racer-themed, to one inspired by AC/DC, to the Earnhardt helmet. Stewart never sees the design until the helmet arrives.

“I’m looking forward to each of them each week because they’ve all been pretty cool this year,’’ Stewart said.

Unlike other helmet designs honoring Earnhardt that featured a No. 3 or his car, Pastura wanted to focus solely on Earnhardt.

“I sort of wanted to do something that was really laid back, you sort of had to take a second look at it to see, and I sort of wanted it embedded into the helmet,’’ Pastura told NBC Sports.

Earnhardt’s face adorns both sides of Stewart’s helmet. Earnhardt wears sunglasses with the checkered flag reflected in one of the lenses. It captures the essence of the seven-time champion and what made him a fan favorite.

July 1, 2016: Tony Stewart during practice at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fl. (HHP/Harold Hinson)
Tony Stewart helmet at Daytona International Speedway. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

On the helmet’s back, Pastura put a quote by Dale Earnhardt Jr. about his father: “No fire could burn his character. No stone could break it.’’

Pastura heard the quote years ago and recalled it as he thought of what to do with Stewart’s helmet for this race.

After tonight’s race, though, the helmet won’t belong to Stewart. An avid racing helmet collector, Stewart is trading it to Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one of his helmets.

“It’s neat that he wants to trade them off with other drivers,’’ Pastura said.

Although Stewart did not race in the Daytona 500 because of an offseason sand dunes accident, this helmet was not intended for that race.

Pastura had something more special.

The Daytona 500 helmet featured gold leaf painting on it with the Daytona 500 on it and the date. It sits unfinished in Pastura’s shop but he plans to finish it.

Each helmet takes 20-40 hours to complete and that doesn’t include the time to create the theme for each. Some are easier than others because of Stewart’s history at a track or something else that ties to Stewart.

TonyStewart Rolling Thunder
Helmet Tony Stewart wore when he won at Sonoma. (Photo: Nick Pastura)

Pastura designed the Rolling Thunder helmet for Stewart to use last weekend at Sonoma. That idea came from the AC/DC song.

“He’s a Kid Rock freak and an AC/DC guy,’’ Pastura said. “I listened to AC/DC here in the shop. Rolling Thunder was a cool song from AC/DC, so I named it Rolling Thunder. That one was neat.’’

Other helmets, though, carry more weight, such as the helmet Stewart will adorn for his final race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track Stewart reveres.

That helmet will need to be special. So what does Pastura have planned for that one?

“The Indy helmet is super top secret,’’ Pastura said.

All he’ll say is that “it could be an emotional helmet for Tony.’’

Winners and losers from Las Vegas

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WINNERS

Paul Wolfe — Great call to have Joey Logano not pit before the final restart. Of course it helped that six other cars stayed out. Still, the top two cars came down pit road and Logano, running third, stayed out and won.

Matt DiBenedettoFinishes second in his second race with the Wood Brothers.

Jimmie JohnsonScored his first top-five finish since last summer’s Daytona race.

Bubba Wallace Decision not to pit allowed him to finish sixth, giving him his best Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track.

LOSERS

Todd Gordon and Greg Ives— For every high, there is a low. Gordon apologized on the radio to Ryan Blaney for calling him to pit road while leading before the final restart. Blaney finished 11th. Ives called Bowman to pit road while running second before the final restart. Bowman finished 13th. Ives tweeted that he was “VERY frustrated with my call at the end not to game on old tires, especially in Vegas.”

19 pit crew — Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew got him into the lead under caution after Stage 2 but he had to return to pit under that caution to tighten loose lug nuts. Said Truex after the race: “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”

William ByronLined up second on the final restart but contact with Matt DiBenedetto led to a tire rub and Byron falling back before he was involved in the crash that ended race. He finished 22nd.

Ross Chastain says his finish ‘unacceptable’ in place of Newman

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He scored a 10th-place finish in the first stage and ran as high as fifth Sunday in a car he never raced before.

Ross Chastain still had a harsh evaluation of his 27th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the No. 6 Ford, which he drove in place of an injured Ryan Newman.

Chastain finished two laps down after causing the final caution on a Lap 262 spin, which he judged “unacceptable,” along with his restart performance (“guys kind of ate me alive”) as a substitute for Roush Fenway Racing.

“It’s hard to get out of the car after you have a top-10 car, and you go and run into people and pick the wrong lanes on restarts and then spin it out at the end,” Chastain said. “That’s pretty silly. Just a lot of mistakes on my end and then at the end just overdriving and for one position to be the first car a lap down. That’s unacceptable.”

Chastain had an average running position of 16.87 over the 400-mile race, which went south after he pitted under green from 15th on Lap 217 of 267. The yellow flag flew five laps later, and Chastain took a wavearound to restart 21st.

(Photo by Will Lester/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the restart, he made contact with Kurt Busch and pitted under green to fix a tire rub, which left him a lap down when he spun with five laps remaining.

“There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton,” he said. “The car deserved a lot better finish.  Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. I just have to be better.

“RFR and everybody puts so much into these cars, and ultimately I’m the one holding the wheel.  We had such a good first stage and had so much confidence and from there I just started making mistakes.”

Chastain, who finished 10th in Sunday night’s rain-delayed Xfinity race, will be driving the No. 6 for Roush while Newman recovers from his Daytona 500 crash. In a statement from the team Sunday morning, Newman indicated he plans to drive again this season, but no timetable has been provided for his return.

Chase Briscoe wins rain-delayed Xfinity race in Las Vegas

Chase Briscoe
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Chase Briscoe won Sunday’s rain-delayed Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, beating fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric by almost three seconds to claim his third career Xfinity win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 89 laps in the race, which began late Saturday afternoon but was red flagged on Lap 51 due to rain.

Briscoe and Cindric were the only Ford drivers in the field.

Ryan Sieg placed third to earn his sixth career top-five finish and his first on a 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Daytona winner Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton.

“That was really a team win,” Briscoe told Fox Sports. “We were really good, then as soon as the sun went down when we were in dirty air, we just weren’t really good. In clean air, obviously there at the end we were really good. … This is something I feel we can do all year long.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

More: Click here for race results.

More: Click here for the point standings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway at 4 p.m. ET Feb. 29 on FS1.

Chevy drivers positive about new Camaro body after Las Vegas

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Positive reviews are in from a few Chevrolet Cup drivers after their first race on an intermediate track with the updated Camaro ZL1 1LE body, which was introduced this year in an effort to improve the manufacturer’s performance after two lackluster seasons.

Those reviews are backed by the final results for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the chaos created by a last-lap crash, six Chevrolets finished in the top 10. They were led by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson placing in the top five.

That followed Chase Elliott leading 70 laps and winning both stages before his one-car incident in the middle of the final stage.

In last year’s spring race on the 1.5-mile track, only two Chevys – Kurt Busch (fifth) and Elliott (ninth) – finished in the top 10. Three Chevy drivers combined to lead 23 of the race’s 267 laps.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it,” said Johnson. “We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”

Johnson earned his first top five since last July’s race at Daytona. He placed 19th in this race last year.

“It’s really rewarding to see,” Johnson said. “Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevys up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, was running in second when the final caution came out inside 10 laps to go. After his team chose to pit, Bowman placed 13th.

“This new Camaro, for its first time on a downforce track, I’m just really pleased with it so far,” Bowman said. “I think it’s going to be really good for us. Obviously, I’m bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win. But it’s part of it; it’s how racing goes. We win as a team and lose as a team. It just didn’t go our way there at the end.”

Last year, Chevrolet only earned seven wins, with two coming on 1.5-mile tracks. Bowman claimed one of those at Chicagoland Speedway.

Added Bowman: “Compared to how we started the last two seasons, I think we’ve got something for them this year.”

One Chevrolet driver said it was “still early” for assessing the new bodies.

“I think the Hendrick cars were really good,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who placed ninth. “I felt about the same as last year. So, we just have to continue to get better.”