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NASCAR Next: TED Talks, Barbie Dolls and Jaws: Q&A with Julia Landauer

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Julia Landauer first experienced the thrill of racing in a go-kart at the age of 10 on a “very cold November day” at Oakland Valley Race Park, a track in Cuddebackville, New York, about two hours north of her home in Manhattan.

The trek from the concrete jungle to an asphalt road course was the result of her father and mother, an anesthesiologist and a lawyer, wanting their children to have an activity to share with each other.

“They also really wanted something that girls could do against boys,” Landauer told NBC Sports. “I grew up watching Formula One and sports car racing.”

Landauer, now 25,  “loved it right away.”

“My parents liked that it meant from an early age … their young kids were given the responsibility of interacting with adults and articulating feedback and needed to deal with victories and losses,” says Landauer. “So really good life skills that everyone needs was a huge motivator for getting us into go-karts. I’m not sure they totally expected me to want to continue.”

But Landauer did continue, winning the Skip Barber Eastern Regional Series at the age of 14 and the Limited Sportsman track championship at Motor Mile Speedway in 2015. This year, after being selected to the current NASCAR Next class, she become the highest finishing female driver in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West history, placing fourth with Bill McAnally Racing.

In the middle of all that, she graduated from Stanford University, began a career in public speaking (including giving a TEDx Talk at Stanford in 2014) and got voted off the island in “Survivor: Caramoan.”

On Saturday, she won the Driver Achievement Award at NASCAR’s Night of Champions Touring Awards.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed:

NBC Sports: In your first days of college, when you’d have those cheesy ice-breaker games to introduce yourself in class, how would the students at Stanford react to you saying you were a race car driver?

Landauer: Most people found it really, really cool. It was very different from what a lot of people were used to. Lot of people didn’t know a whole lot about racing, but once you start explaining the physical driving part and how it is very athletic, and then you describe the business side and the sponsorship space and how you create a brand and build partners and everything, I think people have a really great understanding of how it is to start up — the way I approach racing is as a startup, which is obviously huge in the Bay Area. It was a different flavor. And because I was at Stanford, we’re taught to reach for the stars and do everything we can. So the fact I want to use my degree to go NASCAR racing wasn’t all that far-fetched in terms of a global dream.

NBC Sports: What is the hardest part about public speaking?

Landauer: It’s a different type of adrenaline, but it’s still adrenaline. It’s so satisfying when you make an audience laugh. I don’t think of myself as a funny person, I don’t crack jokes but when I can make them laugh with some combination of my stage presence and what I’m saying and how I say it, that’s really cool. I think the hardest thing for me is making sure I’m providing really good value to the client. You can be a speaker and kind of give your speech over and over again. For a number of groups it will work, the same talk for different groups. But if someone wants to bring me in and they have a more unique audience or different angle they’re going for, I want to give them what’s most valuable to them. That’s better for them, that’s better for me. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone as to what I’m speaking about is big and that can be hard, and I’m definitely a harsh critique of myself and I want to make sure I’m working as hard as I should be.

NBC Sports: How did you find out you were going to be a part of this year’s NASCAR Next class?

Landauer: Sometime before May I got a call from NASCAR and they said they were excited to tell me I was a part of NASCAR Next. And it was really cool because I started working with NASCAR and understanding that I am such a great brand and personality to have in racing, I’m so different and I do a lot of stuff off track to try to amplify that. So to know that NASCAR saw that as well and that now we’d be more actively working together to really maximize the potential of the Julia NASCAR situation was just really exciting.

NBC Sports: What’s it like for you being aware that you’re an important brand?

Landauer: It’s great. Knowing that the work that I’ve done, the preparation that my family and I have done for 14 years now has value and creates excitement for other people is just fuel to the fire for making it bigger and better. It’s positive reinforcement that some capacity of what I’m doing is right and I just keeping running with it.

NBC Sports: What happened to the Formula One dream?

Landauer: It was interesting because I started in road courses, won the Skip Barber championship, did Formula BMW. Then after that I had seen that one of my competitors in go-karts – we were both at a national Skip Barber race – we (had been) pretty equal in go-karts. Then the Skip Barber race was in the rain and he just smoked everybody and I was like ‘Why the hell did he smoke everybody? He didn’t get that much better since go-karting.’ Then I found out that he had done some oval racing and so originally I wanted to make my road course skills better by going out and doing oval racing for a little bit and getting that car control.

Then once I did that I kind of fell in love with oval racing. I think now it’s still the case in terms of technically driving a race track, I like road courses better, I think there’s a lot more to them in that sense. But when it comes to racing, head-to-head competition, it’s hard to beat oval racing and just being so close to all the cars all the time, there are only four corners so everything has to be perfect. Sometime it’s frustrating because I think the car needs to be that much more perfect in oval racing than road course racing. It was just a natural progression. But part of it also goes back to understanding as someone who is not a trust fund kid who is trying to build up a brand in racing, NASCAR is definitely a bigger market in the U.S.

NBC Sports: Who were your racing idols growing up?

Landauer: Michael Schumacher was definitely a racing idol. But then after I got more into NASCAR, Mark Martin was a hero. He followed me on Twitter and I was just like ‘Best day ever’ and I was totally fangirling. Then also Paul Newman, throwing it back. He as a person is a huge hero to me. Just how he lived his life. And Lyn St. James, she’s been a mentor of mine since I was 13. These past two years we’ve been talking a whole lot more. Every one one of those has something different to offer that I aspired to.

NBC Sports: What is it like to play as yourself in “NASCAR Heat Evolution”?

Landauer: I have to admit, I actually haven’t played it yet. I have never been a big video game person but I am going to be getting over to NASCAR sooner rather than later to be able to play it. It is super cool, but if I had grown up playing video games it may have had a different effect and I’d be a little bit more urgent to go play. For me what was really cool was seeing the screenshot that someone had taken and seeing my name was right next to Bobby Labonte. I was like “wooooah! We are making it.”

NBC Sports: What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve ever gotten?

Landauer: It’s down to two things. Either the My Size Barbie I got when I was 4, that was pretty phenomenal. It was as tall as I was and you can dance with it. Either that or my junior year of college, my parents gifted me a Euro trip with my friends who were studying abroad. We went to Spain, Prague in the Czech Republic and Vienna. That would probably be better than the Barbie. When you’re 4 and you get a Barbie that’s bigger than you are, that’s pretty incredible, too.

NBC Sports: What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?

Landauer: I’ve definitely peed myself laughing before. It was probably Thanksgiving two years ago and just had some family friends who came over, my Godfather and his kid and stuff. I don’t know what it was, but the combination of the wine and whatever was being said, there was more than one of us that leaked a little bit and needed to run to the bathroom.

NBC Sports: If you could sit down with Danica Patrick and talk about one thing, what would it be?

Landauer: I would want to talk about the dynamic of a track. I’ve had my experiences of trying to get the respect of my team, my competitors. Just what’s that like? On the Cup level, I know what it’s like on the development series. She’s obviously a huge brand. So I’d like to know what the 360-degree view of life as a mega NASCAR star is like both on and off the track.

NBC Sports: If you were racing in the Cup Series night race at Bristol, what song would you choose to be introduced with? I’ll give you time to look.

Landauer: I have to go by my most played songs … No, those are not pump up songs at all … One second, I’m almost there … I don’t listen to music before I go racing. I don’t really listen to race music the entirety of the race weekend. That’s just such a great question … I’m a folksy kind of song listener. Like more alternative indie stuff.

NBC Sports: If it helps, the song I would probably choose is the Star Wars theme song.

Landauer: That’s great. This might be a cliché but I’m a big (fan) of the “Jaws” song. It’s just like ‘you’re about to die,’ that’s how I feel when I hear that. The creep on you (part of the song). It would be during the latter part of that song, with the instrumentation. But I’d want people to know they’re about to die … I’ve had the theme song on my iPod for a very long time. It starts off really quietly then it’s all fake big sharks and blood and everything.

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Kyle Busch dominates to Truck win at Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kyle Busch extended his NASCAR Truck Series victory record to 57 in his hometown Friday night, leading 108 of 134 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion swept both stages and finished 5.958 seconds ahead of Johnny Sauter. Busch has won seven straight races in the series, including all five he entered last season.

Austin Hill was third, followed by defending series champion Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes. Grrant Enfinger, who opened the season with an overtime victory at Daytona, did not finish after an accident with 43 laps to go.

Christian Eckes was right behind Busch in the opening two stages, but he finished 23rd after an early final-stage wreck.

Results

Driver standings

Jimmie Johnson tops final Cup practice at Las Vegas

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Jimmie Johnson was the fastest driver in Friday’s second and final NASCAR Cup practice of the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The seven-time Cup champion hasn’t won a race since 2017, but showed plenty of speed, pacing the 38 cars that took to the 1.5-mile track, clocking a best speed of 179.432 mph.

Johnson and his Chevrolet were followed by five Fords.

Clint Bowyer, who was second-fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, was once again second-fast in the final session at 179.271 mph.

Aric Almirola, who was fastest in the first practice, was third-fastest in the final session at 179.170 mph.

Rounding out the top-5 were Kevin Harvick (179.015 mph) and Matt DiBenedetto (178.814 mph).

Sixth through 10th were Ross Chastain (178.660 mph), who will be filling in for the injured Ryan Newman in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400, followed by Kyle Larson (178.424), Ryan Blaney (178.359), John Hunter Nemechek (178.259) and Alex Bowman (178.089).

Final Cup practice results

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Next goals for Daytona winner Denny Hamlin: double-digit wins, Cup crown

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There was a time when Denny Hamlin’s best memories of the Daytona 500 were to just go home relatively unscathed.

Consider this: In Hamlin’s first six appearances in the Great American Race, his highest finish was 17th.

But after a breakthrough 4th-place finish in 2012, he has become the best overall performer in the 500 among active drivers.

“I don’t know what it is, but I think I started studying more about superspeedway racing around that time because I had been so unsuccessful for a very long time,” Hamlin said Friday during a media session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We went a long time and I’ve won a lot of the Clashes and Duel races, but not many like Talladega – I think I have one win there – but it just seems like it’s that seven or eight years ago that the car came around and whatever techniques I use or I’ve adapted to this car have seemed to work.”

In the last seven editions of the 500, Hamlin has finished 2nd (2014), 4th (2015), 1st (2016), 17th (2017), 3rd (2018), 1st (2019) and 1st again this past Monday.

Do the math and that’s three wins – making him only the sixth driver in NASCAR history to win the 500 three or more times – and seven overall top-5 finishes in the last nine season openers.

Hamlin knew that getting his second 500 win in a row – both outcomes being the closest finishes in the race’s 62-year history – and third in the last five years was basically going to come down to a battle between him, Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

With emphasis on Newman, that is, before he was involved in that horrific last lap crash on the front stretch heading toward the checkered flag.

“I pulled the block on (Newman) coming to the white (flag) and I stayed in front and I knew he was going to back up to (Blaney),” Hamlin said. “I was trying to back up myself, but once (Newman) was attached (to Blaney), I knew they were going to come with a run I could not stop.

“I just held my line because if I started going sideways, the next thing you know (Newman) starts moving sideways and (Blaney) is already hooked to him, so he’s probably going to push him sideways into me.

“I just wanted to hold a straight line to let them know hey, pass this way, and when I did I was able to back to (Blaney) and was able to unattach him from (Newman). When I slowed his momentum, that allowed me to really tuck in right behind him. I don’t know if he checked up to keep us attached but once we got attached, I knew we were going to have a run back on (Newman).

“I knew he was going to get there, I didn’t know what was going to happen when he did get there, but certainly it worked out in my favor. I thought I was going to get back around (Blaney) at the (finish) line if there was no crash, but I wasn’t sure I was going to get all the way back to (Newman). I knew those two were going to jostle and I was just hoping to be in the right place when it happened and I was.”

Not having any 500 wins of his own, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch is envious of Hamlin’s three triumphs.

“Denny has really gotten way better ever since this car,” Busch said of Hamlin and how he’s adapted to the Gen 6 car in recent years. “He was always an aggressive plate racer, one that would make moves that you’re kind of, ‘Man, if he would just stay in line, I think this would turn out better.’

“He still does that today, but he’s making it work for himself, that not staying in line is better for Denny. I think since this car came though, he’s been a real good plate racer.

“He’s been fantastic at the game, he’s understood it, he’s made moves that I sometimes wouldn’t make that have worked, he’s able to pass a guy to get in line. … He’s very knowledgeable and skillful In making his moves and passes.”

Going forward from Daytona, Hamlin said his next goal is double-digit wins this season. If so, he’d become the first driver to earn 10 or more wins in a season since Jimmie Johnson did so in 2007 when the seven-time champ won 10 races.

“I’d be satisfied with that and then beyond that would be nice,” Hamlin said. “I think that the championship is an easy goal that anyone just throws out – win a championship, but that comes down to one race.

“If you can win a significant amount of races, it shows a bigger picture of your full year. If you make it to the Final Four, that’s a bigger picture of your entire year (Hamlin has reached the final four just twice since the format was introduced in 2014 — third that year and fourth last season). I think the championship – a successful year is making the Final Four. Anything after that is just whatever it is.

“Certainly we set lofty goals. I think everyone sets huge and lofty goals, but certainly we’re going to push ourselves to better what we did last year and it starts with Daytona and we’re able to repeat there so then let’s get a win now before we get to Texas to keep ourselves on pace or better from last year.”

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Johnny Sauter on pole for tonight’s Truck race in Las Vegas

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Johnny Sauter will start from the pole in tonight’s Strat 200 Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sauter earned the eighth career pole of his Truck Series career – and first since 2018 – by topping the other 34 drivers that made qualifying attempts with a speed of 177.836 mph.

Sheldon Creed (177.643 mph) will start alongside Sauter on the front row for tonight’s race.

The rest of the top 10 qualifiers were Kyle Busch (177.282 mph), making his first Truck Series start of the season, followed by Christian Eckes (177.189 mph), Ty Majeski (177.189), Austin Hill (176.788 mph), Tyler Ankrum (176.275), Raphael Lessard (176.056), Grant Enfinger (176.010) and Brett Moffitt (175.890).

Tonight’s race starts shortly after 9 p.m. ET (FS1, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Trucks qualifying results

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