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Rookie Truck Series driver will ‘indefinitely’ step away after 2018 season

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Justin Fontaine, citing the stress of his career on his family and lack of sponsorship, stated Monday on Twitter and Facebook that “barring a major influx of sponsorship funds, I will be indefinitely stepping away from Motorsports competition” after the Camping World Truck Series finale in Miami in November.

Fontaine, 20, has two top-10 finishes for Niece Motorsports, including a 10th-place finish at Daytona International Speedway to open the season. The rookie started 30th and finished 14th last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was his best finish since placing 14th at Chicagoland Speedway in late June. Fontaine ranks 15th in points.

Fontaine wrote Monday about the stress his career has put on himself and family members.

“Following the event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, which I retired early due to (a) self-inflicted on-track accident, I went back to the hauler and literally broke down. My rookie season at Niece Motorsports started out strong with two top-10 finishes in the first three races – however our finishes plateaued in the weeks that followed.

“We had a string of poor results that I had only myself and inexperience to blame. Frankly, it was a bitter pill to swallow, but it became reality. My dad came up to the lounge after the Charlotte race to calm (me) down, and we had an honest conversation about my career and desires.

“My goals for nearly 10 years have been clear to me, however, the reality of making those dreams come true are much more complicated, and in many ways out of my control.

“The stress for me and more importantly my family is more than I can shoulder any longer.

“We often do not think about the impact our careers have on our families, but I was forced to see it firsthand when my mom, dad and brothers walked into my hospital room in tears after the ARCA crash in Daytona that nearly took away my ability to walk in February 2017.

“If I can help it, I do not want to see that again. That experience affected me very deeply and knowing that the lifestyle and career I love so much could bring that much emotional distress was overwhelming.”

 

Friday 5: Christopher Bell taking a step in goal to ‘conquer’ Xfinity Series

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Three weeks ago, Christopher Bell said that he wanted to “conquer” the Xfinity Series and “be the guy that everyone says that (they) have got to beat.”

The 23-year-old series rookie is quickly becoming that driver.

In the past two weeks, Bell beat former Cup champion Kyle Busch at Kentucky and Brad Keselowski at New Hampshire for victories.

At Kentucky, Bell started in the rear after spinning in qualifying. Busch led 111 laps but finished third to Bell.

At New Hampshire, Bell held off a charging Keselowski late to earn his third series victory of the season. Bell won’t take full credit for the win, noting he took four tires on his last stop and Keselowski took two. Still, Bell won.

What has it meant to beat Busch and Keselowski in consecutive races?

It makes me happy,” Bell said after the New Hampshire win. “You see all this crap going around the Internet where Cup guys shouldn’t be allowed in Xfinity. Well, why? Why shouldn’t they be allowed in Xfinity?

“Ever since I was a kid growing up sprint car racing, I strived to go race with the World of Outlaws because they were the best. I strive to race with Kyle Busch and Keselowski and all those guys. I love racing with the best. I want to be the best.”

Bell, who won the Truck Series title last year, has shown he has the talent to go with the strong rides with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series and now Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Even with those benefits, he’s winning races and that’s what one has to do in such equipment if they hope to land a premier ride in NASCAR’s top series someday.

“I think if you look at Christopher’s background, he’s excelled in every series he’s ever been in, won races, so I wouldn’t say he’s outperformed (expectations), he’s doing exactly what we thought he would do,” said Steve de Souza, executive vice president at Joe Gibbs Racing, whose primary duty is overseeing the organization’s Xfinity program.

Heading into Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway (5:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Bell is six points behind series leader Daniel Hemric. Bell’s three wins and three stage victories give him a series-high 18 playoff points with eight races left in the regular season.

Earlier this month at Daytona, Bell said how he needed to be better.

“I want to conquer the Xfinity Series and win more races and finish my job here,” he said. “I want to be the guy. I want to be the guy that everyone says that I’ve got to beat the 20 car. That’s what I want, and I pride myself on every step along the way I’ve become the guy to beat. I just don’t feel like I’m there yet in these Xfinity cars.”

He admits his season had not gone quite how he hoped up to that point.

“I’ve got a lot of great runs going, but it’s kind of similar to my first year in Trucks,” Bell said at Daytona. “I’ve crashed some. Got taken out some. The finishes are either really good or DNF’s. I’ve just got to put the races together and hopefully it comes together pretty quick.”

Crew chief Jason Ratcliff sees Bell developing the habits that will carry him to more success.

“I think that we started the season capable of winning races and Christopher is – he’s doing a good job of communicating what he needs with the race car each and every week,” Ratcliff said at New Hampshire. “The guys are building better race cars at the shop, so I think it’s everything all around – his ability, the race cars, the pit crews are just coming together when it counts.”

2. Team of the Decade Race

With Hendrick Motorsports in the midst of a 36-race winless streak (the second-longest winless drought in its history), Joe Gibbs Racing is pulling away in the duel to win the most Cup races this decade.

Since 2010, Joe Gibbs Racing has won 77 races. Hendrick Motorsports is next with 61 wins. Team Penske is third with 44 victories and is followed by Stewart-Haas Racing, which has 43 victories, and Roush Fenway Racing at 21 wins.

Here’s the full list:

WINS BY ORGANIZATION SINCE 2010

(308 races)

77 – Joe Gibbs Racing

61 – Hendrick Motorsports

44 – Team Penske

43 – Stewart-Haas Racing

21 – Roush Fenway Racing

19 – Richard Childress Racing

18 – Furniture Row Racing

10 – Chip Ganassi Racing

6 – Michael Waltrip Racing

3 – Richard Petty Motorsports

2 – Front Row Motorsports

2 – Wood Brothers Racing

1 – JTG Daugherty Racing

1 – Red Bull Racing

3. Pocono: The start of something good for Kyle Busch

Last July, Kyle Busch scored his first career Cup win at Pocono. Since that win, Busch has run 36 races (a full season) and his stats over that time are staggering.

In the last 36 races, Busch has a series-high 10 wins, a series-high seven poles, a series-high six runner-up finishes, a series-high 28 top-10 finishes and a series-high 1,967 laps led.

He’ll go for a sweep at Pocono this weekend. He’s entered in both the Cup and Truck race. This will be his fifth and final Truck race of the year. Cup drivers with more than five years experience are limited to seven Xfinity and five Truck races a season.

4. Looking to win again

Past the halfway mark in the Cup season, here are the drivers who scored at least one win last season who are still looking for a victory this year: Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

5. $658 million in renovations

With the announcement Thursday that International Speedway Corporation will renovate the infield at Talladega Superspeedway at a cost of about $50 million, it marked the fourth major project ISC has done on one of its tracks since 2013.

Daytona International Speedway’s upgrades were estimated at $400 million for redoing the frontstretch grandstands, suites, concourses and such.

Upgrades at ISM Raceway (Phoenix) are expected to cost $178 million. That will include additional stands, a new infield fan area, a pedestrian tunnel to the infield and more. The project will be completed before this fall’s races.

Talladega Superspeedway announced upgrades that will cost about $50 million that will include new garages for Cup teams, a new fan area between the garages that allows easy access for fans to that area and a new victory lane, among other upgrades

Richmond Raceway will spend an estimated $30 million that features new Cup garages that will have a fan viewing walkway, a fan area, a new media center and a new pedestrian tunnel. That project is set to be completed in September.

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Justin Haley: ‘In my belief, I still won – unofficially’

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NASCAR had dramatic finishes in back-to-back weeks at Chicagoland Speedway in Cup and Daytona International Speedway in the Xfinity series.

One will be part of the Cup highlight reels for decades. The other might be used by NASCAR to illustrate the yellow line rule.

Justin Haley’s last-lap pass on Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler was deemed illegal when the left-side tires of his Chevrolet crossed over the double yellow line. Larson, who crossed the finish line behind Haley, was crowned the winner, but one week later Haley still thinks the trophy should be his.

“I did cross the start/finish line first, so in my belief, I still won – unofficially,” Haley said in Kentucky Speedway’s media center after posting the fastest lap in Thursday’s final truck practice for the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225.

On the final restart at Daytona, Haley pushed Justin Allgaier in the outside groove. Haley remained dedicated to the outside lane as Larson pushed Allgaier out of position. Exiting Turn 4 on the white flag lap, Haley was momentarily shuffled to fourth, but that gave him a clear space through traffic to the bottom groove. Like a Jack-in-the-Box, he popped out of the pack and shot past the leaders. – but his momentum carried him across the double yellow line and out of bounds on a restrictor-plate track.

“I don’t know when it sunk in. It’s just kind of how it went. I don’t get the opportunity to go over there in Xfinity much.”

More: Justin Haley says it was ‘BS call’ by NASCAR to nullify win 

In order to progress up NASCAR’s ladder system from the Camping World Truck Series, Haley was given three opportunities with GMS Racing in the Xfinity series. He finished 12th at Iowa Speedway and came within inches of winning Daytona. His last scheduled opportunity will come at Watkins Glen International.

“Those were kind of my three shots to make something happen and if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to go too far in my career. So, I had to make the most of it and I think I have to this point.”

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.

NASCAR America: Jimmie Johnson is the Comeback Kid

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America loves a Comeback Kid.

When Jimmie Johnson took the lead from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 109 of the Coke Zero 400, the fans in the grandstand responded.

“I was really surprised,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I was standing in the booth and Jimmie is battling here to take the lead. And when he did, visually the entire grandstand stood up, held their arms in the air and were cheering him on.”

He led a total of 10 laps before he was eliminated in a multi-car accident on lap 162 during the first overtime.

But it is just that type of hardship that is beginning to endear him to a fan base that turned on him when he was winning too often.

Fans are responding to him now “because he looks real,” Kyle Petty said. “Here is a human, who is failing at some of this stuff. … Not succeeding at the level he was.”

Johnson’s earlier success played against him, but America may see him as a fitting challenger to the Big 3 of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. who are dominating NASCAR.

“That’s America,” Petty continued. “You build them up and then as soon as you get them to the top, you cut their legs out from under them so you can cheer for them again. And that’s what they’re doing to Jimmie.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.

NASCAR America: Erik Jones’ call from Victory Lane was amazing for Carol Jones

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Standing on the frontstretch of Daytona International Speedway doing his victory interview, Erik Jones’ first thoughts turned to his mother and father.

Erik lost his father to cancer two years ago to cancer. His mother stayed home because restrictor-plate racing makes her nervous.

“It sounds clichéd a little bit,” Jones said. “But it was the first thing I thought about was my mom and dad. I wanted my mom to be here, number one.”

Erik did the next best thing. Standing in Victory Lane after the Coke Zero Sugar 400, he paused to make a phone call to his mother, Carol Jones. Tuesday on NASCAR America, she called Marty Snider, Kyle Petty, and Steve Letarte to share feelings about her son’s first win.

Watching the final laps of the race, “I pretty much was biting my fingernails off and my heart was just racing because those last couple of laps were really hard to watch.”

It was the fulfillment of a dream. Erik’s father Dave Jones was instrumental in the development of his career, but Carol was the one who first suggested racing as a vocation.

“When we started 15 years ago or so on this journey, I really never expected it to go this far. … I was the one who instigated it, but Erik and his Dad were the two that pretty much put it into overdrive and just kept going and going. To see him, where he’s at right now because this is what he worked so hard for, and to see him get this win is just amazing.”

For more, watch the video above.