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Dream on: Steven Tyler performs at Kurt Busch's wedding celebration
RELATED: Kurt Busch marries fiancee Ashley Van Metre With the season-opening festivities at Daytona International Speedway right around the corner, drivers are taking the last few weeks of the offseason to make sure they're livin' on the edge, not wanting to miss one thing on their downtime bucket list before they get back in the saddle again. Okay, now that we've got all of the cleverly-placed Aerosmith references out of the (walk this) way, here's a photo of singer Steven Tyler performing at Kurt and Ashley Busch's recent wedding celebration after the pair wed overseas earlier this month. It's worth noting that Steven Tyler is a significant upgrade over Busch's initial entertainment consideration. MORE: Busch wants Ed Sheeran to sing at wedding Big thanks to @IamStevenT for his legendary show @ our wedding celebration! @MrsAshleyBusch & I had an epic time! More pics to come. pic.twitter.com/sbFGDbY0an — Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) January 17, 2017 @IamStevenT your performance was truly amazing,you made us feel so special. @KurtBusch &I are so blessed&thankful PhotoCred: @briandorseystds https://t.co/YmM8rhMyBT — Ashley Busch (@MrsAshleyBusch) January 17, 2017 Talk about sweet emotion. (Sorry, had to sneak one last one in).
What we're thankful for, NASCAR edition
The weather is getting colder, the leaves are changing colors, the days are getting shorter ... and there's no on-track NASCAR action for a while. All of the above means one thing: It's Thanksgiving. Given that this is a time to pause and reflect on the many things for which we are thankful, here are some of the many NASCAR-related things the editorial staff of NASCAR.com are thankful for: We are thankful for ... • Jimmie Johnson . NASCAR is fortunate that one of its greatest drivers is also one of its greatest men. -- Brad Norman • Martin Truex Jr .'s mean air guitar on the NASCAR on NBC intro song of "Bringing Back the Sunshine." Truex showed off his rock star-like ability on the track this season in one of the feel-good stories of 2016. Seeing Truex and girlfriend Sherry Pollex tackle her fight with cancer head-on has been especially impactful for me on a personal level as my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer. -- RJ Kraft • Kyle Larson 's penchant for riding the high line ever-so-close to the wall. It adds an element of edge-of-your-seat excitement to any race where he's running in the front because you never know what's going to happen next. -- George Winkler • Seeing the Tide car ride again at Darlington. -- Kathy Sheldon • Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s positivity and transparency. Not many athletes would let fans and media into a very personal concussion recovery process, but Junior has been as honest and upbeat as ever throughout his healing. His continued presence at the track and positive voice in the sport has been a blessing to us all. – Jessica Ruffin • Jimmie Johnson . Being able to work for NASCAR and have a front row seat to history being made with his seventh Sprint Cup Series championship is something I’ll never forget. I'm in awe of his talent. This must be what it was like working for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. -- Pat DeCola • SAFER barrier and safety personnel. We haven't stopped writing about injuries, but the instances are much less frequent today. -- Kenny Bruce • Martin Truex Jr ., Sherry Pollex and Barney Visser, who had the courage to do something different and run a race team from Denver. All the time and effort the Furniture Row Racing team puts in is clearly paying off, and I look forward to watching them grow to two teams next season with Erik Jones . -- George Winkler • Night races in the summer heat. -- Kathy Sheldon • Short-track racing. The action at Bristol and Martinsville is typically among the most entertaining of the season. Richmond produced a bump-and-run between teammates in the spring, and Iowa also is a great track. Tempers tend to flare at the smaller venues, and the racing is among the tightest you'll see all season. -- RJ Kraft • Local short tracks. Dirt? Asphalt? Quarter-mile? Three-eighths? Yes. -- Brad Norman • Daytona in February and Homestead in November. There aren't two better places, or tracks, to begin and end a season. All the ones in between? Yeah, they're pretty nice, too. -- Kenny Bruce
Staff picks for Talladega Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : The Daytona 500 winner has experience in getting to Victory Lane at restrictor-plate tracks. If his tendency for sour luck in the Chase -- see last year's odd roof flap issue in this race -- doesn't bite him, Hamlin has a strong shot at advancing with a Talladega win. -- Zack Albert Brad Keselowski : He was backed against a wall in 2014 and came through with a dramatic win to advance in the Chase, and he'll do it again on the heels of winning at Talladega this spring. -- George Winkler Brad Keselowski : Seems like an obvious pick because of Keselowski's two restrictor-plate wins this season coming into Talladega. But the former Cup champ is so good at this form of racing, particularly at Talladega where he got his first career Cup win and three more including this spring. And most importantly ... he needs a good showing to advance in the Chase. This is his race. -- Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson : The man who doesn't need the win -- thanks to his Charlotte victory -- gets the W to lock some strong competition out of the Round of 8. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : The talented Team Penske driver hasn't had exceptional results this season, but he's been lurking. We saw what he can do in this round last year, and I think he turns it on when it counts and takes Talladega for the second year in a row. -- Pat DeCola Matt Kenseth : One year after a Round of 12 he'd rather forget, the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran leaves no doubt and secures his second career win at Talladega. -- Brad Norman Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
NASCAR.com staff predicts 2016 Sprint Cup champion
RELATED: Stats breakdown reveals championship favorite Carl Edwards : Went with the No. 19 as a championship pick on my pre-Chase grid, thinking the postseason schedule lined up favorably. The Championship 4 -- especially this season -- is a toss-up, but Edwards' history at Homestead (two wins, two poles) may tip the scales. -- Zack Albert Joey Logano : The Team Penske driver has been loose and fast throughout the Chase and comes into this weekend's race with much-needed final-round experience. Crew chief Todd Gordon is one of the best. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : Jimmie was my preseason pick to win his seventh championship, and I feel even better about the selection now. No one in his era is better at winning titles and he has shown the ability to do whatever is necessary at Homestead to secure the prized hardware. -- Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson : Now that Johnson has figured out how to outlast his competition in the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format, don't expect him to let a historic seventh championship slip from his grip. -- Pat DeCola Kyle Busch : The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters with the least amount of pressure as the defending champion, and that should lead to a relaxing and celebration-filled weekend in Miami. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : Over the last four races he's won twice, led for 302 laps and has finished no worse than ninth. To say he's on fire is an understatement. -- Maggie MacKenzie Kyle Busch : Let's not overthink this. The defending champion is back in the title race, as the best driver on the best team in NASCAR. He also has been the best driver in the Chase, with six top-five finishes through nine races. Busch repeats. -- Brad Norman Jimmie Johnson : Johnson & Co. showed speed in practice and fought through a tough qualifying session, proving they have the calm resilience -- and long-run speed -- needed to win the coveted title No. 7. -- Jessica Ruffin Carl Edwards : All the reminders of that tiebreaker loss in 2011 have stoked the fire of title desire. Edwards' No. 19 has the speed, and we know JGR equipment is stout. A will and a way combine for a championship. -- Kathy Sheldon Carl Edwards : Sentimentally, I'd like to see him get redemption for 2011 and for Concrete Carl to cement a Hall of Fame-worthy career, but he's also a good pick from a stats perspective. He has the best average finish at Homestead among the Championship 4 drivers and the most career wins there (two). -- George Winkler
Jeff Gordon's retirement gifts: Where are they now?
RELATED: List of Gordon's gifts " @nascarcasm: Jeff's crappiest gifts LONG POND, Pa. -- As his full-time Sprint Cup Series career wound down last season, Jeff Gordon received some sort of "gift" -- sometimes tangible, often times not -- from race tracks upon his final stop at each venue. Gordon, filling in for No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono Raceway this weekend, gave us a little insight into just exactly what he's been doing with all of his new possessions. "Well, I'm kind of a hoarder when it comes to things like that, anyway. When somebody gives me things, I'm maybe too superstitious to give anything away or do anything with it," said Gordon, who finished 13th in fill-in duty last weekend at Indianapolis. "So, we have a warehouse in North Carolina that all those things are stored in. One day, I'll look forward to revisiting those moments and those things and enjoying them." Wait, so they're just sitting in a warehouse in North Carolina somewhere? That's no fun. EXCLUSIVE: I've obtained footage of @JeffGordonWeb in his N.C. warehouse full of retirement gifts. #NASCAR #PA400 pic.twitter.com/KqdFkvxh7N — Pat DeCola (@Pat_DeCola) July 29, 2016 What about the cool Bandolero that Atlanta Motor Speedway gifted to his kids? What about the Shetland ponies that Texas Motor Speedway … also gifted to his kids? "Nobody is ready for a Bandolero in my family, so that hasn't happened," Gordon said. "We've enjoyed the ponies. They surprisingly went over well in the family." Phew. As for the more "adult"-aged gifts … "We haven't done any Blackjack (Las Vegas Motor Speedway) and haven't drank any whiskey (Kentucky Speedway) or wine (Sonoma Raceway) or any of those things. Well, I mean I have (laughter); I drank plenty but it's just not from the collection I was given as a gift." Y ou thinking what I'm thinking? Off-season party at Jeff's mysterious, hidden warehouse? YUP.
H2H: Tackling three key questions on 2016 winners, Chase implications
MORE: 'Smoke' gets hot in the summer once again With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series having an off week, it's time to answer some hard-hitting questions, such as: Is Tony Stewart a legitimate title contender? Which winless driver this season is most likely to get one next? And can Chris Buescher crack the top 30 in the points standings? If so, whom might he boot out of Chase contention? There are just four races left until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set, so NASCAR.com editors Pat DeCola and Taylor Nunnally tackle these questions in a quick roundtable. 1. Is Tony Stewart a legitimate title contender? TN: I'd like to start off by saying that I think it's awesome to see a driver find such great success in their final full-time season. Tony Stewart 's win at Sonoma and his performance since has been better than his last two seasons combined, and the No. 14 driver currently sits 26th in the Sprint Cup Series standings. If the Chase field were set today, he'd be in it. Come playoff time I wouldn't be surprised if we saw "Smoke" slip back into the shadows of elimination. Yes, he's a champion driver with wins at all but two tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule (Darlington and Kentucky), but if we're looking at recent performances at the Chase-designated circuits that lie ahead, he's only got one win (at Dover in 2013) and three top-five finishes in the last three years. I'd be as pumped as anyone if Stewart made it to the Championship 4 this year, but stats don't lie, Pat . PD: Stats don't lie, but they don't always tell the whole story. I've come to learn that a determined Tony Stewart behind the wheel is not something to doubt. Based on the turmoil of his past few seasons, it'd be easy to just ride it out, collect his checks (signed by him, as the team owner and all) and focus on Porkchop's agility training. But this show pig ain't done yet. Stewart isn't that far removed from his miraculous 2011 Chase run, when he deemed his team unfit to win a Sprint Cup Series title ... then went out and won half the playoff races to secure his third title. He told NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman after his Sonoma win that he's "going to stick with my approach from 2011. I said we couldn't win it then and we ended up winning it. I feel like we're just starting to get going." Based on his recent spate of consistently strong runs, I don't see why he isn't in the title conversation -- especially given how far we saw an under-performing Jeff Gordon make it in 2015. 2. Which winless driver this is season is most likely to end up in Victory Lane? TN: I love a race that brings a season's first-time winner. In 22 Sprint Cup Series-scored races this year there have been 12 different winners, and I'd say it's time for a new face in that mix. Who, you ask? I've got my eyes on Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott . The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports driver has already put up impressive numbers in his rookie season, with six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, Elliott knows how to run with the big dogs. His best finish of this year came at Michigan where he was runner-up to 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano , so I'm banking that on the return to the Irish Hills in a couple weeks, the 20-year-old will turn that second-place finish into a first-time trip to Victory Lane. PD: You know, at first I actually had Elliott targeted at Michigan, as well, for that reason. But who was third in that race? My real pick: Kyle Larson . Elliott has been more consistent on the whole this season -- as evidenced by his 12th place to Larson's 15th in the standings -- but just based on the "feel test," it seems like Larson has been thisclose to a win a handful of times this season. In contrast, there aren't any races that jump out as real missed opportunities for a win for Elliott, despite his high finishes. At some point, it feels like Larson is just going to break through, whereas it wouldn't surprise me if we don't see Chase win until next year. 3. Can Chris Buescher crack the top 30? TN: I'm probably not alone in saying that I'm surprised Chris Buescher was the first rookie to score a Sprint Cup Series win this season. Yes, he's the 2015 XFINITY Series champion, but the Sprint Cup Series is another animal and his performance behind the wheel of the No. 34 this year has been less-than exhilarating. Buescher is currently sitting 31st in the point standings and needs to be in 30th place come Richmond (Sept. 10) to be Chase-eligible. Given his track record (literally), Buescher's best performance at the last four circuits before the Chase field is set doesn't seem too promising, with his best finish of 20th coming at Michigan earlier this year; he's yet to try the "Lady in Black" that is Darlington. Long story short, although he seems close right now, I don't see Buescher cracking the top 30 and knocking another Chase contender out. PD: Sure, it's a bit of a longshot, but it seems more likely that he makes the leap from 31st to at least 30th (only three points at this ... point) than his win was, so it certainly isn't out of the equation. Looking at the drivers directly ahead of him in the standings -- David Ragan , Landon Cassill , Casey Mears , Aric Almirola -- they have zero top-10s combined. I expect the Chase-determined No. 34 team to be grinding for every point, and don't expect the respective performance of each of those other teams to suddenly improve. Plus, neither Cassill nor Ragan has a DNF this season, so if either winds up with one it opens the door a little more for Buescher.
Staff picks for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Jimmie Johnson : "The focus is rightly on Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart this weekend. Away from the spotlight, though, Johnson and his No. 48 team finally get back on track with a dominant showing -- and "Six-Time" ties Gordon with his fifth career win at the Brickyard." -- Brad Norman Tony Stewart : 'Smoke' has been on a roll and no place means as much to him as the Brickyard. -- Kenny Bruce Kyle Larson : " Fueled by a landmark victory at Eldora Speedway and increased team performance, expect Kyle Larson to ride a wave of momentum into the Brickyard, backing up his two Indy top-10s by landing in Victory Lane for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career." -- Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr. : Furniture Row Racing puts all the pieces together, shedding any bad luck for another crown jewel win to pair with its Coca-Cola 600 triumph. -- Zack Albert Jimmie Johnson : " He's won here four times before and it's time for his frustrating summer to end." -- Holly Cain Tony Stewart : "Equipped with a third-place starting position for his final Brickyard 400 run, look for Indiana native Tony Stewart to continue his hot streak up front -- and eventually in Victory Lane." -- Jessica Ruffin Ryan Newman : "The Rocket Man has been close the past two weeks (seventh at Loudon, third at Kentucky) and qualified sixth at the Brickyard, so let's go with Indiana's forgotten son to pull off the upset on Sunday. After all, his last Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy (2013)." -- George Winkler Kyle Busch: " The Sprint Cup Series champ is starting on the pole and I think he's going to stay there to bring home his second consecutive Brickyard win. Also, with Saturday's XFINITY Series win under his belt, Busch is eyeing a sweep again, a feat that's only been done by him." -- Taylor Nunnally Carl Edwards : " The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the speed this weekend and his quiet summer is about to come to an end with his first Brickyard win." -- RJ Kraft Jimmie Johnson : Four-time Indy winner is due for a Brickyard win and this weekend could be the year "Six-Time" ties Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track. -- Maggie MacKenzie Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
What it's like to eat a 'pork chop sandwich' at Eldora Speedway
ROSSBURG, Ohio -- A couple of factoids you may or may not know -- Tony Stewart owns a race track (Eldora Speedway) and he also owns a pet pig (which he's nicknamed 'Porkchop'). Porkchop and I are wore out after watching the truck race #Porkchop pic.twitter.com/VyrMHubRsF — Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) May 17, 2014 Another little tidbit -- on site at Eldora, where the Camping World Truck Series will be putting on arguably the most anticipated show of the season in Wednesday night's Aspen Dental Dirt Derby (9 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), there is a vendor selling pork chop sandwiches . Dark? Yes. In poor taste? Not at all. Quite delicious, actually. I hear the guy who owns Eldora has a pet pig named "Porkchop." Dark? Yes. Poor taste? Nope. Delicious. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/Ooneuy1S9j — Pat DeCola (@Pat_DeCola) July 20, 2016 You can judge a sandwich (or most foods, honestly) by the "Seventh-bite factor," which is a term that I literally just made up as I started writing this sentence. But hear me out. It's easy enough for a food to catch you off-guard -- good or bad -- on the first bite. When you find yourself saying "Oh my gosh, this sandwich," seven bites in, you know you've got yourself a sandwich among sandwiches. Boylan's Original Pork Chop Sandwich is that kind of sandwich. I mean, just look at it. Boylan's Original Pork Chop Sandwich (est. 1967) @EldoraSpeedway . #NASCAR #AspenDerby pic.twitter.com/ox1gadBU3P — Pat DeCola (@Pat_DeCola) July 20, 2016 It looks so simple -- the thing is enclosed in literally just a run-of-the-mill, store-bought plain hamburger bun -- but you can tell just from the picture that it's tasty AF. The secret is the marinade, which, just guessing, is a secret in itself. But whatever marination process that led to this perfectly seasoned pork tenderloin resulted in a delectably tangy-yet-sweet creation that had me actually considering getting another despite a serious lack of room in my stomach. Oh, and about that pet pig? Sorry, Porkchop. I recommend this sandwich. #NASCAR #AspenDerby pic.twitter.com/eVEPMkszZJ — Pat DeCola (@Pat_DeCola) July 20, 2016
Ric Flair deadlifts 405 pounds, continues to be the man
Around this time of year, people who decide to go back to the gym in January to get a jump start on their New Year's resolutions tend to irk those who remember that their fitness centers exist the other 11 months of the year. You've likely seen a Facebook status or two bemoaning these "resolutioners." Well, WWE legend and 67-year-old Ric Flair is here to tell you that actions speak louder than words. I.Will.Never.Retire. #17 pic.twitter.com/oZxu1ue5XB — Ric Flair® (@RicFlairNatrBoy) January 4, 2017 That's 405 POUNDS. Flair, who showed up last season on the helmet of John Hunter Nemechek at Daytona -- well before Nemechek decided to go full Flair at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park -- then tweeted out one of his signature catch phrases. . @SBNation To be the man, you gotta beat the man- WOOOOO! — Ric Flair® (@RicFlairNatrBoy) January 4, 2017 He may owe some royalties to certain former driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet for stealing his catch phrase in that first tweet, however. WOOOOO!
NASCAR.com's 2016 Daytona 500 predictions
Going into 2016's season opener, members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make predictions for who will head to Victory Lane for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Restrictor-plate racing is often finicky, but it's hard to go against a proven Daytona-winning driver with a stout car that goes where he points it. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr .: As much as I'd like to see a surprise winner, inside information tells me it's Dale Jr.'s to lose. Holly Cain Denny Hamlin : He is overdue in this race, at a place he races so expertly. Pat DeCola Kyle Busch : 'Rowdy' will start 2016 the way he closed out 2015 -- on top. His dominant showing in the second Can-Am Duel was no fluke, and he'll pick up his second win of Speedweeks on Sunday. RJ Kraft Denny Hamlin : Hard to pick against Dale Jr., but I will. Hamlin has had the speed during Speedweeks, won the Sprint Unlimited and has four straight top-six finishes at Daytona. Hamlin will snap JGR's 23-year drought in the Daytona 500 and give Toyota its first win in the "Great American Race." Maggie MacKenzie Joey Logano : The talk at the track has Dale Jr. and his "Amelia" car winning, but the 2015 Daytona 500 champ shouldn't be forgotten. Logano's been posting top speeds all week as he continues the strong momentum from his dominant '15 season. Brad Norman Joey Logano : "Sliced Bread" becomes the first back-to-back Daytona 500 winner since Sterling Marlin (1994-95), overpowering those Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and, yes, even race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr . Jessica Ruffin Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Having won half of the speedway races last season, Junior's always a top pick heading into a plate event. Tack on his Duel win Thursday and his love for his car, and you've got a recipe for Victory Lane. Taylor Starer Kyle Busch : Coming off the high of being the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch is ready to add another accomplishment to his resume: a Daytona 500 win. The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have all looked strong during Speedweeks, but Busch will be the one who brings Toyota its first "Great American Race" victory. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : Amelia's a great car, but the No. 22 almost had something for Dale Jr.'s speedy ride in the Can-Am Duels. Something crazy always happens at Daytona, and the defending winner looks like he can sneak through the trouble spots again. George Winkler Ryan Blaney : Let's pick the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to pull off the upset for the Wood Brothers. Fellow Fords in the Team Penske camp can give him the push he needs to make like Trevor Bayne and shock the world.