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Hamlin weighs in on the prospect of an Edwards return
Denny Hamlin offers his opinion on whether Carl Edwards may one day return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as a driver
Hamlin: JGR's slump means team's working 'extra hard'
MORE: Starting lineup " Photos: Richmond weekend RICHMOND, Va. -- Daniel Suarez is still a newbie in stock-car racing's major leagues, just eight races into his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. But even without the benefit of gobs of top-level experience, he has clear perception about the difference in his Joe Gibbs Racing team. "If you think about it, by this point last year, I think we had already a few wins and right now we have zero," Suarez said, accurately recalling that JGR had won half of the first eight races of the 2016 campaign. "Definitely there is some speed missing as an organization, but maybe we have one more step left as a team." If there's increased reason for optimism in the JGR camp this weekend, it may help that Richmond International Raceway -- the venue for Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) -- ranks as friendly territory for the Coach Joe Gibbs-owned team. Matt Kenseth gave that notion some heft Friday by winning the Coors Light Pole Award, leading a qualifying effort where three JGR cars -- including Kyle Busch in seventh and Suarez in 11th -- made the final cut in eliminations. The only Gibbs Toyota outside the top 12 belonged to Denny Hamlin, who qualified 16th but has a resume that includes three Richmond wins. Joe Gibbs Racing placed all four of its entries among the top-10 finishers in this race last year, memorably going 1-2 with Carl Edwards' bump-and-run maneuver past Busch on the final lap. That victory clinched a JGR sweep of 2016's early short-track swing and was a key cog of the season-long push, in which Gibbs entries and the JGR-affiliated Furniture Row Racing won 16 of 36 points-paying events. This year has been a different tune, with no Joe Gibbs Racing cars among the top 10 in the standings as victories and top-five finishes have proven difficult to attain. Hamlin speculated that rules changes have played at least a partial role in the power shift, but that the competition has also been making its own gains to put faster cars on the grid. "That makes their job a whole lot easier," said Hamlin, 15th in the series standings. "But these are the trying times, you could say, that defines your character. It makes you work hard. We were on top for probably a year and a half, every week having four out of five of the fastest cars each week. Sometimes we won, sometimes we didn't. But we're going to get better. We're not on top right now, so we've got to work extra hard to get there." JGR's performance has run in contrast to a relatively quick start to the season for its Toyota ally, Denver-based Furniture Row. The team has thrived in the first year of its expansion to a two-car operation, with Martin Truex Jr. leading the way with a Las Vegas victory, a series-high five stage wins and a third-place ranking in the standings. His teammate, rookie Erik Jones, has also shown speed as he makes his first steps into premier-series competition. He is currently 12th in the standings. Truex said no single factor was to account for the early disparity, but echoed a hopeful sentiment that JGR -- Toyota's flagship organization -- would make a speedy turnaround. "It's hard to find when you don't have it, but those guys have been competitive," Truex said. "I know a lot of their finishes haven't really showed how well they've ran at times. … It'll come. Those guys are really, really good, and they'll figure it out pretty quick." &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
Young drivers prepare to step up as Dale Jr. readies for goodbye
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond RICHMOND, Va. -- The cyclical churn of talent in the NASCAR garage took another turn this week with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s announcement that 2017 will be his final year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. His impending departure follows those of household names Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards -- all in short order since the end of the 2015 season. In outlining his decision to leave the cockpit, Earnhardt was asked about NASCAR's ability to reload with a new generational thrust in driver star power. He named Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott among the sport's several young aces in waiting, offering assurance that the NASCAR roster remained vibrant and strong. As for those young stars? Asked upon their Friday arrival at Richmond International Raceway about their readiness to assume the mantle, the newest and brightest of those newer drivers might not be waiting much longer. "Although it's sad that we have all our veterans and heroes retiring, I think NASCAR is in a great position with all the young talent that they have in the (Monster Energy) Series currently, and really in every feeder series below them, there's a lot of young guys with great equipment and good backing," said 24-year-old Kyle Larson, the series' current points leader. "So, I think the competition will be good. And, there's a lot of personalities, too, with people getting themselves out there on social media and stuff like that, showing their personalities. So, I feel like we're in a good spot to have some new stars step up." Larson and Elliott -- both 20-somethings -- have already begun to make that push on the track, sitting 1-2 in the series standings. They've been joined by 23-year-old Ryan Blaney, plus rookies Erik Jones, 20, and Daniel Suarez, 25, as just some of the newest faces in the garage. The current transition of the sport's paradigm isn't a new phenomenon. If the genealogy of NASCAR stardom read like the Book of Chronicles, it would include a traditional biblical list of "begats." The career of Lee Petty begat Richard Petty's, Fireball Roberts' and Ned Jarrett's careers begat David Pearson's, which begat Cale Yarborough's, Bobby Allison's and Darrell Waltrip's. Then came Earnhardt and Elliott and Wallace, then Gordon, then Stewart and then Jimmie Johnson -- all with a host of other dynamic personalities in between. Mere mention as a part of that incoming next wave, with the potential to join a list of stars with Hall of Fame clout ranks as heady territory. Being singled out by the series' 14-time Most Popular Driver as one of those candidates is too, something that Blaney -- Earnhardt's neighbor and friend -- accepts with a degree of pride and reverence. "He has a very big impact of what people think, whether it is fans or in the garage area," Blaney said. "Him talking up younger drivers or the sport in general is going to get his fans excited about the future of going forward even though he won't be driving next year. What he says will be very important. I know he has always said great things about the sport and drivers in it and been very positive, which makes him a great person and great ambassador for the sport. It means a lot to hear him say those things. "Like I said, I know he says that about a lot of young drivers and try to set everything up for the future, but it is nice to be a part of that conversation when he speaks." Gracefully making the transition to stardom is a multi-pronged challenge, requiring both on-track performance and a proficiency in engaging with fans new and old. The former requires both raw talent and a full team effort. As for the latter, Suarez said there's no secret code to making that connection. "I think it's very simple -- it's just being yourself," said Suarez, in his first year of replacing Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. "I think every single driver out there in the garage has different personalities: Dale has his personality; Kyle has his personality; Jimmie Johnson has his personality; I have my personality; and everyone is different. When every single driver can go out there to be himself, I think that's very cool, and the fans like that. "You know, so far it's what I've been doing and I think it's the right thing to do. But like I said, overall, Dale has been more than a role model for the sport and it's great what he has done." </p>
Actor Morris Chestnut on Austin Dillon, how NASCAR, Hollywood relate
Actor and star of FOX's police crime drama "Rosewood" Morris Chestnut noticed that the cast seemed nervous while filming a portion of the Season 2 finale in March. For good reason, too. "There was a huge explosion and the explosion was so big that everyone on the set was nervous because it was on the second level of this parking structure," Chestnut recalled Monday to NASCAR.com via telephone. "And it was such a big explosion that everyone thought the second level was going to drop down to the first." But one guest star -- Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Dillon -- seemed quite unnerved by the exploding car behind him, Chestnut noticed. It seemed his day job lent a hand to dealing with crashes, fires and loud noises on the set of a television show. "He was actually in the scene when this happened," Chestnut said of Dillon. "And to see his reaction -- he was just like a pro, didn't flinch. It was great, he did a great job." In the "Rosewood" season finale, Dillon portrays Wayne Cirito, a character that is associated with a crime gang that the show's protagonist Dr. Beaumont Rosewood (played by Chestnut) is trying to interrogate. As for Dillon's acting skills? Chestnut was impressed by the 27-year-old driver's versatility on-screen. "That's one thing that's great about Austin," Chestnut said. "It was a very tough scene because he goes from this hard, tough-as-nails guy, to relating to (character Captain Ira) Hornstock and talking about things he may not have been comfortable (talking about)." But as Chestnut learned after talking with Dillon off-screen, race car drivers have to be tough in a variety of facets in their own jobs -- as well as focused, sharp and able-bodied. It's a familiar area for the 48-year-old actor, as he just released a health and fitness book this month entitled "The Cut: Lose Up to 10 Pounds in 10 Days and Sculpt Your Best Body." "It was great to talk to him about some of the insight toward NASCAR," Chestnut said. "I didn't know some of the things that he goes through as (a driver), that they go through in the cars and everything, so it was great to talk to him about that. "…One thing when I was talking to Austin is the endurance factor. Not only do you have to have a healthy body, but you have to have a healthy and sharp mind because a one-second lapse can not only cost you the race, but you can get into some very bad, brutal accidents. So, health and fitness is a huge part of being sharp and being ready when you're on the track. "These guys are athletes, these drivers are athletes," Chestnut continued. "I didn't realize that. They're not just sitting in the car Sunday driving like I do on the freeway. (They're hitting) 200 mph, going around these tracks and turns … you have to be in tip-top shape and (have) a razor-sharp mind." His conversations with Dillon on set gave Chestnut, who has never attended a NASCAR race, a greater appreciation for the sport of racing. "To be honest, I didn't get (NASCAR)," said Chestnut, who also plans to attend Dillon's 3-on-3 charity basketball tournament this year. "I didn't really get it. But he was breaking everything down to me about the whole entire experience. It's not just about the race -- it's even before the race, everyone coming, meeting the drivers, being right on the track. He was breaking so many little intricate things down to me just about the sport in general to where it really, really piqued my interest. So I'm looking forward to getting out to (a race) … (There were) so many interesting things that he was talking to me about, I was like, 'Man, I have to see one of these.' " The connections between NASCAR and Hollywood have grown deeper in recent years, as more drivers have briefly traded their fire suits and race cars for Hollywood scripts and bright lights for cameo appearances in movies and television shows. Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Carl Edwards notably nabbed cameo roles in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh-directed, racing-themed film "Logan Lucky;" which stars Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig and Riley Keough among others. Likewise, several movie and television stars have flocked to the often-unfamiliar race tracks, particularly the Southern California-based Auto Club Speedway and Wine Country's Sonoma Raceway. RELATED: NASCAR meets Hollywood in 'Logan Lucky' movie While he is just starting to learn more about NASCAR, Chestnut already sees parallels between NASCAR and Hollywood, primarily the storytelling aspect of both. "I think they're both very entertaining," Chestnut said. "Like I said, I didn't understand the sport … but once he told me the intricacies of the storylines that are involved and how intimate the fans can be with the drivers, it's a whole other level of entertainment. Even the story within the story, the story within the races with some of the drivers and what happens before they even come to the race. "There's just so many interesting things, I think it's just a natural relationship the two can have. Hollywood has stories -- we tell stories with our show every week. The more you know about our show, the more interested you may be. The more I know about NASCAR drivers, the more interested I am in the sport. It's very similar. They're both very strong forms of entertainment." Catch Dillon and Chestnut on the season finale of "Rosewood" on Friday, April 28 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Earnhardt: With young talent, 'sky's the limit for NASCAR'
RELATED: Blaney on Dale Jr.'s influence on him CONCORD, N.C. -- High-profile departures have been a recent trend in NASCAR's top division, a development that began with transcendent four-time champion Jeff Gordon's retirement at the end of the 2015 season. Popular three-time champ Tony Stewart followed after 2016, then fellow star Carl Edwards stepped away just before this season. That list will include the most popular of all -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- at the end of 2017, a move he signaled in a Tuesday announcement at the Hendrick Motorsports compound. But instead of sounding an alarm about a possible void, Earnhardt issued a strong vote of confidence for the sport's future with positive remarks about the stock-car racing's recent influx of spellbinding talent, a group of young stars that have the potential to dazzle fans for future generations. RELATED: Larson, Elliott top point standings "We definitely have tons of talent. There is no question, but I love the people they are," Earnhardt said, naming 21-year-old teammate Chase Elliott and current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson, 24, as two brilliant examples. Being marketable, approachable and having a level of savvy with social media certainly hasn't hurt. "These guys are effortless at it," he added. "So once they start to pick it up and understand the power of what they have at their fingertips, the sky's the limit for NASCAR. I'm super excited about the future." MORE: Dale Jr. announces retirement " Vote: Favorite Junior win Earnhardt has done plenty himself to help cultivate the next crop of stock-car prodigies, fielding JR Motorsports' four-car effort in the NASCAR XFINITY Series as a developmental program for next-gen stars. Among those is 19-year-old William Byron, a product of the NASCAR Next youth initiative and a top prospect for success at the sport's highest level. It's why team owner Rick Hendrick was quick to echo Earnhardt's sentiment. "I've never seen so much young talent," the 67-year-old team owner said. "I can remember when the question was all of our drivers are in their 40s or they're going to be, what are we going to do when they retire? I think we've got the answer. They're here, they're young, they're aggressive, they're fun." RELATED: Hendrick: Dale Jr. is 'like a son' to me The current group of 20-somethings -- or younger -- includes a diverse group of Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates in the Monster Energy Series. Erik Jones, 20, was the first to throw his hat into the rookie race with a full-time jump hitched to a newly expanded Furniture Row Racing operation. Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez, both 25, followed with their offseason announcements. Their task now: To become better acquainted with fans who have long-running associations of support for Gordon, Stewart, Edwards and Earnhardt. Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, said that transition and exposure to a broader stage will come in time. "It's something that evolves," O'Donnell said. "That's you getting to know them more, them being in Victory Lane more. People like winners. … As they win and compete for top fives and are exposed more, we have no doubt that people will see their personalities and then it'll be up to them as well to take those personalities outside the sport also." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Daniel Suarez gets Atlanta lessons from Carl Edwards
BUY TICKETS: See the races in Atlanta HAMPTON, Ga. -- Daniel Suarez has NASCAR national series experience at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but his notebook for navigating the 1.54-mile track in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is relatively bare. A devoted student of the sport, Suarez religiously pores over race footage, especially at venues where his experience level could use a boost. But with his first premier-series start on an intermediate-sized track looming, Suarez has called in an expert tutor for an early season cram session. Carl Edwards , a three-time Atlanta winner over the course of his career, was back in the garage area Friday, making the rounds ahead of Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Edwards' surprise decision to step away from racing in January turned the seat of Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 19 Toyota to Suarez, the 2016 XFINITY Series champion who's making the big leap to NASCAR's top division this year. RELATED: Suarez takes over the No. 19 Toyota from Edwards Edwards' return to the track isn't a first. The 37-year-old veteran also attended an offseason organizational test at Phoenix Raceway, lending a hand both to Suarez and the Gibbs-owned team. But the 25-year-old Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate says this weekend's visit stems as much from their personal connection as it does their working relationship. "He's a great guy, a very good friend," Suarez said before Friday's first practice at the 1.54-mile track. "He just asked me, 'Hey, Daniel, do you want me to go over there? Do you think it would be helpful?' I said, 'Man, to have a driver like you who has a bunch of wins here in Atlanta, it's a big deal.' Yeah, he's going to be here to help me out, help the team out. It's a team he knows very well. It's going to be good to have him just to watch and to tell us what's going on from his view." RELATED: Edwards attends Phoenix test to guide rookie Suarez Suarez consulted with Edwards early in the 85-minute opening practice, moments after a 14-lap first run to prep for Sunday's 500-miler, the second race of the season. FOX Sports was quick to note in its broadcast that Edwards has some experience as a substitute teacher on his resume, something that he said may or may not come in handy. "I didn't teach much Spanish and that's coming back to haunt me," joked Edwards , who also told FS1 that he had a hard time staying away from the site of so many successes, including his breakthrough Cup win. "But no, it's really neat to see a guy like Daniel, he's a self-made guy and he's doing a great job. He really cares. To help him a little bit is really cool." Besides learning the nuances of the well-worn Georgia asphalt from a master, Suarez is also getting a preliminary feel for the ebbs and flows of the NASCAR schedule in the big leagues. His season-long workload has gone up, as have his obligations -- both at the track and away. He's just one race in, after a 29th-place series debut in the season-opening Daytona 500, but he already has an early sense of what the year may hold. "I think it's definitely more busy than the XFINITY Series, more going on," Suarez said. "You have more time in the race track than when you are home, but it's good. I really enjoy a lot to spend time in the race track with my team, working hard to become a better person, a better driver. So far, I'm really enjoying this a lot." </p>
Carl Edwards returns to track ... to help Suarez
Recently retired driver Carl Edwards was at Phoenix Raceway on Tuesday, offering assistance to Daniel Suarez, the new driver of the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Carl Edwards leaves JGR: What they're writing
WATCH: 'Not saying the R-word' " Reasons behind decision The media center can be a tough place for drivers -- or a place to celebrate. Reliving the key moments of a thrilling victory. Hard questions on hard days. Carl Edwards ' decision to leave Joe Gibbs Racing and step aside from competing full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series brought a little of both at Wednesday's press conference at the team's shop. And it was his own quote, published by NBC Sports' Nate Ryan on Tuesday, that made Edwards choke up and tearfully whisper, "I just want to be a good person." The quote from Ryan's story was: "For me, the Midwestern mentality is pretty simple. It's just do your job, do your work, be kind to people. Your reputation will follow. I'm really proud to be from Missouri." It's an accurate self-description, per the lauds from NASCAR writers and broadcasters heaped upon Edwards upon his exit. Here are some of the sentiments shared in print and online. Tom Jensen of FOX Sports initially broke the story of Edwards' imminent departure and wrote, "Whatever his next move, Edwards certainly has established an impressive body of work in NASCAR. He owes no one in the racing community anything, and his choice to step away -- whether temporarily or permanently -- that's his right. And he's exercised it. Good luck in the future, Carl . We'll miss you." " Read more Ryan added: "You always know what you will get in an interview with Carl Edwards -- a professional take on whatever the question is, and answered with the measured intelligence and perspective of a man who once taught high school on the side." " Read more Bob Pockrass, ESPN: "( Edwards ) likes his business to be handled neatly, and he believes any friction should be handled privately, leading to criticism that he wasn't as genuine as other drivers. But that also has given him the persona as the ultimate professional publicly, and that is what has attracted fans and has allowed him to be a favorite of talk show hosts looking for a driver who can relate to fans and nonfans alike." " Read more Jordan Bianchi, SB Nation: "As private as Edwards is, he is also among the more personable drivers in the garage. Any interview with him began with him removing his sunglasses so he could look the interviewee and camera straight in the eye. The gesture became such a trademark, sometimes other drivers would good-naturedly mock it." " Read more The finish at Homestead repeatedly came up in conversations this week. One of the most illustrative moments in Carl Edwards ' racing history was the way he left what may be his last race. After a heartbreaking wreck involving the No. 22 Team Penske car with 10 laps to go that cost him the 2016 NASCAR Chase championship, Edwards shook hands with Joey Logano 's crew chief Todd Gordon and team members, rallied his own family and reached out to fans. Jeff Gluck of USA Today told the tale on Nov. 20: "On his way out of the garage, Edwards spotted one of his longtime fans. Rhianne Mitchell was standing silently nearby, with tears in her eyes. Edwards stopped in his tracks, turned around and returned to give her a hug. He pumped his fist at his loyal supporter, as if to try and pick up her spirits. "This kind of exceptional conduct in the face of deep disappointment was something everyone in all walks of life should cherish. And NASCAR fans should certainly be proud Edwards is one of their own." " Read more Lee Spencer of Motorsport.com reached farther back in her own memories to share a story that paints a picture of who Edwards was when he entered the sport, and who he remained. It occurred after Edwards' victory in the 2004 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opener at Daytona International Speedway . "But it was after that Daytona win that Edwards would forever endear himself to this writer. After a typical, hectic Speedweeks, I was battling the flu and was forced to leave the track and follow the race on TV. Edwards was kind enough to call me from Victory Lane to offer fresh quotes for my story. Edwards' graciousness was not lost on me." " Read more &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Carl Edwards steps away from racing; Daniel Suarez to wheel No. 19
RELATED: NASCAR Nation reacts to Edwards' news " Quotes from day HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Carl Edwards gave three very detailed reasons why he is stepping away from NASCAR competition, only to circle back to the subject later and put it a bit more succinctly. "Life is short," Edwards told a room full of media, sponsor representatives and other assorted team and NASCAR officials Wednesday. "You've got to do what your gut tells you." And Edwards said his gut told him it was time to move on to something else. Edwards , 37, officially announced that he will not compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017, calling a halt to a career that included 28 victories at NASCAR's top level, 10 Chase appearances and two second-place finishes in the series' championship points battle. The 2017 season was to be his third in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, his team since joining JGR in 2015 after an 11-year career at Roush Fenway Racing . Instead, it will be 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Daniel Suarez who will be at the helm of the team's No. 19 entry. Suarez, the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national championship and a product of the sanctioning body's Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next programs, will make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in the season-opening Daytona 500 , scheduled for Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). MORE: Recap Suarez's title year " Suarez returns home to Mexico a champion Edwards , wearing a dark suit and gray dress shirt as he walked on stage at the organization's headquarters here in Huntersville, didn't entirely rule out a return to racing in some form or fashion, explaining that "If I'm going to get back in a race car, which I'm not saying the R (retirement) word here … I'm calling Coach (Joe) Gibbs first. "There is no better race team. There is no faster car than a Toyota Camry. There's no better engine. There's no better crew chief than Dave Rogers. There's no better crew." Why step away when he is seemingly still at the top of his game? He finished fourth in the 2016 points standings and was in the title picture right up until a crash with 12 laps remaining took him out of contention in the series’ final race. WATCH: Edwards takes blame for Miami wreck " Edwards' 2016 in review
Carl Edwards gave special retirement gift to 'Smoke'
RELATED: What if Edwards had won 2011 title? While Tony Stewart hasn't wanted the whole "retirement tour" and the gifts that come along with it like what we saw with Jeff Gordon in 2015, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion recently received a gift that he couldn't refuse -- and from an unlikely source. Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards revealed Thursday during the Championship 4 press conference in Miami that he gave "Smoke" the helmet he wore at Homestead-Miami Speedway to conclude Stewart's third and final championship run in 2011 ... when Stewart beat Edwards in heart/tie-breaking fashion. "I watched him on my way up," Edwards said of the gesture. "To see him progress and to finally be able to battle him, that was a lot of fun." The effort wasn't lost on Stewart. "That shows you how thoughtful Carl is," Stewart said. "I think that's a huge honor. It shows Carl's character." It may have been fun, but Edwards still can't quite stomach the reminder that he nearly could've been going for his second Sprint Cup Series title this weekend in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App). The final race from 2011 recently re-aired on NBCSN, and the veteran driver could only tune-in for a handful of minutes before he gave up after stumbling upon it on TV. "I had seen enough after five or 10 minutes," Edwards said. "I had to shut it off." MORE: Stewart relives title via live tweeting &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;