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Victory Lane: James Buescher
James Buescher wins the Fan Appreciation 200 Presented by New Holland at Iowa Speedway.
Changing planes, changing plans: One fan's journey to Daytona
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! What won't NASCAR fans do for each other? Not a lot. I want to tell you about the experience of one particular NASCAR fan this past weekend. Last Saturday morning, my brother Randy and his wife, Karen, both NASCAR fans, were traveling from Salt Lake City to St. Kitts with a change of flights in Charlotte. NASCAR fan Randy Bragg was traveling from Cleveland to Daytona Beach, also with a change of flights in Charlotte. The three happened to meet as they shared a table grabbing a bite to eat while waiting for their connecting flights. Bragg was decked out in NASCAR/Junior Nation gear and my brother, being his chatty and social self, struck up a conversation with him about NASCAR. Bragg explained to my brother that his trip to Daytona was admittedly set up to be a bit of a disappointment. You see, Bragg had purchased tickets for the Daytona 500 weekend, but had mistakenly arranged his plane ticket for the wrong weekend. He was still making the trip to Daytona despite the mix-up. My brother reached out to me from Charlotte and we immediately got the ball rolling to make sure Bragg's visit would be one that he wouldn't soon forget. Bragg, a former lineman for Cleveland Public Power with 15 years of service, is disabled after a long fight with astrocytoma -- a form of brain cancer. He is a survivor, having withstood 18 different surgeries about a decade ago. He continues to suffer from hydrocephalus and has three shunts that work to drain the water on his brain. When Bragg landed in Daytona, he went straight to the track where my colleague, Meghan Miley, met him with Clash tickets and a Hot Pass. Miley thought he was a family friend of ours and was unaware we'd never even met. While he wasn't a family friend at the time, he is now. Bragg made his way to his seat to enjoy the races and when the skies opened up that night, canceling the race, he was unable to find a ride service that would accommodate his motorized chair. His sister called me from Ohio, worried that her brother wasn't going to be able to find his way to his hotel. I called Bragg, we set a meeting point, loaded him up and went to find his hotel. He'd started from Cleveland at 5 that morning and was exhausted by the time he checked in. His sister was relieved that he was safe. Bragg texted me at 5 a.m. Sunday, saying he was ready to see some racing. I took his coffee order, stopped for donuts, picked him up and we headed to the track. Bragg had never been to a superspeedway before, so we took an up-close look at the DIS banking before heading to the garage. As we went under the tunnel he asked, "Is that the track above us?" We then grabbed breakfast with the NASCAR officials and had a chance to meet Daytona track president, Chip Wile. Bragg met a host of other industry folks and was absolutely amazed when Richard Childress spent a good deal of time with us that morning. Randy Bragg poses near the No. 21 car of Ryan Blaney . After Daytona 500 qualifying was complete, I told Bragg my family was headed to New Smyrna Speedway for the K&N Pro Series East opener -- and so off we went with our new friend to take in more racing. Bragg is someone who knows what he wants. On the way back to the hotel last night, he had me go through the drive-in at McDonald's where he ordered a large coffee with 5 creamers and 3 Equals and an apple pie. It seemed the perfect ending to a perfect day. Bragg had opened up to me as the day went along. His past 10 years have been trying, to say the least. In addition to the health challenges, his mother died last year, his marriage had failed, and he has two sons that he wishes he was more connected to. There's no telling what can happen when NASCAR Nation comes together. I see a lot of compassion every day in this sport. This is no isolated example -- it's part of who we are. I don't tell this story to say, "Hey, look at what I did." I share it to show that NASCAR is a little bit different from other sports and that difference is not insignificant. In this case, it boiled down to a handful of NASCAR fans (my brother, sister-in-law, and me) coming together to make sure that a fellow fan was taken care of. Mission accomplished. Jim Cassidy is Senior Vice President of Racing Operations for NASCAR.
Take a ride: Earnhardt Jr. surprises fan in Goodyear blimp
Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. put on a uniform of a different kind this week to surprise a longtime fan and U.S. military veteran.
Kaz Grala sneaks by last-lap 'Big One' for win at Daytona
RELATED: Race results " Series standings DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In the space of 100 laps, Kaz Grala went from youngest NASCAR national series pole winner at Daytona International Speedway to youngest NASCAR national series race winner at Daytona. What happened between the first green flag and the checkers, however, could fill volumes. Miraculously, Grala slipped through a wild wreck on the backstretch on the final lap of Friday night's NextEra Energy Resources 250 to win the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race contested in stages under NASCAR's new competition format. That final wreck, ignited when Ben Rhodes spun from the outside lane off the bumper of ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger, wiped out veteran contenders Johnny Sauter , Timothy Peters and Matt Crafton . RELATED: In-car look at last-lap melee But Grala -- 18 years, 1 month and 26 days old -- drove through the melee as trucks bounced off each other like pinballs on either side of him. Grala claimed the trophy for his first national series victory and the five playoff points that go with a race win under NASCAR's new scoring system. Austin Wayne Self took the runner-up spot, followed by Chase Briscoe, and the father-son combination of John Hunter Nemechek and Joe Nemechek in fourth and fifth. "That was freaking awesome! I can't believe we won Daytona," Grala said in Victory Lane. "I couldn't see a lot there. I knew it was a little bit risky. It was the last lap, and we had to do what we had to do. "I saw coming out of (Turn) 2 it starting to get crazy. There wasn't going to be any way I was going to be lifting (off the accelerator). I was just going to go low, cross my fingers and close my eyes a little bit. "Luckily, it worked out for me. I just can't believe it. It's so surreal." Self put it much more succinctly. "When all hell broke loose, we were in the right spot." The race didn't wait until the last lap to get crazy. On the second lap, Briscoe, racing for the first time in the Truck Series, gave Noah Gragson's Toyota an off-center tap on the rear bumper, sending Gragson bouncing off the outside wall in Turn 1 and out of control. By the time the smoke cleared, 17 trucks -- one more than half the field -- had sustained varying degrees of damage in the wreck. RELATED: One lap in, wreck shakes up Daytona field Gragson, Austin Cindric and Ryan Truex couldn't continue. Same for Ross Chastain and Clay Greenfield . John Hunter Nemechek stayed on the lead lap but fell victim to a flat tire as Stage 2 of the race came to an end with Sauter in the lead. "I took a few hard hits out there," said Gragson, who was unhurt in the wreck. "Just a bummer. I didn't want to end the race like this, but I had a good time for the lap I got. "Felt like the 29 (Briscoe) hit me in the wrong part of the bumper going through the tri-oval. It just got me loose, and it got pointed into the outside wall." In the final 60-lap stage, all four GMS Chevrolet pitted early on Lap 68. Though Spencer Gallagher and ultimate sixth-place finisher Scott Lagasse Jr. drew speeding penalties while exiting pit road, Sauter reclaimed the lead, with Grala trailing him, when Christopher Bell 's Toyota got loose in Turn 4, slowed and spun off the bumper of Timothy Peters ' Tundra. Sauter, the defending series champion, looked to be in control of the race until John Hunter Nemechek 's spin off Turn 2 on Lap 95 of 100 caused the fifth and final caution and set up a chaotic two-lap run to the finish. Wrecked on the backstretch, Sauter was credited with a 15th-place finish but collected two playoff points for winning both the first and second stages, each lasting 20 laps. Bell, one of the preseason favorites for the championship, sustained heavy damage in three wrecks, including the last one, but his seemingly indestructible No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra made it to the finish line in eighth-place, salvaging a respectable result from a potentially disastrous night. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Storied 'Great American Race' gets new wrinkle: stages
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: See the stages for every 2017 race DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Daytona 500 turns 59 on Sunday, just one year shy of a solid, round milestone number. But the otherwise ordinary anniversary has a momentous wrinkle thrown in. For the first time in its history, the "Great American Race" will be run in three stages -- 60, 60 and 80 laps -- with points incentives to the top finishers in each segment. It's an infusion of a new -school format, transposed against the backdrop of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ' most prestigious event. The significance isn't lost on the 40 drivers who will take the flag in Sunday's 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and neither is the bounty of bonus points that will be available. It's a tantalizing carrot, one that could alter teams' approaches as each race plays out this season. "I think that's the biggest thing -- it's going to change the strategy," said Kevin Harvick , the 2007 Daytona 500 winner. "I think there is going to be a lot of strategy involved. Late cautions in (stages) or the timing of the (stages) … if there is an early caution … do you stay out and gain the points and pit later? There's going to be a lot of strategy that will mix the field up more than we've seen in the past. … "There's really no time to relax and I think that's going to create a bit more of a chaotic atmosphere for the fact that there is so much to get and if you don't aggressively go out and try and get those things, you're going to get behind really fast." The lure for drivers at the end of the first two stages are regular-season points awarded to the top 10, plus a bonus point for a stage winner to carry into the playoffs. That format will be in place for all 36 points-paying races through the season. The scoring system is no different for the other 35 events, but Sunday's opener has the weight of the Harley J. Earl Trophy and a career-changing victory at the end of the third stage. RELATED: Fast facts on the race enhancements " Changes in NASCAR for 2017 "I'd love to get those points, obviously, at the end of each stage, but I do feel like there's going to be people that wreck at the end of the stages," said Austin Dillon , who won the Daytona 500 pole position in 2014. "So, I don't know. If I'm running in the top three and I keep in my position, I probably won't pull out of it." While on-track discretion will remain in play, the format may have an unintended effect on restrictor-plate racing at Daytona and sister track Talladega in potentially discouraging the play-it-safe tactic of laying back of the main pack. Joey Logano , the 2015 Daytona 500 winner, said he imagines that stage strategy will evolve for crew chiefs over the course of the season, but that for him, there's little strategy to dither over. "For me as a driver, nothing changes because I'm as wide-open as I can be," Logano said. "I don't have a slower gear. It's high speed all the time and I'm gonna try to pass everyone every time I can, so that part doesn't change for me." &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
Ford Performance lifts brand, cars to new heights
Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade/NK Photography For 2017, Ford Performance will field seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series organizations featuring 13 teams. Driving Ford Fusions for the first time this year are Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick . Harvick won the series title in 2014 while Busch was the last Ford driver to win the series’ championship, in 2004 with what is now Roush Fenway Racing . "I think you've seen over the past year with the formulation of Ford Performance that we have a different approach to our racing program," Global Director of Ford Performance Dave Pericak said when the agreement with SHR was announced early last season. "A lot of people have heard me say that we don't race to race, we race to win and we also race to learn. So we're truly using racing as an innovation test bed in development of new technologies, tools and our people. "I think Stewart-Haas brings with it just an enormous amount of expertise and the way that they approach racing is a very technical way, so all of that is going to blend very well with what we’ve been doing within Ford Performance and how we are approaching now our racing program." In the past four years, Ford teams have visited Victory Lane 35 times and six of its drivers have earned a spot in the 10-race, championship-determining playoff. Team Penske 's Joey Logano has advanced to the Championship Round in two of the past three seasons. "There does seem to be an increase in engineering support again," noted one long-time team owner. "It's nice when Raj (Nair) and Dave, guys dedicated to winning, show up at the track. You know they are there for one reason – to see a Ford win." It's something that doesn't go unnoticed to Ford drivers. "With the transition to Ford, right off the bat the thing I've enjoyed most is it's the head honchos you're talking to," Bowyer said. "Raj Nair has made this Ford Performance the reality it is today, and he's the guy you're talking to."
'Cars 3' gears up for season-long ride with NASCAR
SHOP: Cars 3 NASCAR-related merchandise RELATED: Drivers thrilled to be a part of Cars 3 DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. -- Disney•Pixar's "Cars 3" is teaming up with NASCAR this year as crowd favorite Lightning McQueen prepares to return to the big screen June 16. Plans for the joint effort were shared by "Cars 3" director Brian Fee, Cristela Alonzo -- the voice of the film's elite trainer Cruz Ramirez -- and NASCAR's vice president of entertainment marketing and content development, Zane Stoddard, today at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida as fans gear up for the DAYTONA 500 (Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on FOX). Owen Wilson, the voice of Lightning McQueen, will serve as grand marshal for the 59th annual "Great American Race." NASCAR drivers Chase Elliott , Ryan Blaney , Daniel Suárez and Bubba Wallace will join NASCAR legends Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty as voices in the upcoming film. "'Cars 3' very much pays homage to stock car racing and its rich history," Fee said. "Our story leans into the drama, emotion and excitement NASCAR fans find at every race." "We're excited to take part in delivering the 'Cars 3' experience to our current and next generation of fans, at-track, in school, online and across the country," Stoddard added. "In addition to all the engaging NASCAR 'Cars 3' elements industry-wide, we think our fans will really enjoy the roles of several young drivers in the film." According to Lylle Breier, senior vice president worldwide marketing partnerships and special events for the Walt Disney Studios, the movie inspired an expanded program with NASCAR. "This collaboration marks the biggest between the 'Cars' franchise and NASCAR," Breier said. "We're looking forward to a fun and exciting season-long program with a host of activities." FAST FORWARD Kicking off at the DAYTONA 500 with the premiere of a new on-air promo, the NASCAR-"Cars 3" collaboration continues throughout the entire race season. * The joint effort will include a variety of marketing initiatives, including digital and social cross promotional activities and sweepstakes. * Throughout the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , races will feature a "Cars 3" at-track presence via a wide array of promotions. * A co-branded merchandise program with Fanatics -- the first of its kind for NASCAR and the "Cars" franchise -- will also kick off at the DAYTONA 500 featuring the first film-related product available for fans to purchase. Product will be available at the Fanatics Trackside Superstore continuing at race tracks throughout the season, as well as online at the NASCAR.com Superstore . * NASCAR Acceleration Nation, the sport's youth program, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be featured throughout the duration of a "Cars 3" nationwide tour. * Later this year, NASCAR and Disney will release NASCAR Acceleration Nation and "Cars 3" co-branded in-classroom learning materials for elementary school students. THE VOICES OF NASCAR The announcement included the introduction of NASCAR greats -- from rookie drivers and legends to the voices behind the sport -- tapped by Pixar Animation Studios to voice characters in the film. * CHASE ELLIOTT , 21, was named 2016's Sunoco Rookie of the Year after finishing last season 10th in the driver standings. Elliott, who pilots the No. 24 car previously driven by four-time champion Jeff Gordon , lends his voice to second-generation Piston Cup racer CHASE RACELOTT in "Cars 3." Racelott's blend of skills, track smarts and top-of-the-line technology make this rookie a real contender. * RYAN BLANEY , a 23-year-old, third-generation racer, pilots the No. 21 Ford in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. He voices third-generation racer RYAN "INSIDE" LANEY in "Cars 3." Known for his racing passion and ability to have fun on the track, Laney races with talent, speed and precision. * DANIEL SUÁREZ , who just turned 25, pilots the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . The 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion can be heard in the film voicing DANNY SWERVEZ, a next-gen racer who's ascending the Piston-Cup ladder against all odds. A mid-season replacement, Swervez is a quick learner who pushes himself to the limit. * BUBBA WALLACE , 23, won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in 2013, becoming the first African-American to win in one of the top three touring divisions since Wendell Scott in 1963. In "Cars 3," Wallace voices next-gen stock car racer BUBBA WHEELHOUSE, a fast and tenacious young racer who knows how to win. * DARRELL WALTRIP , the NASCAR Hall of Fame racer-turned-NASCAR on FOX color analyst lends his voice to DARRELL CARTRIP. Cartrip, a veteran Piston-Cup announcer also heard in "Cars" and "Cars 2," may think he's seen it all -- but this new season might still have a surprise or two in store. * SHANNON SPAKE , NASCAR on FOX correspondent and college football and basketball reporter for FOX Sports, voices on-the-track reporter SHANNON SPOKES in the film. Spokes weaves her way into the middle of the action for in-the-moment interviews, and she's not afraid to ask racers the tough questions. * HOWARD AUGUSTINE "HUMPY" WHEELER JR ., the legendary NASCAR promoter and former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway , lends his voice to iconic Dinoco team owner TEX DINOCO in "Cars 3." Tex, who met Lightning McQueen in "Cars," would love nothing more than to see No. 95 decked out in Dinoco blue. * JEFF GORDON , four-time NASCAR champion, current NASCAR on FOX analyst, and story consultant for "Cars 3," lends his voice to JEFF GORVETTE. Gorvette, whose number of top-10 finishes remains unmatched, may have hung up his racing tires -- but his heart remains on the track. His ability to succeed at all levels turned hoods wherever he raced. * RICHARD "THE KING" PETTY , team owner and champion NASCAR driver with 200 wins, returns to the role of STRIP "THE KING" WEATHERS. From his humble beginnings on the Piston-Cup circuit to the glitzy sponsorship and media attention, the champion racer now serves as crew chief for his nephew, Cal Weathers. * KYLE PETTY , retired NASCAR driver and current NASCAR commentator on NBC, helps bring CAL WEATHERS to life in "Cars 3." Weathers grew up around the track watching his uncle, Strip "The King" Weathers, tear it up. The veteran racer finds himself taking a step back to make room for the next generation on the track. * MIKE JOY is FOX Sports' lead NASCAR announcer who will call his 38th DAYTONA 500 this Sunday. He lends his iconic voice to on-the-spot radio talk show host MIKE JOYRIDE in the movie. Joyride stays one step ahead in the racing news game by keeping a keen eye on where the racing season is headed. * RAY EVERNHAM , winner of three NASCAR championships as crew chief for Jeff Gordon and current consultant to Hendrick Motorsports , lends his voice to RAY REVERHAM, Jackson Storm's crew chief, and an expert at training in the cutting edge technology and tactics being used by the next-gen racers. Evernham also serves as a story consultant for filmmakers. LIFE-SIZED CHARACTERS NASCAR fans can picture themselves with Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez -- or at least life-sized cars designed to look like the big-screen characters. The Cruz Ramirez lookalike premiered in Daytona on Thursday, alongside No. 95 -- the Lightning McQueen car made its debut at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January. Comedian and actress Cristela Alonzo got to hang with her character lookalike at the event. "I am excited to be here as race fans get to see these two life-sized characters together for the first time," Alonzo said. The Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez lookalike cars are slated to make appearances at select races throughout the season as part of a "Cars 3" nationwide tour. Joining them on the tour will be a lookalike of Lightning McQueen's on-track rival, Jackson Storm. GOING GRAND As previously announced, Owen Wilson, the voice of Lightning McQueen, will serve as grand marshal of the DAYTONA 500 this Sunday, Feb. 26. Wilson has provided the voice of the red car in all of the "Cars" films. ABOUT THE MOVIE Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that No. 95 isn't through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing's biggest stage! Directed by Brian Fee (storyboard artist "Cars," "Cars 2") and produced by Kevin Reher ("A Bug's Life," "La Luna" short), "Cars 3" cruises into theaters on June 16. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Johnson's humble start in sport make quest for title No. 8 more remarkable
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Johnson ready to tackle new format DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Words of encouragement and inspiring slogans fill the window separating Daytona International Speedway 's " Fan Zone" and Jimmie Johnson 's garage stall. There are dozens of congratulatory messages alongside several "I love yous" scribbled in yellow marker. One note simply says "win." Even fans wearing other drivers' souvenir hats and memorabilia make a point to stop by , peer in and see what the reigning seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship team is up to. People are lined up five and six deep outside Johnson's pit stall window all day, every day. "I think people used to boo Jimmie when he was constantly winning, but people are understanding now (that) he's an awesome driver and they're starting to like him more," said Kevin Waring, 43, of Schenectady, New York -- donning Jimmie Johnson gear from head to socks. He brought his whole family -- including his Harvick-Elliott-Logano-loving wife Tammy and kids Chase, 12, and Chelsea, 8 -- to their first ever Daytona 500 . And he's quite optimistic about seeing "his" favorite driver walk away with a trophy. And a historic eighth championship. "Jimmie is a down-to-earth guy, you see it every time he does an interview and he's a family man like I am," Waring said. "He's won a championship every way you can, by points, in the Chase, and they're changing things again this season. And I think people are beginning to respect that more. I think they're coming around. I really do." The two-time Daytona 500 winner Johnson will start the "Great American Race" from the rear on Sunday. He had to go to a backup No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet after an incident in Thursday's Can-Am Duel qualifying race. MORE: Johnson to run in backup car His fans aren't overly worried by the circumstance, however. Johnson claimed his record-tying seventh Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November by winning the race despite starting last in the field. One of the most easy-going, popular drivers among his competitors, Johnson himself has noticed a distinct -- some would say seismic -- shift in the sport's vast audience. Fans may not have initially been sure what to think of this laidback, California dirt-bike racer-turned one of the greatest NASCAR champions of all time. He was too nice, too approachable, too humble, too talented -- and somehow that didn't immediately play into the comfort of NASCAR fandom. But the fans now seem to appreciate the hard work Johnson has always put in and certainly, if nothing else, the opportunity to watch a legend become legendary. "I think it was ... not only did I stop giving him advice, I started going to him for advice," said Johnson's former teammate-turned FOX Sports analyst Jeff Gordon . In some regards it's been easier for Johnson to earn trophies than it has to convince NASCAR's hardcore fans to accept and appreciate his championship form. He still has a good laugh at the reception he often gets -- although the boos are noticeably softer. How can someone be disliked because -- as fans are quick to claim -- he is too good or too nice? But it has long been a common anomaly in this sport. "Certainly more fans are eager to get the autograph," he acknowledged, laughing and shaking his head, still admittedly unsure what is expected of him. What he expects of himself is a far simpler notion. He is quick to say he has surpassed his own expectations. At just 41 years old, Johnson has already become the youngest seven-time champion in NASCAR history, younger than both Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt when they hoisted their seventh titles. His 80 wins are most among active drivers and he needs only 14 more to pass Jeff Gordon for third place on NASCAR's all-time wins chart. David Pearson's 105 wins are second to the great 200 -race winner Richard Petty. Johnson has won no fewer than four races a year in the last five seasons. He's won multiple races in all 15 years he's competed full time -- including a personal best 10 trophies in 2007. These are marks -- from race trophies to championship rings -- unlikely to be repeated anytime soon, if ever. So the question Johnson gets now is whether he can win that historical eighth Cup championship. His team owner, recent NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rick Hendrick, joins many who think it should be considered a very legitimate opportunity. "You know I think Jimmie is in the prime of his career with the way he goes after things, the way he works out, Chad and their time together," Hendrick said. "I think to me, getting the seventh (championship) was the challenge. It's hard to explain but I think it took some of the pressure off just getting the seventh. "And now, he can just race and if eight happens, great. I think he's got as good a shot as anybody out there. It's exciting. And one of the neatest things was to watch the crowd when he won (at Homestead) and see all the people in the stands get up. They saw history. We've said it before but Dale Earnhardt will always be 'The Intimidator' and Richard Petty will always be 'The King' but Jimmie has a shot to do something that, through different situations, he can be in a position all on his own. "He's as cool about it as I've ever seen him. I don't think there's any pressure on him. And we don't feel the pressure now that we've tied it. I think he's got as good a shot as anyone and now until the end, he knows how to win. "We're just honored to have what we have but looking forward to having the opportunity to do something no one else has done." If the thought of eight titles is head-shaking to fans, it is equally as jaw-dropping to Johnson. His start in the sport was humble, with a surplus of networking and winning paving the road to success. His stardom in the sport is a combination of hard work, talent and grit. "I got a phone call to run a late model race in 1997 for Hendrick Motorsports ," Johnson recalled. "Five days later I bought a one-way ticket, called (former Camping World Truck Series champion Ron) Hornaday and moved to Charlotte and just spent every day of the week going to lunch spots and passing out business cards. "Any business card I got, I'd write a letter and send to the person. I got a fax machine so if I got a business card from someone I would add their fax number for the Chevy press release that went out after my off-road races. "I was obsessed with networking and establishing myself." Johnson smiles when recalling his humble start, something he thinks people forget about when they see him now as a NASCAR superstar. "I don't think I could have had this healthy lifestyle doing what I had to do then," allowed Johnson, who is a successful triathlete in addition to winning in his race car. "I wouldn't have made it. I wouldn't have stood out as the guy super hungry who wanted it so badly. Plus, it took some time to learn these cars and learn the industry. "I think the timing has worked out well for me and helped me prolong the second half of my career, but the first half I really had to be the guy at Big Daddy's restaurant eating hushpuppies or that gas station by DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) where there was barbecue on the side. "I'd literally go over there and sit with a big sweet tea and pass out business cards. It's all kinda served its purpose." It has indeed. And so Johnson begins his historic quest for eight -- with the wonderful and rare security of knowing that he's already legend-worthy. His dedication to being fit, to being prepared mentally, to maintaining a competitive edge, isn't really about making history, however. It's about the thrill of winning, of making a living doing something he so genuinely enjoys. And is so incredible at. "No, I don't (feel I have to) win eight," Johnson said breaking into a grin. "But I'm sure as hell going to try." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
The First-timer's guide to the Daytona 500
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Read more Inside Groove So, you’ve decided to attend your first NASCAR race -- how exciting! You’ve chosen the Daytona 500 , the greatest spectacle of stock car racing, conquered by heroes like Jeff Gordon , Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and Trevor Bayne . Here are some tips and tricks on how you can make your maiden trip to this year's Daytona 500 the most enjoyable experience at the track possible. -- Wear sunscreen! The sun is hot in Daytona Beach. It's common practice to wear a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of your favorite driver's car number. Don't have a favorite driver yet? Jamie McMurray is a popular choice -- he's No. 1, really. --During the race, you'll hear a lot of people seated around you shouting, "Go Dale Jr.!" This is normal. Junior Nation has been asked to remind their driver to keep going -- he's been out of the car for a few months and his fans are trying to be helpful in case he forgot how to do his job. -- Purchase tickets well in advance of the Daytona 500 ! You can no longer arrive at the hallowed grounds of motorsports and expect to answer the Grand Marshal's three riddles to gain entry to the race. Times have indeed changed. -- Bump drafting is NOT encouraged in the line for the bathrooms. Trust me. Leave it to the professionals. -- On Lap 14 of the Daytona 500 , you'll be asked to hold up 14 fingers in honor of the now-retired Tony Stewart . Be sure to comply, lest you be ribbed and taunted by fellow racegoers for the remainder of the event. -- It's customary to perform "the wave" on each of the race's 200 laps as the pack races by where you're seated. Remind your neighbors of this if they forget. -- If you fall off your boat into Lake Lloyd, simply put yourself in a bag of rice for 24 hours to dry off. -- It'll be SUPER awkward walking into the track wearing your Scott Speed 2012 team t-shirt. Stop by the merchandise tent as soon as possible if that's the case. -- Upon gaining entry to the track, you'll be handed a race program that explains the race festivities. It's part of your ticket agreement with the track that you list the program for sale on eBay immediately following completion of the race. -- When 40 cars bolt past you at full speed after the green flag waves, the noise can be rather startling. Most race car drivers, however, are quite respectful if you give them a "shush" as they race on. Don't be shy -- race car drivers are people, too, and they're happy to comply with a fan's polite request! -- In the event of rain, the race will be delayed until the track is sufficiently dried. Avoid sitting in the grandstands for hours, thinking the cars will come back around the track any time now -- it's quite likely the cars are actually stopped on pit road, disguised by car covers! -- Do not utter the words, "Drivers, start your engines!" before the official command is given by the Grand Marshal. Reciting this phrase could startle drivers into accidentally starting their race cars sooner than expected -- and you don't want responsibility for that magnitude of disaster on your hands. -- Open bowls of cereal are not permitted in the facility. Finish those flakes and leave your bowl in the car before you attend The Great American Race! Better yet, meet up with other racing/cereal enthusiasts at one of the designated "cereal bowl zones" in the parking lot outside the track. -- You'll notice the cars look quite a bit different in person than they do on TV. That's simply because the camera adds ten pounds. Enjoy your slimmed and unfettered view of those speed machines! -- When there's a crash on the track, the cars always seem to end up at the end of skid marks. That means trouble! When you start to see skid marks appear, recite the customary Daytona skid marks chant to alert race fans around you: " Women and men 'round these hallowed grounds; hark -- now rise -- for trouble abounds!" -- Before the race begins, airplanes will fly in formation over the track -- this is called the "fly-over" and it's perfectly normal. Don't feel embarrassed -- you didn't accidentally go to the air show instead of the biggest race of the NASCAR season! -- Most food vendors within the gates of the race track do not offer free refills on cans of Monster Energy. -- Speaking of food vendors, try out some Daytona 500 specialties! Ask for the secret menu to get access to delicacies like "Race Puppies," "Busch Ears," "Cassill Greens," "Dale's Famous Gus Drops," and Daytona's own "Pasta Logano," named after the 2015 winner of The Great American Race. -- Fellow fans wearing a shirt bearing your favorite driver are required to return all high-fives and fist bumps. Promptly report any suspicious refusals to return high-fives to track security. -- If you forget to print out this guide and bring it with you to the track, just remember DAYTONA: -- DAY le Earnhardt, Jr. is a common driver for whom you can cheer in case you forget the name of your favorite driver -- TON y Stewart isn't racing in the Daytona 500 this year -- he retired. (Remember, 14 fingers on Lap 14!) -- A good idea would have been to print out the First Timer's Daytona 500 Guide. Most of all, have fun and enjoy yourself! In most cases, you can head back home at the conclusion of the race. It's the mark of a Daytona novice to accidentally sit in the grandstands for weeks following the race -- don't embarrass yourself! &amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;
O'Donnell explains reasoning behind new over-the-wall pit road rule
NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell discusses the reasoning behind the new over-the-wall pit road rule and how it was applied in the Advance Auto Parts Clash.