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15 years later: Jimmie Johnson's first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win
Relive the 2002 NAPA Auto Parts 500 at Auto Club Speedway that saw Jimmie Johnson win his first ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
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;
Bank of America 500 moving to Sunday afternoon
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Charlotte "Daylight Racing Time" is back for the Bank of America 500 as the race returns to a Sunday afternoon start time in 2017, Charlotte Motor Speedway announced on Thursday. The fourth race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and first race in the Round of 12 will now be held on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 2 p.m. ET with TV coverage on NBC -- instead of the initial announced date of Saturday, Oct. 7 -- in a move geared for on-track competition and a more family-friendly schedule over a three-day weekend. "Charlotte's so tricky, especially when the sun's out," seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and defending Bank of America 500 winner Jimmie Johnson said in a track release. "And, the track's finally aging and getting to a place with a lot of character (so) that a day race will allow us to run so many more lanes and, I think, create such an entertaining and compelling race ... I'm really excited for a hot, slick, day race." The past two years have seen the race moved from Saturday to Sunday due to inclement weather. The race has not been scheduled for the daytime since 2002. The fall race weekend schedule at Charlotte had been set up to be a Thursday-Friday-Saturday affair in recent years. This year's schedule will also include: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying held on Friday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. ET, and the XFINITY Series Drive for the Cure 300 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 7, televised on NBCSN. That race is an elimination race in the XFINITY Series playoffs as the postseason field will shrink from 12 drivers to eight following the event. "We've heard from fans and from several drivers about how much fun it is to race during the daytime at Charlotte Motor Speedway," Marcus Smith, speedway president and general manager, said in the release. "A return to 'Daylight Racing Time' also builds on our commitment to being 'FANS FIRST' by providing families with affordable, world-class entertainment on a Sunday afternoon. Everyone should set their clocks for 'Daylight Racing Time,' because it's going to be an unforgettable weekend of racing." In other programming news: the fall race at Martinsville is now scheduled for a 3 p.m. ET start; and the fall Texas race will be broadcast on NBCSN.
Rain postpones Food City 500 to Monday
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman brings you up to speed on the postponement of the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
2017 Bank of America 500 to be raced on Sunday
NASCAR announced that October's annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be moved from Saturday night to Sunday starting in 2017
Johnson on slow start: 'I think we used up all our good luck at Homestead'
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Texas RELATED: Full lineup, roster for Sunday FORT WORTH -- In the moments following a qualifying miscue Friday evening at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson good -naturedly offered up an assessment of his 2017 season. "I think we used up all our good luck at Homestead last year," the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion told reporters with a smile. The luck he referred to was a happy ending to the 2016 season finale when he started last in the field and rallied to victory in the final three laps to clinch a record-tying seventh title. MORE: Johnson 'fortunate' for pressures put on team This year has been a different story -- a lot less "Cinderella" and a lot more "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good , Very Bad Day." He'll line up 24th on the starting grid for Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 (1:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) instead of anywhere close to the top-five effort he had put in before the No. 48 Lowe's Chevy spun in time trials. It's kinda been that way for Johnson early in the 2017 season. He is winless and ranked 14th in the standings entering Sunday's race -- the lowest he's been ranked after six races ever in a Hall of Fame-certain 16-season career. With a series-best six victories on the Texas high banks -- including three consecutive from 2014-15 -- Johnson is absolutely the all-time best here. He has five runner-up finishes and an all-time tops 1,023 laps led. He has a winner's cowboy hat for nearly every day of the week. The statistics are all promising for Johnson, however, this is also the first race on the newly paved, reconfigured Texas oval. In addition to the fresh pavement, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 has been lessened from 24 degrees to 20 degrees and the racing surface there widened from 60 to 80 feet. READ: Texas repave prooves difficult " Drivers eager to race on repave There was no testing prior to the race weekend, and four teams had to go to Plan B because of accidents in practice. Rookie Erik Jones and Chase Elliott will race backup cars after crashes in Friday's practice. Trevor Bayne and Kasey Kahne will race back-up cars after crashes in Saturday's final practice. WATCH: Elliott spins " Jones to backup " Bayne with issues " Kahne into wall Johnson, meanwhile, was the fastest in that last practice and ran more laps (45) than all but two drivers. Brad Keselowski completed 46 laps and Kyle Busch ran 47. "I have it in me, but I think it's a clean sheet of paper," Johnson said of the new-look Texas track. "You can't pick a favorite right now. Anytime there is a reconfiguration, a new asphalt, it's a total game-changer. All of past history is now out the window and it's like we are coming here for the first time." In addition to the Texas-specific challenges, Johnson's results elsewhere this season appear underachieving at first glance. He has only a single top 10 in six races -- ninth at Phoenix. And his average finish on the year so far is 18.2. Three times he's finished 19th or worse. A 34th-place result -- he was caught up in a crash not of his making -- in the season-opening Daytona 500 left the team playing catch-up immediately. The comforting news in all this is that the 80-time winner Johnson does not appear frantic or overly concerned about his season's start, but rather calm and optimistic. See: Relive all 80 wins And when it comes to navigating the Texas high banks, Johnson has every reason to feel that way. "I don't mind the questions, I mean, they are rightfully asked," Johnson said last week of the more frequent questions about the team's start. "I think the overreaction on either side is very amusing. If we are not winning, how big of a deal some make of it and when we win, how big of a deal some make of it. "I think our history shows that we can rebound quickly and we have unfortunately had slow summers through our existence. There are a few dynamics there that are pretty darn predictable even though we try to change them, especially that summer slump. "I am so fortunate in (that) my career has shifted in a way to where there are high expectations that come with it. I will gladly take that than a lot of shoes that other drivers are sitting in." </p>
Sammy Johns replaces Slugger Labbe as No. 3 crew chief for Richmond
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond Operations Director Sammy Johns will replace Slugger Labbe as the crew chief on the No. 3 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, Richard Childress Racing announced Friday. Labbe will remain at the Lexington, North Carolina, race shop to work on cars for next weekend's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Dillon will also have to start from the rear in Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) for failing pre-race inspection five times at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend. He will also have a hold of 30 minutes for opening practice and the No. 3 team will lose its pit stall selection at Richmond. Dillon has an average finish of 22.3 in six career starts at Richmond, while the fourth-year veteran notched a pair of top-10 finishes at Talladega in 2016. He placed third in last year's May race at NASCAR's biggest track. The team has gotten off to a bit of a slow start, with an average finish of 19.5 and one top-10 finish through eight races.
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>
France family makes special visit, honored at gala
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and his wife Amy were front and center at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone on April 26, visiting with patients and taking in a race of a different kind -- the pinewood derby variety. Yes, racing runs deep in the France family roots. So does charity. Wednesday's visit illustrates a deep relationship with helping children. Last year, The NASCAR Foundation announced plans to donate $1 million to Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone as part of a multi-year partnership to enhance the delivery of medical care to children. Since that time, The NASCAR Foundation has supported the Child Life Program to minimize the emotional stress on children when enduring illness, injury and medical treatments. "When you come to this kind of treatment center and hospital and see the good work they're doing, it moves you. It just does," Brian France said. "We met this entire group of people last fall at a (NASCAR) Foundation event. We committed at that time to be a part of their treatment center for children going forward, and here we are getting the tour and meeting the kids. We're happy to be here." It's The NASCAR Foundation's first multi-year partnership with NYU Langone Medical Center and marks its commitment to reach more kids nationally. NASCAR's charitable arm has donated more than $30 million and impacted more than one million children since its inception in 2006. " Learn more about The NASCAR Foundation's Speediatrics Children's Fund Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Tifft joined the Frances, rolling up his sleeves and pitching in on building an entry into the pinewood derby -- No. 19, of course, to match his entry for Joe Gibbs Racing. The event perhaps had special meaning for the 20-year-old Tifft, a member of the 2016-17 NASCAR Next class. Last year Tifft put his racing career -- and life -- on hold after doctors discovered a tumor on his brain. Successful surgery on July 1 removed the brain tumor, which was benign, as Tifft learned first-hand the importance of world-class care. The Frances and The NASCAR Foundation also were honored at the KiDS of NYU Langone Springfling Gala on April 27 for their tireless commitment in improving the lives of children. Brian France and Amy France represented The NASCAR Foundation at the gala. Together, they are continuing the legacy of Betty Jane France, Brian's mother, who created the vision for the Speediatrics Children's Fund, a program of The NASCAR Foundation to enhance the delivery of high-quality medical care to needy children across the country. Further carrying on the tradition of the France family's legacy of giving back, Brian and Amy France spend much of their personal time driving progress on issues that threaten the health and wellness of children. The Frances personally partner with dozens of world-class charitable organization, have been honored for their contributions to pediatric cancer and work tirelessly to combat a wide-range of issues related to disease, poverty, abuse and education. "You feel a stronger pull toward helping these children and doing something small to put some cheer into their life by supporting a world-class facility such as NYU Langone," said Amy France during the visit. &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;gt;
Hamlin: JGR's slump means team's working 'extra hard'
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond 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." &lt;/p&gt;