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Post-Race Reactions: O'Reilly 200
Elliott Sadler, Johnny Sauter and others comment on a wild night in Thunder Valley.
O'Reilly Auto Parts to sponsor Texas spring Sprint Cup race
FORT WORTH, Texas (May 16, 2016) - O'Reilly Auto Parts and Texas Motor Speedway have signed a multi-year agreement for the national automotive aftermarket retailing leader to serve as the race entitlement sponsor for the annual April NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the world-renowned motorsports facility beginning in 2017. O'Reilly Auto Parts will be linking its brand to the state's best-attended, single-day sporting event and the Sprint Cup Series' third-highest paying race in the newly named O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 that will be held Sunday, April 9, 2017. The O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 will be the signature race entitlement of the deal, but the company also will continue its title sponsorship of the annual November XFINITY Series race at Texas Motor Speedway to ensure a year-round presence in a top-five metropolitan market. The current O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge XFINITY Series race that is part of a NASCAR tripleheader in November will be rebranded the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 beginning in 2017. The O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 XFINITY Series race is scheduled for Nov. 4, 2017. In addition to the traditional branding assets in race entitlement agreements, O'Reilly Auto Parts will continue as the "Official Auto Parts Supplier of Texas Motor Speedway " and own exclusive status in the auto parts store category. No financial terms or specific length of the contract were disclosed. "Expanding our partnership with Texas Motor Speedway helps us deepen our connection with loyal NASCAR fans and build the O'Reilly brand on a national stage," O'Reilly Auto Parts Vice President of Marketing Doug Ruble said. "The O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 sponsorship gives us new ways to promote our stores, engage our customers and reinforce our commitment to motorsports." The agreement is O'Reilly Auto Parts' initial race sponsorship venture on the Sprint Cup Series level at Texas Motor Speedway , but the publicly traded Fortune 500 company boasts an expansive NASCAR race entitlement portfolio at this venue. Beginning with the O'Reilly 300 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in the fall of 1999, O'Reilly Auto Parts has been the title sponsor of six truck series races (1999-2004) and 27 XFINITY Series races (2002 through '16 season) at Texas Motor Speedway . That total includes sponsoring both the spring and fall XFINITY Series races annually since 2005 when Texas Motor Speedway added an annual fall NASCAR national series weekend. Under the new agreement, O'Reilly Auto Parts will relinquish its entitlement of the spring XFINITY Series race. The multi-year deal includes an expansive, multi-pronged promotional plan for the Sprint Cup Series race in O'Reilly Auto Parts' largest metropolitan market. The Springfield, Missouri-based company has more than 150 stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth Designated Market Area among its 4,600 in 44 states. O'Reilly Auto Parts and Texas Motor Speedway will be working in close cooperation to build this NASCAR race on a local, regional and national basis, engage race fans, increase attendance and attract race fans to its stores for all of their automotive needs. "We had a great meeting with the O'Reilly management team in Missouri a few months ago, and the thing that excites me the most about the partnership is this is going to be the promotion they are going to hang their hat on companywide all year long," Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said. "That's exciting because it helps spread the word about the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, Texas Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to all of their customers across the country. It helps build this event up and makes it bigger. This is a perfect fit for each other and I don't know how we could have done any better."
Full schedule for Atlanta
RELATED: See Atlanta races live Fresh off the season-opening races at Daytona, all three NASCAR Series will head to Atlanta Motor Speedway for a tripleheader. Check out the full weekend schedule below. Note: All times are ET FRIDAY, MARCH 3: ON TRACK -- 10-10:55 a.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 11-11:55 a.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- noon-1:25 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 1:30-2:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 2:30-3:25 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 3:30-4:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series final practice, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 4:30-5:25 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 5:45 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FS1 ( Follow live ) SATURDAY, MARCH 4: ON TRACK -- 9:15 a.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 10:40 a.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- noon-1:20 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series final practice, FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 2 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Rinnai 250 (163 laps, 251.02 miles), FS1 ( Follow live ) -- 4:30 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Active Pest Control 200 (130 laps, 200 .02 miles), FS1 ( Follow live ) SUNDAY, MARCH 5: ON TRACK -- 2:30 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (325 laps, 500.05 miles), FOX ( Follow live )
Snapshot: Daytona 500
RELATED: NASCAR 101: Format fast facts " Complete starting lineup At a Glanc e Where: Daytona International Speedway , 2.5-mile tri-oval in Daytona Green flag: 2:30 p.m. ET Stage lengths: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60, Stage 2 ends on Lap 120, Stage 3/race slated to end on Lap 200 TV/Radio: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Forecast: Sunny with a high temperature of 68 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. North-northeast winds of 10 to 15 mph, with gusts up to 20 mph National anthem: Jordin Sparks, starring in "God Bless the Broken Road," DAV Ambassador Grand Marshal: Actor Owen Wilson Race distance: 200 laps, 500 miles Pit road speed: 55 mph Caution car speed: 70 mph &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Penske proves plate tracks take more than just luck
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Logano signs new long-term deal DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- If the headline to this story doesn't read: Logano says, 'I don't know what the hell I'm doing,' don't blame the Team Penske driver. "That's the headline right there," Logano says, laughing. Clearly that isn't the case. When it comes to restrictor-plate racing, Logano, 26, obviously knows a thing or two. In fact, he and teammate Brad Keselowski have become two of the best at understanding the nuances of the draft and pack racing on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ' two biggest venues -- Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway . Since the fall Talladega race of 2014, the two have won six of nine races at the two tracks, including Logano's win in the Daytona 500 two years ago. Last season, the duo went three-for-four in plate races. "I've learned a lot about this whole thing, mainly because I just started studying it," Logano said of his recent success in plate races. "I had to." There was a time, he said, when he bought into the belief that success on the restrictor-plate tracks was simply a product of luck. Finding oneself in the right place at the right time. Choosing the right line instead of the wrong one. Guesswork at 200 mph. "But when you look at statistics, that's not the case," he said. "If it was luck, there would be a different winner every single time. But it's not." It's strategy. Understanding the draft and not only which moves to make, but when to make them. Likewise, the crew chiefs have to understand "what to do and when to do it. Spotters understanding everything," he said. "I guess as a driver and as a team we put the effort into it and we see some results because of it. What does Roger (Penske, team owner) say all the time? 'The harder I work the luckier I get?' " It's also being able to process all that information, combine it with what a driver knows about his car and those around him and making decisions in the blink of an eye. Something of what Keselowski describes as a "culture change" at Team Penske has had an impact as well. "I think we got really tired of people saying that restrictor-plate tracks were about luck," the 2012 series champion said. "And the culture really changed for us when, as a company, we decided this isn't luck anymore, this is a concerted effort to put on your best moves, your best face, your best cars and quit saying it's luck. "As soon as we stopped saying that at Team Penske we had a lot more success. I think it's a lot more about culture than anything else." RELATED: Logano nabs victory at 'The Clash' after wild final lap Physically, restrictor-plate racing might be the easiest form of NASCAR competition. Mentally it's the most taxing. "Mentally you're just completely shot," Logano said. "It's like your computer is just on overload with all the information. And some computers work quicker than others, right? It's a mental race." Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who will start on the outside of the front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) is an accomplished plate racer. So too are Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), the defending Daytona 500 champion, Kevin Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) and Kyle Busch (JGR). Toss in Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray as well. Logano said he isn't surprised that those are the drivers most often competing for wins and finishing in the top five on a regular basis at Daytona and Talladega. "They just get it," he said. "They know what to do. They make these moves on the race track and you go 'Yeah!' You'll see only those guys do it. "Every now and again you'll see those moves happen and you're like 'They knew what the hell was going on.' It all came together. And then you see other people that go for it and sometimes it doesn't work out; they may luck into one every now and again, they may completely lose it and go all the way to the back. Some guys just ride and they pick them off as some cars go backwards. But you're never going to get to the lead that way. "You have to be confident in your decision and the only way you're confident is through prep. Without preparation you can't be confident in anything. That's how I look at it." Keselowski scored his first Monster Energy Cup Series win in a restrictor-plate race, at Talladega in '09. It was career start No. 5 and helped open the door to his arrival at Team Penske . Five of his 21 career wins have come on the plate tracks. Looking back on past races, Keselowski said he's "almost embarrassed" by what he sees. "Because I see all the moves that were open," and not taken, he said. "I think that speaks to just having the experience and to learning the tactics and those changing, evolving, being developed. "Certainly the sport has changed and the drivers continue to get better. But the basics continue to be the same -- you've always had to have a good car to win this race. You're going to have to have a good car to win it this year, but you're going to have to have those tactics right."
At place of peace, Dale Jr. still 'craves' racing
DAYTONA 500 : Starting lineup " Race-day schedule " Key info RELATED: Junior fulfilled with his career numbers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- He tested at Phoenix earlier this year, qualified on the outside of the front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and on Thursday he led the bulk of his Can-Am Duel qualifying race before finishing fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr . is officially back. Today marks his return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , and no one is more pleased about it than the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports . "I really had fun," Earnhardt said Thursday evening after a strong return at a track where he's typically one of a handful of drivers expected to run well. "I hated to lose but still we have to be aware of how far we've come to get back here. To go out there and lead all those laps and be able to make some good smart moves, it felt great." The road back has been a long one for the 42-year-old Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of 2016 while recovering from a concussion. It marked the second time he had been sidelined by such an injury, and he admitted there were times he questioned what his racing future held. RELATED: Junior emerges from injury stronger, centered and ready to win "There was a lot of time during the recovery where there were days I was 90 percent sure I wasn't going to drive again," he said. "There were days when it was 50 percent. It was just moving all over the place depending on what I felt that day. Your recovery is up and down, you have good days and bad days. … "When it came down to it, I had to decide for myself if I wanted to drive anymore. I'm not going to race because of any other reason than I want to be out there." Earnhardt will roll off second alongside Elliott, the pole winner, for the 59th running of the Daytona 500. He is a two-time winner of the "Great American Race" and one of the favorites based on past success and this year's efforts thus far. RELATED: Chronicling Junior's return to racing " Dale Jr. in the 500 Restrictor-plate races are breeding grounds for multi-car crashes, with cars running two-, three- and sometimes four-wide, a dozen or more rows deep at 200 -plus mph. Earnhardt doesn't dwell on the possibility of another accident and what might result. "I don't want to wreck to sort of quantify my recovery," he said. "I think should that happen and I come out the other side of it feeling great, that will add a ton of confidence. I can't sit here and say that I know exactly how I'm going to react in those situations with confidence. So yeah, when I go through that process, there's a box or two to check that aren't checked yet." Three-time series champion Tony Stewart hung up his NASCAR uniform at the end of the '16 season. Two of Stewart's final four years driving for Stewart-Haas Racing were cut short due to injuries the Columbus, Indiana, native suffered in non-NASCAR events. But there was no apprehension about climbing back in the car following lengthy recovery periods, he said. "Never. It was more excitement to get back because you have to remember, we're drivers," Stewart, the winner of 49 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, said. "That's what we want to do, drive. "When you have an injury, all it is is a pain in the ass. It's keeping you from doing what you want to do. That's why you heard so many drivers praise Junior last year (when) he chose not to run. And that's hard." Fellow driver Martin Truex Jr . has a close relationship with Earnhardt -- the two were teammates from 2004-07 at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and spend time away from the track each fall on hunting trips. "I know he's got a lot on his shoulders," Truex said. "A lot of people put a lot of pressure on him, obviously. I think in a lot of ways he sometimes feels like he needs to be here for other people. But hopefully he made the decision based on what's best for him. I think he did. I know he's excited about racing still. He obviously still loves it and wants to do it and hopefully things will all work out for him." It has been 20 races since Earnhardt won his last race and just five -- due to his shortened '16 season -- since his last top five. Sunday affords the opportunity to reset both those streaks. After that? He's yet to win a championship at NASCAR's top level, but has finished as high as third. And, yes, he did say if he wins the title in '17 "it would be hard to not call it a career." RELATED: Earnhardt Jr. would consider walking away as champion He has a new outlook and seems to be at peace with the road he's traveled. For the longest time, he said "I let racing be who I was instead of what I did. "Like Richard Petty said, I've got a whole other life beyond driving and I really believe that," Earnhardt said. "I've got a lot of things I'd love to do. Even outside of having a family, there are a lot of things in business that I'd love to see if I could succeed at. I think we got a glimpse of what that would be like; it looks pretty awesome." For now, though, the Daytona 500 and another season of crisscrossing the country await. And Earnhardt is more than OK with that. "Like I said, I crave to drive the car," he said. "I love the position I'm in with the team I'm with, (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys, and until that feeling … and that 'want' to be there is gone, I want to keep going." &amp;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;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
FAQ for NASCAR's 2017 race format enhancements
RELATED: Full coverage of announcement " Official NASCAR press release Editor's note: Stage 1 for the Daytona 500 will end on Lap 60, Stage 2 will end on Lap 120 and Stage 3/race conclusion is slated to end on Lap 200 . NASCAR's race enhancements announced Monday detailed how and why races will be run in stages in 2017. Below are answers to some of the potential questions. How many stages are in a race? Three -- Stage 1, Stage 2 and the Final Stage. Stage 1 and Stage 2 will reward drivers who are leading, or in the top 10, at the conclusion of each stage. The Final Stage will determine the race winner. What is Stage 1? The green flag begins the race, and therefore Stage 1. Its length is approximately 25-30 percent of the event's total length -- it is different for each race, dependent on track size and race length -- with the ending marked via a stage checkered flag (the stage can end under caution, if necessary). Who benefits most? Drivers who are running first through 10th at the conclusion of Stage 1 will receive stage bonus points, starting with 10 points for first place, nine points for second place, down to one point for 10th place. Additionally, the driver who finishes Stage 1 first will receive one playoff point to carry into the postseason, should that driver qualify. Those can add up quickly over the course of a season. What about Stage 2? At the conclusion of Stage 1, there is a caution period for drivers to come down pit road (innovative strategies will be crucial under these enhancements.) Stage 2 will then begin with a drop of the green flag for the restart. Its length is approximately 25-30 percent of the event's total length -- it is different for each race, dependent on track size and race length -- with the ending marked via a stage checkered flag (the stage can end under caution, if necessary). What about Stage 2 bonus points? Same as Stage 1: Drivers who are running first through 10th at the conclusion of Stage 2 will receive stage bonus points, starting with 10 points for first place, nine points for second place, down to one point for 10th place. Additionally, the driver who finishes Stage 2 first will receive one playoff point to carry into the postseason. What about the final stage? Following another caution period, which gives fans another natural break in the action, the final stage begins with another green flag drop and restart. Drivers then race for the event win ... and the five bonus points that come with it. How are points distributed? The final stage produces the race results, so the end of the final stage is the end of the race. Whoever crosses the start/finish line first at the checkered flag is the race winner. Race points are then awarded to the entire field based on finishing order. The winner receives 40 points. Second place receives 35 points, third place receives 34 points, fourth place receives 33 points ... down to one point for drivers who finish 36th-40th. The maximum points a driver can earn in a race is 60 (40 for the race win plus 20 points for winning both stages). There no longer will be a bonus point for leading a lap, or a bonus point for leading the most laps. And the winner? The race winner receives five bonus points toward the postseason (this is up from three last year under the new enhancements), plus postseason eligibility. If a driver leads at the end of both Stage 1 and Stage 2, and then wins the race, then he or she would receive seven bonus points to carry into the postseason. For which series were these enhancements designed? The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will all use this enhanced format. By rewarding hard racing through the duration of the season, will there be an official regular-season champion? Yes, there formally will be a regular-season champion. That driver will earn 15 additional playoff points to carry into the postseason. Any more bonus points for points standings at the end of the regular season? Yes. In addition to the regular-season champion, drivers who finish in the top 10 of the regular season all receive some measure of playoff points to take into the postseason. Here's the breakdown: First place in regular season points earns a driver 15 playoff bonus points in addition to the points earned with race or stage wins; second place earns 10 playoff points; third place, 8; fourth place, 7; fifth place, 6; sixth place, 5; seventh place, 4; eighth place, 3; ninth place, 2; 10th place, 1. In this enhanced format, when is a race official? At the conclusion of Stage 2. How does the postseason work? Once the postseason begins, points will be reset to 2,000 for the opening round, with each driver's accrued bonus points tacked onto that total. Four drivers still will be eliminated in each round of the postseason, setting up a final four in Miami for all three national series. What is the tweak for playoff points? Playoff points earned for race wins or for leading at the end of Stage 1 or Stage 2 now will carry over round-by-round if a driver continues advancing. It's not just for the first round any more. Additionally, drivers can build off and add to those bonus points. So if a driver has 70 playoff points heading into the postseason, and then wins the playoff opener (five-point bonus), he or she would advance to the next round and carry 75 additional points -- or more, depending on his or her results over the next two races in the round. Does winning a race in the postseason still automatically qualify that driver for the next round, regardless of points? Yes. Winning trumps all. Will bonus points still carry over to Miami? No. Miami is the exception. All four drivers competing for the championship will start with the same amount of points. There will be no bonus points for this race for those final four drivers. First to the line wins the title.
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;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Kurt Busch wins first Daytona 500 with last-lap pass
RELATED: Race results " Standings " Detailed breakdown " Shop for winner gear DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- His car damaged in a wreck on the backstretch and held together with tape, Kurt Busch grabbed the lead on the final lap of the 59th Daytona 500 on Sunday and took the checkered flag in the Great American Race as a capstone to a checkered career that has trended upward since Busch joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. In a race that featured the first test of a new three-stage race format in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series -- and featured enough twisted sheet metal to keep fabricators busy for a month -- Busch surged to the front with a run around the outside when more than half the vehicles in an 11-car lead draft sputtered and ran short on fuel. Having pushed other drivers to victory in the 500 on three previous occasions, Busch took the prize himself this time, finishing .228 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney , who came from the rear of the lead pack on the final two laps. AJ Allmendinger ran third after conserving fuel over the final 20 laps, as a race that had produced eight caution flags for 40 laps ran green for the final 47 circuits. Aric Almirola finished fourth as a single car for Richard Petty Motorsports , with Paul Menard and Joey Logano coming home fifth and sixth, respectively. "I can't believe it!" Busch shouted on his team radio after claiming the 29th victory of his career and by far the most significant. "I love you guys! Thank you! Thank you!" Busch lost his rear view mirror in the middle of the final green-flag run, but it didn't matter. "There is nothing predictable about this race any more, and the more years that have gone by that I didn't win I kept trying to go back to patterns that I had seen in the past," Busch said. "My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go and I couldn’t even see out the back. And I thought that was an omen. Throw caution to the wind. "It just got crazy and wild, and I am so proud of all the drivers at the end. We put on a show for a full fuel run, and nobody took each other out and it was one of the smartest chess games I have seen out there. All the hard work that Ford and SHR put into this -- this Ford Fusion is in Daytona's Victory Lane!" Busch did what other drivers with seemingly stronger cars could not. Pole winner Chase Elliott was disconsolate after running out of fuel on the white-flag lap. He finished 14th. Kyle Busch won the first 60-lap stage and collected the first playoff point in series history, but on Lap 105, he spun in Turn 3 when he cut a rear tire and collected fellow Toyota drivers Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth , as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who was returning to competition after missing the final 18 races of the 2016 season while recovering from a concussion. Busch fell out of the race in 38th place. Earnhardt took his car to the garage in 37th. Kevin Harvick led 50 of the 200 laps and took the second stage, but he fell victim on Lap 128 to the 17-car pileup on the backstretch that also did the most damage to the sheet metal on Kurt Busch 's car. The 2014 series champion finished 22nd, three laps down. Busch's team owner, Tony Stewart , retired from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of the 2016 season. Stewart-Haas spent the winter converting from Chevrolet to Ford, but it seemed to make little difference to Busch, who won his 2004 series championship in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford. "It was a crazy race, even crazier to sit and watch it from a pit box finally," Stewart said. "If I had known all I had to do was retire, I would have retired 17 years ago, if I knew it was what it took to win the race ... I ran this damn race for 18 years and didn't win it. "Kurt did an amazing job. He doesn't even have a rear view mirror. The mirror folded on him. His spotter, Tony Raines , did an amazing job. That is the most composed I have ever seen Kurt at the end of a race. He deserved this."
NASCAR TV schedule: Feb. 27-March 5