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Roush Fenway Racing to keep Ryan Reed for '17, beyond
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Roush Fenway Racing has signed a multi-year renewal agreement for driver Ryan Reed to continue to pilot the No. 16 Lilly Diabetes Ford Mustang in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Reed, who five years ago was told he would never race again after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, qualified for the 2016 inaugural XFINITY Series Chase and scored his first victory in the series last season at Daytona. "We are very excited to continue our program with Lilly Diabetes," said Reed, who will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway . "Not only to continue to drive the No. 16, but more importantly, the opportunity to encourage and educate people who are living with diabetes and those who care for them. We will continue to share the message about diabetes awareness, specifically the importance of talking to doctors as well as proper nutrition and daily exercise." Reed will look to make history this weekend as the only driver actively managing his diabetes to race at the Sprint Cup level. The Bakersfield, California native manages his diabetes through a strict diet and exercise program, the use of a wireless glucose monitoring device to provide in-race, real-time data, and consistent communication with his medical team in California. "Through sharing his diabetes story with NASCAR fans throughout the country over the past three years, Ryan has inspired thousands of people affected by diabetes to live healthier lives and take an active role in managing their health. Lilly Diabetes is proud to renew our sponsorship so together we can continue to make a difference in people’s lives," said Mike Mason, vice president, U.S., Lilly Diabetes. "Like NASCAR, Lilly has been an American institution for generations. We introduced the world’s first commercialized insulin in 1923, and our innovative medicines and education programs have helped people with diabetes ever since. This sponsorship is another step forward in our drive to help more people who have the disease or care for someone who does." Reed posted career highs in Chase races at Kentucky and Dover to advance to the ‘Round of 8’ in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase at Charlotte. He is currently only two points outside of the top four, with two races remaining before the series champion is decided in the season finale at Homestead. Roush Fenway Racing is the winningest team in NASCAR history, fielding multiple teams in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series competition with drivers Greg Biffle , Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., Trevor Bayne , Ryan Reed , Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace. Now in its 29th season, Roush Fenway is a leader in driver development, having launched the careers for many of the top drivers in the sport. Off-track , Roush Fenway is a leader in NASCAR marketing solutions, pioneering motorsport’s first team-focused TV show and producing multiple award-winning digital and experiential marketing campaigns. Roush Fenway is co-owned by Jack Roush, the winningest team owner in NASCAR history and Fenway Sports Group, parent company of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox and English Premier League’s Liverpool F.C. Visit RoushFenway.com, circle on Google+, become a fan on Facebook and Instagram and follow on Twitter at @roushfenway.
Truex's off-track triumphs bigger than championship
LAS VEGAS -- For 10 weeks, Martin Truex Jr . was the forgotten man, the guy seemingly racing in the shadows, there but not quite there. He wasn't the defending series champion; he wasn't the four-time champ seeking to go out on top; he wasn't the once-broken but far from beaten fellow scripting the most incredible comeback story. Others were battling for a chance at the title. Truex, the Furniture Row Racing driver, was racing to stave off elimination. Or so we thought. He was there but not quite there. Friday night, Truex found himself back in the shadows once more. Which was the biggest shame of all on a night of celebration for NASCAR and it's Sprint Cup Series. Moments after somehow holding himself together while giving an emotionally-charged speech that touched the hearts of many inside the Wynn Las Vegas, the 35-year-old entered the workroom across the way, ready to address the media for a final time before officially calling it a season. Instead, nearly everyone inside the workroom was focused on the television screen, watching a tearful Jeff Gordon accept accolades from mega-actor Tom Cruise. The annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony rolled onward. Even Truex seemed impressed, lingering long enough to note "How about Cole Friggin' Trickle being here? You believe that?" After a brief question or two, he departed, returning to join long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex back inside the ballroom. Overshadowed once more. There but not quite there. The New Jersey native had much to be proud of -- having proven the naysayers wrong by continuing to advance through each round of the Chase to eventually find himself, along with Kevin Harvick , Gordon and Kyle Busch , battling for the championship in the season-ending race. But addressing the crowd that filled the ballroom earlier, Truex eventually spoke of matters much closer to the heart. He thanked team owner Barney Visser ("They said it couldn't be done out of Denver. You showed them, didn't you? Good job, buddy."), and a long list of others, from Chevrolet officials for whom he had driven previously to Toyota partners that will come on board next season. He thanked family members, sponsors, and "especially the millions of fans who watch our sport each week." Racing is his livelihood, but it's not his life. There's much more, matters much more personal that puts what occurs each Sunday in perspective. "Most of us are faced with challenges at some point in our life," Truex said. "As most of you know, last year my long time partner Sherry was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. "As I'm sure you can imagine, the past year has been the most challenging time of our lives. Since Sherry's diagnosis, our priorities have changed. We've learned that life isn't just about living it's about being alive. And that's exactly what we're doing. "You've heard the saying, 'don't sweat the small stuff.' Well," he said somehow managing a chuckle, "we're trying not to sweat the big stuff either." The experience, he said, "has made us both better people," and truthfully, it's those of us who have watched the couple that should have been made better, just by the lessons they've shown us in dealing with adversity. "It's made me a better driver and most of all made us thankful for all the people around and try to give back as much as we can," he said. "So the only advice I have for you tonight is to enjoy every moment, celebrate life, help others, and never give up. … "Sherry, thank you for being my life. You're my inspiration and I love you very much." Truex didn't win this year's Sprint Cup Series title. He wasn't lauded, as was Harvick, for his role as the defending series champ. He wasn't bid a fond farewell, as was Gordon, who retires after a stellar 23-year career. Nor was he celebrated for rallying from injuries to wear the crown of champion, as was Busch. What he and Sherry did was much bigger. And we're the ones worse off for not noticing.
Dual roles lead to success for Kligerman on, off track
As far back as mid-January, Parker Kligerman wasn't exactly sure what the 2016 season had in store for him. The 25-year-old knew he had a gig as part of NBC Sports' NASCAR coverage, but his driving plans were still in flux before a phone call changed that. Fast forward to today as the Camping World Truck Series is in a five-week off-period until April 2 at Martinsville Speedway and Kligerman's name is atop the point standings through two of the series' 23 races. Piloting the No. 92 truck for Ricky Benton Racing, Kligerman has notched a third-place result at Daytona International Speedway and an eighth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway . However, all of this wouldn't have been possible had Kligerman not gotten a phone call while he was attending the Team Penske 50th Anniversary Party. "I got a call from Ricky and he said, 'Are you still available?’ " Kligerman told NASCAR.com. "I said, 'Absolutely. What do you want to do?' And he said, 'Let's go to Daytona.' As things built up and we got to know each other, got to know the team, it was like, hey, maybe we can do more." Doing more is exactly what the team intends to do. With the early portion of the Truck Series slate spread out, the opportunity arose to run the beginning part of the schedule before taking stock of where they stand. Kligerman said that decision was made closer to the Daytona race, but the strong start hasn't hurt the case to continue. "I think everyone is really committed to trying to do as many as possible and see if we can keep up this great run. I'd say in these next four (Martinsville, Kansas, Dover and Charlotte), we have a chance to win one here if we can put the race together." Kligerman has visited Victory Lane one time in his Truck Series career (Talladega in 2012) and a win would only help further the case to keep the band together and chase a championship. "Anytime you can get positive momentum like we have, you definitely need to capitalize on it," Kligerman explained. "A lot of times in this sport the sizzle is better than the steak. We're doing a lot of great things right now and we got a lot of buzz. We need to try and capitalize on it and use that to go further in the season." Benton told NASCAR.com that the hunt for some sponsorship is ongoing. "We had a little bit of marketing dollars to help us get started, and if we can find some more marketing dollars -- I have my business -- but other people, and if we can do good, we'll try to rake and scrape and do the best we can." Small-team success Benton owns over 30 Black's Tire Service shops in the Carolinas. He has been involved in racing on several levels, fielding a part-time entry in the Camping World Truck Series since 2010, and he has also been involved in the Late Model circuit and other forms of racing, winning the 1998 Winston Racing Series Atlantic Seaboard championship as well as the 2002 USAR Hooter ProCup title. During that time, Benton fielded teams that raced against Sprint Cup drivers Denny Hamlin , Brian Vickers and crew chief Rodney Childers. He describes himself and the team "as Saturday night racers." The 92 team, which is based out of Cerro Gordo, North Carolina (a town with a population of 207, according to data from the 2010 U.S. Census) is described by Benton as "just a little, small team. " "We don't have but three people in the shop this whole time," Benton added. Small-team success has been one of the early trends in the 2016 standings for the Camping World Truck Series as Kligerman leads the points driving for RBR (which has never run a full season), and John Hunter Nemechek (won at Atlanta and drives for family-run SWM-NEMCO Motorsports) and Tyler Young (drives for family-run Youngs Motorsports) are also in the top five of the standings. Kligerman believes that trend will continue. "The Truck Series right now is going through a huge transition in terms of smaller teams being able to succeed," Kligerman said. "If you look at Nemechek's team. Obviously, the 92 team. We are a vastly smaller team then we are seeing traditionally out of KBM ( Kyle Busch Motorsports), BKR ( Brad Keselowski Racing), ThorSport. I think that you are going to continue to see that in a lot of the measures the Truck Series is putting in and it's a good thing." Plenty of perspective Kligerman, an energetic Connecticut native, has been around the sport plenty to know a good thing when he sees it. During his NASCAR career, Kligerman has spent time with several organizations both big and small such as Team Penske and Kyle Busch Motorsports, and he had a full-time spot on the Sprint Cup driver roster lined up with Swan Racing. That ride came to an end just eight races into the 2014 season as a lack of sponsorship forced Swan Racing to restructure and sell its assets. "There were bright days. There were dark days," Kligerman said of the aftermath of his Cup ride going away in 2014. "There's days where you start to look back too much and get very nostalgic and that's the wrong thing to do. ... "I've always thought it's a cool deal to be doing what I'm doing at the age I am and have as many experiences I've had in the sport. As many different facets from the top teams, championship-caliber teams to teams that were growing and teams that have run into trouble. I've seen it all in such a short amount of time that I'm very grateful for that and I think it has allowed me to bring a good perspective to outside our sport." It's that perspective that led NBC to bring Kligerman on board for its NASCAR coverage in 2014 when Kligerman was out of a ride and not sure what the future held. "It started very informal and one thing led to another where basically I asked them where they were located and it was Stamford, Connecticut, and that's where I grew up," Kligerman said. "I kind of felt at the time there weren't a lot of good opportunities racing-wise. Just nothing that was exciting me. Nothing that felt like it was going to further my career so I decided let's go do this and see where it goes." Kligerman appears on NBC Sports Network's NASCAR programs such as "NASCAR America" and "NASCAR Victory Lap," offering his insight as a driver who has not only competed against many of the NASCAR Sprint Cup stars, but also still competes today. "Right now, I tell people I've got a very dynamic life at the moment in terms of doing the TV thing and driving," Kligerman says, "and I wouldn't change it for the world because I'm really enjoying it."
After racing in rain, Blaney looks to win his way into the Chase
LEXINGTON, Ohio--- Ryan Blaney qualified third and finished third in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Mid-Ohio Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course , but it was far from that simple or cut and dried on Saturday afternoon. "Not a bad day, lots of ups and downs and luckily it ended on a high note," Blaney said of his day at the 2.258-mile track. The downs of the day came early as the Team Penske driver had to start at the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments but he wasted no time navigating his way to towards the front. By Lap 30, he had cracked his way back into the top five. That was not the only adversity Blaney battled through. Wet weather came early at Mid-Ohio, bringing out a caution on the opening lap that allowed teams to put on rain tires. "It was such a weird race, starting fairly dry and then raining," Blaney said. "Everyone has to learn how to rain race right away and then it drying back out and trying to figure out when to put slicks back on or stay on the wets and then it started pouring again." While Blaney held his own in the rain, the No. 22 car was at its best when the track was drying out. The 22-year-old led six laps (Laps 48-53) just past the midway point of the 75-lap event. But then the rain began falling again and after restarting on the front row on Lap 56, Blaney had some contact with the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Sam Hornish Jr . After going off track briefly, Blaney was in 12th place on Lap 60. He made up some ground late in the event, gaining nine spots over the final 15 laps for his first top-five finish (in just his fourth start) of the season in the XFINITY Series. The rain and the constantly evolving strategies made for an interesting day for the young racer amid his first time racing in the rain. "There's some moments where it's fun and some moments where you're ready to rip the steering wheel off," Blaney said of of the task. "I had a handful at moments. At the end of the day, it was a lot of fun and you get to experience a race in the rain. "…There was some calamity at some points but I thought it was overall pretty fun. Just to get that experience and go back and forth between slick and rain (tires). That was really challenging, and drivers like challenges. Just nice to race in the rain finally. That's my first time." This start came on the final off weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup p Series, where Blaney pilots the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. Blaney enters Saturday's night race at Bristol (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) outside of the 16-driver Chase Grid with just four regular-season races left before the postseason field gets set. He sits 18 points back of Kyle Larson for the last spot, with Trevor Bayne and Kasey Kahne between himself and Larson. Should Chris Buescher claim a spot in the top 30 in points by the end of the Richmond race on Sept. 30, Blaney would be in a deeper hole to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Entering the 0.533-mile track, Blaney's mindset is focused on joining Buescher as a rookie winner. "We are going to go into the last four races trying to win just like we always do every week," Blaney said of his pursuit of a Chase spot. A win over any of the final four regular-season Sprint Cup races (Bristol, Michigan, Darlington or Richmond) would essentially lock the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate into the postseason field.
Fun with fitness: Cassill circles Michigan on foot
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Swapping his Front Row Motorsports fire suit for a Snap Fitness T-shirt, a pair of athletic shorts and sneakers, Landon Cassill stood at Michigan International Speedway 's start/finish line ready to take his daily workout to the 2-mile track and turn some laps Friday morning -- on foot. Donning sunglasses and handling his 1-year-old son Beckham via stroller, the No. 38 wheelman wore his signature smile, eager for some cardio before driver duties called. "I feel like I get out more than most of the other race car drivers," Cassill told NASCAR.com, admitting that he even tries to get in a "bike ride Saturday afternoons." All of this is to help the 27-year-old train for his various competitions, which include triathlons and other races. Cassill recently spent a rare off weekend in Ireland to compete in a half Ironman (a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run) on Aug. 14. His answer was simple when asked why he traveled to Europe for the 70.3-mile race instead of enjoying some hard-earned downtime. "It's just my hobby. I really look forward to it. … (We) made a vacation of it." His "hobby" correlates nicely with his primary sponsor, Snap Fitness, and helps the six-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver as he balances his racing career on top of his off-track interests. "Snap really supports what I do," he furthered while jogging toward Turn 1. "They give me the resources to train on the road because their fitness centers are open 24 hours." When Cassill isn't racing by foot and bike or behind the wheel, he is connecting with his fans on social media, making sure his personality comes across on his time line -- from his token "38, nice" slogan to adorable shots of his young family. And with no upcoming Ironman races planned, Cassill can now focus solely on his driving responsibilities as he gears up for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Race day, however, presumably will commence with a workout before he gets behind the wheel.
Keselowski talks safety, details Watkins Glen wreck
LONG POND, Pa. -- Brad Keselowski's bone-jarring crash at Watkins Glen International earlier this week was the result of an improperly installed brake line on his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford. "There was an installation error with the brakes," Keselowski said Friday at Pocono Raceway, site of Monday's Pennsylvania 400 (11 a.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). "The brake line wasn't installed in the proper way and it broke." Keselowski's accident occurred July 26 during the first day of a two-day organizational test for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at WGI. The series is scheduled to compete there Aug. 5-7. Moments after completing a session-leading lap of 124.572 mph on the 2.45-mile road course, Keselowski's Ford went off track and nose-first into the tire barrier located at the end of the frontstretch. He was not injured in the high-speed impact, and was back on track the following day in a backup entry. "I understand the whole tire barrier concept," Keselowski, said. "In general, I'm not comfortable with tracks that have runoffs that lead to very harsh angles, and that's certainly the situation that (WGI) has, and always has had it. "Road courses remain the most dangerous tracks in motorsports for a good reason because of that, but we know that going in. Some place has to be the safest and some place has to be the most dangerous." Safety advances made by NASCAR as well as many of the teams competing today have lessened the likelihood of serious injury, but the threat remains. In 2011, Keselowski won at Pocono less than a week after chipping a bone in his ankle during a hard crash during testing at Road Atlanta. That incident led to a complete evaluation by the organization of its safety protocols. The result was a redesign of the pedals, floorboard and seat, he said, and the evolution of steering wheels and other interior pieces have lessened the threat of serious injury as well. "From what I can tell at this moment, all of the pieces that we were able to redesign performed very well," Keselowski said of the WGI incident. "The one piece that we weren't able to redesign was the steering column. That's probably the weakest link in those type of impacts at the moment." What else needs to be done? Keselowski admitted he doesn't have the answer. "The answers I do have," he said, "is that there's only so many of those hits you are going to take before someone gets killed. It's just the way it is. "It's not something I'm comfortable with, but I think as a sport there are a lot of different ways to look at it. At the end of the day I'm still standing here. "That's something that the smart guys that work on that stuff are going to have to figure out some time."
Johnson focused on Kenseth, on and off track
Alan Cavanna keeps you Up to Speed from Martinsville, where Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth were near each other everywhere from the media center, to the garage and even on the scoring pylon Friday.
Stewart: I 'definitely want to win here' at Indy
RELATED: Stewart receives gift from Indy " WATCH: 'Smoke's' first Brickyard win SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Fresh off a runner-up finish a week ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and with a win already in his pocket, it was a confident Tony Stewart that arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Friday. Twenty-eighth in points, Stewart's recent results in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series have propelled the three-time series champion closer to locking down one of the 16 spots in this year's championship-determining Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Those finishes have also improved his outlook for Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). It will be his final scheduled start at the legendary 2.5-mile facility where he is a two-time winner and hometown favorite. Co-owner of the four-team Stewart-Haas Racing organization, Stewart is scheduled to retire from Sprint Cup competition at season's end. Two of his previous three seasons were abbreviated due to off-track incidents. And the '16 season began in the same fashion, with Stewart missing the first eight races due to an off-season back injury. But with a victory at Sonoma Raceway, and top-five finishes in his last two outings, Stewart said he arrived at IMS less stressed and more focused than ever. "It's been awhile, it's been a long while," Stewart said of the confidence. "I mean it's a good feeling I can tell you that. "Anytime you get hurt like we did with our leg injury and everything that happened after that there is all speculation of why you are not running good. You guys had asked the same question -- 'has that been a factor in it?' "It's been nice to kind of get it all put behind us and show everybody that is not what this is all about and that was not the factor. It just was getting cars to feel right. I think that was the biggest thing just trying to get through the speculation of 'can he do this anymore?' and 'why is he not competitive?' "When you finally get going and you start running up front with guys that you are used to running with again then you are getting text messages after the race saying 'hey it was glad to see you up there with us again.' That is the stuff that makes you feel like 'hey we are back where we belong now.'" Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet was eighth fastest in Friday's opening practice and 24th in the day's final session. MORE: Views from opening day at Indy Stewart's Brickyard victories came in 2005 and '07 while still competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. His best finish since joining SHR came in '09 when he placed third. Qualifying for Sunday's race is scheduled for Saturday at 1:45 p.m. ET. JGR driver Carl Edwards won the pole here a year ago while eventual series champion Kyle Busch won the race. "Everybody wants to win here," Stewart said. "Definitely want to win here myself. It would be pretty cool." MORE: Stewart claims second Brickyard crown
Bubba Wallace talks sponsors, chasing first win
Darrell Wallace Jr . didn't spend his XFINITY Series off-weekend lounging on a Caribbean beach or roaming a new city away from the race track. Instead, the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing driver was behind the wheel. Of a go-kart, that is. "Actually got right into (racing) but not with my (No. 6) guys," Wallace said Wednesday at one of NASCAR's offices in Charlotte, North Carolina. "I went go-kart racing, just try to get back into that and have some fun. Locals whooped me, but still had a lot of fun being able to do that. So, I was still racing, but nothing on the major scale. "(I was) able to learn all the hard (stuff) that went along with go-kart racing. God, it was so tough. I forgot everything that I remember from 13 years ago. Just putting that all together was actually a lot of fun – we had some speed, just the driver forgot how to drive a go-kart," he joked. Lucky for Bubba, this weekend's stage at Daytona International Speedway will be slightly bigger, faster and with a lot more drafting. And while it's not one of Wallace's favorite tracks, it appears he hasn't forgotten how to wheel a superspeedway car: the sophomore driver kicked off the 2016 season with a solid sixth-place result at the Florida track and led multiple laps in the '15 season-opener. Combined with his most recent pair of consecutive top-10 finishes and a runner-up at Dover in May, this weekend's forecast looks more sunny than stormy for the No. 6 driver. "We're just trying to look in-depth at what we're doing for our program and see how we can be better," Wallace said. "We know we're a top-10 race team each and every weekend. We've had some bad luck and some of it's been on us, that we've jeopardized those races and we've ended up outside of that. "But (to have) these last two, now it's starting to get the second half of the season, after that the Chase is starting. So we have to start coming up with a good game plan that we need to bring to each and every track and each and every weekend, so we can unload with a lot of speed and what we need to be competitive. We've been doing that (recently)." They've had additional support off-track as well: Loudmouth Exhaust Systems made its debut on the No. 6 car at Dover International Speedway , where Bubba recorded a career-best second-place result. Since then, the company has graced the car as a primary sponsor for three races and will adorn the No. 6 this weekend at Daytona International Speedway . In a world where sponsorship puts cars on track and lack of it takes names off entry lists, the new partnership has been huge for the 22-year-old racer, who has been transparent about his team's struggles to find primary partners. "Sponsorship is the name of the game," Wallace said. "We're still working hard to find that full-time primary sponsor, but Loudmouth has been a great partner of ours for a number of races now … They've been a huge help to our program to keep us going to the race track each and every weekend. (I'm) trying to do everything I can, as possible, to land that big-time sponsor." Wallace's sponsor schedule has come with some uncertainty -- he said he doesn't even know who is sponsoring his next XFINITY Series race at Kentucky Speedway on July 8. With the goal of landing a full-time sponsor, he's taken a more involved approach than many drivers do, whether it's grabbing lunch with potential partners or meeting with those ready to sign on the dotted line. "I try to be more hands-on, just so I can get a better understanding of what we've got and how I can be better at representing myself for my brand and my team," Wallace said. "I think one thing that's powerful is the drivers gain this personal relationship with the sponsor," he added. “And that's when you see the Lowe's that's with Jimmie Johnson , you see those M&M's with Kyle (Busch) -- they have this great relationship with the driver. There's no middle man and I think that's important." He'll have another chance to impress Loudmouth -- as well as other potential partners that Wallace says are in the works -- this weekend at Daytona International Speedway with Friday's Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Another top 10 would be great, but a win would be even better for the young driver. "(I'm) excited to have them back on the car at Daytona," Wallace said. "Hopefully we can bring the same amount of luck with them and get a win."
Zipadelli: Stewart win 'unbelievable,' huge for SHR
RELATED: Recap all of Stewart's wins Greg Zipadelli sat high atop Tony Stewart 's pit box, nervously watching his long-time friend and teammate work the field over the final laps of Sunday's Toyota - Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. Zipadelli spent 10 years as Stewart's crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing , and together they won 33 races and a pair of Sprint Cup championships. Now, he is the vice president of competition at Stewart's own Stewart-Haas Racing team. As he watched Stewart lead the field in the closing laps, then get passed by Denny Hamlin midway through the last lap and then see Stewart dramatically re-take the lead in the final corner, Zipadelli was visibly balancing that deep and long friendship with Stewart with his genuine excitement for the organization's success. When it was over, it was time to exhale and reflect -- and be genuinely happy. After three years of Stewart's off-track challenges, including a serious back injury the three-time champ suffered in January, this victory was as emotional as it was validating. "Personally, it's just unbelievable to me he did it," Zipadelli said while watching Stewart take photos in Sonoma 's Victory Lane. "I'm just so proud of him and his effort, especially in the last three to four weeks. You've seen him turn a corner with his efforts, his attitude, learning these cars and running up front. "I've been telling these guys forever: He'll turn it on like a switch and you'll sit back and go, 'What in the hell?' It just happens. I've seen it for 18 years. Hopefully this is the switch and he'll have a good, strong run the rest of his career." RELATED: Stewart in his own words post-victory Stewart is coming off his first back-to-back, top-10 runs since 2014 with a seventh-place finish at Michigan in the previous race. He now has that required victory for an automatic position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, but is still nine points out of the necessary top-30 points position as the series heads to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). But Stewart – who missed the first eight races this year recovering from that back injury suffered in an off-season all-terrain vehicle accident -- has until the final race of the regular season Sept. 10 at Richmond (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to get into the top 30 in points. Zipadelli couldn't be more encouraged. "I'm really proud of this group," Zipadelli said. "[Stewart's crew chief] Mike [Bugarewicz] has done a great job this year keeping this group together and slowly picking away at it, unloading with race cars with more speed, learning what Tony wants. "They got a little bit behind, but played the pit calls right. We had a bad pit stop, we took it away from him and he went back and got it back for us. "We think about [Stewart winning] every day, we talk about it. It's huge for our company having three cars most likely going into the Chase. "It's a big hats-off to all the guys back at Stewart-Haas, building these cars and allowing us to race. They're back there grinding sun up to sun down. We've got a lot going on with our company and they haven't taken their eye off the ball, so I couldn't be prouder of our people." RELATED: Rookie crew chief Bugarewicz reflects on Stewart's win