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Meet Julia Landauer: A new role model in NASCAR
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Growing up in New York City, her parents encouraged her to play against the boys in order to be tough. Fast-forward two decades and that's exactly what Julia Landauer is doing with her racing career booming and off-track accolades, including a recent Forbes feature, helping to form her growing brand. Coming off a fourth-place finish in the standings in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series West, Landauer, who got her start in go-kart racing, is coming back for more in 2017 with a new team, crew chief and car as well as a fresh set of goals. "We're going for the championship," the NASCAR Next product said of her '17 crew -- Bob Bruncati's Sunrise Ford team. "We're really excited to try to win races and hopefully make some more history." And with seasoned crew chief Bill Sedgwick heading the No. 6 team, Landauer could be on track for a record year. "She's probably one of the best female drivers I've seen in awhile," Sedgwick, who owns two K&N Pro Series West titles (1991, '92) and is a championship-winning crew chief, told NASCAR.com. "She handles herself really well on the race track. ... She's very competitive, she's always looking to whatever she's doing to be better and I think that's a good goal to have." Wins are the likely next step for Landauer, 25, who in her rookie year posted the highest finish for a female driver in the 62-year history of the series. She scored 13 top 10s in just 14 starts -- an 11th-place finish at Sonoma being the sole outlier. While her racing achievements have helped her stay relevant on the race track, Landauer's off-track endeavors are helping cement her staying power in the sport. "I learned early on to be a superstar in NASCAR I was going to be able to share my story with the fans and to have that really resonate with them and have them support me," she said. "And so really I've tried to be very vulnerable in who I am and really play up the fact that I love education and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). ... I've been very conscious of the steps I've taken and the associations I've had, to make sure they really fit what I consider my brand to be and what I want my fans to see." The Stanford University graduate's "brand" became more recognizable in January after becoming an honoree for the Forbes "30 Under 30" list in sports -- she also was a contestant on reality TV show "Survivor" in 2013. "We selected Julia for the Forbes "30 Under 30" list, not only for her remarkable success behind the wheel, but also for what she's done to promote women in sports," Forbes reporter Christopher Smith said. Forbes honored Landauer for, yes, her uniqueness but also for what she has done for the sport as a whole. "I don't think there are many race car drivers who have made that (list) in general," Landauer said. "So to be able to represent the sport of racing and NASCAR by being so different and being from New York City and having gone to college, it's just really cool and really great to see that it's motivating for people and inspiring." Thus, her dream of becoming "a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion" is off to a good start with her starpower growing at a fast rate. Looks like she's pretty fortunate her parents encouraged her all those years ago in New York City.
Ricky vs. Trevor? More like Roush Fenway vs. the rest
RELATED: Complete list of full-time rides for 2017 Ricky vs. Trevor may be a thing of the past. The Roush Fenway Racing duo of Ricky Stenhouse Jr . and Trevor Bayne have a competitive history, having created the Ricky vs. Trevor campaign in 2011, their first year together at Roush in the now-XFINITY Series. The drivers partook in a slew of fun, off-track competitions (including which driver could do a better Carl Edwards -esque backflip), as well as race battles. But it's different now; with Greg Biffle 's departure from his longtime seat in the No. 16 Ford, RFR has downsized its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series fleet from three to two full-time rides, with Bayne and Stenhouse. "I think Ricky and I have kind of realized in the last couple of years of being teammates at the Cup level that it's not Ricky versus Trevor anymore, it's Roush Fenway Racing versus everybody else," Bayne, 25, said Jan. 24 at the NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway . "We've come alongside each other as teammates and are really gonna push each other this season. I mean, I feel like we started doing that last season and we saw some result from it, but we're gonna learn from each other, we're gonna be humble through it and we're gonna understand that you can learn from each other and we're gonna push our team." Last season was one of early hope, but eventual disappointment for the Roush Fenway group. Stenhouse surprised many in the season's second race at Atlanta Motor Speedway , where he qualified fifth and finished 10th. He went on to post nine top-16 finishes the next 12 races. Bayne showcased some speed particularly in qualifying, where he started third at Atlanta and followed with six top-15 qualifying spots from Auto Club Speedway in March to May’s Coca-Cola 600 . It was that middle stretch that the team began to slightly unravel, Bayne said. "I think we can learn a lot from last season," Bayne said. "In sports, we're quick to look at our last performances as our evaluation of a whole season and last year I think we kind of shocked ourselves and everyone else when we came to Atlanta and got our car to qualify third, ran well. There were a lot of times early in the season when we were making it to the final round of qualifying … that performance early in the year was something that shocked us a little bit. "As the season went on, I feel like we did not keep up the way that we wanted to, so what we have to learn is … 'How do you stay motivated and make the gains from Michigan to Homestead that you make in the off-season, that you show up to Atlanta and Daytona with?' That’s what we have to do as a team. ... It's those summer months that we get to when you really find out what you're made out of and what you can accomplish throughout the rest of the season." RELATED: See Bayne's fresh paint scheme for 2017 " Stenhouse's Sunny D look One path to consistency could be through restructure, as Roush Fenway implemented several personnel changes during the offseason: Team manager Kevin Kidd will transition to competition director, while former production director Tommy Wheeler will serve as operations director in overseeing production. Stenhouse will have a new face atop his No. 17 pit box, as former No. 16 crew chief Brian Pattie will call the shots and former crew chief Nick Sandler becomes the director of engineering. Recognizing the struggles Roush Fenway has experienced over the past few seasons, Stenhouse believes these changes will benefit the organization this year. Having been at the race shop plenty during the sport's brief offseason, the 29-year-old driver sees it during the daily 7:30 a.m. meetings that scrutinize to-do lists and with the large effort put forth by his No. 17 team. That drives him. "I'm excited that I've seen progress being made in communication at our shop and everybody seems really motivated to get Jack (Roush) and our partners back to running better, running up front," Stenhouse said. "We don't show up to the race track not to do that. They've put a lot of hard work into it and we're trying to make up a lot of ground that we've lost over the last couple years." "…I think I've been encouraged with what I've seen at the race shop this offseason." But will the new race enhancements, which implement race stages and emphasize consistency, prove to be yet another hurdle for inconsistent Roush? Stenhouse takes comfort in a philosophy from his favorite collegiate football coach. "I've been in a few of (Ole Miss) Coach (Hugh) Freeze's pre-game locker room speeches (and) I feel like he always says, 'The orders remain the same,' " Stenhouse said. "For us, I feel like the orders are the same for me and my race team and Roush Fenway. We've got to continue to strive to build faster race cars. We've got to strive to make fewer mistakes on the race track and have faster pit stops."
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."
Blaney, Larson, Dillon are heart of sport's next class of greats
In a sport fueled by its rich past, NASCAR's foundation is in its history and seasoned wheelmen. But in back-to-back seasons, the sport has seen three of its veteran drivers -- Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards -- unbuckle their seatbelts and cruise into retirement, creating a new focus on the youth. This shift has helped put a spotlight on many fresh-faced drivers as they learn to hone their craft in hopes of becoming a Gordon, "Smoke" or Edwards. Austin Dillon , Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney all spoke on the final day of last month's annual NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway . Together with phenom Chase Elliott , they help form the core of this up-and-coming generation. Each having the on-track talent and off-track personality to build a career with longevity, the trio reflected on their 2016 seasons and what to expect for 2017. MORE: Elliott's 2017 season preview
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.
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.
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.
69 things to love about Greg Biffle
Since announcing his departure from longtime team Roush Fenway Racing following the 2016 racing season, Greg Biffle has tackled the offseason with a seemingly new outlook on life -- at least evidenced by his tweets following the announcement. In celebration, it's only appropriate to share a list of 69 things to love about Greg Biffle -- in both his storied racing career and off-track pursuits. Racing, in general 1. First driver to win both an XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series championship. 2. Has a dozen poles or more and multiple wins in all three national series. 3. Committed to Roush Fenway Racing for 19 years -- something nearly unheard of by today's standards. 4. Made his first NASCAR-sanctioned start in 1989 (in the NASCAR Northwest Series) -- before Kyle Larson , Chase Elliott , Austin Dillon , Trevor Bayne , Ryan Blaney , Chris Buescher , Landon Cassill , and Joey Logano were born. 5. Finished second in the #NASCARHoleshot Challenge... 6. ... but didn't faceplant into the wall like winner Clint Bowyer . 7. Won Roush Fenway Racing 's first NASCAR championship In 2000, @gbiffle won the first championship in #RFRDriven history pic.twitter.com/0XbByzfvab — Roush Fenway Racing (@roushfenway) November 21, 2016 8. Made a start in the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race. 9. Raced in IROC in 2003. 10. Reached 218 mph in a test at Texas in 2009 -- a record speed in a stock car at the track. 11. Was discovered and recommended to Jack Roush by late racing legend Benny Parsons. 12. He's not afraid to drag race. Camping World Truck Series 13. Won the 2000 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. 14. Earned the title of 1998 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year 15. Won approximately one-third of the races in the 1999 Truck Series season (nine out of 25). 16. Drove one of the best Truck Series paint schemes ever. On this day in 1999, @gbiffle scored his 9th career @NASCAR_Trucks win at @LVMotorSpeedway #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/ULRTsHLksO — OreiusCentaur (@OreiusCentaur) September 24, 2016 17. Led more 2,000 laps in the Truck Series, despite making only 81 starts. 18. Helped broadcast a Truck race for MRN. In the @MRNRadio booth for the Truck race @kansasspeedway pic.twitter.com/6BwLzus12z — Greg Biffle (@gbiffle) May 7, 2016 XFINITY SERIES 19. Won the 2002 NASCAR XFINITY Series championship. 20. 2001 NASCAR XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year. 21. 2002 NASCAR XFINITY Series Most Popular Driver. 22. Holds the record for fastest XFINITY Series qualifying lap at Bristol Motor Speedway . 23. Has led more than 4,000 laps in the XFINITY Series. PREMIER SERIES 24. Got called a bug-eyed dummy by Sterling Marlin. 25. He knows what he’s good at: All his wins have come at tracks between 1 mile and 2.5 miles in length. 26. His 2005 season was like Mark Martin’s 1998 -- a solid season by all accounts, but not quite enough to win the championship. 27. Held the title of the oldest full-time Sprint Cup driver in 2016. 28. Got in a fight with Tom Logano at Auto Club Speedway in 2009.
Cain on Johnson, Knaus: They did it -- two brothers
RELATED: Complete results " Chase Grid " Standings SHOP: Champion gear HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- For much of Sunday's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup finale, crew chief Chad Knaus sat calmly and fixated on his Hendrick Motorsports pit box, offering monotone encouragement and asking for simple feedback from his driver Jimmie Johnson . Johnson had to start the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet last in the 40-car field after making a last minute adjustment that hadn't been approved by officials. And although he passed half the field within the opening eight laps of the race, the season title came down to a restart in overtime with three laps remaining. After running in the top-10 behind the other three championship contenders all race long, Johnson at long last took the lead on the restart and made his run at the record books. And Knaus, 45, the steely, steady leader of this team, morphed into a stand-up, fist-pump cheerleader each time Johnson drove those by on the front straight in front of the crew. As Johnson motored toward a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup title, his devoted friend and team leader put aside the normally calm-cool-and-collected facade and showed all the emotion you would expect of someone who was watching history. Someone who helped achieve that history. And even given the "let's see what you can do now" circumstances of unexpectedly having to race from last on the starting grid, Knaus led this team to a historical night that will be celebrated in perpetuity. Perhaps the obstacles made the victory more triumphant. "Honestly, we probably are better at it now than what we once were," Knaus conceded of the No. 48 team's ability to rally to a title after starting last in the field. "I think a lot of it comes from security and comfort. I know that Jimmie believes in me, he knows that I believe in him. We know that we're not in fear of our jobs. We know that we've been able to win championships and win races. We've made a mark. We've made our mark. MORE: Photos from historic da y "What happens from this point is ‑‑ you know, is the toppings on the ice cream, right. So there's a lot of comfort in that, and there's a lot of guys out there right now, they don't have that comfort. "I think that's the one thing that helps us the most is the fact that we know that we're committed to one another, we're committed to this team, we're committed to this organization, and we're going to trudge through no matter what the situation is." So much attention is given to statistical achievement in sports. Johnson won his 80th race Sunday and hoisted his seventh Sprint Cup trophy. But it was evident in Knaus' body language and conversations, that all the accomplishments on track were really a result of relationships built off track. There is something unique about a pairing that reaches this kind of elite accomplishment together. The realization of what fuels the relationship and produces its success may have taken some time. It comes down to trust, confidence and fondness. And while that may sound simple, the intensity and duration of belief is what separates a pairing such as Johnson and Knaus from all the others that have also valiantly tried to succeed in this way. The end result is not only a celebration of a fantastic accomplishment on track, but also a relationship formed, tested and relied on away from the track. "I love him like a brother, he's a fantastic individual," Knaus said of Johnson. "Jimmie has taught me more about life than life itself has taught me. He's taught me about family. He's taught me about relationships. He's taught me about being a champion. "You know, when we started this thing, all I was, was just a racer guy, and he was a cool California kid, and we kind of grew up together. To be in this situation to where we know he's got a handful of years left, whatever they may be, and for Jimmie and Mr. Hendrick to want me to stick with the 48 car and be at the helm of this ship, man, it's flattering. It really is flattering, because let's be honest, I'm getting older just like everybody else is. None of us is as young as we once were, and I look forward to the future with these guys." As Johnson took the white flag, leading the field on the last lap Sunday night, Knaus banged on the side of his seat like a jockey working his horse to the finish line, then he stood up and cheered the car on. As his good friend Johnson drove under the checkered flag and formalized their historic effort on the next lap, Knaus could only sit, stare and smile. He raised both hands and sat farther back in his seat to take it all in in the split seconds before the rowdy celebration began all around him. They did it. Two great friends making great history. "So this one is pretty sweet, to be able to put Jimmie's name in that same header as Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty, it's an honor to be a part of it," Knaus said. "I swear to you, it is. I'm just glad to be his buddy and be by his side." And the feeling is … unsurprisingly mutual. "It's something I take a lot of pride in," " Johnson said of Knaus. "Loyalty is a huge thing with me. We've had our bumps in the road, but he's a brother, and I'm so proud of him and so thankful that whatever drew us to one another and created this opportunity for us to start the 48 team and work together happened. "I would not be here today as a seven ‑ time champion without Chad Knaus. He deserves so much praise and so much credit for my success, for this team's success, for the success of Hendrick Motorsports and where it is and what's going on with it right now. "He's something special." </p>
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