Ryan Reed, Ben Kennedy, Spencer Gallagher and Matt Tifft all go around or off track in opening XFINITY Series practice Saturday at Road America.
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.
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."
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.
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Bristol MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- It used to be a thing. When NASCAR rookies in bygone days graduated to their sophomore seasons, you came to expect the canned photos: A smiling driver at the rear of the car, clearing the bumper of the yellow tape that's required of first-year talent. Ryan Blaney -- as best as we can tell -- took no such staged photo, cheesing for the camera in mid-tape peel. Still, there's been a noticeable change in the 23-year-old driver this season, his second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and it's helped stir the early indications of a rejuvenation for Wood Brothers Racing, one of the sport's most storied teams. "I think when he pulled that rookie stripe off the car," said team co-owner Len Wood, "it's like last year he was, 'I'm going to mind my P's and Q's, I'm going to pay attention and I'm going to be respectful of everybody, try to gain respect.' This year, I think he's stepped up his aggressiveness a little bit. I think that's the main difference. So far, I haven't seen recklessness with it, just aggressiveness." Blaney's 2017 pivot may not have been the result of an overtly communicated directive from team to driver as much as a natural reflex for a relative newcomer growing more comfortable in his surroundings in stock-car racing's major leagues. Whatever the reason for the figurative loosening of the reins, the new vibe has clicked. Blaney sits sixth in the drivers' standings, fresh from a standout performance at Texas Motor Speedway two weekends ago. Blaney faded to a 12th-place finish but charged hard to lead 148 laps in the early going, marking the iconic No. 21 team's first race with triple digits in the laps led column since the fall of 1982. "I feel like that was a main goal, not only for myself but for our whole team, to be more aggressive this year whether it's racing or pit calls," Blaney says. "I think it's definitely easier to make those decisions when you're not a rookie and you try to gain respect that whole first year so that you can run them a little harder. That side had definitely amplified a lot and it's benefited us so far." Stages of support For an organization rich with tradition, owing to a family pedigree of 67 years of involvement with auto racing, the Wood Brothers have demonstrated a knack at adapting to modern-day NASCAR's rules of the road. In particular, Len Wood says, the No. 21 Ford team has found opportunity in the incentive-based three-stage race format introduced this season. In seven races so far this year, there have been 14 intermissions. The Wood Brothers have accumulated points in 11 of those, earning bonuses for running in the top 10. That stretch has included finishing in the points in nine of the last 10 stage breaks, and two convincing stage wins during Blaney's rapid-paced run at Texas. Many factors powered the Lone Star stage sweep, not the least of which was strategy. A late-breaking caution flag during the second stage put No. 21 crew chief Jeremy Bullins on the spot. Bullins ultimately made the call for Blaney to stay on the track to maintain position in the running order, bettering his chance for more stage points. After collecting the green-checkered flag for Stage 2, Blaney fell back after a scheduled pit stop during the intermission, a jammed-up restart and a late pit-road gaffe that thwarted his comeback efforts. It would have been too easy to blame the late-stage decision for the team's fade, but Len Wood pointed out that a similar strategy panned out for Jimmie Johnson, who eventually stormed to his first victory of the season. If Bullins caught any undue scrutiny for the call, he didn't carry any regrets into last weekend's holiday break. "Obviously you're trying to win races, but through the first part of the season here, everybody's seen what a big deal the stage points are," Bullins said. "We felt like we could win that stage, and how do you give up 10 points? At the end of the day, we got a lot of points out of it, and did we get the win? No, but it was a good confidence boost for the team and certainly a decision we would make again in a heartbeat. I don't second-guess it at all, and I think it was the right thing to do. "I think the fact that we were able to win those stages shows how much our team has grown, and Ryan's confidence in where our team is at this year." Team transition The Wood Brothers made the jump back to full-time competition in NASCAR's premier series last season, a transition aided by a strong technical affiliation with Team Penske, one of Ford's flagship teams with drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. That relationship has grown since Aug. 14, 2014, when the Wood Brothers announced both the advent of the alliance and the addition of Blaney as the team's driver, fresh from the Penske development system. And though it's hard to say that Ford's commitment to the Wood Brothers -- a fiercely loyal relationship spanning seven decades -- has grown even stronger this year, the manufacturer has bolstered its efforts in both performance and sheer numbers by bringing Stewart-Haas Racing to the blue-oval side in 2017. "I think it shows the support that they're wanting to put into the sport in general, which is great," Bullins said. "I think when you add a quality team like that, there's more resources coming from both sides, right? I think it helps everybody." A prime asset helping to revitalize the Wood Brothers this season is a more measured Blaney. His patience in a wreck-filled season opener led to a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500; driving slightly less defensively in the races that followed helped to continue the upward trend. But Blaney also adds off-track intangibles that have helped keep the shop's mood light. It's a team with plenty of tradition and old-school cred, but with a young driver known for his avid Star Wars fandom and his Snapchat antics -- late-night death metal crooning anyone? -- with partner-in-crime Bubba Wallace. "He's kind of a different kid," Len Wood says. "He's a kid off the track. Him and Bubba when they went last year and filmed each other acting like different drivers, that stuff was pretty funny. But I think when he puts the helmet on and sits down in that race car, I think the kid part's gone and he's turning into a very good driver." One without those pesky rookie stripes. &lt;/p&gt;
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Martinsville " Full schedule Clint Bowyer's smiling again, making jokes and most importantly, repositioning himself back among NASCAR's group of race favorites. Since taking over the No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford for retired NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, Bowyer's reeling off the best finishes he's had in two years -- including a season-best third-place finish at California's Auto Club Speedway last week. Things are looking up for the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series runner-up. One of the brightest personalities in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage, Bowyer's high wattage presence was noticeably dimmed a bit in 2016 driving for an under-funded, under-achieving team as he waited -- under contract -- for his seat in the 2011 championship-winning No. 14 upon his friend Stewart's retirement. With only three top 10s compared to 13 finishes of 25th or worse last year, Bowyer was clearly taking one for the team and doesn't like to look back, only forward. RELATED: Bowyer's career statistics " See how Bowyer got ready for Daytona Other than maybe championship-winning Jimmie Johnson, there was no one more ready for the final checkered flag at Homestead. As far as Bowyer was concerned, legitimately high expectations were reset immediately. And that's the mode of operation now. "It's been an OK start to the year," Bowyer said last weekend before his top-three California finish. " Obviously, you always want to be better. It's solid, but we've got to get into the top 10. This is a top-10 organization and race team, and anything less than that needs to improve." He made good on that demand 24 hours later with a hard-fought, well-raced showing in Southern California. Asked later what his boss Stewart had to say about the uptick, Bowyer just grinned, "Good job." RELATED: Heck, yeah! Bowyer's back But, he clarified, "Tony wins a lot of races. He's won a lot of races. Anything less than a win, you know ... he expects that. And I love that about Tony. "You know, obviously I know he's proud. He was happy with that. But that's what you want in an owner. To have that instilled in everything, in your DNA, I mean, this is the way I was raised. Anything else but a win is a bad day. You are miserable with anything less than that. "It's just the way we're wired as a race car driver from 5 years old and on. The problem is, is everybody else on that racetrack is wired the same way. So there's really only one guy happy and everybody else is pissed at the end of the day, is what it boils down to." All indications are that it's been a great fit for Bowyer at Stewart-Haas, and that has provided another element of confidence to boost Bowyer's expectations. He was teammates with Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing early in his career and is longtime friends with Stewart, making this transition easier off-track . The translation, he expects, is high quality on-track. "I love the atmosphere, the culture, the people, they're just racers,’’ Bowyer said. "There's no fluff and buff, no smoke and mirrors. There's just racers who grew up doing what I do. Even the engineers seem like they have a racing background. Nowadays you'll meet engineers who never were a part of it, just extremely intelligent. Seems like they're all in it to win it and that goes all the way from the tire changers to the top. It's all you can ask for." Given the top-level equipment, proven team and fresh start, Bowyer reiterated last weekend that he fully expects to win a race this season, perhaps several. It's a better talking point, a legitimate goal and overall quality chance to remind everyone that he's championship-caliber. Title-worthy. His eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins have come on all kinds of tracks from the Sonoma, California, road course to the Talladega Superspeedway to the Richmond short track and Charlotte 1.5-miler. There's no doubt what Bowyer can do. It's just getting back in the saddle again, so to speak. And on a fast horse. "It's just the opportunity you've been waiting on," Bowyer said. "Everybody knows the situation. You know, this opportunity, this is something I signed up for a year and a half ago. I've been champing at the bit to be with an organization like this, to have an army of people behind you like this, the teammates, the sponsors we have, the manufacturer in Ford, all of that. "It's the total package at Stewart ‑ Haas Racing, which is why they've won a championship and win all these races that we see. That's what you thrive to be a part of. "Finally got my opportunity to be there." And he's making good.
NASCAR.com's Kim Coon takes a look back at all the on- and off-track action from this weekend's race at Texas Motor Speedway that saw Jimmie Johnson win his seventh Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in the Lone Star State.
NASCAR.com's Kim Coon takes a look back at all the on- and off-track action from this weekend's race at Martinsville Speedway. From Brad Keselowski's first win at 'The Paperclip' to this week's 'Word of the Week' we put the STP 500 in the rearview.
READ MORE: Dale Jr. announces retirement after 2017 season Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday that 2017 would be Junior's final full-time season. Here's how the NASCAR community paid its respects. This story will be updated throughout the day. Proud of all @DaleJr has accomplished & what he's meant to @NASCAR . But more proud of who he is as a person. — Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) April 25, 2017 You're a hell of a friend and teammate @DaleJr , I'm really happy for you and @AmyEarnhardt . — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) April 25, 2017 I'm proud of my great friend @DaleJr for everything he's done for this sport. I'm even more proud of who he is as a man. Love you friend — Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) April 25, 2017 Happy for ya @DaleJr , nothing but respect. Let's end it on a good note this year — Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) April 25, 2017 Now we know why... You've helped make this a better sport for so many of us, we wish you all the best in your retirement. https://t.co/9Ze6JZgZ70 — Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 25, 2017 Don't think @DaleJr could've been any classier delivering one of the hardest things he's ever had to do. Glad my career has had him in it. — Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) April 25, 2017 I'm really excited for the next chapter in @DaleJr and @AmyEarnhardt lives. JR has made #NASCAR so much better and will continue to do so. — Mark Martin (@markmartin) April 25, 2017 pic.twitter.com/GaAPFJKx8V — Amy Earnhardt (@AmyEarnhardt) April 25, 2017 I'm kind of new in the sport but what a great guy @DaleJr is in and out of the race track. Wish you the best my friend! — Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) April 25, 2017 Great memories racing @DaleJr for the last 9 years. Thanks for all you have done & will continue to do for our awesome sport! #NASCAR — Joey Logano (@joeylogano) April 25, 2017 Congrats on a great career @DaleJr , finish strong! Thx 4 all u have given this sport. All the best to u n Amy w the next chapter n ur lives — Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) April 25, 2017 If you weren't a @DaleJr fan before I'd guess you are now. #honesty #sincerity #heart — Michael Waltrip (@MW55) April 25, 2017 Thank you, @DaleJr . Ready for one final season. #FinishStrong pic.twitter.com/5bV0icYAOy — Team Chevy (@TeamChevy) April 25, 2017 Excited to see what the future holds for @DaleJr , think he will be just as captivating and influential off track as he was while on track. — Alex Bowman (@AlexBRacing) April 25, 2017 In sports-athletes like @DaleJr come along once in a lifetime-talented-popular-humble-honest-real-you don't get that combo often-well done! — Steve O'Donnell (@odsteve) April 25, 2017 @DaleJr has made the sport of @NASCAR better for fans and competitors. True racer 1st ballet HOF 4 sure! Enjoy the rest of the season! — David Ragan (@DavidRagan) April 25, 2017 Congrats to @DaleJr on one helluva run. I didn't think they would announce Carl's return till end of year though? Hmm! — Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) April 25, 2017 Great memories racing @DaleJr I am pretty sure when you google "cool". Your picture shows up — Bobby Labonte (@Bobby_Labonte) April 25, 2017 Ive always enjoyed watching @DaleJr wheel it around the track. He is and will always be an icon in this sport. All the best to him and Amy! — Ben Kennedy (@BenKennedy33) April 25, 2017 My favorite post race celebration. Thanks @DaleJr and congrats on a great career. Proud to call you my friend. pic.twitter.com/y3zZSm7JOl — Michael Waltrip (@MW55) April 25, 2017 Woke up to the news about @DaleJr great career son. Wanna come race a Funny Car? @TeamChevy pic.twitter.com/VlS6Qijzmt — John Force (@JohnForce_FC) April 25, 2017 Gonna be different not watching my boss but also one of my closes friends in the sport retire but so proud of him and what he represents!! https://t.co/elXxIW6TD9 — Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler) April 25, 2017 Wishing all the best to our friends @DaleJr and @AmyEarnhardt on the next chapter! Still gonna text you for style advice Amy ❤️ — Paige (@PaigeKeselowski) April 25, 2017 Excited 4 new chapters professionally w/ @DaleJr & our team of great people. And for he & @AmyEarnhardt & family time for us all! — Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) April 25, 2017 Best of luck to @DaleJr , congrats on a great #NASCAR career and thanks for all of the memories! pic.twitter.com/FE345PClsx — RCR (@RCRracing) April 25, 2017 Happy for @DaleJr and wish him nothing but the best.. He has made all of us better through his career in many different ways.. pic.twitter.com/NUOZKo4jVa — Rodney Childers (@RodneyChilders4) April 25, 2017 Amazing what @DaleJr has done for the sport and the impact he's had on all of us. It'll be cool to watch him finish out this year strong — William Byron (@WilliamByron) April 25, 2017 I'll miss watching you on the track, @DaleJr . You've made fans out of all of us. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/BNaizTQzRy — Michael Annett (@MichaelAnnett) April 25, 2017 Been trying to think what to say, but my mind keeps stoping at Incredible...That's exactly what you've been for our sport! Thank You @DaleJr — Daniel Hemric (@DanielHemric) April 25, 2017 Wish nothing but the best for @DaleJr . He has had a great career! — Jeb Burton (@JebBurtonRacing) April 25, 2017 Wishing you nothing but the absolute best, @DaleJr . pic.twitter.com/nF8EWcpCXW — Richmond Raceway (@RIRInsider) April 25, 2017 We'll miss you @DaleJr ! https://t.co/3ntl1lOXZi — MISpeedway (@MISpeedway) April 25, 2017 We love you, @DaleJr ! — TalladegaSuperspdwy (@TalladegaSuperS) April 25, 2017 Good reason to be up early, congrats my friend on an amazing career, enjoy the heck out of the next 6 months #futurehalloffamer https://t.co/lBVcGkgeX3 — Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) April 25, 2017 Really bummed to see a career come to an end, but crazy excited to see where it goes from here. #Bossman #Hero @DaleJr https://t.co/0WsWVb10Dz — Justin Allgaier (@J_Allgaier) April 25, 2017 Thanks for all you've done and will continue to do for NASCAR, @DaleJr . Kick butt the rest of 2017. See you here in September pic.twitter.com/bA2v00FE1f — Chicagoland Speedway (@ChicagolndSpdwy) April 25, 2017 Thankful for everything @DaleJr has done and will continue to do for our sport! He is such a genuine guy and I'm lucky to call him a friend — Matthew DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) April 25, 2017 &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;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;amp;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;
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.