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Junior Reflects On Importance of Charlotte Track

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 25 2017

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says Charlotte Motor Speedway has provided great memories.
(RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CONCORD, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday that Charlotte Motor Speedway was a special track to him because he grew up at the facility.

“I used to go to the dirt tracks with Dad when I was very small, but the first memories of actually being at a Cup event was here,” he said. “The Eurys and the Earnhardt family would park up on the hill of the road course, about the tallest peak of elevation there. We had these plastic cars – Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough – and we would roll them down the hill of the road course and spend the whole weekend there watching Dad race the Xfinity race and the Cup race.”

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When the NASCAR Hall of Fame acquires artifacts for Ron Hornaday’s exhibit one unusual item that might need to be considered is his couch. It’s a piece of furniture that many aspiring stock car competitors have used as a bed, including seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

“I stayed there for six months until Ron, on one of his Harley rides, found a home that he thought I could afford and it seemed like a good buy,” Johnson said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “They have been amazing to me and to many others in the sport, not just drivers. There are officials walking up and down pit road that have all bunked at his home, crew members from all over the place.”

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Christopher Bell may not have spent any time on Ron Hornaday’s couch, but he has managed to find a place for his winning Chili Bowl car in his house.

“With my situation that I’m in right now, I don’t have a shop,” Bell explained. “I have a two-car garage at my house, but both of those spaces are filled. I had an empty room right inside the front door so I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to try to put this thing in there.’

“Taking it apart from sitting on the ground in the garage to sitting on the ground in the house was only like three hours. Everything went pretty smooth and I’m pretty proud of it, too.”

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Matt Tifft said Thursday he traveled to the nation’s capital a couple of weeks ago as an advocate for the National Brain Tumor Society.

“We were talking to different congressmen and senators there for brain tumor research and awareness,” said Tifft, who was sidelined for about three months last year with a brain tumor. “It’s a very personal message to me and the other 720,000 people that are living with brain tumors and central nervous system tumors in the United States. We’re just trying to raise more awareness for that. It’s now the number one childhood cancer killer surpassing leukemia.”

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Ryan Blaney said a driver’s approach to the Coca-Cola 600, stock car racing’s longest race, definitely changes after a person competes in it a couple of times.

“You calm down a little bit as you get a little bit older, I think, and as you gain experience,” Blaney said.

The 23-year-old Blaney believes breaking the 400-lap race into 100-lap stages will be beneficial to drivers and fans.

“I think for the fans it’s gonna be nice to know we have these breaks at this point because it’s a long race for them to watch, too,” Blaney said. “You’ll see more restarts, which fans like. I don’t think they’re taking anything away from how special the 600 is by putting segments in it. It’s just kind of breaking it up in a good way.”

Blaney doesn’t do anything different to prepare for the event. He tries to eat well and stay hydrated.

“I’ve never really had an issue in 600 miles,” Blaney continued. “There are some people who do special things to try to prepare themselves, but I just kind of stick to what you know. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

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Christopher Bell makes his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut Saturday in the Hisense 4K TV 300 and with six more events on his schedule this year, he’s glad his inaugural race is at a track where he was able to test.

“I guess one of the biggest things I can relate an Xfinity car to as far as the ride quality and how they drive is it reminded me a lot of a super late model on radial tires,” Bell said. “The tires are completely different than what we run on a super late model, but as far as the car, they ride on bump stops, they feel a lot more nimble, a lot more ‘race carish’ so to speak than  a truck.”

Bell admitted he was more nervous for his truck series debut than his inaugural Xfinity appearance.

“I didn’t get to test the truck before I raced it so the first time I was in it was at practice at Iowa and that was very nerve wracking,” Bell said. “Toyota …knew they wanted to get me a couple Xfinity starts this year and Charlotte was just the perfect race because they had that open test session where I was able to get in the car and get some laps.”

Bell said his primary objective in his seven Xfinity races this year was to gain experience.

“If we can finish 200 laps on Saturday, get through practice and qualifying with no issues, that will be a good day,” Bell said. “If we can run inside the top-10, then I would say that would be a great day.”

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Ryan Blaney says restarts in a race are hectic, but aggressiveness is essential if one expects to be successful.

“If you’re not aggressive on these restarts nowadays, you’re gonna get passed and probably by two or three cars,” Blaney said. “I feel like if you’re playing defense on restarts, you’re already behind. You kind of have to be on the offensive on all those restarts.

“The last couple of years I’ve always not been very aggressive on restarts and you get used up pretty easy. Then you spend the whole next run trying to get those three or four spots back. This year I feel like we’ve upped that aggressive level on restarts to try and be on the offensive to ty to get a few spots or a row or two here and there just because you have to. Kyle (Busch) won the All-Star race last week because he was aggressive on restarts. If he wouldn’t have done that, he probably wouldn’t have won the All-Star race.”

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Thursday was the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars’, a fact known to Ryan Blaney who possesses an extensive “Star Wars’ shirt collection. It’s also a collection that has resulted in him being placed in a rather embarrassing situation.

“I was walking through the Concord (N.C.) Mills Mall and I passed a Disney Store,” Blaney recalled. “I didn’t know what was in there, so I was like, ‘Well, maybe they’ve got either a ‘Cars 3’ shirt or some ‘Star Wars’ stuff.’ When I walked in I didn’t know the max age limit in there was like seven, so I felt really weird. I was in sweat pants and a T-shirt with all these kids in there, searching and looking. I would take a kids XL. I felt like that would fit me, but they didn’t have any of those, so that was a little weird.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 25 2017
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