Tony Stewart has a heck of an arm, and he proved it last weekend at Bristol when he heaved his helmet at the hood of Matt Kenseth’s car. That arm did not go unnoticed, and Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he received a small token of appreciation.Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager Ed Clark presented Stewart with an Atlanta Braves jersey with his name and car number, adding that the Braves wanted him on standby in case they need a reliever this fall.
Stewart accepted the jersey with a chuckle, then posed for photographers before taking questions. He said he had talked to Kenseth and both had moved on, adding that there was “too much to do” these last few weeks to linger on what happened in Bristol.
NAPA EXTENDS SPONSORSHIP OF MWR – Michael Waltrip announced Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway that his NASCAR Sprint Cup team will continue with Martin Truex Jr. behind the wheel and NAPA on the hood, continuing one of the sport’s longest sponsor relationships.
“They are one of the key companies that allowed me to start chasing my dream as a team owner,” Waltrip said. “I know Martin, when he puts on that NAPA uniform today, is going to feel better than he ever has about who he is and where we’re going. We’re just really happy to have this commitment. Think about where we’ve come from – you can imagine. I don’t need to explain it to you.”
The announcement had larger ramifications than just for Truex and Waltrip, as was evidenced by NASCAR President Mike Helton’s presence. Not only did NAPA sign a multiyear extension, but they signed on as a full-time sponsor – something that has become rare in the sport.
“(That) means the consistency of the Truex 56 NAPA Toyota lives on, and that’s important today,” Helton said. “To have that primary sponsor that will be on that car every weekend all season, that’s something we should not overlook.”
NAPA has long been associated with NASCAR, beginning with track sponsorships in the 1970s and extending to team associations in the 1980s. NAPA joined forces with the newly formed Michael Waltrip Racing in 2007, and Truex came on board in 2010.
“My biggest fear was this deal falling apart and us not being able to realize our potential,” Truex said. “I feel like we’re not where we can get to yet and I’m very, very happy that we’ll be able to continue down that path.”
Truex has 13 top-10 finishes, is fifth in points and could clinch a spot in the Chase this weekend at Atlanta.
“This has been a good race track for us, and we feel like this is a place where we can come here and win, and there would be no better place to win than here in NAPA’s backyard,” Truex said.
Perhaps buoyed by the new confidence his car owner portended, Truex hopped in his No. 56 NAPA Toyota, turned three laps, and sat atop the speed chart with a lap of 185.220 mph.
KYLE BUSCH AIMING FOR WIN – In seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch has four wins and six top-five finishes. He has never finished outside the top-10. To say he is a favorite for tonight’s Grit Chips 200 might be a slight understatement.
Although it’s his first start in the Camping World Truck Series this year, Busch hit the track with his usual swagger, running his No. 18 Dollar General Toyota straight to the top of the speed chart in the first practice session with a lap of 178.482 mph (31.062 seconds).
Busch will be a busy man this weekend, running all three races at AMS, including Saturday’s NRA American Warrior 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race and Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, an event he won in 2008.
“I’ve always said that I felt like it’s an opportunity to get out there on the race track and feel what the tires are like, feel what the track conditions are like, what they do from day to night, what they do from a green race track to rubbered up,” Busch said. “To me, it’s all about getting that track time. And making sure you’re feeling all the correct things that you’re feeling. Sometimes you get a false sense of security in the Cup car; it’s loose, but how loose is it? And I get to understand more of that when I drive more vehicles.”
Despite Busch’s instinctual understanding of how to drive Atlanta, he still has a measure of frustration with the fast track, where he has been unable to find Victory Lane in eight Nationwide Series races.
“It’s been an Achilles’ heel for me, I guess,” Busch said. “The Cup races there, I’ve either been really good or mediocre or really bad. I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t seem to keep the grip in my car for the long haul, as long as you need throughout a run.”
GRESHAM HAPPY TO BE HOME – Atlanta Motor Speedway has been like a second home to Max Gresham, who grew up just a few miles away and spent his summer evenings racing his Bandolero and Legends cars in the track’s Thursday Thunder series. Friday he made his debut on the “big track,” turning his first practice laps on the 1.54-mile quad-oval.
“It’s just about everything I dreamed of and thought it was gonna be,” Gresham said. “I loved to come and watch Cup qualifying, watch ‘em go off in turn one, hauling the mail. It’s driving by the seat of your pants, just like you’d think it was.”
Gresham will start tonight’s Grit Chips 200 NASCAR Camping World Series race, the first of five this season with Eddie Sharp Racing, in 30th position.
“It’s a lot of fun going that fast, especially on a track that’s as worn out as AMS,” Gresham said. “We’re coming along, and I’m creeping up on it at a pace that’s good for me. I wish it could have been a little bit better, but it’s a brand new team for us – we just came together about a month ago – and we’re all still trying to learn each other.”
Gresham grew up in Griffin, Ga., about five miles south of the speedway, and he began racing a Bandolero car at the tender age of 8. He spent three years racing Bandoleros, then another two racing Legends cars, racking up 12 victories at his home track.
He remembers how that young kid would look out the windshield of his Legends car from the quarter-mile frontstretch Thunder Ring and dream about running someday on the “big track” terminology that isn’t easily discarded.
“Sometimes I’m having so much fun I forget what I’m doing,” Gresham said. “It brings back a lot of memories, just driving through the gates. It’s a very emotional weekend for me and my family just to finally be out here racing.”