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AAA TEXAS 500 PRE-RACE NOTEBOOK

HELTON SENDS SHOUT-OUT TO TMS FOUNDER SMITH

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton acknowledged his lifelong love affair with the sport Saturday afternoon after receiving the Bruton Smith Legend Award during the annual Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame ceremony at The Speedway Club.

“It’s more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle,” said Helton, who was cited for his leadership as NASCAR president and shaping the sport during an unprecedented expansion period that began during the mid-1990s. Helton was instrumental in introducing NASCAR to new markets both nationally and internationally. New state-of-the-sport facilities in North Texas, Southern California, the Chicago market and Kansas City were added to NASCAR’s schedule by 2001, moving the sport beyond its traditional Southern-based roots.

That period also was marked by a colorful rivalry between O. Bruton Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports, Inc., lineup includes TMS, and the late Bill France Jr., son of NASCAR founder “Big” Bill France and his International Speedway Corporation empire.

A lot of people have the perception that Bruton Smith and NASCAR didn’t get along,” Helton said in reference to Bill Jr. “But I will tell you that even though there could have been a couple of moments like that there were way more moments where Bruton Smith had the same goal in mind that everybody in NASCAR did, which was to build the sport. And I can’t think of anybody in the business that is still with us today that has done so much to advance NASCAR _ to promote NASCAR, to build facilities like this _ than Bruton Smith.”

JUNIOR STAMP OF APPROVAL

NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. is making his final scheduled Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Texas Motor Speedway today in the AAA Texas 500, his second race since the 1.5-mile oval was repaved and re-profiled during the offseason.

Moments after Junior became the 19th member inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Saturday, he gave his stamp of approval to the ambitious project approved by Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., and TMS President Eddie Gossage. A key element was the reduction in the banking in Turns 1 and 2 from 24 to 20 degrees. That area also was widened from 60 feet to 80 feet to promote passing. Turns 3 and 4 remain banked at 24 degrees.

The area between Turns 1 and 2 - over the South Tunnel - once was criticized by Junior for a bump in the pavement that would upset Cup cars at speed. It immediately became known as “Dale’s Dip.” On Saturday, Junior was effusive in praise of the “new” TMS surface.

“At the end of last year, this is the most incredible thing that I think I’ve seen from a track in all the years I’ve been in the sport,” Junior said. “Last year we had the repave and everybody knows how nervous the sport gets - the drivers, the promoters, the fans - when we have a repave. What’s the racing going to be like for years to come? And they did such an incredible job to provide a race track for us.

“We ran side-by-side (in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500)…that second groove was as good as it was before the repave. That was such an incredible commitment and accomplishment for the track. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of work and diligent effort to make the race weekend good for all the drivers and fans. I had an incredibly good time on this racetrack earlier this year and it was only because of those efforts.” Junior finished fifth on April 9, scoring his fifth consecutive top-10 result here.

“This place, you know you’re always going to get that from Eddie and his team here,” Junior said. “They have an incredible facility and ever since I’ve raced here, the fans have really supported this race track. The community supports it so it’s a great stop on the circuit for us.”

For anyone who might have missed it, Junior scored his first career XFINITY Series win here in 1998 and his first Cup Series victory in 2000 to permanently link his name to TMS.

APPRECI88TED

In conjunction with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Appreci88ion Tour into retirement, Chevrolet wanted to do its part and engage fans via a special decal on the final Chevy pace car of the 2017 season.

At Charlotte Motor Speedway, fans who visited the Team Chevy display area in the midway were asked to come up with words of appreciation for Dale. Chevrolet selected 88 fitting words and created a special hood decal that has been installed on the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 pace car which will lead the AAA Texas 500 field Sunday afternoon.

TECH STUDENTS CITED IN DIVERSITY SCHOLARSHIP COMPETITION

Four students were recognized for their accomplishments in technology and innovation Sunday as NASCAR and Chevrolet announced the winners of the third annual NASCAR Chevrolet Diversity Scholarship Contest at Texas Motor Speedway.

The undergraduate students from across the country were awarded a total of $20,000 in scholarships and treated to a VIP experience during a news conference before the AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

The contest challenged students to identify a technology or innovation within NASCAR, and then explain how Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) professionals came to its design in 90-second videos. Video submissions were judged on technical accuracy, creativity and production quality.

Cindy Yen, a sophomore at the University of Southern California, from Santa Monica, Calif., earned first place and a $10,000 scholarship.  

University of Notre Dame freshman Weston Dell, from Frankfort, Ill., won $5,000. University of Houston student Nima Desai from Houston and Broward College freshman Nicole Forero, from Coral Springs, Fla., were awarded third and fourth place, respectively, earning $2,500 scholarships each. 

"NASCAR is proud to work with Chevrolet and continue our longstanding commitment to STEM education by recognizing these tremendous students,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. "These four students were recognized from an outstanding pool of candidates, and it’s a testament to the continued engagement of students in the pursuit of science and technology careers in our sport.”

The students also had the chance to meet 2017 NASCAR Playoff drivers Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing and Ryan Newman of Richard Childress Racing. Newman graduated from Purdue University with an engineering degree. The VIP experience also included pace car rides, garage and pit road tour and a meet-and-greet with Alba Colon, Chevrolet’s Cup Series program manager.

“It’s an exciting time in the STEM field with the advancement of technology,” said Ken Barrett, chief diversity officer for General Motors. “At GM, we celebrate unique perspectives propelled by diversity and champion innovative ideas; Ideas that change the automotive industry and the world.”

About the author

The Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations Department is located on the 6th floor of The Speedway Club outside of Turn 1 of the speedway. 

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