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TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY MEDIA DAY NOTEBOOK

FORT WORTH, Texas (February 28, 2018)

The 2018 racing season is well underway in the NASCAR’s three national touring series while the Verizon IndyCar Series season is set to drop the green flag on its first race on March 11. On Wednesday, drivers representing all four series took part in Texas Motor Speedway’s annual Media Day Luncheon inside the Grand Ballroom of the world-renowned motorsports facility.

Kurt Busch of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series; James Hinchcliffe of the Verizon IndyCar Series; Christopher Bell of the NASCAR XFINITY Series; and Austin Wayne Self of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series held breakout sessions with members of print, radio, TV and digital media.

Following the interview portion of the program, all of the drivers attended a special formal luncheon with more than 200 guests and dignitaries, including three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith and Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage.

“It’s wonderful to have so many people that love and cover the sport of auto racing in this room to celebrate a season that I think is going to be one of the best and most competitive that we’ve seen in a long time,” Gossage said. “We’ve got veterans in their prime competing against these young bucks in Cup, a new aero kit IndyCar, and a healthy mix of up-and-coming talent in both the XFINITY Series and the Camping World Truck Series.”

All four series will race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2018, with the first major event weekend coming in one month for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR doubleheader. 

Guest Highlights

Busch Gives Out Early-Season Grades: A 26th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 and an eighth in last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway may not look on paper like Kurt Busch is off to a strong start in 2018. But the 2017 Daytona 500 winner was all smiles Wednesday as he talked about the start of the season and what lies ahead for the 39-year-old veteran.

“We had a great chance and took a big chance to try and win that Daytona 500 for a second straight year. And then last week at Atlanta, we led 50 laps and had a strong car,” Busch said. “I’d give our start a B+ right now; there’s definitely room for improvement. But I like the direction of where this 41 Team is headed.”

Busch, who set a new qualifying speed record at Texas Motor Speedway last November at 26.877 seconds (200.915 mph), also noted that getting back to Victory Lane at the 1.5-mile tri-oval is also high on his list of priorities in 2018.

“Racing at Texas is a lot like racing at Las Vegas (Motor Speedway) this weekend, it’s important to perform well and learn what you can because these are tracks that we come back to in the playoffs,” said Busch, whose only win in 30 starts at TMS came back in 2009. “We showed a lot of speed here at the end of last year and I expect us to come back here (in April) with a similar approach.”

Hinchcliffe On New Aero Kit, New Teammate: Much of the offseason talk in the Verizon IndyCar Series has revolved around the newly developed universal aerodynamic bodywork kit for the Dallara IR-12 chassis. The kit will be used by all teams in the 17-race season, which drops the green flag in two weeks on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

The new aero kit is the culmination of more than two years of conversations, strategy, design and testing. James Hinchcliffe, an eight-year veteran of the series, is cautiously optimistic about what the new design will mean for the sport, knowing it will take a little time to figure it all out.

“It’s been a long offseason with a lot of testing. We’re essentially starting from scratch, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean there will be some bumps in the road along the way to getting this right,” Hinchcliffe said. “I anticipate it will take until this race here in June to really hit our stride as a whole. I have little doubt that we’ll put on one hell of a show.”

The native of Oakville, Ontario, is also excited to have a new teammate, Robert Wickens, on board at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Of course, Hinchcliffe and Wickens, a native of Guelph, Ontario, have more in common than both being from a Toronto suburb.

“He’s been someone I consider to be my best friend for the last two decades,” said the 31-year-old Hinchcliffe. “We’re both competitive guys, but I think our relationship and communications will really help us as drivers and as a team.”

Bell On Moving Up, Announces Running In Stewart’s Dirt Event: Christopher Bell grew up in Norman, Okla., but has “lots of memories driving down Interstate 35W for many races in the DFW area.”

Bell, 23, won the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports and is now a full-time driver in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. And while the championship is nice, he knows that success at one level doesn’t automatically breed success at the next level.

“Winning the championship for KBM was awesome. But I think that’s all in the past now and it doesn’t really translate to the XFINITY level,” said Bell, who won the truck series race at TMS last June. “What I will say is that confidence is so important. The championship gave me a lot of confidence, but I also know it doesn’t take long to lose that confidence.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about winning. If you win you get promoted and if you lose you get demoted. My focus is on winning. If I can do that than hopefully (a ride in the Cup Series) won’t be too far behind.”

Bell, who won his second consecutive Chili Bowl crown earlier this year, announced at Media Day that he will compete in Tony Stewart Presents Texas Sprint Car Nationals event in April at the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

Bell, who competed in the event last year, will only compete on one night – Saturday, April 7 – of the two-night show. He will qualify and compete in the My Bariatric Solutions 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race earlier that Saturday and then in the sprint cars that evening.

Self On His Move To Niece Motorsports, Alliance With GMS Racing: Austin Wayne Self, a 21-year-old native of Austin, Texas, is entering his third season in the Camping World Truck Series and first full season with Niece Motorsports. His new team has an alliance with GMS Racing, which produced 2016 Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter. Self is hopeful that the relationship will help him move into a better position to win races and build on his already established experience in the series.

“To be able to run similar (equipment) to what Johnny’s got over there, that’s just huge,” Self said. “That’s a powerhouse team over there, so for us to be able to walk through that door and have that kind of relationship … I think that’s really great for our team. Now it’s up to me to put that information we get off the track and start producing on the track.”

Surprise Birthday Party For Lone Star JR: Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford went to the Texas Motor Speedway Media Day and a birthday celebration broke out. Rutherford, a resident of Fort Worth, doesn’t officially celebrate his milestone 80th birthday until March 12th, but Texas Motor Speedway got a head start on the festivities.

Texas Motor Speedway had video clips from various drivers, including A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Jr. and Helio Castroneves, wishing him a Happy 80th, the audience sang “Happy Birthday” and the best surprised was saved for last.

Erika Bridges, owner of Confections in Cake in Burleson, presented a custom-designed cake that was a replica of Rutherford’s No. 4 Pennzoil Chapparal that was nicknamed the “Yellow Submarine.”

“What can I say to the guy that won his first Indy 500 the year I was born (1974) and the guy that has the most beautiful autograph I’ve ever seen,” Verizon IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan said. “Happy Birthday. I hope I can make it as long as you have and be as good looking as you are.

“Wow! Eighty? It can’t be 80. You look like what, fifties? It’s incredible,” added Helio Castroneves. “We’ve known each other for a long time and I wish you all the best. From one three-time Indianapolis 500 winner to another, I wish you great happiness and hopefully I’ll see you in Texas.”

Rutherford is a member of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame as well as six other national and international motorsports hall of fames. A three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Rutherford is a champion of INDYCAR racing on the track as well as off of it, serving as an ambassador and spokesman for the sport.

“What a great tribute and I can’t thank those guys enough for their kind words,” Rutherford said. “It’s always fun to come to Texas Motor Speedway and this is another visit that I won’t soon forget. What a great day.”

Noteworthy

TMS Bobblehead Series Revealed: Everything is bigger in Texas and so are the bobbleheads. The Texas Motor Speedway Sweethearts unveiled a special, life-sized version bobblehead of seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson during Media Day

to showcase the upcoming season’s bobblehead series. Johnson’s bobblehead, sponsored by Blue Bunny Ice Cream, will kick off the series at the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on Sunday, April 8.

“My arms seem a little short, but it’s awesome,” said Johnson, a seven-time TMS race winner and the reigning O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 champion. “The face is surprisingly close, but the cowboy hat here looks way better than the real one does on me in Victory Lane. I look like Howdy Doody in Victory Lane.”

Hinchcliffe will be the bobblehead promotion for the DXC Technology 600 Verizon IndyCar Series race Saturday, June 8 while Kurt Busch will have the honors for the AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race Sunday, Nov. 4.

Hinchcliffe’s bobblehead is sponsored by A.O. Smith Water Products Company while Busch’s bobblehead is sponsored by State Water Heaters.

Newest Sweetheart On ‘Survivor: Ghost Island’: Libby Vincek, a native East Bernard, Texas, made her debut as the newest member of Texas Motor Speedway’s Great American Sweethearts during Wednesday’s luncheon. Later tonight, Vincek will make her on-screen debut as a castaway contestant on the CBS’ hit reality show “Survivor: Ghost Island” beginning at 7 p.m. CT.

“I want to prove that this southern small town blonde is more than just a pretty face,” Vincek said when asked why she wanted to be on “Survivor.” “‘Survivor’ is a chance to show off my skills and strengths — both mental and physical — and use them to their full potential and to my advantage. The sense of adventure, travel, social game, the game as a whole just has everything I'm really into along with a challenge I was up for.”

Vincek, who describes herself as adventurous, strong and outgoing, is a 25-year-old social media strategist who received her bachelor’s degree in Film, Television and Digital Media from Texas Christian University in 2016. A former Disney World Princess and Miss American Teen Coed-Texas, Vincek hosts her own channel on YouTube, offering tips on fitness and healthy food choices.

“Being a Sweetheart means that I get to represent an awesome sport and my home state at the same time,” Vincek said. “I’m excited to really get to know the NASCAR fans. They are so loud and proud of their sport, and representing that is a huge job that I’m truly honored to be apart of.”

“Survivor: Ghost Island” was filmed on the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji over the course of 39 days from June 5-July 13, 2017.

Torchy’s Tacos Now Serving: Renovations to the 5,100-square-foot building next to the Texas Motor Speedway Media Center in the infield are nearly complete as Torchy’s Tacos will move in to begin providing its “Damn Good” tacos beginning with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR doubleheader weekend April 5-8.

Offering an untraditional spin on one of the most recognizable food items in the world, every order is made from scratch, Torchy’s Tacos offers a menu that features breakfast and lunch/dinner tacos as well as salads, chips and dips, sides, and dessert items.

The location in Texas Motor Speedway’s infield underwent extensive renovations beginning in late January. The new-look restaurant will be hard to miss with its massive lighted letters on the outside of the building.

Stay tuned for news on the Texas Motor Speedway Media Naaaaaaacho Bar.

In Case You Missed It: Global IT services leader DXC Technology has signed an agreement with Texas Motor Speedway to become the entitlement sponsor of the Verizon IndyCar Series race held annually in June at the world-renowned motorsports facility. "America's Original Nighttime IndyCar Race," a staple event at Texas Motor Speedway since the venue opened in 1997, will be rebranded the DXC Technology 600 and is scheduled for Saturday, June 9. The DXC Technology 600 will be the ninth race of the Verizon IndyCar Series' 17-race schedule. It will air live on NBCSN beginning at 7 p.m. CT. Financial terms and length of the contract were not disclosed.

What They Are Saying

"We're constantly investing and making improvements at all of our speedways to enhance the fan experience. We don't have to do those things, but we have an undying passion for our fans and for this business, and that's not going to change anytime soon."
Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith on the state of the sport and the SMI brand.

"I can't actually dance, but nobody believes me. Tequila does help, though." 
~ James Hinchcliffe on his runner-up finish in the 2016 season of "Dancing With The Stars"

"I actually had Bud Selig's seats. At one point, Joe Torre tapped me on the shoulder and was like 'Who are you? Why are you sitting in front of me at the World Series?"
~ Kurt Busch on getting to watch the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals from premium front-row seats at Arlington Stadium. 

"As a kid who grew up in this area, I can't even begin to tell you what a dream come true it is to just be sitting here today. I love Texas Motor Speedway and it's an honor to be a part of this. I never could have dreamed of something like this as a kid."
~ Christopher Bell on his thoughts of being part of Media Day at Texas Motor Speedway

"Well, Austin took us out of four races last year. I just thought it would be cheaper to put him on the payroll than race against him this season." 
Al Niece, owner of Niece Motorsports on Austin Wayne Self joining his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team in 2018.

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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