Pia Toscano, Billy Ray Cyrus and Elvis (kind of) have Auto Club Speedway president excited

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Auto Club Speedway track president Gillian Zucker’s personality makes her typically one excited individual — but she’s gone to almost a hyper-speed level of excitement this weekend.

Sure, she’s hosting about 75,000-plus fans at Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Auto Club 400 at the ultra-wide, two-mile Southern California track.

But Zucker has a ton more activities that will encompass the entire race weekend.

Look at Sunday’s lineup alone: potential line dancing to Billy Ray Cyrus (thankfully, without daughter Miley) during a pre-race concert, Pia Toscana singing the National Anthem, the Muppets’ Great Gonzo as grand marshal (and he’ll make his entry being shot out of a cannon) and Olympic medalist skier Bode Miller and volleyball pro wife Morgan will serve as honorary race starters.

And then there’s the – literally – the piece de resistance: Elvis imitators selling chicken pieces in a brand new and aptly-named track restaurant, “Love Me, Tender” (as in the top thing on the menu, chicken tenders).

Oh yeah, and there’ll be a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to boot, on what its track president calls “almost unquestionably the best surface in NASCAR.”

Zucker has so much going that she’ll wax effusively and tell anyone who’ll ask.

One of those was KERN radio morning host Scott Cox, who spent nearly 15 minutes on-air with Zucker Thursday on the Bakersfield, Calif. station’s “First Look” program.

(FYI, Bakersfield is also the home town of NASCAR stars Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears).

Check out the video version of Zucker’s interview with Cox below, and you might want to take notes because we don’t think there’s anything she missed – and there’s lots to remember – about this weekend’s fun-filled weekend.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.