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If you’ll be in Charlotte for Sprint All-Star Race or Coke 600, hang out with some of NASCAR’s biggest stars

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One of the best parts of having the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 on back-to-back weekends in the Charlotte area are the numerous opportunities for interaction between NASCAR drivers and their fans.

If you’re going to be in the area during that time, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the appearances, many of which are free to attend.

Courtesy of our good friends at Jayski.com, here’s a partial list of which drivers will be doing what and where they’ll be doing it (all times Eastern):

May 15, 3 to 6 pm: Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, LiftMaster Community Day at Chip Ganassi Racing, 8500 Westmoreland Drive, Concord, N.C.

May 16, 2 pm: Marvin Panch at Scott’s Collectibles, 934 Cloverleaf Plaza, Kannapolis, N.C.

May 16, 4 pm: Autograph session, featuring Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers. Located at Sprint Experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS). Fans must acquire a wristband by participating in an activity at The Sprint Experience between noon and 3:00 PM on May 16. Wristbands will be limited to 100 per driver pairing.

May 17, Sprint Experience at CMS: Renowned NASCAR artist Sam Bass (1 pm), Jamie McMurray (3:45), David Ragan (4:15), Kyle Busch (4:45).

May 17, 3:40 pm: Ryan Newman at RCR merchandise hauler at CMS.

May 17, time TBA: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick to appear at Hunt Brothers Pizza Party at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase a Hunt Brothers Pizza Party Pass. For more information, see charlottemotorspeedway.com/huntbrothers/.

May 18, all day: Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Rex White, Ned Jarrett, Marvin Panch, Neil Castles, Geoff Bodine to appear at Memory Lane Museum, 769 River Hwy Mooresville NC. Admission (includes access to museum) $10.00 for adults, $6.00 for kids 6-12 years old.

May 19, time TBA: Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Matt Crafton, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Tyler Young, Ryan Preece, Corey Lajoie, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Daniel Suarez and Mackena Bell will appear at GoPro Motorplex, 130 Motorplex Drive, Mooresville, N.C., as part of the First Annual Veteran Kart Challenge to Benefit Service Disabled Veterans. For more info, visit gopromotorplex.com

May 20, time TBA: Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex, Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Drew Herring, Timmy Hill, Scott Speed, Landon Cassill, Blake Koch, Kevin Swindell, Dylan Kwasniewski, Johanna Long, Joey Coulter, Shane Stewart will appear at GoPro Motorplex, 130 Motorplex Drive, Mooresville, N.C. The Little 600 is a FREE fan event with a $10 parking fee. The event night will also feature the Lady 600, a 10-lap rental kart race among some of the most well-known females in the racing industry, including NASCAR driver’s wives and girlfriends. For more info, visit gopromotorplex.com

May 21, 11 am to 3 pm, Michael Waltrip Racing Fan Fest, featuring Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Live SiriusXM radio broadcast from site. Autograph schedule: Burton 11:00 to noon, Bowyer noon to 1:00, Waltrip 1:00 to 2:00. MWR is at 20310 Chartwell Center Drive off exit 28 on I-77 in Cornelius, N.C.

May 21, 6 pm: Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, and Richard Childress at Bass Pro Shops, 8181 Concord Mills Blvd., Concord, N.C.

May 21, time TBA: J.J. Yeley, Jimmy Elledge and Tyler Reddick at Millbridge Speedway 6670 Mooresville Road Salisbury, N.C. More info: minioutlawseries.com

May 22, 10 am: Richard Petty Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day, 7065 Zephyr Place NW, Concord, N.C. Slated to appear: Richard Petty, Dale Inman, Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola, Dakoda Armstrong and Corey LaJoie. Note: wristbands for autographs to be handed out at 8 a.m.

May 22, 8 am to 5 pm: Roush Fenway Racing Fan Appreciation Day, 4600 Roush Place, Concord, N.C. Appearing: Trevor Bayne, Ryan Reed, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Jack Roush. Autograph session tickets first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 8:00 AM with distribution lines opening at 5:00 AM. Autograph session schedule: 10 am – Roush, Bayne, Buescher and Reed.  11 am – Biffle and Stenhouse. Noon – Edwards.

May 22, 10 a.m.: Kasey Kahne Racing Fan Appreciation Day, 265 Cayuga Drive, Mooresville, N.C. Kahne will be signing autographs with his team’s open wheel drivers, Daryn Pittman, Brad Sweet and Cody Darrah. Autographs begin at 10 am, followed by a Q&A. Must obtain wristband at store between May 19-21, from 9:30 am to 5 pm. More info: kaseykahneracing.com.

May 22, 1 pm: Brendan Gaughan, Scott’s Collectibles, 934 Cloverleaf Plaza, Kannapolis, N.C.

May 22, 1 pm: Patrick Staropoli and Tyler Young at the Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte for an autograph session. More info: 600festival.com.

May 22, 7 pm: Donnie Allison, Justin Allison, Ross Chastain, Jeremy Clements, Jamie Dick, Brennan Newberry, Taylor Stricklin, Robert Yates, Grant Enfinger at the Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte for an autograph session. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, Noon: Michael Annett at Team Chevy display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, all day: J.R. Motorsports Fan Days. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Regan Smith and Chase Elliott will sign autographs from 1 to 2 pm. Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Karsyn Elledge and JRM Late Model drivers Josh Berry and William Byron will sign autographs from 11:45 to 12:45 PM. Fans must have a wristband to receive an autograph. There will be no photos taken with drivers. To enter for your chance to win a wristband, visit JRMRacing.com. JRM is at 349 Cayuga Drive, Mooresville, N.C.

May 23, all day: Hendrick Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chad Knaus, Kenny Francis, Alan Gustafason, Steve Letarte, and Rick Hendrick to appear in fan Q&A sessions throughout the day. No autographs will take place during the event. Sessions are as follows: 3:05-3:30 — Francis (No. 5 crew chief), Gustafson (No. 24 crew chief). 3:35-4:00 — Knaus (No. 48 crew chief), Letarte (No. 88 crew chief). 4:05-4:30 – Gordon. 4:35-5:00 – Kahne. 5:05-5:30 – Earnhardt. 5:35-6:00 Johnson. 6:05-6:30 — Rick Hendrick. More info: hendrickmotorsports.com.

May 23, 6:45 pm: Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Coca-Cola stage on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, 7 pm: Ross Chastain, Jamie Dick, Ernie Irvan, Jared Irvan, Blake Koch, Brennan Newberry, Jimmy Weller at Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 24, 6:45 pm: Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle at Coca-Cola stage on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 25, time TBA: Ryan Newman at Sprint Experience at CMS.

May 25, time TBA: Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart at Coca-Cola pre-race party at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase a Coke Party Pass. More info: charlottemotorspeedway.com/cokepartypass/.

May 25, time TBA: Carl Edwards, Eric Almirola, Jimmy Fennig at Ford Racing Hospitality at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase Ford Racing VIP Hospitality Pass. More info: charlottemotorspeedway.com/fordracing/.

For more appearances or changes, click here to visit Jayski.com’s Driver Appearances page.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.