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XFINITY

Title Favorites Custer and Reddick Clash at Kansas

Contact on a late-race restart, combined with the pressure to lock themselves into the Championship 4, caused two of the top three competitors in the NASCAR Xfinity Series to clash at Kansas Speedway on Saturday.

Battling for the lead on a restart with less than 10 laps to go, Tyler Reddick slid up the track while four-wide with Noah Gragson and Brandon Jones, making slight contact with Cole Custer, causing Custer to bounce off the outside wall. Custer would fall back in the running order as a result, finishing 11th, while Reddick lost out in the battle for the win, placing second to Jones.

Following the completion of the Kansas Lottery 300, Custer approached Reddick to discuss the contact, where crew members from both teams got involved to result in a fight in the middle of pit road.

Custer stated that he approached his fellow title rival due to being frustrated with the contact. 

“I just wasn’t very happy with it and was just going to tell him that and he went berserk on me,” he said. “I guess that is part of it. I just wasn’t very happy with it. He just said, ‘Don’t touch me,’ then he started grabbing on me.”

While understanding his rival’s situation, Reddick felt confident in how he handled the situation. 

“As soon as he put a hand on me, I put a hand on him back; that’s just how it’s going to be if we’re going to have a conversation that way,” he told NASCAR on NBC. “I’m out of breath, had a little fight there with people, but it was kinda fun.”

The drivers have not had any issues with each other in the past, with the confrontation simply chalked up to being due to “heat of the moment.”

“We’re pissed off,” he added. “I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon, maybe today, tomorrow, who knows maybe have a beer over it. Obviously didn’t want to get into his quarter panel, but if I lift, I get passed and I hate that it happened to him. We’ll try and move forward, obviously.”

Currently, both drivers are in a comfortable position to transfer to the next round, the Championship 4, in the Xfinity Series playoffs. Although Christopher Bell leads both Custer and Reddick, they both still sit 38 and 37 points above the cut line. To put that into perspective, you earn 10 points for winning a stage and 40 points for a race victory; it would take serious issues both either to have someone knock them out.

Through the Xfinity Series season, these three drivers have been the class of the field and easily were predicted to be part of the Championship 4. Based on the current standings, they would have to see two of the other eight playoff drivers win the next two events to eliminate all three.

It is possible, but highly unlikely given the dominance by The Big Three.  However, if they continue to clash with each other, it may result in an upset.

“A couple of us have a lot to lose in this deal and if we take each other out, neither one of us gets to Homestead and I feel we both deserve to be there,” Reddick said. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography

PREVIEW: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12

Following the craziness at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, four drivers saw their hopes at winning a championship this year end as they were eliminated from the playoffs. Now 12 competitors remain entering the second round, with another four set to see their dreams extinguished in three races.

As we get set for this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Dover International Speedway, here is a preview ahead of the Round of 12.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

1. Kyle Busch +41

Virtue of four victories, 11 stage wins, and the regular season championship, Kyle Busch enters Dover with a healthy advantage. But he does not have any momentum on his side with just a single top-15 finish – second at Richmond Raceway – in the first round. That said, as long as he is solid through the next three weeks, he should easily move forward in the post-season.

Dover International Speedway – In 29 starts, he has won three races with 18 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has a win and three top-10’s in his last three appearances.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 28 starts, he has just six top-five and eight top-10 finishes, including a single victory. Most recently, though, he has a best finish of 10th in his last four appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 23 starts, he has 10 top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2016. He has posted eight top-10 finishes in his last nine appearances, including six top-five’s.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

2. Martin Truex Jr. +36

Right now, Martin Truex Jr. enters the second round as the championship favorite after winning at both Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Richmond, before placing seventh at the ROVAL. Just like Busch, he only needs solid finishes to continue through the next round of the playoffs.

Dover International Speedway – In 27 races, he has scored three wins and 15 top-10 finishes, including a trip to victory lane in May.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 29 races, he has only two top-five’s and eight top-10 finishes. Most notably, he has not posted a top-10 in his last seven appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 22 races, he has scored a pair of victories and eight top-five finishes. Most recently, he has two wins and four top-five’s in his last five appearances.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

3. Denny Hamlin +25

Despite a rocky three races with two finishes outside of the top-14, Denny Hamlin made his way into the second round of the playoffs. You can thank four wins and three stage victories for the bonus points to help out, but he will need to be stronger this time around if he wants to move forward.

Dover International Speedway – In 27 starts, he has four top-five’s and 11 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has five top-10 finishes in his last seven appearances.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 27 starts, he has 10 top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2014. Most recently, he has three top-10 finishes in his last six appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 22 starts, he has seven top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2012. Most recently, he has a pair of fifths and a pair of finishes outside of the top-12 in his last four appearances. 

Krysten Harrelson | NKP

4. Joey Logano +24

Three solid top-11 finishes allowed Joey Logano to move onto the second round of the playoffs, and the same consistency will be needed once again if he has any plans on defending the championship this year.

Dover International Speedway – In 21 starts, he has scored 12 top-10 finishes, with just four top-five’s. Most recently, he has finished third and seventh in his latest appearances.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 23 starts, he has three wins and 10 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has finished in the top-five in his last four appearances, including a victory last year.

Kansas Speedway – In 20 starts, he has two wins and eight top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has two top-10’s in his last three appearances.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

5. Kevin Harvick +23

A pair of top-five’s with no finishes worse than seventh in the first three races of the playoffs give Kevin Harvick some momentum heading into the second round. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver just now needs to keep things rolling through the next three weeks.

Dover International Speedway – In 37 starts, he has two wins and 18 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has finished in the top-six in his last three appearances, including a victory last season.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 37 starts, he has scored 15 top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2010. Most recently, he has posted just one top-five in his last five appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 27 starts, he has scored three wins and 14 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has two wins, and five top-eight finishes in his last seven appearances.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

6. Chase Elliott +19

It appears Chase Elliott has made a statement in the playoffs, after coming back from a late-race mistake on a restart to win at the ROVAL in a dominating performance. Combined with a fourth at Las Vegas and recent success at the next three tracks, a lot of people have their eyes on the No. 9 being the strongest this round. 

Dover International Speedway – In seven starts, he has six top-five finishes, including winning the playoff October event last year.

Talladega Superspeedway – In seven starts, he has scored three top-five finishes, including a victory in April.

Kansas Speedway – In seven starts, he has scored three top-five finishes, including a victory last fall. 

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

7. Brad Keselowski +19

Brad Keselowski was one of the most impressive drivers in the first round, scoring three top-five finishes. Currently flying under the radar following the performances from others, he could easily continue sneaking his way forward through consistency.

Dover International Speedway – In 19 starts, he has scored eight top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2012. Most recently, he has just two top-10 finishes in his last five appearances.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 21 starts, he has scored five victories and 11 top-10 finishes. Since winning in 2017, though, he has failed to post a top-10 finish in his last three appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 19 starts, he has scored a pair of victories and 10 top-10’s. By the way, the most recent of those wins was May of this very year.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

8. Kyle Larson +1

It did not take a heroic performance like last season at the ROVAL, but Kyle Larson has once again made it to second round of the playoffs. Now he needs to not repeat the misfortunes of last year, and put together a solid string of races if he wants to move forward in 2019.

Dover International Speedway – In 11 starts, he has scored five top-five’s and eight top-10 finishes. Most recently, he finished third in May.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 11 starts, he has posted just two top-10 finishes, with the most recent being sixth in 2016.

Kansas Speedway – In 11 starts, he has scored three top-five’s and five top-10 finishes. Notably, he has scored a top-eight finish in his last three appearances.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

9. Alex Bowman -1

Alex Bowman may not have made any friends through the first round, but he can still say that his playoff hopes are alive unlike others. Now he needs to hope those foes do not succeed in taking revenge, while continuing the performances like his runner-up at the ROVAL if he wants to move forward.

Dover International Speedway – In seven starts, he has posted just one top-five at Dover – a runner-up in May.

Talladega Superspeedway – In eight starts, he has posted two top-10’s, including a runner-up in May.

Kansas Speedway – In eight starts, he has posted three top-10’s, including a runner-up in May.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

10. Ryan Blaney -2

Although Ryan Blaney posted a pair of top-10’s in the first round, a repeat of his 17th-place finish at Richmond Raceway would certainly not be warranted at this time if he wants to move forward.

Dover International Speedway – In seven starts, he has posted just two top-10 finishes, with the latest coming in the form of an eighth last season.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 10 starts, he has posted just two top-10 finishes, with the latest being ninth in 2016.

Kansas Speedway – In nine starts, he has posted three top-five’s and five top-10 finishes. Most recently, he just one top-10 (seventh) in his last three appearances.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

11. William Byron -5

William Byron showed potential in the first round virtue of finishing seventh at Las Vegas and sixth at the ROVAL. However, the inconsistency that has led to just 11 top-10’s in 29 races this season needs to leave if he wants to become part of the championship conversation.

Dover International Speedway – In three starts, he has posted just one top-10 finish – eighth in May.

Talladega Superspeedway – In three starts, he has posted a best finish of 20th last October.

Kansas Speedway – In three starts, he has posted a best finish of 20th in May.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

12. Clint Bowyer -6

After starting the playoffs on a sour note, Clint Bowyer kept his championship hopes alive with back-to-back top-eight finishes in the two races that followed. Now he needs to continue the momentum into the second round if he wants to move forward.

Dover International Speedway – In 27 starts, he has posted three top-five’s and 15 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has posted a top-10 in his three of his last four appearances, including a runner-up last year.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 27 starts, he has posted 13 top-10 finishes, including a pair of victories. Most recently, he just one top-10 in his last six appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 22 starts, he has posted three top-five’s and seven top-10 finishes. Most recently, he just one top-10 – fifth in May – in his last four appearances. 

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography

GALLERY: NASCAR Xfinity Playoff Picture Entering Dover

The first two races in the opening round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series have brought excitement, with close racing throughout the field. Though entering Dover International Speedway this weekend, there is still a lot of points on the line.

Here is the playoff picture as we enter the weekend.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

1. Christopher Bell – Locked In

Virtue of picking up the win at Richmond Raceway, Christopher Bell locked himself into the Round of 8 without having to worry at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL or Dover. That’s a good thing, as he tangled with Chase Briscoe in the late stages last weekend.

He could very well give himself some more playoff points (one per stage win, five with a race win) as he has won the previous two Xfinity Series races at Dover.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

2. Cole Custer – +71 (Locked In)

Virtue of his playoff points and kicking off the playoffs with a third and eighth, Cole Custer has mathematically locked himself into the second round of the post-season.

He could add some additional playoff points, as he has scored three top-five’s in five appearances at Dover, including a runner-up last fall.

John Harrelson | NKP

3. Tyler Reddick +52

With the winner possibly able to secure 60 points on any given race day, Tyler Reddick has yet to lock himself mathematically into the next round. However, it would take a lot to remove him from the playoffs as he’d need the worse day you can have, combined with the best day for one of those on the outside looking in. He also enters this weekend with momentum, having scored a top-10 in the last three races, including a runner-up last Saturday.

In four starts at Dover, he has scored a pair of top-five’s, including a third-place finish in May.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

4. Austin Cindric +50

Cindric enters this weekend in the same situation as Reddick, courtesy of a second and third in the first two events of the playoffs. Other than Bell, you could argue that Cindric is right now the hottest driver in the series statistical wise.

He has been solid at Dover, with three top-10’s in three appearances, including a track-best sixth in May.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

5. Justin Allgaier +40

The solid consistency that we’ve come to see out of Justin Allgaier is paying off as a pair of fourths in the first two races of the playoffs give him a comfortable cushion entering this weekend. Notably, he has finished in the top-five in the last four events on the schedule.

In 17 appearances at Dover, he has scored 10 top-10 finishes, including a victory. But more notably, he has scored a podium finish in his last four starts, including the aforementioned win in 2018. 

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

6. Chase Briscoe +35

Despite having the run-in on-track with Bell at the ROVAL, Chase Briscoe has started off the playoffs solidly with a fifth and ninth. As long as he puts together a solid top-10 day at Dover, he should be fine to move to the next round.

He has finished 19th and fifth in his pair of appearances at Dover.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

7. Noah Gragson +26

With finishes of seventh and fifth in the first two races of the playoffs, Noah Gragson just needs another top-10 and he should solidly move to the next round of the playoffs.

He has finished seventh and 19th in his pair of appearances at Dover.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

8. Michael Annett +11

After showing a lot of promise through the summer months, Michael Annett finds himself right on the edge entering Dover following a 15th-place finish this past weekend at the ROVAL. The JR Motorsports driver has posted 16 top-10’s in 28 races this season, but will need to be on his A-game this weekend.

In 15 starts at Dover, he has only posted a pair of top-10 finishes – including a 10th in May.

John Harrelson | NKP

9. Brandon Jones -11

With Dover appearing to not be the strongest track for Annett, this could be the perfect time for Brandon Jones to capitalize and get himself into the next round of the playoffs. A solid run on Saturday would be perfect redemption after finishes of 11th and 16th to start the post-season.

After failing to post a top-10 in his first four appearances at Dover, he has done so in the last three events – including a track-best sixth last fall. 

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

10. John Hunter Nemechek -11

After finishing 15th at Richmond, it certainly put John Hunter Nemechek in a hole to start the playoffs, and a seventh at the ROVAL did not do much to help his cause. He will need to find the speed that delivered four top-five finishes this season if he wants to move forward to the next round.

After finishing 14th in his first appearance at Dover, he has finished eighth and ninth in the races since.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

11. Ryan Sieg -37

It’s technically not a must-win situation, but it certainly is not an easy amount of points to make-up as Ryan Sieg will need to hope his fellow competitors have issues following a 30th-place finish at the ROVAL. That said, a victory would solve all of his problems – and be one of the biggest upsets in the series, given the size of RSS Green Light Racing.

He has yet to post a top-10 finish at Dover despite running 11 races there, posting a track-best 11th in May. 

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

12. Justin Haley -39

Haley enters this weekend in the same situation as Sieg following a 31st-place finish at the ROVAL. Although he has yet to win a race this season, Kaulig Racing has proven capable of doing so as A.J. Allmendinger scored the team’s second victory of 2019 on Saturday.

Haley finished 17th in his lone appearance at Dover.

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography

PREVIEW: NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Round of 6

Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger unfortunately saw their chances at the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Championship end, leaving six drivers fighting for the title with four races remaining.

Spread across a couple of weeks, the next three events on the schedule will set the stage for the final event of the season, the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Four of the six drivers currently in the playoffs will get to battle for the championship then, while two others will be left dreaming about their chance in 2020.

So who will move forward and who will get left behind? Let’s take a glance through the field.

John Harrelson | NKP

1. Brett Moffitt +30

Virtue of four victories and four stage wins, Brett Moffitt enters this round with a considerable advantage ahead of the rest of the contenders. As long as he can avoid trouble through the round and be consistently a top-five contender, he should be a lock for the Championship 4.  

The challenge is easily accepted by the defending series champion as he has finished the last four races in the top-seven, including a pair of victories in the first round of the playoffs. 

Talladega Superspeedway – He finished 17th in his lone truck series start on the 2.66-mile oval, and crashed out of the truck series opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Martinsville Speedway – He has scored three top-five’s in four starts with no finishes worse than sixth.

ISM Raceway – He won in his lone start at the Arizona oval.

Russell Labounty | NKP

2. Austin Hill +6

Austin Hill enters the second round of the playoffs with momentum on his side, as he has finished inside the top-10 in the last four series events, including a pair of victories. If there is any driver that has shown they can run right with Moffitt, it’d be the team that won the title last year with him.

Talladega – He has finished 22nd and 10th in his pair of starts at the superspeedway

Martinsville – He has only posted a pair of top-10’s in eight starts, with a track-best ninth in 2018.

ISM Raceway – He has failed to finish in his previous two starts in the desert due to brake failure (2017) and engine failure (2018). 

John Harrelson | NKP

3. Ross Chastain +5

After putting together a string of wins to get himself qualified for the playoffs, Ross Chastain has been solid thus far with a pair of top-five’s and an eighth in the last three series events. Despite not winning an event, he led more than 50 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Talladega – In three starts at the superspeedway, he has just one top-five – finishing third in 2013. But recall he placed third in the season opener at Daytona.

Martinsville – He has finished in the top-10 in his last two starts at the paperclip, including a track-best fourth in April.

ISM Raceway – Although running into ignition issues in his first trip to the desert in 2012, he came back a year later to finish second after winning the pole.

Russell Labounty | NKP

4. Stewart Frisen +3

After winning at Eldora Speedway to secure his spot in the playoffs, Stewart Friesen finished the next three races in the top-10, but posted a 19th-place finish in the series’ most recent event in Las Vegas. It seems to be the story of the Canadian’s season as he has been fast and put himself in position to win races, but cannot find consistency with his results.

Talladega – He has finished 17th and sixth in his pair of starts at the superspeedway

Martinsville – He put together a track-best performance in April, finishing fifth after winning the pole.

ISM Raceway – After finishing 18th in his first trip to the desert, he has finished sixth and fifth in the races since.

Russell Labounty | NKP

5. Matt Crafton -3

Consistency has been the name of the game for Matt Crafton this season, in a year that hasn’t certainly met the expectations that ThorSport Racing had. Surprisingly, the past series champion has yet to visit victory lane this season. He also enters this round without any momentum as he blew up in the series’ most recent event in Las Vegas. Before then, he had posted four top-10’s in the previous five races.

Talladega – In 13 races at the superspeedway, Crafton has only posted four top-10 finishes.

Martinsville – Crafton has won twice at the paperclip, with eight top-10’s in his most recent 11 starts.

ISM Raceway – Crafton has 11 top-10’s in 18 starts, but those haven’t come in his two most recent appearances.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

6. Tyler Ankrum -3

The rookie has shown potential thus far this season, but seeing him move forward may prove to be a tall task. After all, he has just two top-10 finishes in the last five races.

Talladega – He has yet to run a truck series event at the superspeedway, and was not old enough to run the season opener at Daytona.

Martinsville – He has finished 18th and 19th in his previous two appearances.

ISM Raceway – He placed sixth in his first and only trip to the desert.

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Erik Jones Fails Federated Auto Parts 400 Post-Race Inspection

If Erik Jones wants to make the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, he will need to win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL next weekend.

Following a fourth-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, Jones’ No. 20 Toyota Camry failed post-race inspection. It was determined that the rear wheel steer was not within the proper compliance.

To keep the playoffs fair, each driver who is qualified goes through the Optical Scanning Station post-race, with the top two finishers in the event being tore down for a full inspection.

As a result, Jones was moved to last in the finishing results from the event. 

“We’ve set the standard early in the year in what we expect, and teams have done a good job reacting to that,” Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series director Jay Fabian said. “I think obviously as the pressure mounts and the season goes on, it doesn’t surprise me to see them pushing a little further and trying to get a little more out of their stuff, and like I say, sometimes it just crosses that line a little bit, and that’s all you need to fail.”

If Jones would have been credited with a fourth-place finish, he could have entered the ROVAL just three points behind William Byron for the final position in the Round of 12. However, he instead will be 45 points behind, requiring a win to advance.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Although not known for the most dramatic racing, there was enough drama to wet the appetite of every fan watching on Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The field spread out once there were some green laps in the books – as usual no matter the package, but the restarts saw close competition with some of those battles producing their own twists and turns for the race.

Of course, everything started off with the first trip down pit road when a stack-up resulted in Chase Elliott getting turned sideways.

“I haven’t seen a replay of the pit road incident, but one thing about Indy is pit road is so narrow,” Elliott said. “You have to start braking before you turn into your box which is typically not the case. I think that was a contributor. I apologize if I didn’t stop quick enough. Once they all started stopping, they stopped so fast, I didn’t get stopped quick enough and about the time I got stopped, somebody piled into me. It was one of those chain reaction things.”

Despite receiving damage and going a lap down making repairs, the Hendrick Motorsports driver fought back for a ninth-place finish.

His teammate Jimmie Johnson was not so lucky with his damage later in the event, though. Battling three-wide, William Byron crowded Johnson, resulting in Johnson getting into the grass and sideways. In total, nine drivers were caught up in the incident. Johnson’s rear-end damage was significant enough that he could not continue, ending his chances of making the playoffs.

Although NBC put on the focus on Johnson not making the post-season solely focused on Sunday, there were 25 races that drivers also scored wins and points to ensure their championship chances. Quite frankly, this year has been a struggle for seven-time with consistency being a struggle to find, including a crew chief change mid-season.

Despite some suggesting Johnson may be past his prime, he has stated that the No. 48 team plans to make the most of these final 10 races with some trips to victory lane.

The playoff battle was the main story of the day, and reasonably so with the Big Machine Vodka 400 being the cut-off. Ryan Newman put together the right drive en route to an eighth-place finish, snagging the last playoff spot Daniel Suarez

” We just weren’t good enough this weekend,” Suarez said. “Qualifying was wide open and we qualified 20th. We just didn’t have the straightaway speed this weekend for whatever reason. We have to keep working on it and try to keep getting better.”

While Suarez was critical of his Stewart-Haas Racing team, keep in his mind teammate Kevin Harvick won the pole and dominated the race, while both Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch will join him in the playoffs.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS……. Michael Waltrip

There are certain moments in motorsports where fans remember they were in the exact time that they occurred. One of those being the 2001 Daytona 500, the sight of Michael Waltrip’s first career victory and the death of Dale Earnhardt.

Now fans will have the chance to get a closer glimpse into the day, through a new documentary titled Blink of an Eye, which tells the tale of triumph and tragedy. In the same day that Waltrip broke his 462-race winless streak by winning the Daytona 500, his best friend and car owner lost his life in the Super Bowl of motorsports.

Waltrip, along with others connected to the events, take the time to recall not only that day, but the events leading up to and afterwards. You can view a trailer for the movie by clicking here.

Recently, Waltrip took the time to speak with POPULAR SPEED about the upcoming movie.

POPULAR SPEED: So everything came together initially with the book you wrote, so how did you come up with the idea to write that?

MICHAEL WALTRIP: It was 10 years after that tragic day that Dale passed and I was going to run the Daytona 500 that year and I was talking to a buddy of mine, who said I should write a book about the 2001 Daytona 500. I guess I’m one of those people who haven’t talked much about their problems. I was one of those kids that mom and dad would be like, ‘you’ll live, fall down and skin your knee, you’ll be alright’. I just never thought about talking about that day so much in so much detail, but my buddy said it might be therapeutic and something that I might enjoy. So we agreed to do the book and the process was really fun for me.

I met a gentleman named Ellis Henican. Ellis wrote the book with me and when it was all done, I handed it to the publisher and said, ‘Well, if anybody buys the book, I can’t help that, but I know every word in that book is said how I wanted to say it’. Ellis really let me tell the story, probably more so than most times when you have a ghost writer. It was more him showing me how to put the content into place, but it was my words. But when the book was all done, I was happy about it.

So about two or three years ago, Mitch Covington from Monster Energy, he read the book and said, ‘You have to tell this story to our sales board. This story is about overcoming adversity, and fighting through tragedy, and winning, and keeping your head up and keeping going.’ So we put together about a 40 minute speech, gave it at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas with video screens; Bon Jovi had played on the stage before so it was set-up to do a nice job for this presentation. When I was finished with the speech, there were these big hairy tattooed guys that came up to me and said, ‘Man, you made me cry. That was quite the speech’.

The owners of Monster were there and they loved it, and said that they needed to make it into a documentary. That’s sort of the process that it’s gone through, and how we got to where we are today. Just like the book, the documentary is done really well and told perfectly. I’m really proud of everybody that put it together, and everybody that had anything to do with my career that day in Daytona – they’re all in the movie. There’s not a piece missing that we can say that we couldn’t do it. I mean, Richard Petty is in it, my brother Darrell (Waltrip), Richard Childress, Mike Helton, my ex-wife Buffy. I’m proud of it and can’t wait for the world to see it.

POPULAR SPEED: So what was it like going through the process in putting the documentary together, and working with everybody to put together as you wished?

WALTRIP: Well, the content is sad and is something that makes me cry, whether I’m being interviewed for the documentary or just living my life. There’s no way that I can talk about that day and not get emotional. For me, it was nothing new or different. It was just a camera that I was telling it to, instead of a buddy or a friend. The thing that I was most proud of was listening to Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., and hearing Richard Petty, and some of my heroes that helped me even understand more about that time in my life.

About a month ago, I was on Dale Jr.’s podcast and we talked more about the 2001 Daytona 500 and the emotions and everything that happened that day than we have in 18 years. So it was certainly worth being able to have that moment with him, and that was a result of the documentary. I’m really thankful for him, who he is, and how much he was honest and you could just tell that he was living the same thing that I am living.

POPULAR SPEED: What do you hope fans take away from the movie when they get a chance to see it?

WALTRIP: I think there’s two reasons from the beginning that I wrote the book, and the goal is the same here. I wanted people to have more appreciation and more respect and admiration and honor Dale. I wanted people to understand more about Dale and how special the Intimidator was when he wasn’t at the race track. I wanted to honor Dale and then I wanted to inspire people. No matter what happens, you can overcome it.

You’re not a loser until you quit, and what is amazing to me is I had lost 462 straight NASCAR races, and when I woke up on February 18, 2001, I told my friends and family around me that they aren’t beating me today. There’s no way they’re beating me today, and that’s because that’s where Dale had me. He had me believing that I would win that race, and that’s what I went and did. To have that person believe in you, it can make a whole difference in your world, and when I took the checkered flag that afternoon, I thought it was the best day ever. Then an hour later, I learned that it might be the worst day ever in NASCAR. That range of emotion is pretty tough to handle, and that’s what life put on my plate, and that’s what I had to deal with it.

I hope that anyone that watches the movie and they haven’t won, or are trying to win, or they have tragedy in their life that they’re dealing with, I can help them. They can say, ‘Well, he did it, I can do it’.

POPULAR SPEED: You’ve spoken about your friendship with Dale Earnhardt. If there’s just one story that you can share from that time together, what would it be?

WALTRIP: There’s many just about friendship and some of the fun things that we did, whether snorkeling in the Bahamas or fishing. A funny story is that he had a big farm with a big fence around it, and I had a little farm with a big fence around it. He told me to come over and he’d give me a deer, and I could put the deer in my field. So I said that was exactly what I wanted to do, in getting a couple deer for my pasture.

So I go over to his house and this deer was in its mom’s belly and this mom got hit by a car. This farmer got out and saw this Mamma deer was dying and pregnant, and he delivered the baby. They bottle fed it, so the baby thought it was a pet. So Dale gave me that deer so it would be protected as it hadn’t been raised to be out in the wild yet. So he loads it up in the back of my truck in a little cage carrier, and I’m getting ready to drive off. He grabs me by the collar and he says, ‘If the police pull you over, you do not know where you got that deer.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ He goes, ‘You can’t be driving deer around town. It’s illegal.’ I said, ‘Okay, let me get this straight. I can shoot this deer between the eyes, but I can’t give it a ride?’

We got a big laugh out of that. The deer wound up at my house and we raised it for a long time, and I eventually let it out into the wild and I’m sure the deer is wandering around the hills of North Carolina today.

POPULAR SPEED: Now going back to 2001, what was it like for you putting the deal together to drive for Dale, knowing that he had that faith in you?

WALTRIP: Whether we were on the back of a boat or hanging out at his farm, he would always say to me – I drove for him in the 80s in his Busch car, and again in the 90s I drove a couple of races for him. He always told me that I would win in Cup if I drove for him. I would always say, ‘Well damn, let’s do it. What’s the hold up?’ But circumstances never worked out. There was no ride, no sponsors – the timing wasn’t right, I guess. But he had said that for years – that if I drove for him, I would win.

Late September of 2000, I was on the farm and Buffy, my wife at the time, yelled at me and told me to call Dale as he couldn’t find something. So I called him up and he told me, ‘Get over here. I have to tell you something’. So I went to his shop and he said, ‘We’re going have a third team, NAPA is going sponsor it, and I want you to be the driver.’ I was just amazed. I’m 38-years-old, and these days a 38-year-old with a record like I had could not get a top-ride. I don’t know if I could’ve gotten a top-ride if it wasn’t for Dale.

From early September to the last corner of the last lap in the Daytona 500, it was the best time of my life. My family was doing well, I was confident, and just going to the shop and listening to Dale about how we were going to do things, and seeing all the parts and tools that I was going to have to race with.

I couldn’t wait for the Monday morning debriefs, whether I won or lost. I think Dale had the attitude that I was really good driver, but I hadn’t done a really good job at managing my career, and he was going to take that over. The Monday morning after I won was going to be great, but I was looking forward to the Monday mornings when we didn’t win just to hear his guidance.

Unfortunately, I never got to have a Monday morning meeting.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

PREVIEW: Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway

While everybody is having fun across social media with the various throwback images, there is still a race to be contested this weekend as the NASCAR Xfinity Series takes on the track too tough to tame.

The big storyline entering the weekend besides the 90’s swagger is Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his return behind the wheel. Since retiring from full-time competition in 2017, the sport’s Most Popular Driver has come back to run a single event each season. Last year, that was in the form of a fourth-place finish at Richmond Raceway.

It makes sense with his love for the history of the sport (Anybody remember the TV show Back in the Day?) that he would be right in there with the throwback flair. However, the Lady in Black has not always been kind to Earnhardt, with just four top-five’s in 22 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.

He’ll have his hands full with the competition, as the BIG THREE hope to leave an impact this weekend.

Cole Custer has been the most successful of his counterparts at Darlington, scoring a ninth and second in his pair of races there for the best average finish of drivers entered. He could use a good result after finishing 10th at Road America, behind his fellow foes.

Christopher Bell did the best job on the road course, picking up the victory last Saturday after leading the last eight laps. He has not had the best of luck at Darlington, though, finishing 34th after a crash last year.

Tyler Reddick enters the weekend on top of the standings, 45 points ahead of Bell following a third-place finish at Road America. In two races at Darlington, he has finished 16th and third.

With many predicting these three will make up the Championship 4 at season’s end, a lot of eyes have shifted focus to the rest of the grid in wonder as to who will join them. 

Recently, Austin Cindric has made the most splash, but he is known for road course racing so it’s no surprise he won two of those three events in August. Now returning to tracks solely focused on left turns, he did not have much luck in his first trip to Darlington, crashing out en route to finishing last.

Justin Allgaier has been a driver in the championship discussion since returning back full-time to the Xfinity Series, but has had a quiet season with no trips to victory lane. It has not been due to lack of effort, though, as the No. 7 has led 417 laps, including a race-high on a couple occasions this year. However, bad luck has ultimately hampered their efforts at the wrong times. He knows his way around Darlington, though, with two top-five’s and five top-10’s in eight starts.

There’s also the influx of Cup stars, with both Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin looking for glory this weekend. Blaney finished seventh in 2016, while Hamlin has five wins in 11 starts – but will start at the tail of the field on Saturday due to wrecking in practice. Don’t count either of driver out, though, as Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing have won the last two races at Darlington.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography

GALLERY: NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Playoff Picture Leaving Bristol

The first race of the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series playoffs for 2019 is in the books, and it came and gone in dramatic fashion. Tempers flared between drivers, as contact was shared with the defending champion ultimately punching his ticket into the next round.

Now heading north of the border, here is where the drivers sit with two races remaining in round one.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

1. Brett Moffitt – Locked In

Brett Moffitt is going to have an easy ride into the next two weeks, as he has punched into his ticket virtue of winning Saturday night’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The defending champion also has momentum on his side, winning three of the last seven series races. 

John Harrelson | NKP

2. Ross Chastain (+25)

Ross Chastain may have gotten back to third by the checkered flag at Bristol, but he did not make any friends in the process. He ran up front until a pit road penalty dropped him back in the field, and then made his way back up to the top-five virtue of his using his front bumper. His aggressive nature has created discussion, and may be something to either help or bite him moving forward.

He finished seventh in his lone start at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and has two top-10’s in four races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

3. Stewart Friesen (+17)

Stewart Friesen certainly had to pull up the gloves and work hard on Thursday night at Bristol. He was running solidly in the top-10 until contact with Matt Crafton sent him around spinning. He was able to rebound, ultimately finishing fourth. He also managed to talk out his differences with his fellow competitor post-race.

He finished seventh in his lone trip to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and has led laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway en route to a pair of top-five’s in his last three trips.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

4. Grant Enfinger (+13)

Grant Enfinger started off the night struggling at Bristol, running just outside of the top-10 through the beginning. However, his ThorSport Racing crew kept working on the track, and he avoided the chaos in the late stages to finish fifth with some pit strategy.

He has a best finish of 13th in his two trips to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, but has finished no worse than 12th in six races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Oh, and he used a win in last year’s event to make it into the second round of the playoffs.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

5. Matt Crafton (+13)

Despite qualifying 11th, Matt Crafton was able to keep the No. 88 Ford F150 in the top-10 all night long at Bristol, finishing seventh.

He has five top-10’s at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in six starts, with the 25th-place finish happening as a result of a engine failure in 2017. On the flip side, he has 12 top-10’s in 20 races at Las Vegas, including a pair of top-five’s in the last two. 

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

6. Johnny Sauter (+3)

Johnny Sauter played tag with a couple different drivers throughout the event, sustaining damage en route to an 11th-place finish. Oddly, it marks his third consecutive result outside of the top-10, with just two top-10 finishes in the last 10 races.

He has finished in the top-10 in his last five races at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, as well as his last five events in Las Vegas. Notably, that stretch has included a pair of runner-ups in the city that never sleeps.

Jasen Vinlove | NKP

7. Austin Hill (-3)

Austin Hill managed to escape the contact that plagued his fellow competitors, but also wasn’t able to do anything spectacular en route to finishing 10th. It seems the No. 16 is hitting it’s stride at the right time still, though, as he posted three finishes worse than 30th before winning at Michigan International Speedway and his top-10 at Bristol on Thursday night.

He finished eighth in his lone trip to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and has just one top-10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in three previous starts.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

8. Tyler Ankrum (-13)

While his competitors battled each other, Tyler Ankrum was unable to join in the fun as motor issues took him out of contention with a 20th-place finish. It marks the second consecutive finish of 20th or worse for the 2019 Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

He has yet to run a race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, though finished seventh in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event at Watkin’s Glen International last season. He has also yet to run a truck series event at Las Vegas, either.

All Photos Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway

Some of NASCAR’s loyal fan base have been begging for the old Bristol Motor Speedway to return – single-groove along the bottom, with bumpers and rooting needed to make ground. The racing on Thursday for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series gave hope that was the direction headed for concrete half-mile.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series debunked the theory with drivers using the top lane, but that was fine as the racing was still exciting all throughout.

Just like the last night with the other two series, there was racing all the way around the half-mile for positions all the time. It did not seem that a driver could be found by themselves as if they cleared their competitors, lap traffic came into question. That was fine, since it gave the fans something to watch all night long.

Although the top groove was the place to be, there was a way for passes to be made through the middle and bottom lanes of the track. Just ask Tyler Reddick. He started from the tail of the field, and drove his way to the second. He would spin while underneath Justin Allgaier for position, but managed to drive his way from 24th back to the front once again.

Essentially, he was a beast behind the wheel – fitting with Tame The BEAST as the sponsor of the No. 2 Chevrolet, and deserved to be in victory lane by race’s end. However, he did not have the quickest car at the end of the event.

Allgaier had been able to gap Reddick on the long green flag run, and was able to do so on the restart until a tire issue took him out of contention. Now after leading over 300 laps in both Bristol Motor Speedway races this year, he has just a 30th and eighth-place finish to show for it.

As he said post-race, that’s been “the story of our season,” in a year that has seen the veteran overshadowed by the big three young stars in the series – Reddick, Cole Custer, and Christopher Bell. After winning five races last season, the No. 7 has yet to reach victory lane in 2019 with nine top-five’s in 22 races. It has not been for lack of effort, as he has ran up front throughout the year, but bad luck in the form of mechanical issues or wrecks has continued to take him out of contention when it matters.

Considering JR Motorsports is one of the big teams in the series, it’s a shock to realize they have not won since Michael Annett scored the victory in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. It’s certainly got to be disappointing after placing three drivers in the Championship 4 in 2018.

While Allgaier’s disappointment is the highlight of the night, there’s many ways the race at Bristol could have gone differently on Friday night. Kyle Busch blew up after winning the second stage – what if that does not happen? There was also the incident on Lap 38 that collected Custer, Bell, Erik Jones, and Joey Logano at once. What if they would have gotten to contend? The worst part is a lap car caused those contenders to be out of the event. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.