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XFINITY

Tyler Reddick to Start Xfinity Race from Tail of Field Following Penalty

Tyler Reddick is going to have a tall hill to climb on Friday night if he wants to finish well in the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet failed technical inspection four times prior to qualifying. As a result, car chief Cam Strader has been sent home, with the team being penalized 10 driver and owner points. Additionally, Reddick will not be allowed to qualify, forced to start from the tail of the field and serve a pass through penalty down pit road once the green flag is waved. 

RCR has been in the spotlight with penalties over the past couple of weeks, as the qualifying times for Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric were thrown out during last week’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. They were also penalized for a modified deck lid in the Cup series earlier this year on Dillon’s car at Talladega Superspeedway. 

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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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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway

There’s always talk about the action picking up when it is playoff time, and that is certainly appearing to be the case in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series as they started off their post-season with a bang.

Throughout the entire UNOH 200, the playoff drivers were mixing it up with not only each other, but their fellow competitors on the track. Nobody appeared to be giving each other an inch, with bumps being traded throughout the field, and some going around as a result. 

The fans have been asking for the old Bristol to come back, and if Thursday night is any indication, they got their wish. It’s easy to see why they wanted the bottom groove to be prime real estate as sparks flew, with drama throughout the night.

Certainly the drivers who grew up running tracks of this style with a rough edge to their driving enjoy it. Just ask Ross Chastain.

“That’s what built this place,” he said. “You come through this tunnel, and there’s talk about rattling cages, there’s helmets thrown. If we’re going to fill these places up, the CarShield Chevy’s going to be the one that adds to the excitement.”

He certainly made true on that promise, certainly throwing his elbows up each time he got the chance. He ran up inside the top-five from the drop of the green flag until the pit crew was deemed for “too many men over the wall.” Restarting at the tail of the field, he made his way up through the field – aggressively with his fair share of bump and runs for his competitors in the process, ultimately spinning Raphael Lessard.

His driving wasn’t well received post-race, as he was met by a couple crew members of Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“I think the crew chiefs come down here and puff their chests out—they’re old washed-up race car drivers,” Chastain said. “I love Marcus (Richmond) and Rudy (Fugle), but, my goodness, let your drivers come handle it. And one at a time, line ‘em up, and let’s race. And let’s handle it after, outside the race car.”

Chastain’s aggressive nature has been put under the microscope before, with other competitors in the garage area expressing their opinions. It also resulted in Justin Allgaier spinning him in an NASCAR Xfinity Series race following contact. 

Well it’s clear that he knows how to dish it, it could easily come back to bite him. Kyle Busch Motorsports doesn’t have a truck in the playoffs, but they could affect the outcome if they resort to payback for Chastain. It could also easily be someone else.

Does Chastain want his aggressive fellow competitors to be the reason why he doesn’t complete his ultimate Watermelon Man Challenge of winning the championship? 

But rest assured, he is not the only playoff driver in the midst of controversy with Stewart Friesen and Matt Crafton trading jabs at each other during the event. Both competitors finished in the top-10, and talked about their differences following the event. Experience tells them to make sure feuds are put to bed, right?

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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Home Tracks

OBSERVATIONS: Bush’s Beans 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway

A little bump and banging, drivers making their way up and down the field, and a bump and run for the win – it sounds like the perfect short track event. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East was able to check each of those boxes on Thursday evening.

Despite having a small field with just 16 entries, the top-five were close throughout the event, with battles for position from the drop of the green flag to the checkered. With everybody fighting for the bottom, passes became tough at times and it showed with contact throughout. 

Throughout the Bush’s Beans 150, certain drivers showed their ability behind the wheel. Spencer Davis dominated a good chunk of the race, while Hailie Deegan displayed her ability to make passes and move forward. The young talent of Ty Gibbs and Tanner Gray was shown with them being able to run solidly in the top-five.

Though just like he was able to in the spring, Sam Mayer was a step above the rest.

After having to go back to the field at the beginning of the race, he methodically made his way forward, making passes as he went to continue gaining ground. He was then able to catch Davis in the closing laps, perfecting the bump and run to get the lead and cruise to the win.

Not only as he proven to be a master at one of NASCAR’s toughest short tracks, his ability behind the wheel has shined at other speedway. He won at Iowa, and now holds a 22-point advantage in the standings.

Driving for GMS Racing and under the Driver’s Edge Development program, the potential for him to move forward in his racing career there as he ran top-10 until contact with the wall in his NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series debut at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Though it’s not all sunshine for the driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet as his day was not all clean at Bristol. He got put to the back on the first lap due to spinning fellow competitor Chase Cabre right off the drop of the green flag. 

While these two haven’t had the smoothest season racing each other in 2019 with contact throughout, it’s not a good appearance to be causing trouble right away. It also looks worse when you show no remorse about the contact. Mayer would admit he “didn’t mean it at all,” but went on to add that Cabre “kind of deserves it.” 

It’s a tough balance because as a young driver, creating enemies with dirty racing as some would call what happen is not the approach you want in attracting sponsors to back your dream. However, rivalries are always great for the sport as they create conversation. Perhaps that can help get the series back to the star power it used to be.

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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Home Tracks

OBSERVATIONS: King of Beers 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park

No matter where they go, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series puts on a show. They once again displayed that with their Wednesday night special at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.

With the top being the preferred groove around the speedway for the most part, it brings forth the question of who can make their car turn through the center to roll by someone on the bottom. Some drivers were able to be smooth, while others weren’t as much.

From the drop of the green flag to the checkered, there was action all the way around the track with drivers making their way forward, as others slipped back through the field. The high horsepower using up the 15-inch tires, and only one pit stop allowed during the event to change them, had drivers fighting for grip in hopes of being at the front.

The competition also proved to be close, as you did not know who was going to win throughout the event with different stars emerging. Bobby Santos III ultimately became the unsung hero in finding his way to the front late, but transmission issues on a late race restart burst those hopes. Craig Lutz also had a shot at his first career series victory, but he came up short after fading late. 

In a time when young faces are emerging as the ones to watch, the veterans are still proving they are the ones to beat in the modifieds with the final showdown being between Doug Coby and Justin Bonsignore. Bonsignore tried all he could, challenging Coby right down to the line, but ultimately came up short on hitting another win out of the park at Thompson.

The veterans have proved to be the ones to watch all season, and no doubt will be in the final five races of the season. Though you cannot count out possibly seeing Ron Silk join them in victory lane, as he was coming late until issues.

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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Home Tracks

PREVIEW: Bumper to Bumper 300 at Riverside International Speedway

There may be 13 races on the NASCAR Pinty’s Series calendar, but the Bumper to Bumper 300 at Riverside International Speedway always seems to play a big role in deciding the champion. The past three years, the eventual driver to hoist the crown at the season finale visited victory lane in Nova Scotia.

L.P. Dumoulin knows that feeling all too well, as he dominated last year’s event en route to winning the series championship. He enters this weekend with momentum on his side, after the Les 50 Tours Hotel Le Concorde at Circuit de Trois-Rivieres. Another dominant run would go a long way, as he enters this weekend ranked third in the standings, 20 points behind.

As he has done most of the season, Andrew Ranger holds down the top spot in the series standings despite coming up eighth at Circuit de Trois-Rivieres. Though being one of two drivers to score a top-10 in each event, aided by three victories, it allowed him to hold the advantage. In nine starts at Riverside, he has visited victory lane once (2009) and scored five top-five’s, including a fifth and fourth the past two years.

Kevin Lacroix enters the weekend ranked second in the standings, just 14 points behind Ranger following a fourth-place finish on the streets of Quebec. The french driver has finished in the top-10 in each of his three starts at Riverside, highlighted by a runner-up to Alex Labbe in 2017.

Labbe could use another trip to victory lane as a rebound after scoring an 18th-place finish in Quebec after being involved in a crash. His return to the NASCAR Pinty’s Series hasn’t been all that spectacular, with just three top-five finishes in eight races. As noted, he knows his way around Riverside, virtue of the win and the best average finish (fifth) of active drivers.

Another driver you have to consider for the win outside of the points battle should the trend change is Mark Dilley. Statistically, he has the second-best average finish (5.9) of active drivers in the series, and won in Nova Scotia back in 2007. Despite finishing 18th in his last trip out east, he had posted a top-10 in each of his 11 prior starts at Riverside. Like Labbe, the return to full-time competition hasn’t treated the Micks Motorsports driver well, with no top-fives this season. His best finish, though, was sixth at Autodrome Chaudiere.

22 Racing has been very vocal about their struggles on the ovals, and that was on full display when the Pinty’s Series headed out east with Alex Tagliani scoring no top-five’s in those three races after winning on the streets on Toronto. As a result, he currently sits fourth in the standings, 37 points behind Ranger. Coming off a runner-up at Trois-Rivieres, a podium performance at Riverside could help give the team momentum as they look towards 2020.

On the flip side, D.J. Kennington has shown his capabilities on the ovals this year, virtue of a runner-up while at Wyant Group Raceway in Saskatoon. He also enters this weekend at Riverside with momentum following a fifth-place finish on the streets of Quebec. The Nova Scotia oval has treated him well in the past, with a pair of thirds the past two years to go with eight top-five’s in 12 starts.

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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Trucks

Three Crew Members Suspended from Sheldon Creed’s Team

Everybody may have fun in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series’ lone race on dirt this season, but it was not smiles for everyone leaving.

Three crew members from Sheldon Creed‘s team have been suspended as a result of violating Section 20.3.4.a of the NASCAR Rule Book having to do with ballast containers. Crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz, truck chief Austin Pollak and engineer Jonathan Stewart will miss the next three events on the schedule. 

The penalty comes after the No. 2 Chevrolet Silverado had a ballast fall out during practice leading up to the Eldora Dirt Derby. Creed ultimately scored a runner-up in the race on Thursday night. 

GMS Racing has announced they will not appeal the penalty, with Darren Fraley serving as the interim crew chief for the next three events. An engineer with GMS in 2018, he helped Justin Haley earn three wins, nine top-five’s, and 18 top-10 finishes. 

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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NASCAR Cup Series

Matt DiBenedetto Finding Improvement with Leavine Family Racing

At the start of the season, it appeared to be a struggle for Matt DiBenedetto. However, the past six races, it appears that Leavine Family Racing has turned a corner.

After scoring no top-10 finishes in the first 15 races, DiBenedetto has scored three in the last six events, including a fourth-place finish at Sonoma Raceway. 

The success can be not only attributed to the chemistry between DiBenedetto and crew chief Michael Wheeler, but also the team’s alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR has obviously been fast this year, sweeping the top-three spots at Pocono Raceway.

“It’s been good,” DiBenedetto commented. “We get really good race cars. I have a good relationship with the fellow Toyota drivers which helps and it’s so nice to be able to pick their brain and get advice from champions and such good drivers. The support from Toyota is really good, and we are lucky to have the people on our team that we have. Guys like Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) and our engineers that are so good, because we don’t get all the information, like Furniture Row (Racing) did. We are not quite at that level yet, but we have such good people that it just shows that we can still perform and go out there and get those top-fives and top-10s.”

Being able to sit in some of the meetings with JGR, DiBenedetto added the biggest benefit has been the consistent advice the other drivers have been able to offer so the No. 95 Toyota Camry is fast as it can be from the drop of the green flag.

“I have always been a smart racer and have been able to get the most out of my equipment,” he continued. “I can go out there and hustle the car and wheel it. But getting some of the finer points, like from Martin (Truex Jr.) and Kyle (Busch) and some of them on making sure that I can maximize what I have for the weekend in the car. That’s a big part of it, and their experience has been nice to lean on when I can.”

The fourth-place finish a couple weeks ago has certainly helped the confidence, especially now heading into Watkin’s Glen on Sunday. It almost brings more pressure in everybody wondering if DiBenedetto can back up the performance.

“I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself,” he commented. “I’m always hard on myself as far as making sure I’m as perfect as I can be for my team. I am big on that. I have been through so much in my career. It has made me a really, really mentally tough person, so not a lot gets to me. I just go out, perform, do my job and the rest of it takes care of itself.”

Another strong performance would certainly help their position in points, as they currently sit 24th in the year-long standings. A win would be a dream come true, and put them in the playoffs.

“I think the focus is really just doing what we are doing and focusing on track position and focusing on setting ourselves up for the end of these races,” he said. “Because that’s our best shot is to keep positioning ourselves where we are in the top-five and is something happens and we can get a win, that gives a bigger point jump than anything else.

“We are 24th in points. We’re a much better team than that.”

The success has caught the attention of the fans, as it’s always great to see an underdog succeed. It’s even more special in realizing the shop that they’re working out of, which led Alan Kulwicki to his underdog success with a championship in 1992.

“A lot of history in our race shop, right behind the Charlotte Speedway,” he said. “It’s cool being called an underdog, or a growing, team. We’re still in the growing stages. It’s so much fun to go out there. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was really satisfying when we go out and pass powerhouse teams and go up and run in the top-five like we have the last few weeks.

“When we pass former champions and beat powerhouse teams, it’s pretty satisfying.”

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

Road Course Visit Surfaces at Right Time for Noah Gragson

With the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs on the horizon, all the competitors are hopeful to lock in their spots with trips to victory lane.

Noah Gragson could easily be the next driver to do so.

His rookie season did not start off smoothly, with just one top-six finish in the first 10 races. The team showed speed, however lacked the ability to finish off the events with clean finishes. Between pit road penalties, contact on track, or an inability to make the right adjustments, it seemed Gragson would fade in the second half of these races.

Though being able to spend time with crew chief Dave Elenz, the pair was able to find chemistry together, and the finishes have been there since. Compared to the first half of the season, Gragson has posted seven top-six finishes in the last nine races, with just one finish outside the top-10. 

There is also confidence in the young driver, as he has grown to believe in his JR Motorsports’ team ability, and they have entered the weekend set on running up front – rather than just hoping for improvement. 

No, he has not reached the level that the big three have attained. However, he has made progress and there’s good reason he could take the next step this weekend at Watkin’s Glen.

Although he has never ran the road course in New York, Gragson has proved that he can get the job done turning both left and right. In his pair of NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series starts at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, he was a threat for the win on both occasions. He finished second in 2017, and wrecked while battling teammate Todd Gilliland for the lead in 2018. Oh, and he won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race earlier this year at Sonoma Raceway.

“I really enjoy racing on the road courses and I’m really excited to get that stretch of the season started this weekend in Watkins Glen,” he said. “We were able to knock the rust off earlier this year in Sonoma with the K&N car and were fortunate enough to come away with the victory. Watkins Glen is definitely a different kind of animal than Sonoma but I am really looking forward to seeing what we can do this weekend with our West Herr Chevrolet.”

A victory this weekend could give Gragson the extra boost of confidence that he needs moving into the rest of the summer. It proved vital when he was in trucks, as winning at Martinsville Speedway to finish 2017 provided the footing to begin a playoff run in 2018, where he finished second in the standings.

The win at Watkins Glen would come at the perfect time, considering the NASCAR Xfinity Series will visit two more road courses before the playoffs. 

While Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing have taken up the headlines, JR Motorsports has been waiting behind them for their turn in the limelight. It could be begin right now this weekend with Gragson at Watkins Glen.

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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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Foxwoods Casino Resort 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NASCAR has continued striving for a better racing package to put on more entertaining shows for their fans. The feedback has been simple – ditch the intermediate tracks for the tighter ovals on the schedule.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway was a perfect example on Sunday afternoon.

Although the field was spread out at times throughout the afternoon, there was always at least one battle for position within the top-10 to keep an eye on. By laying down the PJ1 traction compound in the separate lanes, it allowed drivers to get their cars working high or low to challenge each other.

There was also varying strategy played with earning stage points versus trying to set yourself up for a good finish and tire wear, which kept things interesting with a variety of drivers finding their way to the front at times.

Oh, and there was also the finish between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin to cap it off.

Lap cars can be thanked for bringing the pair closer together, but that’s all part of the long-run racing in how you handle the traffic. Harvick, using some of his short track skills, kept the advantage by slowing down a touch sooner than expected and taking the preferred line that Hamlin would have wanted.

On the same coin, Hamlin does earn respect in how he handled the situation. He gave Harvick a bump in turn one, but just enough to get scoot him out of the groove a little and not wreck him. Notice the difference in crowd reaction compared to how he handled Martinsville Speedway a couple years ago with Chase Elliott.

Now if Hamlin does take the bottom lane in turn three, how much harder does the bump go? Would it have made a difference at the end of day?

As Hamlin continues to ponder that through the next couple of days, the fans can relive the finish over and know that they got a show. Realistically, New Hampshire delivered all weekend if you were watching the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series with a three-wide finish to their all-star event on Friday. 

Though moving forward, a lot of eyes now fall on Harvick. The biggest surprise was the fact that he had yet to win this season – until now. How does a threat for the championship the past couple years not score a single win?

With the door opened on Sunday afternoon and the stretch of tracks ahead on the schedule, it’d be no surprise to see the Stewart-Haas Racing go on a terror moving forward. After all, the speed has been there all year, pacing over 80 laps in three races this season with 12 top-10’s. 

The flip side has to be Hendrick Motorsports. The organization saw three cars get wrecked in practice and qualifying leading up to the event, followed by both Elliott and Jimmie Johnson having water pump belt issues during the event. Alex Bowman, who admitted that he hates New Hampshire due to past struggles there, ran in the top-10 late in the event en route to a 14th-place finish – the highest of their four drivers. 

Now with the amount of races in the regular season counting down, Johnson sits outside of the playoffs following back-to-back 30th-place finishes. Meanwhile, Elliott who is locked in via his win at Talladega Superspeedway, has failed to score a top-10 in the last six events.

While it appeared their struggles were behind them a couple months ago with all four drivers running well, they are certainly losing momentum at the most crucial time.

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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Trucks

Tyler Ankrum Hopeful of Finding Funding to Make Championship Run

When Tyler Ankrum climbed out of the truck in victory lane at Kentucky Speedway, the first words out of his mouth were simple – “Hopefully it means a sponsor.” After all, if he is able to make a run for the title, it’ll mean overcoming adversity.

He missed the first three races due to not being 18-years-old yet, but was granted a waiver from the sanctioning body. Then once he was able to compete, he had to start and park on two occasions with NEMCO Motorsports due to a lack of funding.

His efforts seem to be paying off, though, as evident by earning the victory last weekend. Now Ankrum is one of the drivers locked into the post-season to battle for the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Championship – if everything comes together as they hope.

“This day and time, sponsorship is hard to come by,” David Gilliland commented. “Obviously we’re going to work hard, as hard as we can. Wins help everything. We’ll dig our heels in and see what we can do to make that happen. We’ve run up until now and we’re going to do everything we can to go out and try to win a championship. That’s been our ultimate goal and we finished 1, 2 in the K&N Series last year, so we can win championships. We’re not going to stop until we go for it again. We’ll see what we can do.”

For now, all Ankrum can keep doing is performing behind the wheel to hopefully open the door of opportunity. That’s why moving forward, he is going to focus on learning how to be a better driver. 

“There’s no such thing as perfection in this sport,” he commented. “You can chase perfection and you can be the closest to perfection, but it’s kind of like chasing a pot of gold under the rainbow. You’ll never find it, but you can definitely be the closest to it. Going forward, I’m really looking for consistency. I feel like I need to run better in the stages. I feel like I need to get better at restarts. Most definitely I need to get better at restarts. Still overwhelmed by what these guys have done and what these Tundras bring.

“I think the preparation we’ll have going forward – like we were so prepared for this race and all the races in the past, we brought it all together tonight. Granted, in a way we did get lucky with fuel and (Brett) Moffitt was a lap short, but in my mind a win is still a win and we led laps. We were able to hold off the 99 (Ben Rhodes) for what seemed like forever. I was fighting against the 99 for the longest time. Going forward, I’m going to be looking for consistency and just performing better.”

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.