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NASCAR Cup Series Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

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1. Brad Keselowski (—)

Keselowski remains at the top after scoring points in both stages and finishing sixth on Sunday.

2. Kyle Larson (+1)

Larson, back at it again with the second-place finishes. After coming home 17th at Martinsville, he rebounded at Texas and earned his fourth runner-up of the season.

3. Chase Elliott (-1)

The No. 24 driver did not have a stellar day, but he made up a lot of ground in the 500-mile event. He finished fifth in Stage 2 and ended up ninth on the day after starting 33rd.

4. Joey Logano (+1)

Logano started and finished in the top-five leading 38 laps. It feels like I write this every week about him — he’s consistent but has not visited Victory Lane in 2017, yet.

5. Martin Truex Jr. (+1)

Truex continues to shine on the 1.5-mile tracks. He led 49 laps and finished eighth.

6. Kyle Busch (-2)

It was an uncharacteristically quiet day for Busch. He started 34th and ran top-15 most of the race. He earned one point in Stage 1 and ended up 15th-place.

7. Kevin Harvick (+2)

After a mediocre STP 500, Harvick bounced back at Texas by qualifying on the pole, leading 77 laps, and finishing fourth.

8. Ryan Blaney (+2)

Sunday’s race was a career best for Blaney the fastest the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford has looked since returning to full-time competition. Blaney won Stages 1 and 2, but a pit stop miscue cost him the potential victory and he ended up 12th.

9. Clint Bowyer (-2)

Bowyer had his best qualifying effort of the year. He started third and earned his sixth consecutive top-15 by finishing 11th.

10. Jimmie Johnson (+5)

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is also now a seven-time Texas winner. After rumblings about the No. 48 team not running up to par, he quieted the naysayers with his first win of 2017.

11. Jamie McMurray (+1)

McMurray has started every race from inside the top-10. He finished fourth in both stages and seventh when the checkered flag waved.

12. Erik Jones (-4)

Jones started deep in the field and wasn’t particularly strong on Sunday. The No. 77 Toyota finished 22nd — his worst result since the Daytona 500, where he crashed out at halfway.

13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Not ranked last week)

Jr. Nation and its driver were happy to finish with a top-five for the first time since Pocono in June 2016. It signaled the No. 88 team’s progress since getting Earnhardt back in the car after his concussion, and probably served as a confidence boost.

14. Ryan Newman (-3)

Since winning at Phoenix International Raceway last month, it’s been easy to forget Newman is even in the field. He’s earned zero stage points the last three races and has one top-10 — eighth at Martinsville.

15. Matt Kenseth (-2)

After seven races, Kenseth is 22nd in the standings. Come again? Since running full-time, he has never finished outside the top-15 in points. There’s no concern yet with the playoffs still 19 races away, but this hasn’t been the Matt Kenseth we’re used to seeing.

16. Trevor Bayne (Not ranked last week)

Bayne has finished in the top-20 in all but one race (Auto Club 400, finished 23rd) and is currently 12th in points. It’s still early, but that is a major improvement from his first two years in the Cup Series.

Dropping out of the top-16 rankings this week: Denny Hamlin (was 14th) and Austin Dillon (was 16th).

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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News

Don Smyle Dedicated to Preservation of History

When Don Smyle worked at his first NASCAR event with World Sports Enterprises (WSE) in 1995, he experienced a “career-altering moment” after an encounter with his hero and three-time Daytona 500 champion, Bobby Allison.

Smyle desired a career in television and was hired by WSE in 1994. The company, which aided TNN Motor Sports with its NASCAR broadcasts in the 1990s, was a perfect match for him being a racing fan already.

Then an intern, Smyle was instructed to find the legendary Allison, who was at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a Legends car race before the Coca-Cola 600 and tell him to dress in his firesuit for an interview.

Don Smyle with Richard Petty (Photo Credit: SmyleMedia.com)
Don Smyle with Richard Petty | Photo by SmyleMedia.com)

“I was working with a producer, and my job was to do whatever she asked me to do, so she told me to go find Bobby Allison and tell him to put his driver suit on,” Smyle told POPULAR SPEED. “Bobby Allison was someone I idolized, and I thought, ‘Here is this amazing legend of racing and they want me to go get this guy and tell him to put his suit on and come to this interview.’ So I obviously was incredibly awestruck, but I got to know Bobby that day.”

In conversation, Allison gave Smyle a brief history lesson of the sport through storytelling. Since that day, Smyle has made it his mission to protect the rare, vintage images that photographers took from the 1950s through the 1980s.

“Ultimately, my goal first and foremost is to preserve the history of auto racing,” Smyle said. “Not just NASCAR, but all forms of motorsports. There were very few people going to the races every weekend capturing photography.”

With the negatives and slide images from the early days destined for deterioration if not properly maintained, Smyle became a stern advocate for digitizing

 them.

His photograph database, SmyleMedia.com, has more than 2 million pictures from the motorsport industry and licenses images for media outlets throughout the sporting world, including Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NBC Sports, and even some race teams.

Today, Smyle doesn’t attend races on a regular basis like he once did. Instead, he works diligently at collecting old photos because of knowing their fate if he doesn’t.

“Now, you have 25 people at the racetrack every weekend taking photographs,” Smyle said. “Back in the day, there were a handful of people that did this with any regularity. Their work is extremely important.

#22 Ralph Earnhardt, driving in place of Fireball Roberts takes the checkered flag to win the pole at Hickory Speedway in November 1956. It was the first Grand National start for the short track champion. Earnhardt was initially flagged with winner of the race, but after a check of scoring was placed in second behind Speedy Thompson.
Ralph Earnhardt in his first career NASCAR Grand National start at Hickory Speedway, 1956. Photo by Don Hunter/Smyle Media

“Not only do I want to preserve their work for future generations, but I want them to be recognized for the sacrifices and the time they put into it.”

Because of motorsport historians like Smyle, racing fans can enjoy the past through photography and reminisce about NASCAR’s grassroots.

It all started 69 years ago with moonshiners racing on dirt in the Southeast United States. Today, it’s a billion-dollar industry enjoyed by millions throughout the world.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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Commentary

THREE TAKEAWAYS: My Bariatric Solutions 300

Erik Jones won Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, marking the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie’s first victory of 2017.     

Slippery Slope for Texas Repave

The biggest story entering the weekend was the newly configured track surface. The XFINITY Series event was the first race on the new pavement, and a few drivers experienced trouble on the less-banked and wider Turns 1 and 2.

On Lap 12, Daniel Hemric spun in Turn 2 and backed his No. 21 Chevrolet into the outside wall while running second. The Richard Childress Racing rookie suffered damage, which relegated him to finish 32nd.

Darrell Wallace Jr. and Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and Brennan Poole wrecked in the same vicinity. Wallace was lucky enough to overcome his spin, but both CGR racers finished outside the top-30.

With seven to go in Stage 2, Garrett Smithley spun on the exit of Turn 2 but avoided contact with the wall. The second-year JD Motorsports wheelman finished 30th.

Sixth Again for No. 6

Wallace’s streak of sixth-place finishes lives on.

After being clipped by Reddick on Lap 66, Wallace spun and it looked like the streak would end. But he rebounded to finish sixth for a fifth consecutive race. He’s now fourth in the standings, still searching for his first XFINITY win.

Stewart-Haas strong

Stewart-Haas Racing entered 2017 as the newest Cup-affiliate team running in NASCAR’s second-tier level. So far, so good as both entries finished in the top-five at the 1.5-mile track.

Rookie Cole Custer finished fifth, giving the No. 00 driver his first top-five of the season and second of his career. SHR teammate Kevin Harvick finished third after qualifying 14th in the part-time No. 41. Having race laps logged on the new surface could be advantageous to the 2014 Cup champion. He starts Sunday’s 500-mile event from the pole.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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NASCAR Cup Series Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: STP 500

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1. Brad Keselowski (+1)

Keselowski became the first multiple-race winner of 2017 with Sunday’s victory at Martinsville giving him a coveted grandfather clock.

2. Chase Elliott (+2)

The paperclip is notorious for being tough on young drivers, but Elliott led 20 laps and finished third.

3. Kyle Larson (-2)

Larson’s four-race second-or-better streak ended as he finished 17th. He also failed to receive Stage points for the first time in the second segment.

4. Kyle Busch (+2)

Busch led 274 laps but ended up second to Keselowski, who made the winning pass with 43 to go. The 2015 champion’s runner-up result is his best of the season, thus far.

5. Joey Logano (—)

Logano finished fourth, giving him his third top-five of the season. The No. 22 driver is fifth in the standings after six races.

6. Martin Truex Jr. (-3)

Truex’s three-position drop isn’t because he did bad on Sunday; the drivers he was ahead of last week (Busch, Elliott, Logano) finished better than him. The No. 78 driver got his first finish outside the top-15 of the year after spinning with 69 laps to go.

7. Clint Bowyer (+3)

Bowyer’s transition to Stewart-Haas Racing is going seamlessly as he posted his third top-10 of the season by finishing seventh.

8. Erik Jones (+3)

The Furniture Row Racing rookie was 12th on Sunday and earned three points in Stage 2. Not too shabby for his first career Martinsville start.

9. Kevin Harvick (-1)

“Happy” wasn’t feeling it after finishing 20th. He’s been outside the top-10 in three of the last four races.

10. Ryan Blaney (-3)

The Wood Brothers Racing sophomore earned points in both stages but was relegated to 25th when the checkered flag waved. Blaney is seventh in the standings.

11. Ryan Newman (+2)

Newman had a top-10 car most of the race and finished eighth. He’s 11th in the standings with one win.

12. Jamie McMurray (-3)

Had McMurray not suffered a flat left rear tire on Lap 106, his No. 1 Chevrolet might have finished in the top-five. Chip Ganassi Racing’s hot streak came to an abrupt halt as McMurray finished 38th.

13. Matt Kenseth (Not ranked last week)

In 35 career Martinsville starts, Kenseth has no wins and 14 top-10s. But he had a much-needed rebound with a ninth-place finish.

14. Denny Hamlin (-2)

Thirtieth is not what the five-time Martinsville winner had in mind. Hamlin was caught up in a multi-car accident on Lap 417 and finished seven laps down.

15. Jimmie Johnson (—)

The No. 48 finished 15th, so that’s where Johnson is ranked this week. The defending series champion’s slow start to 2017 continues as he has only one top-10.

16. Austin Dillon (Not ranked last week)

Dillon earned his second career top-five at the half-mile track and first top-10 of the year. The Richard Childress Racing driver finished fifth and sits 18th in the standings.

Dropping out of the top-16 rankings this week: Daniel Suarez (was 15th) and Kurt Busch (was 16th).

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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NASCAR Cup Series Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Auto Club 400

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1. Kyle Larson (—)

Larson’s weekend sweep at Auto Club Speedway after three consecutive runner-ups in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series proved he’s the sport’s hottest driver. The Chip Ganassi Racing wheelman leads the points standings five races into the season.

2. Brad Keselowski (—)

Early trouble in Fontana wouldn’t keep Keselowski at bay on Sunday. After spinning through the frontstretch grass on Lap 4 and suffering damage to his No. 2 Ford, he rallied for a second-place result.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (+2)

Truex led 73 laps at the two-mile oval but finished fourth after not pitting late in the race. Still, the No. 78 team showed speed, with a Stage 2 victory.

4. Chase Elliott (-1)

The 21-year-old finished third in the first two stages but ended up 10th after 200 laps due to an ill-timed caution fumbling crew chief Alan Gustafson’s strategy. It won’t be long before Elliott finally visits Victory Lane, though — he’s in contention each week.

5. Joey Logano (-1)

Logano finished fifth, which is also his position in the standings. It’s only fitting the No. 22 driver is there for this week’s power rankings.

6. Kyle Busch (+1)

“Rowdy’s” eighth-place finish marked his second consecutive top-10 finish.

7. Ryan Blaney (+1)

The Wood Brothers Racing driver earned his third top-10 of 2017 by finishing ninth after starting 19th in Southern California.

8. Kevin Harvick (-2)

When the field stacked up on the start of Sunday’s event, Harvick got the worst of it. His No. 4 Ford suffered nose damage and cut a tire in Stage 1, forcing him to pit under green. He wound up 13th and was never a factor — a rarity for the 2014 series champion.

9. Jamie McMurray (+2)

The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet continues to ride in the shadow of his CGR teammate, but McMurray earned 12 stage points and finished sixth.

10. Clint Bowyer (Not ranked last week)

Stewart-Haas Racing’s newest driver is “having fun again.” He finished third, marking his first top-five since August 2015.

11. Erik Jones (+4)

The Furniture Row Racing rookie posted his first career top-10 in Phoenix two weeks ago and finished 12th last weekend after a pit road penalty. He sits 15th in the standings, four spots above the next highest rookie, Daniel Suarez.

12. Denny Hamlin (+2)

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said he had a “fifth or sixth-place” car at best but was shuffled back to 14th after electing to stay out on old tires for track position with nine laps to go.      

13. Ryan Newman (-4)

After his upset victory in Phoenix, Newman came back to reality. He finished 15th in Fontana, but the win locked him into the playoffs, which he failed to make last season.

14. Jimmie Johnson (-4)

It has not been an ideal start to 2017 for the seven-time champion. Johnson has one top-10 and has finished outside the top-15 three times.

15. Daniel Suarez (Not ranked last week)

Auto Club was essentially a repeat of Phoenix for the JGR rookie. The No. 19 Toyota was a top-15 car most of the race, yet ended up seventh when the checkered flag waved.

16. Kurt Busch (-3)

The West Coast swing was not good for this year’s Daytona 500 champion. Busch finished 30th in Las Vegas, 25th in Phoenix, and 24th in Fontana.

Dropping out of the top-16 rankings this week: Kasey Kahne (was 12th) and Matt Kenseth (was 15th).

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Truex Watches Victory Slip Away due to Strategy Miscues

FONTANA, Calif. — Climbing from his Furniture Row Racing Toyota, Martin Truex Jr. was frustrated. It’s a feeling he knows having seen many races slip away.

On Sunday after leading 73 laps, the New Jersey native finished fourth in the Auto Club 400.

“We were right there all day long. I felt like [Kyle Larson, race winner] had everybody covered. It was just a matter of who got out front and got clean air,” Truex said. “Towards the end, we had a little trouble in the pits. We didn’t take tires, everybody else did, and we were at a big disadvantage those last couple restarts.”

Since 2015, the driver of the No. 78 has earned six of his eight career wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, including this year’s event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But he’s become notorious for dominating and not finishing the job.

In 2016, Truex led the most laps all season and 425 more than Kevin Harvick, but both had four victories. The year before, he led 567 laps (ranked seventh) but had only one win.

Sunday’s race, it seemed he had a dominant car, but came up short.

“We had a big disadvantage at the end, playing defense more than offense. We played offense all day, and I was able to run first or second most of the day,” Truex said. “At the end of the day, we had a disadvantage on tires, and that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes you make the call, and it’s right, and sometimes your call is wrong. We made the wrong one today, but to come home with a fourth after all that, definitely a good day for us.”

Truex is fourth in the points standings, and with a win, he’s all but locked into the postseason. He also won Stage 2 of the race, giving him a playoff point.

The next stop on the Cup Series schedule is Martinsville, where he started first last November and finished seventh after leading 147 laps.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

BOWYER: “We’re Getting Closer”

FONTANA, Calif. — Clint Bowyer earned his first top five in more than a year and a half with a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.

Bowyer, 37, last had a top five at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2015 with Michael Waltrip Racing. After the team had shut down, he signed a one-year deal with HScott Motorsports for 2016, which, like MWR, no longer competes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and had only three top 10s all year.

But now with Stewart-Haas Racing in team co-owner Tony Stewart’s former ride, he is resurrecting his career and has finished in the top 15 four times in the first five races of 2017.

“Having this crew behind you, this organization, the teamwork, it’s amazing just to be a part of it and part of my career,” Bowyer said. “Thank you to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart for giving me this opportunity. It means a lot to work with this team and have a lot of fun with [Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief] and all these guys.”

He also added his finish in the Auto Club 400 was a “momentum builder.” He was essentially the only SHR driver to have a good day as none of his teammates finished in the top 10.

“Obviously, we’re getting closer,” he added. “This is a good track for me. I wanted to win that damn thing, but to come home with a wild finish and everything that it was, we’ll take it.”

Bowyer earned 12 Stage points in the race and now sits 11th in the playoff standings. He’s failed to make NASCAR’s postseason twice since his runner-up finish in the 2012 championship with MWR.

The season is still young, but he’s smiling as much as ever and rightfully so — he’s with a team that won the Cup title in 2011 with Stewart behind the wheel.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski, Hamlin Have “Up-and-Down” Race After Shaky Start

FONTANA, Calif. — As 39 cars took the green flag for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, things were immediately off to a shaky start.

Denny Hamlin, who started on the front row, didn’t get through the gears quickly enough and caused an accordion effect on the front of the field. Brad Keselowski got into Hamlin’s No. 11, with last week’s winner Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick also getting a piece.

Keselowski’s problems continued on Lap 4 as he made contact with Jimmie Johnson coming out of Turn 4. As a result, he suffered a flat left rear tire after sliding through the frontstretch grass to bring out the first caution.

“I got hit there at the start, and then I got hit again,” Keselowski said. “The car was all torn up, and the guys worked to fix it. We were only able to partially fix it with the yellows at the start, and when they finally got it as much repaired as we could, we were a lot more competitive and just slowly picked our way through the field.”

The driver of the No. 2 driver rebounded for a second-place finish as late-race cautions, and diverse strategies played into his favor.

“Up and down day for sure — a lot of adversity,” he said. “But we were able to overcome that, and I think that’s what great teams do.”

Hamlin’s day finished as poorly as it began. On the final pit stop, the team chose track position over tires. That decision would yield a disappointing 14th place finish.

“Just a fifth or sixth-place car at best on the long runs. On the short runs, we struggled a little bit,” Hamlin said. As for the race’s start, he added, “[Keselowski] just got to the inside of me, he didn’t really get into the back of me. So really, I’ve got nothing there.”

Keselowski, with one victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway, sits third in the playoff standings. Hamlin led his first laps of 2017 and is 12th in the standings.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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XFINITY

Byron Earns Second Consecutive Top Five

FONTANA, Calif. — William Byron made contact with the outside wall of Auto Club Speedway a few times with his No. 9 Chevrolet, but still posted a fifth-place result — the best among NASCAR XFINITY Series regulars.

The JR Motorsports rookie has scored four top 10s in the first five races of 2017. After an engine failure at Phoenix International Raceway dashed his Camping World Truck Series title hopes last November, the 19-year-old driver has shot out of the gate without any sign of slowing down.

He won the pole at Phoenix last week and earned his first career XFINITY top five at the desert oval (finished fourth). In Saturday’s Service King 300, he made his Auto Club debut and said it was “a blast” to race on the 20-year racing surface.

“I’ve never been here. It’s pretty cool. You have a lot of options … you can run the apron in [Turns] 3 and 4, and there are three or four grooves in 1 and 2 as well,” Byron said. “It makes it a lot of fun for drivers and makes the hard work pay off in the race.”

He sits second in the standings, sandwiched between JRM teammates Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, who visited Victory Lane at Phoenix. Sadler leads Byron by 17 points.

As a Truck Series rookie, Byron set a record by winning seven races with Kyle Busch Motorsports. This year, he’s facing tougher competition with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars racing in the XFINITY Series, but like many other series regulars, he embraces the challenge.

“It helps a lot because you can’t just make mistakes you could if you were just facing the regulars,” Byron said. “It’s not that we wouldn’t all be racing really hard, it’s just that Cup guys are on it every lap.

“It’s about getting good restarts and making sure you do all things right and don’t make any mistakes.”

The next track on the schedule is the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, which was where Byron notched his second truck win last year. In the two previous 1.5-mile XFINITY races (Atlanta and Las Vegas), he finished seventh and 14th, respectively.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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XFINITY

Mears on 2017 Debut: “It Was Fun Being Back”

FONTANA, Calif. — Casey Mears made his first start of the 2017 NASCAR season on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway, finishing 14th in the Service King 300.

Mears, running a 12-race schedule for Biagi-DenBeste Racing in the XFINITY Series, started 19th and immediately caught the attention of the broadcast booth, as he jumped eight positions in the first 10 laps of Stage 1.

Did four months out of the racecar amp the Bakersfield, California native up enough to navigate through the field as quick as he did?

“I don’t know,” Mears told POPULAR SPEED. “Maybe everyone was just not ready to go, and I was? It was weird … I just kind of shot all the way up through there.”

He lost a few positions as the opening stage winded down, but his No. 98 Geico Military Ford was flirting in the top 15 virtually the entire race.

“I just did what I normally do on restarts, and I just happened to go by everybody,” Mears said. “But we were too tight also. That’s probably why guys were loose to start, and we shot up through … then we lost some positions towards the end of that run.”

The 300-mile event marked his first XFINITY start in seven years. His last race in the series came at Phoenix International Raceway in April 2010, where he finished 31st for Braun Racing.

He also gave the No. 98, which is usually driven by Aric Almirola, its best finish of the season after the team sat out last week’s race at Phoenix.

Mears ran full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Germain Racing from August 2010 through 2016 but was replaced by Ty Dillon, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors in the No. 13 Chevrolet.

“It was fun being back. We struggled a little in practice and got a little behind,” Mears said. “But in the race, just about halfway through, we started to get it really close, and the car got a lot better.”

His next start for Biagi-DenBeste will be at Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks, and Geico will continue to support him in his 11 remaining races.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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