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Trucks

Grala Earns Best Finish in Fourth Truck Series Start

Saturday night’s Drivin’ For Linemen 200 proved to be an eventful race. However, amidst the drama and exciting battles, 17-year-old Kaz Grala posted an impressive eighth-place finish in his fourth NASCAR Truck Series start. He surpassed his previous best finish of 10th at Dover International Speedway, earned one month ago.

“We have a really good team and feel like my confidence increases every time we race the truck,” Grala told POPULAR SPEED. “Even though our last race was a month ago, that confidence and momentum stays with you. We’re looking for small victories, and tonight I believed we achieved that.”

Beginning 16th, the driver flirted with the top 10 but remained on the outside for most of the event. As the laps ticked down, the No. 24 team capitalized on their efforts. Grala stayed out of trouble and, with good strategy, climbed into the top 10, finishing eighth.

“That was a heck of a race,” Grala said. “We came from 16th up to 8th, and honestly, I think we could have had an even better day with a few small touch ups. This is definitely something we can build off of, and to have gotten my career best (finish) so far in the series at the only track I haven’t been to on the schedule, I’m very pumped up.”

The current K&N Pro Series East regular drives part time for GMS Racing, gaining him valuable track time in the Truck Series. While he won’t be back in the No. 24 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet until August at Bristol Motor Speedway, Grala feels like he’s getting more comfortable with the series and learning how to be a smarter racer.

“After these four truck races, I’ve learned the effects of aero, the radial tires, and I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with pit stops,” Grala said. “The most important thing I’ve learned, however, is how the veterans in this series race and how they are able to put a race together.

“It’s a much different, aggressive style than anything I’ve raced before, but there’s more respect out there than anywhere. I feel like I’m starting to understand how these races and racers go about this, and I think we’ll be right up there with the best of them in no time.”

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@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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Commentary

Furniture Row Racing’s Link to JGR, Could Foster a Single-Car Championship

When it was announced last year that Furniture Row Racing would switch manufacturers from Chevrolet to Toyota, many were surprised. This kind of move can be difficult and typically requires a period of transition before any positive results are achieved.

Additionally, for a small team like FRR, alliances are another critical component. They would have to leave their partnership with Richard Childress Racing and align with Toyota powerhouse, Joe Gibbs Racing.

However, like general manager Joe Garone stated last September – if they wanted their organization to advance, they needed to make a change.

“As far as the overall, we were way down on the list with Chevrolet,” Garone said. “And there was really no possibility of getting any higher, and that’s no fault of Chevrolet at all. It’s just big.

“We came on the scene and all those other teams were in place, and to think that you’re ever going to get above them just is probably not going to happen. That was our initial reason, years ago, of why we were thinking, for our next step, we’re going to have to look at a different path to expand our team.”

Now, 13 races into the season, the organization certainly has no regrets.

From the drop of the green flag at Daytona, Martin Truex Jr. and company have been competitive. The team scored an impressive second place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. However, in subsequent series events, pit stop woes hampered many of their solid performances.

At this point last year, the team was second in the point standings, compared to their current placement, seventh. Nevertheless, Truex has led more laps this year, 809, than in any other season during his career.

And no one can forget about the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Sunday. The team shattered the competition, leading a record-setting 588 miles or 392 of the 400 laps. It was truly a perfect race for the organization.

“I know a lot of people were critical of the change,” team owner Barney Visser said after the race. “But it was just something we had to do. I think this validates it – we were validated as soon as we started leading laps this year.

“Martin is very familiar with Toyota, and Gibbs, those guys have just been a dream for our guys to work with. Like I said before, none of this happens without Toyota’s support and Joe Gibbs’ support. We’re thrilled to be working with them.”

The pairing is obviously a perfect fit, bringing forth great results early on in the season. The small team has been able to flourish with the aid of JGR’s data and research.

Furniture Row Racing is accomplishing exactly what it sought out at the end of last year – transform their small team into a competitive force. With a win, the No. 78 team is not only an entry in the Chase but could also be considered a dark horse.

Last year, the organization was part of the Championship Four – competing for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. In the end, they finished fourth. Now, with a resource like Joe Gibbs Racing behind them, Furniture Row Racing could very well be first single-car team to capture the big prize, since the late Alan Kulwicki did it twenty-four years ago.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@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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Commentary

ADAIR: JGR Could See Teammates Clash in Season Finale

NASCAR’s playoff format has been full of surprises – and we might see another this year.

Sunday, Matt Kenseth secured his first win of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season – but that wasn’t the only victory earned. Joe Gibbs Racing, which boasts seven wins this year, has all but secured each of their four entries into the Chase. With the organization’s dominance in mind, one should consider this potential scenario:

Could we see two teammates battle each other in the Final Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway? This has yet to occur under the current format.

The championship battle is more ruthless than ever, considering the fact that it disregards overall performance during the regular season and playoffs. The title is decided on one night between four drivers. There is no “point gap” to lean on – just all or nothing.

Because of this, organizations throw every possible resource into their contending car to ensure their best performance of the year. So far, there has been only one championship contender from each organization involved. Therefore, 110% goes into that one entry.

It was well documented in 2014 that Stewart-Haas Racing driver and Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick relied heavily on the organization’s alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, which did not have a seed in the Final Four. Harvick went on to secure his first title that year. Competition is fierce, and if a team wants the coveted championship, they have to find any advantage they can.

While team structure and cohesiveness can make or break a season, the technology an organization (and alliances) provide is critical. Contender A and B are going to want an equal shot at the title, which could be taxing to an organization.

So theoretically, if one organization has to split their resources between two entries, would either have a solid chance in light of their competitors?

The other two competing organizations would only be focusing on one car, giving them the ability to concentrate their efforts and produce a better product. In the end, having two Championship contenders under one head could prove to be a curse.

Yet we very well might see it happen this year – for better or for worse.

It seems Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards would be early season picks for the Final Four. Each has two or more wins and has been consistently competitive throughout the first 12 races this year. Interestingly, both also have great stats at the championship deciding venue – Homestead. Edwards has the second-best average finish there, 9.2, while Busch is the defending winner with two top-fives in the past four events there. This brings up the next point of concern.

What if push comes to shove on the last lap of the season?

If two drivers from the same organization prove to be the cream of the crop and scrap for the championship side-by-side, what would be the outcome – besides an amazing finale?

Obviously, it depends on the personalities at play. While some drivers might be more diplomatic about the situation, the aforementioned JGR drivers might have a harder time. From past history, it’s been made clear that neither have a problem moving a teammate out of the way for a win.

Just a few weeks ago, Edwards did just that to Busch, resulting in disaster. Both were taken out of contention, and the win slipped through their fingers.

What if that was the Championship deciding move? No matter how stellar their season may be, the Chase format doesn’t forgive errors.

This scenario may or may not happen this year. However, when it does, it will not only produce an intriguing headline but also pave a precedent for years to come. The outcome, success or disaster, will provide guidance for organizations to build on.

While the season is still young, Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. If they are able to maintain their stride, they could find themselves in uncharted territory.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@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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Commentary

RAPID REACTION: Gear Grief for Johnson

Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway began calm and orderly but ended with a wild turn of events. The sunshine made the track hot and the cars loose, producing great racing near the end of the race. When the checkered flag flew, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth reigned victorious – only after an intense battle with Kyle Larson.

With the race producing both heartbreak and victory, here are a few headlines heading into the week.

Kenseth Bites the Monster
After a shaky start to the season, Kenseth may have found his stride Sunday at Dover. He began the race in the tenth position, consistently remaining near the front. However, a late-race two-tire strategy call put the No. 20 team in the position to capitalize. As the final ten laps ticked down, Kenseth and Larson dueled for the lead, but the No. 42 didn’t have enough to overcome the Toyota rival.

With the manufacturer’s seventh win in the 2016 record books, each Joe Gibbs Racing driver now has at least one win. This means that the organization has all but secured four entries into the Chase.

Heartbreak for Larson
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver shined throughout the race, leading a total of 85 laps. As the race came to a close, the 23-year-old, who has yet to win a Sprint Cup event, aggressively battled for the lead. He was able to meet Kenseth’s bumper but didn’t have enough to complete the pass. In the end, the No. 42 team had to settle for second once again.

While Larson has to wait a little longer for his first victory, the solid performance was a needed boost to his team. His last top-ten finish came at Martinsville Speedway over a month ago.

Johnson’s Day Goes Horribly Wrong
The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion started the event near the back of the field but proved they had a strong car. After driving into oil and spinning mid-way through the race, Johnson recovered due to clever pit strategy. With less than 50 laps remaining, the 10-time Dover winner found himself in a familiar position. He led the restart on Lap 356, but then misfortune struck.

The No. 48 suffered a gear issue which made Johnson, who was in the outside lane, unable to accelerate. The high side quickly became congested which resulted in an 18 car pile-up on the front stretch. Not only did this hamper Johnson’s day, but also affected other contenders like Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, Joey Logano, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

While the No. 48 team already has two victories under their belt; they have recently suffered a run of bad luck. In the past five races, they have only collected one top-15 finish – third at Richmond International Raceway.

Youth Movement Still on the Rise
Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney both scored impressive top-10 finishes Sunday. Each steadily advanced into the top-10, contending with the formidable series veterans. The driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford ultimately placed seventh. On the other hand, Elliot piloted his No. 24 Chevy to the front. In the closing laps, he battled Larson for second but had to settle for third.

Both drivers are becoming fixtures in the front of the field – spicing up the Rookie of the Year battle and making their presence in the series known. Elliott

Categories
Commentary

NASCAR Will Look into Talladega Accidents

There is no place in NASCAR for flying cars.

…Or is there?

Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was certainly an eventful one, yet akin to what NASCAR fans have grown accustomed to at restrictor plate events. There were hard hits, a traditional “Big One,” and plenty of aggressive racing.

However, one feature was different this time – two cars suffered violent airborne accidents.

First, Chris Buescher was caught up in a multi-car accident halfway through the event. Amidst the chaos, the 23-year-old was tipped by Michael Annett, and his vehicle left the asphalt. It is worthy to note that the roof flaps, fastened to each car to prevent flipping, did not deploy. Buescher’s No. 34 proceeded to flip several times down the backstretch and come to a rest on its wheels.

Buescher climbed out uninjured.

Later on, Matt Kenseth became the next victim. In the middle of another accident, the No. 10 of Danica Patrick slammed into his No. 20 Toyota. They collided with enough force to lift his Toyota’s front wheels off the ground. While the car’s roof flaps deployed correctly, the air rushing underneath the car was enough to send it higher. It flipped and then rode the wall on the inside of the backstretch before landing right-side up.

Patrick also suffered a hard hit into the same barrier. Both also walked away uninjured.

Kyle Busch was one of many drivers to discuss the aggressive racing featured Sunday.

“You know, it’s just Talladega,” he said. “It is what it is. These cars, you try to get a little bit aggressive, start bumping people and pushing people, they’re real easy to get out of control. I really don’t know why… because these cars, they go slower when you push. Makes a lot of sense. That’s how stupid we are.”

When asked if he had a solution to accidents like Buescher and Kenseth’s, he said passively, “I don’t have one… It’s been this way for 30 years. Stop complaining about it, I guess.”

While aerodynamic accidents have plagued NASCAR in years past, it is a fairly new sight in the modern-day Sprint Cup Series. The most recent airborne wrecks have taken place in the lower series, such as Christopher Bell’s barrel-roll down the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway in February. But each series vehicle is a different beast.

The last time flipping cars was a concern in the Cup Series was back in 2009, when NASCAR put a “wing” on the spoilers. Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, and more all suffered airborne accidents that season. NASCAR diligently changed the aero package on the cars and those kind of accidents became part of the past.

Until now.

NASCAR has been working with a lower downforce package this year, which could be affecting the cars negatively in wrecks at restrictor plate events. Less downforce means the cars don’t stick to the track as much. It makes for better racing, but what we saw Sunday could be a negative.

Seeing these drivers vulnerable inside a completely uncontrolled car is quite unnerving to watch.

“You’ll have (fans) liking speedway racing more than (drivers) do. We all have to do it,” Austin Dillon said. “I don’t know how many really love it. But I know our moms and wives and girlfriends, they don’t like it because they got to watch their loved ones put themselves in situations they don’t like.

“It’s part of the game, speedway racing, always has been. Hopefully, we can figure something out to help keep them on the ground.”

Just a few tweaks can make a world of difference in this sport – and it seems like NASCAR is already looking into it. Monday, NASCAR Executive Vice President, and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell discussed the topic on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.

“My gut reaction is similar to yours, the drivers, the fans and everyone — you never want to see that,” O’Donnell said. “So you immediately work on, ‘OK, is everybody safe? Did the safety equipment do its job?’ and then what can we learn from that.

“The immediate steps are to review all the media shots that we have of those incidents, work with the race teams and then look at what may or may not be different from when we’ve been not only at Talladega but at any other race track. We’ve had cars get in the air at other tracks as well, so we’ll look at that. We’ll study the cars as well. We’ll work with the industry.”

Whether or not NASCAR will find anything to consider changing – only time will tell.

However, back to the question: Is there a place in NASCAR for flying cars? Is it inevitable, or fixable?

“…I don’t think that’s anything new,” Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the winning No. 2 team stated Sunday. “That’s been going on for a long time.  We continue to work on the roof flaps and things like that. But, I’m not saying there isn’t ways to do better than what we have.  I’m sure there is.  NASCAR does a great job of continuing to look into ways to do that. But at the speeds we’re running, sometimes it seems like there’s not a whole lot you can do once you get sideways at that kind of speed.”

Flipping cars, to a certain extent, will always be a possibility at restrictor plate events – just like many of the other nasty hits seen at these tracks. When a car is hit with enough force or wedged awkwardly between a wall, physics will win every time. Arguably no amount of aerodynamic restraints could stop what would take place at those speeds. However, air can be manipulated.

Buescher’s accident was an example of that. If the roof flap had worked properly, in addition to other possible safety features, there is a good chance the car would have never rolled. Kenseth’s case is a little more uncertain.

The Sprint Cup Series will return to restrictor-plate racing in two months for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Look for this talking point to return as the event draws near.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@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

Allmendinger Uses Road Course Discipline for Martinsville Runner-Up

AJ Allmendinger was all smiles Sunday after finishing second to Kyle Busch in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. After starting sixth, Allmendinger remained in the top 10 throughout the race, until the closing laps, when the JTG Daugherty Racing entry charged into the top five.

Despite a late-race caution, Allmendinger managed to advance to second, trailing leader Busch to the checkered flag. While he wanted the win, the 34-year-old seemed content with his impressive short-track showing.

“It was just a really solid weekend as a whole,” Allmendinger said. “We had a good qualifying, a great happy hour, and early in the race, we weren’t quite where we wanted to be. We got our car really, really good on the long runs. That’s kind of where I thought we shined. We didn’t have great short-run speed, but after about 30, 40 laps we could really get rolling there.

“I was kind of hoping we’d stay green the last 120 laps. I figured that wasn’t going to happen, but I was praying we had a shot at that because I felt like if that happened, we had a great chance to win the race.”

This event comes after another successful finish for the No. 47 team at Auto Club Speedway, where they came home eighth. Allmendinger hopes their organization continues to produce good results as the season progresses.

“I think that’s something that really started at the West Coast swing and coming here,” Allmendinger said. “I feel like we’ve been at our best at the end of the races. We’ve maximized. That’s the biggest thing we said – if we just maximize our finishes … that’s what you have to do. In Atlanta, we had some problems. I’ve really felt like the last four races we’ve been able to put together whole races. Fontana and here, we had really fast race cars.

“We’re getting there. There are ups and downs. This is a long season. The biggest thing, especially with a team like ours, is when you have a good race car; you’ve got to capitalize on it. Fortunately, today we were able to do that.”

Similar to road course racing, Martinsville requires finesse and brake conservation to make it to the end of the event. In the past, Allmendinger has shined at tracks like Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. In 2014, the driver went to victory lane at Watkins Glen after leading nearly a third of the laps. When asked if he connected the two successes, he was undecided.

“I wouldn’t say it is – if you’re good at road course racing you’re going to come here (and be good as well),” Allmendinger replied. “I know the first couple times I came here – I couldn’t figure this place out to save my life.

“You know, it’s just a rhythm racetrack.  There’s a fine line between needing to be aggressive enough, using the brakes and the things you have to do and be fast, and then overusing them, and that’s kind of the way road course driving is.  It’s always a fine line.  You can be aggressive but you’ve got to know that line to where you overstep it.  I would say a place like Richmond (International Raceway), that’s more way finesse and things like that.”

Allmendinger pointed to the new additions to the JTG Daugherty Racing family as the catalysts of a better performance on short and intermediate tracks. At the beginning of the year, Ernie Cope assumed the role of competition director, while Randall Burnett began to work directly with the driver as crew chief.

“Ernie is really good,” Allmendinger stated. “He’s had a relationship with RCR working there, and obviously, when he worked with Kevin Harvick and they had the truck and (XFINITY Series) teams at the time. So he’s been really good about making sure we got what we need for the race cars, and they’re built the way they need to be to the specs that he wants.

“Randall, for a first-year crew chief, you wouldn’t really know it. He’s great on the box. He calms me, which shockingly – I don’t know if you guys know that – I probably need that sometimes. It doesn’t seem like he’s only done this for six races. They’ve brought a lot, but it’s not just about those guys. Brian Burns and Tony Palmer (former crew chief and competition director), they stepped back into new roles, and instead of feeling like they were downsized or demoted they’ve stepped up and embraced it.”

The No. 47 team will surely have good momentum heading to Texas Motor Speedway next week. However, in the past, the 1.5-mile track has proven challenging for the driver. Their best finish in the last five races there is 14th.

“Texas hasn’t been one of our best racetracks,” Allmendinger said. “But I feel like our 1.5-mile program has definitely improved. That’s a racetrack that is tough… but our race cars are getting better, so I know the guys back at the shop are really pumped up with the Texas car. We’ll unload it and see what kind of speed we have and kind of base the rest of our weekend off that.”

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@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.

Categories
Trucks

Burton to Make Truck Series Debut This Fall with KBM

Kyle Busch Motorsports announced on Thursday Harrison Burton will make his Camping World Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway later this season. He will pilot the No. 18 DEX Imaging/Konica Minolta Tundra in the Alpha Energy Solutions 200 in October.

Burton, the son of retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and current NBC Sports broadcaster Jeff Burton, is the latest young gun to get a shot in the series.

“We are excited to welcome Konica Minolta to our racing team as we continue our long-standing partnership with Harrison,” said Dan Doyle, Jr., President and CEO of DEX Imaging, who has sponsored Burton since 2013. “He is a wonderful complement to our company. Our team is thrilled to be on board as he makes his debut into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series later this year.”

Burton began his career in quarter midgets, becoming a three-time USAC Quarter Midget national champion. Later on, he competed in late models, where, at age 14, he became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Whelen Super Late Model event. Last year, the NC native competed in two NASCAR K&N Pro Series West events, finishing 11th and sixth respectively.

This year, Burton is competing for Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. With two events in the book, he grabbed his first top-10 finish at Mobile International Speedway.

“Harrison is mature beyond his age on the track, and it’s impressive the resume he has already put together at the age of 15,” team owner and 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch stated. “He comes from a racing family and doesn’t have to look very far to find a role model that can show him what it takes to be successful both on and off the track.

“We’ve been fortunate the last few seasons to get KBM to the point where we can provide young drivers an opportunity to grow in the sport, and we’re excited to be a part of Harrison’s continued development. It wouldn’t be possible without sponsors like DEX Imaging and Konica Minolta who see the value in getting involved with a young driver and growing alongside him as he moves up the racing ladder.”

Burton echoed those statements and is eager for the opportunity.

“I am proud to have Konica Minolta join our DEX Imaging team for my Truck Series debut with Kyle Busch Motorsports,” Burton said. “It means a lot to have these sponsors onboard for the next step in my racing career and making it possible for me to be able to race for the marquee team in the series. It’s a big step, but we have been working really hard to prepare ourselves for everything that’s to come this year and we’re ready.”

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@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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Commentary

RAPID REACTIONS: PHOENIX

Round two of NASCAR’s West Coast swing did not disappoint with a side-by-side battle for the win.

The Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway featured several lead changes, but in the closing laps, Kevin Harvick dominated. However, a late race caution gave teams room for pit road strategy. Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Austin Dillon opted to stay out while the rest of the field came in for tires and fuel.

On the overtime restart, Harvick assumed the lead once more but was challenged by Carl Edwards, who had fresh tires. On the white lap coming out of Turn 4, the drivers bumped and banged as they raced towards the start/finish line. In the end, Harvick edged Edwards by one-hundredth of a second – the closest margin of victory at the Arizona-based track.

While the finish was a headliner, there are many other talking points coming out of the fourth race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Here are four notes worthy of mention:

Tire Issues in the Desert

Phoenix, a one-mile short track, is known to challenge brakes and tires. Today was no exception. Throughout the race, five drivers experienced issues with melted tire beads, starting with Ryan Newman on Lap 53. The driver hit the wall, placing him several laps down. 53 laps later, his teammate, Paul Menard was hit with the same issue.

“We fired off pretty decent and started getting really tight at the end,” Menard explained. “It felt like a left-front tire blew or something going into Turn 3. The track is hotter than it was yesterday. It was pretty slippery. I was having a lot of fun before we got into the wall.”

Ford drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski were also victims of tire woes later on in the event. Finally, with four laps to go, Kasey Kahne also experienced tire bead problems, which placed the race into overtime.

Carl Edwards Finds His Stride

It seems that in his second year with Joe Gibbs Racing, Carl Edwards and company have finally found momentum. They started off the season with two fifth place finishes and haven’t stopped there. Today, the 36-year-old almost grabbed his first win of 2016 and proved that he will be one to watch as the season progresses.

Jimmie Johnson Rebounds from Qualifying Accident

Earlier in the weekend, the No. 48 team suffered a rough crash in qualifying, forcing them to pull out the backup car and start from the rear of the field – but that didn’t stop the four-time Phoenix winner. 25 laps into the event, Johnson had already passed half of the field and broke into the top-10 before Lap 100.

He stayed there for the remainder of the race and looked to contend for the top-five finish. However, in the closing laps, he was shuffled back and finished 11th. Despite finishing outside the top-10, the No. 48 team’s performance was quite strong. That could serve him well as we head to the El Cajon, CA native’s home track next week.

Rookies Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott Continue to Impress

After a hard-fought race, Blaney and Elliott managed to each post their second top-10 of the 2016 season. After a tough 38th-place finish, Chase Elliott was able to rebound in Phoenix. He methodically worked his way into the top-10, where he ultimately finished 8th.

On the other hand, Blaney raced just outside the top-10 until the final restart. There, he was able to gain positions and place tenth. Both drivers have had strong performances thus far, which should make for an interesting Rookie of the Year battle this season.

Race Statistics

Cautions: Five for 30 laps

Lead Changes: Seven

Laps Led:

Kevin Harvick – 139

Kyle Busch – 75

Carl Edwards – 65

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 34

Top-10:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Carl Edwards
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  6. Kurt Busch
  7. Matt Kenseth
  8. Chase Elliott
  9. Austin Dillon
  10. Ryan Blaney

2016 Race Winners:

Denny Hamlin (1)

Jimmie Johnson (1)

Brad Keselowski (1)

Kevin Harvick (1)

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@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

Elliott Earns First Career Top 10 at His Home Track

Rookie Chase Elliott had much to smile about after Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Starting the race in 24th position, the newest addition to Hendrick Motorsports methodically advanced into the top 10 and came home with an 8th place finish.

“I’m just really proud of our effort, and most importantly finishing this week,” Elliott stated.  “Last week was a bummer for sure, and I think a big goal today was just trying to run 500 miles and trying to stay on the lead lap. I’m really proud that once the green flag dropped we were able to move forward and gain some ground.

“(Qualifying) didn’t go as well as we were hoping, so it kind of had us in a hole there to start and didn’t give us the best pit road selection. I messed up there on Friday. So I was proud that we could move forward. Pit stops were solid, and it wasn’t a perfect day, but it was a day we can build on and try to get better.”

Last week was bittersweet for the No. 24 team. Elliott became the youngest driver to grab the Daytona 500 pole, but their strong showing ended prematurely when he was involved in an accident on Lap 20 of the event. Sunday’s race served as a bit of redemption for the driver, and gives the team momentum for the coming weeks.

“Like I said, it was a good day,” Elliott said. “I was happy we could move forward. Most of all, happy with how we finished versus last week. I made a lot of dumb mistakes these past two weeks, and I was just happy that we could finish.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement. I need to do a better job. Lost a lot of time in a lot of different aspects today, so you’ve got to look at that stuff and see where you can get better and look at it as a day to try to improve on.”

The 20-year-old’s self-analysis reveals that he’s eager to live up to the standard set by his organization. Perhaps that stems from the pressure of piloting the legendary No. 24 Chevrolet, which was vacated by four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.

Nevertheless, with rookie mistakes in mind, the Dawsonville, GA native’s first Cup Series top-10 finish was quite impressive, and posting it at his home track made it memorable.

“It’s definitely special to be here at Atlanta and have a strong run,” he said. “I’m very happy about that, and it’s definitely a very special feeling to walk out before the race and to see the support in the stands. This is close to home for me, and a lot of people around here are supporting our race team, so that was really cool.”

The strenuous race featured a 210-lap green flag run which, according to several drivers, became a test of endurance. Elliott echoed those sentiments, and injected a little humor.

“It was the longest green-flag run I’ve ever been a part of for sure, so I’m definitely worn out, and I will be going to bed early,” he said. “…this is a slick racetrack with a lot of things going on. It’s very important to hit your marks correctly, so I’d definitely say it’s up there on as one of the tougher races I’ve ever been a part of.”

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@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.

Categories
Trucks

Coughlin Feels He Could be ‘Destined for Success’ with KBM

Kyle Busch Motorsports might be the most dominant organization in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. So for up-and-coming driver Cody Coughlin, driving for the defending series champions is an opportunity of a lifetime.

“We’re really excited, obviously,” the 20-year-old stated. “We’re with the best team, and when you align yourself with the best team and best equipment, you’re usually going to be destined for success. That really leaves it up to me to get the job done behind the wheel because I know everything else is taken care of from the equipment and people standpoint.”

Coughlin will make his first start of 2016 in the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway, piloting the No. 18 JEGS.com Toyota. He will run a total of 11 events, sharing the ride with XFINITY Series regular Daniel Suarez.

“I think unlike other sports, the biggest event of the year for us is at the beginning,” Coughlin continued. “So I think that’s pretty unique, and I think that it would be really cool to snag a win there. We’re really excited about it, and we have SpillFix coming on board. Everybody at JEGS and Toyota is excited so we’re going to be good.”

The Delaware, Ohio native began his career in quarter midgets and methodically climbed the ranks. In 2014, he began competing part-time in the ARCA Racing Series, where he earned 11 top-10s and five top-fives in 17 starts. In addition to ARCA, he raced in two Camping World Truck Series events in 2015, finishing 20th in each.

He will come to Daytona with some previous restrictor-plate racing experience. Last year, Coughlin raced at both Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway in ARCA, coming home with a fourth and second place finish, respectively. Those strong finishes make Coughlin one to watch during the first event of the season.

“I think that there’s definitely some differences between an ARCA car and a truck,” said Coughlin. “But at Talladega and Daytona for instance, the basics are the same, so I think for that reason it should be a pretty big help. We should do well both at both of those. I think there will be some good experience to lean on.”

However, after Daytona, Coughlin will be challenged with a learning curve. Most of the venues visited by the series will be new territory for the Joe Gibbs Racing development driver. Luckily, he has the defending Sprint Cup Series champion to learn from.

“I’m going to tell you – I’m going to lean on him quite a bit, and I think it’s quite helpful having Kyle Busch. It’s one thing to have somebody, but it’s another thing to have someone that is interactive with the team,” Coughlin said. “That’s something with Kyle – you can call him today or tomorrow, and he’ll answer, call you right back, and help you.

“He’s just very detailed, takes a lot of his own time to explain things, and sets up the young drivers in his stable for success. I think that’s a very cool thing, and certainly I’m going to use it.”

While several of the tracks will be a new experience for Coughlin, he is especially looking forward to one event – the dirt race at Eldora Speedway.

“Eldora will be interesting, for sure,” he said. “I’ve never ran dirt, so that’ll be an interesting challenge. I guess that’s the one that I’m most thinking about.”

But for now, Coughlin will be preparing for Daytona – where it all begins – and this year he has one simple, yet challenging goal: be competitive.

“We want to be competitive,” he said. “That’s one thing that I think we can control, and then the hope is to get the win. I think if we put ourselves in position, it’s a realistic goal.”

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @S_Adair98

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