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XFINITY

Remember When: Joe Nemechek’s Kansas Sweep

By Seth Sharp – The 2004 Nextel Cup season did not go the way @FrontRowJoe87 expected it to. During his first full year with MB2 Motorsports driving the No. 01 Army Chevrolet, Nemechek struggled for most of the season although he did have some bright spots.

After finishing sixth in the Daytona 500, struggles ensued until the series returned to Daytona in July, where Nemechek picked up a 10th place finish. The following week at Chicago he finished eighth, earning back-to-back top-10s for the first time all season.

Heading into the race at the Kansas Speedway in October where he would be pulling double duty, Nemechek was coming off two top-10s in the previous three races, including a pole at Talladega. On the Busch Series side he was experiencing a down year of sorts, only finishing in the top-10 four times in 14 races, highlighted by a season high seventh place finish at Fontana. Nemechek had competed in all three Nextel Cup and all three Busch Series races held at the Kansas Speedway since the track opened in 2001. In 2002 he finished third in the Busch race while coming home fourth on Sunday.

The weekend started out on a great note for the Florida native as he won the pole for the Cup race. It was the second straight week that “Front Row Joe” would start on the point. On the other hand he struggled a bit during Busch qualifying, ending up just 19th fastest.

Once the green flag waved for the Mr. Goodcents 300, Nemechek slowly came up through the field. @TonyStewart, who was driving a Dale Earnhardt Incorporated car, dominated the race. Late though Nemechek had not only made his way into the top-five but winning contention. With a few laps left in the race, he made a pass for second place with his eyes set on the race leader Stewart. On the final lap the two made contact, which sent Stewart hard into the wall and set up a green-white-checkered finish with Nemechek leading the field. With a half a lap left, @GBiffle dove underneath Nemechek as the two went side-by-side for the final two turns. They were still side-by-side heading towards the start-finish line as Nemechek edged Biffle for the win in an exciting photo finish.

With a Busch Series win under his belt and a fast car that started first for the Cup race, Nemechek had all the momentum in the world for the race on Sunday. He led the first four laps of the race before starting to slowly drift back into the field. By Lap 34 he was seventh. By Lap 100 he drifted back to 14th. After a caution for @CJMearsGang (Casey Mears) with under 70 laps to go, Nemechek restarted 13th after the field came in for pit stops. The caution was exactly what Nemechek needed as he quickly made his way back to the front.

On Lap 131 (37 laps to go), he took the lead from @Elliott_Sadler. Two more late race cautions came out, putting Nemechek on the verge of making it to the end without having to make one more pit stop for fuel. On the final restart with 13 laps to go, Nemechek jumped out to a quick lead and began to conserve fuel. Ricky Rudd, who had enough fuel to make it to the end, caught Nemechek with two laps to go. The two battled side-by-side as they took the white flag. Nemechek drove his Army Chevrolet deep into Turn 1 to emerge with a one-car length lead on Rudd down the backstretch. Out of Turn 4, Rudd dove to the apron in a last ditch effort for the win, coming up short as Nemechek claimed a win at Kansas for the second straight day.

Nemechek was ecstatic in victory lane after picking up his fourth career Nextel Cup Series victory and first in 54 races. During his post race interview, he repeatedly kept saying “This is just an incredible day.” He also said that after winning the Busch Series race on Saturday, his two crew chiefs talked and compared setups, with Nextel Cup crew chief Ryan Pemberton making changes to Nemechek’s Cup car.

To this day, Nemechek holds the only weekend sweep in Kansas Speedway history.

EMAIL SETH AT seth.sharp@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW SETH ON TWITTER: @NASCARMemories

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XFINITY

O’Connell Takes Rick Ware Racing to a Third Place Finish at Road America

By Kelly Crandall – By day Kevin O’Connell is a venture capitalist. Sometimes though, he gets to drive racecars.

Saturday, O’Connell was behind the wheel of the No. 23 for Rick Ware Racing at Road America in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Gardner Denver 200. In his fifth career start, in which he had never previously finished higher than 22nd, O’Connell drove the underfunded team to a third place finish.

“I think this is a marquis finish. We’ve talked about doing this for a long time but the stars have to align,” O’Connell said afterwards. “You have to have good people, good equipment and the right circumstances and we had that today. We’ve been doing it long enough that we knew we had a shot at something and I think we capitalized on it the best way we know how.”

O’Connell was only 26th fastest at the end of qualifying and ran a solid top-15 race with crew chief George Church calling the shots. The 47-year-old from Newport Beach, California is currently competing in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship Series as well as the IMSA Lamborghini Super Trofeo Racing Series.

O’Connell’s third career start in Elkhart Lake this past weekend was made possible because of the partnership with country music singer Shania Twain’s charity, Shania Kids Can, as their primary sponsor.

“I’ve been doing probably for 20 years now. I partnered up with Rick and we’ve been running sports cars together and NASCAR Nationwide, specifically road course stuff. I do it every chance I get,” O’Connell said. “This weekend was special because we had Shania Twain’s charity on the car, so we had a benefactor that put together the capital that we needed to run the races. We displayed her charity on the car in an effort to promote and get the brand out into the NASCAR world.”

When weather became a factor late in Saturday’s event, O’Connell and company began to play their strategy. After NASCAR mandated that teams go to wet weather tires, O’Connell began to make up some time. Rain, which he enjoys running in because of the experience he has with sports cars, was a benefit to his – and other smaller teams – progression through the field.

As contenders fell by the wayside, O’Connell continued to rise through the running order. He lined up fourth for the race’s final restart.

“We made the decision to stay out on wets, we saw the guys in front of us did the same thing,” O’Connell said. “Rick and George put together a great car so we thought we had a shot. The rain kind of worked in our favor and with a green-white-checkered finish we thought we could do it, so we tired it.

“It worked really well, I think we had a shot for the win, we raced the 62 (@Brendan62, Brendan Gaughan) clean. Tag (Alex @Tagliani) came screaming through the field with stickers, not a lot we could do about that. I think we would probably play it the same if we had a chance to do it over again.”

O’Connell will continue to make limited NASCAR appearances this year for the Nationwide Series at Road America, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, as well as at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park for the Camping World Truck Series.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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XFINITY

Gaughan Wins in Thrilling Finish at Road America

By Jerry Bonkowski (NASCAR Wire Service) ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Brendan Gaughan survived two early off-track excursions and a race in which much of the second half was contested in rain as cars rode on wet weather tires to win Saturday’s Gardner Denver 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America.

It was the third time in NASCAR history – all on road courses and all on the NNS circuit – that a race has been run in rain. The other two were in Montreal in 2008 and 2010, also on a road course (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve).

Racing in the rain ignited something in Gaughan that helped overcome and forget his early misfortune and go on to earn his first career win on the Nationwide circuit in 98 starts (he also has eight career wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series).

“I love racing in the rain, it’s fun,” said Gaughan, who was in the 2010 Montreal race, and has driven in rain several other times in other series. “And when you’re good at it, it makes it even more fun.

“I haven’t smelled blood in a long time, that’s something I’ve been lacking lately, that killer attitude. When it started to rain, even without the wiper blade (was broken), I started to smell blood and said, ‘I’m coming.’

“It’s fun to watch guys who haven’t done it in the rain. They don’t understand the rain line, and fortunately for me, I did.”

Gaughan passed Chase Elliott for the lead on Lap 51 and held on for the two remaining laps to win.

Gaughan beat runner-up Alex Tagliani by .820 seconds in a green-white-checkered finish that took the race to 53 laps, three more than the scheduled 50. It appeared it would be Tagliani’s race to win, as he was leading in the closing laps when he ran out of fuel on lap 49.

Just seconds before, a caution flag was thrown when Justin Marks also ran out of fuel. Just past the pit entrance when his car stopped, Tagliani was able to roll his car down the downward sloping frontstretch, his crew pushed him into his pit stall, he took on fuel and switched from rain tires back to slicks and proceeded to roar through the field, restarting 23rd and ending up second three extra laps later.

Such a tough defeat might be hard for some drivers to swallow, but Tagliani took the loss in stride.

“It was pretty intense,” Tagliani said. “The wet was tricky, but obviously we were good. Maybe I threw a bad spell on myself because I said it was impossible that I was going to win this race, like something’s going to happen, and then on the white flag, something happened (ran out of gas).

“It’s what it is. It’s not in the cards. You have to be quick, you have to have a good car and it has to be in the cards, and if it’s not, you just have to take whatever comes to you.”

Tagliani came into the race hoping to be the fourth driver to win from the pole in the last five NNS races at Road America, but came up one spot short.

The race was put under caution on Lap 25 and NASCAR mandated all cars switch to wet weather tires two laps later. They remained on rain tires until the final four laps, when teams had the option to switch back to slicks after Marks brought out the caution.

Kevin O’Connell finished third, followed by Chase Elliott and J.J. Yeley.

Sixth through 10th were Jeremy Clements, Andy Lally, Landon Cassill, Elliott Sadler and Mike Bliss.

Of note about Cassill: Not only did he compete in Saturday’s race, he hopped a plane afterward to the west coast to be in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway.

NOTES: Regan Smith, who finished 13th, retained his lead in the NNS points standings. Elliott Sadler (finished ninth) is second in the points, 10 points behind Smith, while Chase Elliott remains in third place (11 points back). The only drivers to make upward movement in the points in the top-10 were Brian Scott (sixth to fifth) and Cassill (11th to 10th).

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XFINITY

On The Road Again: Mid-June Becoming Road Racing Holiday for NASCAR

By Vito Pugliese – While the third weekend in February is a holiday of sorts being Daytona 500 weekend, has the third weekend in June become another special occasion on the NASCAR calendar? It’s starting to look a lot like it as both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are road racing this weekend, on opposite ends of the country.

Why have road courses become so revered in recent years? For one, they have replaced the short tracks as the must see races of the year for contact, conflict, and genuine action. In the Nationwide Series in particular, where @KyleBusch and the Driver du jour of the Penske Racing No. 22, have tuned intermediate tracks into an immediate slaughter. For a series that was built upon showing drivers ready to take that final step to Sprint Cup, they’ve been beyond humbled, with the notable exceptions of @austindillon3 and @ChaseElliott as those who have been able to go toe-to-toe with the Sprint Cup stars as of late.

While the “road course ringer” has fallen out of favor in the Cup Series, he (or she) is alive and well in Nationwide with the road jinks right as well as left. @MarcosAmbrose set the series on its ear winning three straight at Watkins Glen from 2007-2009, and Ron Fellows having won three races in his 25 starts. The nature of the racing also brings out a field that isn’t comprised of drivers from the United States either, looking more like a World Cup bracket than what you’d expect from a stock car race. Australian, Canada, Italy, Brazil, all finished within the top-25 last year at Road America, in addition to the host Americans. It’s that sort of world-wide influence and participation that can help grow the series and add additional fans and sponsorships that may not otherwise find their way to these cars.

Oh, and then there’s that matter of the race itself: the best races of the year are now road course related.

Take a look back at the last two years and what have been some of the memorable events in all three series. At Canadian Tire Motorsports Park last season in the Truck Series, there were the last lap tangles between @MaxPapis and Mike Skeen that resulted in Skeen’s girlfriend slapping Papis while Elliott piled into @TyDillon for the win, sending him into the tire barrier.

@AJDinger completed his own road to recovery or sorts in Road America, winning in a Penske Mustang following his ouster due to a failed drug test the year before, while Papis got in a slap of his own on Billy Johnson after the race.

In the Sprint Cup Series, @MartinTruex_Jr broke a four year long winless drought and got himself into the Chase. Well, for a while anyway …

In years prior the races in Montreal saw everything from retaliations and black flags, with @RobbyGordon punting Ambrose, then doing victory burnouts with race winner @KevinHarvick and hometown hero Patrick Carpantier. 2012 saw @DanicaPatrick felled by running over a shoe in the middle of the race. Speaking of Patrick, @27Villeneuve (Jacques Villeneuve) used her as an extra set of brakes at Road America in 2012 as he wheel hopped into the back of her, to the dismay of the broadcasting team. Villeneuve was his normal contrite self-afterwards.

This weekend will see a host of drivers making their first appearances of the year with Alex @Tagliani in the Penske No. 22, @JMarksDE (Justin Marks) in the No. 31, as well as this year’s rookie class (Chase Elliott, @dylankracing, and Ty Dillon) getting their first look at this track, as @SamHornish gets another shot at things in the No. 54. The race will be run rain or shine as well, with rain tires being available this weekend and things have been a bit soggy this week in the Great Lakes region.

While the number of short tracks and beating and banging have dwindled over the years, it is the road courses which have replaced those as the action events of the summer, and this weekend’s event has proven in the past to not disappoint in that area.

EMAIL VITO AT vito.pugliese@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @vitopugliese

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XFINITY

Hornish Already Making the Most of Limited Opportunity

By Joseph Wolkin – It’s not what @SamHornish wanted entering 2014, but it’s what he will take. Hornish made the tough decision to turn down offers to race full-time in either one of NASCAR’s top-two divisions as he opted to race for Joe Gibbs Racing on a part-time basis in the Nationwide Series.

It might sound crazy, but Hornish knew that it wasn’t worth it to run mid-pack in a lesser car. It would not prove anything by doing so, and now he is contending for race wins – even though he hasn’t been behind the wheel much this year.

The move is starting to pay off for the 35-year-old driver after signing a seven race deal to get behind the wheel of the No. 54 car. The car has been known as one of, if not the most dominant, in the NASCAR Nationwide Series over the past several years – winning an astonishing 17 of the past 79 races since the 2012 season began with @KyleBusch behind the wheel.

But many have been hoping he would receive some more opportunities since Joe Gibbs Racing is such a large organization. When @DennyHamlin had metal in his eye in March at Fontana, Gibbs officials turned to the Ohio-native to pilot the No. 11 Toyota in the Cup Series less than an hour before the race went green.

Hornish was impressive during that event as he ran inside of the top-15, but was shuffled to a 17th-place finish. Unfortunately, the team does not have the funding or the room to get him back at NASCAR’s top-tier division this year. However, that is more than fine for Hornish who just welcomed his first son and third child, Sam Hornish III, into the world just a few weeks prior to the start of the season in 2014.

Spending time with his family has been increasingly important for Hornish. Racing on a part-time basis for Gibbs has enabled him to see his wife and children more than ever before. Plus, he is happy – the most important thing a person could ask for.

“I don’t know if I have a lot more free time, but I go around doing a lot of different things. It’s been awesome. It’s been a really good experience. It is just everything that I needed to do from a father-husband point-of-view,” Hornish said. “Obviously, I have to remember that at some point, you have to go out there and make money to buy the kids what they want and do what they want to do. I just try to remain as positive and happy as I can. I am having a great time with them, and I can’t really ask for much more. The only thing that I need at this time, which revolves around me, is to race more.”

When he has raced, it’s already shown to pay dividends for Hornish. Last year, while racing for Team Penske, he was a race and championship contender. This year, he’s picked up where he left off and remains a legitimate contender to be around when the checkered flag flies in each race he is entered in.

In two events in the No. 54 Toyota, Hornish has a fifth-place finish and a win at Iowa Speedway. He dominated that event, leading 167 of the 250 laps and picking up his fourth career Nationwide race in what was his 101st start. Then came that extra seat that we have all been hoping he would get. Thanks to a new partnership with road course specialist Kenny Habul and his Sun Energy 1 company, Hornish was able to race at Michigan this past weekend in the No. 20 car.

Even though he spun out on the second lap of the race, Hornish charged back to a second place finish. After three races this year, his average finish is an astonishing 2.7 and he is also helping the team contend for the owners’ championship – a title which they merely lost last year.

As the season moves along, Hornish will have a handful of opportunities to prove himself in whatever car he’s in – including this coming weekend at Road America. Thanks to his impressive performance to start out his tenure at Joe Gibbs, rumors are also circling around that Hornish could possibly join the Wood Brothers in 2015 as @Tbayne21 replacement in the Sprint Cup Series, and that might be what he wants as he hopes to land with a team capable of winning races.

Although the Wood Brothers haven’t contended for race wins since Bayne’s 2011 Daytona 500 victory, Hornish brings over a resume with extensive success at intermediate tracks, which is the No. 21 team’s bread and butter. But even if he doesn’t get the job with one of the most famous teams in NASCAR history, Hornish has proved he deserves a full-time ride – his ultimate goal of proving before the current season begun.

The problem is, there are limited seats available for next season, especially in the Cup Series, but Hornish has become a fan favorite and a driver who car owners will be keeping an eye on as the season progresses. Which will be a key for him once he starts negotiations for next year.

Is there is also the possibility that he could end up in a full-time car for Joe Gibbs? @Elliott_Sadler’s contract expires at the end of the year, and if sponsorship is found and Hornish continues to put up the impressive numbers he has this year, it could put officials over at Joe Gibbs Racing in a tough spot. But one thing is for sure, we need Hornish Jr. back in the Nationwide Series full-time soon and chasing the championship.

Because he’s more than shown he deserves it.

Joseph Wolkin is a Popular Speed Development Journalist

EMAIL JOSEPH AT joseph.wolkin@popularspeed.com

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XFINITY

Paul Menard Wins Nationwide Race at Michigan

By Scott Held (NASCAR Wire Service) BROOKLYN, Michigan — Surprise gifts don’t get much better than this.

Paul Menard won Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide series Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway after leader Joey Logano was forced to pit four laps from the finish with a cut tire.

“Hate to wish bad luck on Joey,” Menard said in victory lane, “but we’ll take it.”

Menard led 18 laps and won the only series race he’s entered this season and claimed the second Nationwide victory of his career. His first came at Milwaukee, his hometown track, in June 2006.

Logano was in front after the leaders pitted with 44 laps to go and pulled away after the restart. He led Menard’s Chevy by more than a second late but pulled onto pit road on Lap 121 to replace a right rear tire. Menard had smooth sailing from there and led Sam Hornish Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Brian Scott to the checkered flag.

Menard thought he missed his shot on the final restart, when he was the third car into Turn 1 and lost several positions trying to take the lead.

“The last restart, I kind of thought I gave the race away getting three-wide,” he said. “This is a brand new car, a brand new motor we’re trying out and it proved itself, I think.”

Logano, seeking his 22nd Nationwide series win, was the final car on the lead lap and ended the day a hard-luck 16th.

“I ran over something at some point. It pretty much sucks,” he said after leading 43 laps. “I could tell it was going down on the back straightaway and had to take it in.

“I hate giving it away like that. The silver lining is we had a fast racecar and should’ve won the race. You win some like that, you lose some like that.”

Earnhardt also said he was losing a tire near the finish but kept the car on the track.

Dylan Kwasniewski and Trevor Bayne crashed between Turns 1 and 2 after contact on Lap 79 and the ensuing caution left front runners free to pit and take on enough fuel to finish the race. The caution lasted 10 laps and made fuel economy a non-issue as the pack dashed to the finish.

Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were strong in the early two thirds of the race but were forced farther behind the lead pack after they opted to pit later in the final caution period. Elliott, the top rookie in the series points standings, ended the day sixth, two spots ahead of Larson, who led a race-best 46 laps.

“I felt really solid about our car all day,” said Elliott, who remained third in the standings with the finish. “We put ourselves in a tight box and didn’t have much of a choice (after following Larson into the pits instead the rest of the leaders).”

Regan Smith was seventh and ended the race with a 14-point lead over Elliott Sadler in the series standings.

The race lost 22 laps during four caution periods, the longest of which was for Kwasniewski’s crash. He was treated and released from the MIS medical center and took the blame for the incident after leaving there.

The day’s first yellow flag came less than two laps in after Hornish spun in Turn 4 but managed to avoid making contact with other drivers.

“We wanted to get (sponsor) Sun Energy 1 a lot of exposure so we started with some slow-motion replays,” he cracked. “I got really lucky (no one hit me).”

He’s finished fifth, first and second in the three series races he’s entered this season. He said he’ll keep trying to put himself into part-time rides the rest of the season.

Busch set a new qualifying record of 193.242 mph Saturday morning to earn the Coors Light Pole award, his third of the season.

The series heads to Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisc., next weekend. Saturday’s race kicked off a stretch of 18 straight weekends for Nationwide teams, who won’t get a break until they complete the Oct. 10 race at Charlotte.

  1. Paul Menard
  2. Sam Hornish Jr
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Brian Scott
  6. Chase Elliott
  7. Regan Smith
  8. Kyle Larson
  9. Ty Dillon
  10. Chris Buescher
  11. Ryan Reed
  12. Ross Chastain
  13. Ryan Sieg
  14. Landon Cassill
  15. James Buescher
  16. Joey Logano
  17. Elliott Sadler
  18. Mike Bliss
  19. Dakoda Armstrong
  20. Jeremy Clements
  21. JJ Yeley
  22. Brendan Gaughan
  23. Jeff Green
  24. Blake Koch
  25. Jeffrey Earnhardt
  26. Josh Wise
  27. Joey Gase
  28. Mike Harmon
  29. Ryan Ellis
  30. Trevor Bayne
  31. Dylan Kwasniewski
  32. Harrison Rhodes
  33. Jamie Dick
  34. Carl Long
  35. Derrike Cope
  36. Tanner Berryhill
  37. Matthew Carter
  38. Tommy Joe Martins
  39. Kevin Lepage
  40. Tim Schendel
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XFINITY

Landon Cassill Racing Against the Top Teams with JD Motorsports

By Joseph Wolkin – @LandonCassill, a former Hendrick Motorsports developmental driver, has seen his career divert from its original path while driving for underfunded teams. Several years ago, Cassill’s future was looking dim as he was starting and parking for multiple teams at NASCAR’s highest level.

Eventually, Cassill caught a break with Phoenix Racing, and later BK Racing. But the Iowa native was released from both organizations and left with the all too familiar sight of searching for a ride – even if it was not in the best of equipment.

The 25-year-old now drives for underfunded teams in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series. On the Cup side, things have been rough for Cassill driving for Hillman Racing, which is part of Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing. Cassill’s No. 40 car has missed two races this season, and they have six finishes of 30th or worse. However, there are some bright sides for this little team, as they have run no worse than 12th at the restrictor plate races this year along with four finishes of 25th and 26th.

But where Cassill’s true success has come this year is startling.

Cassill also competes in the Nationwide Series in the No. 01 Chevrolet on a full-time basis for JD Motorsports. The team frequently runs with blank quarter panels due to a lack of funding. This year, he took over the ride from veteran @MikeWallace01. Wallace was driving the car for several years, but Johnny Davis opted to go in another direction late in the off-season.

“Well, I drove for JD Motorsports last year and they resigned me for this year,” Cassill said this past weekend in Pocono.

This year, the team has been able to outrun drivers who are racing for larger organizations, such as Roush-Fenway Racing’s @driverryanreed and Richard Petty Motorsports’ @DakodaArmstrong. Entering Michigan, Cassill sits 11th in the Nationwide Series points standings with two top-10 finishes – that’s more than @dylankacing (Dylan Kwasniewski) (10th in points) has to this point and it is equal to those which @Brendan62 (seventh in points) has tallied up thus far.

His success shouldn’t be shocking though. With Wallace, the team was racing around the 20th position on a weekly basis. However, Cassill has carried this little team on his shoulders, and it is starting to pay off against some of the division’s largest teams.

“It’s very difficult against them, but we’re making things happen,” he said.

In nine of the 12 races in 2014, Cassill has finished 21st or better. His best run was at Iowa Speedway last month as he ran inside of the top-10 for the majority of the race, and even inside of the top-five at one point. Each week, Cassill has been moving up with the team improving as he battles the powerhouses of Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing and Turner-Scott Motorsports, continuing to get the most out of the little amount of funding they have.

Joseph Wolkin is a Popular Speed Development Journalist

EMAIL JOSEPH AT joseph.wolkin@popularspeed.com

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XFINITY

Consistency Just as Important as Winning Says Chase Elliott, Trevor Bayne

By Matt Weaver (DOVER, Del. –) The championship battle is heating up with the summer in the NASCAR Nationwide Series as points leader Regan Smith posted a top-10 but was unable to widen his lead following the Buckle Up 200 at Dover International Raceway.

That’s because each of those chasing him all finished ahead of him, eating away at Smith’s overall advantage. Smith leaves Delaware with a four point margin over Elliott Sadler, 22 over Chase Elliott with Trevor Bayne and Ty Dillon 27 and 34 behind respectively.

Bayne finished second to race winner Kyle Busch on Saturday and believes consistency, given the schedule and talent in the division, is just as important as winning races in regards to chasing a championship.

“Well I think consistency is going to pay off, especially when we get to the road courses, another restrictor plate race,” Bayne said after Saturday’s race. “As close as we are, within 30 points, one bad race for the leaders could bring us right back.”

20140531_135743-1Elliott is the embodiment of Bayne’s point.

He was the championship leader for much of the early part of the season until a mechanical failure last weekend, at Charlotte, sent him into the wall and from a comfortable lead to nearly 30 points out. Elliott rebounded on Saturday with a fifth-place finish and gained six points on Smith but believes he should have been fighting for the win and earning points that Busch isn’t even eligible for in the first place.

“We need — I need to do a better job because I’m the difference maker,” Elliott said. “These cars are so close and I don’t think Kyle has any better of a car than we do but I just think he did a better job today. That’s when I get mad at myself because I know I can do better.”

Elliott agreed with Bayne that consistency given the variety of tracks during the mid-season gamut will be pivotal towards the season championship.

“We’re going through this summer stretch where we go to all these different race tracks, we go to Michigan where I’ve never been before with a lot of grip and we go road racing,” Elliott said. “So we’ve got to be good at all these different places as we can and basically do better than what we did today.

“Otherwise, we’re going to have a lot of work to do.”

The top-10 in NASCAR Nationwide Series standings can be found below.

  1. Regan Smith Ldr.
  2. Elliott Sadler -4
  3. Chase Elliott -22
  4. Trevor Bayne -27
  5. Ty Dillon -34
  6. Brian Scott -57
  7. Brendan Gaughan -107
  8. James Buescher -116
  9. Chris Buescher -120
  10. Dylan Kwasniewski -145
Categories
XFINITY

Neither Regan Smith Or JR Motorsports Content after Early Season Success

By Kelly Crandall (DOVER, Del.) – Repetition in racing can breed success.

Years of laps around a track create confidence, in turn building a comfort. Continuous communication translates into action. The right group of people put together for a common cause and with the right determination goes a long way, too. Nationwide Series point lead @ReganSmith sees all of that at JR Motorsports, the company who has led the points all year either with himself or rookie teammate @ChaseElliott.

“It’s been good. Every time you go to the shop it’s something new, it’s something exciting. We’re learning, we’re continuing to progress the cars and find out new stuff. I think the atmosphere is there is more to be done still and more work to be done still and you see that resonate throughout the whole shop when you go through there,” Smith said on Friday at Dover International Speedway.

Even with four wins already on the season, three between full-time drivers Smith and Elliott, along with the part-time third car which was taken to victory lane in Richmond by @KevinHarvick, the company continues to chip away. The desire to win a driver championship this year – they came close with Brad @Keselowski back in 2008 and 2009 – pushes the day-to-day operations through wind tunnel testing to getting on track at places like Virginia International Raceway.

“The work ethic and the caliber of people throughout the whole shop is really at a level that’s top notch and has been impressive to watch grow. I don’t think anybody’s really content with where we’re at, we want to continue to get better, we want to continue to improve on the cars,” Smith continued.

“For example Charlotte last week, we got back from Charlotte and everybody was kind of mad and trying to figure what to do better and how to make sure that we have three cars that are 1-2-3 next time we go back there.”

Then there’s Smith, a veteran not only of the Nationwide Series but NASCAR. From Sprint Cup now down to his current home, the 30-year-old is still here, still around and looking for his place. It’s more than just a break through, but a championship crowning. A redemption story from 2013 to effectively put to rest what haunts the No. 7 team and practice what they’ve been preach about lessons of the past.

“I don’t think there’s anymore pressure than last year, there’s always pressure. That’s what we do, we want to win, we want to be up front, we want to win championships as drivers, that’s the same for all of us. So the pressure is there whether it’s from the outside or within,” Smith said.

“I don’t think what happened last year changes that for me, all that does is make me a little bit more experienced and knowledgeable about how to go through the season as it gets down to crunch time and as the points start to become a little more pressure packed when we get down to 10, seven races to go, somewhere in that ballpark. That’s when it’s really kind of taking shape and you can see what you have to deal with”

In this same spot one year ago, Smith began to extend what would become a 58 point lead on his competition. Earning his second and final win of the season at Michigan however, signaled the beginning of the end. The end of a points lead five weeks later and the end of championship contention. Sliding into the final few weeks third in points and an afterthought.

This year, the same strong start is again there. The only driver to have finished in the top-10 in each of the 11 races thus far to compliment the quick win. Not far behind him however, have been teammate Chase Elliott who has two wins and @Elliott_Sadler, who came out victorious in Talladega.

Smith, while early, is focused on the future, as well as his competition.

“Up until this point it seems all three cars, myself, Chase and Elliott (Sadler) have had very comparable seasons. One week it’s one guy the next week it’s the other guy and unfortunately it’s one of these things that could come down to bad luck when it’s all said and done,” he said. “So you have to try and minimize that and do the right things there.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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XFINITY

Chastain Left to Playing the Waiting Game

By Kelly Crandall (CONCORD, N.C.) – Following Saturday’s History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, @RossChastain now sits and waits for the phone to ring.

“As of Saturday, Memorial Day weekend, I’m racing in the Nationwide race and that’s pretty cool,” Chastain told Popular Speed in Charlotte. “Beyond that, I don’t have a clue.”

The Alva, FL native can look at his NASCAR schedule this year and unfortunately memorize it pretty quickly. It’s blank. Chastain doesn’t know what he’ll be doing the rest of the year after making his Nationwide Series debut last weekend at Charlotte. Car owner and friend @JamieDickRacing put him behind the wheel of the No. 55 for Viva Motorsports.

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“Right now it’s a one-race deal with Jamie and the whole Viva group. It could turn into more and that’s what we’re hoping,” Chastain said. “I want to be in this garage a little more and this is a good team to do it with, but it’s not up to me or even up to Jamie or how we do on track. It’s that unfortunate word we don’t like to talk about, but it’s a money driven sport.”

From the moment the car unloaded at Charlotte it was a top-20 machine, which is where Chastain held it all afternoon after practicing and qualifying there. With a strong support from Watermelon.org, Florida Watermelon Association / Helena, all involved felt the time was right to take a chance and move to the next series. Those same partners have backed Chastain for quite some time and right now he just wants to get some laps while they continue to earn the exposure and advertising.

With his future in doubt, Chastain knows one thing: he doesn’t want to become a stagnant driver. Or one considered just a Truck Series competitor. He came into the year with what was supposed to be a five-race deal with Ricky Benton to run the No. 92. Except after Daytona and Martinsville, both sides agreed to mutually part ways as the team decided to go in a different direction.

But, Chastain said if they called him today, he would be open to talk to them again. “I’m not going to turn down a ride in NASCAR,” he said. “I’ll tell you that right now.”

Competing under the Brad Keselowski Racing banner in the Camping World Truck Series last season, Chastain ran exceptionally well in his 14 starts, finishing no worse than 20th. He nabbed two poles and four top-five finishes, two of which were runner up efforts at Iowa, where he led the most laps, and Phoenix.

But as the business goes, the funding to keep him in the seat just wasn’t there. Keselowski, even as good friend and neighbor (they both live on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Dirty Mo Acres”) had to stand behind the decision made in order to keep his shop doors open, which meant Chastain didn’t fit in. There are no hard feelings, as Chastain often turns to Keselowski as he did in Charlotte, for help when it comes to race weekend.

“Last year was the ideal situation. That was a dream situation for me and my career and the next step forward,” he said. “Coming into this year, we kind of got lost in a crack but now we’re back … The goal there (at BKR), you look at that and you hope it’s a feeder system to Penske. Penske is one of the top organizations in the sport. When I got the deal signed with Brad, the goal was to race with him at Penske and BKR, but throughout the season last year it was an eye opener for me as far as what this sport is. It’s a money driven sport and it’s unfortunate that it’s like that.”

For as close as he came last season to winning on more than one occasion, Chastain can’t tell you that it would have made a difference in providing him a job. Yet, he can tell you he feels he can compete with the best of the best, and there is a reason certain drivers get picked up by the powerhouse teams.

He hopes to be the next to get that right opportunity. Then, maybe he can stop looking back.

“I definitely still think about it. I still play the race at Iowa over and the race at Phoenix over, but I couldn’t do anything different. If I went back and tried any harder I would have wrecked in both of them,” he said. “That wouldn’t do me any good because I would have been the guy who can go fast but he wrecks at the end. To me, still to this day, a second place finish was better for the people that matter, the people I’m trying to impress.

“You see people wreck other people for the win and they get away with it, they get away with sliding and crashing and they go on to win, but it would be my luck that I’d end up not finishing the race. Those two are the ones that stick out obviously, the second place finishes. There are four other ones that I think about everyday, too.”

Chastain will forever be grateful to Keselowski for sticking his neck out for him, to put in a truck last season when it wasn’t always best. He just couldn’t do it for 2014 and now Chastain is on his own and searching to find his way.

“It doesn’t matter (what it is), I’m racing anything I can. It’s the same for everybody out there,” he said about his outlook. “I want to be able to represent the people that I need to represent the right way because there are some situations I don’t want to be a part of because of just how they do things.

“It’s a fine line you walk to make it in this sport and I don’t know the right line to walk and there are a thousand others in front of me. I’m just feeling my way along.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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