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NASCAR NEXT Driver Hailie Deegan Makes Transition to Asphalt

Hailie Deegan has carved out her own reputation in off road racing as the “Dirt Princess,” but now she’s making the transition to asphalt as she competes in late model events in North Carolina.

The 16-year-old from Temecula, California, who was named to the 2017 NASCAR NEXT class, recently began chasing pavement in various Super Late Model races. Teamed up with Bond Suss Racing, Deegan has already started having success – leading laps in a Fast Five Pro Late Model Series event at Southern National Motorsports Park in August.

“I raced a little bit of asphalt back in California, just a couple races in a slower Late Model car but these cars are pretty big and a lot faster,” Deegan told POPULAR SPEED. “I think I’m really good at setting fast lap times.  I need a little more work in being around people. In off road racing, where I come from, it’s all about passing people within one second. Here, it’s like, you could be trying to pass someone for 10 laps.

“It’s just a different type of racing which I’m still trying to learn.”

Hailie Deegan is the daughter of the off-road racing icon and X-Games legend Brian Deegan. In her own off-road career, she has already had success, becoming the first woman to win a race in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. While she has shifted gears, literally and figuratively, and is focusing on her asphalt mostly, she still competes off-road.

“My dad and me, we came from off road racing which I currently still race in,” Deegan remarked. “I race in the Pro Lite Class which is an all age open from 15-years-old on. So I’m racing that and asphalt.”

It’s the success she has already had, along with the desire to take on a new discipline, that made Deegan want to transition to asphalt racing.

“I think, in off-road, I’ve been doing really well and I ventured out seeing what else I could do that would make me that much better,” Deegan explained. “Coming to asphalt racing, it’s a whole new game for me. It’s a whole new thing I’m learning and so, I think, coming to asphalt, it will teach me a lot more abilities.”

At Southern National Motorsports Park, a NASCAR-sanctioned 4/10-mile oval in Lucama, North Carolina, Deegan immediately took a liking to the track.

“It reminds me of a track that I raced at back in California called Kern County,” Deegan commented. “It’s just a smaller version of that with the banking and the straightaways. It’s a little smaller than Kern County, but I’ve raced there, and it’s pretty similar, and I’m catching on pretty quick.”

Now that the teenager from California is starting to find her groove in asphalt racing, she has decided to make her career in NASCAR. Deegan is a member of the 2017-18 NASCAR NEXT class – a program initiated by NASCAR to shine the spotlight on up-and-coming racers competing in the developmental ranks.

“I’m looking more toward the pavement side because I think I can have a bigger, better career with that side,” Deegan elaborated. “I know off road will always be there. That’s where I started, and I love it, and I can always go back there.”

So far, though, things are going well as she’s already gotten media recognition Speed51.com, a short track media outlet owned and operated by Bob Dillner, recently said Deegan was the top female racing prospect in the nation in their annual Short Track Draft.  Despite the pressure from that and her last name, it does not seem to faze the poised and confident racer.

“I think, yes that has put pressure on me,” Deegan remarked. “But, I think pressure is good.  It makes me do better.”

Deegan is not the first driver to join the NASCAR ranks from the off-road racing world. Seven-time and defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion also started out in off-road before moving east and running ASA – logging his first laps in a late model at Southern National.

“I think I see all these other people coming into asphalt racing that came from dirt and they have these great abilities, being able to drive a loose car and being more aggressive,” Deegan stated. “So I think it’s definitely going to help me with my off road racing background, especially seeing that there’s been some competitive big names that have come from the same background.”

Along with racing in Super Late Models on the East Coast, Deegan, who is backed by Monster Energy and Toyota, recently tested in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series car for Bill McAnally Racing in Irwindale, California.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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

Texas, Not Las Vegas, Should Be Considered for NASCAR Championship Race

State legislators in Texas would like to see the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship decided at the Texas Motor Speedway, and it might not be a bad move.

Last week, the Texas State Legislature passed a bill that makes a proverbial championship race at Texas Motor Speedway, or the Monster Energy All-Star Race eligible for the state’s Major Events Reimbursement Program.  The program is used to help lure big events to the Lonestar state, such as the Super Bowl or the NCAA Final Four.

“They want to be able to go after those races, just like we try to court a Super Bowl or any other major sporting event,” Rep. Tan Parker, a Republican who represents the district Texas Motor Speedway is in, said in an Associated Press report. “They will immediately go after them as best they can, and this gives them a tool in their tool box to be aggressive when competing with other venues.”

The Cup Series championship race has been held at Homestead-Miami Speedway every year since 2002, but once in awhile, rumors circulate about the finale being moved.  Recently, there has been speculation about the event moving to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but it will remain in Homestead at least through the 2018 season.

However, if NASCAR does have intentions to move the finale elsewhere, Texas should be considered.  While the 1.5-mile oval might not produce the most exciting racing, the old saying “everything is bigger in Texas” might be right for a championship race in the Lone Star State.

The main reason I would like to see the finale in Texas is due to speedway promoter Eddie Gossage.

Gossage, who worked under Humpy Wheeler before assuming his role at Texas Motor Speedway when it opened in 1997, is known for bold advertising campaigns, spectacular pre-race shows and generating buzz.  And I, for one, would love to see what Gossage could do if he was gifted the opportunity to promote the championship race.

The racing may be procedural at Texas Motor Speedway, but the track is not much different to Atlanta Motor Speedway, which held the finale through 2001, and it is the same length as Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Despite being derided as “cookie cutters” by fans, holding the finale at an intermediate track makes logical sense since much of the schedule consists of those circuits.

Having the finale at a short track, road course or restrictor plate track would create a more entertaining race, but it would also be like holding the Stanley Cup Finals on a basketball court or the NBA Finals on a hockey rink.  The championship event, whether it remains at one venue or alternates like the Super Bowl, should be held at a track that resembles what is raced on throughout the majority of the season.

The Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) market has become one of America’s great sports towns and NASCAR racing has been a part of that.  They have hosted the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and the College Football championship game.  NASCAR should be next.

Why not?

Let Eddie Gossage have his fun, because it might be entertaining for all of us.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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

AJ Allmendinger Records Another Strong Martinsville Finish

AJ Allmendinger picked up his second top-10 finish of 2017 in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, his third consecutive at the half-mile.

The driver of the No. 47 started 30th and methodically raced his way into contention, recording a sixth-place finish. After the event, Allmendinger attributed his success to his road course background.

“It’s for sure a little bit like road course racing,” Allmendiner told POPULAR SPEED. “I just think driver can make a bit more of a difference here.  You know, get to the mile-and-a-half, two mile racetracks, aero is a lot of it.  That’s something we’re continuously working on.  We worked hard on the west coast swing.  We learned a lot.  Finishes didn’t show it but felt like we learned a lot aero-wise for those bigger racetracks.  Coming here, it’s just about, got to have a good car.  This car was freaking hooked up.  Once we got it right, long runs, it was just an awesome racecar.”

Allmendinger added this was the first race back for crew chief Randall Burnett, who got suspended for three races due to a lug nut violation at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“Can’t thank everyone at Kroger, Click List, all of our associates, everybody at the shop, Randall Burnett, have him back after the suspension,” he added.  “I wish we would have stayed green for about 120 laps because I think I could have ate these guys alive.  All in all, solid day.”

While he leaves Martinsville pleased, Allmendinger feels there is still work to be done before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway.

“Texas is so different, brand new racetrack now,” Allmendinger stated.  “More aero-dependent.  We’ve got to work on it.  These Cup races, they’re hard to have great runs in.  So, any time you can have a great run, especially after the west coast swing, the penalty, all that, any time you get a good run, it’s important.”

Allmendinger unofficially sits 26th in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points after Sunday’s STP 500.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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

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Trucks

Brandon Brown Hoping for Strong Martinsville Run

Martinsville Speedway is a home race for Brandon Brown in a sense and he’s hoping for a strong showing in Saturday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250.

The Woodbridge, Virginia native will be making his third Martinsville appearance and 22nd NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start on Saturday. He had a fast truck in Friday’s lone practice session, posting a lap of 20.721 seconds on scuff tires.

“I feel really good about this weekend,” Brown told Popular Speed.  “We brought the backup truck that I always call Wise.  It’s got a lot of experience.  It’s a little older truck but it still holds its own.  That was shown yesterday in practice.  The first run out of the gate, the first 28 cars, we were sitting seventh for quite some time.  Fighting there in the top-10.  Our timesheet didn’t show what the truck had because we never mocked up for a sticker run like a lot of the other drivers did so, I think we ended up 24th overall on the timesheet.

“We were consistently running where a lot of people were setting their fast laps and I think that’s going to be crucial today, especially with the really long final segment, trying to squeeze out everything you can, staying out as late as you can fuel wise and tire wise to try to get a chance to take home some checkers.”

Along with a quick truck, Brown has a lot of support after a social media campaign kicked off during the week.  The Twitter handles for 680 fans are represented on the bed of his No. 44 Brandonbilt Motorsports truck.

“We did a huge push this week on social media,” Brown explained.  “Honestly, we started the tweets and all our social media really because we were doing a fundraiser for Relay for Life.  We were trying to build a little bit of a following on the page so we decided that it was time to give back to the fans and really show some love since they’re showing love for us.  So, we decided that we would draw a lucky handful of names out of people who retweeted and favorited and followed our page and a lucky 680 names were picked and are laid across the bed of the truck this weekend.

“It really blew up huge.  We had a couple big names who supported it.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr. retweeted it, Michael Waltrip, Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.  A couple big Twitter accounts helped on that push.  I’d like to thank them.  Other than that, it was great to get a lot of great feedback and responses on that.”

Brown has run periodically in the Truck Series for the past three seasons, with a career best finish to-date of fourth last February at Daytona.  He is also running some NASCAR XFINITY Series events, with a best finish of 23rd in four starts.

“We’re definitely looking to start running XFINITY now,” Brown said.  “The truck efforts have been really good and it’s been really fun but the goal is to eventually move out so we’re just starting out part-time with one car.  We’re partnered up with King Autosport and Mario Gosselin this year to try and make some starts, get some seat time, race against the drivers, feel it out, feel out the series and what it would take.  I think we’ve been really successful with that so far with Atlanta this season but we’re getting ready and preparing for Richmond International Raceway which is another home Virginia track for us.

The XFINITY effort won’t take Brown away from trucks, though, with plans for more races.

“I know our next actual race we’re going to run is Charlotte in the trucks,” Brown remarked.  “We do have a test session coming up at Charlotte which I’m excited about because it will be our first time getting to go out and just test, feel things out and study.  Really looking forward to that and building into a program that could possibly turn into full time.”

Beyond NASCAR, Brown hopes to return to Martinsville for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, an event he has attempted four times previously. As of now, he has not found an open seat, despite past success at Old Dominion Speedway and Southern National Motorsports Park, but is still hoping to compete in the $25,000-to-win race.

“I was really trying to,” Brown commented.  “I was reaching out to a lot of people to see if anybody had an open seat.  It’s hard, everyone wants to be out here because now it’s going to be run under the lights which is huge, it’s historic for this track, so I think everybody’s that’s anybody is going to be here.  I’m still holding out hope that there’s a possibility that we can get into it.  I guess we’ll really see who has an open seat.”

The Alpha Energy Solutions at Martinsville Speedway will go green at 3pm EST and can be seen live on Fox and Fox Sports Go.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andy.marquis@popularspeed.com

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

Past Results Give Danica Patrick Optimism at Martinsville

Danica Patrick is hoping to get her season back on track, and Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway may be the best opportunity to do so.

Martinsville Speedway has consistently been one of Patrick’s best tracks in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  The 35-year-old, who is in her fifth full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, has scored four top-20 finishes and one top-10 in eight starts at the half-mile track.

Patrick, who began her foray into NASCAR racing back in 2010, believes Martinsville suits her because the tight confines are similar to road course racing.

“I came from road course racing and I feel like you have to set passes up a little bit like that,” Patrick said.  “I think it’s also a track that you have to exercise a lot of discipline.  It’s easy to make mistakes.  It’s easy to overdrive or overdrive when trying to get a little more when you’re passing somebody and make mistakes.  Those are the two things I keep in mind when I’m there, but you need a good car too and Stewart-Haas has always had good cars there.”

While Martinsville has been good to Patrick over the years, she does recognize that it presents its own set of challenges.  Patrick elaborated in an interview with Fox Sports last year.

“Martinsville, like any short track, you want to make sure you turn the center but you have to have drive on exit and they go hand-in-hand too,” Patrick explained.  “I mean, if you can’t turn in the center, it doesn’t matter what kind of power down you have.  If you have all that wheel in it when you’re trying to get off the corner with the power down, it puts a lot of load on those back tires to try to get you off the corner because you’re using the power to try and turn.  It’s about achieving a good balance with the car.  I feel like our team has always done a pretty good job with that.”

Patrick says her favorite thing about Martinsville is being able to set up and make passes on her competitors.

“At Martinsville, I enjoy that, if you have a good car, you can pass,” Patrick elaborated.  “I always say that Martinsville’s one of those tracks that you’re either looking out the windshield or looking in your rear-view mirror.  It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of in-between at least for me there.  So, luckily, I’ve had more races that I’m looking out the windshield.”

When the season started, Patrick was optimistic about improving and becoming a consistent top-15 driver and potentially challenge for wins.  The Stewart-Haas team underwent a radical change in the offseason when they went from running Chevrolet to running Ford; however, that change was welcomed by Patrick.

“The goal is to do better all the time and hopefully some of the things that have changed within in our team, the big one being the changeover to Ford, will open up some opportunities and possibilities and just some pure potential for the team and we can improve,” Patrick remarked.  “Hopefully, there is more room to improve now, so that’s kind of exciting to me.  I’m optimistic and hopefully it will be something that makes a difference.”

Patrick feels running up inside the top-15 throughout the season is a realistic goal.  The veteran racer hopes she and her team can continue to improve throughout the season and work their way into the top-10.

“I think if you’re in the top-15 every weekend, then you do a little bit better and then you’re in the top-10 and then, once you’re in the top-10 with good pit stops, good strategy and all the things that play into it – some of the new formats for the races can play into segment wins – so I think it’s important to be realistic.  So, to tell you to go out and win races and segments is not something I necessarily think is going to happen right away, but we’ll assess.  We’ll assess how strong we are as a team.  A few years back, we were really strong and I felt like that’s where I was running by the end of the year, was up in the top-15 and getting into the top-10, so hopefully we can get back to that and work from there.”

Patrick’s season started on a high note, scoring points in two stages at the Daytona 500 before getting swept up in an accident in the early laps of the third stage of the race.  She scored a 17th place finish in Atlanta but finishes of 36th, 22nd, and 26th in the West Coast Swing have knocked her down to 29th in points.

Martinsville could be the race that puts Patrick’s season back on track.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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

Timothy Peters Carries Confidence to Martinsville

Martinsville Speedway is a home race for Timothy Peters, and the 36-year-old veteran sees the half-mile track as a perfect opportunity to snap a winless drought dating back to November 2015.

Peters enters Saturday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville sixth in points after finishing 17th at Daytona and a ninth at Atlanta.  This weekend, he heads to the site of his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory with a new truck and renewed optimism.

“I feel really good about our chances,” Peters told POPULAR SPEED.  “We’re bringing a brand new truck out of the Red Horse stable.  Excited to get on the racetrack.  Hopefully Mother Nature ill hold off.  I love short track racing, it’s what I grew up on.  Every time we go back to Martinsville, it puts a smile on my face.”

Martinsville has been good to Peters over the years.  Along with a victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series back in 2009, Peters is also a former winner of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 – Martinsville Speedway’s annual Late Model Stock Car fall classic.

When Peters won at Martinsville in 2005, it was his goal at the time to get to where he is now, racing professionally full-time in one of NASCAR’s top three touring series.

“That was the goal,” Peters recalled.  “You always have dreams to race professionally full time.  I had a lot of people make that happen for me throughout my racing career, a lot of people.  The list goes on and on and on.  If it wasn’t for Mac and Steven Bailey with S&M brands, when they were heavily involved, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”

In his Late Model Stock Car career, Peters won championships at South Boston Speedway in Virginia and Orange County Speedway in North Carolina.  While he is now one of the biggest names in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he has not forgotten his roots and still feels passionate about Late Model Stock Car racing.

Last season, he won a CARS Tour race at Orange County and, in 2015, he dueled Tommy Lemons, Jr. for the win in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville.

“I’m rooted deep into Late Model Stock Car racing and I love it,” Peters explained.  “A lot of the guys I raced with several years ago, I’m able to catch up and race with them again.  They are fierce competitors and deserve to be where I’m at but circumstances, they haven’t got there for whatever reason.  I enjoy going back and racing against tough competition.”

Peters still helps out the Nelson Motorsports team, which fields cars driven by up-and-comers Brandon Pierce and Bobby McCarty at South Boston Speedway. Occasionally, Peters shows up to compete himself, which he says helps keep him in good shape.

“I’m passionate about LMSC racing, I’m heavily involved with Nelson Motorsports,” Peters continued.  “We have two great drivers with Pierce and McCarty.  It puts a smile on my face to see both of these guys racing well and racing for wins.  I try to go back as much as I can when we have breaks in the first part of the schedule.  It keeps me in good shape and helps me evaluate the program so I can help them in the future.”

Peters was in contention for his second ValleyStar Credit Union 300 victory in 2015 but, instead of scoring the win, he ended up crashing into the inside SAFER barrier on the frontstretch.  Fortunately, Peters walked away from one of the most violent crashes of his career thanks to the safety improvements made to the cars and at the tracks.

Safety continues to be at the forefront of NASCAR racing after a concussion sidelined Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for much of the 2016 season.

“There’s no price on safety so, obviously, that was a pretty hard hit I took a couple years ago that I took,” Peters recalled.  “They built me a safe racecar, the guys mounted the seat properly.  I was a little sore but things happen.  They don’t call it racing or nothing.  You can’t stop improving on safety but it’s a lot more advanced than it was 20 years ago.”

This weekend, Peters is hoping to clinch a spot in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff with a victory.  A win on Saturday would be his first win since November 13, 2015, when he won a race at Phoenix International Raceway.

“Everybody at Red Horse has been working on our Tundras,” Peters remarked.  “Our owner, Tom DeLoach, has invested heavily in our equipment.  Not to say our equipment isn’t good, because it is, but we want to make it better so we’re one up on our competition.  We took a new truck to Atlanta.  We want to get back to victory lane and bring that championship home to Red Horse.”

While Peters has yet to score a victory in 2017, he is satisfied with the performance of the Red Horse Racing team so far.  He found himself in contention for the win in the season opener at Daytona back in February before getting swept up in the last lap crash.  He was able to rebound at Atlanta a week later, recovering from a pit road miscue to score a top-10 finish.

“Atlanta, we ended up ninth,” Peters commented.  “We were very, we had great potential for a top-five but had to come in and put a lug nut back on.  Daytona, it doesn’t get better than that.  You’re running second or third when you come across the line for the white flag and feel like you’re in good position.  We got caught up in that wreck coming out of two.  Our season is going good, we need it to be a little better.”

With his season going on the right track, Peters is now hoping to score his first win of 2017 in front of his hometown crowd at Martinsville Speedway.

Saturday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250, the third race in the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series campaign, will commence at 3pm.  The race will be broadcast live on the Fox television network and can be streamed live on the Fox Sports GO app.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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
Commentary

MARQUIS: Stewart’s Win Shows Chase Needs Tweaks

Tony Stewart’s popular Sonoma victory may have likely punched the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion’s ticket to the Chase. This would mark the second consecutive year a driver has missed numerous races and made the Chase.

When NASCAR announced the current Chase format before 2014, much to the dismay of a large segment of the fan base, they included a requirement that, to be Chase-eligible, drivers must attempt to run every race.  However, NASCAR included a medical waiver rule protecting competitors in the event they miss at least one race due to injury or other medical reasons.

Last season, after missing 11 races, or nearly half of the regular season due to an injury at Daytona, Kyle Busch raced his way into the Chase and went on to win the championship — the most controversial championship result in NASCAR racing since 1990.

Now, after winning at the same track Kyle Busch got his first win of 2015, Tony Stewart sits just nine points out of 30th place.

Stewart is likely going to make up the points. He’s managed to race his way to 31st  in eight races with just one win and three top-10 finishes. When Stewart was granted a waiver, very few people thought Stewart would be able to race his way into the Chase because of the veteran’s struggles over the past few years.

NASCAR’s new playoff has generated plenty of drama and excitement but has done so at the expense of the sport’s credibility. Traditionalists had a hard time accepting championships won under the old Chase format and an even harder time accepting Kyle Busch’s championship triumph.

Consider this: Kyle Busch wouldn’t have even had any sort of mathematical hope of winning the 2015 championship under any other championship format used in NASCAR’s 68-year history.

There are better solutions that protect the sport’s integrity, as well as the racers.

The requirement that racers must run every week is one requirement that could be done away with itself. After all, NASCAR’s playoff was designed to create “Game 7” moments and be much like the playoffs in football, baseball, basketball and hockey. In those other sports, teams that have performed exceptionally well and clinch a playoff berth early are rewarded with a “first round bye.”

NASCAR is obviously concerned with the idea that marquee names, such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Chase Elliott, might clinch a Chase berth and elect to sit out Richmond, but it is a risk NASCAR, and ticket holders, should accept. Besides, if the Carolina Panthers clinch a playoff berth and I have tickets to the Panthers’ final regular season game, it’s very possible I won’t be seeing Cameron Newton take the field.

If a driver has run strong enough to mathematically lock themselves into the Chase, they deserve to be rewarded with an off week or two. Doing away with the requirement that drivers run every race, and possibly only require a minimum number of race attempts, would also do away with the concerns of missing the Chase due to injury.

If NASCAR is concerned about it being too easy to make the Chase, as Tony Stewart has proven may just be the case, they should also tighten up the requirements a little bit more to reward consistency and make it harder to miss races.

As popular as a Tony Stewart championship would be, the idea of Stewart winning this year’s championship over Martin Truex, Jr. or Kyle Busch would again challenge the sport’s integrity.

NASCAR could decide next year to do away with Chase waivers altogether, but how fair would that be to other racers after Kyle Busch’s championship and Tony Stewart’s seemingly inevitable Chase berth? On the other hand, how fair is it to make Kevin Harvick run every race?

NASCAR has opened Pandora’s Box and now it’s time to close it and look for other solutions to protect the competitors, the fans and the sport’s integrity as a whole.

Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart’s comeback stories are both popular, and incredible. Neither story needed a Chase waiver.

 

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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

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Trucks

Sauter Miffed After Last Lap Crash with Rhodes

It appeared Johnny Sauter had the victory in hand when the field took the white flag in the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. However, his fate changed when he and Ben Rhodes got together on the final lap.

The last-lap incident in Turn 3 relegated Sauter from a possible victory to a 16th-place finish. Sauter was leading the race, but Rhodes gained ground on the backstretch and had a run entering the corner. Sauter tried to defend the position and the two made contact, sending both cars into the wall and allowing William Byron to retake the lead and score the victory under caution.

After the race, Sauter was displeased with the 19-year-old Truck Series rookie.

“Just got ran over by a bozo, I guess,” Sauter said after the race in an interview with Fox Sports. “I don’t know if the kid is brain dead or he can’t see. Our truck was really good. We had to start at the back and made our way to the front. We had to come back from the back again just how the pit stops worked out. It was fun to drive, but it’s unfortunate that you can’t race like you want to.”

Sauter had to start at the rear due to an unapproved change on his truck and raced his way up through the field and into the top five. After a single truck spin set up an overtime finish, Byron didn’t get up to speed, so Sauter took over and led up until the last-lap entanglement.

The 16th-place finish is the third consecutive disappointing finish for Sauter. Since his victory at Daytona in February, the veteran driver has failed to finish inside the top 10 and has an average finish of 19.2 in 2016.

Rhodes, who was also displaced from a top-five finish, finished 18th. After starting the season with a seventh-place finish at Daytona and a sixth-place showing at Atlanta, he scored the pole at Martinsville in April, but ended up finishing 16th.

“From my perspective, Johnny (Sauter) came down the track to block me on the straightaway,” Rhodes said after the race. “So I was up high, and then he started coming back up, and left the bottom open, which the replay doesn’t do it justice from where I was sitting. He started coming back down, blocking again, and at that time I was wanting to check up, but I got on the brakes and it got a little loose on me, so I was just where I was at. I feel bad for Johnny as well.

“Rookie mistake on my part, I should have known he was going to come down and block me again. He was trying to block me on the high side, and came back down once I moved to the bottom, and I should have just stuck it on the top and run it wide open to see if I could have got a good finish. We really need the points right now. It’s just disappointing. We had a shot to win it, and I just wanted to take it because the chase format is so hard to get into, because the competition is so tough. I hate it for my guys though, I’m really disappointed with the finish.”

Both Sauter and Rhodes will return to action when the Camping World Truck Series races on Friday, May 13th at Dover International Speedway.

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
Home Tracks

Bristol Victory the Opportunity Finchum Was Waiting For

Three years ago, Chad Finchum was chasing a Late Model championship at Kingsport Speedway in Tennessee. Now, he’s the latest surprise winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and is enjoying the opportunity he’s been waiting for.

Finchum scored the victory driving for Martin McClure Racing at Bristol Motor Speedway last Saturday in dominating fashion. For those who had never seen him race, it was a surprise. For those who had, it was a joyous occasion.

So, who is he?

Finchum, 21, from Knoxville, Tennessee has won two NASCAR Whelen All-American Series (NWAAS) track championships, the first at Kingsport Speedway in Kingsport, Tennessee in 2013 and the second at nearby Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Virginia the following year.  In that time, and the years since, Finchum has also made a handful of appearances in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and, with the help of his father, James, has hoped to make the big time.

“I’ve been racing off and on in K&N for quite some time,” Finchum said in an interview with POPULAR SPEED.  “I think I’ve done 10 starts and my best finish was seventh and I backed that up two or three times but I couldn’t get to the win.

“Martin McClure Racing called me a month ago and said they wanted me to drive for them, this is what we want to do and what we have to offer.  They have a really nice program going. It showed at Bristol.”

It was more than just a victory for Finchum.  It was a hometown win, enjoyed before a familiar audience, at a track similar to his home track at Kingsport.

“I think any venue would be awesome but for it to be at Bristol and my home track, yeah, it was that much better,” Finchum remarked.  “That’s another thing. Kingsport has a lot of similarities to Bristol in the surface of the track. Kingsport’s concrete, Bristol’s concrete. They’re both short tracks.

“I kind of had a good idea from the morning, to peak of the day to late in the evening, I already knew what the track was going to do based off my notes at Kingsport and I think that played a huge role in getting the win.”

Finchum’s Bristol win came weeks after scoring the victory at Kingsport Speedway’s season opener back in March and, while he may be a former track champion, any win there is earned. The 3/8-mile concrete track, known as “The Concrete Jungle,” is one of the toughest tracks in Late Model Stock Car racing because of the surface, as well as the configuration, rules and the level of competition.

“As far as NASCAR Home Tracks and the NWAAS is concerned, I think Kingsport’s’ one of the toughest Late Model tracks,” Finchum explained.  “I say that because it’s a tough to get around; it’s concrete; it’s a wide track but there’s not really two grooves. It’s a tight cornered track that you have to finesse to get around people.

“I think the way they’ve got the shock rule and the two tire rule throws a big curveball at people. Everybody’s on the exact same shock and it really, Kingsport racing is close in the Late Model NWAAS, Kingsport is the closest to the old style racing.  It levels the playing field.

“I think being there since 2013 and running there weekly and testing up there, I think has brought my knowledge so far. I think that played a huge role in the win at Bristol. I actually learned something at Bristol. Someone told me the same company that paved Kingsport paved Bristol so it makes it that much more similar.”

Finchum’s victory at Bristol, which he credits his knowledge of Kingsport for, also gives him confidence heading into Dover later this year as well as other tracks.

“I’ve got other races on the schedule with McClure, one being Dover which is a bigger Bristol,” he said. “I think you’ll see a lot of the best from this team this year in the tracks we go to.”

Along with Kingsport and Lonesome Pine, Finchum had success at other tracks as well in his Late Model career with strong runs at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia and winning the pole in 2013 for Late Model Stock Car racing’s biggest race, the Valley Star Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway.

Finchum is hoping to add more victories this season, not just in K&N but in Late Models as well. During off weekends, he will compete at other tracks, such as Hickory Motor Speedway in Newton, North Carolina and Motor Mile.

“That’s something we’re looking to continue on in the 2016 season as well,” he said. “Because I’m running the K&N Series, some of the races conflict with Kingsport so we can’t compete for points so there’s no point in running there every week anyway.

“We’ll see if we can’t put trophies on the shelf from various tracks. I want to start a collection, so that’s our secondary goal besides running K&N.”

Finchum joins fellow Late Model Stock Car graduates Todd Gilliland, William Byron and Dillon Bassett as recent winners in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

“I’m really glad that Late Model short track driver got up there to beat the K&N drivers,” he said. “I think that’s great for the Whelen All-American Series.”

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
XFINITY

Gaulding Takes Next Step with Roush Fenway Racing

NASCAR Next driver Gray Gaulding’s lifelong journey will take him up to the XFINITY Series in August when he makes his series debut for Roush-Fenway Racing.

Gaulding has raced his way through the ranks from Bandoleros to Late Models to Trucks. Las week, the 18-year-old from Colonial Heights, Virginia signed a deal to run at least two XFINITY races with Roush.

“This is a really good opportunity,” Gaulding said in an interview with POPULAR SPEED.  “Especially to being able to sign with Roush Fenway Racing is really cool.  I’ve looked up to Jack [Roush] and his entire organization my entire racing career.  He’s a legend in this sport. To race for him is a true honor.”

As of now, Gaulding will make two appearances for Roush-Fenway, his first at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in August and his second at his home track at Richmond International Raceway in September.

Additional races could be added for Gaulding.

“Richmond is my home track and Bristol is my favorite track,” Gaulding remarked.  “Those two are good for me. Those two probably won’t be the only ones. Roush Fenway, their marketing team is getting everything figured out to search for more partners to get me into more races.

“I’m not sure which other ones I’ll do. For sure, Richmond and Bristol. I love running Bristol. Most fun race I have is going there.  Going to Richmond is cool because it’s like a homecoming for me. All the kids I went to school with, my friends and family come out to the races to support me. That’s one race I always circle to win.”

Something that both tracks provide for Gaulding is familiarity. Gaulding has raced in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at both Bristol and Richmond and has also raced a Late Model Stock Car at Richmond.

“It’s really important to have laps at a track you’re going to go to in a different car and motor,” Gaulding stated.  “I should’ve won the K&N race there in 2013. That’s where I broke Chase Elliott’s record for youngest pole sitter. Going there and having laps, knowing grooves. I’ve been studying last year’s race to see if it gets loose or tight. Having laps at Richmond means a lot but it’s a different vehicle with a different feel.

“I’m looking forward to strapping in and hopefully going out and making some noise.”

Like many before him, Gaulding started out in Bandoleros, then moved to Legends cars before progressing to Late Models and eventually the NASAR K&N Pro Series. Where Gauding has stood out his entire career is that he’s raced in every level at the youngest minimum age.

Gaulding was the youngest driver to ever win a race in the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Model Series when he won at Wake County Speedway in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2011.  In 2013, he became the youngest driver to win a pole in the K&N Pro Series at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida and then became the youngest race winner in series history at Phoenix International Raceway.

However, when Gaulding started racing, NASCAR wasn’t where he envisioned he would be.

“When I grew up racing, I started racing motorcycles and saw my future in motorcycles,” Gaulding commented.  “When I turned nine, got a Bandolero and won my first race. That got me hooked up in stock cars and that’s where I wanted to be, running NASCAR.

“I’ve won in Legends, I’ve won championships in Legends and Bandoleros. Once you get in the 12-14 age, start to get older, some kids are just getting out of Legends cars at 12, 13.  Just to know I signed with Kevin Harvick and was racing in a 700hp Super Late Model.  That’s insane looking back now.”

As Gaulding progressed as a driver, so did his career.  Instead of dominating at one track in one style of racecars, his father, Dwayne, brought him up to the next level when he was ready.

“My parents always moved me up when I was ready to move up. I never stayed in something and consistently dominated. What’s the point of staying?  I raced bigger, better, older competition like Jay Fogleman, guys who cut their teeth racing on short tracks. Every level I’ve raced in, I’ve raced at the highest level for my age.”

After racing in Super Late Models, the next step for Gaulding’s career was the K&N Pro Series, which would prepare him to race in the Camping World Truck Series. Even when he moved up into the K&N Series and the Truck Series, he was still the young buck.

“Once I moved out of Super Late Models and into K&N and Trucks, the competition was better and I was still the young buck. Every level, I’ve been the young guy coming in,” he said. “I think it’s been fine with me and I’ve really enjoyed it because the competition is so stiff and I’ve learned so much racing those guys who been in that level longer than I have.

“In Trucks, racing against Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, racing with them is really cool. Racing with them at 16. Who would’ve thought I’d be in the top levels at 16?”

It was five years ago when Gaulding was racing Super Late Model.  For Gaulding, those five years seem so short.

“I just turned 18 and I’ll be running for Roush Fenway in a few months. Lots have been going on, been very fast,” he said. “Seems like just yesterday I got in K&N and I’ll be strapping in an XFINITY car. I learned a lot and can’t wait to strap in at Bristol.”

Racing doesn’t just require talent but also requires money so, while he works hard on the track, he works just as hard off the track to get sponsorship and funding to compete.  Gaulding’s marketability, however, has made him the target of criticism by some in racing who disparagingly call him a “rich kid.” That doesn’t matter to Gaulding because he gets respect from his peers where it matters – on the track.

“I think, those guys give me respect because they know I’m fast, I’m a competitor,” Gaulding explained.  “I’m not just making laps and in the way.  When I get in the car, my goal is to win the race, to be there when it counts. I haven’t had many people call me a ‘rich kid’ because, if they know me, they know me and my family came from nothing.

“We work our guts off to get where we are. People who say I’m a rich kid or whatever, they don’t know me because we’ve worked countless hours and time and effort has gone into be being where I am now. A lot of work and effort has got me to this point.”

Gaulding has held the help of his father, 43-year-old Dwayne Gaulding, but the elder Gaulding said it’s Gray’s hard work that deserves the credit.

“It’s just been amazing,” Dwayne Gaulding said. “I’ll be honest. I’d love to take credit but I’ve got to give it to Gray. That kid has wanted to work day in and day out to make it happen. I’d get discouraged at time because racing is a tough sport especially with kids paying for rides.

“I’ve said, the day you quit working is the day you quit racing. He said he wants to associate with the right company and right team. The kid set out and we’ve worked very hard. He’s had many meetings with lots of teams. The Roush team has treated us like gold. It’s been an amazing journey so far and just a short one.”

No matter how far Gray Gaulding gets, whether it’s just XFINITY or Cup, he knows he can look back and say it was hard work that got him there.

“When we can look back at this and know we worked our tails off to get this deal, with our partners like Krispy Kreme and Ford and so many people supporting me… at the end of the day, we know hard work is what pays off,” he said.

“Every series I’ve run in, I’ve gained respect with the guys and I’ve always been the young guy, very aggressive. I know when to be aggressive when it counts and when to be smart and that’s where I get respect the most.”

Containing aggression is one of the key things Gaulding has had to learn throughout his career. When he made his K&N Pro Series debut at Daytona in 2013, he got a little too aggressive while leading on the final lap which prevented him from scoring the victory.

“I spun Michael Self going into turn one, not intentional, in the moment kind of deal,” Gaulding said.  “Drove in too deep, spun him out, going into turn three, blew the corner and, I laugh about it now because I had a five car lead and could’ve broke early and still made it. I hate I gave one away. I was just a rascal that didn’t know a ton about the car. If I knew what I know now and could go back in time, I wouldn’t make that dumb mistake.

“Finished second, great first outing but I know not to do something that stupid and learned from it.”

The race at Daytona, which was held on a temporary 4/10-mile course setup along the Daytona Superstretch, was Gaulding’s introduction to primetime. It was a race at Daytona, it was nationally televised on SPEED (now FS1) and it was his K&N debut.

“That was a really cool moment for me,” Gaulding explained.  “What’s funny was my birthday was five days before that race so I just barely made the cutoff to run that race. It’s Daytona. Live on TV. NASCAR.

“Everybody’s watching and I drove every lap like it was my last. Daytona’s so special to me as a driver as it is to every driver. Everybody wants to win there. I cut my teeth in that race. Started eighth or ninth and moved to the front.”

Off the track, Gaulding’s personality is attractive to fans, sponsors and the media. Gaulding is charismatic without being ‘vanilla’.  One instance of his down-to-earth personality was displayed during an interview with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie in 2013 when he flirted with the Fox Sports reporter.  That moment is something Gaulding says people still talk to him about to this day.

Dwayne Gaulding says he wishes every parent could spend time with his son or have a son like Gray.

“I wish every parent had an opportunity to be with Gray Gaulding because they would cherish what being a parent is about,” the elder Gaulding said.  “I’m just thankful to God every day I have great kids like Gray, McCall and Kennedy that any parent could spend six weeks with.  It’s been an honor.”

Already this season, Gaulding has made a start in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards at Daytona, scoring a ninth place finish.