Categories
Trucks

Poole’s Part-Time Effort Strives In Vegas

LAS VEGAS — For Brennan Poole, the year has not been what he expected.

After starting the season with a full-time ride with On Point Motorsports, the ride quickly turned into a part-time effort, eliminating them from championship contention.

“Well we want to be a full-time team,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “That was our goal at the beginning of this season. I think, yeah, we had to take a look at our program. Where it was at, at the beginning of the year. We were a little thin on some people. We weren’t quite organized. We needed to take a minute to work on our stuff and make it better. I think all in all that’s been a good decision for us.”

It has not been all negatives for him and the team though, as they have proven to be competitive in the efforts they have made. This was on full display during Friday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Poole was able to capture the team’s fourth top-10 with a sixth-place finish.

“I mean it’s big for our team. We’ve worked on our stuff this year and we continue to get better. I think we learned some stuff this weekend,” Poole said. “We were a little bit nervous about it, after practice and qualifying we weren’t sure how fast we would be. We felt like a long run would be all right, but short run speed we were a little nervous about. But tonight, we had everything. We were really good on restarts. The truck was solid in traffic and stayed with me on the long runs. I felt like we had a good shot to run in the top five tonight. We were just missing maybe just a little bit of balance, between both ends of the racetrack, to get up there and battle for the win.”

He also noted that team could have been even better. You see, the No. 30 was saving a set of tires, hoping for another caution that would never be.

“16, and the 4, and some of those guys, they got in front of us. They put tires on and they were just, tires were a lot better tonight than what we had on our truck,” Poole said. “But. all in all, I’m happy. I’m looking forward to going to Talladega before too long. It should be a good one.”

Heading to Talladega, Poole will hope to show strength again at a track he nearly captured an Xfinity Series win at.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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

ASHLEY ASKS…… Brennan Poole

After three seasons of NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, Brennan Poole is running the full NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series schedule for a new team, On Point Motorsports.

The most recent for the trucks, the Vankor 350 at Texas Motor Speedway, played witness to Poole’s first top-10 result as he placed ninth in the final results. The Lone Star native recently spoke to POPULAR SPEED about the team’s success, as well as outlook moving forward.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on the season to date?

BRENNAN POOLE: It’s been pretty good. We’ve had some things at the beginning of the year not go our way through the first four races. But, we had a pretty good run at Texas and getting that top-10, I really think has given us some momentum going into this month-long break that we have in the truck series.

I feel pretty good and excited about getting to Dover coming up here soon. We just have to keep working on our trucks, and making them better, and finding more speed, which I think everybody on our team has been working hard to do. If we can continue to have some things go our way like they did at Texas, we’ll be in good shape.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Kind of started out with the crash at Daytona, and then the 13th at Atlanta wasn’t too terrible, but we didn’t get to qualify and had to start at the back so we were kind of coming from behind all night. So I felt like that race went okay for us. But after that, we just had issues. At Vegas, we had a really good truck and had a fuel pick-up issue which cost us a top-10 issue there, and then at Martinsville, we had the engine lose the cylinder two laps into the race which just killed our day.

But Texas was a good weekend for us. I think we have a lot of momentum heading to Dover, so I’m just looking forward to getting to the next race and seeing where we’re at.

PS: Based on the start of the year, what do you feel you and the team need to do better moving forward?

BRENNAN: Well, I think just a little bit better communication between me and my guys, because we’re just really learning this truck together. Everybody on our team has Cup and Xfinity experience, but it’s the first time working on the truck so we’re just learning it together. I don’t have a whole lot of truck experience. This is my first year in the truck, so we are all just trying to work together and figure out what exactly we’re looking for to create speed and build longevity in for the race.

It’s just about us getting a little bit more familiar with the trucks, and being able to communicate what we need to make the trucks go faster. But I think it just boils down to experience with each other, and just with working with the trucks, because it’s just a different deal. It’s definitely different than a lot of things I’ve driven over the years. So each week I’m learning new stuff, and the team is learning new stuff, and we’re just putting it together.

I think we’ve done a good job of making the trucks faster right from the start of the season. We qualified eighth at Las Vegas, which I thought was really strong. Then we qualified 13th at Texas and drove up into the top-five at one moment, and got some stage points with a ninth-place finish. So I think everything is going in the right direction, and we’re all excited about the direction that we’re going in. But I think it’s just experience in working together, as well as gaining experience with the truck.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

PS: Being the first full-year foray for On Point Motorsports, where have you set for the goals for this season?

BRENNAN: Well, we all have really high goals because we all have experience in motorsports, but we also understand that we have a lot to learn and build on. So our original goal was just to make the playoffs at the end of the year. We’re 13th in points right now, so we have a little bit to overcome. But I think it’s definitely a challenge that we all believe that we can do. So as the year goes on, we’re going to be able to put ourselves in a position to win a race and get ourselves locked into the playoffs.

We just have to keep working towards that goal. That’s what we’re trying to get to, and I think everybody is working hard to get accomplish that. We’ve been able to show that we have some speed in our trucks, but it’s about showing that we can put an entire race together and making sure our truck is good throughout the race and not making any mistakes, good pit stops, good restarts, and good strategy. All of those things have to come together, and I think with the experience through the season, we’ll be able to put ourselves in position to do that.

PS: You mentioned your excitement for Dover next month. What’s the biggest challenge of the Monster Mile?

BRENNAN: There’s a lot of different things. Dover has gotten a lot rougher over the years, so every time I go there, I try to focus on the bumps in turn three and four and getting through those bumps good. I also focus on carrying a lot of speed through the corner. Dover, to me, is all about how much throttle you can carry through the corner and not get tight. We call it the 5/8th mark of the corner, but as you get right in the middle and start to get off on exit, the car or truck starts to get tight in that spot, and I think the key is going to be being able to hold throttle through that part of the corner so you can carry a lot of speed.

Obviously, in the trucks, momentum is really important – even at Dover. When I’ve been there in the past in an Xfinity car, you’re not out of the gas very long; it’s just such a fast mile track and high-banked. One, it’s a lot of fun. It’s one of my favorite tracks that we go to, but it’s about making sure you can carry a lot of throttle through the corner and get through the bumps in turn three good and you can wrap the bottom of the corner to get off of it.

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

But I think we have a good game plan going into Dover. We’ve got a truck that we’ve been working on. It’s going to be a new truck for us, so I’m just excited to see the stuff that we’ve been working on and see if it pays off for us and see if we have a little bit more speed and see what we got.

PS: Beyond Dover, what track are you most excited to get to?

BRENNAN: Well, for me, we already raced Martinsville once and right off the bat, we had engine troubles in qualifying and ultimately ended up having it go down a cylinder right at the start of the race, so we didn’t really get to run that race. But all through practice, we were just super fast. We were in the top-five on averages for speed. I felt like we had a really good shot of going there and running up front, contending, and getting a good finish.

That one of kind of stunk for us because we had such a good truck. So I’m certainly looking forward to going back to that race because I feel good about potentially having a shot to win a race there. But fortunately we get to go there at the end of the year, so I’m really looking forward to that as it should be a good weekend for us.

But coming up short term, I really like Charlotte. It’s one of my best mile-and-a-halves in the Xfinity car, so I’m really looking forward to running that race in another month or so; I think that’s going to be another good one for us. But I really like a lot of tracks that we go to.

Obviously, the truck series gets to run that race at Eldora, which as a racer is an event that I’ve always wanted to run. I grew up racing dirt modifieds around Texas where I grew up, so I think it’s going to be cool. I’ve been to Eldora. I went there once while racing quarter midgets when I was 10-years-old, and watched the sprint cars ruin there, and I never would’ve thought that I’d go there and race. So I really think it’s going to be cool to go and do as I have some dirt experience. I think I am going to enjoy that race, and have fun and enjoy competing at that track. So that one is going to be cool, too.

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

PS: What track do you wish was on the Truck series schedule that currently isn’t?

BRENNAN: Well, fortunately next year it’s going to be on there, and that’s Richmond. Richmond has always been one of my favorite tracks that NASCAR goes to, period. I love that kind of flat worn out short track style racing. That’s one that I wish was there this year as I feel it’s a place that I really know how to get around. I go there and have a lot of confidence, knowing what I need in my car and have an understanding of what it’s going to take to compete. So I’m going to be looking forward to going there and competing there next year.

But I just like the flat short tracks. I think that’s what I like Martinsville, too. I got to race late model stocks when I was coming through the ranks and I just always enjoyed going there. There’s something about the flat short tracks that I enjoy.

PS: Speaking of the schedule, there’s been mixed thoughts from drivers and fans on the month-long break that we have in the truck series. What are your thoughts?

BRENNAN: I think the break can be good sometimes for teams, and sometimes be bad for certain teams. For us, we had a lot of momentum after Texas and we were all fired up after getting the top-10 and finally have things go our way in that race. Then we have a month break to just sit here and we’re like, “Dang,” as all of us are just wanting to go back to the race track. Sometimes it can also allow you to catch up on trucks that you’re working on, so I think it can be good in certain situations. But for me, I’m ready to go. I want to race as much as I can.

But next year, the schedule isn’t going to be as big as breaks as we’ve seen in the past and they’ve done a lot of cool things with it in adding some tracks to the schedule at different times. Certainly, everybody is really excited about running at Martinsville under the lights which I think is going to be just really neat. So I’m looking forward to all of those changes.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

But with the month break, it’s been kind of cool. We’ve been spending a lot of time together as a team working on our new trucks and getting prepared for when we go back racing with three in a row – Dover, Kansas, and Charlotte. It can be a good thing for a lot of teams, but it can be a bad thing especially when you have a lot of momentum and stuff on your side taking a month break.

PS: We’ve seen drivers trying different series and cars. What is on your bucket list to try?

BRENNAN: I mean, I obviously want to be a Cup driver as I’ve yet to run a Cup race yet. I know that’s not a super exciting answer, but I want to be a Cup driver. That’s my goal that I’m working towards all the time. My dream is to be able to one of those guys and to be competing at the highest level competitively. But if I’m talking about just doing some stuff for fun, I’d love to race an asphalt modified in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series.

Maybe I’ll have an opportunity to do some of that soon just for fun, and I’d love to go back and run some dirt cars. I raced dirt modifieds a lot and dirt late models from time to time, and I really enjoyed that style of racing. I always thought it’d be cool to go run a World of Outlaw Late Model race, or do something cool like that, because I think the dirt racing is so much fun and it’s just completely different. I’ve always kind of enjoyed doing something different like that.

I also want to try and run the 24 Hours of Daytona. Hopefully I can do that one time in my career. That’d be amazing. I always thought that race was really cool and special, and a privilege to be apart of.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick Loses Championship 4 Lock with Texas Penalty

Following the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway this past weekend, NASCAR handed down four separate penalties in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and Camping World Truck Series combined.

The No. 4 Ford of Kevin Harvick was found in violation of Section 20.4.12.a & b of the rule book, which pertains to rear spoiler of the car. The rule states, “vehicle spoiler must conform to the CAD file and drawing. Spoilers must be used exactly as supplied from the manufacturer.” 

As a result, crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $75,000, with both Childers and car chief Robert Smith suspended from the next two Cup Series events. Additionally, they lost 40 driver points and owner points, with the victory at Texas Motor Speedway no longer locking him into the Championship 4 or to be used in a tie-breaking scenario.

“It is not our desire to issue any penalties but will do so when necessary to ensure each race and championship is contested on a level playing field,” NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said.

Harvick will enter the final race of the Round of 8 ranked eighth on the grid, now three points above the cut-off line. 

Stewart-Haas Racing will not appeal the penalty, but rather focus efforts towards the final two races.

“We work tirelessly across every inch of our racecars to create speed and, unfortunately, NASCAR determined we ventured into an area not accommodated by its rule book,” SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli said Wednesday in a statement. “We will not appeal the penalty. Instead, we will direct our immediate focus to this weekend’s event in Phoenix and control our destiny on the race track.”

Additionally, the No. 12 Ford of Ryan Blaney was found in violation of Section 20.4.17.6.b of the rule book, which pertains to the crush panels. The rule states, “all filler panels must remain permanently attached for the entire event.”

As a result, crew chief Jeremy Bullins was fined $50,000, with car chief Kirk Almquist suspended from the next two Cup Series events, and a loss of 20 driver and owner points. 

Additionally, the No. 20 Toyota of Erik Jones was found in violation of Section 20.4.h & 20.4.17.8.b of the rule book, which pertains to the package tray. The rule states, “air cannot pass from one area of the vehicle interior to another. Vehicle package tray must remain flat and straight, front to back, with one break.”

As a result, crew chief Chris Gayle was fined $50,000, with car chief Jason Overstreet suspended from the next two Cup Series events, and a loss of 20 driver and owner points.

Additionally, the No. 35 truck of Brennan Poole was found in violation of Section 20.3.4 of the rule book, which pertains to the Ballast Containers. The rule states, “loss or separation of added ballast from the vehicle.”

As a result, crew chief Ryan Bell, truck chief Jerry Kennedy, and mechanic Patrick Magee have been suspended for the next three Truck races, which includes the 2019 season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

XFINITY Series: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here is a peek at Dover through Phoenix.

First Time Winners

With a championship on the line as the playoffs heated up, the competition intensified as the series now has had 12 different winners in the last 12 races.

Ryan Blaney started off the stretch, breaking through for his first win of the season at Dover International Speedway after coming close all season long. Then, Alex Bowman scored his first career victory for Chip Ganassi Racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Joe Gibbs Racing won the next two races, with Christopher Bell scoring his first career win after a thrilling battle with teammate Erik Jones at Kansas Speedway, followed by Jones being victorious at Texas Motor Speedway.

Wiliam Byron capped off the stretch with his third win of 2017 at Phoenix Raceway.

Running Strong

The battle for the championship will now come down to Homestead-Miami Speedway with the three drivers locked in. JR Motorsports teammates Byron, Elliott Sadler, and Justin Allgaier will match up against Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.

None of those five have been perfect through the past five events, each scoring at least one finish outside of the top-10. Though the nod has to go to Byron as he has the best average finish (6.6) and scored three top-fives, including a big momentum boost with the victory at Phoenix.

Byron’s ability to run up front all season long and challenge on the big stage when the stakes are high will be key entering next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Combined with his success on the 1.5-mile oval last year in the Camping World Truck Series, he’s easily the favorite among the teammates.

However, any slip-up by the rookie could be all it takes for either Sadler or Allgaier to pounce as they’ve both ran well there before, including a past win for Allgaier. The only waving factor is a possible confidence hit for Sadler as he struggled at Phoenix en route to placing 18th.

No Crew Chief

Allgaier’s chances at championship glory look to be hindered as the series gets set for the finale, though, after his No. 7 Chevrolet failed post-race technical inspection at Phoenix. 

His JR Motorsports entry was found with an unattached brake cooling hose in inspection, which likely would result in the penalty being a one-race suspension for crew chief Jason Burdett, a 10-point deduction in the driver and owner standings, and a $10,000 fine.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened to a JR Motorsports driver in a title situation, as Sadler ran the final event last year without Kevin Meendering atop the pit box due to a penalty. Ultimately, the veteran came up short, finishing third while Daniel Suarez won the race and the championship.

JR Motorsports did a great job facing adversity at Phoenix when their regular pit crews were stranded in Arkansas, forcing them to go with a back-up plan. Now backed up against the wall once again, Allgaier and the No. 7 team will need to dig deep.

Slower Cars

Brennan Poole saw his chances at being in the Championship 4 end early on Saturday at Phoenix, after he made heavy contact with the wall after going trying to go underneath a lap car who didn’t realize that he was there on Lap 22. The driver in which Poole made contact with was Caesar Bacarella, who was making his first career series start.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was critical in his post-race comments, stating that NASCAR needs to change how they approve drivers for events, and what drivers are out there each week. 

Lap cars have certainly played havoc with drivers all year long, even costing some victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Although NASCAR posts a minimum speed, some competitors have shown the ability to meet that but not be traffic aware. 

NASCAR debuted the “five minute clock wreck policy” to avoid having cars riding around the track slow, dropping debris, causing havoc for the front runners. While drivers of that nature have caused issues in the past, these really slow lap cars have resulted in bigger headaches. As the sanctioning body continues to evolve with a heightened focus on every lap mattering and the playoffs meaning everything, it may be time to re-evaluate the process. 

Down to the Wire

Phoenix Raceway may be known for producing great racing, and that showed on Saturday as the final transfer spot for the championship came right down to the final laps. Entering the event, none of the eight drivers vying for one of the four positions had locked themselves in, meaning every single pass mattered from start to finish.

The closing stages of the event saw the battle get close with Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer each vying for every possible position they could get, hoping to be the final driver to make it in. Hemric came out on top, finishing fifth with Custer seventh.

Although Hemric will be applauded for his ability to make the Championship 4, bigger accolades will find the Richard Childress Racing driver for his show of respect post-race. He made his way down to Custer, shaking his hand after their battle post-race.

For Custer, there is nothing to hang his head on as his rookie season has been impressive, scoring six top-fives and 18 top-10’s in 32 races. Unfortunately, though, placing 19th at Kansas Speedway due to a cut tire with two laps to go ultimately made the difference.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Battle for Final Transfer Position Tightens Following Texas

With two of the three races now complete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs Round of 8, the battle for the final spot in the Championship 4 is closer than ever.

The top three spots are taken by JR Motorsports drivers Elliott Sadler, William Byron, and Justin Allgaier. As long as they each have solid performances at Phoenix International Raceway next week, they will move on to the Championship 4, with each being 20 or more points ahead of fifth.

The next four positions, though, are only separated by a mere 18 markers from Brennan Poole in fourth, to Daniel Hemric in seventh.

Entering his second season with Chip Ganassi Racing, Poole has been solid throughout the year and now finds himself five points ahead of Matt Tifft for the final transfer position. Consistency has treated him well so far, with finishes of 12th (Kansas Speedway) and seventh (Texas Motor Speedway) treating him well.

Tifft has been right there with Poole in this round, though, posting a pair of eighth-place finishes as he embarks on his first full XFINITY Series campaign. Notably, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver experienced issues on pit road at Texas, having to begin the final stage at the tail of the longest line for his crew jumping over the wall too soon.

The finishes haven’t been as high for Cole Custer and Hemric, though. Custer finished 19th at Kansas, before fighting back from an unscheduled pit stop and a flat tire in stage one at Texas to place fifth. Hemric was 18th last weekend, and started off his trip to the lone star state on a sour note with a wreck in practice; he battled hard throughout the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, coming back from an issue with the gun on pit road at the end of stage two to finish 14th. With their struggles, the pair now sits 13 and 18 points back, respectively.

Ryan Reed is the last man in the round, currently 33 markers back due to a 10th at Kansas, and early contact with the wall resulting in a 23rd-place finish at Texas. Essentially, it’s win or bust for him entering Phoenix. 

So who is most likely to transfer?

Recall a win triumphs points any day, as well, and one of these drivers could score their first career series victory while punching their Homestead-Miami ticket.

If a win is out the picture, the upper-hand automatically goes to the pair with the least to gain to move on, which would be Poole and Tifft. Both are driving for top-notch teams in the series that have won races this year, with Poole having the better finish at Phoenix in the spring with an eighth.

However, like Tifft said post-race at Texas, it will be critical for both to have clean afternoons, so they don’t lose valuable track position.

“We’re bringing the speed, we just have to have a no mistake weekend in Phoenix,” he said. “We did our job tonight, we just need to get a few spots better at the end, and that’s all we can do.”

On the flip side, Hemric and Custer were both considered favorites to make the Championship 4 entering the playoffs due to being consistent through the regular season. Over the course of 2017, Custer has posted the third-highest amount of top-10’s with 17. If you are looking for a driver who can put up the numbers when they count, these are two drivers to watch. 

It could be any of these four making it through – or perhaps more than one if any of the JR Motorsports trio slips up.

Now going to the desert, there are two things for sure – every single point in the stages will matter, and it’s going to be a battle right until the checkered flag falls in the Ticket Galaxy 200. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Strong First Round Places Poole in Championship Conversation

CONCORD, N.C. – Brennan Poole didn’t enter the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs among the title favorites, but that quickly changed after the Round of 12.

A fifth-place finish in Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers’ third consecutive top-five to begin the post-season. 

He also placed highest among championship contenders in two of three races including on Saturday night, showcasing what he could be capable of in the remaining Playoff races.

“I’m just proud of the effort,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “I’m proud of the fast race cars that we’re bringing to the race track.” 

After only capturing one top-five in the regular season, clicking off three consecutive shows increased speed out of the No. 48 team.

Not only did Poole finish well on Saturday but he rebounded after receiving damage early in the race, attesting to the team’s resilience that could play into their title chances.  

“Tonight we had to battle through a lot of adversity,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “The car’s torn to pieces but the guys did some great jobs repairing on it. We just never gave up, and we fought through it.”

The 26-year-old now resets sixth on the Playoff Grid to begin the Round of 8, 20 points behind leader William Byron and three behind Daniel Hemric in the final spot that advances to the season finale.

Poole’s confidence is high heading into the next set of tracks as he looks to make up the difference.

“Kansas has been a great race track for me,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “Of course Texas I’m excited to go to. Not only is it my home state but also being very similar to Kentucky where we were so strong at the first race. And ending up at Phoenix, a place where I have several top-10’s and just looking forward to getting into this next round and taking care of business.”

Stage racing has been a difference maker throughout 2017, and the most significant impact may come as the field is narrowed from eight to four cars in this round.

“It’s just going to come down to stage points,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “The field is so tight. Tonight we got caught up in an incident that kept us from getting stage points. We’re just going to have to have a little bit of luck, a little bit of things go our way since the field is so tight.”

With Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 team winning two of the first three Playoff races with Tyler Reddick at Kentucky and Alex Bowman at Charlotte, the organization’s second entry is now seemingly on the verge of victory.

“I feel like we’re more than capable of even winning a race in these next three races, we’ve been so good here recently,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED.  

A strong first round delivered Poole some of his best career results and allowed him to show that he’s capable of competing for the championship.

Now it will again be about rising to the occasion in the Round of 12 and placing his team in the Championship 4 where Poole believes that he could hoist the trophy at Homestead-Miami.

“I really believe that this team has what it takes to win it all,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@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.

Categories
XFINITY

Cup Veteran Limits Making Progress in XFINITY Series

In the first year of limiting starts for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers in the XFINITY Series, progress is being made to increase the series’ focus on the sport’s rising stars. 

Competitors with five or more years of full-time experience at the top level are prohibited from competing in XFINITY Series Playoffs races.

While this keeps established names out like Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and others who have dominated the series in past years, it allows the younger NASCAR Cup Series regulars still looking to make a name for themselves an opportunity to compete with other drivers with similar goals.

Saturday’s Drive Sober 200 at Dover International Speedway marked the second XFINITY Series post-season race but first on a companion weekend with the top series.

As a result, young drivers including Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, and Erik Jones competed and ran well.

However, they didn’t steal the show as the race struck a balance between their success and strong performances from the championship contenders.

While Blaney won after leading a race-high 136 laps, rookie William Byron emerged as his biggest threat as the JR Motorsports driver led for 62 circuits, won Stage 1 and ended the day in third.

The run allowed Byron to jump to second on the Playoff Grid behind teammate Justin Allgaier who also had a strong race, finishing second.

Without limits on how many races the more experienced drivers can compete in, they often take up the top finishing positions. In eight races in 2017, at least four NASCAR Cup Series drivers placed in the top-five. 

That didn’t happen on Sunday as only Blaney finished inside the top-five with those in title contention filling the remaining spots with Daniel Hemric coming home third and Brennan Poole ending up fourth.

Similar restrictions will be in place for the remainder of the season, providing the opportunity for more events to play out similarly. 

Next season, those with five or more years of experience will be further limited to eight starts, and that should continue to enhance the identity of the series.

While ultimately a NASCAR Cup Series regular won on Saturday, it marked progress as the focus is on the youth of the sport and not the dominance of veterans. The limitations will pay off even more once series regulars are able to begin winning more regularly.

However, the first year of limits has shown its potential to improve the series and significant progress can continue to be made as the season draws to a close.

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XFINITY

XFINITY Series: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here is a peek at Indianapolis through Bristol.

New Faces

Running two short tracks, two road courses and one intermediate over the past five races allowed for some new faces to reach victory lane throughout July and August.

William Byron started off the stretch, picking up his third career victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Then, Ryan Preece made the most of his opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing at Iowa Speedway en route to his first ever series win.

JGR was able to make it two in a row, with Kyle Busch scoring the victory at Watkins Glen.

The other road course saw Team Penske at the top, with Sam Hornish Jr. picking up the hometown win.

And finally, it was Busch who would finish off the latest stretch with a dominating performance at Bristol.

Although Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers continue racking up wins, the series regulars have proven they can keep pace with top-tier invaders. 

JRM Remains at the Top

Twenty-two events have been completed, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much. JR Motorsports continues to occupy the top three positions, as they have since the third event this season.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, with Byron second, 110 points behind. Justin Allgaier continues to fall further behind, now 136 behind Sadler. 

Their strength shows through their statistics, with Sadler and Byron posting seven top-10’s in the past five events, including a victory for the latter. The concern, though, surrounds Allgaier. He started off the year well with no finishes outside of the top-15 till the 13th event of the year. However, in the past five races, he has only posted two top-15 finishes. 

Notably, JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway as Michael Annett currently sits 12th in points.

Playoff Bubble Watch 

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series playoffs, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Byron, Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in. Based on the gap between them and 13th being more than 100 points, you could also add SadlerBrennan Poole, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Matt Tifft to the winners above. 

Blake Koch and Dakoda Armstrong appears to be pretty safe with an advantage greater than 50. 

Annett was set to qualify barely easily, but posting only one finish inside the top-15 over the last five events has dropped him to 11th in the standings, 50 points over Chastain. If the poor results continue in the next three races, he could be out of the playoffs. 

Brendan Gaughan has hung around the bubble much of the season, now 43 points over Chastain, following back-to-back top-10’s on the road courses. With another road course left to go, he has a good chance of locking in.

Chastain, meanwhile, has not posted a top-10 since Daytona in July, making his efforts of closing the gap looking very unlikely. J.J. Yeley is currently tied with him in the standings, and has shown a better chance to make-up the ground if his top-10’s continue.

Although other series have lots of possibility surrounding who will qualify, the gaps between each position see the XFINITY Series playoffs just about set in stone, unless a surprise winner emerges in the next couple of races. The unpredictability of strategy at a road course like Road America, combined with another short track (Richmond) could very well produce the wild card needed to shake it up.

Losing Their Edge

While JR Motorsports continues to boast the top three positions in the standings, it may not be a simple easy road to championship with other drivers finding speed.

After struggling through June and the beginning of July, Hemric appears to be turning his season back around as we get closer to the playoffs. In the past five races, he posted no finishes worse than 12th to have the best average finish of all drivers – seven. Richard Childress Racing has battled for championships in the past, including Ty Dillon finishing in the top-five in the standings the past three years, so it would not surprise if Hemric makes the Championship 4.

Poole entered this year confident that he would be able to perform better than he did in 2016, and the last five races back that up. He posted only one finish outside of the top-10 for the second best average finish (8.4), while sitting fourth in the standings versus placing eighth last year. As Chip Ganassi Racing continues to make their Cup program stronger, expect the XFINITY program should follow suit to give Poole a chance to break through for his first career victory.

Need to Improve

Reed locked himself into the playoffs by winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. Although if he wants to turn that into contending for the championship, he needs to find some more speed.

There have been signs of hope as he placed sixth at Iowa Speedway, but he has failed to find any consistency, with no back-to-back top-10’s and running mid-pack as noted by an average finish of 22.4 for the last five races. 

The next stretch of races includes return trips to Richmond and Kentucky – where he failed to post a top-20 at each of those venues. If his Roush Fenway Racing can find what they’re missing and show improvement in their returns, it could give the team the hope they need before the playoffs.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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

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XFINITY

Road Courses, Stage Racing Creating Drama Ahead of XFINITY Playoffs

When the calendar shifts to August, the NASCAR XFINITY Series begins to turn left and right.

The road to the Playoffs runs through Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, and Road America, and creates some of the most intense and exciting competition throughout the year.

While the abundance of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars at Watkins Glen took away from some chances that series regulars had to score big on the road course, Mid-Ohio delivered.

Not only did the absence of veteran racers allow series regulars to excel, but stage racing provided a new avenue to collect crucial points throughout each event.

Blake Koch earned the victory in Stage 1 at Mid-Ohio, capturing his second playoff point of 2017. Brennan Poole and Brendan Gaughan closely contested Koch for the stage win but ultimately settled for second and third respectively. 

Poole is fourth in the standings and has yet to collect a playoff point while Gaughan is in 11th with one point.

Gaughan is currently in a defensive position, protecting his post-season spot which makes every championship point matter and puts playoff points on the back burner. 

Poole is essentially locked into the final seven races and can now focus on accumulating bonus points.

The final road course event of the month at Road America will provide him that opportunity.

Other drivers looking to take advantage of this chance with Poole are Cole Custer, Matt Tifft, and Dakoda Armstrong as they seem to be in a position to compete for the championship but have yet to earn playoff points.  

The Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin venue will provide the chance to implement a different strategy through stage racing with hopes of earning those crucial points.

In the first year of the XFINITY Series Playoffs, every point mattered as eliminations came down to single digits. This makes collecting bonus points critical in the regular season, and Road America will provide one of best opportunities before Kentucky, making the event much more meaningful.

Placing all three road courses in one month and ahead of the post-season has created additional drama. Now with stage racing adding a whole new element, August has already produced captivating competition, and that should continue through Road America.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@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.

Categories
XFINITY

Byron Brings Home Final Dash 4 Cash Prize of the Season

William Byron scored a big payday Saturday at Dover International Speedway.

He captured the fourth and final Dash 4 Cash prize of the season, joining Bristol winner Daniel Hemric and Phoenix and Richmond victor Justin Allgaier as the only drivers to pocket the $100,000 in 2017.

Byron and Brennan Poole qualified for the Dash 4 Cash in Stage 1 and were joined by Stage 2 winner Darrell Wallace Jr. and Byron’s JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler to compete for the prize. 

After starting the Final Stage deep in the field, Byron worked his way back to the front and finished sixth to take home the money.

It gave JRM three of the four Dash 4 Cash awards this season which attests to how well the organization is running. 

“For JRM, I think it just shows the strength of our team to execute,” Byron said. “We keep building and keep getting more speed. I think we’re executing really well in the race and our teammates are. It’s helping everyone get these Dash 4 Cash’s so we’ll just keep building on that.”

Byron’s success provides added confidence following his strong start being slowed as of late. After beginning the year with five top-10 finishes in six events, Byron placed outside the top-10 in the four consecutive races leading up to Dover.

Now having returned to the caliber of performance that impressed many to start his rookie season, more stout runs are likely ahead.

The 19-year-old will first head to a track where he has visited Victory Lane before, Pocono Raceway.

“I feel really confident going to Pocono,” Byron said. “That’s one place I really like. We had good success there last year with the win in trucks.”

Pocono is one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule, and by winning there early in his career, it shows Byron’s ability to adapt well to new venues.

If he carries the momentum from Dover and quickly becomes comfortable with the XFINITY Series car at the 2.5-mile triangle, he will continue to excel and could break through for his first career series victory.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@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.