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NASCAR Cup Series

Newman Eyeing First Top-10 of the Season

Four races into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and Ryan Newman is still searching for his first top-10 finish of 2019.

This is Newman’s first year driving the No. 6 machine for Roush Fenway Racing but his performance hasn’t been the worst. The Indiana native is averaging a 15.8 finish and is currently 17th in the overall standings. The performances have shown him race in the top-10, but just hasn’t been able to hold on to the spot.

The team is looking for improvements as the weeks go by, with his 12th-place finish at ISM Raceway leaving him satisfied with the steps Roush Fenway Racing is taking with their program.

“We definitely showed improvement from last week, which is a good sign for the weeks to come,” Newman said. “Our No. 6 Oscar Mayer team worked hard after practice yesterday to make some changes, which showed once we took the green. Although we wanted a top-10, we’ll take the result, improve and move on to Fontana next week looking to capitalize on the momentum.”

Heading into Auto Club Speedway, Newman looks for his first top-10 finish at the wide two-mile track since 2015 where he placed fifth.

In looking to improve results, Newman could help his chances by starting better as he has yet to reach the final round of qualifying this season. The session could be interesting at Fontana with the rule package in place. Will everyone wait till the last few minutes to go out on the track, or will drivers make a lap at the beginning? The draft could play a big role in qualifying and that’s something that Newman can try to take advantage of.

Performing well this week could be a great morale boost as the No. 6 team will be debuting with Performance Plus as the primary sponsor for the first time this season. Fontana also marks the close of the West Coast swing so drivers like Newman’s are looking forward to head back east.

“We’re excited to get to Fontana to close out the West Coast swing on a high note,” he said. “Auto Club is a rough track that carries a ton of speed and we’re anxious to see how the new package will apply to it. We definitely showed improvements last week at Phoenix and had a solid run going, so our goal is to maintain that momentum this weekend in Fontana.”

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Rough Atlanta Preps Austin Dillon for Vegas

Austin Dillon’s weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway was going well through Friday and Saturday as he showed speed, ranking in the top five in both practice sessions and qualified 10th for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

When the green flag dropped on Sunday, his weekend hit a bump and went downhill. Dillon started to fall back as his car wasn’t living up to what we saw in practice. During the gloomy cold cloudy days which were on Friday and Saturday his car seemed the best; however, when the sun was out on Sunday, his machine couldn’t handle the warmest day of the weekend.

What could have gone wrong to the No. 3 Dow Chevy Camaro? The team missed the set-up due to feeling confidence with the handling after practice, and not realizing the race wouldn’t be under cloudy skies.

Dillon and the other drivers still need to get used to the new rules package, so it’s easy to understand how they could’ve been a little off in the direction they went. Midway through the first stage, Dillon referenced the team going the wrong way with their choices.

“It was definitely a learning experience for our Dow Racing team today at Atlanta Motor Speedway,” Dillon said. “We missed on the setup a little at the beginning of the race and that made our bed for the rest of the race. This team has a lot of determination, though, and we never gave up.”

With Dillon never giving up during the run, he still battled to make gains and get better. Even if he wasn’t contending for the win, Dillon was getting used to the handling of the rules package which he’s going to need for future races.

“My crew chief, Danny Stockman, and the team made major adjustments throughout the race to try and get the handling better,” Dillon said. “By the end of the race, we were running the No. 42 car down, who had led a lot of the race, and that’s a testament to how hard this team works and all of the changes we made during the race.”

The new rules package will be in full affect during the upcoming weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We’re building a notebook for this new package, and I have confidence that our team will be in the fight next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway,” Dillon said.

Dillon and his team are looking for better in race improvement. If they can add to that while practicing and qualifying well, look for Dillon to start making noise during the season. The season is still young, and there is still a lot to learn and look forward for the No. 3 team.

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

McDowell Satisfied with his DAYTONA 500 Top-Five Finish

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Michael McDowell was able to earn a top five finish at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday in the DAYTONA 500. McDowell, who started 34th, was able to survive multiple wrecks to position himself to contend for the victory.

The Arizona native only had one top 10 last season and has already matched it after Sunday afternoon’s race for this campaign. McDowell felt like he could have taken the victory but lacked speed and help.

“There’s always something you can do differently, you know we just didn’t have the outright speed to break the plane of the 18 or the 11,” McDowell told POPULAR SPEED. “We were trying like heck but so was everybody else, so when the 18 shot to the outside there he had a big run with a lot of momentum and I tried to go with him to hope that the 18 and 11 would get together so I can maybe sneak a win out of it.”

This is a boost of momentum for his team, especially since they’re not the best funded organization.

“For a small team its awesome, no doubt about it, I’d be lying to you guys if I was over the moon excited,” McDowell said. “I’ve been in the Cup series for over 10 years now, I have one goal, and that one goal is to get a win. I was close to getting their tonight, or at least had a shot at it and wasn’t able to get it done at the end so I’m happy with the finish. I’m proud of the team but that wasn’t the goal.”

Next week as we head to Atlanta Motor Speedway, the new rules package will be in place and we are still unsure on what to expect. We might see smaller teams start to come up and compete with bigger teams. This creates excitement for McDowell as we move towards Atlanta.

“Atlanta is brand new for everybody it a new rule package, who knows it could be like Daytona and Talladega and if it is I’ll do really well because these are two of my best tracks, but Atlanta will be a fresh start for everybody and we’ll see who’s got the speed and how the cars race, and we move on from there,” McDowell said.

McDowell is content with his top five at Daytona, but a win is something that he really wants to achieve soon especially since he’s been in the series for over 10 years.

“I’m really proud of everybody, the Love’s Travel Stop Ford Mustang was fast. We would have loved to pull into victory lane but a top five is great.”

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Harvick Focused on DAYTONA 500 Prize

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After winning the first Gander RV Duel  at Daytona International Speedway, Kevin Harvick anticipates a different race than the last two. The Clash and both Duels were seen as conservative events with single-file racing throughout the events.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a race like we’ve seen the last two races,” Harvick said following the Duel. “It’s just so much different when you get all the cars out there, you have the lines that have so much more momentum than what they’ve had, especially when you start putting stage points out there and things in the middle of the race.”

Harvick will be starting third in Sundays DAYTONA 500. Getting to the lead will be the biggest challenge, but he will use his experience as an advantage.

“The biggest thing, that fluent routine of doing it over and over, looking in the mirror, being as comfortable and relaxed as you can with the wheel, being able to be comfortable and relaxed but also be able to look backwards,” Harvick said. “Leading probably looks easy on TV.  You spend more time looking backwards than you do forwards. There’s definitely an art to it that you get more comfortable with as you go through doing it a lot more.”

As a former winner of the Great American Race, Harvick has seen the sport evolve in the past couple of seasons, including the strategy to win. Stage racing has implemented more aggression, with drivers fighting for points throughout the event.

“You can’t come from the back any more and drive your way up through there at the end of the race.  You have to be fluent with your moves, precise.  If you don’t, you lose a bunch of spots,” Harvick said.

All 40 drivers will be thinking about holding the Harley J. Earl trophy at the end of the race. The focus begins for Harvick as we inch closer to Sunday. Being one of the favorites can’t stop him from going through his game plan.

“If you’re going to win this race, you’re going to need to be good out front,” Harvick said. “You’re going to need to be able to guard, block, pay a lot of attention to who’s coming, who’s going, and the timing of it all. That’s why you have to race as hard as you can, in my opinion.”

Sunday is going to be about survival; there is no room for error. Harvick fully understands that is what it’s going to take to win the DAYTONA 500.

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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

Bell Ready for Another Title Hunt

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —  Christopher Bell is starting his second full-time season for Joe Gibbs Racing and is looking to secure the title. He fell short last season at Homestead-Miami Speedway after finishing 11th, placing him third in the championship battle behind Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer.

“We really did well all season long, just didn’t execute a Homestead so we just need to be that much better at Homestead this year,” Bell told POPULAR SPEED.

Unfortunately, his car at Homestead was not as good as in other mile and a half’s where he won plenty of races. To see a driver from a dirt background transition to asphalt and be as dominant like Bell has become an impressive sight.

The Oklahoma native has proven that he can seriously contend for race wins and championships by being dominant in 2018, winning seven races.

The 2019 campaign can give him a fresh start especially after the disappointment last season, but the experience can be a key factor in his success. It should come as no surprise, as he’s been showing his skills early on when he was in the Truck series.

Bell is a rising star in the sport that will be up in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the future. His first full-time season in the Xfinity Series was definitely a learning experience, and falling short of last year’s title was part of that. 

“We learned a lot, you never quit learning so hopefully I’m better with a little bit more experience but it’s going to be hard to top last year, that’s for sure,” Bell said.

A win on Saturday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway would be a massive boost for the driver. He would be reaching a career achievement that has yet to be accomplished, winning at a superspeedway track.

“I’ve never won a superspeedway race. It would be outstanding to get one today especially with the new Supra; you don’t get many opportunities to become a first time winner,” Bell said.

Toyota is debuting the new Supra for the Xfinity series and excitement is in the air. The cars look good and they are showing that historical speed. Becoming a first time winner would be a memorable moment for any Toyota driver in the field.

“It would be very cool if I could be the first one to win in a Supra.” said Bell after qualifying.

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Larson Lacking Speed Prior to the DAYTONA 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — This season’s edition of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway has not been the best for Kyle Larson. The driver of the No. 42 Credit One Chevy Camaro has encountered problems during his time at Daytona this month.

Starting with last Sunday, when Larson qualified 32nd for the Great American Race. Later on in the day, he wrecked his race car during the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Larson knew that things needed to turn around Thursday during the Gander RV Duel, but it still didn’t go his way.

Larson finished 12th after he was left from the main pack due to losing the draft in the race. A lack of speed is something that is concerning Larson about his race car.

“I felt a little bit loose, but like I said we need more speed, like I lost the draft there,” Larson told POPULAR SPEED.

Larson seemed a bit frustrated with his car but knows it can improve on Sunday during the race. After winning last July in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver looks to use his skill as an advantage.

Hopefully, it can go better than his previous DAYTONA 500 attempts with only one top-10 in five appearances which came back in 2016. Larson might also want to get up front and lead some laps, as he’s only led 16 laps in his entire career at Daytona in the Cup series.

His car is not where he wants it to be, but Larson is not panicking. His veteran experience in these types of races still give him the thought that he can take the victory on Sunday.

“Well you just, I don’t know you don’t get a good idea how your car is, you’re just working on single car runs,” Larson  said.“So it’s kind of it is what it is here.”

On Friday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars had two practice sessions, with Larson was scored in 35th in the first.

“I’d like to be a lot faster, but I think it’s too late to find speed like that,” Larson said.

On a positive side, single car run speeds do not make a big impact to the race. Larson has a chance to be consistent in the pack and work his way to the front. He will be starting 26th for the DAYTONA 500 on Sunday.

“It doesn’t even matter once you get in the race, either you just try to miss some wrecks and hopefully have a clean car by the end of the race.”

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: BryanR_305

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

Ragan Looking for Another NASCAR Cinderella Story

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway is this Sunday February 17, and experts are bound to start making predictions on who will win the Great American Race. With favorites to possibly emerge after the Gander RV Duels, there’s also a darkhorse to keep in mind.

David Ragan will be piloting the No. 38 SelectBlinds.com Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports once again this season. With drivers excited about the new Mustang, expect the success that has been carried in past plate races to continue at Daytona this upcoming weekend. 

A driver like Ragan is a perfect match for the Cinderella story of this year’s DAYTONA 500. While Front Row Motorsports may seem underfunded compared to their counterparts, the veteran knows how to get the job done. He has two career wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, both at restrictor plate tracks. His first being at Daytona in the summer of 2011 and his second at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring of 2013.

“That year in 2011 we work close to the front and we made it work. You can’t get caught up in racing, 500 miles is a long race here,” Ragan said during DAYTONA 500 Media Day. “It feels so much longer than the Coke 400. Its 100 miles longer but it feels like its 300 or 400 miles longer so you’ve got to pace yourself to the end.”

With the Gander RV Duels coming up on Thursday night, Ragan looks to improve his starting position after qualifying 23rd on Sunday. Ragan will be participating in the second Duel starting in the middle of the pack in the 11th position.

With the DAYTONA 500 opening the year, it becomes  special because you don’t know what to expect from drivers since it’s the first race of the season. New faces can emerge in making a name for themselves and every driver feels like they have a shot at winning the event.

“I think we’ll have a good enough car that we can we can get up front at some point,” Ragan said. “It’s just a matter of when are you in the front of the pack. It’s a big cycle at speedway racing. The leaders get shuffled to the back, the guys in the middle can get shuffled to the front based off of strategy and making good decisions on the racetrack so you’ve just got to make sure that you’re on the right cycle at the end of the race at the right time and to dodge the wrecks.”

Ragan sounded confident during Media Day on Wednesday, and that  should in return have people keeping an eye on him to be a dark horse on Sunday during the Great American Race.

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Preece Eager for Rookie Challenge

Ryan Preece is set for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season after landing a full-time ride with JTG Daugherty Racing. After AJ Allmendinger’s departure following 2018, Preece joins the team as a contender for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award.

Preece had five Cup starts in 2015 while driving for Premium Motorsports with his best finish being 32nd at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His road to NASCAR’s top series was a challenge that he was able to eventually overcome.

“I think the way I came up was the way … I mean it prepares you. I’ve been working and learning race cars and then winning,” Preece said. “Learning to be a winner. I wouldn’t want to come up any other way. It’s gotten me, what I feel, prepared for where I am now to be ready for those restarts, be ready for situations that I’ve been in.”

His decision to leave JD Motorsports following the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series season led him to a part-time stint with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017 and 2018. That’s where Preece was able to take advantage of the equipment he had to show people his unique talent.

The No. 47 team has not ran where they intended too in the past season so a fresh driver brings new ideas to the mix.

“I’m doing the Vegas test, so we are going to see where we stack up and kind of go through some changes, figure out what we like, what we don’t like and where we can be better,” Preece said. “That is really going to kick off our season.”

It will also be the first time that Preece will be able to try new aero package that will be implemented on the Cup cars for the 2019 campaign.

“I think it’s a reset button like I said, but there is always going to be that one team that is going to figure something out and you never know who it’s going to be,” Preece said. The new aero package is something I’m looking forward to. It’s going to be a little different.”

For Preece, he will have to compete with Matt Tift, Tanner Berryhill and Daniel Hemric for this year’s rookie trophy. His top competition is Hemric who will be piloting the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Hemric having ran a few cup races last season with the same team gives him an advantage over Preece.

Rookie seasons can be roller coaster rides for drivers but Preece is ready for the challenge.

“I think it’s really going to come down to hard work,” Preece said. They have got all the pieces of the puzzle, I feel, at this point. Just putting them together and getting … you’ve got to have goals, you’ve got to start off top 15’s, top 10’s, top fives and when you are consistently there that is when the wins will come.”

It’s going to be a challenge for Preece, but he wants to see improvement every week.

“If there is progression, I’m happy and we will keep on progressing and never fall behind,” Preece said.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @BryanR_305

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

Expectations Rising for Three Underrated Drivers in 2019

The new year is finally here and we are a couple months away from getting back to racing with the Daytona 500 just around the corner.

A new season means that we will be seeing some drivers change, as well as shifts in personal within organizations. The upcoming campaign will be unique since the sanctioning body is introducing a new rules package for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars. 

Here are a three drivers that can surprise in 2019 and can take a step forward from 2018.

1. Aric Almirola

The veteran driver from Tampa, Florida debuted for Stewart-Haas Racing last season driving the No. 10 car that Danica Patrick drove for six years. There was always potential with that ride and Almirola showed how good they can be. With an average finish of 12.8 Almirola finished fifth in the playoffs, just one spot away from being part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A win late in the season at Talladega Superspeedway gave Almirola a boost that he needed to finish the year strong. However, some can argue that he could have had a few more in the bag. For example, at Chicagoland Speedway, he led 70 laps but going through tire issues twice during the race stopped him from getting the victory.

“Our car was super-fast, especially out in clean air. It was incredibly fast. We just have to execute; we have to put a whole race together. That’s the difference between being good and being great,” Almirola said after that race.

This upcoming season making the Championship 4 is what should be expected from this team after breaking out in 2018.

2. William Byron

This one might be surprise for some people. Byron is going to enter his second season as a full-time driver in the Cup Series and we have seen how much talent he has as he moved up the ranks. In 2018, you can tell that Byron went through rookie struggles, but at the end of it he has grown from it.

“I mean, a lot, I guess I mean we had a lot of up and downs and its good, you know I’m excited for whatever is to come,” Byron told POPULAR SPEED shortly after finishing the Ford EcoBoost 400 in November.

This upcoming season, there will be a switch in crew chiefs as Chad Knaus will be taking the helm for the No. 24 team. This should really help the young driver develop and gain more experience. In 2018, his best finish was sixth at Pocono where he led 10 laps; with the proper resources and tools that are coming for Byron in 2019, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t expect to make the playoffs.

A debut in the playoffs would be impressive but getting passed the Round of 16 would be even bigger.

3. Ryan Blaney

His name is becoming more known as his popularity grew massively with fans in 2018. After scoring a last lap win at the ROVAL in Charlotte in October, Blaney showed that he needed to be taken serious for title consideration. He fell short of the Championship 4, but he did show us that he is a rising star in the Cup Series.

With an average finish of 9.4, Blaney was able to impress by running consistently up front. The competition within his team had some suggesting that he was behind his two other teammates when it comes to who is better; that shows the strength that Team Penske has. His move to the Captain’s Ship in 2018 is helping him grow especially since he is learning from a pair of veterans.

Blaney is going to enter the 2019 season with more expectations on the line, as people will look for him to score more victories and take the next step in the playoffs. An appearance in the Championship 4 is one goal that should be on the docket. The upcoming campaign may be the year that Blaney takes the next step in becoming an actual championship contender.

A new chapter in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history begins February 17 at Daytona International Speedway and these are three guys that can make a major improvement from 2018.

EMAIL BRYAN AT: Bryn_rivero@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @BryanR_305

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.