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2020 Silly Season Updates and Expectations

With the NASCAR Cup Series off-season in full effect and the 2019 Awards Banquet in Nashville wrapping up a week ago, we’re already under 60 days away from the Daytona 500. As the 2020 season draws closer, the sport has now seen many of it’s stars swap rides as well as inherit well-established teams to begin their new careers.

Here’s everything you need to know about the most up to date team changes to this point and the newest faces entering NASCAR’s premier series:

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Matt DiBenedetto

Quite possibly the best storyline to come out of 2019 was the breakout of Matt DiBenedetto. The former driver of the No. 95 for Levine Family Racing made headlines in the first race of the season  when he had a legitimate shot to win the Daytona 500. As the year progressed, fans soon came to realize that the 27-year old was no fluke.

The California-native would go on to complete the season with 152 laps led, seven top-10s and three top-fives – which included a second-place finish  to Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While DiBenedetto did not notch the first win of his career in 2019, he certainly turned heads and cemented himself as a fan favorite. In fact, he finished third overall in the Most Popular Driver ballot.

Fast forward to 2020, Paul Menard revealed he would be stepping away from full-time racing, leaving his seat in the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 wide open. When Menard announced he would be giving up his ride, he fully endorsed DiBenedetto as his replacement and sure enough – the California-native will now be driving the No. 21 Ford Mustang for the Penske-affiliated team.

Not only was DiBenedetto the feel good story of 2019, but the signing and how it came about for the 27-year old was also a feel good story.

Team Penske amassed six wins last season and it would not be a surprise to see DiBenedetto capture his first career win in better equipment. One thing is certain, we should see the fan favorite contending for top-10 finishes and maybe even top-fives. However, he is making the jump from Toyota to Ford. Even while fielding a significantly less cars than Ford and Chevrolet in 2019, Toyotas were the class of the field. It will be interesting to see if DiBenedetto can make the transition with ease.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

After seven years of full-time racing for Roush-Fenway Racing, Jack Roush decided to part ways with two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The now former driver of the No. 17 Ford Mustang posted yet another lackluster season driving for ‘The Cat in the Hat.’ When teammate Ryan Newman is 10 years older, racing in the same equipment and making the Playoffs, it’s not a good look.

The Mississippi-native now finds himself racing for JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 37 car, which was driven by Chris Buescher in 2019. The two drivers posted similar stats last season and in all honestly, this is a true-blue car swap. The only major difference is that the two-time Xfinity Series Champion is making the jump from Ford to Chevrolet, which could put him at a disadvantage.

In 2019, Stenhouse totaled one top-five, three top-10s and led 109 laps, which placed him 23rd in the overall standings. Expect more or less the same from the Mississippi-native in 2020.

Gavin Baker | NKP

Chris Buescher

As documented above, Stenhouse would be taking over driving duties for the No. 37 Chevy Camaro which Buescher piloted in 2019. The 2015 Xfinity Series Champion will now join Newman at Roush-Fenway Racing as he will now take over for the No. 17 Ford Mustang.

The 26-year old driver didn’t have an awful season given his equipment and manufacturer disadvantage last year. While he only led 13 laps en route to four top-10s, this was good enough to place him 20th in the overall Cup Series standings – three spots ahead of his counterpart, Stenhouse.

The Texas-native is inheriting a quality ride and he’ll have a well-established veteran in Newman to lean on for advice. He even showed glimmers of hope in the 2019 season, contending for top-10 finishes regularly towards the end of the year. It would not be out of the question to see Buescher add some more top-fives to his resume and even have a shot at making the Playoffs in 2020.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

Tyler Reddick

Historically, Xfinity Series drivers making the jump to the Cup Series doesn’t pan out until a few years down the road. However, Tyler Reddick is indeed Cup ready.

The 23-year old driver just recorded his second-consecutive title in the Xfinity Series and he already has experience at the sport’s premier level. While the California-native has only run two race at the Cup level, in one of those starts he finished ninth and at Kansas Speedway nonetheless. Not to mention, in the same equipment that he will be racing with in 2020.

In one of the more shocking headlines from 2019, it was announced that Richard Childress Racing would be parting ways with the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet, rookie Daniel Hemric. By no means at all did Hemric have a disappointing debut season, but with such highly touted talent on the rise in NASCAR’s lower divisions there is a strong emphasis on performing now.

Reddick will now take over driving for the No. 8 Camaro at Richard Childress Racing, but rest assured for him, he should have much more lee-way than the driver who came before.

Given the 23-year old’s experience and showcased talent in two of NASCAR’s series, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see Reddick compete for top-10s and maybe even top-fives with a shot at making the Playoffs in 2020. I personally could see him delivering Richard Childress Racing their first win in two years.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Cole Custer

Fans have been treated to many unlikely and divisive moves in the offseason, but this could be the most shocking. It was well documented that Daniel Suarez was seeking a contract extension during the 2019 season. Team-owner Tony Stewart even reiterated that they were “close” to a deal in mid-October.

Just days before the events at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing released a statement citing that Cole Custer would be promoted to the Cup Series and they would be parting ways with Suarez. This now leaves the Mexico-native with no ride currently for 2020 and places Custer in the No. 41 Ford Mustang.

While he was one of the Xfinity Series ‘Big Three’ last year, don’t expect the 21-year old to make immediate waves like Reddick possibly can. The California-native does have limited experience running three race at NASCAR’s premier level, but in 2018 and for Rick Ware Racing.

Custer does have many advantages over Reddick and Christopher Bell as he prepares for his debut season in the Cup Series. Not only will he have teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola to turn to for help, but he’ll also have Stewart to assist as well. Not to mention, Stewart-Haas Racing has been one of the most dominant forces in the sport since it was established in 2011.

It typically takes rookie drivers around two years to settle into NASCAR’s highest division, but it would not be shocking to see Custer start his career off strong. He should be in contention for top-10 finishes and may even snag a top-five here and there. Playoffs could be a possibility, but right now consider it a stretch.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Christopher Bell

The final piece to the Xfinity Series ‘Big Three’ will be inheriting the former ride of DiBenedetto. As revealed, the 27-year old will be taking over driving duties for the No. 21 at Wood Brothers Racing, which now places Bell in the No. 95 at Levine Family Racing.

Bell will without a doubt be faced with the biggest disadvantage of his two counterparts from last season, but this doesn’t mean he can’t have a successful season. Levine Family Racing went from Kasey Kahne (who had a less than stellar season due to health issues) to DiBenedetto who seriously turned heads and made waves in 2019.

The talent is definitely there for the 24-year old, who had a series leading eight wins, 20 top-fives and 21 top-10s in the Xfinity Series last year, but this is the Cup Series. Unlike Custer and Reddick, Bell has no experience at NASCAR’s highest level and it would be incorrect to say that he’ll tear it up like he did in NASCAR’s lower division, especially in the No. 95 car.

It’s again not out of the question to see him have a successful year – look at what DiBenedetto did last season. And should the Oklahoma-native remain at Levine Family Racing through 2021, maybe we could see this small team follow the trend that Furniture Row Racing did with Martin Truex Jr. at the helm.

But for 2020, we should expect to see Bell mostly in contention for top-15 finishes with an occasional top-10 mixed in as the season progresses.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.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 to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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News

Rookie Daniel Hemric bags first Busch Pole Award in Kansas qualifying

Daniel Hemric may be out of the playoffs and out of his ride at Richard Childress Racing next year, but that didn’t stop the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet from winning the pole position for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In Saturday’s time trials for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 elimination race, Hemric covered the 1.5-mile distance in 30.329 seconds (178.047 mph) to earn the top starting spot, not to mention his first career Busch Pole Award, by .035 seconds over second-place David Ragan (177.842 mph).

“Yeah, it’s pretty special,” acknowledged Hemric, who recently learned he would not be retained by RCR next year. “I kind of just feel crazy. I got out of the car, and I thought I’d be maybe fifth to eighth but, man, these guys on this Caterpillar Camaro ZL1 have done a great job all year of no matter what’s thrown at us, kind of just rising to the occasion and showing back up at the race track every week ready to work.

“And with all that going on, there’s so much going on around us, that you can get lost in the distraction of things. But to know these guys have continued to have my back through all that stuff has meant the world to me. So congratulations to ECR (Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines) and RCR. They’ve been doing a great job for us all year. It’s cool to be the guy to steer it around the line there and get the quick time.”

Ryan Blaney, who qualified third at 177.754 mph was the top playoff driver on the grid. Blaney is already locked into the Round of 8 by virtue of last Monday’s victory at Talladega. Brad Keselowski (177.667 mph) will start fourth beside his Team Penske teammate.

Dover winner Kyle Larson earned the fifth starting spot in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Blaney, Keselowski and Larson are the only three playoff drivers to earn top-10 spots on the grid. Two-time Kansas winner and playoff contender Martin Truex Jr. will start 11th in the top-qualifying Toyota.

Other playoff contenders qualified as follows: Chase Elliott 14th, Alex Bowman 16th, Kyle Busch 18th, Clint Bowyer 21st, Denny Hamlin 23rd, William Byron 25th, Joey Logano 29th and Kevin Harvick 40th. After three inspection failures, Harvick was not allowed to make a qualifying run, and car chief Robert Smith was ejected from the track.

“I have to pass a lot of cars,” Harvick said. “It is what it is at this point. You just go out and try to strategize and plan what you can and try to pass as many cars when you can at the beginning and go from there.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

The entire off-season has seen discussion surrounding expectations for NASCAR’s brand new aero package. While it won’t be totally on display until next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there was enough action today to wet the taste buds.

Atlanta Motor Speedway produces stellar racing every year, and it showed once again. As the drivers get later into a run, the tires begin to fall off more with the handling constantly changing. The aged asphalt also allows for multiple grooves to be ran around the full 1.54-mile oval, allowing you to see Kevin Harvick pinch the yellow line while Kyle Larson rim rides the top. As a result, you get impressive battles for position throughout the event, and that was once again on display on Sunday. 

The new rule package, though, brought forth a new layer with the restarts as drivers went three-, even four-wide at times battling for position as the aerodynamics drew them closer together. The first five laps resulted in fans on the edge of the seat, hoping it was their driver getting the run necessary to make the move. 

With no tire fall off at Las Vegas and fresher pavement, it’s supposedly going to be like that all race long, with drafting coming into play. Essentially, it could get very interesting quickly.

Despite the new package, though, the same teams that were fast last year showed speed once again as Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing each had all of their entries in the top-10 at one point during the event. The other side is that Hendrick Motorsports continued to run mid-pack as they did through the majority of last season, while JTG-Daughtry Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing that they lease engines to was in the top-10. 

The 2019 Rookie of the Year class was highly regarded entering the season with talent – and for good reason. Both Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric steadily ran in the top-10 throughout the first half of the event, until issues took them out of contention in the closing stages. 

For Preece, it was contact on pit road as he glanced down at his tack to double check his pit road speed and ran into the back of B.J. McLeod. Although Preece should have his eyes on the road, you also have to wonder about McLeod considering he had come to a dead stop and he was still five stalls away from his own. To his credit, though, McLeod stated post-race he was going slow due to having a flat tire.

It’s worth nothing this marks the second week in a row a Rick Ware Racing car has been involved in a pit road incident. Hemric, meanwhile, came down pit road late for a tire issue.

Sadly, for the second straight week, NASCAR is facing a degree of high criticism for their decisions throughout the event. Unfortunately, it also deals with Chase Elliott once again.

It wasn’t the day that the Georgia native was looking for, running in the low teens as he battled an ill-handling car. However, as the incident happened with Preece and Hemric, he was on pit road. Crew chief Alan Gustafson made the decision to put just two tires on, allowing Elliott to get off pit road quickly so he could be the first car one lap down and get the lucky dog.

In the series’ eyes, though, they ruled Brad Keselowski was the lucky dog. As a result, Elliott had to take the wave around for the restart, not able to get the two left-side tires, and finished 19th. The frustration was evident from the Hendrick Motorsports driver post-race. 

https://twitter.com/Di9Chase/status/1099815595175038977

NASCAR has stated that they will share their evidence with Elliott and the No. 9 team proving why Keselowski was the lucky dog.

Additionally, Martin Truex Jr. was originally assessed a penalty for his crew members jumping over the wall too soon, which would’ve saw him start at the tail end of the longest line. Instead, he restarted fourth and turned that into a runner-up finish.

NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said post-race the pit stop was reviewed in the tower and there was no penalty as they could not confirm foot was down early per video.

It’s a little concerning when you hear straight from the sanctioning body that they don’t have enough views of a pit stop to confirm something, especially when they made us to believe their new pro trailer system with less officials on pit road and using video instead would work. 

A caution coming out during pit stops is the worse case scenario for NASCAR as it does make a headache for scoring and figuring out the running order coming to the green with the wave around cars. However, that does not mean that they can be making mistakes. Hopefully it’s something that’s cleaned up quickly. 

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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Hemric Could Produce a Special Surprise for Childress

It seems like every year, no matter how much we look into it, there is a driver who shocks during Speedweeks.In 2011, it was Trevor Bayne and David Ragan, in 2013 we saw Danica Patrick, and who could forget 2018 where Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace, nobody’s favorites to win, finished one-two. Could this year’s stick with the Richard Childress Racing camp?

While the spotlight shined on the four drivers of Hendrick Motorsports Sunday, there was one competitor in their shadow that many may have overlooked, rookie Daniel Hemric, who posted the fifth fastest time of the afternoon.

During Wednesday’s media day, the 28-year-old admitted to the press that the run was just as unexpected him as well.

“We didn’t get to do a full qualifying run on practice day, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Hemric said. “I asked Luke (Lambert, crew chief) what we were going to run and he said he didn’t have a good idea either. I saw my teammate Austin Dillon go top of the board early, and he went a good bit faster than what we expected our cars to run. It gave me some confidence that we could lock ourselves into the second round and have a shot. And then we went on to qualify fifth. We were incredibly proud because there’s so much effort that goes into building this race cars in the offseason between ECR, Chevrolet and RCR. This is our biggest event and you want to come down here and have speed. I know it’s early in the week by the time you qualify but it does give you momentum rolling into this week.”

While he may not be considered an underdog, and shouldn’t be given he drives for one of the sport’s top teams, the term ‘dark horse’ suits him well and, the under the radar threat, may just give Richard Childress his fourth Daytona 500 in his 50th year as an owner.

“That would be a fairy tale for sure,” Hemric said. “50 years is an incredible journey that Richard and Judy Childress have committed to our sport. To be in one of their race cars and knowing the history that comes with carrying the Richard Childress Racing logo is incredible in itself. We’re here and we have as good a shot as anybody, so we’ll go out swinging.”

If Hemric were to capture a win Sunday, it would be the 109th for RCR and, the first for him, not only in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series but, in any of NASCAR’s top-three series. It sounds unlikely but, it’s Daytona, anything can happen.

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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Rookie Outlook: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

As has been the case for the last few seasons, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie class for 2019 is once again full of potential.

We have one of the sport’s most successful organizations looking to produce another playoff-caliber team, a driver who has proven himself after limited schedules in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, another who has overcome cancer to be here, and one who is looking for a fresh start with a relatively new team.

Daniel Hemric

The favorite to win the Rookie of the Year honors, Hemric will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Being the only rookie with a championship winning organization is not the only advantage he has though. The 27-year-old is the only one of the four drivers eligible for the award who has come close to winning a title, as he was able to qualify for the Championship 4 in both of his full-time seasons in XFINITY.

In addition to his playoff success, he was also able to produce 23 top-five’s and 39 top-10’s during his time in the series. However, his inability of to win may raise concerns as he transitions to Cup.

Ryan Preece

The story of Preece is an interesting one, as he sacrificed potential full-time XFINITY rides in lesser equipment for a part-time schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing.

In his 19 races with the team between 2017 and 2018, he was able to capture two wins and 15 top-10’s. Preece impressive efforts in the limited time he had ultimately landed his new ride at JTG-Daughtery Racing, where the 28-year-old will drive the No. 47 Chevrolet.

The question now is, will his proven talent be able to take this team to the next level?

Matt Tifft

Less than three years ago, Tifft was had to have surgery to remove a brain tumor. Now, he will be a full-time competitor in NASCAR’s top level, driving the No. 36 Ford for Front Row Motorsports.

Tifft to comes from XFINITY, where he has spent the last two season with JGR and RCR, where he tailed eight top-five’s and 22 top-10’s; however like Hemric, he was unable to find victory lane during his time in the series.

Unlike the rest of the full-time rookies, the 22-year-old has zero experience in Cup, and will make his debut at the Daytona 500.

Tanner Berryhill

After being away from NASCAR since 2015, Berryhill made his return to the sport last year with Obaika Racing running two races in Cup at the end of the season. The two will once again partner up in 2019.

Not only is it a rookie season for the driver, but for Obaika as well, who previously fielded entries in XFINITY. The team’s inexperience will not be the only hurdle to overcome though; they also enter the new year without a charter, meaning they will not be guaranteed a sport if an entry list has more than 40 entries.

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.

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XFINITY

Saturday’s Ford Ecoboost 300 Set to Make Another Name

Miami Beach, FL – Since 2016, NASCAR has used the current playoff format in the XFINITY and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

The format has helped emphasize a welcome change. Before the 2011 season, the XFINITY Series was dominated by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars and from 2006 until 2011, the champions of the second tier-level were all Cup regulars.

That left many with an uneasy feeling, especially fans that wanted to see the young guys coming up in the ranks race for something valuable and important in their careers. A championship for an XFINITY Series regular would not only put their names on the spotlight but may very well lead them to a future opportunity in the Cup Series. I mean, isn’t that what we have seen since 2011?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the championship two straight years and ended up with a full-time ride in the Cup Series. We can keep naming drivers because every title holder has ended u at the premier level.

NASCAR’s effort to focus on the XFINITY Series stars has set up drivers to showcase their talent. This weekend, four competitors coming from different backgrounds will battle with one common goal – their first XFINITY Series championship.

Cole Custer was the first to lock his spot into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He put himself in position to race for a title when he won at Texas Motor Speedway a few weeks back. Last year, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver won the season finale at Homestead-Miami, but will that give him an advantage on Saturday?

“It definitely helps because we have good notes to rely on and stuff like that but also Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell came here and tested so they’ve got to be a lot better where they were last year,” Custer said. “Well see there’s always the little differences like the bodies, the tires are a little bit different, so you have to adjust for that and do your homework.”

23-year-old Christopher Bell comes from a successful dirt racing background before transitioning over to asphalt. Last season, Bell won five races and took home the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.

We can say that his season in the XFINITY Series has been dominant. Bell has scored seven victories, five poles and has an average finish of 11.1. Although he seemed like the favorite to take home the championship, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had to overcome a devastating Round of 8.

After having accidents at Kansas Speedway and Texas, Bell’s only choice to advance was by winning at iSM Raceway. The Norman, Oklahoma native started from the rear of the field after failing inspection but was still able to secure the victory last Saturday.

With this being the last round, those struggles are now an afterthought. Bell finished second at Homestead last season when he won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.

“I don’t know if winning the championship gives me an advantage but the fact that I was in the championship 4 and understand the process and what the pressure is like racing for a championship,” Bell told POPULAR SPEED. “So, just being in that situation I think has its advantages and hopefully I can use that. The only thing different going into this weekend is that we are only racing three cars. Instead of going out there trying to win the race all I have to do is beat three competitors.”

Tyler Reddick is another one of those guys with a dirt racing background. He began the season pulling off the victory at Daytona International Speedway with his new team, JR Motorsports.

His consistency in the Round of 8 put him in position to run for the championship. Last month, it was announced that Reddick would be switching to Richard Childress Racing for the 2019 season in the XFINITY Series.

“It would be fantastic,” Reddick said. “This year didn’t really go as planned like we were wanted it to. We had speed most of the year at certain race tracks and just didn’t capitalize on the moments that we really should of. This playoff system and format has been really nice to us, we were able to kind of reset and the last six races and almost wanted to rip our heads up in practice, but we found a way to perform and make it to the next round.”

This last guy in the running is still winless, surprisingly. Coming from the heart of stock car racing, Daniel Hemric grew up competing on asphalt in his home state of North Carolina. Scoring 15 top-five finishes is as close as it gets to winning a race; now on Saturday, he chases not only  a win, but also a championship.

“I’ve been fortunate to win championships in so many different levels but every time you make a step in your career you never know what you’re going to be like until you are in that situation,” Hemric told POPULAR SPEED. “I know whatever it is I’d be elated to know that we accomplished something that we’ve set out to do since last November and the heartbreak we experienced 12 months ago at Homestead.”

It may very well come down to that. Fans are hoping to see all four cars contending for a title duke it out until the finish. Thanks to the changes NASCAR has made throughout the years, the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway has become an event any die-hard NASCAR fan should experience in person.

No, that does not mean you can compare it to the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, or the Monaco Grand Prix. It is just a unique weekend full of excitement because we know only four drivers from each series will race for a championship.

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@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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Nigel Kinrade Photography XFINITY

GALLERY: NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship 4

Youth is the name of the game in the NASCAR XFINITY Series as four of the sports’ growing stars will fight it out for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday afternoon.

NKP

Cole Custer

Season Statistics: One race win, Two stage wins, 13 top-five’s, 25 top-10’s

After a slow start to the Round of 12, Cole Custer did what he needed to do in the Round of 8, scoring the victory at Texas Motor Speedway to lock himself into the Championship 4. He then backed it up with a solid eighth at ISM Raceway.

Custer scored his first career series victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year, to go along with a 17th-place finish in 2016.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Christopher Bell

Season Statistics: Seven race wins, Six stage wins, 18 top-five’s, 20 top-10’s

Christopher Bell was hot through the Round of 12 with a pair of victories at Richmond Raceway and Dover International Speedway in the midst of an impressive rookie campaign. However, the first two races of the Round of 8 saw him spin on the opening lap, forcing him into a must-win situation at ISM. Despite having to start from the rear of the field due to failing pre-qualifying inspection three times, he was able to score the victory. 

He qualified third last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, before finishing 36th following a blowing an engine.

BARRY CANTRELL | NKP

Tyler Reddick

Season Statistics: One race win, One stage win, Six top-five’s, 19 top-10’s

Consistency paid off for Tyler Reddick as a sixth-place finish at ISM Raceway for his fifth playoff top-10 allowed him to transfer into the Championship 4. While he hasn’t reached victory lane since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, he has challenged for victories, including leading until the last lap at Texas Motor Speedway before being passed by Custer. 

He finished fourth in his first trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway last year after starting pole.

MATTHEW T. THACKER | NKP

Daniel Hemric

Season Statistics: Zero wins, Nine stage wins, 15 top-five’s, 22 top-10’s

Daniel Hemric has been solid through the playoffs with six straight top-10 performances, including a runner-up this past Saturday at ISM Raceway. Despite not winning a race this year, he has led 440 laps.

He placed 34th in his first trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2017 after starting fourth.

All Photos Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

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.

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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway

Although the first round of the NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs went smoothly with the expected drivers transferring to the next round, it appears as though the trend will not continue without some rocky waters.

The first 37 laps at Kansas Speedway on Saturday were anything but ordinary, as proved by the drivers’ comments with Matt Tifft asking, “What was in everybody’s coffee this morning?” Spencer Gallagher put it perfectly after his tire failure, that “you get one wire crossed, and everything goes to hell,” which may spell the playoff bracket for many now. 

A slip by Justin Allgaier on the first lap getting loose while battling for second took out himself, along with fellow playoff contenders Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric, and Cole Custer. Custer was the only driver who was able to continue, but that was with heavy damage and no power steering. 

To put this in perspective, Bell and Allgaier each entered this round more than 25 points over the cut-off line. Their advantage is now wiped out just like that, with Bell hanging on by five as Allgaier is now below. Custer could still make up his gap to fourth, but it will take some luck – after this race, though, anything is possible. Cindric, meanwhile, is pretty much in must-win territory ranked 43 points behind. 

Ultimately, as Jeff Burton and Steve LeTarte emphasized in the booth, this opened the door for somebody to take advantage and lock themselves in. No driver was able to do that, as John Hunter Nemechek scored his first career victory instead. It wasn’t a cake-walk though, as the multiple grooves of Kansas produced a thrilling battle for the lead between Nemechek and Daniel Hemric.

Ross Chastain went out and took the No. 42 car to victory lane for Chip Ganassi Racing, and now Nemechek has done the same. A lot of people have discussed Chip Ganassi wanting to have Chastain in the seat more next year virtue of his success, but could this turn the tables in Nemechek’s favor? Certainly he put together the best job audition possible.

Hemric, meanwhile, was the highest of the playoff contenders with a runner-up ahead of Elliott Sadler; the pair now rank at the top of the standings with a small cushion. The more surprising factor with these two is neither has yet to win a race this year, but don’t be surprised if they do in the next three weeks. 

Hemric’s championship chances may take a hit as it will be interesting to see what NASCAR does after his car was found too low in post-race inspection. Deemed an L1 infraction in the XFINITY Series, it is worth from 10 points up to 40 points when penalties have been given this season.  Currently 23 points ahead of the cut-off line, any value in the window could play a factor moving forward.

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

It Isn’t All About The Money Making it in NASCAR

This past weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, while many focused on the present playoff battle, two teams directed their attention to the future.

JTG Daugherty Racing and Richard Childress Racing announced that they would be bringing two new drivers to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Ryan Preece replacing AJ Allmendinger in the  No. 47 and, Daniel Hemric doing the same with Ryan Newman and the No. 31 car.

Now, when more casual fans, who may not pay much attention to lower series see these two names, they may wonder how they got themselves into these rides. Is it family money that is backing their way to the top? Or, do they have a multi-million dollar sponsorship attached to them?

After all, that seems to be the growing stereotype with young drivers, and there is nothing wrong with that, as many have proven that they still belong. However, this isn’t the case with Preece and Hemric.

Both of these drivers have had a tall mountain to climb to get themselves here, driving for smaller teams to earn their opportunities in lower series.

Hemric, who earned the opportunity with RCR after showing his skill at the now-defunct Brad Keselowski Racing, a ride in which he received after initially proving himself with NTS Motorsports. While these teams were shutting down around him, his talent has kept him in the sport, and in competitive equipment.

Then there is Preece who may have taken the most significant risks to get to JTG. Leaving a full-time XFINITY Series ride with JD Motorsports for a limited role with Joe Gibbs Racing, to show that he could win races in the right equipment. A move that could very quickly put an end any hope for his career has proven to be the proper chance taken. It’s also a move that may have started a trend, as recently Chip Ganassi Racing allowed the opportunity for Ross Chastain to prove himself.

Now, these two silly season decisions may not be the flashiest or, involve any of the current star but they are without statement moves that should be echoed throughout the sport.

A declaration that it is not all about the money. While it’s without a doubt nicer to have a sponsor or family member that help give you an in, you can still succeed with talent. Something that has proven time and time again in the sport, but bears repeating.

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
XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: GoBowling.com 250

The playoffs are officially here, as the NASCAR XFINITY Series kicked off their post-season action in style at Richmond Raceway on Friday night.

The 0.75-mile oval in Virginia has been called the perfect short track for a couple years, and that showed during the GoBowling.com 250 under the lights. From the drop of the green flag to the checkered, there were battles throughout the field with drivers able to battle side-by-side without touching each other. The aging of the surface also helped the excitement, with comers and goers over the course of the run as the tires began to fade away. 

Christopher Bell made the most of the short run at the end, working his way from third on the restart with just under 40 laps to go to take the lead, holding off a late challenge from Daniel Hemric on an ensuing restart to score the victory. The victory allows the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to lock himself automatically into the second round of the playoffs.

Through the first half of the season, it seemed Bell was putting himself in a position to contend for the championship. However, the late momentum for Justin Allgaier, and a string road courses which aren’t the rookie’s strong suit caused many to forget about the potential shown. Thankfully not having to worry about the Charlotte roval next weekend, the rest of the playoffs could play into Bell’s wheelhouse.

Bell wasn’t the only driver who led laps, though, as different contenders emerged throughout the night. Hemric won the first stage, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. victorious in the second. You also had Matt Tifft factoring himself into the equation – possibly set to play a bigger role if the flat tire hadn’t happened under the yellow flag, along with Ross Chastain trying to write another chapter in his Cinderella story.

Just imagine the scene if Earnhardt Jr. had won in his lone NASCAR start of the 2018 campaign. He led a bunch of laps and looked to have the car to beat, however the final run did not see the No. 88 Chevrolet fit his handling as he faded back to fourth. The smile in seeing him back behind the wheel was affectionate for everybody watching, and the promise of another race next year should allow the hype to continue.

The embrace post-race between him and Elliott Sadler post-race was also special as the best friends realized this would be their last time competing on the track together. The emotions on Sadler’s face was easily seen as he made his final start his home track, once again missing out on visiting victory lane. 

JR Motorsports wasn’t all smiles, though. Allgaier entered the playoffs with a ton of momentum following back-to-back wins, but contact while four-wide ended his night early. Thankfully, those points he collected from the five victories and stage wins will allow him to be seeded third, still 22 points above the cut-off line. His mulligan is used, though, so the next two weeks will need to see things go back the way they were previously. 

Chastain is set to return to his previous ride beginning next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway as he ends his three-race span driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. He did what he wanted in the process – showcasing that he can get the job done if in the right equipment as evident with last week’s win and a runner-up this week. While worry was expressed post-race in seeing that potential recognized in the future due to funding, one can only hope that it works out and the Watermelon farmer gets the ride he deserves next season.

Lastly, is the No. 60 car cursed for Roush Fenway Racing? They’re currently at 11 DNF’s this season with a crash in all of the events except for two. 

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.