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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway

The NASCAR XFINITY Series has put on some of the best shows over the past couple of weeks, and the Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Although having a reputation for tearing up a whole bunch of equipment at the race’s conclusion, this year did not see a repeat of that as everybody managed to hold on to their cars. That said, it wasn’t boring by any means either with a classic battle between Spencer Gallagher and Tyler Reddick for the top spot. One ill-timed block by Reddick was all that Gallagher needed to get by, and score the win.

Notably, Gallagher has only led a single lap in the XFINITY Series to date – the last lap that won him the race at Talladega, giving GMS Racing their first win as an organization. It’s no secret that the driver of the No. 23 Chevrolet struggled last year, but this season has seen him run up front on a weekly basis, and he could easily turn what some may call a lucky win into a championship challenge.

RELATED: Mitchell Bruer recently detailed the turnaround for Gallagher 

On the flip side, Reddick will chalk this up to another race in where one decision kept the No. 9 out of victory lane, something that has seemed to be a common theme since his triumph at Daytona International Speedway. But his loss for JR Motorsports isn’t the focus, but rather his teammates’ days. 

Elliott Sadler had once again put himself in a position to win on a restrictor plate track, but a penalty for speeding on pit road had him restarting deep in the field late. The infraction is widely debatable, as he said he only sped to avoid the spinning John Hunter Nemechek. NASCAR has allowed drivers to speed through pit lane previously when avoiding an incident, but supposedly this one didn’t fall under that category. JR Motorsports’ problems did not end there as Justin Allgaier had to make a late-race pit stop after running out of fuel.

However, the team managed to rebound in stellar style, with both drivers charging through the field to score a pair of top-fives, with Sadler taking home the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus for the second straight week in a row. The charge by the pair was certainly fascinating to watch, whether running the high-line three-wide, to dipping down low at the last minute. One more lap with the momentum they had on their side, compared to the others being shaken up, and there may have been a different driver in victory lane. The way they were able to rebound, though, is why they have consistently led the series standings over the past couple of years, including a championship with William Byron in 2017. 

It would’ve also been interesting to see what Daniel Hemric would’ve been able to do if he was in the thick of the action late as he ran up front through the event until a tire issue in the late stages. They say tires aren’t important at restrictor plate tracks, but trying to run on the same right-side rubber all event didn’t pay off.

So far at Talladega Superspeedway, there have been two races – the ARCA Racing Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Even with debate surrounding the rules for ARCA in finishing under green conditions, both events have produced exciting finishes with battles right down to the checkered flag. Hopefully the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series doesn’t disappoint on Sunday. 

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: ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway

No matter the reason as you can pick what you want, whether attraction of a short track or seeing no Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars, the NASCAR XFINITY Series delivered for the second straight week with the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.

There was pit strategy near the end of a stage, and battles for position throughout the whole race – including three-wide at times. You also had six different drivers pace the field, showing potential to possibly reach victory lane. The Dash 4 Cash even had a bit of drama with on-track incidents. Do we need to say anymore?

Christopher Bell may have went home with the trophy, but he didn’t have it easy, enduring a serious challenge from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Noah Gragson in the closing laps. Really, seeing that pair run one-two shows the growth of young talent in NASCAR. When they both entered the fray, it was hold nothing back, go crazy style. However, in having been both riled back a bit courtesy of Kyle Busch, we’re seeing their talent shine. 

A runner-up for Gragson in his XFINITY debut is nothing to be disappointed about, but you have to wonder – what if? Utilizing the bottom line, he closed the two-second gap to Bell over five laps, looking underneath, even tapping the bumper of the No. 20 Toyota Camry a couple times, before fading a little. If Gragson didn’t switch to the top after a couple failed attempts, he may have been able to make the pass. You also have to wonder if there were flashbacks to ISM Raceway last year when the pair wrecked while battling for the lead as NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teammates for Kyle Busch Motorsports, too.

Meanwhile, Elliott Sadler placed third for the Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus, which came as no surprise as he ran upfront all night, pacing 30 laps. Though, this is another what if scenario as you have to wonder if Daniel Hemric would have snagged it without his issues. He had a quick car as well, leading 11 laps, until he had a flat tire and hit the wall. His Richard Childress Racing team could’ve handled that better. How do you leave a guy who has a tire going down on track for 17 laps to try and make it to the end of the stage? That should’ve been instant pit stop, and work towards fighting back. Instead, he finished 29th.

Now heading to Talladega Superspeedway, one can only guess what will happen and who will head home $100,000 richer due to another Dash 4 Cash bonus.

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

ASHLEY ASKS…… Daniel Hemric

Entering his second season of NASCAR XFINITY Series competition, Daniel Hemric is off to a solid start with three top-10’s in five races.

Before the break, the Richard Childress Racing driver took some time to open up to POPULAR SPEED. 

POPULAR SPEED: Obviously, we got to start off with the big news. What does it mean to have your Cup debut coming up at Richmond next month?

DANIEL HEMRIC: I’ve worked my whole life to get an opportunity to get in a Cup car and to make my Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut at Richmond with a team and owner like Richard Childress Racing means a lot. I grew up a huge Earnhardt fan and being from Kannapolis and pulling for the 3 car, pulling for the 8 car out of DEI (Dale Earnhardt Incorporated), driving by DEI every day as a kid – all that stuff ties into what it means to me to have the opportunity to go Cup racing at least twice this year. Even the two times that I get to do it is two more times than I thought I’d have the opportunity to do it at that level.

Very fortunate and blessed for all the opportunities and car owners along the way that have helped him. I didn’t know where the end was, but they kept believing for me, and providing myself the motivation to keep moving forward. A day like that announcing that makes it all worth it.

PS: Could we see you run more than just the two Cup races this year?

DANIEL: From what I understand, it’s just the two right now. I’m very thankful for those two. I’m not really sure where all this leads to, but the two right now are the main focus and I’m very thankful for Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff for coming on board to allow us to do these two.

PS: Shifting back to the XFINITY Series, how would you characterize your season so far?

DANIEL: The XFINITY side – we went through a big transformation in the offseason here at RCR, especially as a company going from five full-time teams to three. It’s a huge benefit for us as it allows us to put more detail in each racecar every weekend, and I feel like we’ve gained because of it. You know, getting the pole at Daytona was big for our group and Chevrolet; it was a good start for us. We went from there to Atlanta, and we struggled to put the whole race together, but as far as the west coast swing, we put some really good races together with two sixth-place finishes and a fifth.

We’re starting to hone in on the package of what this composite body needs and been able to make gains in that direction each week. Hopefully it’ll lead us to competing in the top-five and leading laps, and be able to try to win races.

PS: Where do you feel you and your team need to work on moving forward?

DANIEL: The biggest thing is doing what we’ve been doing, and that’s slowly making progress. The progress we’ve been making has shown in practice speeds, qualifying speeds, and we’ve raced better and finished better. So all that stuff is starting down the right path and to switch and change the direction as a company, I feel you’d lose that tie grip. Right now, we have that tie grip to where we can unload at bases and have a good baseline to keep tweaking on, small changes here and there are really going to make gains at this level. We’re going to continue to do that and if we’re able to do that, we’ll be set to compete up front.

PS: What are your thoughts going into Texas?

DANIEL: Texas was just repaved and the race track went through a big transition now – I think it’s the third or fourth time that we’re going back there since the repave, and the track is just starting to get some more character back into it. The repave, they did a great job with it. I feel like we unloaded a really fast car in the fall there last year, and we had a mechanical failure that forced us to unload the back-up car. But I feel that package was really strong, and I feel even better about that with the momentum on my side.

I look forward to going to Texas; there’s always a lot of family there with my wife (Kenzie Ruston Hemric) being from Oklahoma. There’s a lot of friends and family that visit there, but looking forward to unloading and seeing what we have.

PS: What’s the biggest challenge of Texas?

DANIEL: Like it talked about, the repave and maneuvering your racecar, and how you go about it in practice. With the repave, a lot is going to shift and change going into the race. It’s important to utilize practice and make sure you go the right way with your changes so your car will drive better for the race. A repave is always the hardest place to do that at. We just need to make sure we have the right balance and if we can do that, it makes for a good day.

PS: What track are you most excited to get to in the weeks to come?

DANIEL: Even before announcing my Cup debut at Richmond, Richmond was a place I had circled on the calendar since I left there last fall. It’s a place that I was fortunate to get my first pole in the XFINITY Series with the (No.) 21 team and went back in the fall and had a top-five run. I really love that place, and love going there, and feel like our package is really good with the surface being wore out and slick. That’s one place that I’m looking forward to.

PS: Who is your racing hero?

DANIEL: It was always Dale Earnhardt as a kid. I had my hand twisted to be an Earnhardt fan growing up in Kannapolis; that was just my guy. Over time, another huge influence was a guy like Carl Edwards, and more recently Kevin Harvick. Those two guys – first off, Carl grew up the tough way and short track raced and doing whatever he could to make a name for himself. Once he broke in, he was a guy that everybody looked to. Kevin Harvick was almost the same exact way. He paved the way, and is very vocal now as he gets later in his career about what the short tracks mean, and how we can enhance the sport for the fans. All that stuff that makes a hero for me, and I’m pumped to know that I’ll get to race with some of those guys and know that I can always look up to them.

PS: Switching off track and letting the fans get to know you, what’s your favourite food?

DANIEL: Definitely Japanese food. There’s a little place in Mooresville – JJ Wasabi’s – it’s not even a sit down place as they literally bring it out to you. That’s my go to place. If I’m away at a different race track in a different state, I try to find a good place.

PS: Least favorite food?

DANIEL: Anything with onions; no onions at all. I get a lot of criticism because they say I’m so picky; I’m not picky, I just know what I want.

PS: Dream vacation spot?

DANIEL: Hopefully this changes over time because one of the most fun vacations I had was our wedding. I got married in Jamaica. I had a lot of friends and family with us, and it was a really cool while we were there. Looking forward to broadening those horizons and going to different places over time.

PS: What is your favorite TV show?

DANIEL: Designated Survivor. Keith Sutherland is a great actor and I watched a show called 24 growing up with my step-dad and my mother. Then when Designated Survivor came on – that’s kind of been his next great TV show, so I’m always tuned into it.

PS: You’ve ran your fair share of late model events. If you won the Rattler 250, would you make friends with the snake?

DANIEL: Absolutely. Funny story about the Rattler. I was leading that race by a straightaway and a half and only had to go a couple more laps, and I had an oil line failure. My spotter at time, Brandon, was scared to death of snakes. He told me afterwards that he was praying that I wouldn’t win the race because he didn’t want to get near that snake. I’d love to be close to it.

PS: If you were stuck on an island, what are three things you must have?

DANIEL: It’s easy to say food, right? I mean, you have to have food because it is a necessity and a way of life. You have to have someone to care for you, and some companionship so my wife Kenzie has to be with me. Lastly, I think I would bring Brendan Gaughan along. You have to have some humor, espically in a tough spot like being stranded on an island. So Brendan would be perfect.

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

Daniel Hemric To Enter 2018 With Familiar Crew Chief

After working with Randall Burnett for the final five NASCAR XFINITY Series races in 2017, Daniel Hemric will be reunited with Danny Stockman Jr. for next season.

“I’m very excited about that,” Hemric told NBC at the XFINITY banquet. “We had some situations that were thrown our way with five races left in the season. … I have all the faith in the world in Danny and in our race team and the direction we’re going as a company and knowing I’ve got him to lead our group is very exciting.”

Hemric and Stockman were together for 27 of the first 28 events, scoring six top-fives and 14 top-10’s together, which easily allowed Hemric to qualify for the playoffs in his rookie year. However, after a weight fell off in the No. 21 Chevrolet in practice at Dover International Speedway, Stockman was suspended for four races. Burnett was able to get Hemric into the Championship 4, where the pair placed fourth in the standings after a battery problem in the season finale.

Hemric will enter his second campaign at Richard Childress Racing confident, saying the adversity they faced this year will only make them stronger moving forward.

“I have a lot of stuff on the positives to look forward to, knowing what we were able to do on the circumstances last year and the success that we had,” he told POPULAR SPEED last month. “I look forward to hitting the ground running at Daytona without that learning curve. It’s just about going through the motions to being prepared to put us in a position going to Homestead again next year.”

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

ASHLEY ASKS…… Daniel Hemric

With seven top-fives and 16 top-10’s, Daniel Hemric put together an impressive NASCAR XFINITY Series season en route to placing fourth in the year-end standings. 

Popular Speed’s Ashley McCubbin recently caught up with the 26-year-old to get his thoughts on the year ahead, and this past season.

POPULAR SPEED: How would you characterize this past season?

DANIEL HEMRIC: That is a loaded question. There’s so much that went on, from starting the year off with a group of guys first time working together and my first time in an XFINITY car, and knowing that we had a bunch of stuff stacked against us. We started the year off on a little bit of a slow start. But the first time we got to Bristol we won the Dash 4 Cash together, and gave us some momentum. We went to the next race at Richmond and sat on the pole and felt like things were starting to gel and click, and felt we were doing all the right things we needed to get better.

Then all of a sudden, we had one setback, and then another setback – by the time we got to the second Dover, we lost our crew chief and chief engineer. It was definitely a situation we didn’t want to be in, but I’m proud of everybody at RCR for rising up and took what could’ve been a really negative situation and made it as positive as we could. We continued to fight throughout the playoffs, and found ourselves in position going to Homestead.

So, just looking back at a whole, it was an up and down season for sure, but something that I think in a long term will be good for myself and my career. To go through that much stuff and come out with a shot at a championship is pretty special.

PS: So now looking forward to 2018, where are your thoughts?

DH: With everything that we were able to go through and overcome, we were able to hone in our strengths and weaknesses and how to be better in all departments. Going through all that stuff will make us stronger for sure going into 2018, and it will be my first time in NASCAR in a top three series being able to come back and be with the same organization for a second year running. So I have a lot of stuff on the positives to look forward to, and know what we were able to do on the circumstances last year and the success that we had, I look forward to hitting the ground running at Daytona without that learning curve. It’s just about going through the motions to being prepared to put us in a position going to Homestead again next year.

PS: Where do you feel you and the team need to get better to be even stronger?

DH: I feel like just a whole, week in and week out, just being more solid off the truck. There’s times where we weren’t up to speed our first run or two on a weekend. In my opinion, that sets the tone. But as a group, we were able to bounce back and get our cars pretty fast by the end of the weekend. But we want to be able to start closer and we’re putting in a lot of effort on my side and the team’s side so that we’re a little closer when we start the weekend off and make the rest of the weekend go smoother.

PS: Out of the tracks on the schedule, what is your favorite to go to?

DH: For me, I’d never been to Richmond before this year, so to be able to run a day race and a night race there on a wore out short track that doesn’t have a lot of grip – really enjoyed going there. We had a lot of success, obviously, with two top-fives and a pole there. But, I really looking forward to going back there, especially being able to go twice.

PS: NASCAR just got done the first year with stage racing. What is your opinion in how it played out?

DH: My opinion is it worked masterfully. You had so many different races inside the race which really allowed the fans to stay connected with the races in how it breaks the race up like it does in all three series. I know from just my perspective being a fan of the Cup Series and Truck Series and watching a majority of those races, it allowed me to even stay more active in what was going on from Lap 1 to the checkered flag. I thought it was a huge success for all of NASCAR to know that we’re able to take in the first year, go through some of the growing pains and questions, but I think they will be able to take another step in the right direction with stage racing. I think it’s here to stay for a long time.

PS: What are your plans for the off-season?

DH: Off-season is going to be fun. Actually enjoy some time off with my wife Kenzie now. Her family is from Oklahoma so we’ll go see them for Christmas, and hang out with those folks for awhile. We’ll go out to Colorado and do some snowboarding – just kind of separating from all of the busyness of what we find ourselves in over the year. We’re going to do that, take some time with each other, and try to enjoy it before we get started back in Daytona.

The 2018 NASCAR XFINITY Series season kicks off with the PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17.

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

Allgaier, Hemric Come Up Short in Championship Bid

Both Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric showed potential to score their first NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship, but it just wasn’t their night to do so on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Allgaier entered the season finale with momentum with four top-fives in the last six events, but without his crew chief. Jason Burdett was suspended from being atop the box at the Ford EcoBoost 300 after his No. 7 Chevrolet was found with an unattached brake cooling hose post-race at Phoenix Raceway.

Starting 16th, the 31-year-old spent the race running behind his fellow championship opponents as he and fill-in crew chief Chad Knaus fought the handling. During the final stages of the event, he closed the gap running sixth behind his JR Motorsports teammates, but eventually faded to finish 10th.

“We felt like we did all the work up until this point and did a good job yesterday in practice, felt like the car had good speed in it, and unfortunately when the race started tonight we knew something was way off,” he said. “We just struggled kind of from the drop of the green.  There were moments of brightness; there were a few restarts where we picked up quite a few spots and thought that maybe we had a shot to get up there and battle it out. But ultimately on the long run we just really started dropping speed, and just way too loose to be able to drive at the end of some of these runs.”

Even if Burdett was on the pit box, Allgaier doesn’t feel their night would’ve gone differently as they would’ve made the same decisions on the set-up pre-race, and during the event.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Hemric, meanwhile, had the speed and handling, but he ran into a different problem.

“We came down here, we did our jobs,” Hemric said. “We practiced, qualified, did everything we needed to do to race the guys we needed to race, and I was looking forward to battling it out with everybody with our 21 Poppy Bank Chevrolet, and just wasn’t meant to be.  We were able to stay out in front of those guys the first stage, come down pit road, (and I) thought we were in pretty good shape to make our race car a little better.”

Starting from fourth, he ran in the top-five throughout the first stage, falling out just before the checkered flew to finish seventh; but more importantly, he spent the entire stages ahead of the three other championship contenders, including holding off Elliott Sadler in a close battle the final five laps.

He began the second stage equally strong, running fifth ahead of William Byron and Sadler when he was forced down pit road on Lap 61 of 200 with an electrical issue. He spent several laps on pit road, finishing the race in 34th.

“Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, and if it were meant to be it would, but it just wasn’t our day,” Hemric said. “But I don’t want to let that take away from everything from our efforts that we did all year to put ourselves in position and to get ourselves here.  Proud of the effort, and that’s why we decided to keep running all the laps because we didn’t give up and that’s what got us here, so whether we were 12 laps down or not, we wanted to complete the race, and that’s what we did.”

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

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

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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

Hemric Returns to RCR Alongside New Teammate

Richard Childress Racing may be chasing a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship this year, but they’re already preparing for 2018. The muti-time champions confirmed their driver line-up on Thursday.

Daniel Hemric re-signed to drive the No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro for the second straight year. In his rookie campaign, he has scored five top-fives and 12 top-10’s, and is in position to advance to the Round of 8 in the XFINITY Series playoffs.

“It is always a special time when you can re-sign with a team like Richard Childress Racing that has done so much in our sport,” said Hemric.
“I’ve learned a lot from Richard both about racing and life in general, many lessons that I will never forget,” Hemric said. “While we still are contending for the XFINITY Series championship this year, and have unfinished business in the final five races, I’m fortunate that I will again be running for the Series championship in 2018 with RCR and Richard in my corner.”

RCR also announced Matt Tifft has jumped on board to drive the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro next season as part of a multi-year agreement. Tifft is currently in the midst of his rookie campaign with Joe Gibbs Racing, qualified for the playoffs, currently sitting seventh in the standings. 

“I am very appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to race for a championship and grow as a driver under one the most successful and historic teams in NASCAR,” said Tifft. “RCR has a long history of developing partnerships through its XFINITY Series program. I am looking forward to being a part of the family and applying what I have learned in my first full-time XFINITY Series season while continuing to grow with the goal of competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the future.”

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

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.

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.