Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Team Penske Implements Cup Crew Chief Swap

Beginning with the newly titled NASCAR Cup Series and a complete schedule remodeling, the upcoming 2020 season is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and divisive yet. Adding to the plethora of changes coming to NASCAR’s premier series, Team Penske just announced it will be implementing a full crew chief swap amongst it’s three drivers – just one month away from the Daytona 500.

This shakeup in the Penske stable does come as a surprise for series veterans, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, as both drivers have been with their crew chiefs since joining the famed team run by Roger Penske. The two drivers have produced much success over their tenure with their respected pairings of Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon (including championships), but looking more in-depth, the bombshell decision makes sense.

The swap doesn’t particularly target needed results in the No. 2 and No. 22 camps, but in the growth and development of Ryan Blaney. Since entering full-time competition in the Cup Series in 2016, the highly touted racing prodigy has yet to progress into the great potential he brings to the table.

Blaney – who had been paired with Jeremy Bullins in 2012 when he joined Team Penske in the NASCAR Xfinity Series  – has only found victory lane three times in the last three season. It’s not to say the driver of the No. 12 has not had moderate success; he just hasn’t produced as well as some of the other young talents in the Cup Series.

With all of this in mind, the swap should be a win for all drivers involved. Blaney will be inheriting an experienced, championship winning crew chief, as Keselowski and Logano will be gifted with a fresh change in scenery to build off of the successes they’ve had in their time at Team Penske.

Matthew T. Thacker

Brad Keselowski & Jeremy Bullins

Let’s begin with the pairing that makes the most sense – Keselowski and Bullins. Bullins makes the jump from the No. 12 team and will now sit atop the pit box of the 2012 Cup Series Champion. The new duo has a history together (and a successful one). From 2012-14, Bullins was at the helm for the Michigan-native for 47 races in the Xfinity Series and the two found victory 14 times.

Keselowski and Wolfe were one of the most dominant forces in the garage area in terms of wins, but one championship and only one additional title-bid over the last eight seasons is not the most desirable. While it couldn’t have hurt to keep the long-standing duo in-tact, the undeniable talents of the 35 year-old driver blended with the past experience of Bullins should add a little more competitive edge to the No. 2 team.

One driving factor for this new pairing is Keselowski’s inability to put together a full season, as of late. The driver of the No. 2 has yet to advance past the Round of 8 since the sport implemented it’s most recent Playoff format. Out of Bullins’ three wins with Blaney, two of them came during the post season.

While Bullins only has three Cup wins to his resume, since joining the Penske organization in 2012, he’s been the crew chief for 10 different drivers and produced 21 additional wins in that span.

Nigel Kinrade

Joey Logano & Paul Wolfe

This is the swap that should have every team on edge in the Cup Series. The 2018 Series Champion will now team up with 2012 Championship winning crew chief, Paul Wolfe. At age 29, Logano is about to enter his prime as an athlete and he already has 23 wins. Wolfe is the winningest crew chief amongst the three being moved around the  organization with 29 victories in the last nine years.

While the new tandem doesn’t have any experience working together, a champion entering his prime mixed with one of the greatest minds in the sport should bode well for the No. 22 team. Over the last three years, the Connecticut-native drove his way to six wins, one title and 64 top-10s (the most out of the three Penske drivers). In that same span, Wolfe guided Keselowski to nine wins and 40 top-fives (the most out of trio of athletes).

The most compelling argument for this pairing can be found in second half successes for both parties. Historically, Keselowski and Wolfe produced most of their success in the early stages of the season and once making it to the Playoffs, found difficulty in advancing past the Round of 8. Logano on the other hand, typically hits his stride mid-way through the season and is often a contender to make it to the Final 4.

It should also be noted that when Wolfe won the championship in 2012, his driver was 28 years old – just one year younger than the driver he is inheriting. This could be a deadly match in 2020 and beyond, all eyes will be on the No. 22 team to be a contender year-round.

Rusty Jarrett

Ryan Blaney & Todd Gordon

When dealing with the growth and development of any athlete, experience is key. With Gordon making the transition from the No.22 team to the No. 12 team, the 26 year-old will indeed be presented with tons of experience. Gordon has been a presence in NASCAR since 2005 when he began his stint as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series. He made the jump to Team Penske in 2011 when he worked alongside series veterans Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish Jr.

Gordon was able to guide his drivers to 28 NASCAR sanctioned wins and one series title, all with Team Penske. When him and Logano first teamed up in 2013, they found success immediately. In fact, the pair did not have a winless season in their seven year history and in that time compiled the most top-fives and top-10s for Team Penske, in addition to the organization’s most recent championship.

Gordon now finds himself in an all too familiar position while leading the No. 12 team. Much like Logano in 2013, Blaney is a hot, young talent with all eyes on him every week. While he couldn’t do much in the No. 20 car at Joe Gibbs Racing, once Logano signed with Roger Penske and worked alongside Gordon, things started clicking for the driver of the No. 22; now he is consistently one of the best drivers in the field. Mr. Penske and Gordon could be seeking that same magic that came to fruition with Logano.

This crew chief swap should spell success for all teams involved at Team Penske. Whether it be fine-tuning production that has been in the organization, or cracking untapped potential for a young driver, this could be the team to watch for in 2020. Every year, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske are the strongest teams once the season begins at Daytona International Speedway. However, the Ford-led group typically trails off about halfway through the season. Could this be the shakeup that Team Penske needs to compete year-round with Joe Gibbs Racing?

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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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

PREVIEW: The Championship 4 – Busch, Truex, Harvick and Hamlin

AVONDALE, Arizona — Heading into ISM Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick had already locked themselves into a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with their Round of 8 wins at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

After 312 laps in the Bluegreen Vacations 500, Denny Hamlin ensured that his storybook season would live to see another chapter after delivering a championship-caliber performance in the Arizona desert, en route to an emotional victory. Kyle Busch will occupy the final spot in Miami after out-pointing reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Joey Logano.

With the field now set, race fans will be treated to two David and Goliath-esque battles in the Sunshine State. In the first, Harvick is the lone-Ford driver set to take on three Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. The next comes in the form of Hamlin going up again all prior series champions in Busch, Truex and Harvick.

Following the duel in the desert, the past series champions participated in a press conference in the media center at ISM Raceway. It was evident these three drivers had been in this position before. While they were somewhat complaint with the media’s questions, they all went about it in a very tight-lipped-manner with their best pokerface.

Take Kyle Busch, who has not had the strongest playoff run in series history. Some would wonder if horrid post-season results thus far have affected his confidence.

“I never questioned our ability or our opportunity to be able to go out there and continue to get ourselves to the Final 4,” the 2015 title-holder said. “We just had a rough road, others teams had rough roads, but we’re here and that’s the good part.”

Rough is a bit of an understatement. Out of the four competitors that advanced to Homestead, Busch is the only driver without a win in the Playoffs. In fact, you’ll have to look all the way back to June at Pocono Raceway to find the driver  of the No. 18’s last victory this season. Although winless, the past series champion has not been awful. He finished runner-up twice in the last nine races, including this past weekend in Arizona, but certainly that’s far from the dominance shown previously.

Looking ahead to the series finale, Truex and Busch shared the same sentiments in a sense that all three Joe Gibbs Racing teams would be working together the week of the championship.

“I feel like we’re all here because we work together,” the driver of the No. 19 said. “Our teams work together really well, we’ve got a great group at Joe Gibbs Racing and I would assume all the way up to Sunday morning we’ll all be working together.”

Busch went on to elaborate that he worked with Carl Edwards back in 2016 and even with Truex last year as future-teammates for the 2019 season.

Harvick chose not to reveal much about his intentions for his 2019 championship plans (and for good reason, sitting wedged between two Gibbs teammates), but he had mentioned that he went into this race weekend at ISM Raceway to prepare for the series finale in 2020.

“I think we’re pretty confident that we’re like a fifth-place car, the winningest driver in ISM Raceway history said. “That’s about what we thought coming in here and that’s about where we were in the first race.”

The trio of drivers were asked about the lack of ability to pass at the 1.5-mile speedway this weekend and all appeared visibly agitated. Truex chimed in muttering “it’s always been that way,” while Busch offered up a classic-Kyle comment saying, “whoever gets the lead… bye-bye!”

The stone-faced past champions didn’t reveal much else. As they vacated the media center, Hamlin entered and was much more generous with his insight and outlook moving forward.

“This is very similar to 2010, in the sense of the cars and the speed that we’ve had this season,” the driver of the No. 11 said. “There’s similarities for sure, but it’s very different. This is a tighter-knit group of guys. I think Chris [Gabehart] takes a lot of pride in assembling these guys from top to bottom. He worked hard to make sure he had the best people possible working on that car.”

Hamlin had nothing but praise to give for his new crew chief for 2019, Chris Gabehart. From weekend one at Daytona International Speedway, Gabehart called a team meeting with a plan in place for the season. After an emotional Daytona 500 win and one of the most dominant seasons in Hamlin’s 15-year career, it seems the driver/crew chief pairing were able to execute these plans with ease.

While the past-series champions are all working with crew chiefs they’ve been coupled together with for many years, Hamlin feels that “having a fresh set of eyes” puts him and Gabehart at an advantage as he makes a bid of his first series title.

The driver of the FedEx Camry is making his first attempt at a championship since the inaugural season of the new Playoff format in 2014. Hamlin recounts his mindset from 2010 when he essentially thought he had the championship locked up against Jimmie Johnson heading into Phoenix and Homestead. The Virginia-native will be going about this a lot different this time around.

“I didn’t prepare for the ‘what if it doesn’t work out,’ I was only going there thinking ‘I’m going to come here, handle business and go to Homestead and get the trophy,'” Hamlin said. “I think over the years – we’re almost 10 years later – I’m just more content with what I’ve accomplished in the series and I don’t need validation of a championship. There’s many more opportunities ahead of me, this is not my last opportunity to win a championship – especially with the relationship that I built with Chris. I see this going a long way. I’m going to enjoy the moment, because all you can ask for when you started the year was an opportunity for a chance to complete for a championship and we have a chance to compete. It’s goal accomplished, now we just got to go out there and do it.”

Hamlin is the only championship contender without and title to his name. Truex, Harvick and Busch enter Homestead with a chance to be the only active driver aside from Johnson with multiple championships at the Cup level.

With the endless amount of storylines heading into the Ford EcoBoost 400, you won’t want to miss the series finale in the final championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway this Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.

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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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

David Ragan Opens Up About His Final Two Races

AVONDALE, Arizona — When the checkered flag waves at the conclusion of the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, there will only be one event remaining in the 2019 season. In conjunction with that, the series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will also signify the final race for 14-year series veteran, David Ragan, as a full-time driver.

Although the driver of the No. 38 machine may not have had the most storied career, he’s had a sustainable one. With only two races remaining, the Georgia-native is not overly upset to see his profession as a full-time driver come to an end. His intentions upon walking away are putting an emphasis on spending more time with his wife and children.

“I don’t really have a lot of thoughts or emotions going into my last final races,” Ragan told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s business as usual and obviously we want to finish the year on a good note. We’re going to race hard and race for a good finish.”

The 33-year old is not racing for anything of utter importance in terms of Playoff implications, but he would like to close the year out on a strong note to help Front Row Motorsports learn more about their equipment for the 2020 season.

As Ragan gears up for what will be his final race as a full-time driver at the 1.5-mile oval, he offered kind words about the track and reminisced about a few memories throughout his career at the track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway.

“This is such a unique racetrack – I really enjoyed coming here when they first had that new layout,” said the Front Row Motorsports driver. “Turns one and two are so different from turns three and four and there’s a lot of great race fans out here. I haven’t really had cars that could’ve won a race here, but I’ve got some top-fives and top-10s in the other divisions. I just remember coming out here and it being a really unique racetrack and having fun.”

While this is the end of the road for Ragan as a full-time driver, he revealed in a press conference at the track that he is not done racing completely. The series veteran expressed interest in running a few races part-time and even alluded to the possibility of filling in for teammate Matt Tifft in the 2020 season if asked.

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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.

 

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Mario Andretti Talks Upcoming IndyCar Season at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Racing legend Mario Andretti visited Daytona International Speedway on Sunday for the 59th running of the Daytona 500.

Andretti, who won the “Great American Race” in 1967, was in attendance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his only NASCAR win.

When he sat on the stage of the press conference room, a tribute video featuring his win started to play, allowing the retired Nazareth, Pennsylvania driver and media members a moment to reminisce about his historic victory in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford.

While the focus of his presser was about the notoriously loose racecar he brought to Victory Lane and the impact he had on the racing world with the 500 win, it also gave POPULAR SPEED an opportunity to ask about the upcoming Verizon IndyCar Series campaign.

Andretti Autosport made numerous engineering changes and added new team members in the offseason to prepare for the 2017 season.

Last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi has a new engineer for his No. 98 Honda. Jeremy Milless comes over from Ed Carpenter Racing to work with Rossi and Eric Bretzman, Chip Ganassi Racing’s former technical director, joins AA as the team’s new director. Notably, Bryan Herta, who was paired with Rossi, remains with the team and is now partnered with Marco Andretti.

It’s also worth noting Marco, Mario’s grandson, seemed remarkably enthusiastic for the upcoming IndyCar season as he smiled throughout the series’ “Prix-View” test at Phoenix International Raceway last month. Entering his 12th full season, the 29-year-old only has two career wins and is coming off a dismal 2016, where he finished 16th in the Championship standings and failed to earn a podium result.

“Alexander really came to life by winning the 100th running of the IndyCar race last year,” Mario said. “He’s a really strong member of the team. He says, ‘I hope that what we’ve done during the offseason, the engineering and some of the changes, some of the [new engineers] we’ve acquired, will make a difference.’

“You know, the hope is high. We have to be thinking positively,” he added.

AA’s only win last season came from Rossi’s shocking fuel-mileage victory at Indy. The team was a step behind Ganassi, and everyone was well behind the dominating Team Penske, but the Andretti organization believes they’ve made ground on the field’s top teams.

“There’s always somebody you think is going to be better than you, and that’s what raises your game,” the 77-year-old Andretti said. “The Penske team is always a team to contend with.

“They’ve always been a marquee team throughout their history. If you feel you’re good enough to beat them, then you’re in pretty good shape, and that hope is there.”

With Penske adding Josef Newgarden to its four-driver lineup and Simon Pagenaud coming off the 2016 title, the consensus among IndyCar fans and media is that Penske is still the series’ top dog.

But with Ganassi switching from Chevrolet to Honda and a lack of sponsorship for Scott Dixon being a distraction for the team entering the season, AA might be able to capitalize on its issues.

Ganassi was second-tier to Penske in 2016, but after “stagnant” changes within the organization as Dixon put it, AA could visit the winner’s circle more often than Ganassi this year.

“That’s the skin we have in the game with my son Michael [AA team owner] and having four cars,” Andretti said. “Every team is doing their utmost, and they just hope that it’s enough.”

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Categories
XFINITY

Roush Fenway Believes More Good to Come in 2017

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ryan Reed won his second career NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, and although his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. crashed out on Lap 29, both drivers and team owner Jack Roush were exceptionally pleased with the organization’s performance throughout Speedweeks.

RFR went winless in both the XFINITY and Cup Series last season. The team has struggled the last two years, despite winning the XFINITY title in 2015 with Chris Buescher.

But now it is a two-car effort in both series as Greg Biffle left the No. 16 Cup car in the offseason.

Speedweeks went well for the organization — most notably since Reed qualified second for the PowerShares QQQ 300.

“Speedweeks is kind of a race within itself … Ryan had an awesome qualifying lap there,” Wallace told POPULAR SPEED. “It kind of gave everyone in the shop a little shot in the butt, and I think we had great speed. We’re just bummed out that we got to the front early and I thought we’d be OK, but we just didn’t get lucky, but it’s just part of it.”

Reed won the XFINITY season-opener in 2015. He said since that race, he comes to every superspeedway with the confidence of contending for the victory.

“The guys take pride in it, and if the driver does his part, he keeps out of trouble,” Reed said. “I’ve never had any doubt in my mind that we can come to any restrictor plate race and win.”

Jack Roush added, “The cars ran really well over the winter. Doug Yates has given us great engines for all of our Fords. It sure looks like we’ve made a move on the field and we are better than we were in relation to last year.”

Wallace thinks the speed will translate on the Cup side too and be sustained this season. Trevor Bayne has two full Cup seasons under his belt, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is entering his fifth full season in NASCAR’s top level.

“We’ve been working hard with a lot of changes,” Wallace said. “I think those guys [Bayne and Stenhouse] are smart enough and old enough to see what kind of racing goes on out here.

“It’d be cool to see another Roush Fenway Ford in Victory Lane soon.”

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Chevy Drivers Fall Just Short of Fuel in Closing Laps at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Many fans and members of the media pegged Ford and Toyota as the top manufacturers this week considering the recent successes of Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing at Daytona International Speedway, but Chevrolet was in the mix for the win as the white flag waved on Sunday night, too.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson led the field with one lap to go. He put himself in position and flexed the horsepower of his Chevy when he slingshotted around eventual race winner Kurt Busch to move from fourth to third in the closing laps.

At the same time, Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott was in the lead. But Martin Truex Jr. put a move on the Hendrick Motorsports driver with three laps remaining to take the lead temporarily before Larson overtook him.

“I knew Kurt would be aggressive, so I knew I needed to get by him first,” Larson said. “I got by him, and Chase Elliott ran out of fuel on the next straightaway and then we were coming to the white [flag] next time by.”

Elliott led 39 laps, but he has still yet to get that elusive first Cup victory.

“It was a disappointing finish to a good day,” Elliott said. “Just one of those things you can’t do anything about. I’m happy with how the team performed, and we are going to learn from it. We’re looking forward to getting back at it in Atlanta.”

His HMS teammate Kasey Kahne also had a strong showing by leading seven laps after leading none in 2016, but the 14-year veteran also ran out of fuel.

“I thought it was a great Daytona 500,” Kahne told POPULAR SPEED. “I kind of gave Kurt his push to the lead, and my car ran out of gas, so I didn’t get to see what happened. But I like the stages — I think it’s going to be a great part of NASCAR for a while.”

Although HMS had a disappointing day with Elliott and Kahne’s 14th and seventh-place results respectively and Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. getting Did Not Finishes, it’s still a championship caliber organization for the Chevy staple. As for Ganassi, Larson and Jamie McMurray can hold their heads high after both made the playoffs in 2016 and led a combined 29 of 200 laps on Sunday.

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Daytona, The “Land of Opportunity,” Lives Up To Its Epithet Again

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Daytona International Speedway has always been called the “land of opportunity” for NASCAR’s underdogs, and the 59th annual Daytona 500 was not any different.

A.J. Allmendinger finished third, Aric Almirola finished fourth, and Paul Menard finished fifth. What do all three drivers have in common? They’re all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans with one career win.

Also in the top 10 was Michael Waltrip, who announced that Sunday’s race would be his final career start, and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who finished eighth and 10th, respectively.

“Typically a car that’s beat up isn’t going to do that,” Bayne told POPULAR SPEED about finishing 10th. “It’s cool to get a top 10 out of a wrecked racecar.

“We didn’t get many of the results we thought we would this week. We thought we had a car that can qualify on the front row and we thought he had a shot win the Duel. We weren’t bad, but the goal was to win.”

Menard said the event was one the wildest races he’s ever been in and noted how his Richard Childress Racing No. 27 team overcame the obstacle of going to a backup car to finish in the top five.

“On Friday during practice, I actually thought it was a little better than our primary car,” Menard said. “There’s a lot of new faces on my team, and Matt Borland is a new crew chief, and we came out of the gates swinging.”

Almirola led two laps as he and TriStar Motorsports’ Cole Whitt led the field to green with less than 50 laps remaining. Both their leads were short-lived, but captured the attention many fans, particularly those who would have wanted to see the No. 43 return to the winner’s circle for the first time since July 2014.

“We had a solid car all day,” Almirola said. “It wasn’t the car we needed to contend for the win. I’m just so proud of everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports. I’m so proud of Ford Motor Company for going to Victory Lane.”

Whitt ran out of fuel as the race concluded and wound up 18th, but he led three laps as well.

“We had a little bit of damage, but mostly, we stayed out of trouble,” Whitt told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a good day. We were running in front of the 15 [Waltrip] when we ran out of fuel coming to the white flag off of Turn 4, but all in all, we had fun.”

With this being Waltrip’s final 500, he felt “fortunate” to end his career on a high note.

“I had so many times I was in the middle of a crash and just missed it,” he said. “I’m thankful that I survived and I’m thankful for being able to run up front, and I’m happy about the finish.

“I’m ready for it to be my last [start] so it’s going to be a good one to remember it by.”

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

XFINITY Drivers Comment on Hectic Daytona Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A lap before Stage 1 of the PowerShares QQQ 300 ended, the second “big one” of the day occurred in Turn 4 of Daytona International Speedway.

The accident collected a dozen cars and ended any opportunity of a win for many of the race’s favorites.

Pole winner Brandon Jones was on the outside of Richard Childress Racing teammate Daniel Hemric in Turn 4 and made just enough contact to get loose and shoot up the track into the wall.

He collected a few XFINITY Series stars including Justin Allgaier, Darrell Wallace Jr., and all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers — Daniel Suarez, Matt Tifft, and Erik Jones.

“Unfortunately, we were a victim of circumstances — we were all just racing really hard there,” Allgaier said of the wreck. “I got clipped and got into the side the 33 [Brandon Jones], and that got us back into the outside wall.

“That was one of the hardest hits I’ve ever taken in my NASCAR career. It was a pretty head-on crash.”

Three laps before the melee, Speedy Dry was applied to the track during a red flag because of the first “big one” on the backstretch, which involved 20 cars — literally half the field.

Hemric’s No. 21 wiggled when he ran over it and cited that as part of the reason for the crash.

“It just felt like I was on ice and I slid up into the 7,” Hemric said.

Suarez, last year’s XFINITY champion, wasn’t pleased about the incident. He said, “I just feel like we have to be a little more smart — it’s a long race. I don’t know why we were racing like that really early.”

Some rumblings from the fans about yesterday’s event were that NASCAR’s new three-stage format played a significant role in the race’s narrative. Drivers want to be in the top 10 at the conclusion of a stage to earn extra points.

“I think the stages create a lot of urgency,” Brennan Poole, who was involved in a later accident on Lap 59, told POPULAR SPEED. “At a track like Daytona, it puts us in a position to try to get those extra points. I think yes, everyone is trying to get those extra points, but that’s just racing too, and that’s how it goes.”

Another reason could be the new aero package for XFINITY cars, which feature smaller rear spoilers and less downforce than in previous seasons.

“[The cars] are way different — entirely different than the way it’s been the last couple of years,” Poole said. “To me, it reminds me of the Cup cars. You saw guys moving around … I think it’s good, but you have to be patient, or there’s going to be a lot of accidents.”

Erik Jones, who makes his Daytona 500 debut on Sunday, said he was trying gain knowledge from the 300-mile race to help him on the Cup side.

He said, “It’s unfortunate because I was learning quite a bit for [Sunday]. Unfortunately, we just got caught up in a wreck. I don’t know if [the car] was good enough to win — we would have had to wait and see. It definitely was driving well in the hot conditions. I felt like we were aggressive and we put ourselves in as good a position as we could to try to avoid a wreck, it just didn’t work out.”

Perhaps it was a combination of a new rules package and the new race format that caused Saturday’s race to be such a crash fest. The cars become harder to handle with less downforce, and it puts more emphasis on the driver to control his car. But being in the top 10 at the end of a stage is crucial to the points standings too.

Your thoughts?

Did less downforce in the cars or the new stages cause a wild race on Saturday?

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

XFINITY Rookies Have Rough Debuts as Full-Timers at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It was a tough day to be a rookie in the NASCAR XFINITY Series on Saturday.

Cole Custer, Spencer Gallagher, William Byron, Matt Tifft, and Daniel Hemric all made a name for themselves in the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series campaign, but all five had a dismal debut as full-time XFINITY drivers.

Custer and Gallagher’s days ended early in the first big wreck on Lap 23. Six laps later, another “big one” occurred and among the drivers swallowed in the melee was Hemric and Tifft.

Byron had the best finish of all the Rookie-of-the-Year contenders by salvaging a ninth-place result, but his race was far from clean as well.

In the final stage of the event, his JR Motorsports No. 9 experienced a battery issue, forcing him to pit, putting him a lap down. He got back on the lead lap after a debris caution late in the race but was then involved in another accident with Ray Black Jr.

Aside from the aggressive racing, the ROTY racers commented on the difference of XFINITY cars from the trucks.

“They’re better-handling than the trucks because they don’t move around as much in the air,” Custer told POPULAR SPEED. “It was fun to drive, but we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Gallagher said he understood “where Cole is coming from” about the car’s driveability, but he had a different opinion after the race.

“I actually found these cars to be more wobbly,” the GMS Racing driver said. “The trucks punch such a big hole in the air that I think they move more. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of control, although it does feel pretty unnerving as a driver.

“With trucks, you can get a lot more adventurous about pushing because you can push harder.”

Byron, although involved in multiple accidents throughout the day, said post race:

“We just got into so many things tonight. [The cars] are pretty stable, they just go faster overall. I went through a lot of grass, but it handles a little better, so it was just more aggressiveness.”

The competition for ROTY honors will be tense this year. Having five talented rookies in competitive racecars will be an intriguing storyline throughout the season.

“It’s kind of like when you go from third grade to fourth grade, and everything is new, but you still have your buddies to come up with you,” Gallagher said. “It’s going to be stiff competition all throughout the year.”

The XFINITY rookies finished as follows:

P9: Byron

P11: Tifft

P31: Hemric

P36: Gallagher

P37: Custer

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

Categories
Trucks

Grala Talks With POPULAR SPEED About Wild Daytona Win

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Just over three hours before the first checkered flag of the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season waved at Daytona International Speedway, the greatest moment of Kaz Grala’s young career was winning the pole award for Friday night’s race.

That changed when the caution flag waved on the final lap of the NextEra Energy Resources 250.

As GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter battled for the lead with ThorSport Racing’s Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes, the three made contact and wrecked, which resulted in one of the few “Big Ones” that occurred in the event and has made restrictor plate racing so notorious.

Grala escaped the melee with the lead, which ultimately gave him his first truck win in his 10th career start.

He became the youngest Daytona winner in Truck Series history at 18 years old.

“I couldn’t see a whole lot, but I believe I saw the door number of the 27 (Rhodes),” Grala said. “Typically, when you see a door number when you’re going straight, that’s not a good sign.

“I figured I’d keep my foot down and pull left and cross my fingers to see how this thing turns out. Luckily, it turned out well for me.

“For me personally, and for GMS Racing, the win was huge for the organization.”

Before the race, Grala was overwhelmingly excited for winning the pole. It seemed like he could barely contain his energy knowing that he’d start on the front row at Daytona — “The World Center of Racing.”

His enthusiasm after the win was even greater. After his post-race press conference, he spoke exclusively with POPULAR SPEED, and his voice had the same volume and fervor that he had when he was in Victory Lane.

As a rookie, his goal was to get the experience of running a full race at the 2.5-mile track. Although he was competing to win as every driver does, he would have been content to push Sauter, who dominated the race and won the first two stages, to a second consecutive victory at the speedway.

The win all but guarantees his spot in the playoffs, and he was also awarded five playoff points as every winner gets under NASCAR’s new format.

“This completely changes the dynamic of our season going forward,” Grala said. “We can really relax, learn, spend some times working on things for the playoffs. There are a lot of mile-and-a-halves that I’ve never been on before.

“We’ll just ride this wave and see how the season plays out. We couldn’t be in a better position and that’s all thanks to [crew chief] Jerry Baxter and all of GMS Racing.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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