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Commentary

Bowman, Others Pay Price of Current Youth Movement

The sport’s current youth movement is history unfolding before our eyes – but not without repercussions for others.

Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are the most notable names in this group; both are in contention for the 2016 XFINITY Series championship as Jones prepares to move into the Sprint Cup Series next season. These Joe Gibbs Racing drivers exemplify what every young gun wants to become – competitive and desired.

Other drivers are hot commodities as well; William Byron, Cole Custer, and Daniel Hemric will leave the Camping World Truck Series for XFINITY rides in 2017. On the Sprint Cup side, Chase Elliott is competing for a championship in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. His first victory is most likely right around the corner as well, signifying the younger crowd is thriving in these sought-after seats.

The tide has certainly changed over the past five years, with fresh perspective now trumping accrued experience. This monumental shift is having ripple effects within organizations in all three series.

But what happens if you missed the boat?

Since the summer race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Alex Bowman has dazzled as a fill-in for a sidelined Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He wheeled the No. 88 to a seventh-place finish – his career best – while battling the stomach flu. Just a few years ago, Bowman moved up to Sprint Cup too fast and struggled with an underfunded team. He had no ride for 2016 until Earnhardt offered him a part-time gig in the No. 88 JR Motorsports machine. Despite his impressive runs, he currently has nowhere to go in 2017 – even though, at 25-years-old, his future seems pretty bright regarding ability. Youth became a bigger focus right after Bowman broke into the sport, putting him at a disadvantage. His age is also a bit high when compared to the Custers and Byrons in the sport.

You could say the same for two other talented drivers – Jordan Anderson and Ryan Truex.

Anderson began racing at a young age but took a different route into NASCAR; he went to college and earned a degree in Motorsports Marketing, gathering knowledge that would help him attract sponsors and move up in the sport. Unfortunately, this makes him older than the target age. At 25, he is struggling to run a complete schedule despite accumulating four top 15s and a solid fan base. His future rests on dollar signs, which is an uneasy place to be in this sport.

Truex has solid stats in CWTS while racing a partial schedule for Hattori Racing Enterprises; his 11 starts brought a top five and a top 10. He hasn’t found a stable place to call home since his back-to-back K&N Pro Series East championships in 2009 and 2010. He has been on a grind to compete full-time, fueled by his older brother’s success and tenacity. Martin Truex, Jr. just hit his high point, meaning the younger Truex has lots of motivation and hope.

Optimism can only get you so far. That’s when the money comes in.

Not being part of the youth movement puts Bowman, Anderson, and Truex at a huge disadvantage in regards to sponsorship; with Kyle Busch as their guide, Jones, Suarez, and Byron have had more exposure to companies and already have relationships with corporations. That makes the pool of potential investors quite small. Also, teams weren’t observing young talent when Bowman and Co. rose through the ranks. In Jones’s case, his affiliation with JGR made it a lot easier to move up to his 2017 Cup Series ride.

The youth movement does a lot of good things that should not be ignored. However, there are repercussions for drivers who barely missed the cut-off age. That – along with financial struggles – makes it difficult for Bowman, Anderson, and Truex to compete full-time. Although driving the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports is a sweet gig and provides a lot of exposure, Bowman still has that uncertainty hanging over his head. At the same time, Anderson and Truex worry about making the events. And there are dozens of talented drivers having the same dilemma at the grassroots level. As organizations strive to lower their lineup’s average age, a domino effect is taking place. When one young gun signs a developmental deal, that’s the seat a more seasoned driver envisioned in their dreams.

The young talent deserves to be noticed – but it has caused issues for those who were simply born earlier.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@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.

Categories
XFINITY

Runner-up Finish Leaves Dillon Heartbroken

With the laps winding down in Saturday night’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, it appeared as though Ty Dillon was going to snap his 65-race winless streak in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Unfortunately for Dillon, Erik Jones had other plans, snatching the lead and victory away from the driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevy with just 16 laps remaining.

Dillon grabbed the lead during a round of pit stops after Brandon McReynolds slammed the wall in Turn 1 with 100 laps to go. On the ensuing restart, he cleared Elliott Sadler exiting Turn 2 and began to pull away from the field. Slowly but surely, Jones, who had the most dominant car in the field and led a race-high 154 laps, began to reel in the No. 3 machine.

When Jones got to Dillon’s bumper, he started to work the high side before finally making a move to the inside of Dillon entering Turn 3. Despite a valiant effort, the No. 20 Toyota got around Dillon and cruised to victory.

“The high line wasn’t there. Every lap I was having to do everything I could to keep him behind me,” Dillon told NBC Sports after the race. “He ran a good race, and it just wore my stuff out a little more than I needed to.”

Dillon led a season-high 83 laps in Saturday’s race, the most he has led since leading 43 circuits at Kentucky Speedway last September.

“Man, I want to win so bad,” Dillon said. “That was all I had … we just came up 10 laps short this time.”

With Saturday’s race being the final standalone oval before the inaugural Xfinity Chase starts in September, a victory would’ve all but guaranteed Dillon a playoff spot. Being just close enough is becoming a similar refrain for the grandson of Richard Childress, who has finished in the top five in four of his last five Iowa starts.

“My heart’s been broken every race since Indy,” Dillon said. “I want to get to Victory Lane again. We’re close, we just got to get a little better.”

Dillon’s lone victory in the Xfinity Series came at Indianapolis in 2014. He currently sits third in the standings, 35 points behind leader Elliott Sadler.

EMAIL HANK AT editors@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, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

TBR Jackman Uses Football Expertise on Pit Road

Like many college football players, Ricky Rozier dreamed of going pro and playing in the National Football League. He did well as a fullback at Winston-Salem State University, yet going to the next level wasn’t in the cards. His performance in the NFL combine failed to draw attention.

However, another combine proved fruitful.

“NASCAR has a pit crew combine, and my university hosted it in the summer of 2013. It was put on by the Drive for Diversity program, which is a development program at NASCAR to help minorities into the sport,” Rozier told POPULAR SPEED.

Rozier first worked with Stewart-Haas Racing and the No. 41 Sprint Cup Series team. He started as the second gas man for Kurt Busch, yet he trained for the jackman position as well. He is currently the jackman for Regan Smith at Tommy Baldwin Racing. Although he’s worked in both capacities, Rozier believes jacking up the racecar is more physically demanding.

“As the second gas man, you still have to focus and pay attention to what’s going on,” he said. “Jackman, on the other hand, you have to be fast and light on your feet. You have to react and be prepared to make an adjustment on the car.”

He isn’t limited to the Sprint Cup Series. In addition to working for TBR, Rozier pits Blake Koch’s No. 11 in the XFINITY Series and the No. 33 of Ben Kennedy in the Camping World Truck Series. Spending a weekend pitting for various teams is common in the NASCAR garage, and it requires him to be focused and in peak physical condition. Practices and weight training take care of both.

“We practice three times a week and work out about two to three times a week,” he said. “We come in for a 9 a.m. practice, and then at 11 a.m. I’ll be in the weight room for a workout. Then we might have some other developmental practices later on in the afternoon.”

When it comes to the long-time argument of whether or not NASCAR is a sport, competition and the crew members’ fitness level play a factor in Rozier’s opinion.

“It’s the same kind of argument people have about cheerleading. To me, a sport is when you have competition. You get out there with whatever you’re doing, if it’s archery or ballet or dancing, that’s competition,” he said. “That’s why I call NASCAR a sport. It’s still very different from the stick-and-ball sports that people in our society grow up doing. When you have pit road teams and pit crew coaches who are trying to get athletes who played stick-and-ball sports to pit the cars, there’s no way you can say it’s not a sport.”

Away from the track, Rozier is pursuing another of his passions – massage and bodywork therapy. He juggles school with the demanding NASCAR schedule, but it is all part of the ride. A product of the sport’s Drive for Diversity program, the jackman never planned on going from the football field to pit road, but Rozier wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That’s how I got exposed to the thought of being in NASCAR,” he said. “It wasn’t even an idea before that combine, but now it’s a reality.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

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

Poole Blazes Forward in Rookie XFINITY Season

Brennan Poole’s recent streak of impressive finishes only mirrors the success of his rookie season.

He and his No. 48 DC Solar team collected a ninth-place finish at Kentucky Speedway, marking his sixth top 10 in the past nine races. The Chip Ganassi Racing team formed at the beginning of 2016 and found their footing after jumping first-year hurdles. As with any Rookie at NASCAR’s top levels, challenges presented themselves.

But Poole knew it was all part of the process and remained hopeful.

“We knew the first five weeks were going to be tough since it was a bunch of guys working together for the first time. We had to work through a lot of little mistakes that cost us other top 10 runs we had going,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “I feel like we’ve been able to clean up some of those mistakes, and we’ve gotten a lot of top 10s. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made, and we’re just getting along very well.”

That progress has resulted in strong runs, making Poole believe they were knocking on the door to victory lane.

The door opened at Talladega Superspeedway at April. It proceeded to slam right in his face.

When a wreck unfolded on the final lap, Poole took the checkered flag first. However, the caution flag flew before he crossed the finish line. In accordance with NASCAR rules, the win went to Elliott Sadler, who was leading when the yellow came out. NASCAR relegated the CGR driver to third.

While some drivers would have been deterred by the result, Poole was more determined than ever – and his team followed suit.

Poole said, “To go there and pretty much all but win the race gave everyone on the team the mindset that we can go in every week and win. We’re a team where any week could be our week. I feel like having that mindset just changes the entire feel of the team; everyone has a different swagger.”

Even with the spike in confidence, however, the CGR driver understands the team still has work to do if they want to fuel their recent hot streak.

“I want to get to the point where I’m a guy that’s a threat on every restart no matter what situation I’m in. We’re working on being more aggressive on those restarts and knowing where to put my car and what to do in certain situations,” he said, adding, “I’m still working on pit road stuff and making stops under green, like coming in and leaving. That’s been a big difference, and I’d like to do that better and more consistently.”

The improvements are necessary; the No. 48 team must be at the top of their game as the Chase looms around the corner. The format, which was adopted this season and is similar to the Sprint Cup Series design, will pit 12 drivers against each other in two rounds, with eliminations after each to set up a four-driver battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Although this system isn’t new to NASCAR, this is the first year it has been adopted by the XFINITY Series. Its implementation has already created some of the most intense racing we’ve seen in the series for some time.

“Guys are getting more aggressive, but I think everyone’s so hungry for wins to lock themselves in,” he said. “We’re all just trying to win, and it makes it exciting for sure when we put on a show. I’m glad to be a part of it. I hope to be one of those guys who locks themselves in before the Chase starts so we could get even more aggressive as the year goes on.”

Currently sitting eighth in the Chase Grid, Poole hopes that winning before the Chase begins will give the No 48 group more momentum. If they time the victory right, it could propel them into the championship conversation.

He said, “We’re trying to prepare ourselves for when it starts, and we’re trying to win each and every week. I feel like if we can hit our stride as soon as the Chase starts, we can actually be a serious threat.”

Nevertheless, Poole continues to ride his current wave – one that began with the controversy at Talladega. The close encounter with his first NASCAR win sparked unity within his team – and it is only a matter of time before the No. 48 team visits victory lane.

“When you have an experience like that where you basically win a race, everyone believes,” he said. “When everyone believes, that’s when things start happening.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

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.