OBSERVATIONS: Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway

Although a first career triumph for Brandon Jones and the fight between championship contenders Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer will top the headlines leaving Kansas Speedway, several other things happened during the Kansas Lottery 300 on Saturday.

Lap Traffic Problems

As the laps began to wound down, it appeared as though the battle for the win would be between Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell. However, those hopes were dashed with 15 laps to go when they were caught up in a wreck with a lap car.

Garrett Smithley told NASCAR on NBC that he wasn’t made aware that the leaders were coming up on him, and he was just riding around on 70-lap tires at that point.

The frustration radiated from Briscoe who was quick to ask on his radio, “What was he doing? Where was he going?” It was a reasonable question considering Smithley was already five laps down at this point in the event. 

At the beginning of a driver’s racing career at the short track level, lap cars are taught to remain on the bottom, allowing the leaders to battle as they should have the right to. Knowing that he was already multiple laps down and off the pace, why did he not remain on the bottom of the track?

Secondly, it is a little disheartening to see Smithley throw total blame on his spotter for the incident. He is the one handling the controls of the racecar, and should be aware of the situation around him. 

This is not Smithley’s first incident as a lapped car this season, either, as he crossed paths with Kyle Busch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Hopefully he learned something this time around as it is one of the most frustrating things in racing to see a battle for the win ruined this way.

Briscoe was able to rebound, getting a new rear bumper car installed to drive back up to finish third. Bell finished 12th, but thankfully has a comfortable advantage over the cut-off line in the playoffs thanks to a solid regular season campaign.

Overaggressive Driving

Knowing a spot in the Championship 4 is on the line, it was safe to say that several drivers were being overly aggressive on Saturday – namely Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson.

Cindric has been solid thus far through the playoffs to be considered a legitimate threat by some, as noted by POPULAR SPEED’s Mitchell Breuer entering the weekend. However, he wound up finishing 25th on Saturday after having to make a couple unscheduled trips down pit road with flat tires.

The contact was all self-inflicted, too. He grew frustrated battling Harrison Burton for position, saying that “he was driving all over the track,” that he drove in the back of the No. 18, sending Burton up into the wall and ending his day. The contact resulted in nose damage to Cindric’s Ford that was made worse when he made contact with John Hunter Nemechek on the restart.

Considering the issues experienced by fellow championship contenders and the speed Cindric has shown this year – finishing no worse than third in any playoff event entering this weekend, this could have been his opportunity to capitalize.

Although his title chances are not totally eliminated, he will essentially need to win one of the next two events to be part of the championship conversation. If he continues to let the little battles frustrate him, that certainly won’t happen.

Gragson, meanwhile, stated before the event that he was going to push harder than he has before, wanting to be aggressive and take advantage of the opportunity laid before him. It back fired, as he got into the wall on two separate occasions, ultimately finishing 13th with a car that should have placed in the top-10, possibly top-five.

Through Gragson’s truck series seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports, he was fast on a weekly basis – but mistakes and being overaggressive certainly took away some chances at winning. It seems that cycle is still repeated. If he had not found the contact resulting in the flat left rear in the final laps, he could have been celebrating in victory lane. 

There is something to be said for a driver who wants to push as hard as they can to succeed, but a line needs to be drawn in the sand. That is something the rookie needs to find if he wants to be able to score his first career series victory. 

Great Strategy!

Through his career, Michael Annett has been seen as an average driver – able to find solid consistency, but not become a serious contender for a championship. 

His crew chief Travis Mack deserves all the credit for leaving his driver out there on old tires, while the rest of the leaders pitted. That allowed Annett to take four fresh tires on a later caution, setting him up for a strong charge to the front.

The call was almost a success, as Annett drove his way from outside the top-10 to third before another caution came out. If the additional yellow flag had not waved, he had enough momentum to power past the top-two and snag the victory. However, the additional heat cycle on the tires took any chance that he had away, resulting in a fourth-place finish.

For anybody looking for an underdog for the championship, Annett and more so crew chief Travis Mack made a case for the No. 1 team. If there is a race that comes down to a strategy call, it may just work in their favor next time.



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Smithley and Starr Return to XFINITY Series

Although the NASCAR XFINITY Series will be filled with plenty of new faces in 2018, there will also be some familiar ones.

JD Motorsports with Gary Keller confirmed on Wednesday that Garrett Smithley will return, driving the No. 0 Chevrolet Camaro full-time. It marks the third season the pair have been partnered together.

“I’m so excited to be back with JD Motorsports with Gary Keller this season,” Smithley said. “We’ve had two very successful seasons together and to be given the opportunity to continue to build on that is something I do not take for granted.”

Last season, Smithley scored a pair of top-10’s, including a career-best eighth in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

“I’m very happy to have Garrett back in the No. 0 Chevy again this season,” said team owner, Johnny Davis. “Garrett has a lot of talent as a driver, and he has the right attitude for working with his team, his crew chief, and the team’s sponsors. This will be JD Motorsports’ best season yet, and having Garrett behind the wheel will play a key part in that.”

Also, David Starr has partnered with Jimmy Means Racing to drive the No. 52 Chevrolet Camaro full-time in 2018. 

“We’re glad to have David on board and we’re looking forward to a great year with a talented, proven winner,” said Jimmy Means, team owner.

Starr has become a familiar face with 20 NASCAR seasons to his credit across the top-three divisions, scoring a season-best fifth-place finish last year in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. 

“I’m eager to get the season started,” commented Starr. “I have a lot of respect for Jimmy, he’s a true racer and has been in the industry for a long time. His knowledge will only enhance our race program and performance on the track.”



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JGL Racing, JD Motorsports Carry Momentum into Atlanta

In a series filled with Cup-affiliated teams and big dollars behind them, a pair of small NASCAR XFINITY Series teams has been able to break through to the top third of the chart.

Being able to survive the wrecks at Daytona International Speedway, combined with drafting their way to the front, JGL Racing and JD Motorsports came away from the season opener with top-10 finishes. Though both teams easily have the ability to carry the momentum forward as they both showed promise in 2016.

For JGL Racing, last weekend marked Scott Lagasse Jr. got some damage in the Lap 29 wreck but got the free pass at Lap 78 and come back to finish sixth. It tied the best finish the team has been able to score since J.J. Yeley finished fourth at Talladega in April 2014.

“I can’t thank everyone enough at JGL Racing for this opportunity – they are a great group to work with and provided me with a terrific No. 24 Toyota,” Lagasse said. “Of course none of this would be possible without the great support of our partners Alert Today Florida and the Florida Lottery. I had a blast, and we had a good weekend sharing the message of pedestrian and cyclist safety and promoting Florida Lottery’s support of education like mine with the Bright Futures Scholars program. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to work with everyone at JGL Racing again.”

This weekend, Lagasse will not be behind the wheel of the No. 24, but rather Corey LaJoie as part of the team’s Young Gun Program. While it marks a whole different challenge this weekend in running an intermediate, it could very well produce back-to-back top-10s for the team as LaJoie ran 10 races with them last year, scoring a pair of back-to-back top-10 finishes at Bristol and Dover.

“It’s just a combination that they’re bringing better cars to the track each week, and I’m getting more in-tune with how to drive the XFINITY cars and giving them good feedback,” LaJoie told POPULAR SPEED last October. “It’s just a combination of everything that we’ve done so far, and obviously there’s been a little bit of luck.”

Meanwhile, JD Motorsports placed two cars in the top-10 as Garrett Smithley finished eighth with Harrison Rhodes in 10th. Both drivers were involved in separate wrecks but sustained minimal damage which allowed them to continue and contend late in the event. Ultimately, it marks a milestone for the team as they were only able to score a single top-10 finish in 2016.

Despite not being known as top-10 finishers, they have the ability to keep the positive trend going. Smithley scored three top-15s last year including a 15th at a fellow intermediate track Charlotte Motor Speedway, as part of the team’s total of 14 top-10 finishes across three drivers.

“I hope we can keep it rolling from the great Daytona start,” Georgia native Smithley said. “Atlanta is one of our fastest tracks, and it’s pretty much home for me. I’m sure the JD Motorsports guys will have a great car for us there.”

While many people watch the XFINITY Series and see the Cup team development drivers shine, these two teams are proving right here that under the right circumstances there’s room for them to shine as well.


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Chastain to Return to JD Motorsports as Team Solidifies 2017 Lineup

With the 2017 season rapidly approaching, JD Motorsports is working on finalizing their plans for the NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule.

Ross Chastain will be a part of those plans as he will return to the team for the third consecutive season. The team is also working with Garrett Smithley, who finished a solid 18th in the final championship standings this past season.

“We’re 99 percent sure Garrett will be back with us,” said team owner Johnny Davis. “But we’re still working on funding and sponsorship issues to get everything lined up.”

JD Motorsports has a vacancy in their third entry as Ryan Preece has left the team to pursue other opportunities.

Chastain finished 16th in the XFINITY Series points standings last year, with 17 top 20 finishes with a best finish of 11th coming at Daytona in July. The Florida Watermelon Association will return as a primary sponsor for Chastain next season.

“Ross is a smart kid and an intelligent driver,” Davis said. “We’re lucky to have him back with us next year. He brings a lot to the team, and he works with our guys really well. We’re looking to step up our program with him.”

Smithley competed in 32 XFINITY Series races this past season with a best finish of 12th at Talladega in May.

“We’re working hard every day on getting things ready for next year,” Davis said. “It’s a complicated process to get everything in line to compete at the highest levels of stock car racing. Hopefully, we’ll be set long before it’s time to head to Daytona Beach in February for the season opener.

“Our goal is to always have our teams and our drivers in a position to show the best marketability for everybody. We take a lot of pride in our cars and our sponsors and how we showcase the drivers and the companies that work with us.”



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


XFINITY Series Rookie Teammates Exceeding Expectations

LONG POND, PA. — Ryan Preece and Garrett Smithley, rookies for JD Motorsports in the XFINITY Series, are racing full-time in a NASCAR national touring series for the first time in their careers, and the opportunity is, as Smithley humbly expressed, a “dream come true” for the duo.

One-third through the season, Smithley and Preece sit 17th and 18th in the points standings, respectively. Both drivers, like the rest of the XFINITY regulars, will race for the first time in the series at Pocono.

Preece had never driven on the track until Thursday’s practice session, but Smithley’s experience at Pocono includes a 14th-place finish in an ARCA Series race in 2013.

“It’s one the few tracks where I have a lot of racing experience,” Smithley told POPULAR SPEED. “I’ve raced here twice in the ARCA Series and once in the [Camping World] Truck Series.”

Smithley piloted the No. 0 for every race except for Daytona in February, but even though he’s not actually signed to a whole-year deal in the car, he’s earned it based on his weekly performance early in the season.

“As of right now, if nothing changes, I will be full-time in the No. 0 car for the rest of the year,” Smithley said. “When we started the year, Eric McClure was in the car at Daytona, but we planned on running the first three races after him to see where we are.”

Preece is signed for the full season in the No. 01 car and said the XFINITY Series has been an adjustment from running modified car events, which don’t race every week.

“The traveling has been a never-ending thing here,” Preece told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s a different atmosphere because for everyone here — this is their job, where on the modifieds, they’re volunteers.”

Both rookies rely on their teammate in the No. 4, Ross Chastain, for information and advice. Chastain raced full-time in the No. 4 for JD in 2015.

“Being in the car full-time and learning has helped me,” Preece said. “The toughest thing is trying to find the feel in the car that I’m looking for, but I feel like we’ll be like Ross, who has had a lot of speed.”

All three JD Motorsports drivers are in the top 20 in the points standings, and Smithley feels that momentum is on their side.

“We finished 12th at Talladega and finished 15th last weekend at Charlotte,” Smithley said. “We are exceeding all expectations, and hopefully, we can just build on that and continue the season.”

Chastain’s strong performance at Charlotte, where he led a lap was a testament to the second-tier organization’s strength.

“We’re one of the top-level race teams here that don’t have a Cup affiliation,” Smithley said.

Both drivers said it’s hard to relax with races occurring every weekend, but they appreciate having a shot in one of NASCAR’s top series.

“They’re a hard-working bunch of guys,” Preece said. “I feel like, as a group, we’re exceeding expectations. I’m very happy for this opportunity.”



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