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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’s a peek at Texas through Charlotte.

Cup Driver Domination

While there were five winners from five different teams in the first two months of XFINITY Series competition, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took over victory lane through April and May.

Joe Gibbs Racing went two in a row with Erik Jones winning Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway to bring their title win total up to three. Kyle Larson snagged a second win for Chip Ganassi Racing at Richmond, with Aric Almirola giving Biagi-DenBeste Racing a victory at Talladega. Lastly, Ryan Blaney scored the win this past weekend at Charlotte for Team Penske’s second of 2017.

Although Cup Series drivers swept the past two months, the series regulars were close to succeeding with a pair of runner-ups.

As we near the Chase, there will be more XFINITY competitors scoring victories with the upcoming stand-alone events, including Iowa Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

JRM Remains at the Top

10 events completed this season, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much as JR Motorsports still take up the top three positions as they have since the third race of 2017.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, currently six points ahead of Justin Allgaier. William Byron rounds out the squad, having fallen 57-markers behind Sadler.

Their strength shows in the numbers, with Allgaier posting the best average finish through April and May at 9.8 on the heels of two runner-ups, while Sadler posted the second highest at 11.6. Sadler has performed better, though, as removing the wreck at Charlotte bring his average down to 5.75.

JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway with Michael Annett currently ninth in points. While he posted, three top-10’s in the past five events, a wreck at Charlotte Motor Speedway hurt progress in moving forward.

Terrific Tifft

If you are looking for someone to watch, keep an eye on Matt Tifft as he was the third-highest performer over the past three races, boasting an average of 14.2 with a season-best finish of sixth at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is running the complete schedule for the first time, after making 11 starts over the past two years with five top-10’s. With steady improvement each week, he believes he could be the next driver to score his first career victory.

“There’s so much that goes into competing for wins in this series, and I feel like we’re getting close to being able to do that,” he told Popular Speed last month. “You have to build from somewhere, and I felt that Texas was great for us to build from a solid run. You have to have that as a team to build everybody’s confidence up and to be able to keep on rolling through the next stretch here. As you know, we have a couple of weeks here and then a few weeks off, but after that, there are 20 something weeks in a row, and you better be hitting it by then.”

Chase Bubble Watch

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series Chase, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in.

Sitting 10th in points, Blake Koch only has scored one top-10 this year, but having 62 points over J.J Yeley in 13th should have him and those ahead confident in their chances. With that said, the current outlook includes Sadler, Bryon, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Tifft, Annett and Koch joining the pair of aforementioned winners.

Cole Custer has scored three top-10’s this year, but wrecks at Bristol and Talladega have slipped him back to 11th in the standings, currently 54 points ahead of Yeley.

Dakoda Armstrong has yet to score a top-10 this season and only has a 36-marker gap to keep the final qualified spot.

The shock of the bubble watch is Richard Childress Racing teammates Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan sitting 15th and 16th. With at least 37 points to make up a piece, they will need to start performing or find victory lane during the summer to keep their hopes alive.

No Consistency for Custer

Although Custer’s name was mentioned in the bubble watch, he is a driver who should qualify for the Chase – if he performs to expectations.

With 10 races in the books for 2017, he has posted three top-10’s as noted, including a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
Each weekend, he places the No. 00 Ford in the top-10 with intentions of a solid finish. However, wrecks and pit penalties have resulted in five finishes outside of the top-20 this season.

Custer acknowledged their struggles, saying they needed to get better.

“We had pretty solid cars the last couple weeks, and even in Atlanta we had a good car just haven’t gotten the finishes,” he said in April. “We haven’t done that. It was me making mistakes and just having random things happen. If we can keep these solid runs going, we will work our way back up there in the points. I feel like we can do this. We have had fast cars the last couple of weeks. We will just keep plugging away at it.”

Being a new team in the series, Stewart-Haas Racing has shown they can run up front on a weekly basis. But if consistency doesn’t start happening, they could fall outside of the Chase cut-off.

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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NASCAR Cup Series

JJ Yeley to Run Texas for TBR

Tommy Baldwin Racing is set for their second race of 2017 with JJ Yeley driving the No. 7 Accell Construction Chevrolet in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I am excited to be back behind the wheel at Tommy Baldwin Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series,” Yeley said. “I have a great relationship with everyone at Accell Construction, and couldn’t be more excited to run their colors at Texas Motor Speedway.”

In 254 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, Yeley has scored only eight top-fives with his last start being in 2015. The Arizona Native spent 2016 as well this year, driving for TriStar Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, scoring three top-10s  in 38 races.

This marks the second event for TBR this year, following Elliott Sadler running the Daytona 500 with a 20th place finish. In 393 series starts, they have four top-10’s, including a pair in 2016 with Regan Smith behind the wheel. They announced only a partial schedule for 2017 after running the full campaign last year.

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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NASCAR Cup Series

Dave Rogers Taking Personal Leave

In a surprising turn of events, Joe Gibbs Racing announced on Wednesday evening that veteran crew chief Dave Rogers would be taking a personal leave of absence for an indefinite period.

Rogers, who was currently serving as crew chief for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie and 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series Champion Daniel Suarez came to JGR in 2005. He worked with Jason Leffler that season before moving to the XFINITY Series and crew chiefing for Denny Hamlin in 2006. He also spent time with Aric Almirola, Tony Stewart, and JJ Yeley while in the NXS.

Rogers’ big break came in 2009 when he was named the crew chief for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 MENCS team. During his tenure with Busch, they combined to win 13 races and finished fourth in the championship standings in 2013.

Last season, Rogers worked with Carl Edwards and the No. 19 team, winning three times and finishing fourth in points.

Suarez will have a familiar face on top of the pit box this weekend at Martinsville with Scott Graves taking over as crew chief of the No. 19 team.

Graves and Suarez combined to win three times during last season’s championship run. He also oversaw Chris Buescher‘s title in the NXS in 2015 while at Roush Fenway Racing. Graves was currently serving as crew chief for JGR’s No.18 entry in NASCAR’s second-tier series.

JGR has not provided any other details concerning Rogers’ leave and will name a replacement crew chief for their No.18 team in the NXS next week.

EMAIL JUSTIN at justin.tucker@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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News

Austin Wayne Self to Run No. 32 Toyota at Daytona

After announcing earlier this month that J.J. Yeley would be behind the wheel of the team’s primary truck, AM Racing has confirmed who will be behind the wheel of the team’s second entry.

Austin Wayne Self will drive the No.  32 AM Technical Solutions Toyota Tundra in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday night.

“I can’t wait to get back to Daytona this week,” said Self. “The guys at the shop in North Carolina have really been working hard to put two competitive trucks together and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do on the track later this week.”

Self ran the full truck series schedule, scoring one top-10 – ninth at Eldora Speedway – in his rookie season. The 20-year-old hopes to pick up a lesson or two from Yeley throughout the weekend.

“I plan to talk to him a lot during practice on Thursday and see if we can’t deploy a strategy that will be effective for the both of us,” Selfsaid. “When it comes down to the race, we just have to see how it goes. If we can find ourselves together, we know what the goal is. Hopefully, we can make it a reality.”

This year marks the second year for AM Racing, a team started by Austin’s father Tim Self last year.

“Last year at Daytona was a huge accomplishment for AM Racing by successfully qualifying for the race,” explained Self. “This year, with a lot of hard work and dedication, we’re proud to bringing two trucks down to Daytona with two capable drivers. Both of our drivers do an excellent job representing our partners and we’ll leave it in their hands to do what they know is best for Friday night.”

AM Racing announced that Bill Henderson will be the crew chief for Self this weekend.

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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News

Yeley to Run Truck Series Season Opener

Every year when the Camping World Truck Series races at Daytona, there’s always a couple of faces in the field who aren’t scheduled for the whole season. This year, one of those drivers is JJ Yeley.

It was announced on Friday that Yeley will drive the No. 22 Legrand and Superior Essex Toyota Tundra for AM Racing in the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

“I am looking forward to being behind the wheel of the No. 22 Superior Essex Toyota for the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series,” said Yeley. “It’s a great opportunity that Tim Self, AM Racing, Legrand and Superior Essex put together, and I’m glad to be a part of it. I can’t wait to get out on the track and drive the Toyota Tundra to the front.”

It’ll mark the 23rd series start for the Phoenix, Arizona as he tries to top his 10th place finish at the World Centre of Racing in 2010. The 40-year-old has made 23 starts at Daytona across NASCAR’s top-three national divisions, scoring four top-10s with a track-best fourth in the XFINITY Series.

“This is a great opportunity for AM Racing,” said AM Racing team principal Tim Self. “The team has built JJ a very strong truck for competition with the hope that we can contend for the win at Daytona in a few weeks. JJ has a niche for the draft and we feel that he can not only put our team and partners in the spotlight, but also give us a good assessment of our truck program overall.”

The team announced series veteran Rick Ren will serve as the crew chief. Ren made the move over to AM Racing after spending time with both Kevin Harvick Incorporated and Kyle Busch Motorsports. The team also plans to enter a second truck at Daytona, with details surrounding the driver to be released soon.

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

THREE TAKEAWAYS: DRIVE SOBER 200 AT DOVER

Drivers who excel early in the Chase for the Championship often set the tone for the remainder of the playoff races. Elliott Sadler’s victory at Kentucky allowed him to emerge as a top threat following the first Chase race. 

Now following a dominant performance en route to victory at Dover, Daniel Suarez has joined him atop the XFINITY Series Chase Grid. Both competitors have advanced to the second round and by doing so, have strengthened their championship chances.

Here are three takeaways following the second race in the Round of 12 of the XFINITY Series Chase.

Struggles Continue

Following a crash and 28th-place finish at Kentucky to begin the Chase, Erik Jones left three points below the cutline. He needed a rebound in the Drive Sober 200 to place himself in a position to advance at Charlotte.

However, more problems arose at Dover. Jones led early but then went two laps down after pitting for a vibration. He eventually gained both laps back, but was unable to make it to the finish on fuel and came down pit road with eight laps to go.

Continued struggles led to a second consecutive disappointing finish for Jones as he came home 16th. He remains below the cutline now by four points heading into the first elimination race at Charlotte and will need to have a strong performance and hope others struggle to advance to the second round.

Bounce Back Day

Similar to Jones, Ty Dillon needed a strong performance to overcome a crash at Kentucky. He left the opening Chase race at the bottom of the Chase Grid, 15 points out of the top-eight.

With a good run crucial to Dillon’s title hopes, the No. 3 team delivered and came home in second. They did face early race adversity after starting at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments. It put Dillon behind but allowed the team to demonstrate their resilience as they climbed through the field and passed fellow Chase competitor Justin Allgaier in the closing laps to earn their fourth runner-up result of 2016

Now Dillon heads to Charlotte three points below the cutline and will need a similar performance to continue battling for the championship.

Breakthrough Performances

Once the Chase begins, all focus shifts to the championship contenders. However, drivers outside of the Chase can also use this increased spotlight to make a statement. Corey Lajoie and JJ Yeley made their performances heard at Dover as both captured top-10 finishes.

Pit strategy left Lajoie up front late, and he was able to maintain position towards the front and score a career best sixth-place finish. This run marked his second top-10 result of 2016 as he finished 10th in his last outing in the No. 24 car at Bristol in August.

Yeley restarted sixth on the final restart with 49 laps to go and also held on up front for the final run and finished eighth. This is his first top-10 result not at a restrictor plate or road course facility in the series since 2007 when he finished ninth at Gateway.

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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.

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XFINITY

Yeley and Gase Round Out Surprise Talladega Top-Five

Talladega Superspeedway is known for being a venue where underdogs can shine. Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Winn-Dixie 300 was no different, producing another exciting finish that included some surprising names. Drivers @jjyeley1 and @JoeyGaseRacing rallied past adversity to capture solid fourth and fifth place finishes.

Yeley, who competes in the series full-time, wasn’t expecting to be at the front in the end. Starting 27th, the 38-year-old was outside of the top-20 for nearly half of the race.

“It finished a lot better than what I thought it was going to be,” Yeley said. “This car got destroyed in Daytona and it was really fast there and somehow (at Talladega) I think we missed it because the car just wasn’t very good on the bottom, and I had to be on the outside.”

However, as the event came to a close, the driver of the No. 28 Texas 28 Spirits Stage Toyota used strategy to advance through the field and come home with his first top-five of the season.

“Got going there at the end and every time I got lucky on the restarts – I would be in the outside lane. I just kept pushing,” Yeley said. “I was working with @bscottracing – his car was super-fast – and I tried to shove him back out to the front there and come away with a good fourth-place finish. For the way I was feeling about the car halfway through the race, I’ll take a top-five.”

22-year-old Gase had a similar weekend, filled with both struggle and reward. On Friday, the No. 52 team had only 30 minutes of practice to dial in the car. Later in the weekend, he would begin the race in 39th position and steadily advance through the pack.

Adversity struck in the traditional superspeedway fashion when Gase was involved in a 10-car wreck on Lap 74 which brought out the red flag. The team was able to overcome the damage and continue when the green flag resumed.

Restarting 23rd, the Cedar Rapids, IA native piloted his Donate Life/DB Sales Company Chevrolet through the field while battling residual effects of the wreck. In the end, the driver came across the line with an impressive fifth place finish.

“It was an incredible day; it was a long weekend,” Gase said. “We ended up fifth after a wreck and had no water in the motor, had to put cool down on radiator, but we made it back up (to fifth), so it’s pretty insane …”

Gase hopes the strong finish will shine a light onto Jimmy Means Racing, which celebrates their first top-ten Xfinity Series finish in their 15 year history.

“I got to thank Donate Life, DB Sales and (team owner Jimmy Means), and so many people for getting me here” Gase stated, “What we get for an entire year, is what a top team gets in one race. We just hope someone sees us and jumps on board with us and helps us promote Donate Life. Hopefully we can be here every week maybe, some time.”

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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