Categories
XFINITY

Suarez Trying to Keep Emotions In Check as Wins Remain Elusive

LONG POND, Pa. – It’s still just a matter of when for Daniel Suarez.

The sophomore sensation of the XFINITY Series continues to be one of the fastest on a weekly basis, but he remains winless in 46 career starts. It hasn’t been for a lack of trying, though. In addition to four career poles, Suarez has finished second or third five times. There’s also 19 Camping World Truck Series starts resulting in four second places finishes.

As the calendar turns to June and the schedule begins to heat up, Suarez doesn’t deny a bit of frustration has started to creep in.

“I think I’ve been working so hard to try to do what you just said – breakthrough – and try to get it done. It’s pretty much all I’m thinking about right now,” Suarez said. “To try to get the first win either in the XFINITY Series or in the Camping World Truck Series.

“I think pressure is always good, but I think I’m putting a little bit more pressure than what I should. There’s no question for me that it’s going to happen. We just need to keep doing what we are doing.”

No matter it a truck or car, Suarez has repeatedly contended for wins.

One thing or another, however, has kept him on the losing side of luck. Suarez has been outrun by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, come up short on fuel mileage, and even wrecked from inside the top five. In 11 starts this season, the 2015 Rookie of the Year has nine top-10 finishes.

The other two events saw him have an uncharacteristic day at Texas Motor Speedway where he spun and struggled to a 16th place finish. Last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway many in the garage believed Suarez was one of the race favorites, but an early wreck from fluid on the track saw him instead nearly make a comeback before ultimately finishing 12th.

“We are strong in the XFINITY stuff, and we are strong in the truck stuff. We just need to put all the pieces together,” Suarez said. “We just need to pull the race and the weekend together.”

A graduate of the NASCAR Next program, Suarez was tapped for success at an early age. Between 2011 and 2014, Suarez ran a full schedule in the NASCAR Mexico Series, earning 10 wins and finishing a career-high second in points. Next came the K&N Pro Series East where he racked up three wins in 43 career starts.

Hailed as a future star of NASCAR, the 24-year-old has both the talent and the equipment to take the sport by storm. It has to start somewhere, though, and as Suarez is learning the first one is always the hardest.

“We’ve had the speed. We’ve been running in the front, and when you’re doing that every weekend, it’s no question that that is going to happen,” Suarez said of eventually breaking through. “We just need to be patient, be mature, and wait for that momentum to take advantage of it.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Crew Chief’s Absense Leaves Biffle Facing Uphill Battle

LONG POND, Pa. – Of the penalties NASCAR handed down this week, Greg Biffle’s team has the harshest to overcome.

Roush Fenway Racing was assessed a P3 penalty after NASCAR found multiple issues with his Ford Fusion, resulting in a two-race suspension for crew chief Brian Pattie, a $50,000 fine and the loss of 15 driver and owner points.

Roush has decided not to appeal the penalty and Pattie will begin serving his suspension this weekend at Pocono Raceway. He will also miss next week’s event at Michigan International Speedway.

“It’s tough on us. We’ve been running decent and not getting the finishes that we have been trying to get. I guess you would say we deserve where we have been running,” says Biffle on Friday. “That has been really tough on us as a team. At Charlotte we go and qualify decent, run decent, stay out of trouble and run a clean race and finish 11th.

“That was not where we wanted. We wanted to get a top-10, so that is kind of a little bit of a shot that we don’t get to have Brian for the next couple of weeks. We get it, though.”

It doesn’t mean Biffle agrees, however. The No. 16 was found to have multiple violations, including a body design that was either not approved or not submitted to NASCAR, which left Biffle not wanting to comment whether the penalty was fair or not.

Biffle’s car was taken as the random last weekend in addition to NASCAR routinely taking the first and second place cars.

“I do know it’s the first time they have had our car in quite some time, so it seems a little harsh to me to not give us a chance to fix it. I get that it has to be fair for everyone,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that we finished 11th and never led a lap. It isn’t like we dominated the whole race, but that doesn’t matter. It is disappointing, but we’ll get through it. It is only a couple of races, so we move on.”

Biffle is still looking for his first top-10 finish of the season and following the penalty sits 24th in points. Former Cup champion crew chief Robbie Reiser will call the shots for Biffle on Sunday, which the driver said he’s comfortable with.

“The crew chief these days is more of a manager and decision-maker, and the car chief and engineers make it a correlated deal. It’s an impact, but it isn’t like we can’t function without having Brian,” Biffle said. “The importance of losing a crew chief is really in calling the race.

“Having Robbie Reiser on the box to call the race certainly makes good sense. He has done a good job on the box and has won a title. That is not a disadvantage to us. That is really where the crew chief is important, calling the race, being on the box and making the right pit calls and decisions. I feel like we have somebody that can do that job, and I think we’ll be fine with that.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
XFINITY

Poole Has Early Edge at Pocono

LONG POND, Pa. – Brennan Poole knows his way around Pocono Raceway, so he made sure to lead the way during the facility’s first ever practice session for the XFINITY Series.

His eagerness to get out of the garage on Thursday afternoon let Poole became the first XFINITY driver to record a lap at the 2.5-mile triangle. Sure, the primary goal was to shake down his No. 48 DC Solar Camaro, but Poole was also happy to again see one of his racing loves.

“It was cool. I wanted to get out there just to feel our car out and make laps around this place because I love it so much. But I didn’t even realize that I had made the first lap until later I saw the tweets and stuff,” Poole said on Friday morning. “So that was cool and definitely something special to me just because I’ve had so much success here in the past, it’s been one of my favorite tracks that I’ve ever been to.”

Pocono was the first track Poole was exposed to that was bigger than a mile. It was also the first place he ran that wasn’t a short track in Late Models. As for the success Poole mentioned, he was a bit modest.

The Pocono Green 250 (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX) will be the fifth stock car race Poole has run at Pocono. His previous experience came in the ARCA Racing Series where in four starts Poole grabbed three poles (he was second in the other) and one win while finishing no worse than fifth.

His average finish is an impressive 1.2 in addition to having led 161 of 239 laps completed.

Coming off four consecutive top-10 finishes, Poole is still looking for his first XFINITY win in what will be his 29th career start on Sunday. It appeared he might have been the surprise winner at Talladega Superspeedway in late April until the official review went in favor of Elliott Sadler.

There’s been no slowing down Poole and his Chip Ganassi Racing team since. According to Poole, there has been no better time or attitude within his camp than the last few weeks.

“Our whole team is really hungry and working extremely hard, very motivated. Everyone trusts each other and is working together, which is really awesome to see and be a part of,” Poole said. “We all want it.

“Richmond we were close, we made a gamble to try and make something happen, and it didn’t pan out. Then to go to Talladega and think we had won for five minutes was kind of the moment that put in our minds now – it’s just a like a different feeling – it’s like a confidence boost in a way. It’s like, OK we can do this.”

With confidence comes swagger, something Poole says he and his team have right now. Mentally, there are also stronger having gone from believing they could win to knowing that they will. And putting it all together becomes a little easier when the driver finds himself at a track he has a good feel for.

“We’ve been able to capitalize on that momentum and now after four top 10s in a row we feel like we can just keep doing it, keep clicking them off and continue to put ourselves in a position where we can win races,” Poole said. “As a driver, that’s all that l I can for, is just to be in a position to win at the end of the race. If we keep doing that, eventually we’ll get our car in Victory Lane.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Martin Enjoying Life with Nothing in His Windshield

Mark Martin wasn’t wearing a firesuit when he made his first track appearance since November of 2013 this past weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But his logoed shirts were just as eye-catching.

At 57, Martin wasn’t representing a sponsor, and he had no team obligations to fulfill. But his attire said it all as a NASCAR Hall of Fame logo sat proudly displayed on the upper left of his chest. As of last Wednesday, Martin is no longer just a former driver; he’s one of the newest members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

As a result, he was back in the middle of the activity he spent the better part of 30 years being a large part of. Named the pace car driver for the 57th annual Coca-Cola 600, Martin addressed the media on Saturday before participating in numerous events Sunday evening.

Through it all the smile many remember the long-time Ford driver with was etched on his face. Only now the case could be made that Martin is positively glowing because of his Hall of Fame inclusion, and no matter how many times he was shuffled from one thing to another at Charlotte, it was like he was treating it and everyone like the first time.

Or at least with a much different perspective because being back in the spotlight is not where Mark Martin thought he’d be this soon after walking away from it.

Moving On

Martin had made peace with it all.

With the championship finishes (five times he finished the runner-up; four others he was third). His lack of a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 win. It was done and in the past and driving racecars was finally in his past, too.

After years of expressing his desire to retire, or at least scale back, Martin was never able to officially walk away until he finished his substitution role and climbed out of the Tony Stewart’s No. 14 at Homestead-Miami Speedway a little over two years ago.

Since then, Martin has been adamant to everyone who has asked – either in person or on social media – that he is no longer a racecar driver. If given the opportunity to be one again, he wouldn’t take it. His career is done and over with, and Martin is content with that being the case.

“What I loved about racing cars was being one of the best, being good at it, and at a certain period in your career when you get older, and you are less effective at what you’re doing, there comes a cutoff when I’m not satisfied anymore with what I’m able to put forth,” Martin told POPULAR SPEED.

“In other words, I’m not good enough for my own standards. Therefore, I don’t want to drive. I wouldn’t drive a racecar for anything; I wouldn’t drive a racecar for fun; I wouldn’t drive a racecar to take it out in practice. I didn’t drive racecars because I liked to go around in circles. I don’t like them because I liked to go fast – I like to go fast because that’s what it took to beat people. To me, when I look in the rearview mirror – and I’ve never been one to look back, ever – but when I look up in that mirror I can barely, vaguely see racecars. They are almost completely gone. Now what I see out my windshield is very exciting.”

In 2013, Martin knew that he had reached the end, he’d had enough. The limited schedule he was able to run in 2007 and 2008 with Dale Earnhardt Inc. was the best thing he had ever done and resulted in profound happiness, which made Martin extremely reluctant to sign with Rick Hendrick for a full season (2009).

But he did, with the promise he could then run 2010 with the schedule he wanted.

“Well, we won a race right away, and the only reason I even broke the promise to myself that I wouldn’t run the full schedule again was because I really wanted to win one more time,” Martin said. “So, we won right away, and it was so incredible and while we were all on the high we started signing contracts going further. The second year was OK and the third year that I did with Rick was way too much again.

“Then I had the opportunity to drive for Michael (Waltrip) and it was so much fun again. Working with Rodney Childers and working with Michael, and everybody, it was one of the most fun years I ever had in racing. Our commitment was a two-year commitment, so by the time we started the second year I knew that I was ready. I was ready.”

There have been offers, however. Martin was even presented with the chance to drive what he called a “really good car” in the XFINITY Series this year that would have given him a chance to win.

But as he continues to say, he doesn’t want to drive a racecar anymore.

“I don’t meet my standards,” he repeats. “That’s something in my past.”

Hailing from Batesville, Arkansas, Martin won 40 races at NASCAR’s premier level in addition to compiling 49 wins in XFINITY and seven in the Camping World Truck Series. Martin also has claim to five IROC championships.

He’s worked with car owners like Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick, both of whom were also selected to the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. He’s been paired with crew chiefs from Harry Hyde and Larry McReynolds to Jimmy Fennig and Rodney Childers. And he’s competed against some of the best drivers in the sport.

Yes, Martin got everything out of being a racecar driver he could have ever imagined.

“One hundred times over. A little kid from a small town in Arkansas, he might have dreamed as such but if he was really realistic, he better not,” Martin said. “So, definitely. It was just an amazing ride and the opportunity to work, to meet, and compete with some of the greatest people in all of motorsports.

“It was a very rich time in my life, and I really feel like I’m fortunate.”

Forward, Not Back

Having put racing behind him, Martin never sat and reflected about where his place in the sport was. He’s far too busy for that now. During his career, Martin thought in retirement he’d want to do nothing more than sit on the couch. Instead, he discovered he doesn’t sit still well.

So his days, which are spent mostly back in Arkansas, are full from morning until night when he catches up with his wife, Arlene. But it did take some time to find a groove, especially with those weighing in on how he should do this or try that. Each time, Martin realized it wasn’t for him. He did find his passion, though, and it still involves mechanics.

“I have found that I like tinkering on things, working mechanically on my motorhome some; I enjoy getting the tools out,” he said. “I’ve sort of reconnected with the person that I was when I left Arkansas to chase my dream, which was a guy who had to fix stuff, had to figure out how to make something work that you had, rather than go get something else. Improvise and all those kind of things.

“I’m happy doing those kind of things, and I’ve done a lot of family stuff, and I enjoy that, too.”

Martin considers his glass filled all the way to the top. Garnering 57 percent of the votes from the Hall of Fame committee, he will now forever be remembered as one of the top drivers in NASCAR. Not bad for a guy who just wanted to be remembered.

So as he sits in the Winner’s Lounge at Charlotte Motor Speedway, being fed nicely and taking in how much his life has changed not only in just the past week, Mark Martin’s face can’t help but continue to light up.

“This is amazing to be in something with my heroes. I adore so many of the Hall of Fame members, not just the 2017 class, but some of my all-time racing heroes are in this Hall, and I can’t believe that I’m really included,” he said.

“When you asked the question, ‘did it meet up with what I thought it might be,’ it’s like, really? NASCAR Hall of Fame? Really? Racing’s really good to me.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Greed Leads Edwards to Commit ‘Rookie Mistake’

CONCORD, N.C. – Carl Edwards owned his mistake.

The defending Coca-Cola 600 winner took himself out of contention for a top-five finish when he was caught speeding on pit road under green flag conditions inside of the final 100 laps. But Edwards then added insult to injury by speeding again when serving his pass-through penalty. It made his third trip down pit road a stop-and-go penalty, leaving his two laps down and an 18th place finish.

It was an uncharacteristic mistake for the veteran from Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I just got greedy. I was doing really well getting onto pit road, and I thought, all right, I’m going to get a little more, and that didn’t work. And then I let it snowball,” Edwards said. “I made a rookie mistake of trying to make my pass-through as fast as I could, and I sped by I think half a mile an hour.

“If I had known I was going to speed, I would have run a little faster and gotten my money’s worth for that first one. I screwed it up. I think we had a solid top-four car, maybe a top-three car, so really tough to swallow that one. But you know what, it’s a mistake. I got to learn from it.”

Despite the disappointment of having improved his No. 19 Subway Toyota to where it was contending with the leaders, Edwards didn’t shy away from his error post-race. He remained on pit road for the media looking for a quote and even had a smile on his face while recapping his night. There were a few times Edwards let out a chuckle, going as far as to joke that after speeding the first time he just wanted to show off with the second penalty.

What else could he have done? On a night when Martin Truex Jr., a Toyota teammate, whipped the field for 392 of 400 laps led, Edwards praised his Dave Rogers-led team for their own speed and sticking with him throughout the night.

When it came to the sport’s longest race, however, Edwards ended up being the (admitted) weakest link.

“I’m a professional, I shouldn’t make those mistakes, and I made two of them,” he said. “That’s what happens when you try too hard. It’s OK. At least it’s a mistake of commission not omission – I was trying hard. So I learned something.”

Had Edwards not committed the penalty, he would have cycled around inside the top five and had eyes on Truex. That doesn’t mean that he felt he would have had anything for the newest winner of the Coca-Cola 600, but Edwards took away the team’s shot at seeing where they stacked up against the competition.

“Martin (Truex) was better. I feel like the 48 car (Jimmie Johnson) was better than me, too, so I could maybe have run maybe third or fourth,” Edwards said. “You never know what circumstance will play out, but I felt like that’s where the car deserved to finish.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
XFINITY

Ryan Sieg Trying to Prove Point Racing Still Matters

CONCORD, N.C. – Ryan Sieg knows his chance at making the XFINITY Series Chase will be on points, which is why days like Saturday at Charlotte are big.

A 19th place starting position in the Hisense 300 saw Sieg contending for a top-10 finish late in the event. But a caution with two laps to go gave way to one final round of pit stops and ultimately dropped him to a 13th place finishing position. For others, it might have been a disappointment, but for a team who has to do more with less, Sieg was content to take it and move on to Pocono Raceway.

“The car was just OK. We struggled all day with it and to come home top 15 is pretty good,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “It got better all day, but just wasn’t right the whole day. But it’s great for our team.

“Some parts of the day were a struggle; getting better each week. Just have to thank all the guys, we kept fighting away. Just a little bit off.”

Sieg sits 12th in points, which is the Chase cutoff spot. With eight top-20 finishes, including one top-10, in 11 starts this season, the No. 39 Chevrolet from RSS Racing continues to impress. Certainly when it compares to the budgets they are competing against. For instance, Sieg finished ahead of cars from JR Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, and Team Penske on Saturday.

His car also had a sponsor on it, 360 Treestands. It was the company’s first foray into NASCAR and the founders, two of which are former Marines, hope to return down the road.

“Those guys were awesome. They’re from Savannah, Georgia, and I’m from Georgia,” Sieg said. “They’re actually ex-Marines, and it was cool to have them on the car for this weekend, Memorial Day weekend. Can’t thank all of them enough.”

Every little bit helps. The organization recently hired former Sprint Cup Series crew Mike Ford, and Sieg credits everyone within the organization for working so well together. Now, things are finally starting to mesh.

“We’re getting better and better each week,” Sieg said.

And there’s no better time as the XFINITY Series hits a stretch of racing that will see one off weekend between now and early October. So with 15 races until the Chase begins, Sieg will not only continue to keep a close eye on the points but remind himself that weekends like Charlotte go a long way.

“We’re watching it a lot,” he said. “It’s pretty important because we’re going to make it in on points, so every spot counts. We just have to get each one, each race as much as we can.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
XFINITY

Frustration Continues to Grow for Kyle Larson

CONCORD, N.C. – It’s become same song, different verse for Kyle Larson.

While he continues to search for his first career win in the Sprint Cup Series, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver had a shot at his fourth victory in the XFINITY Series on Saturday afternoon in Charlotte. Larson led 46 laps in the Hisense 300 but finished sixth after his attempt at leader Denny Hamlin failed in Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag.

“I drove in as far as I could. I was just trying to pack air on him to get him loose, and I got myself tight,” a clearly dejected Larson said on pit road. “There wasn’t really anything I could have did to beat him to the line. Had I tried to run the top, he was on fresh tires so he would have killed me.

“I wouldn’t have finished wherever I did; I would have finished second or third. But I didn’t really care to finish second or third. I’ve done it enough.”

Leaning against the side of his No. 42 ENEOS Chevrolet, Larson tried to explain how the race got away when he was leading on the overtime attempt. But the frustration of the last month in which numerous victories have escaped him was clear in his voice.

After taking the lead from Joey Logano on Lap 195, the final caution flew with two laps to go. Larson and Logano elected to remain on track while others dove to pit road for fresh tires.

On the ensuing restart, which Larson lost the lead to Logano, Hamlin charged to the front from the sixth position on four fresh tires. Larson re-took the second spot off Turn 2 on the final lap and used the run to get to Hamlin’s bumper in Turns 3 and 4. The dirty air, however, shoved Larson up into the wall and as Hamlin drove to the win he lost four more positions.

“I knew I had a shot if I could have cleared Joey (Logano) before he got to Turn 1, but I don’t know. He was just on my door – he did a good job and got me loose, and I had to go up the track,” Larson said. “Was able to get around him down the backstretch and get another run on Denny (Hamlin) and was just going to try and pack air on him on entry and I just got myself tight, and I was already plowing tight before that. Got the wall. But, was going for it.”

Saturday was Larson’s fourth consecutive loss after being in contention late in a race.

At Kansas Speedway on May 7, Larson was running inside the top-five when he was collected in a crash with 27 laps to go. On Twitter afterward, he posted he didn’t know what he did to deserve his luck late, but it was “pretty annoying.”

It’s only gotten worse since.

A week later, Larson finished second at Dover International Speedway following a furious battle with Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth, whom he said he didn’t want to wreck to win the race. Larson led 85 laps that day.

Then came a week ago. A photo finish in the Sprint Showdown with Elliott put Larson in the Sprint All-Star Race and he found himself leading with two laps remaining. Then Logano came calling and Larson couldn’t control his loose car, and slid up into the wall.

As for the XFINITY Series, Larson had finished third in his previous start at Bristol Motor Speedway last month.

Sunday, he’ll start 24th in the Coca-Cola 600. But there’s no telling if he will have moved on by then from another missed opportunity.

“Was going to win but as luck would have it, a caution would come out, again. I’ve lost a couple races like that where it’s two to go and the yellow flag comes out instead of the white,” he said. “I knew we were in trouble when we had to stay out. Didn’t know which lane to pick, but didn’t really matter. Guy on four tires is going to win.”

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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

New Aero Package ‘Like Christmas’ for Edwards

CONCORD, N.C. – When it comes to aero packages, Carl Edwards can always be counted on for an opinion.

After NASCAR announced plans to try additional tweaks to the low downforce package later this year at Michigan International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway, Edwards couldn’t hide his excitement. He’s long been a proponent of making whatever changes are necessary to improve both the racecars and the racing, leaving Edwards to praise the sanctioning body for the recent decisions they’ve made.

“It’s all right there; the proof is there. All year we’ve had awesome racing, and we have close finishes. Things didn’t go exactly as planned at the All-Star event, but that was a new format and a lot of unforeseen things happened, but the racing on the track was good, and it’s been good all year,” Edwards said. “I already sent Steve O’Donnell (NASCAR) a thank you text. I’m so excited about the things that are coming at Kentucky and Michigan.

“NASCAR is doing what it takes; the teams are doing what it takes to go out and figure out how to make this the best racing it can be. This is going to be a blast. These cars, I’m telling you, when you drive them sideways at 200 MPH, and you’re closing on people and you’re able to pressure them and race like that, that’s as good as it gets. I’m very excited about Michigan and Kentucky, it’s like Christmas for me.”

The changes this time around include the spoiler being reduced from 3.5 to 2.5 inches, the splitter being reduced by two inches, and the rear deck fin also being resized to complement the spoiler change.

All of this is in addition to changes NASCAR has already had teams implement, such as welding the truck arm mounts and removing downforce-generating electric fans. Both will remain in place for the remainder of the 2016 season.

Edwards did not participate in a recent test NASCAR held with the aero changes but believes they will make the car drive better and disturb less of the air when in a pack. Kyle Larson, who was at the Michigan test, said the changes were evident when it came to how much more he had to lift off the throttle.

“At these big tracks, this is a big racecar driving through the air at 195 MPH and the smaller you can make that hole, the easier it is for people behind you to catch you and that’s what we want to see,” Edwards said. “We want to see guys who can get together. We’ve seen a lot of that this year, and as we go this direction, I really believe and would be surprised if it doesn’t get better.”

NASCAR tried a lower downforce package at both Kentucky and Darlington Raceway last season, with Edwards winning the Bojangles’ Southern 500. His comments ever since haven’t changed – he’s having a lot more fun racing.

Something he believes is not only going to continue, but many will agree with as the season goes on.

“There are absolutely no negatives (to a new package). This sport, to me, and I can speak as a fan – until I got that call from Jack Roush, this was just something I dreamed of doing and watched on television and the things that I grew up watching drivers do with these racecars,” Edwards said. “Like that picture (on the wall) with the cars sideways and hanging it out, stock car racing, NASCAR racing, is built on that.

“I can’t applaud NASCAR enough for going that direction. I don’t see any negatives. I think we’re just going to have better and better racing.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
XFINITY

Burton Building a Home at Richard Petty Motorsports

CONCORD, N.C. – Jeb Burton expected a few speed bumps early in the 2016 XFINITY Series season after how late things came together with Richard Petty Motorsports.

So sitting 11th in points entering Charlotte Motor Speedway isn’t bad, all things considering. The good news is the speed has been there for the No. 43 Rocky Ridge Custom Trucks Ford. The bad news, Burton has just one top-10 finish in 10 starts.

“We did a really good job the first couple of races and the last couple races I’ve made some mistakes; just got to get better. The cars have shown speed; we just haven’t been able to put it all together in the race,” Burton told POPULAR SPEED on Thursday at Charlotte.

“It seems like a lot of times we’ll qualify with really fast speed and practice really fast, but our long run stuff just hasn’t been there. We’ve been working on that, and I’ve been trying to get better as a driver and my teams been getting better, so looking forward to this weekend.”

Despite the lack of results and knowing everyone, including himself, is working hard to improve, Burton is still enjoying the season. The 23-year-old son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, Jeb has fit in nicely with the Richard Petty organization. He’s also comfortable in the XFINITY Series garage, having spent two years (2013-14) in the Camping World Truck Series and last season as a Sprint Cup rookie.

Stability, however, has never been there for Burton. He lost his truck ride at both Turner Scott and ThorSport Racing due to sponsorship while his Cup ride with BK Racing saw him fail to make nine races and finish inside the top 30 just three times.

“Oh yeah,” Burton quickly says when talking about how much more enjoyable life is now.

“Being with Richard Petty’s organization has been a lot of fun,” he continued. “I have a great group of guys here, and it’s been fun to be competitive again and have shots to run in the top 10 and top five. I feel like once we can get some things settled that we could compete for some wins.”

Starting with the Hisense 300 (Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET, FS1), the XFINITY Series goes on a long stretch of racing that sees just one off weekend between Charlotte and Kansas on October 10. The grueling schedule will quickly highlight the teams who are on top of things from those who are still searching.

Burton’s team is one of those hoping to have things in order as the season hits its stride.

“They’ve been working really hard on the stuff at the shop trying to get the cars better with the engineers and the pull-down rigs, stuff like that. Just trying to get our setup a little bit better for long run stuff,” Burton said. “I feel like that’s kind of where we’ve been a little off. I’ve got to do a better job in practice telling them what we need to be better; so today is really important telling Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) and everybody what I need for tomorrow to be good in the race.

“All the cars are going to be a handful. Whoever is the least sliding around is probably going to win the race, so hopefully we can unload right here and be pretty fast and just fine tune on it.”

Burton was 21st fastest in opening practice. There will be one final practice before the series then qualifies and goes for 300 miles on Saturday afternoon.

And as his program looks to improve this weekend and beyond, Burton will continue to keep a close eye on the Chase and the standings, as he looks to earn a spot in the post-season.

“The Chase format is good for us because we got started so late. We’re right there in the Chase, just have to keep doing what we’re doing and should have no problem being in the Chase,” he said.” Hopefully, by that time, we’ll be a little bit better on the racetrack, and we can run in the top 10 and top five a little more consistently and try to compete for wins.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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

Expectations High for Custer’s Second XFINITY Start

CONCORD, N.C. – Cole Custer will make his second career XFINITY Series start Saturday afternoon in Charlotte, and the bar couldn’t have been set higher.

A month ago, the 18-year-old Custer finished an impressive sixth in his debut at Richmond International Raceway. The Hisense 300, however, will be only the second time he’s competed at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the first coming just a week ago in a Camping World Truck Series event. JR Motorsports and Custer did get a chance to test at the 1.5-mile speedway a few weeks ago, and now the rookie will try to one-up his previous performance.

“We’d like to always get a win or a top five, but I think just trying to go out and run a solid race and finish,” Custer told POPULAR SPEED about his expectations. “Hopefully, we’ll end up with a top 10, maybe better. We came here and tested, so I think we have a pretty good baseline for where we need to start. I’m pretty confident with how we’re going to be.”

Custer called it “extremely different” going from a truck with a lot of downforce and drag to an XFINITY car. What will help for Saturday’s 300-mile event is race conditions (afternoon start in the heat) will be similar to those from the Truck Series race last weekend. Notes he compiled then he plans on transferring how the XFINITY race should unfold and how the car might handle.

“The cars are definitely really different, but how the track changed and everything during that race will help; how the track put rubber down,” Custer said. “We got to run the top (of the track), so that won’t be another thing to learn and I think that will help me.”

So far, working with crew chief Dave Elenz and the JRM XFINITY program has been great for Custer. The team works well together, and he has plenty of experience to lean on, from Elenz to veteran Elliott Sadler and race-savvy Justin Allgaier. Before the green flag on Saturday, Custer plans on getting as much information and feedback about preferred lines, car setups and anything else he can gather.

From there he’s on his own. After Charlotte, Custer will then compete in the series at Kentucky, Charlotte in the Fall and the season-finale at Homestead. His main priority continues to be chasing the championship in the Truck Series, where he has yet to win in 2016 and sits 14th in points ahead of their next race on June 10.

Except, like any young driver Custer hopes to continue climbing the racing ladder. His five XFINITY starts could be a debut for a potential deal with JR Motorsports for next season, or at least he hopes.

No discussions on his future have yet taken place, so Custer will continue to take each weekend, like Charlotte, one at a time.

“It’s kind of too earlier right now, and we’re focused on the truck deal and doing the best we can in these five XFINITY races,” he said. “It’s what we’re focused on right now.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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.