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NASCAR Next: Spencer Davis Was ‘Built for Speed’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As far back as kindergarten, Spencer Davis was making it known he was going to be a racecar driver.

Now 17, Davis is well on his way by competing in the K&N Pro Series East. While enjoying a luncheon as one of the newest members of the 2016-17 NASCAR Next class in downtown Charlotte, Davis smiled and said if he went through the files Mom’s kept, his pledge would probably be there in black and white.

“Walked in and they asked what you wanted to be, and mine was a NASCAR driver,” Davis said. “Someone asks me ten years from now what I want to be I still want to be a NASCAR driver. I eat, sleep, think, breathe racing.”

His introduction to racing was almost too good to be true, or as Davis says, perhaps perfectly planned out. With his father being a racer himself, the two were traveling to what was once Gresham Motorsports Park when Dad happened to bypass the go-kart track.

Davis didn’t realize kids his age was allowed to compete, but the seed had been planted. He turned to his Dad and said he ‘needed’ a go-kart and he ‘wanted’ to start racing immediately. The following week, Davis was.

“I remember we had a little smaller trailer; it was him and me. I believe I qualified third, and I was leading the race and coming to the checkered flag I got spun out and finished second backward,” Davis recalled. “From that point on, something went inside me that I wanted to win, no matter what. Second wasn’t good enough.

“I got out and was a little bit mad. Even for a five-year-old you have very hard feelings if you lose something that you know you could have won. That fire has been in me ever since; it’s never slowed down, only gotten brighter.”

A native of Dawsonville, Ga., Davis went from go-karts to running local short tracks in both Late Models and Late Model Trucks. His first win in a Late Model (2012) came at the facility where he caught the racing bug, Gresham. Davis went on to win the track championship later that year.

The 2014 season saw him run a full NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified schedule, earning seven top-10 finishes in 14 starts. At season’s end, he was ninth in points. The steady and successful climb into the spotlight has made Davis one of motorsports top prospects, as shown by his inclusion into the NASCAR Next program.

12 April, 2016 - NEXT Generation Photo shoot, Studio 43 in Charlotte NC.

With a combined 10 K&N starts between the East and West Series, Davis landed with Lorin Rainer, a long-time spotter in the Sprint Cup Series. Well aware of Rainer’s connections, Davis keeps in the back of his mind how impressing his boss can lead to doors being opened.

“Any time you have someone talking good about you, it’s definitely a help. Especially in this industry because you’re not going to get noticed if no one is talking about you. (Team owners) want someone who is getting talked about, who’s running up front; who’s getting the job done; who’s the whole package, and word of mouth is one of the best things for an up-and-coming driver,” Davis said. “For instance, if you raced against Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car and Josh Berry tells him, hey this kid is good, we raced hard for the win, this or that, stuff like that helps and definitely being one of Lorin’s drivers helps because he talks to a ton of people. He’s a well-recognized name in the sport.

“Until I actually met Lorin I never knew who he was because he’s not a name you hear in the media a lot but once you get to know him he’s an awesome guy. Then you start to realize how much he’s involved in this sport and knowing that his involvement is so major if you can run good for him and show your raw talent and what you can do, any type of word passing along is going to help.”

Davis has not discussed with Rainer what his next step could be, but in addition to owning two K&N cars Rainer also has an ARCA and Camping World Truck team. Looking ahead, Davis would love to move up and next try his hand at trucks before eying a full-time XFINITY ride in about five years.

But even for a teenager, Davis already understands the importance of patience.

“I don’t think there’s a single kid in here that wouldn’t hop in a Cup car tomorrow if they could, but obviously, you have to think realistic goals. First off is to get through this year and compete for the championship, which we’ve done so far until we had a bad string of luck these last two races,” he said. “But I would love to go into next year signed up for a truck deal with a good, solid team I know I could build with and go win races with.

“At the end of the day, you don’t want to move too quick because you don’t want to create a big flame because it’ll burn out quick. You want to take it one step at a time and build a solid foundation.”

And fight for some wins along the way, which Davis has been doing ever since he got that go-kart.

“All I want to do is win. Unless something very bad happened and we come out with a good finish, I’m not going to be 100 percent satisfied with second,” he said. “Yeah, it’s nice to finish second, and you still have to think about points, but at the end of the day, I want that trophy. I go into every race every weekend with the mindset that I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to win. That’s all I think.

“Now, my mindset is going to have to be a little bit different points racing because I’m not going to move someone for the win when it could be a better points day finishing second. But, I feel like I’m built for speed and the happiest I am is when I’m in Victory Lane sitting with that trophy.”

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
Trucks

Rookie Rhodes In Need of a Confidence Booster

The life of a NASCAR rookie can be laden with disappointment and Ben Rhodes is currently going through that experience.

Five races into the Camping World Truck Series season, Rhodes has wrecked four trucks with his new ThorSport Racing team. But if there’s a positive it’s that Rhodes has been fast. One thing or another, however, has kept the 2014 K&N Pro Series East champion from finishing out a race. Even when he won the pole and led 42 laps at Martinsville Speedway, late race contact took him out of contention.

“We’ve been fast this year it’s just unfortunate how some things have played out,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED at Dover. “We just can’t catch a break. Whether it’s Daytona, something happens, and we’re involved in it. We somehow got through all the wrecks at Daytona and ended up finishing but still a torn up truck nonetheless.

“Martinsville, passing on the outside and getting caught up in another wreck. We had a really fast truck there, and I think if we had a couple more laps or not even more laps, if we were able to just make the pass and we had that restart, I think we would have been in contention to win. Especially how Martinsville is. Then Kansas. We were in contention to win that race as well.”

Rhodes was running second on the last lap in Kansas when he attempted to charge to the inside of leader Johnny Sauter in Turn 3. But Sauter blocked and the two wrecked hard. Afterward, Sauter insulted the 19-year-old on live TV, only to take his comments back days later.

The worst of all might have happened on Friday night in Dover.

Rhodes found trouble in a new way when he collided with teammate Rico Abreu on Lap 62 in Turn 4. A heavily damaged truck kept Rhodes behind the wall for multiple laps in the JACOB Companies 200, and he was eventually credited with a 28th place finish.

“We had a really fast Tundra, but just struggled on the restarts, I was getting kind of frustrated. I drove it in there pretty deep, and it stuck, but when I ‘landed,’ I got loose ad Rico started to get a run on my outside,” Rhodes said. “The combination of those two things sucked me around. It’s something I haven’t experienced yet driving these trucks, and something I’m going to learn the hard way.

“I’m really disappointed in myself. Our team works so hard on these trucks, and Rico certainly didn’t do anything wrong. We have fast trucks and we’ll be back.”

As the series shifts to Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20, ThorSport knows all their young drivers need a confidence booster. Sophomore Cameron Hayley sits 11th in points with two top-10 finishes. Rhodes and Abreu are 17th and 18th, respectively.

While the 41 team attempted to help Rhodes shake things off, the organization was celebrating a win with two-time series champion Matt Crafton. But as general manager David Pepper partook in all the post-race festivities, he knew the hard conversations were still to come.

“All our trucks have been fast. I think you could pinpoint each and every race where one of these ThorSport trucks or several of them were leading laps, and that speaks to (all of these) drivers and the crew chiefs and the guys that work on these trucks every day and everything Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) give us to go win races,” Pepper said. “You have years like this where at the end of the race it culminates with a race victory, but you have to balance that with so many times during the course of a race different things happen and keep one of your teams from winning.

“It runs the gamut. You have a whole range of emotions because I’m very excited about the win and this is a huge victory for this company and these guys, but we also have to go back and kind of lick our wounds with the other teams and get them focused and tell them, hey, next week’s another week.”

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

Recent Performances Suggest a Larson Turnaround

DOVER, Del. – In 87 career starts, Kyle Larson has been the runner-up on four occasions, but Sunday seemed a bit different.

Larson not only recovered from being a lap down but drove into contention in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway in a masterful display of driving. The third year Sprint Cup driver led 85 laps and went toe-to-toe with the likes of Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Matt Kenseth, who held him off for the win.

It was a follow-up performance to the clean race Larson was driving at Kansas Speedway last weekend before being collected in a wreck while battling for the second spot. In a way, this is the Kyle Larson many have been waiting to see.

So the obvious question is, what’s suddenly different?

“We got off to a rough start, and we’re starting to figure some things out. The things that he likes,” crew chief Chad Johnston said. “He’s adapted to the new package. We’ve had some pretty strong runs just not the finishes to show for it, and hopefully, we’ll start getting those now.”

Johnston had high praise for his driver, whom he is working with for the first time. Twelve races into the year the No. 42 Target Chevrolet sits 21st in points with three top-10 finishes. Talladega Superspeedway is the only other race Larson has led this year.

“I think he’s just such a natural talent. Since he’s come into this series I don’t think you could find anybody that would disagree with that; he just seems to pick it up,” Johnston said. “He knows how to go fast and that’s what it takes.”

As an organization, Chip Ganassi Racing has not run as well as they should be. Many involved admit that, including Felix Sabates who said last month at Richmond that they were just beginning to turn the corner.  Going even further, Sabates said it’s frustrating as a car owner when you can’t provide your drivers with the equipment they need to succeed, especially Larson whose talent has been highly praised since he arrived on the NASCAR scene.

“We always built new racecars, but we’ve been building better racecars,” Larson said of the recent improvements. “We’ve been learning stuff with the new chassis, a lot of the body work and just everybody at the shop has been working really, really hard.”

Yet it hasn’t been easy.

Still looking for his first career win and having yet to earn a Chase berth, Larson has had as many ups as he has downs. The average finish of his career to date is 17.9, and he’s led a total of 263 laps.

“It’s been really hard to stay positive, but as it’s showing now I think everybody has stayed positive and dug really deep to build better stuff,” he said. “Just keep working hard. I wanted to give up early in the race; I went a lap down early and was like, this is going to be a really long, boring race but kept fighting, kept getting track positive and got up there.”

So while two consecutive strong performances are not a career-changer, it can both lift the spirits of Larson and company while proving they’ve finally hit on something to build on.

“Just keep working hard in the shop to keep up with the ever-changing garage area,” he said, “and try to build nice stuff and make the right decisions on the racetrack.”

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

The Future of Roush Fenway Racing Still to be Determined

DOVER, Del. – Roush Fenway Racing is staying the course.

Now that the organization is headed back in the right direction when it comes to their performance, Roush president Steve Newmark said Sunday the focus is on the immediate future of fighting for a Chase berth and not what their driver lineup is going to be. With three drivers running full-time in the XFINITY Series, three more under their banner in Cup, and Chris Buescher on loan to Front Row Motorsports, decisions will soon have to be made of who is running where.

But according to Newmark, it’s a good problem to have and one that has help Roush Fenway develop their identity.

“That’s been part of Jack’s (Roush, owner) DNA since well before I got here and he prides himself on that. It’s not only drivers, it’s crew chiefs, over the wall guys,” Newmark told POPULAR SPEED. “He brings them up through the XFINITY Series and so we never stop looking. In fact, we’ll probably announce another kid in our driver development program early next week.

“The way we look at is, you’re not saying in three years I need to have this (lineup). You’re just always out there looking for talent and if you get in a situation where you have too much talent for the number of rides that probably a good situation to have. You’d much rather have that than the reverse.”

Greg Biffle is the veteran of the organization and recently said in January that he’s signed a new multi-year deal. Trevor Bayne is two years into his Sprint Cup career while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in is the midst of his fourth season after winning back-to-back XFINITY championships in 2011 and 2012.

The current lineup there is just as crowded with Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Reed, plus the addition of Gray Gaulding for select events. Like any other sport, NASCAR teams go through their own versions of talent scouting and, hopefully, locking up first round picks. However, they don’t all pan out, and Newmark says that’s the hard reality of any business.

“We hope all these kids – we identify them and think that they’ve got talent, that they’ve got the right kind of character we think to go with it, but you never know whether they’re going to pan or not. So we’ve been pretty successful over the years,” Newmark said. “I think Jack has right now maybe eight of the top 25, 30 drivers have come up through his process.

“We don’t really plan exactly for say 2018, and this is going to happen in 2020, it’s really trying to develop as many drivers as possible and then you see how things play out and hopefully they all pan out and are able to showcase their talent.”

Buescher was one such driver. When the company felt he was ready to be in Cup instead of running a third year in the XFINITY Series, they coordinated with Bob Jenkins and Front Row, who Buescher was already familiar with, to compete in their camp.

In a perfect world, admitted Newmark, Roush will get him back under their roof sooner rather than later.

“There’s a combination of factors that will go into that,” he said. “Ideally, we’ll have him in one of our cars in the next few years, but I think the focus right now is we got to get him running better in the 34. There’s been a lot of emphasis in the last couple weeks on trying to get the speed out of the 34 car, and we work pretty closely with Bob and the folks at Front Row on that.”

Under NASCAR’s new ownership rules of only being able to run four full-time cars, plus the addition of the Charter System this year, Roush has been in a box. The chance of ever going back to four full-time cars looks slim, but Newmark won’t close the door on any possibility.

But for right now the company is comfortable with what they have.

“Jack would rather run 10 cars; he would run as many cars as he would be enabled,” Newmark joked. “It really will depend exactly on the driver, sponsorship, and then now you also have to have a charter, so I don’t think we would run a (fourth) full-time, but you never know.

“Our sport is just so different than anybody else. There’s ups and downs, and it fluctuates, so I think the vision would be we continue to grow, but you have to see where it goes. Our focus right now is seeing if we can get a couple guys in the Chase first.”

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

Penalty Leaves Sadler Wondering What Could Have Been

DOVER, Del. – There are two things Elliott Sadler knows for sure: he was pushed by Ty Dillon, and Daniel Suarez spun his tires. But as for why he was issued a black flag for jumping the restart during his Heat Race, Sadler will have NASCAR explain that to him.

“The biggest thing is, I really felt like I had a shot to win the race today. During practice and after qualifying my car was so fast I felt like we could go to Dover and have a legitimate shot at winning the race,” he said.

“When that got called – I don’t understand it because the 19 (Suarez) went before me, and I know he’s got an in-car camera so they can look at that, and then the 3 (Dillon) was pushing me down the frontstretch, so I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do unless you lock the brakes up and wreck the whole field. They’ll explain it to me, I guess, but it doesn’t make much sense to me right now.”

The penalty dropped Sadler to a 16th place finish in his Heat Race, which gave him a 32nd starting spot in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200. Sadler did charge inside the top 10 in less than 60 laps, and he admitted he felt he was fast enough to win the race, but there was little time to make up all his lost ground in just 120 laps.

Sadler ultimately finished sixth and tried to put all the positives on the day in perspective. But it’s a bit hard for the NASCAR veteran, who was also denied a chance at the win in Indianapolis in 2012 because of the same penalty.

When asked if it’s become an issue he needs to bring up with NASCAR officials, Sadler again said it would be addressed.

“But I hope they see my side of it too on me being physically pushed so hard I actually had to block the 3 car; I moved down on the front straightaway to block him, and the 19 spun his tires, so they’ll explain it to me,” he said. “One thing they do have is a lot of video feed, so we’ll go through it and see.

“It’s not going to give me back what we lost today, but what I’m proud of is how fast we were in the race. We passed a ton of cars; our cars are getting better every week. We’ll put it behind us and go to Charlotte; it’s all we can do.”

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

Bowman Gets Back Up to Speed with JR Motorsports

DOVER, Del. – Alex Bowman last sat in a racecar seven months ago, which left him with plenty of time to sit at home on the couch.

That’s what he had been doing until Saturday afternoon at Dover International Speedway when he climbed into a JR Motorsports machine. Bowman drove the No. 88 Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet to a third place finish in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200 after leading 33 laps and, hopefully he said, reminding everyone he can still get the job done.

Bowman has nine scheduled starts with the Dale Earnhardt Jr. owned team and to him what he does will define where his career goes. His proclamation comes after spending the last two years in the Sprint Cup Series following a full-time stint in the XFINITY Series in 2013. But after unexpectedly losing his ride at Tommy Baldwin Racing this past offseason, Bowman finally had a chance to smile again.

“That’s the most fun I had in a long time. It makes want to come back to the racetrack, which we got eight more of these this year and I think there’s definitely a good shot we’re going to win a couple,” he said. “So thankful for everybody at JRM and Advance, everybody that’s come onboard. Dave (Elenz, crew chief) did such a good job with the racecar.

“We were a pretty good bit off in the Heat Race, and we tightened it up and got really good there. Just really, really happy with it. It puts a big smile on my face. I can’t remember the last time I led a race, it was probably either an XFINITY race three years ago or some ARCA races, so it’s been a while, but it was a lot of fun, for sure.”

As he entered the garage on Friday morning ahead of the series’ first practice session, Bowman suddenly found himself more nervous than he had been in years. He knew he was a little rusty, but was he going to mess up?

Being fast, however, helps erase a lot of doubt and Bowman was driving a car the JR Motorsports organization had already won twice with this year. A fifth place finish in his Heat Race put Bowman fifth on the grid for the 120-lap main event and from the drop of the green flag, it was clear he had a car to contend.

“Man, we had a good long racecar. Our Camaro was amazing that first long run and I really hoped it was going to go green there because Erik (Jones) looked like he was getting loose in, but you’ll have that,” Bowman said.

After picking up the lead on Lap 45, Bowman led the field until Lap 77, which included through a round of pit stops where he maintained the spot. But Jones, who went on to win the race took over on Lap 78 and never looked back although the 88 team took a chance by pitting on the race’s final caution for fresh tires.

“We put four tires on at the end just to try and go win the thing instead of settling for second and came up one spot short,” Bowman said. “I just can’t think Dave Elenz and all these JRM guys enough. It means so much. Thanks, Dale Jr. It’s a lot of fun.”

Saturday was not the first time Bowman has impressed while driving for JR Motorsports. He was given two races in 2014 and Earnhardt Jr. was so pleased he expressed hopes of working with the 23-year-old again in the future.

His remaining races include Pocono, Iowa, New Hampshire, Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, Richmond, Dover, and Phoenix.

And with a strong start in their 2016 partnership under his belt, Bowman hopes it might lead to something even bigger between the two down the road.

“I think there’s obviously a possibility for it,” he said. “We have to keep getting more sponsors onboard like Advance and Cessna, and we have some open races this year we’re trying to fill still, so that’s a big part of it. Obviously, Dale’s taken a big chance with me on this deal and hopefully, it’s paying off for him. I’m having a heck of a lot of fun.”

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

Heat Race Crash Sends Justin Marks Home Early

DOVER, Del. – The XFINITY Series heat races finally produced some drama.

Unfortunately for Justin Marks and his Chip Ganassi Racing team, they were at the center of it after crashing on Lap 26 in the second event at Dover International Speedway. Saturday was the third of four ‘Dash 4 Cash’ events this season, which have a new format that consists of heat races.

However, the first three weeks have drawn neither rave reviews or much excitement. Drivers and teams admitting without many incentives plus the risk of damaging their primary cars, it made little sense to race hard.

Marks wasn’t running hard, but found trouble when he got loose off Turn 4 and slid down the frontstretch. He took a heavy hit after hard contact with both the inside and outside walls, destroying his No. 42 Katerra Chevrolet.

The contact was also vicious enough it not only tore the front splitter off but left it wedged underneath the concrete wall. NASCAR safety workers had to use tools to dislodge it.

Marks was treated and released from the infield care center. However, he was unable to compete in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200 because under the new ‘Dash 4 Cash’ procedure teams cannot roll out a backup car following an accident in their Heat Race. With a Heat Race being considered part of the Main race, Marks did receive points for his 40th place finish.

“The Katerra Chevrolet was really, really loose in that Heat and I was just trying to hang on to it and wait until we could put some adjustments on it for the Main. Just couldn’t hang onto it for the whole race. I hate it for the guys; it was a pretty big hit, and the car is junk,” Marks said. “I hate they came all this way and we don’t really get to race today. I was thinking the whole time, I didn’t really know what the rule was, I didn’t know if we could unload a backup and start at the back or if we had to fix this one, but it sounds like we’re done for the day.

“It’s a shame. I hate it for the guys. Thanks for the effort and everything; it’s just too bad.”

Marks is competing in a limited XFINITY scheduled with Chip Ganassi. Two weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway Marks scored a season-best 11th place finish, while Saturday was his first start at Dover.

Marks, who has 18 career starts, is scheduled to be back behind the wheel next month at Michigan International Speedway.

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
Trucks

So Far, So Good for Matt Tifft at Red Horse Racing

DOVER, Del. – Two races into his tenure with Red Horse Racing Matt Tifft is as satisfied as can he can be.

Tifft finished 12th in the Jacob Companies 200 at Dover International Speedway on Friday night in what was only his second start of the 2016 season. With qualifying rained out, Tifft started third as a result of his strong practice speed from Thursday afternoon. He demonstrated the quickness early on but ended up fading as the race began to hit its stride.

“I don’t know what totally happened. I thought the first half we were really good; we ran in the top five the whole time there, and I just feel like we lost a little bit of speed there,” he said afterward. “I don’t know if we tightened it up too much – we might have just gone the wrong way on adjustments, and that’s not blame on (crew chief) Scott Zipadelli, I think we should have left it a little bit free and that’s part of the learning process here.

“It was a lot better the first half, and we slowed up a little bit too much and in traffic I couldn’t roll up on guys as well as we needed to. Still proud of these guys; they worked really hard the whole weekend. We brought a good truck; I think we just went the wrong way on adjustments.”

Scheduled to run at least 10 races with Red Horse, Tifft has been making the most of the limited opportunities he had between the Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series. Last year, Tifft ran 12 CWTS events between Kyle Busch Motorsports and Venturini Motorsports. He also earned a 10th place finish in his XFINITY debut with Joe Gibbs Racing, who he again is competing for this season.

Tifft will give Dover another try on Saturday afternoon in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200. He’ll drive the No. 1 Oberto Toyota, a seat he shares with 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch.

A highly touted prospect, Tifft earned his shot at Red Horse after the team parted way with Ben Kennedy. They’ve now earned two top-15 finishes having started seventh and finished 14th last weekend in Kansas. As the series shifts to Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20, Tifft is looking to reverse his fortunes.

“It’s been really good (with Red Horse). I think we just need to work on closing these races out,” Tiff said. “We’ve been really good up until the halfway point and we kind of struggle after that. Just need, if anything, to flip-flop the races and we’ll be all right.”

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
Trucks

Custer Wants to Know NASCAR’s Reasoning Behind Black Flag

DOVER, Del. – Cole Custer is looking for an explanation.

With a fast enough No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet to contend for the win in the Jacob Companies 200 at Dover International Speedway, Custer instead finished a frustrating fifth. Exhausted and confused afterward, Custer tried to accept being unable to complete a comeback after being black flagged from the race lead on Lap 49 for jumping the restart.

“I don’t really know what happened on that restart. Obviously (NASCAR) is not the most consistent on everything that they do – their calls,” Custer said. “I’d like to know what their thinking was on it because what I’ve known is you can always beat the leader to the line on a restart.

“But we had a great truck and was able to battle up through there. Got tight at the end but just dirty air. Wish we could have gotten a win there; we were fast enough to.”

Fortunately for Custer, the caution flew on the lap (56) he was assessed the penalty, therefore allowing him to restart at the rear of the field instead of having to come down pit road under green flag conditions.

Crew chief Joe Shear Jr., however, did bring Custer down pit road under the caution for fuel and adjustments in preparation for his fight through the field. He charged on the bottom, through the middle, and on the high lane trying to pick off spots.

Dirty air made it impossible for Custer to again near the lead and by the end of the 200-mile event, the truck developed a tight condition. Had he not been penalized, Custer confidently said the result would have been different.

A two-time Truck Series winner, Custer has had a rough start to the 2016 season. The JR Motorsports team, which is competing for the championship this season after running a limited schedule last year, crashed in two of the first four races. They didn’t have a top-10 finish until last weekend in Kansas, a seventh.

Due to the Dover penalty nullifying his lead, Custer still has not led a lap this season, but things have finally begun to look up. Or at least as good as they can despite feeling he was unjustly penalized.

“We’ve struggled the first few races, but we’re finally back going where we should be,” he said. “I’m excited to get back to Charlotte; I think we’ll be pretty good.”

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
Trucks

Dover Debut a ‘Big Step’ for Nick Drake’s NASCAR Career

DOVER, Del. – Making his Camping World Truck Series debut this weekend, Nick Drake hopes it opens doors to the future.

Drake has been a Haas Racing development driver since he was 14 years old, running midget and sprint cars on dirt. It was only two years ago when he was given the opportunity to sit in a stock car for the first time, competing full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He won the K&N Pro Series West season finale at Phoenix before running a second full East season in 2015, finishing in the top 10 in points both seasons.

But Drake hasn’t been behind the wheel since last Fall at Dover International Speedway, where he makes his first truck start in the Jacob Companies 200. The No. 49 Haas Automation Chevrolet is a partnership between JR Motorsports and Premium Motorsports and Drake is also scheduled to compete in the June 18 event at Iowa Speedway.

“Having the opportunity to run two truck races for Haas Racing is a big step in my career,” Drake told POPULAR SPEED between practice sessions on Thursday. “It’s been fun. They have all the right resources for us to get the job done, so we just have to do our part of it.”

Moving from a K&N car to a truck is a change for Drake, who said the trucks are more locked down than what he’s used to. The focus in final practice was to slot in behind other trucks and get an idea of how they handle in dirty air in addition to getting a better feel for the side force and downforce they produce.

Eleventh fastest in the first practice, Drake is confident he has a Silverado that can compete inside the top 15 and admitted he feels comfortable.

But Drake isn’t necessarily aiming for anything in particular on Friday evening. Instead, he hopes to complete all the laps, stay out of trouble, and along with crew chief David McCarty, hopefully, land inside the top 10.

“We’re not too bad; I’m just getting a feel for everything here, so we just have to try and fine-tune it,” Drake said. “I don’t think we’re going to get to qualify tomorrow (with the weather), so we have to try and put down a good lap in practice. But everyone is going to try and do the same thing. Hopefully, we’ll put ourselves in the front half of the field and stay out of trouble tomorrow, and we’ll all be happy.”

Looking ahead, Drake knows for certain he has another CWTS start on his schedule, but besides getting the chance to play around on the dirt, he’s not sure what his NASCAR prospects look like.

“We’re going to see how these two truck races play out first and if everything goes well for us we’d love to add quite a bit more to our schedule,” he said. “It’s been tough sitting on the sidelines, but it allowed me to focus on these two races coming up. So if we can have these go the way we want them, hopefully, it’ll open up the future for us.”

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