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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville Speedway

“Tick Tock, We Got A Clock.”

Four races in the books for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and the fans haven’t been left disappointed yet by the action on track. 

As typically expected with Martinsville Speedway, the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 was filled with close quarter action and even if the final stretch of the event had run without a caution, it was bound to be a barn burner as Todd Gilliland had began to close the gap on Kyle Benjamin. That said, thanks to a big piece of pipe laying on the track, the yellow flag flew with less than 40 laps to go.

The result? Pure chaos. Three-wide competition throughout the whole field, bumping and banging off each other – but with nobody actually getting turned around. 

John Hunter Nemechek has shown that he can get the job done in the clutch of the moment and snag an unexpected win – recall Canadian Tire Motorsports Park anybody? He once again proved his ability as a driver, as his attack on the restart with 31 laps to go was everything. While Gilliland and Benjamin looked set to battle, Nemechek snuck underneath both drivers going into the turn, eventually passing them both. From being well-timed to set-up and executed, it was the perfect move that you can’t discount no matter how you look at it.

Nemechek’s situation is unique this year. He is splitting a ride in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with Kyle Larson, while running whatever truck races do not conflict. Despite showing countless talent, sponsorship hasn’t ever come easy for the 20-year-old. If he was able to get some funding to a full schedule – whether XFINITY or Truck, there’s no question he’d be a championship contender.

You can’t discount Nemechek’s closest competition, either. Benjamin was able to get back to Nemechek’s bumper and certainly a little harder hit or couple more laps and we may have a different story on our hands. You have to credit Benjamin for his poise shown, as he could’ve just wrecked the No. 8 Chevrolet to get himself to victory lane – but chose the respectful route instead.

By the way, Monday’s race was Benjamin’s series debut with a first year team – DGR-Crosby Racing. Not a bad beginning for either party. The 20-year-old said he hoped he earned himself more chances behind the wheel with his performance – don’t worry, you did. 

While the youngsters impressed, the veterans were unable to be up front as expected. Past winners Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter each ran inside the top-10, but neither were a factor for the victory and ultimately found themselves out of winning contention due to other problems. Sauter suffered from battery issues with the No. 21 truck stalling off the corner at one point, with Crafton getting heavy damage as he ran into the back of Sauter then. 

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

Iowa Perfectly Captured Identity of XFINITY Series

The two stand-alone NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Iowa Speedway are always among the best events of the season.

2017 proved no different as each visit to the 7/8-mile oval featured a first-time winner, season-best finishes for many drivers, and produced great racing.

The compelling competition resulted from the absence of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and always unpredictable short-track racing.

In June, Christopher Bell made his second career series start, led a race high 152 laps but fell short of victory by the finish as William Byron earned his first triumph. 

On Saturday, young talent was on display once again as multiple competitors who aren’t typically the classes of the field impressed.

Ryan Preece has made the most out of his two starts with Joe Gibbs Racing this season. After finishing second at New Hampshire, he prevailed over teammate Kyle Benjamin and captured his first career series victory in the U.S. Cellular 250.

While Preece proved successful when racing against Cup Series drivers at New Hampshire, fewer experienced racers in the field provided him an improved chance to showcase his potential given a top ride, and he delivered.

Benjamin finished in the runner-up position in the car that Kyle Busch typically competes in, capturing his best career series finish.

Former Cup Series drivers were also able to shine as Brian Scott finished third and Sam Hornish Jr. placed in the top-10 in each stage before crashing late.

The success of the up and coming competitors and veterans who can still climb behind the wheel and run well is what makes the XFINITY Series unique.

When drivers competing for smaller teams like Ryan Sieg, Ross Chastain, and J.J. Yeley capture their best finishes of the year in these races, it also adds to the appeal of series.

These are also common characteristics of short-track racing which is often the proving ground for drivers looking to make a name for themselves.

While the grand stages of Daytona and Indianapolis are important, races like Iowa are what define the series.

Iowa provided some of the best racing of the season and working towards having more events play out similarly would be an excellent way to enhance the identity of the series.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

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

Benjamin’s XFINITY Debut Spoiled by Late Race Crash

Kyle Benjamin sparked a lot of attention in his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut for Joe Gibbs Racing in the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday.

The 19-year-old K&N Pro Series East standout started the event second and finished sixth in Stage 1. He broke into the top-five during Stage 2, placing fifth to qualify as one of the four drivers eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus. He looked poised to post a solid top-10, until his final pit stop on Lap 240. The driver of the No. 20 ToyotaCare Toyota had to make a second trip down pit road to tighten some loose lug nuts, causing him to start at the tail end of the field.

However, just six laps into the Final Stage, Benjamin was caught up in an incident involving Daniel Suarez and William Byron. He was credited with a 32nd-place finish.

“We ran pretty good all day,” Benjamin said. “It was a positive day except for what happened at the end. I learned a lot and got to work with (Chris) Gabehart (crew chief) and get a feel for how he does things at the track. To run where I was running I felt like was pretty good for a debut. We had some work to do at the end on that last pit stop to run with those guys. I wish I could’ve seen what we had at the end. I know (Kyle) Larson drove up there, so maybe we could have too. All in all, it was a good day.”

Benjamin will have three more opportunities this year with Joe Gibbs Racing. His next event will be at Pocono Raceway on June 10.

“We just have to bump it up a notch for the next time I get in this car, and we should be good,” he said.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Categories
XFINITY

Commanding Performance Earns Allgaier Second ‘Dash 4 Cash’ Victory

NASCAR XFINITY Series ‘Dash 4 Cash’ races are designed to bring out the best among series regulars with $100,000 on the line. The added incentive has created competitive racing through each of its three events so far this season and led to standout performances from the drivers in contention for the prize.

Previous D4D winners, Justin Allgaier in Phoenix and Daniel Hemric in Bristol earned opportunities to compete for the bonus in the Final Stage after being the top running series regulars following Stage 1.

After capturing his first career series pole, Hemric led early and ran in the top-five throughout the Stage. Allgaier quickly progressed after starting sixth, and led 11 laps before finishing runner-up. 

Kyle Benjamin earned a D4C spot in his series debut for Joe Gibbs Racing following a strong performance in Stage 2 and placed sixth. Elliott Sadler’s ninth-place run also put him in contention for the $100,000 in the Final Stage for the second time this season.

When the Final Stage went green, there was no stopping Allgaier. After winning Stage 2, he restarted second and regained the lead with 85 laps remaining.

An untimely yellow flag with 11 laps remaining and ensuing pit stops placed Allgaier second for the restart after Ty Dillon gambled for track position and took two tires. Another caution quickly slowed the field again and set up an Overtime finish.

Allgaier entered Turn 1 side-by-side with Kyle Larson but couldn’t remain on his outside exiting Turn 2. As Larson pulled ahead, a crash back in the pack brought out the race-ending yellow flag as the leaders had crossed the Overtime line.

Larson went onto to score the victory while Allgaier came home second and claimed his second D4C win of the year. However, his disappointment from narrowly missing out on victory after leading a race-high 157 laps overshadowed picking up the bonus.

“Ultimately we came here to win the race and had a great opportunity to do that and unfortunately at the end of the race, the whole race, the wheels fell off of it,” Allgaier said.”It just felt like everything went haywire there at the end and unfortunately we ultimately paid the biggest price and didn’t get to go to Victory Lane.”

One Dash 4 Cash contest remains this season when Dover International Speedway hosts the XFINITY Series regulars’ last shot to earn an additional $100,000.

While Allgaier won’t be eligible for the $1,000,000 awarded to a driver who captures all four D4C wins, he will aim to pick up his third prize.

Hemric will have an opportunity to qualify for the XFINITY Series playoffs with a Dash 4 Cash victory at Dover but Allgaier may give him a run for his money

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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.

Categories
XFINITY

Benjamin to Run Four Races for Gibbs

The young talent at Joe Gibbs Racing continues to grow as Kyle Benjamin will make four NASCAR XFINITY Series starts in 2017. 

The 19-year-old will debut in the No. 20 Camry at Richmond International Speedway on April 29, followed by Pocono Raceway. He will run the No. 18 Camry at Iowa Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.

“Kyle has proven to be a quick learner throughout his career,” said Steve deSouza, Executive Vice President of XFINITY and Development for Joe Gibbs Racing. “All you have to do is look at his history and it’s rather impressive to see how quickly success came to him at each stage of his development. We’re excited to have him make his debut with our XFINITY program.”

A multi-time late model winner, Benjamin burst onto the scene when he won the Super Late Model Championship at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL). He moved up to ARCA Series, finishing second in his debut in 2014 at Toledo Speedway. He became the youngster series race winner at Madison International Speedway, followed by a runner-up in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points in 2016 with two victories. 

“I’m thrilled for the opportunity to drive a Toyota in the XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Benjamin. “This is going to be an incredible experience. JGR is a first-class organization, and I’m looking forward to learning about how they operate and prepare for each race.” 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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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Home Tracks

Top Prospect Kyle Benjamin Endured Mixed Results in 2015

Kyle Benjamin endured both peaks and valleys last season en route to a ninth-place finish in the NASCAR K&N East championship standings.

But it was a far cry from what he and his family team imagined when they reunited top-tier ARCA crew chief Kevin Reed with a driver he took to Victory Lane twice on that tour with Venturini Motorsports back in 2013.

It started well enough with Benjamin winning the third race of the season at Bristol, and holding on to second-place in the rankings through the mid-point of the campaign at Columbus — but that’s when everything started to fall apart.

Benjamin says keeping up with the high-funded HScott Motorsport cars took both a financial and emotional toll on the team, and they simply couldn’t keep up as the season progressed. After posting four top-10s in the first seven races of the season, they could only post one more in the final seven.

It dropped them from second to ninth in the final results and left them largely dissatisfied.

“A lot of things happened,” Benjamin said of the second half of the season. “We just got caught up in trying to chase down the HScott cars more than anything else. We experimented with a lot of things in the second half, trial and error, and just couldn’t come back from it.

“We probably just tuned on it a little too much.”

Despite the second-half, Benjamin says he’s proud of what he and his team were able to do in the first half, especially his victory at Bristol. Growing up on short tracks in the Southeast, Benjamin always dreamed of competing at Thunder Valley and called his victory there a major career milestone.

“That meant a lot,” Benjamin said. “It’s arguably the biggest race on the K&N schedule with Dover so it was a big deal to even race there, much less win it. But in hindsight, that win means even more to me now, because if we hadn’t won early, we wouldn’t have won all season.”

Benjamin also made his big track debut in 2015, with an ARCA start at Pocono for VMS. While the 18-year-old hasn’t announced his 2016 plans yet, he says they are focused on running as many speedways as possible to prepare him for a potential NASCAR career.

“If we’re lucky enough to be able to make it to NASCAR, those guys are racing on big tracks so that’s our focus, more so than running for a championship somewhere,” Benjamin said. “Short track racing has been fun and it’s taught me a lot of things and I’m hoping we can apply that to the big track stuff.

“Running Pocono was like learning to drive all over again. You have to teach yourself how to drive in the dirty air and a lot of work goes into it — a lot of watching videos too. Differing stuff goes into being successful there.”

Formerly associated with Roush Fenway Racing as a development driver, Benjamin said he has no such affiliations this year. He said he learned a lot from spending time in that system and hopes it pays dividends in his future endeavors.

“A lot of it was wanting things you can’t have yet,” Benjamin said of the promises of national touring. “I was able to drive their pit car and get practice doing that too. You can win and lose a lot of races on pit road and they really helped me out there.
“But the most important thing was just seeing how a big team like that is run. I learned a lot of things on the business side. I don’t think people understand just how massive these teams are.”

Ultimately, despite the set-backs, Benjamin said he’s anxious for 2016 to start. Still considered a top prospect, he knows he has much to prove, and he’s prepared to meet the challenge.

“I thought we were going to take off there (after Bristol,) but it just didn’t happen. But I’m excited for what comes next.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

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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Home Tracks

Kyle Benjamin Earns First NASCAR K&N East Victory at Bristol

Bristol, Tenn. — At 17 years old, making only his seventh K&N Pro Series East start, Kyle Benjamin, driver of the No. 27 Eibach Ford, raced side-by-side with William Byron, driver of the No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet, with less than 30 laps remaining.

But the pressure didn’t break him.

Benjamin was able to hold off Byron on the last restart and went to score his first career win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East taking the checkered flag in the PittLite 125 Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“It was a really tough battle,” Benjamin said of his battle with Byron. “He’s really been strong all year. I was worried about him a little bit. He seemed to be really fast on the short runs. I could pull off a little bit on the long runs. I didn’t want the race to come down to a short run.

“I was confident that if I could get in front of him on a restart that I could pull it off.”

The win was the first in seven career starts in the series and also the third different winner in as many races this season.

Benjamin, who is a Roush Fenway development driver, won by 0.910-seconds over Byron who entered the race as the most recent winner in the series at Greenville Pickens last month. Byron pinched Benjamin on the third to last restart, forcing contact between the two drivers, but Benjamin was able to escape.

“He got me on that lap 45 restart and I could never really get it back, even trying to get a jump on him,” Byron said. “That one restart (lap 97) was the best I felt like. I was able to get beside him and once I could kind of take his line away, we could kind of race side-by-side for a couple laps.

“I just couldn’t quite get him. He was too strong on the outside.”

Scott Heckert followed in third with Kaz Grala and Brandon Jones completing the top five. Eddie MacDonald, last year’s winner of this race, rebounded from a spin early in the race to finish sixth with Austin Hill, Daniel Hemric, J.J. Haley and Rico Abreu completing the top 10.

Bryon takes over the points lead by three points over Hill (128-125) with Benjamin third with 119 points. Gray Gaulding and Grala complete the top five in the standings.

  1. Kyle Benjamin
  2. William Byron
  3. Scott Heckert
  4. Kaz Grala
  5. Brandon Jones
  6. Eddie MacDonald
  7. Austin Hill
  8. Daniel Hemric
  9. J.J. Haley
  10. Rico Abreu
  11. Gray Gaulding
  12. David Garbo, Jr.
  13. Nick Drake
  14. Travis Miller
  15. Ronnie Bassett, Jr.
  16. Trey Hutchens
  17. Chad Finchum
  18. Dillon Bassett
  19. John Holleman, IV
  20. Sarah Cornett-Ching
  21. Jay Beasley
  22. Codie Rohrbaugh
  23. Chuck Buchanan, Jr.
  24. Collin Cabre
  25. Jesse Little
  26. Dalton Sargeant
  27. Kenzie Ruston
  28. Devon Amos
Categories
Home Tracks

NASCAR K&N East Notebook: New Smyrna

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — Much like the ARCA Racing Series event at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, the NASCAR K&N East Series opener at New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday night is overflowing with storylines worth following for fans of the top three national touring divisions.

Replete with numerous top prospects and some of the best short track drivers in the country, the Pro Series East has recently produced some of the current top stars in the sport today, including Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano.

In that spirit, the 2015 roster looks equally compelling as it includes the defending Chili Bowl Nationals winner, a Roush Fenway Racing top prospect and the defending NASCR Whelen Euro Series champion. With that in mind, here are a few of the top storylines worth following in the Pro Series Easr this season, starting at New Smyrna on Sunday night.

Rico Abreu

The most heralded figure on the tour this season figures to be Rico Abreu, the 4’4 midget (car) ace who was signed to a Chip Ganassi development deal following his victory in the Chili Bowl Nationals back in January.

The 24-year-old has a popularity that is only matched by his tenacity behind the wheel and any success he has will be a testament to the open-wheel community that bred him into a top prospect. Not to make Abreu a side show but it will be fascinating to follow how Abreu adjusts to full-bodied stock cars despite his height and open-wheel background.

With that said, when you come with a seal of approval from Ganassi and Kyle Larson, the questions tend to go away pretty quickly.

Kyle Benjamin

The most accomplished asphalt driver in the field is Kyle Benjamin — a three-time winner in the ARCA Racing Series and a multiple event winner in Super Late Model competition throughout the Southeast and Midwest. In addition, the author has also voted him as the Speed 51 Top Prospect in each of the past three “Short Track Drafts.”

Benjamin is a 17-year-old Roush Fenway Racing development driver and a successful season could see him start to work his way into national touring, especially given the youth movement that has been started by Jack Roush and Steve Newmark.

Paired with the uber talented Kevin Reed on the pit box, Benjamin has to be viewed as the favorite for the K&N Series championship — a title that carries both honor and immense pressure.  Watching how he handles that distinction will be fascinating by itself, especially given his low key demeanor.

Kenzie Ruston

This feels like a make or break season for the wildly popular Kenzie Ruston.

A former winner in the CRA Super Late Model Series, Ruston entered the 2014 K&N Pro Series East season with high expectations — especially give a full year behind her and a new affiliation with Ben Kennedy Racing. Instead, she largely struggled. Her second place finish at Iowa remains the highest finish for a woman in NASCAR but she only posted three top-5s and finished a distant ninth in the championship standings.

Now aligned with Rev Racing and NASCAR Drive for Diversity, Ruston needs to win in order to maintain her career momentum into 2016 and beyond or risk falling into short track obscurity.

Dalton Sargeant

The rise and arrival or Dalton Sargeant has quickly fallen into short track legend.

The Boca Raton, Florida native spent several years in Europe chasing Formula 1 before returning home to race Stock Cars during the summer of 2014. In his first couple of Late Model Stock races with elite team Kiker Motorsports, Sargeant impressed and showed the flashes of brilliance that made him and his family believe that F1 was an obtainable dream.

But it was a series of starts in the Southern Super Series and CRA Super Series that quickly established the 16-year-old as a short track contender, posting top-10s in his first start at both Pensacola Five Flags Speedway and Mobile International Speedway respectively for Wauters Motorsports. He backed up the surprising performance by contending for the win the prestigious Winchester 400 at Indiana in his first start at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile before ending his season with an unpredictable runner-up finish in the Snowball Derby.

Simply put, Dalton Sargeant is the real deal and is a threat to win this championship.

Here is a starting lineup for the K&N Pro Series East opener at New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday night.

  1. Austin Hill
  2. Kaz Grala
  3. William Byron
  4. Gray Gaulding
  5. Scott Heckert
  6. Rico Abreu
  7. Kyle Benjamin
  8. Nick Drake
  9. Dalton Sargeant
  10. Codie Rohrbaugh
  11. JJ Haley
  12. Dillon Bassett
  13. Ronnie Bassett
  14. Devon Amos
  15. Jared Irvan
  16. Collin Cabre
  17. David Garbo
  18. Sergio Pena
  19. JP Morgan
  20. Dalton Zehr
  21. Jay Beasley
  22. Kenzie Ruston
  23. Anthony Kumpen
  24. Travis Miller
  25. Christan Celaya