Categories
Trucks

Poole’s Part-Time Effort Strives In Vegas

LAS VEGAS — For Brennan Poole, the year has not been what he expected.

After starting the season with a full-time ride with On Point Motorsports, the ride quickly turned into a part-time effort, eliminating them from championship contention.

“Well we want to be a full-time team,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “That was our goal at the beginning of this season. I think, yeah, we had to take a look at our program. Where it was at, at the beginning of the year. We were a little thin on some people. We weren’t quite organized. We needed to take a minute to work on our stuff and make it better. I think all in all that’s been a good decision for us.”

It has not been all negatives for him and the team though, as they have proven to be competitive in the efforts they have made. This was on full display during Friday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Poole was able to capture the team’s fourth top-10 with a sixth-place finish.

“I mean it’s big for our team. We’ve worked on our stuff this year and we continue to get better. I think we learned some stuff this weekend,” Poole said. “We were a little bit nervous about it, after practice and qualifying we weren’t sure how fast we would be. We felt like a long run would be all right, but short run speed we were a little nervous about. But tonight, we had everything. We were really good on restarts. The truck was solid in traffic and stayed with me on the long runs. I felt like we had a good shot to run in the top five tonight. We were just missing maybe just a little bit of balance, between both ends of the racetrack, to get up there and battle for the win.”

He also noted that team could have been even better. You see, the No. 30 was saving a set of tires, hoping for another caution that would never be.

“16, and the 4, and some of those guys, they got in front of us. They put tires on and they were just, tires were a lot better tonight than what we had on our truck,” Poole said. “But. all in all, I’m happy. I’m looking forward to going to Talladega before too long. It should be a good one.”

Heading to Talladega, Poole will hope to show strength again at a track he nearly captured an Xfinity Series win at.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
Trucks

Eckes Stays Solid In Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Christian Eckes has made a name for himself in the ARCA Menards Series with three wins this season; however, do not let that distract you from how well he has done in his short time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Entering Friday night, the 18-year-old had three top-10’s and two top-five’s in six starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports, and he continued to impress this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In his mile and a half debut, Eckes started the day off with his third career pole and ended it with a career-best, third-place finish.

“You know, it’s definitely cool to come run good. Especially in my first true a mile and a half race. So, I had fun,” Eckes told POPULAR SPEED. “Honestly, this is one of the more fun races I’ve ever raced. I was able to move around a decent amount and had a good enough truck to make moves that it was fun. I look forward to the next two. I’ve got two more this year, Martinsville and Homestead. And just looking forward to those with this 51 team and what we pick up in there.”

While his next start it is over a month away, the part-time driver of the No. 51 is already looking forward to his trip to the paperclip along with his final race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“You know, Martinsville is kind of more of what I’m used to,” Eckes said. “As far as here and moving around and stuff like that because it’s going to be huge for Homestead. So it’s a lot to be learned still. I’ve made a few mistakes out there and I felt like it costs us a shot at getting better track position in 16 was really good there, so I’m not sure if I would have been able to fully hang on, but in the same aspect, if we were there you never know.”

If he is able to continue to perform at his final starts of the year, one will really have to wonder what his future holds given how well he has performed.

However, in the meantime, Eckes will look to capture the ARCA Championship before anything else. In that series, he is currently second in points with three races remaining, including this weekend at Salem Speedway.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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

Ryan Sieg Hopeful of Locking Up Playoff Berth in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nev — Barring any unexpected winners, Ryan Sieg and his family-owned team will be back in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs.

“It’s huge for our team and our sponsors, and we’re looking to try to make it to the next round, at least get a win somewhere,” Sieg told POPULAR SPEED. “Maybe the next two weeks or something. We’re pretty decent at Richmond and at the ROVAL, you know. Shane, the crew chief, is pretty up to speed on the road course stuff and he ran good there last year, so he’s, he’s pretty excited, puts a lot into the road course.

“So hopefully we’ll get the win before the season’s end.”

The last time the team made the 12-driver cutoff was in 2016 and, it was considered an upset. However, that is not the case this year.

Sieg has proven to be impressive throughout the year, scoring two top-five’s and nine top-10’s, in addition to only having four finishes of 20th or worse.

“A couple of years ago it was all new to us, and our stuff wasn’t as good,” Sieg said. “It was decent, but we had a couple of mishaps in that first round and really, we probably should’ve went almost to the next round on points, but just a few mishaps by myself. I think we sped on pit road, we should have finished like sixth of the Dover and we ended up 19th. This year everybody’s more experienced, to Shane (Wilson, crew chief) and myself, so I think we got a better shot to try to make it to the next round this year.”

Looking ahead to the potential opportunity in front of him, the driver of the No. 39 is confident in his team’s ability.

That being said, Sieg knows that he will need to bring his best in order to compete against the likes of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, and JR Motorsports.

“You just have to execute everything, and hopefully they have a bad day, you know, not wishing anything on anyone, but you know what I mean?” Sieg said. “It’s going to be fun to see where we stack up this weekend and next, but next weekend, we should have been top-three at Richmond the first time around. Just pit crew lows really. We lost like 30 spots total during that race, should’ve been better than we were, but that is what it is. You know what I mean?

“Even this first race here, earlier in the year, we had pit crew struggles, and we corrected that situation and got a different pit crew. It’s definitely going to be better this time around.”

This Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will determine if Sieg will be a part of the playoffs or not. If everything holds steady, he would enter the final seven races with one playoff point as of right now.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Jones Looks To Capitalize In Playoffs

LAS VEGAS — There are not many drivers who can say they have as much momentum heading into the playoffs as Erik Jones does.

He and the No. 20 team have really come alive in the summer months, proving to be a constant threat inside the top-five, and showing that he can finish the job as he did at Darlington Raceway earlier this month, where he won the Southern 500.

While the big talk of the season has been his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and their four wins, it may be a disservice to not include Jones in the conversation of their dominance.

“We don’t have as many wins as those guys, but we’ve been in contention to win a few more. We just haven’t capitalized on it,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “So, we definitely need to win some races here in the playoffs to really be a contender. For us, I mean, my goal at least, and I think Chris is on the same page, is just to get to that round of eight.

If we can make it through this round and the round of 12, you got an opportunity to go to Homestead. In that round, Texas and Phoenix are two great tracks for me. Martinsville’s a little bit of a struggle sometimes, but Texas and Phoenix are two places I feel like we can go and win a race at those places.”

Now, despite the solid runs, Jones knows he cannot think too far ahead, especially after last season.

In a similar position, the Michigan-native entered the final ten races on a sour note, wrecking and finishing last in the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The end result essentially killed his championship hopes from the get-go, as he was forced into a must-win situation and quickly eliminated.

Heading to Sunday’s South Point 400, Jones now knows how important a solid day in the South Point 400 will be to keep himself alive.

“Yeah, I mean definitely there’s a big emphasis on just having a solid weekend, right? You want to qualify well and race well and if we can come out of here with, I mean obviously the wins the goal,” he said. “But if we can come out with the top five and a good deal of stage points and pick up a couple of spots in the standings and just close that gap to the lead, that’s a solid day.”

While it may be the first race of the playoffs, he also noted how he will be keeping a close eye on the 12th place cutoff.

“We’re fighting for 12th. That’s what we’re looking at here. You’re fighting for that 12th place in points and hopefully getting some playoff points moving forward and just closing that gap up,” Jones said. “You just want to tighten that gap up to lead. Right now we’ve got 40 points to the lead and we need to get that smaller. That’s too much to be in contention to get all the way to homesteads.”

The No. 20 team will enter Sunday as the tenth seed, with additional five playoff points as his disposal.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Blaney Looking To Maximize Potential

LAS VEGAS — Entering the playoffs, Ryan Blaney is hopeful that the last ten races go better than the first 26.

The regular season proved to be tough for the driver of the No. 12, who score zero wins and will only have four playoff points to start with.

“Yeah, I mean I obviously like to have had a better year,” Blaney told POPULAR SPEED. “So far, you can always ask for better and do better and there’s some races I wish we would’ve had back, but at the end of the day, you know, it’s nice to be a part of the playoffs. And I think our team is plenty capable. I think we got a shot at making a good run and just can’t have any mistakes, things like that. I think we got the team to do it. Just a matter of kind of maximizing your full potential and see what happens.”

It is not all negatives for the 12 team though.

As Blaney said, the team has shown to be capable, scoring seven top-five’s and 12 top-10’s. He has also led laps, 384 to be exact, which is actually more than championship favorite, Denny Hamlin, who has only been out front for 373.

The 25-year-old will also enter the final 10 races with experience, as he has made the playoffs two of his three years of competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“Experience never hurt, that’s for sure,” Blaney said. “I look at kind of the end of our playoffs last year and God, we had a terrible second round, just from run out of gas, getting wrecks and just barely missed it. And then we had a really great final three races, I wish we could have back. But at the end of the day, you just take all the experience you have and things are always changing, scenarios change. You’re rarely ever going to find yourself in the same scenario as before. Just the product of what we do. But yeah, you try to take that experience and apply it, utilize it well.”

Blaney will look to start his playoff strong at Las Vegas Speedway, where he has four top-ten’s in six starts.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Hamlin Taking It One Week At A Time

LAS VEGAS — In many eyes, Denny Hamlin is the favorite heading into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ playoffs.

This comes as a complete change from a year ago where he had zero wins and was quickly eliminated from contention after the Round Of 16. Now, with four wins to his name, it certainly changes the narrative around the No. 11 team.

“It certainly puts us in a better position,” Hamlin told POPULAR SPEED. “I mean, when you think about how our championship was won, it’s based off of going out there in the regular season, building yourself a buffer through performance, and just getting to Homestead. And it’s all about a one-race shootout after that.”

Hamlin started his season on a high, winning the Daytona 500 and seemingly has not slowed down, capturing 13 top-five’s and 17 top-10’s. All of this has given him 30 additional playoff points ahead of the playoff and gives him the advantage with the opportunity to gain more.

Having the excess playoff points is going to be beneficial for Hamlin and, with as many as he has, it may have people painting him as a lock for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

However, Hamlin is staying away from the mindset of looking into the future, instead choosing to live in the present, and tackling each race one at a time.

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” Hamlin said. “We’re going to play this week by week. We’re not looking forward to Richmond next week or the Roval the week after. It’s all in on Vegas this week and trying to figure out what we can do to win this week. And we know we’ve got the performance to do it right now.”

After finishes of 32nd, 16th, and 12th last year in the Round Of 16 in 2018, it is understandable why as though the 38-year-old is taking this approach. However, there should be no reason to doubt Hamlin, especially with how he has run of late.

In the last eight races, he has only finished outside the top-10 once and finished inside the top-three five times. In addition to that, Hamlin also has the best average finish (seventh) in the last six races. Meaning, even with his disappointing the 29th finish at Darlington Raceway, he has still set the standard that all drivers are chasing.

The only question surrounding Hamlin is can he finish the job? He has been close before but, this may be his best opportunity to capture his first championship.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Bowman Confident Heading Into Vegas

LAS VEGAS — For the second straight year, Alex Bowman is a NASCAR playoff driver. Though not everything is the same,  as Bowman enters the final 10-race stretch with something he did not have a season ago.

A race win.

That, along with four top-five’s and seven top-10’s during the regular season have the driver of the No. 88 is feeling good heading into the playoffs.

“I think I definitely feel more confident,” Bowman told POPULAR SPEED. “I think a lot of it just comes from the speed that we’ve shown throughout the year and even lately we’ve had great speed, we just haven’t really had much to show for it. So, I think we have as good of a shot at anybody or as anybody going and winning a couple of races here and making a big statement in the playoffs.”

He will look to improve upon his first playoff appearance, where he was eliminated in the Round of 12, and a 29th at Homestead-Miami Speedway resulted in him finishing 16th in the final standings.

In order to improve, Bowman will need to find his early-season momentum back, as since the Arizona-native’s win at Chicagoland Speedway, he has only had one top-10 in the nine races that have followed.

However, this weekend may provide a good chance for a breakthrough, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a race that is expected to transition from day to night.

These are the types of races that Bowman has excelled at, with a second-place finish at Kansas Speedway, seventh at the Coca-Cola 600, and his previously mentioned win at Chicagoland.

With his recent history, it’s more than understandable why he is excited about this weekend’s race.

“This is a race we’ve had circled regardless of the playoff situation and I think we can be really strong,” Bowman said. “We were strong here in the spring and knocked the right rear off of it, kind of had to fight back from that. So, I think our mile and a half program’s really good and that same car we were in Chicago with. I’m really confident.”

A strong finish this weekend for the 88 team would be huge, as he only starts the playoffs as the ninth seed with only a four-point cushion over 13th.

With all the being said, it will be interesting to see if Bowman can take a season that has already been his best, and make it even better.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Newman Looks To Continue Overcoming Odds in Championship Quest

LAS VEGAS — A driver that missed the playoffs and would lose his ride, and land with a team that even with two drivers, finished 29th in the owner standings a year ago, is back in the playoffs in 2019.

This is the story of Ryan Newman and the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team.

A collective unit that many may have counted out before the season have proven themselves as legit contenders after they outraced Stewart-Haas’ Daniel Suarez and seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson to make the 16-car playoff field.

So, what does this all mean to the “Rocket Man”?

“Well, the ultimate goal for this year, no matter what anybody else thought was just to win a championship. So this is a big step for us to have an opportunity and to get back, for me personally, into the playoffs,” Newman told POPULAR SPEED. “To have that opportunity, because my ultimate, personal goal is to be a champion. You know, I feel satisfied because of that, but I don’t feel overwhelmingly satisfied because we haven’t won, we haven’t proved to be a dominant car, and we haven’t led a bunch of laps, so we have to do a better job and I accept that task and look forward to it.”

While it is a huge opportunity ahead of him and his team, Newman said it himself that he needs to better, knowing very well that a stat line of one top-five and nine top-10’s will likely not be enough for a championship.

So, that being said, what will Newman need to do in order to become more of a contender?

“Just be the best person that I can be on and off the racetrack. I mean, that’s all I can do,” Newman said. “It’s just a matter of our team, our organization, everybody doing as much as they can to help. And you know, that’s what we’ve been doing, but we’ve got to do a better job and we can just collectively work together better. All of us at Roush Fenway.”

Newman has proven to excel at the underdog role though, just look at 2014. 

There were five drivers with four or more wins, and only two of them made the Championship 4. Newman, who had no wins, was able to sneak his way in and nearly came away with one of the biggest surprises in NASCAR’s history, coming up just one spot short of the title.

In fact, at 41 years of age and having driven 18 full seasons, it is no secret that Newman is one of the most seasoned drivers in the playoff field but is this an advantage?

“No, because Jimmie Johnson was before the last race, and he’s no longer here,” Newman said. “So, I don’t think that experience necessarily parlays into becoming a champion. It should help, but it proved to not.”

Newman will start the playoffs in the 16th with no playoff points at his disposal.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
Commentary

Review of NASCAR Heat 4

Gamers rejoice, as there’s something brand new for you to enjoy. NASCAR Heat 4 is the latest installment of the NASCAR’s video game franchise, with Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart serving as cover stars for the standard edition, and Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon appearing on the “Gold” edition of the game.

After receiving its fair share of criticism for NASCAR Heat 3, 704games, the game developers, had a lot of eyes of them when it came to their newest product, myself included. You see, I actually skipped the third version after being disappointed with the second one, and honestly went back to playing the EA Sports games from a decade ago, that I believe were and still are better.

So, heading into this game, my lone question was simple – is it any good?

To answer that, I dived in and spent a long time just digesting it and seeing what it really had to offer.

First thing, I ran a simple quick race, and immediately I was impressed. Not only were the graphics the best I’ve seen from a NASCAR game, but it also ran super smooth no bugs, no lag, nothing like that.

It was also cool to see the little additions that they threw in like in-race storylines, where before the race it would tell you who has been fast in practice, and if anybody had to go to rear of the field for failed inspections or practice related accidents. That’s something I’ve never seen in a NASCAR game before.

Another note about just running a race is how the track changes; for example, if you are running a night race, it will get gradually darker as the event goes on.

So, aside from all the extra stuff, how was the actual race gameplay?

It was a lot of fun and probably one of the more challenging games I’ve played; hard races were challenging hard unlike most NASCAR games and, easy races still forced you to work for it.

Another nice thing about the gameplay was the settings, as not only could you set it to whatever skill level you wanted, you could also set up if you wanted a more compressed field or spread out. You could also set how the opposing cars would handle, and how the opposing cars would respond. Again, something I had never seen a NASCAR game before.

The biggest thing I wanted to see was career mode.

In my opinion, the best career mode came in NASCAR Thunder 2004, where you had to save money and slowly establish your team from the ground up while being careful about spending, and in NASCAR Chase For The Cup, where you could work your way up the NASCAR ladder. For those curious, NASCAR Heat 2 was probably the worst career mode I played, just because it lacked any features that these games that over a decade old had, and it was just boring.

Those three games were where I set the bar for NASCAR Heat 4, and in all honesty, it greatly exceeded the bar, and is the best career mode I’ve ever played. It has everything I loved about the 2004 and 2005 games wrapped up ever so nicely.

You have to work your way up from dirt, which is the hardest series in the game, all the way up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Once you’ve saved up enough money, you can create a team, buy cars, hire people, and have a lot of room for customization.

Now, let’s talk about customization because it has been a problem for 704games.

This game was the exact improvement I wanted to see, from more design options for your various rides to being able to customize your driver’s appearance and fire suit (again, something I don’t remember being possible in any other NASCAR game).

I will say though, that the paint booth still isn’t exactly where I’d to see, whereas games like NASCAR 15 you had not only all the freedom in the world for customization of cars but could also run various paint schemes in your career mode, something that is still impossible in this game.

So, all in all, what was my final thoughts of the gamw?

I believe that this is not only this best NASCAR game that has been out in a long time. I believe it is truly a really fun, really good game, that I would highly recommend to not only fans of the sport, but to anybody that likes video games, it is that good.

If you are reading this and have been previously been turned away by the most recent NASCAR games because they were bad, I highly encourage that you give this game a shot.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Can Team Penske Recapture Late Season Magic At Darlington?

It is no question that Team Penske is a powerhouse in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, as of late, the organization seems to step behind some of the other top teams in the sport.

Brad Keselowski has not been to victory lane since his win at Kansas Speedway in May and has only had one top-five in the last seven races. His teammate Joey Logano had a win at Michigan International Speedway in June, but has had just three top-10’s and one top-five since including a current run of four straight events with a finish of 13th or worse. Then there is Ryan Blaney, who has yet to see victory lane this year and has only led 12 laps since Talladega Superspeedway in April.

It is not all bad news though, as the team is heading into a stretch of races that could be argued propelled them to their championship last season.

While many will remember the impressive run by Keselowski, who went on a three-race win streak starting with Darlington Raceway, but his two teammates were solid as well.

Logano finished runner-up in the Southern 500 and led laps in the playoff opener at Las Vegas before finishing fourth. Blaney was able to start a five-race streak of top-10 starts, and also scored a top-five in Vegas.

While stats are all fine and good, it is also worth remembering where this team was at a year ago which may bring feeling a sense of déjà vu. Why is this all sounding familiar? It is because of this a very similar position to where they were a year ago.

Team Penske was not the best team in the sport last year; they were again just behind a dominant team like Joe Gibbs Racing. However, after this upcoming three-race stretch, there was no questioning the ability of this team. They were the ones with the championship at the end of the season.

These are three drivers who get good when the pressure of the season begins to heat up.

Team Penske has had a driver in the Championship 4 in four of the last five season, despite not being the most dominant on a weekly basis. This is not anything new, which is important that we keep an eye on this team that is seemingly under the radar.

If they continue to follow the trends from a year ago, expect success from Penske in the upcoming weeks.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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.