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“They Said What?” NASCAR Xfinity Series Edition

Sometimes when you stick a microphone in front of a driver’s face, you have no clue what they may say and a couple of times you’ll hear something that surprises you or gives you a bit of a perspective.

Throughout the 2019 season, our writers had the opportunity to speak to a bunch of different competitors. During those interviews, there were some quotes that stood out. So it seems only fitting we take a glance back through the year at what was said.

JOHN HARRELSON | NKP

“I think the biggest thing for us is just two things. One thing is refining; we had a great program last year, but I think sometimes it’s really easy to get complacent when your program is really good and you’re running well. You tend to want to stick to that, which is fine, but I think the biggest thing about this sport which is always is a challenge is progression and moving forward. So that’s why I think the word refinement would be a big part of it.

“But then the bigger part is execution. Last year, we executed really well at quite a few races, but we didn’t execute everywhere and especially in the playoffs. We had a really rough playoffs, and ultimately it took us out of a shot of winning a championship. But really, it took us out of winning some races and really putting ourselves in that championship picture.

“So disappointing is definitely an understatement for how last year ended, but I think refinement and execution are the biggest things for this year.”

Justin Allgaier on what he can do to be stronger in 2019 compared to 2018

USA TODAY

“Anytime you can put your name in the record books for anything, it’s awesome. We feel pretty lucky and blessed to already have a couple of titles and those didn’t come easy, this one won’t either. This is going to be a real, real hard battle down there. I think we’re lacking a little bit of speed compared to that guys, but it’s close. We’re going to need everything we can get and little luck too. That’s how it’s been the last couple of times. I don’t know that we showed up with the best car throughout the day at Homestead, but we were there at the end when it mattered and that’s what you got to do. I’d put Justin up against any of those guy to position us to be in that position at the end.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his chances at making history becoming the second team owner to win three consecutive championships.

RUSSELL LABOUNTY | NKP

“I mean, it’s just a lot of confidence. Even opening up for a team right now, obviously you know we got that win in Daytona, but I think we all know what Daytona means and you know it’s kind of a crapshoot going in. So to come out of a mile and a half, that is the majority of our schedule, and run top-ten most of the day and, to bring home a top-five. I don’t think we had any top five’s last year. So, to be third race in and have three top 15’s and two top five’s already, is just a testament to what we have going here on this 1 team.”

Michael Annett on his early season success

RUSSELL LABOUNTY | NKP

“It’s been, it’s probably been the most fun I’ve ever had racing every week in my career because you know, the last two years has just been such a grind to stay in the sport, you know, not having a sponsor.”

Gray Gaulding

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

“It’s momentum. It’s confidence for the guys. It’s morale for them to go back to the shop, and I know they want to work for me as much as they can, but when we have good finishes, it’s kind of a bonus. It’s kind of like, we can kick in the butt to try to get to that first position. So, we’re close. This is how we started at the beginning of the year. Nothing really happened except for that pit road penalty today, and that’s what we’ve got to do, minimize mistakes.”

Brandon Jones on gaining momentum after a strong run at Chicagoland Speedway

RUSSELL LABOUNTY | NKP

“It’s what I’ve been working for the last few years. I’ve given up a lot of different opportunities and different types of racing to go do that. The person I am at this age at the level I am at, my goal is not to run trucks or Xfinity for the rest of my career. It’s to go race on Sundays against the best and work to be the best and prove that you are the best. That’s what this is all about and why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s been cool to have small opportunities to get a taste of what that is this year. I was able to get a taste and it’s all about working towards that. At the same time, I do think that you have to be ready and we have a lot of cases to show that those who aren’t ready or made the most of an opportunity, it goes away quick. So you have to ready to get an opportunity and those don’t come easy. I think this next year will be a very important year for me to get more prepared.”

Austin Cindric about what it’d mean to be in the Cup Series one day.

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

“The crazy thing is – even with the top-10 streak – I still feel like it’s been a terrible year. I’m the only driver who’s made the Playoffs every year since they started this format. Those three guys have had a lot of speed this year and they’ve been very good, but we’ve also noticed that when their days don’t go the way they want to go that they’ve had some challenges dealing with that.”

Justin Allgaier

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

ASHLEY ASKS…… Austin Cindric

Scoring a pair of victories and 14 top-five finishes, Austin Cindric put together a solid sophomore campaign in the NASCAR Xfinity Series en route to placing sixth in the standings.

The Team Penske driver recently reflected back on the season with POPULAR SPEED while covering a couple other topics.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts as you look back on the season?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: It was a good season. Actually, to win races, going back-to-back, poles, lead laps, and be in contention, it’s been a great experience to have this year and work with the same team all year and hone in on all the little things. Hopefully it’s set us up well to have a championship year in 2020 because with the right pieces in place, I think we can be that team or at least set our eyes on the final four and hit the ground running.

PS: What was your favorite moment from the season?

LOGAN WHITTON | NKP

CINDRIC: I think it’s hard to beat winning a race at Watkins Glen. I don’t think you can think of a better circumstance for your first win to race a veteran and a guy that I have a lot of respect for in A.J. Allmendinger. It was a pretty exciting finish for the fans. Obviously that’s a pretty good weekend up there with a sellout crowd. Pretty awesome to be able to do that.

Can’t really top that, but probably one of the more personal moments would be out-qualifying Kyle Busch for the pole at Bristol. I think that’s kind of a personal pat on the back. It was pretty unexpected as that’s his stadium. Definitely a cool moment.

PS: You had a lot of success this year, but what can you work on to be even better in 2020?

CINDRIC: I think a lot of it is little things. I think we’re definitely one of the most consistent teams in the garage area. I think it showed throughout the year and really helped us, but I think what’s going to make us a better team is not run top-five every week, but run top-three and get race wins and stage wins early in the year.

We lacked a significant points buffer in the playoffs. I had a bigger buffer than I’ve ever had in NASCAR, but definitely not enough to really help through the playoffs. Obviously we had the back weekend at Kansas and that kind of ended our year as we weren’t able to win the next two races. So that’s the way the format goes, and the best way to beat that is to beat everyone else. That starts at Daytona, all the way through the regular season. I think we can make our lives easier throughout the year.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

Obviously we had some stiff competition with (Cole) Custer, (Christopher) Bell, and (Tyler) Reddick, and obviously those guys have earned incredible opportunities for next year and it’ll be fun to watch them. I think it’s definitely up to the next group of guys to step up, and I think we have the capability to be one of those guys every weekend.

PS: With the success you were able to have, how much does that boost your confidence?

CINDRIC: I don’t think my confidence has shifted. It’s still the same job, the same cars, the same group. We still have stuff to work on and get better as if you’re not getting better, you’re definitely falling behind. So I’ve definitely been trying to put my best foot forward through the off-season, whether it’s stuff we’re working on or going to the shop, and obviously the guys are working on the next steps to make our cars faster.

We actually have a new body kit with Ford Performance, a couple updates there. I’m obviously excited to see that car on track because the updates there are closer to the current model Mustang, the one I’m currently driving, but obviously it should hopefully give us some performance gain as well, big or small I don’t know.

PS: What would it mean to you to move up into the Cup Series one day?

CINDRIC: It’s what I’ve been working for the last few years. I’ve given up a lot of different opportunities and different types of racing to go do that. The person I am at this age at the level I am at, my goal is not to run trucks or Xfinity for the rest of my career. It’s to go race on Sundays against the best and work to be the best and prove that you are the best. That’s what this is all about and why I’m doing what I’m doing.

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

It’s been cool to have small opportunities to get a taste of what that is this year. I was able to get a taste and it’s all about working towards that. At the same time, I do think that you have to be ready and we have a lot of cases to show that those who aren’t ready or made the most of an opportunity, it goes away quick. So you have to ready to get an opportunity and those don’t come easy. I think this next year will be a very important year for me to get more prepared.

PS: Let’s say one race weekend, NASCAR says you can bring any three celebrities as guests of yours to a race. Who would you bring along?

CINDRIC: I’d bring Morgan Freeman because someone has to narrate the whole thing; I love him. I don’t know. I’m not much of a celebrity person. I think Steve-O from Jackass would be fun; he has some great stories so he’d be the entertainment. Amelia Clarke, and I like her so we’ll bring her, too.

PS: Do you have a hidden talent that people may not realize?

CINDRIC: I’m not sure I can call it a talent, but I played tuba in high school. I was good at it for a small portion of time but like most things, racing got in the way. I have been working on a project car for the last year or so – trying to get that done before Daytona so trying to make the most of the off-season doing that. I do like to wrench on my own cars. I like to have fun working on cars. I guess that shouldn’t surprise anyone as that’s what I do for a living. Other than that, I love racing. That’s kind of it.

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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XFINITY

GOOD & BAD: 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Season

Another year of NASCAR Xfinity Series competition is in the books, with a familiar sight as Tyler Reddick was crowned the series champion for the second year in a row. Along the way, though, there were some highlights and low lights to consider from the action on-track all year.

Although I was unable to watch all of the races, let’s take a look back at the good and the bad.

GOOD: The future of NASCAR is very strong as proven by this past season’s championship battle. The series tagline “names are made here” remains true, as “the big three” in  Tyler ReddickCole Custer, and Christopher Bell showcased their talent on a weekly basis, with multiple wins a piece and highlights to call their own. Now being able to witness these three battle for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 2020 will be special.

Jasen Vinlove | NKP

BAD: Although Bell was able to prove himself, the last couple weeks of the season showcased a different side that hopefully does not remain in 2020. Although he was fast, the Toyota Racing driver made a couple costly mistakes. 

He sped on pit road and spun at ISM Raceway to cost himself a win there after dominating early, while he missed pit road under green and cost himself valuable time at Homestead. It did not ultimately be the title factor due to the handling of the No. 20 Toyota going away over the course of the long run, but those are mistakes you would not expect out of a driver who won eight events this past season.

GOOD: While it was fun watching the big three all year, the way the championship went down in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was perfect. Each of them were able to battle side-by-side, taking turns at challenging each other, allowing fans to keep guessing who would come out on top.

Reddick and Bell had a thrilling battle back and forth to start the third stage, with Bell trying to take Reddick’s line away to stop the ensuing challenge for the top spot. Though the highlight of the night belongs to Reddick and Custer. After coming off pit road together, the pair quickly made work of Bell, before going back and forth for a number of laps. From giving each other the slide job, to trying different lanes, it was everything you’d want in a title race in watching the contenders go head-to-head.

BAD: Sometimes it takes a little bit of calming down behind the wheel, and that seems to be something that Noah Gragson and Austin Cindric may want to address through the winter. On a couple occasions this year, being overaggressive put him in a worse situation than he should have been.

Russell Labounty | NKP

Gragson went over the edge at Kansas Speedway, ultimately getting into the wall on a couple occasions, resulting in an unscheduled trip down pit road. Then a week later at Texas Motor Speedway, running just outside the top-10, he tried to make a move of desperation to get underneath Jeb Burton – but wasn’t clear of Harrison Burton yet. As a result, he went sideways, before sliding through the grass and causing enough damage to end his night early.

Cindric lost valuable ground in the standings that ultimately cost him a chance at being in the Championship 4 at Kansas Speedway due to a couple unscheduled trips down pit road with flat tires. The contact was all self-inflicted, too. He grew frustrated battling Harrison Burton for position, saying that “he was driving all over the track,” that he drove in the back of the No. 18, sending Burton up into the wall and ending his day. The contact resulted in nose damage to Cindric’s Ford that was made worse when he made contact with John Hunter Nemechek on the restart.

While it is nice to see drivers who are willing to push the edge, getting yourself into deeper trouble than you should have been does not help. Sometimes you just need to take what the car will give you, and live to fight another week. Despite having talent to get the job done, if he continues being over aggressive, he may be sitting on the sidelines sooner than later.

GOOD: Cole Custer said it perfectly after the season finale – “Tyler—he can rip the top here. That’s about all you can say about it.” Through the year, it was a thing of beauty in watching Reddick do this on a couple different occasions when the track conditions would allow, and ultimately using that to score the championship. 

Ford EcoBoost 300

To run mere inches off the wall and not make contact, knowing a single slip-up could result in trouble, takes tons of concentration and a really well handling car. But yet the driver of the No. 2 Tame The Beast Chevrolet continues to make it look like second nature. 

BAD: Being able to witness drivers battle for the lead is everything that you want as a racing fan. That’s why it’s so frustrating when lap traffic ruins that. Garrett Smithley certainly did not make any friends this past season in that regards. 

As the laps began to wound down at Kansas Speedway , it appeared as though the battle for the win would be between Chase Briscoe and Bell. However, those hopes were dashed with 15 laps to go when they were caught up in a wreck with a lap car. Smithley told NASCAR on NBC that he wasn’t made aware that the leaders were coming up on him, and he was just riding around on 70-lap tires at that point.

The frustration radiated from Briscoe who was quick to ask on his radio, “What was he doing? Where was he going?” It was a reasonable question considering Smithley was already five laps down at this point in the event. 

At the beginning of a driver’s racing career at the short track level, lap cars are taught to remain on the bottom, allowing the leaders to battle as they should have the right to. Knowing that he was already multiple laps down and off the pace, why did he not remain on the bottom of the track? Secondly, it is a little disheartening to see Smithley throw total blame on his spotter for the incident. He is the one handling the controls of the racecar, and should be aware of the situation around him. 

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

GOOD: Since the repave, Texas Motor Speedway has been criticized for the type of racing fans have gotten to witness. Some work by the tire dragon and laying down some traction compound, and we may be getting somewhere.

The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 featured more side-by-side racing than we have seen in recent years, including a lengthy battle for the lead between Bell and Reddick. If you were able to roll the momentum on the top, you could get a run to make a challenge on the outside of someone, as witnessed by Reddick on several occasions.

BAD: JR Motorsports certainly has to be asking themselves a lot of questions after this season. After placing three drivers in the Championship 4 in 2018 and winning the title with Reddick, they were only able to win two races this past season. Oh, and Justin Allgaier made the final battle, but ultimately became the underdog in comparison to the others. What do they need to do to catch up to their rivals now?

GOOD: Although a lot of people would prefer the old style Bristol Motor Speedway to return – single-groove along the bottom, with bumpers and rooting needed to make ground, the new higher groove being the place to be style proved to be alright for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. 

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

There was racing all the way around the half-mile for positions all the time. It did not seem that a driver could be found by themselves as if they cleared their competitors, lap traffic came into question. That was fine, since it gave the fans something to watch all night long.

Although the top groove was the place to be, there was a way for passes to be made through the middle and bottom lanes of the track. Just ask Reddick. He started from the tail of the field, and drove his way to the second. He would spin while underneath Justin Allgaier for position, but managed to drive his way from 24th back to the front once again.

BAD: Anybody remember a driver change that happened this past May? Austin Dillon had to get out of the car with 40 laps to go as a result of his ribs getting too hot from the heat, and carbon dioxide from crush panels being pushed in due to wall contact. The team elected to put Daniel Hemric in the car when Dillon’s complaints began. If you know there’s an issue, why would you put a driver in that is also scheduled like Dillon to run 600 miles on Sunday? That should have maybe been a clue about what the future held in store. 

GOOD: Let’s continue praising the good racing – with a nod to Charlotte Motor Speedway. The hot temperatures on the Charlotte, North Carolina afternoon produced a slick race track, in return delivering the fans a show. With drivers searching for grip through the beginning stages of the event by using the middle lane that was coated in the traction compound, to trying to run as close to the wall as possible in the later half, there was a never a dull moment during the Alsco 300.

JOHN HARRELSON | NKP

BAD: The Alsco 300 could have only been made better if series officials would have been smarter in their decisions. Tire issues for both Bell and Brandon Jones could’ve been prevented if a caution for debris on the track was thrown by NASCAR. It seems that the sanctioning body missed the boat a couple times on Saturday, as they failed to throw the yellow flag late in the first stage for the same reason, resulting in nose damage for Custer. 

As a result, Bell finished 31st after blowing a tire, though probably could’ve made his situation better by electing to head down pit road rather than ride around under caution with the flat, allowing it to blow the fender apart as it tore to shreds. His teammate Brandon Jones made the smarter decision in pitting immediately, and was able to fight back to run top-five late in the race before fading to 10th on older tires late.

GOOD: Everybody wants to see drivers fighting to do whatever it takes for the win, and that was the key to an exciting race at Talladega Superspeedway in April. Those who followed through were rewarded on Saturday afternoon.

From the drop of the green flag, three drivers showed the determination to make whatever move was necessary- Reddick, Briscoe, and Cindric. They were rewarded when the checkered flag flew in the MoneyLion 300 with top-five finishes.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Of those three drivers, Reddick pushed the boundaries throughout the event. Sometimes he went a little too far, as notable with his contact with the outside wall during the second stage. Though despite whatever was thrown at him, he showed a constant stream of determined aggressiveness to make his way back to the front on each occasion. His move at the end to get the run on Bell with 10 to go, followed by blocking Briscoe, were the icing on the cake for the win.

GOOD: Although everybody wants to be critical of the rules package, the Xfinity Series got it right with the flange-fit composite bodies that were made mandatory for the 2019 season. While a bit of wall contact used to end someone’s day in the past, there is now the possibility to receive repairs and make a comeback. As a result, fans were entertained with seeing whether their favorite driver would be able to drive through the field, like Jeffrey Earnhardt overcoming a spin for a third-place finish.

GOOD: Being able to see passion and emotions – that’s what it is all about as it gets people talking. Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick’s dust-up at Kansas was a great display of that.

“As soon as he put a hand on me, I put a hand on him back; that’s just how it’s going to be if we’re going to have a conversation that way,” Reddick told NASCAR on NBC afterwards. “I’m out of breath, had a little fight there with people, but it was kinda fun.”

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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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Through the years, Homestead-Miami Speedway has continuously put on some of the best racing of the season, making it a fitting location to crown the champions as we close out the year. With ISM Raceway set to become the title venue in 2020, the 1.5 mile oval put on perhaps the best NASCAR Xfinity Series finale of all time.

With the track slowly aging, it has made grip a premium, resulting in a speed difference when you slap on four new tires. Though the track’s widening grooves allow you to watch competitors run from all the way around the bottom, to ripping the top lane. This, combined with a great evolution of talent in NASCAR right now, was the perfect recipe.

Through the night, “the big three” as they were dubbed – Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, and Christopher Bell – battled back and forth for the top spot. They would each get a chance to pace the field whether through strategy, winning the race off pit road or pure speed. Though unlike other tracks where the leader would get out front, the conditions allowed for challenges to happen back in return.

Reddick and Bell had a thrilling battle back and forth to start the third stage, with Bell trying to take Reddick’s line away to stop the ensuing challenge for the top spot. Though the highlight of the night belongs to Reddick and Custer. After coming off pit road together, the pair quickly made work of Bell, before going back and forth for a number of laps. From giving each other the slide job, to trying different lanes, it was everything you’d want in a title race in watching the contenders go head-to-head.

Though in the end, it was Reddick that got the upper-hand as he took the lead, and ultimately drove away from Custer following contact with the outside wall. Seeing the now two-time series champion run the top line lap after lap is a thing of beauty. Even Custer admitted defeat in saying, “Tyler—he can rip the top here. That’s about all you can say about it.”

To run mere inches off the wall and not make contact, knowing a single slip-up could result in trouble, takes tons of concentration and a really well handling car. But yet the driver of the No. 2 Tame The Beast Chevrolet continues to make it look like second nature. It was why he was the favorite entering the weekend following the same performance last season. 

Although it is his second title in a row, this one is a little sweeter as you can see how much Reddick has evolved as a driver. After becoming a surprise champion in 2018, he put himself in position all year long with Richard Childress Racing and found the consistency that he was missing.

Bell, on the other hand, is certainly going to be looking back at these past couple of weeks in a different nature due to a pair of costly mistakes. He sped on pit road and spun at ISM Raceway to cost himself a win there after dominating early, while he missed pit road under green and cost himself valuable time at Homestead. It did not ultimately be the title factor due to the handling of the No. 20 Toyota going away over the course of the long run, but those are mistakes you would not expect out of a driver who won eight events this past season.

With all three of these drivers moving up to the Cup Series, the real winners are the fans because they are going to get to witness probably one of the best, and closest battles for Rookie of the Year that they have had in the past couple years. That said, the series is still in good hands with another young crop ready to rise to the occasion. Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson were evident of that on Saturday night with top-five runs.

As for the series, the decision to move the finale from Miami to the desert puzzles a lot of people, considering that last week’s racing at ISM Raceway was a little lack-luster other than the crazy restarts. That is something that certainly will need to be addressed.

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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News

Tyler Reddick gets back-to-back titles with scintillating victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – With his girlfriend expecting a baby, Tyler Reddick confessed on Thursday that he had practiced changing diapers on a pet cat.

Now, after winning Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 and his second straight NASCAR Xfinity Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Reddick gets to name the baby.

Finishing 1.038 seconds ahead of hard-charging Cole Custer, Reddick is the only driver to win consecutive titles in the series for two different car owners. The 23-year-old from Corning, Calif., won his first championship for JR Motorsports last year.

After switching rides to Richard Childress Racing, Reddick celebrated the organizations 50th anniversary by delivering his second straight title to team owner Richard Childress—the crowning achievement of a season in which Reddick collected a career-best six victories.

“It’s about this race team, man, and I was just honored to pilot this Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet,” Reddick said. “I’m losing my breath—I’m that excited. This one means so much more. It was just a lot better year, and it was really cool to go back-to-back.”

In winning for the second time at Homestead-Miami, Reddick was once again the quintessential rim rider, running within inches of the fence as he, Custer and fifth-place finisher Christopher Bell battled for the lead early in the final 79-lap green-flag run.

And now he can name his yet-to-be-born son “Beau,” under an agreement he made with girlfriend Alexa De Leon before the championship weekend. De Leon had another name in mind but agreed to let Reddick have his choice if he won the title.

Reddick had been so successful running the top lane in 2018 that Custer studied his in-car video before the race—but to no avail.

“Tyler—he can rip the top here,” Custer acknowledged after the race. “That’s about all you can say about it.”

After the top two drivers separated from Bell on Lap 167, Reddick closed on Custer until he reached his rear bumper. On Lap 182, Reddick dived to the inside into Turn 1 and slid up in front of Custer’s No. 00 Ford. Custer got the lead back briefly into Turn 3 on the same lap, but Reddick crossed over and cleared Custer for good off Turn 4.

In trying to catch the No. 2 Chevrolet, Custer scraped the wall in the closing laps.

“I could kind of match his lap time there and studied his in-car all the way coming here trying to figure out how to run the top better,” Custer said. “I got close. I tried to find a way to close the gap when I was behind and tried too hard and got into the fence.

“It sucks to come home second two years in a row. We’ll take it. We were a lot closer this year.”

Reddick, Custer and Bell all will graduate to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next year—Reddick with RCR, Custer with Stewart-Haas Racing and Bell with Leavine Family Racing. But Reddick is the only one who will do so with an Xfinity title.

Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson ran third and fourth, respectively, ahead of Bell, who claimed third place in the final standings behind the race winner and runner-up.

Despite missing pit road on his first attempt at a green-flag pit stop on Lap 159, Bell grabbed the lead on new tires by pitting three laps before Reddick and Custer. But the two chasers soon ran him down in a thrilling three-way battle for the top spot.

By the time Reddick took the checkered flag, Bell was 17 seconds in arrears.

“We just had great pit stops,” said Bell, who came to Homestead last year as the championship favorite and finished fourth. “Our pit stops would allow us to get up front, and then we would maintain until we started falling off, and then they would drive by me. For some reason, just can’t hit on what I need to, to be able to get around this place for a 30- or 40-lap run.”

A late brush with the wall and resulting flat tire relegated Championship 4 contender Justin Allgaier to a 14th-place finish.

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XFINITY

Dale Jr. Confident in Allgaier for Xfinity Series Finale

AVONDALE, Arizona — JR Motorsports driver, Justin Allgaier, captured his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win of the season in the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 to secure a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 33-year old led a race-high 85 laps and regained much needed momentum after besting “The Big Three” heavy-weights of Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and reigning series champion, Tyler Reddick, for his second career victory at ISM Raceway.

The Illinois-native may not have as glamorous statistics as his fellow-competitors battling for the 2019 title, but team owner and 15-time Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has the utmost faith in his four-year driver of the No. 7 Chevy Camaro. The 10-year series veteran has successfully raced his way into the playoffs in every full-time season he’s raced in NASCAR’s lower division and Earnhardt feels this experience has aptly prepared him to bring JR Motorsports their third-consecutive championship.

“Obviously, his age and experience is very helpful,” Earnhardt exclusively told POPULAR SPEED following the event at ISM Raceway. “He’s been in a lot of situations that I think he can lean on to maintain his composure and poise in some pretty tough situations.”

In conjunction with experience in the Xfinity Series, the 44-year old team owner believes his driver has been able to capitalize and adapt throughout his career in certain mid-race situations. Earnhardt has had the luxury of watching Allgaier intently over the last two years after stepping down from full-time racing in the Cup Series and turning to broadcasting on NBC.

“Anything sets him apart (from Bell, Custer and Reddick) I think if you watch a lot of the races,” the team owner relayed. “The success that he has is based off of restarts – he’s really aggressive on restarts. He just takes advantage of the guys around him and he did that again today. When he won at Chicago (Speedway) a few year ago, he had a great restart there at the end to take the win away from the other guys. He technically rarely has the best car in the race, but makes up for it on restarts when he gets that opportunity.”

Earnhardt also broke his silence on the possibility of making history by becoming only the second owner in the Xfinity Series to capture three-consecutive titles.

“Anytime you can put your name in the record books for anything, it’s awesome,” the 15-time Most Popular Driver exclaimed. “We feel pretty lucky and blessed to already have a couple of titles and those didn’t come easy, this one won’t either. This is going to be a real, real hard battle down there. I think we’re lacking a little bit of speed compared to that guys, but it’s close. We’re going to need everything we can get and little luck too. That’s how it’s been the last couple of times. I don’t know that we showed up with the best car throughout the day at Homestead, but we were there at the end when it mattered and that’s what you got to do. I’d put Justin up against any of those guy to position us to be in that position at the end.”

Even more impressively – should Allgaier notch JR Motorsports a third championship – the trio of titles would come from three different driver, which has never been done before in the series.

Earnhardt’s driver will without a doubt be the underdog heading to Homestead, but Allgaier is carrying a hefty set of momentum into the Sunshine State after quite possibly the most important win of his career to date. Witness if Earnhardt and Allgaier can eclipse this monumental achievement in the Ford EcoBoost 300 series finale from Homestead-Miami Speedway at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on NBCSN.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.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 to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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XFINITY

Chase Briscoe Left With Regrets and Frustration Following Playoff Run

The playoffs demand the best out of any driver, just ask Chase Briscoe. He was able to put a top-10 in each of the events except for one, and found himself as one of the drivers not fighting for the Championship this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I was telling people the other day after Kansas I was obviously frustrated and upset, but I felt like we were still gonna be fine,” he commented at ISM Raceway. “I felt like with our speed we were gonna be fine getting to Homestead still.  We can still go run top five the next two races, if not win one, and after Texas then everything that went down at Texas makes Kansas sting a lot worse and makes me even more mad.”

Briscoe was in the thick of the action to win at Kansas Speedway, battling Christopher Bell for the victory, when the pair made contact with a lap car resulting in damage to both vehicles. Despite the rear panel having to be replaced, he was able to fight back to finish third.

He showed speed at Texas Motor Speedway, running up front until he made contact with the wall and then cut a tire, requiring an scheduled stop down pit road. He was credited with a 22nd-place finish.

He ran inside the top-five part of the event at ISM Raceway, though ultimately finished eighth, missing the cut. 

Now as he is forced to watch four of his competitors fight for the championship instead, Briscoe finds himself thinking back to what happened at Texas.

“In hindsight we probably should have just pitted whenever we got in the wall,” he commented. “It was just a thing where at the time we felt like we made the right decision.  Me and my crew chief were talking and we’re pretty sure the splitter is what ended up flattening the tire.  If we would have come down, we didn’t even think the splitter was an issue, so we probably would have had the same issue regardless.  I don’t know. 

“There’s a lot of things we could have done different.  Obviously, the lapped car situation could have went way different and we probably wouldn’t be in the situation we are right now, but those are the cards we were dealt and we’ve got to deal with those.”

The fact that he did not make the Championship 4 only stings more when he looks back and sees how strong they were at the Homestead-Miami Speedway test.

“We were unbelievable, we felt like,” he said. “A lot of guys go and test and you’re like, ‘Oh, man.  We’re so good,’ and then you go back.  I know Jeff Burton was at the test and I heard on the TV broadcast I heard him talk about how good he thought we were.  Typically there fall off is around a certain time over a 40-lap run and we were two-tenths better than that, so I felt like if we can get to Homestead, we have a legitimate shot to win the championship.”

Briscoe went as far to mention that if he is able to pull off the victory on Saturday afternoon, “it’s gonna be sickening” in knowing what could’ve been. It’s an experience that he knows already, having won the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series race there in 2017. 

Though on the flip side, one more checkered flag on the season would be very deserving for Briscoe and company as it’d give them a chance to not celebrate their success there, but as a year overall. While not making the Championship 4 is less than ideal, scoring 12 top-five’s and 25 top-10’s in the 32 races is certainly something to remember. It also easily puts him in the conversation as favorites for the title in 2020 with several drivers moving away from the series.

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

Justin Allgaier clinches Championship 4 spot with convincing Phoenix win

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Justin Allgaier’s timing was impeccable.

After a pit road speeding penalty and a subsequent spin KO’d the winning chances of polesitter Christopher Bell, Allgaier took full advantage, leading the final 66 laps of Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley 200 to win for the first time this season and advance to next week’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Allgaier joins the so-called Big Three of Bell, Saturday’s runner-up Cole Custer and third-place finisher Tyler Reddick in the title race. Custer clinched his spot after running third in the second 45-lap stage. Reddick, the defending series champion, earned his spot on points after saving fuel over the final 79-lap green-flag run.

Allgaier won the race wearing a helmet designed by his six-year-old daughter, Harper.

“This is the first time I’ve won with Harper’s helmet in the car, and it means a lot,” Allgaier said. “To have the speed that we’ve had (this year) and not be able to pull it off has been disappointing. These guys have rallied behind it. We said when we came here that we need to come here and get a win so we could go to Homestead, and we did that…

“We had a hotrod today. I don’t think we could have beaten the 20 (Bell), but when he made his mistake, we capitalized on it. That’s what it’s all about… No question (not winning) is a weight on your shoulders, man. You can’t even begin to describe it.”

Custer was closing fast at the finish and cut Allgaier’s lead of more than three seconds to .810 seconds at the checkered flag on Lap 200.

“I was giving it all I had,” Custer said. “I was really struggling with the brake pedal. I kind of lost it at the start of the run. I had to save the whole run until like 15 laps to go, and then I just let it happen. I just came up a little bit short, but I think that was the best run we’ve had at Phoenix in a long time.

“I’m looking forward to Homestead, and hopefully we can do one spot better.”

The top four drivers in the Playoff standings entering Saturday’s race were the four who will compete for the championship at Homestead. Missing out on points were sixth-place finisher Austin Cindric, eighth-place Chase Briscoe, ninth-place Michael Annett and 10th-place Noah Gragson.

John Hunter Nemechek ran fourth behind Reddick followed by an impressive Zane Smith, who tied his career-best result in his 10th Xfinity Series start.

Bell won the first two stages, bringing his total of stage victories for the season to 22, but was flagged for speeding .03 mph over tolerance under caution at the end of Stage 2. After restarting from the rear, Bell climbed to eighth before spinning out while trying to cut the apron off Turn 2.

“I feel like I gave up a winner,” said Bell, whose focus nevertheless has been on next weekend’s race at Homestead, where he turned in a disappointing performance in the title event last year.

“This is what it’s all about,” Bell said. “It all comes down to this one next week. I’m ready for it. I feel really good about where we’re at, and our car is going to be extremely strong next week.

“We’ve prepared a ton for this. Ever since we left Homestead last year, we knew that this race was where we needed to improve. Pretty much all year long, we’ve been focused on Homestead.”

Categories
XFINITY

JR Motorsports is Chasing History Heading to Phoenix

AVONDALE, Arizona — As the NASCAR Xfinity Series gears up for the semi-final race at ISM Raceway, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finds himself in a position to achieve something only done once previously in series history. With JR Motorsports currently taking up three spots in the Round of 8 – Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Noah Gragson, a third consecutive title is very possible. 

Allgaier is the lone driver in position to advance to the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway sitting fourth in the standings, 18 points ahead of Chase Briscoe. Annett finds himself 28 points out of the final spot and Gragson is essentially in a must-win situation sitting in a 47-point hole.

JR Motorsports has won two consecutive championships. The first coming from the current driver of the No. 24 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, William Byron in 2017. The second was with current reigning Xfinity Series Champion is Tyler Reddick – who now races for Richard Childress Racing.

Should Allgaier, Annett or Gragson advance to Miami and win the 2019 Xfinity Series Championship they would eclipse a feat only done once in the series history. BACE Motorsports successfully won three-consecutive championship in NASCAR’s lower division from 1995-97. The first came from Johnny Benson Jr.; Randy LaJoie then drove his way to back-to-back titles from 1996-97.

This will not be an easy task for Annett and Gragson, who both find themselves in essentially a must-win scenario at ISM Raceway.

Annett is in the midst of a career-year driving the No. 1 Chevy Camaro for the 15-year Most Popular Driver recipient, Earnhardt. The driver of the No. 1 captured his first win across all three of NASCAR’s premier series in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. This comes in addition to a season where he has totaled six top-fives and 18 top-10’s with an average finish of 10th through 30 races.

For Annett, he believes his path to Homestead will reside in qualifying.

“Tomorrow is going to be crucial because qualifying at a track like this is at a premium,” Annett said. “This was probably the most beneficial track for group qualifying.”

The 33-year old driver is referring to the transition back to single-car qualifying that was mandated by NASCAR in May. At the start of the 2019 season, many drivers voiced their displeasure with the new group qualifying rule that had just been implemented.

“It’s all about putting the whole weekend together,” Annett further elaborated. “Winning the race is the only way we can go into this. Justin [Allgaier] is so good here and being 28 points behind him, it’s going to be difficult to out-point him.”

The driver of the No. 9 finds himself in the most difficult position of the JRM trio heading into the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at ISM Raceway. It will be an uphill battle for Gragson who sits eight in the standings, but he is no stranger to success at the Arizona-based track.

While the 20-year old driver is still in search of his first win in the Xfinity Series, he almost found victory lane in the Valley of the Sun in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports last season, ultimately finishing second. Gragson has not been able to notch a top-10 at ISM Raceway in the second-tier series, but he does have an 11th place average finishing position in both of NASCAR’s lower divisions.

On the flip side, Allgaier is in a favorable position heading into a track where he’s had immense success. The driver  of the No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet found victory lane in the desert Spring of 2017 after leading 85 of 200 Laps. The 33-year old started on the pole last Spring and has led an additional 145 Laps since his last win in Avondale, Arizona.

He also posts a 9.1 average finish in 18 starts with six top-fives and 11 top-10’s at the track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway. This is all in addition to a career-high top-10 streak the Riverton, Illinois-product has strung together over the last 15 races.

But the 10-year series veteran is no where near satisfied.

“The crazy thing is – even with the top-10 streak – I still feel like it’s been a terrible year,” Allgaier said. “There’s been so many races that haven’t gone our way, but it’s definitely helped us grow as a team. We’ve done a great job at rebounding and managing the adversity.”

Allgaier acknowledges the fact that the series is being dominated by “The Big Three,” in Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer. However he believes there’s one thing that sets him apart from the young guns – experience.

“I’m the only driver who’s made the Playoffs every year since they started this format,” Allgaier shared. “Those three guys have had a lot of speed this year and they’ve been very good, but we’ve also noticed that when their days don’t go the way they want to go that they’ve had some challenges dealing with that.”

The odds are in the series veteran’s favor and he is going into the final two races with a must-win mentality. Allgaier is aware that these last events will not come without adversity, but also expressed great joy in the fact that the series finale will be ran at this track where he’s had so much success over his career.

Expect to see the trio of JR Motorsports drivers tomorrow with a heavy emphasis on a positive qualifying effort. If NASCAR superstar Dale Jr. wants to achieve the historical feat of three-consecutive Xfinity Series Championships, the road must go through the 1.5-mile track that is ISM Raceway.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.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 to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.