Categories
Trucks

Five Storylines to Watch in 2017

The Camping World Truck Series doesn’t feature the most traditional start to their season, with only four races in the first four months, as a way to give teams time to prepare for the rest of the schedule.

Though with only two races in the books so far – Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are still some storylines developing. As the days continue to count down to Martinsville, here are five of those to watch moving forward.

 

GMS Racing’s Strong Start

Arguably the strongest team in the Camping World Truck Series right now is GMS Racing, even though Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Christopher Bell leads the standings.

In the first two races, with four truck per event, the team has scored three top-fives, four top-10s, and no finishes outside of the top-15. Notably, the early highlight of the year was rookie Kaz Grala scoring the victory in the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway.

The strong start is no surprise, though, as the team has veteran leadership in Johnny Sauter, and had Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman behind the wheel of their trucks at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The team is also quick to credit the veteran leadership from industry veteran Mike Beam, who joined the organization in late 2014.

“It’s been a dream watching that man work,” Spencer Gallagher told Popular Speed in December. “The revolution and changes that have happened since that man came on have been amazing, and you saw that on the race track. We made statements at every type of tracks – dominated Talladega, we had two trucks that led and ran up front at Texas, and we ran well on the short tracks.”

The success is something which started last year, as Sauter walked away as the champion after finishing out the year with four straight top-five finishes. With the veteran second in points and Grala fourth, they could easily go two in a row.

 

Rough Start for Cindric and Gragson

Sometimes for rookies, they find early success – like Grala – and sometimes they find themselves struggling. Unfortunately, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson find themselves in the latter category.

In the first two events, Cindric has failed to post a top-20 finish as a result of a pair of wrecks. He got taken out in the Lap 2 crash at Daytona and had worked his way back to the top-10 at Atlanta following a pit road penalty before going for a spin with six laps to go.

Gragson was also involved in that wreck at Daytona, followed by another early race incident at Atlanta. A three-wide move on the first lap didn’t go as planned, with Gragson’s No. 18 Switch Toyota Tundra getting loose and going around, collecting Brett Moffitt in the process. With minimal damage to his truck, Gragson was able to join up at the back of the field for the restart and continue. He used the rest of the day to fight back to a 14th place finish.

Both rookies have shown speed in the first two races, but have yet to come around with the top-10s to match that as a result of a mix of inexperience and luck. With both having short track experience via their backgrounds, a strong run in the next event at Martinsville Speedway could turn their year around.

 

The Surprise: Regan Smith?

Each year, there’s a small budget team that surprises everybody on a weekly basis. For the second straight year, it seems Ricky Benton Racing has made it happen.

After starting off last year well with Parker Kligerman, the team has done it with Regan Smith at the wheel this time. Smith scored a fifth place finish at Daytona, followed by a 12th place finish at Atlanta.

Smith being able to give the team a pair of competitive runs is no surprise, though, as he has proven he has talent. The past Southern 500 winner posted a top-five finish in each of the three seasons he ran in the XFINITY Series with JR Motorsports.

Currently, the team hasn’t announced plans for the whole schedule. RBR plans to run 12 races this year, including the first six races. Though if they continue to remain in the top-10 in points, one has to wonder the possibility of sponsorship being put together for a title run.

 

Further Back Than Expected: John Hunter Nemechek

Going into 2017, everyone thought John Hunter Nemechek would be a championship contender. After all, youngster posted a pair of wins and 11 top-10s en route to finishing 11th in the series standings last year. However, he currently sits 12th in points as a result of finishes of fourth and 28th (flat tire) in the first two events this year.

Despite the rough start, Nemechek believes his team can pull together a strong year.

“I feel like we’re going to be able to contend for wins week-in-week-out,” he told Popular Speed earlier this month. “We’ve kind of changed our mindset a little with the new segment rule coming in. I feel like it definitely be more exciting with the more tracks that that we get to. I feel good about our year. I feel like it’ll be a good year.”

Truthfully, the confidence is well-founded as he was running well at Atlanta before the tire issue and it doesn’t appear NEMCO Motorsports has slowed down at all. With a podium finish in each of the last three races at Martinsville, a win could put these thoughts in the rearview.

 

Early Favorite: Christopher Bell

With an eighth and a victory in the first two races, it appears as though Christopher Bell is emerging as the early championship favorite this season. Notably, he’s also faced adversity in both of those races. The eighth at Daytona came after being involved in three wrecks, and the Atlanta victory only happened due to him fighting his way through the field on a restart as a result of the late-race strategy.

The expectations surrounding Bell started last year, though, as he was one of the four drivers to qualify for the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and closed out 2016 with no finishes outside of the top-11 in the final nine races. Besides, being the primary driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports naturally brings pressure, as everyone knows what they’re capable of with past titles.

As long as Bell can keep a calm head on his shoulders and focus on the consistency he finished 2016 with and not the over-driving from the beginning of his career, he could very well walk away this year as the champion.

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

Categories
News

Tommy Baldwin Racing Ceases Full-Time Competition

When the checkered flag falls at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it’ll also mark the end of Tommy Baldwin Racing running full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

In a written statement on the team’s facebook page, Tommy Baldwin revealed the news to race fans, saying it was time to start a new chapter. The statement showcased the announcement, while expressing Baldwin’s thoughts on the team’s journey the past eight years.

“For the past eight years we’ve shown up at every race, worked hard to compete at the top level and bring value to our sponsors,” he wrote. “I feel confident that we are moving on having accomplished that. There have been many teams like ours that have come and gone. I’m proud that we have been able to sustain ourselves from the very beginning.

“Over the years we have been fortunate enough to have a great group of people both in the shop and on the road. In this business, you are really defined by the people you employ and I’m grateful for everyone’s hard work. Getting sponsors these days is a tough task. Keeping them is even tougher. But we have had so many great supporters of our program. Whether they were a primary, associate or just a one-race sponsor, they were all great to work with and I thank them for believing in us.”

Through the years, Balwin’s cars have featured a bunch of different companies, with 26 drivers behind the wheel for a total of 391 starts. While the results haven’t been flashy, there has been moments which will stand in the minds of fans forever. From the team’s first top-10 in 2010 with Dave Blaney at Talladega Superspeedway with a third, to the Daytona 500 eighth and Pocono third this season by Regan Smith, Baldwin has continued to impress against the odds. They’ve also become known as the place for giving young drivers a chance, like Michael Annett in 2014 and Alex Bowman last season.

“We’ve had some really great drivers in our cars over the years,” Baldwin’s statement continued. “Each of them drove hard every lap – no matter how the car was handling. They always gave 110% and that’s all you can really ask from a driver. We’re proud of the names that were on the roof of our Chevrolets.

“If you’re reading this, you already know that NASCAR is the greatest sport in the world. I have been blessed to have a career in motorsports because of how NASCAR has grown over the years.

“Teams don’t always agree with their stance on rule changes or penalties or just the way things are done. But I can tell you that they have gone out of their way to help our team. They’ve brought us opportunities and have always made themselves available to meet with prospective sponsors if we needed them to. It’s been a privilege for me to say that I’m a NASCAR team owner.”

Baldwin also took time to thank the fans for their support, stating they’re “not just fans — you’re friends and family to us”.

“When we have good days, you cheer us on,” Baldwin wrote. “When we’ve had rough days, you give us encouragement. You have supported our drivers and our sponsors with so much enthusiasm. I promise you that it never went unnoticed.”

As for what happens in the new chapter down the road, Baldwin stated he wasn’t “100% sure”. Right now, he said he was focused on getting the best result in Miami, taking some family time, and then focusing on the details, with announcement forthcoming when the time is right.

Along with the news, Baldwin announced the team has sold their “charter to a great group of people who will continue to guide our vision”. Under the NASCAR charter system, there are 36 charters available which enable 36 teams to be locked into the 40-car field each week. It’s been widely reported the charter has been sold to Leavine Family Racing, who leased a chartered this past season from Joe Falk.

The full statement can be seen below in it’s entirety.

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.

Categories
XFINITY

Unexpected Opportunities Arise From Postponed XFINITY Series Race

Rain on race weekend often creates more headaches than opportunities. However, three drivers now find themselves behind the wheel of a XFINITY Series car at Dover International Speedway following the postponement of Saturday’s race to Sunday.

Regan Smith, Drew Herring, and Ryan Blaney will now compete in the Drive Sober 200 in substitute roles for three Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders. Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano had planned to pull double duty this weekend but will now solely focus on their Sprint Cup Series efforts on Sunday in the first elimination race of this year’s playoffs.

Regan Smith climbs behind the wheel for Austin Dillon in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing car. Smith will now run both races on Sunday as he pilots the No. 7 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the Citizen Soldier 400. 

He is the defending race winner at Dover as he pulled into Victory Lane with JR Motorsports last October. His winning performance came with no practice time as rained washed out all on-track activity ahead of the race. He will similarly compete without any seat time on Sunday. 

The 33-year-old led 80 laps en route to his second XFINITY Series victory of 2015. He has placed inside the top 10 in each of his last four starts at Dover.

Long-time Joe Gibbs Racing substitute driver Drew Herring will take over the No. 18 car for Kyle Busch on Sunday morning. Herring has practiced and qualified JGR XFINITY Series cars in the past but has often handed them over to another driver before the race.

Herring has 19 series starts, including 11 for JGR. Sunday will mark his first start for the organization since the 2013 season finale at Homestead-Miami where he finished 15th.

After a two-year hiatus from competing in a XFINITY Series race, he returned behind the wheel this season for JGL Racing. He has made four starts, with his best result of 12th coming at Iowa in July. He competed at Dover in May and finished 14th.

Ryan Blaney will join Smith as the only two drivers running both races on Sunday as he steps in for Joey Logano in the No. 22 car. The Drive Sober 200 marks the second consecutive series race Blaney will compete in and his seventh event of 2016.

He finished third last Saturday night at Kentucky, tying his season-high result from Mid-Ohio. Sunday will be his fourth series start at Dover. In his last outing at the “Monster Mile” one year ago, he finished fourth after starting from the pole.

Due to driver changes, all three cars will start the Drive Sober 200 from the rear of the field.

Sunday’s doubleheader from Dover will begin with the XFINITY Series race at 10 AM ET and coverage can be found on CNBC. The Sprint Cup Series race will follow at 2 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @NASCARJason

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Strong Finish Fuels Smith’s Optimism

Regan Smith and his team put it all on the line at Pocono Raceway — and it paid off for single-car team Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Smith netted a third-place finish at Monday afternoon, capturing just the second top-five finish in the history of TBR. After starting 30th, pit strategy played a vital role in the top three result. As pit stops cycled through, Smith’s No. 7 was a few laps from pitting when heavy fog rolled over the Tricky Triangle. As a result, NASCAR was unable to restart the race and for the first time in a long time, Smith found himself in the right place at the right time.

“The cloud kind of came at just the right time for us. We were within five or six laps of having to pit, but it’s a credit to my guys for seeing the opportunity to do that strategy,” Smith said. “When you’re a small team working hard to try and go up against some of the bigger teams that we do, you’ve got to take the opportunities when they present themselves. Today and this weekend in general, just kind of had that feeling to it with the rain on and off all weekend long, and we were able to make the most out of it.”

Pocono marks the second top-10 result of 2016 for Smith, who finished eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500. Smith praised crew chief and team owner Tommy Baldwin, Jr. for the risky strategy call, knowing chances like that typically fall flat.

Smith said, “For every 10 times you try something like this, it works once or twice, and it’s even more rare that it works to the level it did today. Usually, you pick up a spot here or there. I’ll be honest; I’m kind of surprised more guys didn’t stay out that long and stretch it just a little while like we did.”

Making the most out of the situation is crucial to a small organization. Despite a partnership with Richard Childress Racing, TBR has just 24 employees on staff and is unable to afford many of the perks enjoyed by the competition. The weekly battle for a top 20 is a struggle, which makes the third-place result vital to the team’s motivation.

“Just for the shop alone to be able to say, ‘Hey, we had a good day’ [is important]. I know everybody is going to say it was fuel mileage, it was rain, it was this, it was that,” Smith said, adding, “We had a good day, we stayed on the lead lap, did what we had to do.”

The No. 7 crew played the pit strategy game, and it was worth it; a top three is equivalent to a victory for the small organization of Tommy Baldwin Racing. Their driver is optimistic for his team despite the circumstances surrounding the finish. To Smith, runs like this signify progress, even if fuel mileage and rain played a factor.

“We were way more competitive today than we were two months ago, and that’s a gain.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

RAPID REACTION: A Foggy Miracle

Following a wild and wet weekend at Pocono Raceway, the underdog prevailed as rookie Chris Buescher captured his first career Sprint Cup Series victory.

With rain threatening the Pennsylvania 400 throughout its postponed running on Monday, strategy varied among the field as teams attempted to place their cars out front if the race ended early.

However, once the weather rolled in, it was the Front Row Motorsports No. 34 team that perfected the strategy en route to victory.

A Foggy Miracle

Buescher’s outlook on the season heading into the weekend was centered around gaining experience in a Sprint Cup Series car. The Chase wasn’t on his radar because he would need a win in the final six regular season races to make the playoffs.

As a result of a brilliant strategy call from crew chief Bob Osborne and the timing of dense fog rolling into Pocono, his entire approach to the remainder of his rookie campaign has changed

Buescher last pitted on Lap 105 and stayed out long enough during the final round of green flag pit stops to remain ahead of Brad Keselowski. Once the caution came out on Lap 133 with fog blanketing the track, he was in the lead and headed to Victory Lane.

Currently six points out of 30th in points, Buescher and the No. 34 team will shift their focus to cracking the top 30 and earning Front Row Motorsports’ first ever berth in the Chase.

Bad Luck Strikes Again

Martin Truex Jr.’s season has been defined by strong performances and bad luck. While the bad luck hasn’t been as prevalent in recent weeks, it struck again in the Pennsylvania 400.

The No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota started on the pole and led the opening 15 laps until the competition caution. He pitted under the yellow flag for two tires and exited pit road first.

On the initial restart, he fell back a couple of positions and his right front tire went down as he entered Turn 2. The car then shot up the track and slammed into the wall, causing significant damage to an early race favorite.

Shortly after the crash, Goodyear determined the reason for the flat tire was an inner valve stem had been knocked off the tire. He suffered two additional flats later in the race, putting the team behind the wall and ending their day in 38th.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Restarts at Pocono are viewed as some of the hairiest in NASCAR, with drivers sometimes getting six-wide as drivers race up to speed. However, not all corners at the track are suited for cars running next to each other.

Chase Elliott discovered this on the Lap 104 restart when tried to use the momentum he gained going down the Long Pond straightaway to get a run on Joey Logano heading into Turn 2. The gamble failed to pay off for Elliott, as he got loose and slid up the track into Logano, putting both cars into the wall.

Logano had one of the strongest cars in the race up until this incident. He led a race-high 38 laps before having to pit and restart back in the pack where he ran into trouble.

After scoring six consecutive top-10 finishes in May and early June, Elliott has now finished outside of the top 10 in the last six races, including four finishes outside of the top 30.

Unbuckled

One week after running into trouble on a restart at Indy, four-time-champ-turned-substitute driver Jeff Gordon experienced something new on Lap 109 at Pocono. As he transitioned from second to third gear coming to the green flag, his seat belt came unlatched.

He then pulled the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet down the frontstretch and out of the pack that stormed off into Turn 1. He was able to fasten the seat belt again but lost many positions in the process. The team worked on the latch during a pit stop and were able to fix the issue, but it caused quite the scare for Gordon at the time.

Underdog Prevails

Regan Smith’s Sprint Cup Series career has endured many highs and lows, from losing the fall 2008 race at Talladega due to a pass under the yellow line, to earning his first career victory at Darlington Raceway in 2011. 

Thanks to a little luck and some help from Mother Nature, his performance on Monday was a moment to celebrate as he brought the No. 7 car home third. This ties his 2011 Brickyard 400 finish as the second-highest result of his Sprint Cup career.

He used a strategy similar to Buescher as he last pitted on Lap 102 and remained on the track while others made green flag pit stops. He ran second to the eventual winner right up until the moments before the race-ending yellow flag but was passed by Keselowski and ended up third.

This ties Tommy Baldwin Racing’s best finish as an organization as Dave Blaney also finished third at Talladega in October 2011.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @NASCARJason

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
NASCAR Cup Series

TBR Jackman Uses Football Expertise on Pit Road

Like many college football players, Ricky Rozier dreamed of going pro and playing in the National Football League. He did well as a fullback at Winston-Salem State University, yet going to the next level wasn’t in the cards. His performance in the NFL combine failed to draw attention.

However, another combine proved fruitful.

“NASCAR has a pit crew combine, and my university hosted it in the summer of 2013. It was put on by the Drive for Diversity program, which is a development program at NASCAR to help minorities into the sport,” Rozier told POPULAR SPEED.

Rozier first worked with Stewart-Haas Racing and the No. 41 Sprint Cup Series team. He started as the second gas man for Kurt Busch, yet he trained for the jackman position as well. He is currently the jackman for Regan Smith at Tommy Baldwin Racing. Although he’s worked in both capacities, Rozier believes jacking up the racecar is more physically demanding.

“As the second gas man, you still have to focus and pay attention to what’s going on,” he said. “Jackman, on the other hand, you have to be fast and light on your feet. You have to react and be prepared to make an adjustment on the car.”

He isn’t limited to the Sprint Cup Series. In addition to working for TBR, Rozier pits Blake Koch’s No. 11 in the XFINITY Series and the No. 33 of Ben Kennedy in the Camping World Truck Series. Spending a weekend pitting for various teams is common in the NASCAR garage, and it requires him to be focused and in peak physical condition. Practices and weight training take care of both.

“We practice three times a week and work out about two to three times a week,” he said. “We come in for a 9 a.m. practice, and then at 11 a.m. I’ll be in the weight room for a workout. Then we might have some other developmental practices later on in the afternoon.”

When it comes to the long-time argument of whether or not NASCAR is a sport, competition and the crew members’ fitness level play a factor in Rozier’s opinion.

“It’s the same kind of argument people have about cheerleading. To me, a sport is when you have competition. You get out there with whatever you’re doing, if it’s archery or ballet or dancing, that’s competition,” he said. “That’s why I call NASCAR a sport. It’s still very different from the stick-and-ball sports that people in our society grow up doing. When you have pit road teams and pit crew coaches who are trying to get athletes who played stick-and-ball sports to pit the cars, there’s no way you can say it’s not a sport.”

Away from the track, Rozier is pursuing another of his passions – massage and bodywork therapy. He juggles school with the demanding NASCAR schedule, but it is all part of the ride. A product of the sport’s Drive for Diversity program, the jackman never planned on going from the football field to pit road, but Rozier wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That’s how I got exposed to the thought of being in NASCAR,” he said. “It wasn’t even an idea before that combine, but now it’s a reality.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Smith Becoming Most Called Upon Substitute

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – It’s safe to say @ReganSmith is NASCAR’s most popular substitute driver.

After @KyleLarsonRacin fainted at a track appearance on Saturday and was pulled out the car, Smith was told that he would be filling in for a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver for a second time this year. He previously filled in this season for @KurtBusch.

Smith knows the Sprint Cup Series well, as he was a full-time driver in the series from 2010 through 2012 for Furniture Row Racing. Since then, he has been racing full-time in the XFINITY Series for JR Motorsports while often subbing  in the Cup series.

In 2012 Smith subbed for @DaleJr in the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway Chase races when Earnhardt Jr. received a concussion during a wreck at Talladega Super Speedway. Smith went on to sub for @TonyStewart at Watkins Glen in 2014 when Stewart removed himself from his car due to the events that occurred with him at a sprint car race Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

This year, Smith subbed in the first three races of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing while Kurt Busch was suspended. This weekend’s sub for Larson marks the fourth different driver Smith has subbed for.

“I’m getting a lot of experience with different people and different teams. And learning how every place works,” said Smith.

“Every place is different, and every place has different operations, every crew chief talks different, every spotter talks different, so it is difficult. Anytime you can get in a rhythm and have your own deal it is obviously easier. But it is still a race car, it still has a steering wheel, and it still has gas pedals. We do the same stuff with it, so you can work around that a lot.”

While it may be hard, Smith has repeatedly said he is hoping to use these experiences to get back into the Sprint Cup Series on a full-time deal.

“I think I have made it clear I want to get back to doing this on a more permanent basis on the Cup side. If being the guy that everybody calls on can help lead to that down the road, then that is great. These situations they aren’t easy.”

In his six substitute starts before the race at Martinsville Speedway, Smith has only one top-10 and four top-20 finishes.

Smith added another top-20 finish to his career Sunday when he finished in sixteenth place. After starting in the back, he made his way all the way up through the field into the top-15 before getting bottled up in a restart and going for a spin on Lap 287. This shuffled Smith back again but he managed to make a late-race charge forward again before finishing in 16th place. While it was a solid run for the substitute driver, Smith felt he still could have done better.

“Yeah, I look at the results, and there were cars that we ran around that I thought we were as good, maybe a little better. We were definitely a better long run car. If we could have had a 70 lap run at the end of the race I would have felt better about things,” Smith explained afterward.

“This is not one of my better race tracks. When they called on this, I was like ‘man why does it got to be Martinsville?’ But you know it was fun to drive it all day long. Chris (Heroy) and the guys they worked hard with me and obviously no two drivers are alike, so I was trying to do a few things a little different. We just dug all day.”

Despite how he feels about the finish, Smith again showed he has the skills to jump in a car on race day and give it a good run. If these substitute opportunities keep appearing and Smith can keep posting consistent finishes, he could get his shot back in the series as a full-time Cup driver.

EMAIL KAYLA AT kayla.darrow@popularspeed.com

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Crafton and Smith: Relief Drivers to Count On

@Matt_Crafton and @ReganSmith came into Daytona expecting to compete in their respective series and fly back home.

After NASCAR indefinitely suspended @KurtBusch on Friday evening, Smith found himself preparing to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Daytona 500. He would get little practice and preparation, but it was a task he was ready to take on.

Crafton finished eighth in his race on Friday night in the Truck Series and headed back home. After @KyleBusch was involved in an accident in the closing laps of the XFINITY Series race, his phone began to go off with messages and phone calls. He was to get fitted for a seat and head back to Daytona; he was getting to make his Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500.

While the circumstances were unfortunate, both drivers made the most out of their opportunities. Smith brought the No. 41 car home 16th with very limited practice on Saturday. Crafton would finish 18th after getting caught up in the last lap accident, although he was headed for a possible top-10 finish.

It’s easy for Smith to be frustrated after the weekend he’s had which included flipping while leading in the XFINITY race. He fought an ill-handling race car, leaving him disappointed after he felt the car had much more potential.

“Started off really tight with the race car and never got it turning,” he said. “I don’t know, kind of frustrating. I actually anticipated a much better day and nothing much more to show for it. Those guys did a nice job all weekend but we just plowed through the corners.”

Even though Crafton’s debut didn’t end the way dreamed it would, all he could do during the race was learn.

“It was a learning curve. The first half we just rode around and tried to learn, learn, learn. I made a mistake – I had a pretty good surge up top and I tried the bottom and shuffled myself all the way to the back.

“I fought tight and just kept freeing it up and freeing it…Trying to learn it all at the same time – it’s a pretty gnarly learning curve.”

Crafton found it difficult to drive the car with no practice in it at all. He was also rather uncomfortable during the race because of his seat which caused his back to cramp.

Crew chief Adam Stevens believe the day went rather well given the circumstances.

“Matt (Crafton) did a good job,” he said. “It’s a lot to ask of a guy to not practice a car and come and race it. We kind of took the strategy of just letting him ride around the first part of the race and letting him work up to it. Everything was going fine, but you know how these speedway races end and sure enough it ended like we thought it would.”

While nothing has been announced regarding future plans for either car, both teams have some positives to take away from the weekend.

For Kyle Busch, the foreseeable future is going to be about getting healthy to get back to the track as quick as possible.

“Whatever the doctors tell him, he’s probably going to shave about three or four weeks off of that and be beating on our door,” Stevens said. “I’m sure he’ll be in my office sometime next week talking about how we’re going to make this happen.”

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Categories
XFINITY

Ty Dillon, Regan Smith Argue After Nationwide Race

By Matt Weaver (BRISTOL, Tenn.) — Tempers boiled over in the closing stages of the Food City 300 Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday night between @TyDillon and @ReganSmith who bounced off each other twice over the final two restarts.

On the penultimate restart with 12 laps to go, Dillon bobbled under Smith, squeezing him into the wall, nearly collecting several frontrunners with him before everyone gathered it back up and escaped unharmed. On the final restart with six laps remaining, Dillon again slid up the track and into Smith, putting him lightly into the wall. Dillon and Smith overcame their contact and went on to finish fourth and fifth, not that it was any consolation to Smith who confronted his rival after the race.

Smith placed his hands on Dillon’s chest and was doing most of the talking during the brief confrontation. Following the monologue, Smith told ESPN that he wished Dillon had showed him and the field more consideration over the final two restarts.

“He ran me into the wall (several) times and everyone else out there seems to be able to give us room and I explained that to him,” Smith said. “He says he got tight and that’s always the excuse but when you get tight, you lift off the pedal.

“So next time I run over him, I’m going to get tight too.”

Dillon says he didn’t have any animosity towards Smith and chalked up their battle to two rivals fighting to remain in the championship hunt.

“I didn’t have any problems,” Dillon said. “I guess Regan was mad that I got into him off the corner a couple of times. But it’s under 10 to go at Bristol, we’re both racing for a championship, and I’m not giving away any points.

“So I hate that he’s upset but this is Bristol and stuff like this happens. We didn’t crash and we still finished fourth and fifth. It’s racing and I would expect the same thing from him trying to get every position for his team as well.”

Smith and Dillon left Bristol second and third in the championship standings, 13 and 30 points behind leader Chase Elliott respectively.

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XFINITY

No Amusement Park for Regan Smith

By Summer Bedgood – If you’ve ever ridden a rollercoaster, you know the stomach-churning, neck-breaking adrenaline rush that comes with it. For some of you, the idea of riding a rollercoaster makes you think of puking your guts out while the rest of you are booking your next trip to Six Flags.

For racecar drivers, “rollercoaster” takes on a whole new season. The ups and downs of racing come sporadically, invariably wreaking havoc on even the most consistent drivers. It is, in a sense, a part of the sport.

One driver who can attest to this in NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith. Despite two wins this season, one of only three Nationwide Series regulars to win a race this year, Smith has gone from zero to hero and back again in a very short period of time.

Smith is heading to Watkins Glen this weekend in the Nationwide Series, his home track of sorts for the Cato, New York native. Though Smith is not known for his road course racing prowess with only one top 10 in four Nationwide Series starts at Watkins Glen, he’s in desperate need of a good run. Smith is currently in third place in the points standings (tied for second with Hornish, but loses the tie breaker), despite the fact that Smith led the points for 10 consecutive races from the May Talladega race to the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

So what put Smith in this position?

A couple finishes of 30th or worse and a few more outside the top 10 left the once-consistent Smith on the outside looking in, while now points leader Austin Dillon and second-place Hornish took advantage of Smith’s finishes.

Still, it’s not all bad news for Smith. His season has been altogether successful with four top fives and 13 top 10s in 20 races this season, along with the two wins. All of this evens out to an average finish of 10.4, slightly better than Hornish’s 10.6 and falling just slightly short of Dillon’s 9.8.

Smith has not finished in the top 10 in the last three races, falling just short last weekend in Iowa with an 11th place finish. Right now the points are incredibly close, with the top four being separated by only 19 points and the top 6 separated by less than 50 points. Though it sounds obvious, Smith’s goal simply needs to be finishing ahead of his closest competitor. Wins, at this point, would simply be a bonus.

Why is it that Smith has fallen off so much over the past few weeks, though? Arguably one of the most consistent teams on the schedule and is the only Nationwide Series regular with multiple victories, it’s hard to understand at face value why he’s not the points leader.

However, it’s no secret that NASCAR’s points system, even this relatively new, simpler points structure, values consistency and that the bad days are more costly than the good ones are valuable. In other words, a driver is only as good as his worst race. Because Smith has fallen off so much over the last few weeks while Dillon and Hornish have, for the most part, excelled, it begins to shed more light on the question at hand.

Still, the question still remains as to what happened in that team. As tough as it is for a team to remain perfectly consistent all year, the argument can be made that it’s exactly what wins championships.

The downward spiral actually seems to have begun shortly after Smith’s second win of the season in Michigan. A late spin in an otherwise strung run for the team in Road America (finished 30th) was followed up by some suspension issues in Kentucky (32nd). Though the team would have two consecutive eighth place finishes after that, the team was generally unsatisfied with those races, mostly because Hornish and Dillon were both finishing in the top five in either one or both races.

The next three races—Chicago, Indianapolis, and Iowa—saw a culmination of several issues lead to the loss of the point lead. Handling issues in Chicago, engine issues in Indianapolis, and a fuel mileage fracas in Iowa have all led to, not only the loss of the points lead, but a loss of consistency and maybe some morale on that JR Motorsports team. Though you can argue some of this was simply bad luck, there comes a time when excuses fail to be relevant any longer.

That’s not to say that Smith’s season is a failure or that they can’t ultimately win the championship. In fact, Smith could easily take over the points lead this weekend in Watkins Glen because, let’s be honest, road racing is one of the most unpredictable forms of racing out there aside from restrictor plate racing.

However, there is more at stake here for Smith than simply winning the Nationwide Series championship, even though that’s a pretty lofty goal to attest to in the first place. It’s not so long ago that Smith was a weekly contender in the Sprint Cup Series, and even made it to Victory Lane once at Darlington in 2011. However, after losing his ride at Furniture Row Racing late last year in favor of then free agent Kurt Busch and further experiencing a “musical cars” game that turned Silly Season on its head, Smith was relegated to the Nationwide Series next season because there was no room in the Sprint Cup Series Inn. Quality rides weren’t available and Smith took the opportunity that best allowed him to win races.

The goal for any driver is to compete in the Sprint Cup Series, and it’s hard to imagine that Smith’s ultimate goal is not to get back up there in a quality ride. In conglomeration with Smith’s recent struggles and Busch’s success in an underfunded team, however, he’ll likely need to do more in the series to prove his worth to owners and sponsors in the higher series.

Again, however, this is not to say that Smith has been a miserable failure or that he cannot redeem himself. But the fact that Busch has been able to do heads and shoulders above what Smith was on the same team coupled with some consistency problems that may or may not be up to Smith to fix, Nationwide Series seems to be the long-term home for Smith.

That’s not altogether a bad thing. The transition from Sprint Cup to Nationwide has worked well for Elliott Sadler. However, if Smith’s goal is to make it back up there, he’ll have to win a championship this year and do an even better job in 2014.

Even then, it may not be enough. Sponsorship and quality rides are as rare now as water in the Sahara desert, and Smith has been able to make chicken salad out of chicken poop in his current situation. If he can get back on his feet over the next few weeks, he’ll be able to make a good case for himself as a formidable driver in at least one of NASCAR’s national series.

For now, he has to tackle his next challenge: the twisted New York racetrack at Watkins Glen.

 

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