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XFINITY

NASCAR XFINITY Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook — Ty Dillon

Ty Dillon completed his third full season in the XFINITY Series in 2016 with Richard Childress Racing. Next year, he’ll be racing full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Germain Racing.

Car No.: 3

Crew Chief: Nick Harrison

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Wins: 0

Top-Fives: 9

Top-10s: 17

Points Finish: 5th

2016 Quick Summary: Dillon’s only pole of the year came in the season opener at Daytona, but he only led two laps and finished 13th. He led a career-high 212 laps throughout the season, but 2016 was a bit of a step backward for the 24-year-old, despite driving in 12 races on the Cup side. He had fewer top 10s than he did the previous two years (24 total in 2014, 25 in 2015,) three less top fives than last season, and failed to win a race for a second consecutive year. Dillon made the Chase but was eliminated after the opening Round of 12.

2016 Highlight(s): Dillon’s best performance of the season came at Iowa Speedway in late July, where he led 83 laps and finished second. It was one of five runner-up finishes — the others coming in the spring races at Iowa and Richmond International Raceway, the fall race at Dover International Speedway, and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2016 Lowlight(s): An early exit from the Chase was as shocking as it was emotional for Dillon. He missed advancement to the Round of 8 by one point behind Roush Fenway Racing’s Darrell Wallace Jr. after the Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Dillon said his team had Championship 4 potential but was unable to rebound in the playoffs after a crash at Kentucky Speedway two weeks earlier.

“It’s heartbreaking,” an upset Dillon said after the Charlotte race. “… I’ve wanted this championship so bad every year I’ve ran the XFINITY Series. Just, it hurts.”

2017 Outlook: Dillon will drive the No. 13 for the RCR-affiliated Germain organization. He’s replacing Casey Mears — who has raced for the single-car team since mid-2010 — and will be competing for the Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year honors.

Mears posted one top five and five top 10s in 180 starts with Germain. The team’s ranking in the series marks a good spot for Dillon to continue to get his feet wet in NASCAR’s top-tier division. If he earns top-15 finishes throughout the year, he’ll be stepping in the right direction.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Austin Dillon

After a solid rookie season, Austin Dillon came back for his sophomore year and was able to contend for a couple race wins en route to finishing 14th in points.

 

Car No.:  3  

Crew Chief: Richard “Slugger” Labbe

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Wins: 0           

Top-Fives: 4

Top-10s: 13

Points Finish: 14th           

2016 Quick Summary: Dillon had by definition what could be a breakout season after a disappointing 2015 campaign. Through consistency and some timely finishes he qualified for his first ever Chase for the Sprint Cup and finished 14th in the final championship standings. Although he ended up without a win, Dillon showed that he will be a factor once the premier series unloads at Daytona in February.

2016 Highlight(s): Finished a seasonbest third at Talladega in May. Earned two Coors Light pole awards: Fontana (March) and Texas (November).

2016 Lowlight(s): Narrowly missed the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after a 32nd place finish at Charlotte in October. Finishes of 37th and 39th respectively at Texas and Phoenix in November resulted in Dillon not finishing out the season as strongly as he would’ve hoped.

2017 Outlook: The outlook for Dillon in 2017 is bright with Slugger Labbe returning for another season on top of the pit box and a Richard Childress Racing team that continues to improve each week. Dillon was one of the Cup Series most improved drivers in 2016 and look for him to carry that momentum to victory lane for the first time in NASCAR’s premier series next season.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.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

Road America Run Strengthens Gaughan’s Championship Shot

With his second-place finish at Road America, Brendan Gaughan solidified himself as a serious contender for this year’s NASCAR XFINITY Series title.

The No. 62 South Point Chevrolet worked its way through the field after a strategy miscue early on, keeping Gaughan on everyone’s radar as the laps dwindled down. The seasoned XFINITY driver survived cautions and heavy misting to move up to fourth near the end of the race. When the field went green for overtime, a hole opened up – and he went for it.

“The two guys in front of me got a bad run – I think the 19 and the 42 – and just beat on each other out of turn three,” Gaughan said. “I had a good momentum shot, and I broke them through the braking zone. Our South Point Chevy was absolutely unbelievable in breaking zones today.”

That was the best-cast scenario for the racer; he claimed he “loves” restarts and practices “very hard to make our restarts good.” His practice became apparent when Daniel Suarez and Justin Marks tangled; Gaughan moved into second behind Michael McDowell and prepared to strike. Although he knew where he could capitalize, his RCR teammate simply outran him.

“[Turns] five, six, seven, and eight. I knew I was really, really good with what I was doing from the braking zone in turn five all the way to the carousel. I got right on his bumper; I had a shot to do the braking zone into eight,” he said, adding, “I wasn’t far up enough to make a good dive bomb move, so I made a move, faked it and made him think about it, and got right to his rear bumper but just couldn’t pull it through the carousel to get to him.”

Although a runner-up finish wasn’t what Gaughan desired, it is a sign the No. 62 is primed and ready for the XFINITY Series Chase. He currently sits fifth in points due to his four top fives and 12 top 10s. With strong finishes from a variety of tracks, it’s easy to see that Gaughan is still competitive and capable of winning races. His last trip to victory lane was in 2014 when he won at both Road America and Kentucky Speedway.

With Kentucky the first race of the XFINITY Chase, there is a high possibility he and crew chief Shane Wilson kick off the seven-race stretch with a trophy. The team has narrowed in on what works, with consistent finishes to prove it. Now, with just three races from the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase, Gaughan has a bunch of momentum – a fact that should frighten his competitors.

A second-place finish at Road America is the tip of the iceberg for the No. 62 team. Despite being thrilled for McDowell and the entire organization, Gaughan wanted to take that checkered flag. He shouldn’t worry; he will undoubtedly contend for many more as the Chase gets underway.

“I wanted to win this race so badly. I love Michael, and I know it’s RCR going for three years in a row, but I wanted to win this thing again,” Gaughan said. “This track means so much to me. I gave it all I could with one last ditch effort in [turn] 14, but I just couldn’t keep the power down and keep it straight.”

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
XFINITY

Runner-up Finish Leaves Dillon Heartbroken

With the laps winding down in Saturday night’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, it appeared as though Ty Dillon was going to snap his 65-race winless streak in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Unfortunately for Dillon, Erik Jones had other plans, snatching the lead and victory away from the driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevy with just 16 laps remaining.

Dillon grabbed the lead during a round of pit stops after Brandon McReynolds slammed the wall in Turn 1 with 100 laps to go. On the ensuing restart, he cleared Elliott Sadler exiting Turn 2 and began to pull away from the field. Slowly but surely, Jones, who had the most dominant car in the field and led a race-high 154 laps, began to reel in the No. 3 machine.

When Jones got to Dillon’s bumper, he started to work the high side before finally making a move to the inside of Dillon entering Turn 3. Despite a valiant effort, the No. 20 Toyota got around Dillon and cruised to victory.

“The high line wasn’t there. Every lap I was having to do everything I could to keep him behind me,” Dillon told NBC Sports after the race. “He ran a good race, and it just wore my stuff out a little more than I needed to.”

Dillon led a season-high 83 laps in Saturday’s race, the most he has led since leading 43 circuits at Kentucky Speedway last September.

“Man, I want to win so bad,” Dillon said. “That was all I had … we just came up 10 laps short this time.”

With Saturday’s race being the final standalone oval before the inaugural Xfinity Chase starts in September, a victory would’ve all but guaranteed Dillon a playoff spot. Being just close enough is becoming a similar refrain for the grandson of Richard Childress, who has finished in the top five in four of his last five Iowa starts.

“My heart’s been broken every race since Indy,” Dillon said. “I want to get to Victory Lane again. We’re close, we just got to get a little better.”

Dillon’s lone victory in the Xfinity Series came at Indianapolis in 2014. He currently sits third in the standings, 35 points behind leader Elliott Sadler.

EMAIL HANK AT editors@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, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

GAUGHAN: “I Still Need to be Better”

LOUDON, N.H. — Brendan Gaughan has been one of the most steady NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers of 2016 but is far from content with how his season has transpired to this point.

Gaughan, driver of the No. 62 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, has an average finish of 11.4 and has completed all but six laps through 16 races, yet has only scored seven top 10s.

“I still need to be better,” Gaughan told POPULAR SPEED. “We’ve run in the top 10 every week unless we have something go wrong. But the good news is that when we have something go wrong, we have minimized our damage this year.”

Consistency has been key for the Las Vegas native. He only has two finishes outside the top 15, but is lacking the strength to be contending for wins and has led just 13 laps all year. While he thinks he should be up front more often, the biggest improvement he’s seen since joining RCR’s XFINITY program is his team’s ability to rebound from adversity.

“Last year we would have a 25th or 30th if something broke or crashed,” Gaughan said. “When something happens this year, we minimize it to get to 15th. That’s what we have been doing better, but we need to get back up there more for the solid top fives or top 10s and lead more laps.

Gaughan’s lack of DNFs is a testament of the 62 team’s resolve. In the last two years he has only five, but in 2016, the veteran racer has kept his car in one piece every week. Despite winning at Auto Club Speedway with Austin Dillon in the No. 2, the team has been a step behind Joe Gibbs Racing, who has won 10 of 16 XFINITY races this season.

“We’ve been getting better every week as well as the whole organization, and I think that’s a plus, Gaughan said. “Because when one starts running better, we all start running better. We minimize mistakes. When something happens or if something got worse, we’ve been lucky a couple of times, which is part of it, but I’d rather be as consistent as Erik Jones and have a couple of wins, though.”

Gaughan has two career XFINITY wins which both came in 2014. Since his last victory at Kentucky Speedway in September 2014, he has five top fives and 22 top 10s.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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

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Development Journalists

A Step In the Right Direction

Is history repeating itself for Richard Childress?

Despite not yet winning a race in 2016, the organization has been showing improvements among its Sprint Cup counterparts. Last Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway was another step in the right direction for the team.

Thanks to a successful fuel mileage gamble by crew chief Luke Lambert, Ryan Newman scored his first top-five finish of the season at Kentucky. Two years ago, Newman came up just one position short of winning the championship. Coincidentally, Newman also scored his first top five of that season at Kentucky. While a fuel-mileage-driven third place may not seem like a big deal, it was a much-needed “small victory” for the 2008 Daytona 500 champion and the No. 31 team.

 All three RCR cars showcased a solid night for most of the race. At several points during the race, the organization’s three cars were all running in the top 10. At several points during the race, including the final green-flag run of the night, all three cars were in the top 10 before late stops cost Austin Dillon and Paul Menard chances at deserving finishes.

After his best finish of the season, the driver of the No. 31 CAT Chevrolet talked about what has changed lately in the Richard Childress Racing camp.

“We have definitely been building and making improvements. We started the season off decent but not where we wanted to be or where we thought we should’ve been.” Newman stated.  “I think the cars and the engines are getting better. We have been more competitive.” 

While the team has been making some improvements and becoming more competitive, Newman acknowledges they’ve still got plenty of room to improve.

“We’ve still got some more work to do. We’re not leading a bunch of laps, or leading the most laps in a given race and talking about how we didn’t win. We’re talking about how we can finish in the top five,” Newman said. “We’ve got some work to do, don’t get me wrong, but I’m proud of the effort that went into tonight.”

So far this season, the organization as a whole has scored only four top-five and 15 top-ten finishes. Dillon leads these categories with three top-five and eight top-ten finishes. Ryan Newman’s statistics for this season are identical to his 2014 season: one top five and six top tens.

With eight races remaining in the regular season, two of the three RCR drivers are currently in the Chase. Ryan Newman is 12th, and Austin Dillon is 14th in the standings.  Paul Menard is well outside the cutoff in the 23rd position.

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

XFINITY XTRA: JGR is FAST at KY

Nothing New

The repave of Kentucky Speedway did little to slow down Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas, which claimed the top three spots in XFINITY series qualifying for the ninth time this season. Kyle Busch won the pole, Daniel Suarez started second and Eric Jones, third.

At the onset, one number took command of  the leaderboard for the entire night. The No. 18 became the chasee, with one exception. Busch only relinquished the lead to pit and grabbed another checkered flag to pad his stats in the XFINITY series. He dominated the field to the point where only 11 cars were on the lead lap at the finish.

But JGR’s power didn’t stop with first place. Jones would spend almost the first half of the race running second before losing grip just after Lap 90. That allowed Austin Dillon to take the spot away and hold it until “the fourth quarter” began. By then, Jones was back in second.

After a spinout by Ray Black Jr.  created a restart, Jones briefly held the lead until another caution. During that time, Jones was penalized for not keeping up with the pace car. The frustrated Jones restarted 3rd and finish 4th. The third JGR driver, Suarez, had been battling for a top-five position for most of the night but picked up where his teammate left off.

On the final restart, Dillon briefly challenged Busch for the lead and claimed the runner-up spot. Suarez, Jones and Darrell Wallace, Jr. filled out the top five.

 

Ty Dillon’s Rebound

While Joe Gibbs Racing was able to conquer the repave during qualifying, Ty Dillon got loose and scraped the wall, one of many drivers from both the XFINITY and Sprint Cup Series to have difficulty navigating the upper groove on Friday.

While Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing team was able to fix the No. 3, he had to go to the back of the field. Fortunately for Dillon, that car had been among the fastest during practice, and that translated to the race — even with the temperature difference.

With a fast car, some aggressive driving and pit strategy, Dillon was in the top 10 just after the competition caution at Lap 25.

On Lap 159, he gambled again, staying out for several laps while others pitted. A pit road speeding penalty could have been a setback but, under the circumstances, he still remained 9th and improved to 7th.

 

JR Motorsports Has Seen Better Days

While JR Motorsports seemed in position to continue their challenge of Joe Gibbs Racing for XFINITY series dominance, they had several setbacks in Kentucky.

After colliding with the No. 90 of Alex Guenette on pit road, Cole Custer, driving the No. 88 this week, suffered damage to his car’s power steering and headed to the garage.

Custer, with his career best start of 8th, returned to the track at approximately Lap 120. But as he came back on track, teammate Justin Allgaier, running in the top 10, was heading to the garage to work on an issue with the drive plate on the No. 7 Chevrolet. Allgaier returned to the race 20 laps down and finished 31st, one spot ahead of Custer.

If JR Motorsports did have luck, it was saved for Elliott Sadler. While he didn’t challenge Busch for the win, he ran up front all night, had little trouble on the track and finished 6th.

 

EMAIL: john.milner@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsements.

Categories
News

Newman and No. 31 Team Hit with P5 Penalty

NASCAR announced Tuesday that they have penalized the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team of Ryan Newman. The penalties are a result of a tire audit that took place following the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22nd.

The infractions found on the No. 31 Chevrolet were determined to be a P5 penalty on NASCAR’s six-level penalty scale. The rule infractions committed by the No. 31 team all include tampering with tires in an unauthorized way.

The severity of these violations has cause NASCAR to fine crew chief Luke Lambert a total of $125,000, and suspend Lambert for the next six Sprint Cup Races. He has also been placed on probation through December 31st.

The team’s tire technician James Bender and engineer Philip Surgen have also been suspended from the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship races. In addition, they will be on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31.

Additionally, Ryan Newman and car owner Richard Childress have been fined 75 driver points and owner points respectively.

“NASCAR takes very seriously its responsibility to govern and regulate the rules of the sport in order to ensure competitive balance,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer. “We’ve been very clear that any modifications to race vehicle tires is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated.”

In response to the penalty, Torrey Galida, President of Richard Childress Racing, issued this statement: “We understand the seriousness of the penalty. In fact, RCR has been one of the most outspoken opponents against ‘tire bleeding’ since the rumors began to surface last season. Once NASCAR provides us with the specific details of the infraction we will conduct a further internal investigation, and evaluate our options for an appeal.”

John McHugh is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL JOHN AT john.mchugh@popularspeed.com

Categories
Development Journalists

Menard and Newman Shine in Fontana

Richard Childress Racing continues to excel early in 2015. Each week, the team exceeds expectations and contends for the victory. Another solid performance at Auto Club Speedway left @RCR27PMenard (Paul Menard) fourth, @RyanJNewman fifth and @AustinDillon3 16th.

While Dillon continues to gain his footing with each event, the focus following the Auto Club 400 is on his two teammates. For much of the race, Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers held the top positions. However, problems towards the end opened the door for the RCR duo.

The caution with two laps remaining benefited each driver. Both opted to pit, leaving Menard to restart eighth while Newman was in 16th. The track’s wide surface allowed them to march quickly toward the front. When the final yellow flag came out, Menard was fourth and Newman 12th.

Another wild restart played into the teammates’ hands as Menard maintained position and Newman gained multiple spots. When the race concluded, a top-five filled the result column for both drivers. This is a very pleasing outcome as it keeps the momentum alive.

Menards’s finish was his best of the year. As the team continues to improve, runs like this will provide great motivation as he chases a victory and spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

For Newman, it was another stellar run as he continues to have one of the best starts to the year of his career. He told FOX Sports following the race that he “struggled for most of the day,” and “caught a break there obviously with the caution.”

The 37-year old knows not to hang his head on the early race struggles as the finish is what matters most. “When your best running position is the last lap, I guess you can’t be upset,” he said post-race.

The start of the season the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team has experienced few surprises. Past trends have shown that the runner-up in the previous season’s drivers’ standings often faces difficulties. However, he has so far managed to avoid the “second place curse” and is running exceptionally with this being his third straight top-five finish.

For the organization, seeing this success is refreshing. After @KevinHarvick moved to Stewart-Haas Racing, it left a void at RCR. Losing a competitor as valuable as the Bakersfield, CA native meant needing someone to step into that role. While no one driver has done so, each has improved their performance and is helping the team excel.

Heading to Martinsville Speedway next on the schedule provides more anticipation. Newman’s past at the historic speedway includes a victory in April of 2012 and a third-place result last October.

Menard posted a tenth last March and will look to better it this time around. In Dillon’s two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts there – he posted solid top-15 runs and will look for more next weekend.

Teams always build off momentum and success. This goes for any team, especially one in motorsports. Running well leaves each member with a good feeling and motivation to keep up the same level of competition. Expect RCR to maintain this caliber of performance as the season rolls on.

Jason Schultz is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist
EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com