Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

GOOD & BAD: 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season

Another year of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition is in the books, with a familiar sight as Kyle Busch was crowned the series champion. 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: While the final event is the pressure cooker of the season, you should just treat it like any other weekend. Just ask Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens. As the rest of the contenders faltered under the pressure, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver did what he does best en route to his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.

On any given week through the season, the No. 18 M&M’s Camry and that was on display with the top speed in Saturday’s practice. Despite not winning in the 21 races prior to the Ford EcoBoost 400, he also consistently ran up front, as highlighted by 27 top-10 finishes in the 36 events in 2019. However, many had placed him beneath his rivals due to only five top-10’s in the first nine playoff races. 

They all failed to recognize that Busch continuing to put himself in the right position, plus the poise of being in the position previously certainly helped. While you could see his title contenders were using a “win or bust” mentality, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens ran the event just like any other weekend. When he was unable to keep up with Martin Truex Jr. or Kevin Harvick, it was just about giving feedback to continuing making adjustments to find more speed. Combined with a ultra fast pit crew that just did their job as normal and you had a recipe for success. 

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

BAD: The championship seemed to just come together on a less than stellar level for Busch, though, as the last event of the season did not have that late race drama to get you up on your seat. The contenders showed speed, but made uncharacteristic mistakes. 

Truex dominated the opening stage, though fell back in the second stage due to the pit crew putting on the tires on the wrong side of the car under a green flag stop. While he was able to make-up the ground in quick fashion to be in position to contend during the third stage, he was never able to make up the lost track position to Busch.

Denny Hamlin appeared to be in a closer position to challenge Busch than Truex was in the final stage despite an okay start. However, Chris Gabehart would elect to put on a big piece of tape, hoping to pick up downforce and speed so they could run down their Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. It would back fire, with the No. 11 Camry overheating, resulting in an unscheduled pit stop, and a finish of 10th.

GOOD: No matter the format to decide the champion, the best drivers are always going to rise to the top. Over the past couple seasons, Busch, Truex Jr. and Harvick have been part of the Championship 4.

JOHN HARRELSON | NKP

BAD: Although Chase Elliott started off the playoffs on a high with a bunch of momentum following a great comeback victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, he hopefully has forgotten about the weeks that followed.

He suffered a blown tire at ISM Raceway, backing the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet into the outside wall, and ultimately failed to finish better than 32nd in the Round of 8. He broke an axle at Martinsville Speedway, and then tried to run the high line early in the event at Texas Motor Speedway, getting loose and backing the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet into the wall. Though even before that rough round, he suffered a blown motor at Dover International Speedway, and a crash at Talladega Superspeedway in the Round of 12. 

GOOD: The legitimacy of the champion produced by the playoff system in NASCAR has been, and will be debated for years to come with fans are either side of the fence. However, the post-season is producing what the sanctioning body wanted – drama. Let’s take a look back at Kansas Speedway, shall we? 

Eyes were focused in on the final laps of the Hollywood Casino 400 with everyone wondering who the eight drivers transferring to the Round of 8 would be. Certainly the late race caution helped up the stakes, but there were plenty of things to watch at the end, Elliott‘s late-race charge to challenge for the victory, to Brad Keselowski trying to salvage a decent day and losing ground at the end.

Ultimately, Keselowski saw his championships hope end courtesy of a mere three points. Although you could blame the sub-par performance on Sunday, there was also a crash at Talladega Superspeedway and an 11th-place finish at Dover International Speedway. If only he would have finished three spots further up the board any of those times.

BAD: Jimmie Johnson ultimately watched his chances of making the playoffs end in a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Battling three-wide, William Byron crowded Johnson, resulting in Johnson getting into the grass and sideways. In total, nine drivers were caught up in the incident. Johnson’s rear-end damage was significant enough that he could not continue.

Although NBC put on the focus on Johnson not making the post-season solely focused on Sunday, there were 25 races that drivers also scored wins and points to ensure their championship chances. Quite frankly, this year has been a struggle for seven-time with consistency being a struggle to find, including a crew chief change mid-season.

RUSTY LABOUNTY | NKP

GOOD: There were some good finishes this season, including Hamlin and Harvick at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Lap cars can be thanked for bringing the pair closer together, but that’s all part of the long-run racing in how you handle the traffic. Harvick, using some of his short track skills, kept the advantage by slowing down a touch sooner than expected and taking the preferred line that Hamlin would have wanted.

On the same coin, Hamlin does earn respect in how he handled the situation. He gave Harvick a bump in turn one, but just enough to get scoot him out of the groove a little and not wreck him. Notice the difference in crowd reaction compared to how he handled Martinsville Speedway a couple years ago with Elliott.

BAD: Anybody remember the fan attendance for the Food City 500? You can preach all you want that short tracks should be on the schedule, but you also need to show that you’re willing to support them and that’s by putting butts in the seats. Certainly there’s other factors contributing to the attendance – hotel costs, food costs, weather, though no matter how you approach it, it’s not a good look.

GOOD: Ryan Preece proved that he could drive this season, starting right off at the Daytona 500. He drove directly through all three wrecks that happened, crossing the line with an eighth-place finish in his Cup Series debut. Just check this out for evidence.

BAD: The racing may be a struggle to watch sometimes, but it’s made even worse when the officials can’t do their job. There was at least three of the first six races of the season that they had issues putting cars inline for the restart. How hard can it be to put a field of cars two-wide evenly when timing and scoring electronically prints you a perfect order? 

There was also that time at Atlanta Motor Speedway where Truex was assessed a penalty, but then it was taken back as NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said post-race the pit stop was reviewed in the tower and there was no penalty as they could not confirm foot was down early per video. It’s a little concerning when you hear straight from the sanctioning body that they don’t have enough views of a pit stop to confirm something, especially when they made us to believe their new pro trailer system with less officials on pit road and using video instead would work. 

Russell Labounty | NKP

BAD: We also need to get the coverage of these races improved. Between the endless commercials, and lacking smarts in the booth, it’s going downhill really fast. I mean, do you really the viewers at home care if the commentators are eating ice cream?

It seemed they would show a small piece of the race, before going straight to another commercial break. Essentially, giving you bits of the racing action in-between allowing you to memorize each ad since you’d seen it too many times to count. It almost felt like a third to a quarter of the race was shown in commercial – maybe more.

On top of that, the actual coverage of the event was lacking. Supposedly, observations from Texas Motor Speedway indicated it was a “slug fest” with groups of cars running together closely, battling for position. However, NASCAR on Fox didn’t bother to show that. They just showed the pack racing for the first 10 laps after a restart, and then focused on the single-file train at the front or went to commercial. 

P.S.: It’d also be nice if they showed the running order during their “Crank it Up” segment.

BAD: The Cup Series package certainly needs improvement, as the consensus from the majority of the races is that the rules package is doing nothing to produce “exciting racing” with the main show falling behind the two junior series. Hence why there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the new car in 2021. This was showcased through the whole season, with a bunch of lackluster races.

Take the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. If you put aside the championship drama, the actual race was just – meh. There was no real battles or challenges for positions as everybody seemed to move up or down simply based on the strategy that they were running. You would get exciting battles on the restart, but they’d string out after five laps and then it was just a follow the leader train.

JOHN HARRELSON | NKP

You could also look back at the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway where Hamlin gapped the field by over 10 seconds at one point. The racing was so spread out with the unlikelihood of drama near the end that NASCAR put out a caution for John Hunter Nemechek‘s contact with the outside wall that normally would have been no cause for concern. After all, the Front Row Motorsports driver made it back to pit road without laying down any debris.

Other events that you could add to the list include the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway, Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

“The cars don’t have any speed,” Busch said following the Pennzoil 400. “You’re wide open just trying to suck off of any car that you can that’s in front of you to get a draft. I was running 31-flats when I was chasing those leaders down and then once I got there, I stalled out to 31.40s because the wind was just so bad behind those guys that you couldn’t corner anymore, you couldn’t maneuver. I couldn’t run low if they ran low and I couldn’t run high if they ran high so you’re always trying to figure out which way to go.”

While it’s nice to look forward to 2021, that just means that we’re getting ready another boring season – unless they can make some minor tweaks to improve the status quo. Let’s beg and hope that happens. Alas, let’s remember what Jeff Gordon said earlier this year – “Tires don’t wear out, speed don’t slow down, you can’t get away from each other, and track position is key.” 

GOOD: Let’s back it up a little, though, as the package did not fail everywhere. 

The Hollywood Casino 400 was a great race to watch from the fan’s perspective. Between the aged surface and a new tire compound, drivers were using multiple grooves across the surface to try and gain time on their competitors. This allowed for side-by-side racing throughout the entire duration of the event, including a couple battles for the lead. The aged-surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway also allowed us to get a good race there, too. 

There was also New Hampshire, as although the field was spread out at times throughout the afternoon, there was always at least one battle for position within the top-10 to keep an eye on. By laying down the PJ1 traction compound in the separate lanes, it allowed drivers to get their cars working high or low to challenge each other. There was also varying strategy played with earning stage points versus trying to set yourself up for a good finish and tire wear, which kept things interesting with a variety of drivers finding their way to the front at times.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Bristol Motor Speedway also reminded us as to why we love short tracks with the Food City 500.

The reconfiguration caused the high line to become the only place for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but that wasn’t quite the case on Sunday. Track officials finally got the right traction compound as throughout the event, competitors were able to run high and low, with different drivers favoring each groove.

The result was constant side-by-side racing from the drop of the green flag, to the checkered flag, for positions throughout the field. It was also beneficial that NASCAR on FOX listened to the fan’s critiques from the past couple of weeks, not spending their time focused on the leader but rather showing each of these battles. 

There was also excitement with the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, but we know restrictor plates are always entertaining when drivers want to race for it. 

If every race could be like what we saw here, then perhaps other gimmicks would not be necessary for fan excitement.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

The entire off-season has seen discussion surrounding expectations for NASCAR’s brand new aero package. While it won’t be totally on display until next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there was enough action today to wet the taste buds.

Atlanta Motor Speedway produces stellar racing every year, and it showed once again. As the drivers get later into a run, the tires begin to fall off more with the handling constantly changing. The aged asphalt also allows for multiple grooves to be ran around the full 1.54-mile oval, allowing you to see Kevin Harvick pinch the yellow line while Kyle Larson rim rides the top. As a result, you get impressive battles for position throughout the event, and that was once again on display on Sunday. 

The new rule package, though, brought forth a new layer with the restarts as drivers went three-, even four-wide at times battling for position as the aerodynamics drew them closer together. The first five laps resulted in fans on the edge of the seat, hoping it was their driver getting the run necessary to make the move. 

With no tire fall off at Las Vegas and fresher pavement, it’s supposedly going to be like that all race long, with drafting coming into play. Essentially, it could get very interesting quickly.

Despite the new package, though, the same teams that were fast last year showed speed once again as Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing each had all of their entries in the top-10 at one point during the event. The other side is that Hendrick Motorsports continued to run mid-pack as they did through the majority of last season, while JTG-Daughtry Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing that they lease engines to was in the top-10. 

The 2019 Rookie of the Year class was highly regarded entering the season with talent – and for good reason. Both Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric steadily ran in the top-10 throughout the first half of the event, until issues took them out of contention in the closing stages. 

For Preece, it was contact on pit road as he glanced down at his tack to double check his pit road speed and ran into the back of B.J. McLeod. Although Preece should have his eyes on the road, you also have to wonder about McLeod considering he had come to a dead stop and he was still five stalls away from his own. To his credit, though, McLeod stated post-race he was going slow due to having a flat tire.

It’s worth nothing this marks the second week in a row a Rick Ware Racing car has been involved in a pit road incident. Hemric, meanwhile, came down pit road late for a tire issue.

Sadly, for the second straight week, NASCAR is facing a degree of high criticism for their decisions throughout the event. Unfortunately, it also deals with Chase Elliott once again.

It wasn’t the day that the Georgia native was looking for, running in the low teens as he battled an ill-handling car. However, as the incident happened with Preece and Hemric, he was on pit road. Crew chief Alan Gustafson made the decision to put just two tires on, allowing Elliott to get off pit road quickly so he could be the first car one lap down and get the lucky dog.

In the series’ eyes, though, they ruled Brad Keselowski was the lucky dog. As a result, Elliott had to take the wave around for the restart, not able to get the two left-side tires, and finished 19th. The frustration was evident from the Hendrick Motorsports driver post-race. 

https://twitter.com/Di9Chase/status/1099815595175038977

NASCAR has stated that they will share their evidence with Elliott and the No. 9 team proving why Keselowski was the lucky dog.

Additionally, Martin Truex Jr. was originally assessed a penalty for his crew members jumping over the wall too soon, which would’ve saw him start at the tail end of the longest line. Instead, he restarted fourth and turned that into a runner-up finish.

NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said post-race the pit stop was reviewed in the tower and there was no penalty as they could not confirm foot was down early per video.

It’s a little concerning when you hear straight from the sanctioning body that they don’t have enough views of a pit stop to confirm something, especially when they made us to believe their new pro trailer system with less officials on pit road and using video instead would work. 

A caution coming out during pit stops is the worse case scenario for NASCAR as it does make a headache for scoring and figuring out the running order coming to the green with the wave around cars. However, that does not mean that they can be making mistakes. Hopefully it’s something that’s cleaned up quickly. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS…… Ryan Preece

After picking up a NASCAR XFINITY Series victory at Bristol Motor Speedway last year, Ryan Preece will move up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series full-time with JTG Daugherty Racing. Recently, the Connecticut native shared his thoughts entering the 2019 campaign.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts entering the season?

RYAN PREECE: I’m really excited to get this season started with JTG Daugherty Racing. I’m incredibly thankful to Tad, Brad, Jodi and Ernie for giving me this opportunity. Tad does such a great job with getting us set up on the partnership and marketing side of things, and he and Ernie Cope (competition director) have really invested a lot in this season not just in me as a driver, but in our alliance with Hendrick and Hendrick motors and everything we’re doing to provide the fastest racecars we can every week.

With all the changes they have been making it is not only the Hendrick power that has a great reputation, but also the chassis development that they have done. All brand-new, fresh stuff for this year. That is a huge part of it.

PS: You put everything on the line, giving up a full-time opportunity to run those races with JGR and prove yourself. Now that you’ve landed this opportunity, what does it mean to you?

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

PREECE: I think I’m pretty biased when it comes to this, but I think the way I came up was the way. It’s prepared me in so many different aspects. I’ve been working and learning race cars and then winning. Learning to be a winner. I wouldn’t want to come up any other way. It’s gotten me, what I feel, prepared for where I am now and to be ready for restarts, ready for situations that I’ve been in already.

With that being said, this opportunity means everything to me and I can’t sleep I’m so excited to get to Daytona and get this season going.

PS: What are your goals and expectations?

PREECE: Our goals and expectations this season is to just continue consistency and constantly improve every week. Start out with goals of top-15 finishes, then top-10 finishes, then top-five finishes and when you are consistently there, that is when the wins will come. As long as there is progression, forward progress and not getting stuck in that one group where you are running with the same guys every week, then the results will come.

PS: What track are you looking forward to the most?

PREECE: I’m most looking forward to any of the short-tracks, but mostly New Hampshire Motor Speedway. I’m a short-track guy, but that track is my home track and I’ve had a lot of modified success there. I’m looking forward to bringing that over to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series side now.

PS: What is one track that you wish was on the NASCAR schedule that currently isn’t?

PREECE: Thompson Speedway has always been one of my favorite local tracks, and I think it would be awesome to run a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race there one day.

PS: Being a rookie, how much of a benefit will it be having Chris Buescher to lean on as a teammate?

PREECE: Chris is a veteran. He’s been doing this for several years and has a lot of NASCAR experience. It has taken me a little longer to get here, but Chris and I get along really well. He is a racer just like I am. He has had a different road than I have, and I respect coming to race with him. I think we are going to work really well together and we can bounce ideas off of each other. I feel like he thinks about a race car like I do. Once we get going in the season, we can really start making some gains.

Logan Whitton | NKP

PS: If you were in charge of NASCAR for one day, what is one change that you would make to help the sport?

PREECE: That’s a tough one. NASCAR does such a great job with the accessibility for fans to see and be close to their favorite team. It’s unprecedented in sports. That alone is a really positive thing that they’ve done to increase fans at the track, and with all the events the tracks are doing in support of the NASCAR race, I think it’s really going to help improve attendance at a lot of the places we go to.

PS: We know you love modified racing. How much will you be behind the wheel of a mod with your Cup Series schedule?

PREECE: I’ve gotten the approval to run a few modified races throughout the season, and I’m really excited about those opportunities starting in New Symrna. I’ll be racing on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at New Symrna Speedway leading into the Daytona 500. I plan on the weekend we have off in April at Bowman Gray Stadium racing the 200-lap race.

There are two tour shows that I have circled on my calendar. A mid-week show at Thompson that we are going to try and do some promoting for and obviously, New Hampshire Motor Speedway since we are racing the Cup race the next day. From there it will be fill-in stuff. The grassroots of racing is my first home, and I don’t plan on leaving it very much.

PS: We’ve seen a lot of drivers running different cars and series recently. What is a series/type of car that is on your bucket list to one day try?

PREECE: I’m a racer. I really would love to run any race that’s thrown my way. The challenge of trying a new type of racing is more than enough excitement for me.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Preece Eager for Rookie Challenge

Ryan Preece is set for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season after landing a full-time ride with JTG Daugherty Racing. After AJ Allmendinger’s departure following 2018, Preece joins the team as a contender for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award.

Preece had five Cup starts in 2015 while driving for Premium Motorsports with his best finish being 32nd at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His road to NASCAR’s top series was a challenge that he was able to eventually overcome.

“I think the way I came up was the way … I mean it prepares you. I’ve been working and learning race cars and then winning,” Preece said. “Learning to be a winner. I wouldn’t want to come up any other way. It’s gotten me, what I feel, prepared for where I am now to be ready for those restarts, be ready for situations that I’ve been in.”

His decision to leave JD Motorsports following the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series season led him to a part-time stint with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017 and 2018. That’s where Preece was able to take advantage of the equipment he had to show people his unique talent.

The No. 47 team has not ran where they intended too in the past season so a fresh driver brings new ideas to the mix.

“I’m doing the Vegas test, so we are going to see where we stack up and kind of go through some changes, figure out what we like, what we don’t like and where we can be better,” Preece said. “That is really going to kick off our season.”

It will also be the first time that Preece will be able to try new aero package that will be implemented on the Cup cars for the 2019 campaign.

“I think it’s a reset button like I said, but there is always going to be that one team that is going to figure something out and you never know who it’s going to be,” Preece said. The new aero package is something I’m looking forward to. It’s going to be a little different.”

For Preece, he will have to compete with Matt Tift, Tanner Berryhill and Daniel Hemric for this year’s rookie trophy. His top competition is Hemric who will be piloting the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Hemric having ran a few cup races last season with the same team gives him an advantage over Preece.

Rookie seasons can be roller coaster rides for drivers but Preece is ready for the challenge.

“I think it’s really going to come down to hard work,” Preece said. They have got all the pieces of the puzzle, I feel, at this point. Just putting them together and getting … you’ve got to have goals, you’ve got to start off top 15’s, top 10’s, top fives and when you are consistently there that is when the wins will come.”

It’s going to be a challenge for Preece, but he wants to see improvement every week.

“If there is progression, I’m happy and we will keep on progressing and never fall behind,” Preece said.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @BryanR_305

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

Rookie Outlook: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

As has been the case for the last few seasons, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie class for 2019 is once again full of potential.

We have one of the sport’s most successful organizations looking to produce another playoff-caliber team, a driver who has proven himself after limited schedules in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, another who has overcome cancer to be here, and one who is looking for a fresh start with a relatively new team.

Daniel Hemric

The favorite to win the Rookie of the Year honors, Hemric will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Being the only rookie with a championship winning organization is not the only advantage he has though. The 27-year-old is the only one of the four drivers eligible for the award who has come close to winning a title, as he was able to qualify for the Championship 4 in both of his full-time seasons in XFINITY.

In addition to his playoff success, he was also able to produce 23 top-five’s and 39 top-10’s during his time in the series. However, his inability of to win may raise concerns as he transitions to Cup.

Ryan Preece

The story of Preece is an interesting one, as he sacrificed potential full-time XFINITY rides in lesser equipment for a part-time schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing.

In his 19 races with the team between 2017 and 2018, he was able to capture two wins and 15 top-10’s. Preece impressive efforts in the limited time he had ultimately landed his new ride at JTG-Daughtery Racing, where the 28-year-old will drive the No. 47 Chevrolet.

The question now is, will his proven talent be able to take this team to the next level?

Matt Tifft

Less than three years ago, Tifft was had to have surgery to remove a brain tumor. Now, he will be a full-time competitor in NASCAR’s top level, driving the No. 36 Ford for Front Row Motorsports.

Tifft to comes from XFINITY, where he has spent the last two season with JGR and RCR, where he tailed eight top-five’s and 22 top-10’s; however like Hemric, he was unable to find victory lane during his time in the series.

Unlike the rest of the full-time rookies, the 22-year-old has zero experience in Cup, and will make his debut at the Daytona 500.

Tanner Berryhill

After being away from NASCAR since 2015, Berryhill made his return to the sport last year with Obaika Racing running two races in Cup at the end of the season. The two will once again partner up in 2019.

Not only is it a rookie season for the driver, but for Obaika as well, who previously fielded entries in XFINITY. The team’s inexperience will not be the only hurdle to overcome though; they also enter the new year without a charter, meaning they will not be guaranteed a sport if an entry list has more than 40 entries.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

It Isn’t All About The Money Making it in NASCAR

This past weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, while many focused on the present playoff battle, two teams directed their attention to the future.

JTG Daugherty Racing and Richard Childress Racing announced that they would be bringing two new drivers to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Ryan Preece replacing AJ Allmendinger in the  No. 47 and, Daniel Hemric doing the same with Ryan Newman and the No. 31 car.

Now, when more casual fans, who may not pay much attention to lower series see these two names, they may wonder how they got themselves into these rides. Is it family money that is backing their way to the top? Or, do they have a multi-million dollar sponsorship attached to them?

After all, that seems to be the growing stereotype with young drivers, and there is nothing wrong with that, as many have proven that they still belong. However, this isn’t the case with Preece and Hemric.

Both of these drivers have had a tall mountain to climb to get themselves here, driving for smaller teams to earn their opportunities in lower series.

Hemric, who earned the opportunity with RCR after showing his skill at the now-defunct Brad Keselowski Racing, a ride in which he received after initially proving himself with NTS Motorsports. While these teams were shutting down around him, his talent has kept him in the sport, and in competitive equipment.

Then there is Preece who may have taken the most significant risks to get to JTG. Leaving a full-time XFINITY Series ride with JD Motorsports for a limited role with Joe Gibbs Racing, to show that he could win races in the right equipment. A move that could very quickly put an end any hope for his career has proven to be the proper chance taken. It’s also a move that may have started a trend, as recently Chip Ganassi Racing allowed the opportunity for Ross Chastain to prove himself.

Now, these two silly season decisions may not be the flashiest or, involve any of the current star but they are without statement moves that should be echoed throughout the sport.

A declaration that it is not all about the money. While it’s without a doubt nicer to have a sponsor or family member that help give you an in, you can still succeed with talent. Something that has proven time and time again in the sport, but bears repeating.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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

Categories
XFINITY

Don’t Forget About Preece in the Gibbs Driver Shuffle

Recently, there has been a growing intrigue surrounding what the future holds for XFINITY Series driver Christopher Bell.

What is Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota going to do with him in 2019? While they’ve made it clear they don’t want to lose the rising star, there has still been no formal announcement regarding his future. Will Furniture Row Racing, who is currently searching for sponsorship, restart a second team? Will an organization like Leavine Family Racing be lured to switch brands to ensure a ride for Bell in exchange for assistance from JGR? Or, will they keep him in XFINITY for another year, risking frustrating a driver who could make himself one of the hottest free agents around?

Meanwhile, there is another young Toyota driver that has also been impressive and like Bell, but no plans announced for next season yet. That would be Ryan Preece, who has made quite the name for himself with the limited amount of opportunities he has received.

In eight starts he has: qualified in the top-10 all but once, finished in the top-five six times, led in three races, scored the pole at Daytona International Speedway, and won at Bristol Motor Speedway. In addition to all of the stats above, his success has come with a schedule that hasn’t featured the same type of track twice.

Yet his future still remains uncertain, all while there have been multiple statements regarding the future of Bell, creating an interesting situation.

This concern surrounding Bell is warranted as they are hoping not to lose another talented driver from their fleet. Kyle Larson originally was a Toyota Racing Development driver before leaving and eventually becoming the success story that he has been with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Chevrolet organization. There was also William Byron who drove for Kyle Busch Motorsports, but is now with Hendrick Motorsports.

Despite trying to set themselves on the right foot, though, JGR may end up with one regardless if Preece is offered a full-time deal somewhere else.

The potential for another team/manufacture to get their hands on a proven young driver if they can provide funding and a full-time ride is there, especially when you look around and see that both Chevy and Ford do not have the youth depth that is showcased with Toyota. All of sudden, a young free agent could be huge for the future of an organization and/or a manufacturer, especially as it appears Bell will remain with the Gibbs/Toyota family in some capacity.

The biggest thing is sponsorship which is a tall mountain to climb though, Preece’s strong performances would provide a strong pitch.

Regardless, with all the uncertainty of silly season, the 27-year-old has made certain that he deserves a deal.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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

Categories
News

Pair of XFINITY Series Crew Chiefs Suspended

A pair of the top-five finishers from this past weekend’s Lake Region 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway received a penalty from NASCAR.

The No. 18 Toyota of Ryan Preece and the No. 42 Chevrolet of John Hunter Nemechek were found in violation of section 20.17.3.2.1.2.a Post-Qualifying and Post-Race Front Body Inspection Heights, which pertain for post-race height measurements. Essentially, their cars did not meet NASCAR’s allowed tolerances.

As a result, crew chiefs Eric Phillips and Mike Shiplett were fined $10,000, and suspended from the next NASCAR XFINITY Series event, which is this weekend’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway. Additionally, they lost 10 regular season driver and owner points. 

It marks just the second crew chief suspension in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this year, after Jason Ratcliff was suspended for Christopher Bell‘s car being in violation of the same rule. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Categories
XFINITY

Ryan Preece Doubles Up, Grabs XFINITY win and Dash 4 Cash Bonus at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ryan Preece is doing everything he can to find a permanent home in a stock car.

At the top of his to-do list is winning, which he did for the second time in seven NASCAR Xfinity Series starts on Saturday when he outran Justin Allgaier to win the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

With the victory came a $100,000 bonus, courtesy of the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash program. In Victory Lane, Preece was already spending it.

“You know what? I’ll probably do something for my parents; do something for my brothers; do something for my wife and my team,” Preece said. “We’re going to get something to drink later.”

Preece is the fourth different driver to win a Bristol race for team owner Joe Gibbs, who now has 12 wins at the track. In his seven starts for Gibbs, Preece now has two victories, a runner-up result and an average finish of 3.86.

Had the 11th caution flag of the race not waved on Lap 282 of 300 — when Shane Lee hit the outside wall in Turn 2 — Preece’s teammate Brandon Jones likely would have gotten his first victory in the series. Jones had a lead of nearly two seconds when Lee hit the wall, but when all seven lead-lap cars came to pit road under the yellow, Jones got two tires to four for the rest of the contenders.

That gave Preece the chance to pull ahead of his teammate on the restart with 10 laps left. Ultimately, Preece crossed the finish line .286 seconds ahead of Allgaier, as Jones faded to sixth.

“If that caution didn’t come out, (Jones) had it in the bag,” Preece said. “He’s going to get there soon enough.”

Allgaier earned eligibility for next week’s Dash 4 Cash bonus at Richmond Raceway, as did Daniel Hemric, Elliott Sadler and Spencer Gallagher, who finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Preece, who is running a limited schedule, is not entered in the series’ next race, Friday’s ToyotaCare 250 (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Richmond.

But Hemric’s No. 21 Chevrolet subsequently failed post-race inspection, costing him the Dash 4 Cash eligibility, which fell to Jones in sixth place.

“I’m just going to prepare for my next race, which is in two months at Daytona,” said Preece, who risked his own money last year to secure two races with Gibbs and finished second and first in his first two starts. “That’s my next one.”

Preece’s success earned three more starts last year, and he has made the most of every opportunity in Gibbs equipment.

“I’ve got to thank everybody last year for helping me make this all possible,” Preece said. “Without last year, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I wouldn’t be sitting in Bristol Victory Lane in an Xfinity Series car with Joe Gibbs Racing. I’m kind of at a loss for words…

“I’m 27 years old and I’m not getting any younger. I’m looking for opportunities. We did it last year at Iowa, and now we did it here at Bristol. I hope I don’t get labeled as a short track racer. I want to win on mile-and-a-halves soon. Nothing beats winning.”

Dash 4 Cash driver Christopher Bell had a rollercoaster day that ended in a brutal crash on Lap 141. Much earlier, on the fifth lap of the race, Bell scraped the outside wall exiting Turn 4 and dropped to 28th for a restart on Lap 18.

By Lap 55 he was running fourth, and on Lap 66, Bell assumed the lead with a two-tire pit stop and held the top spot through the end of the first 85-lap stage.

He was running third on Lap 141 when the No. 01 Chevrolet of Vinnie Miller spun into the path of the No. 74 Dodge of Cody Ware. With the track blocked ahead of him, Bell stood on the brakes, slid sideways and plowed into the wreck with the right-side door of his No. 20 Toyota. All three cars were eliminated.

“I don’t know, that’s the second time this weekend that I’ve crashed from guys going seconds off the pace,” Bell said after leaving the infield care center. “Can’t slow down whenever they spin out, and it’s frustrating.

“We had a really fast GameStop Camry and, I don’t know, just trying to get the top (lane worked) in pretty much all race long. That was our worst run of the day, handling wise, and we were still up there. Unfortunate.”

The race was slowed by 13 caution periods, the most for an Xfinity Series event at the .533-mile Tennessee track since 2006.

Categories
XFINITY

ASHLEY ASKS…… Ryan Preece

With a dedication focused on making it in NASCAR, Ryan Preece finally got the chance he was looking for last year when he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for four races. He made the most of those, scoring four top-10’s, highlighted by a victory at Iowa Speedway.

Now rewarded with an expanded schedule for 2018, Preece opened up to Popular Speed recently.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts entering the year?

RYAN PREECE: Obviously, I’m really excited because it’s 10 races, versus what I had planned on having last year, which was two. It’s a big step forward for me, and I’m really excited because not only is it with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, but it’s with a top team. A guy like myself – when I go to the races, I want to compete for the win. So right now I feel it’s a great opportunities to do, and I have high expectations, for sure.

PS: What track are you most looking forward to?

RYAN: The schedule is not really set yet. The first one is known, which is California (Auto Club Speedway), and I’m definitely excited to go. It’s a worn out race track. The outside comes in, so it’s going to be interesting. 

PS: Looking back on 2017, what did it mean to break through with the victory after all the hard work that you’ve put in?

RYAN: It was a big deal, not only for me and my family, but for the people that have supported me for so long. It was a big deal to all of us. So really, to go out and do what I said I would be able to do, kind of proved the fact that people should try and give me more opportunities as I can do this.

My goals are when I strap in the racecar is to finish as high as I can with the car that I am given that day, and to not tear a racecar up because I understand it cost a lot of money. So when you tear up stuff, you not only lose the race, but it costs the team a lot of money. So I’m very consciously aware of that, so that’s the goal for this year, also. 

PS: What are your thoughts on how the stage racing played out?

RYAN: I like it, to be honest with you. It breaks up the race nicely so that you have to race; you cannot sit around and ride. I’ve never been a fan of riding around as that never worked in my favor. I feel it’s broken up right in having the two stage-end pit stops, and then should you have no caution, a green flag pit stop – but sometimes you never know. But as far as that goes, it kind of helped me in a way, and a lot of guys that don’t do green flag pit stops very often. But, I liked it. It created more racing and created more opportunities to gain track position on restarts.  

PS: You’ve been involved with the modifieds for a long time. How did that experience help prepare you for the XFINITY Series?

RYAN:  Well, I’d have quite a different route. I kind of ventured all over the place when it came to racing. I would say if I could move forward and keep going and get results, maybe people will start looking over at the modifieds a little bit more than they have in the past. But hopefully it creates more opportunities for people here n the northeast, more than anywhere else.

PS: So far, how have you been spending your off-season?

RYAN: I really don’t have an off-season, to be honest with you. I worked for my modified owner full-time in the race shop. So right now, I’m building a brand new car – I should say putting together a brand new frame from Troyer, which is a modified builder, for New Smyrna Speedweeks which is coming up in about three to four weeks. So I’ve been pretty busy with that.

My life revolves around racing. I’m gone every single weekend, whether working on modifieds and traveling down to the team in Huntersville, or racing the indoor midgets that I have been racing the past couple of years. We have three shows – just did one in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I got one coming up in Atlantic City in a couple of weeks, and then another in Albany, New York in a month. So I’ve been pretty busy.

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