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Trucks

ASHLEY ASKS…… Ryan Reed

In early March, Ryan Reed got the chance to get back behind the wheel, placing ninth in the Strat 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with DGR-Crosley Racing. It marked his first start in one of NASCAR’s top-three series after being let go from his NASCAR Xfinity Series ride at the end of 2018 due to lack of sponsorship. 

Recently, POPULAR SPEED caught up with the California native to discuss that race, as well as his outlook towards his future in NASCAR.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on how Las Vegas Motor Speedway played out for you?

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

RYAN REED: Overall, everyone was pretty happy. The team was pleased. I thought, as a driver I take a lot of responsibility in getting the finish we deserve, and I felt like we had the opportunity at once in the race to be in the top-five, and show a little more speed than we did. But overall, DGR is a young team, still developing, and they have great people and key components, and the truck drove really good. I think a top-10 was a solid result. No major mistakes. I felt like if we did that race over again, we could turn the ninth-place finish into a fifth-place finish, but overall, all things considered, it was a solid weekend.

Those deals are so tough. You have one weekend, you haven’t worked with those guys very much so you’re still trying to figure out little things here and there, so it was a lot different than what I was used to. It was cool to get the opportunity with David (Gilliland), everybody at DGR-Crosley. Having Dexcom, Inc. come on-board was huge. For them to help me get back in a seat in the top-three series was really cool, and definitely after losing a full-time after the last five years, it was good to get out there.

PS: What do you feel that you and DGR-Crosley Racing could’ve done better to finish higher?

RYAN: I think just clean some little stuff up. Pit stops – I felt that was one of the spots walking away that could’ve been a little bit better, and then I felt like I could’ve done a better job on the restarts. It took me a little bit to figure out what line to be in.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

The Xfinity (Series) stuff races so much different – the restarts are so much different, the drafting is so much different. Just not having done that – I ran one truck six or seven years ago and I hadn’t ran anything on a mile-and-a-half, so going back into it was a huge different experience. Regardless, I think between the restarts and pit stops, cleaning some stuff up, there’s three or four spots there easily.

PS: You touched upon this, but how much different are the trucks compared to the Xfinity Series cars?

RYAN: A lot varies. The engine package – you’re racing at a lower RPM so keeping momentum up is really a big deal. Obviously, way more drag as they punch a big hole in the air so drafting is really big. You’re pretty much wide-open once the sun goes down there at Las Vegas. It’s almost like restrictor plate racing in a sense with the drafting.

Also, it’s just so hard to finish passes in those trucks, because it’s so hard to manipulate the air on the other trucks around you. So when you get around the veteran guys, they get really tough to pass. It’s all those little things that you’re not going to figure out in one race. I got to hop in there for one race, learned a lot, and felt like I gave some good feedback to help the team – and that’s it for the year.

I think Tyler (Ankrum) and those guys have the opportunity to build on some great pieces they have right now. Especially for a new truck team, you have a lot of building to do a race team and it takes some consistency. I look forward to watching those guys and watching them get better.

PS: Can you shed any light on what the rest of 2019 holds for you?

Russell Labounty| NKP

RYAN: I think we have really exciting stuff that we’re working on, obviously none of it I can reveal today as none of it is signed on the dotted line yet. But I think we’re really close to signing a little bit for this year, and then a lot for 2020. I think when the deal wrapped up at the end of last year and the sponsor announced they weren’t coming back leaving me out, it was so late in the year that typically when you find that out in November, it’s hard to put something together in 60 days before the start of the next season.

So I think when that happened, I think we realized that we’d be rebuilding in ’19 and come back stronger in 2020, and I feel like with the parts and pieces we have in play right now, I feel that we can do that. I feel we can be in a really good position with a really strong team and good partners going into 2020, so just have to keep working hard and finishing those up.

It’s a real interesting perspective for me this year sitting back and observing. I feel like I’ve become more a student of the sport than I have been. I’m just trying to do whatever I can that when I do the get the opportunity, if I get the opportunity, I’m prepared as possible and when you’re in this position, that’s all you can do. You can just work as hard as you can, and hope the dominoes fall that allow you to have another shot at an opportunity.

PS: As you look back on the past couple Xfinity Series seasons, what moment stands out for you the most?

RYAN: Obviously the Daytona wins; those are so special, especially when you have struggles and adversity like our team had plenty of. We had a lot of bad weeks and a lot of times that we left the track so frustrated, not understanding what we needed to do and could do to find more speed. Obviously when you go down to Daytona and Talladega, that gives you a level playing field and that gives you the opportunity to maybe beat the guys that have your number on the short tracks and mile-and-a-halves, and road courses.

Lesley Ann Miller | LAT Images

The Daytona wins – to see not only what it meant to me and my family, but also the whole team, was such a great feeling across the board, and you could see that across the organization. Obviously, it meant so much to my team, the 16 team, and my crew chief and my guys that all had a hand on that, but also across the organization with the Cup guys. It was a big shot in the arm for everybody. I’ll remember that forever in how much it meant to everyone around me with the celebrations, the victory parties, the team lunches – it was really cool.

PS: What would you have done differently in knowing what you know now as you look back?

RYAN: I think there’s so much that I could’ve done differently. I started racing full-time when I was 19-years-old, so it’s kind of interesting to think back when you’re 25. I think like anyone whose 25 and looks back at their life when they were 19, they would do a couple things different. I think there are things that I could’ve done a little better, probably listen more and talk a little less, and maybe worked a little harder and done a bit better job here and there. I think it would’ve made a difference, but ultimately, everything happens for a reason.

I feel like all the decisions led me to where I am today – good, bad, and different – and whatever is next is going to come as a result of hard work. That’s something that I knew always was that my work ethic was always there, right or wrong. I just want to continue working hard and learn from my mistakes, and build on the things that I did right. That’s all you can do as a person, and I think it’s a really exciting time for me.

Anytime you have a big change in your life, it leads you wondering what’s next. It can be a little scary, but it also can be very exciting if you accept the challenge, and I think that I have the right system around me with mom, dad, and my girlfriend that have gave me a lot of support through it all and excitement for the future.

John Harrelson | NKP

PS: We’ve seen drivers trying different series and cars. Is there anything on the bucket list for you?

RYAN: Yeah, there’s a lot. I think there’s countless things that I’d like to try and hop into. There’s drift cars, and all that. But I think the thing that I’ve always thought about that I think would be very cool for a couple different reasons, is to run the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 in the same day. It’s something that I think is just pretty amazing for a lot different reasons. Obviously, you have two of the biggest races in the world in the same day, and there are guys that have done both of them in the same day which is an amazing 1,100 mile feet.

But obviously, for me, living with Type 1 Diabetes, I feel like that’d be a really cool story to tell in being able to manage diabetes and do one of the difficult doubleheaders you can do in motor racing. I think that’d be a really cool story. Obviously, that’s not a story that I can tell yet as I’m not there, but I think that’d be a bucket list thing to do one way.

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

Conor Daly to Make NASCAR Debut at Road America

Verizon IndyCar Series competitor Conor Daly will make his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut, driving the No. 6 Lilly Diabetes Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing.

The opportunity comes through a cross-promotion partnership that will see Lilly Diabetes sponsor Daly’s NASCAR effort, as well as his Indianapolis 500 entry. The sponsorship fits perfectly with him, as he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 14. 

“I’m very excited for this opportunity to be partnered again with Lilly Diabetes and to be able to drive a Jack Roush Ford,” said Daly. “I’ve raced at Road America almost every year since I was 16 and have won there. I have driven almost every form of car, but this will be my first stock car experience. I’ve been an avid follower of NASCAR and have been friends with Ryan for a long time and been to many races to support him.”

In 39 career Verizon IndyCar Series races, Daly has a career-best runner-up in Detroit for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016. Prior to that, he scored three podiums in six Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires starts. 

“I think you’re always driven to want more and want to try more, and I think if you ask a lot of us here in this paddock in IndyCar, there’s a lot of guys who want to get out there at Road America, mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, stuff like that, because it is a very entertaining product,” Daly added. “They’re really good drivers, the series is really competitive, and it just looks like a really good racing environment, like a good, proper race. We have an incredible product in the IndyCar Series, obviously, but so do they, certainly, on the road course side. So I was just excited to have that opportunity. I mean, road courses are my cup of tea, and that’s what I’d love to at least check out first before anything else.”

Lilly Diabetes is not new to Roush Fenway Racing, having supported Type 1 Diabetic Ryan Reed over the past five years. Reed, Daly, and their teammate Ty Majeski will all be carrying the red and white of Lilly Diabetes that weekend.

“Lilly Diabetes has done so much for me and I’m excited to have them represented in full force at Road America,” said Reed. “Conor and I have been friends for a while and this is awesome that we’ll get to compete together as teammates. I can’t wait to see him behind the wheel of one of our Xfinity cars.”

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

ASHLEY ASKS…… Ryan Reed

After a forgettable string of races, Ryan Reed appears to have his season back on track with a ninth-place finish on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. Before the ToyotaCare 250, the Roush Fenway Racing driver answered some questions for Popular Speed.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on how your season has gone so far to date?

RYAN REED: I thought we started off really well as we came out with a third place at Daytona. Then, we had a top-10 at Atlanta and went ice cold on the west coast swing. We had some good racecars for the west coast thing, but we didn’t execute well. I felt like we struggled to finish races. I think that’s kind of where we are at right now. We need to put it all together and finish these races off.

We are qualifying really well; I think we’ve made the final round each week except twice this year. So I know we have the speed. It’s just about making sure we are making good adjustments during the race, and we don’t kind of tune ourselves out of a top-10 finish. But I think we are close, and the fact we are qualifying up front, we are giving ourselves opportunities to run upfront. We are going to be just fine.

PS: Given the success that you’ve been able to have, and seeing where Roush Fenway’s Cup program is, how soon do you feel you’ll be ready to make it to the next step on the NASCAR ladder?

REED: For me, I feel like I’m ready today. As a racecar driver and athlete in general, when you’re competing in your sport and you’re giving 100% every day and everytime you compete, you do your research and homework, you always feel like you’re ready. You feel you have the talent, skill set. If you don’t feel like that, you’re probably in the wrong business. But for me, I’m ready and I feel I have a lot of great people around me in Jack Roush and all the employees at Roush Fenway to help make that decision. Whenever they decide and whenever we figure out sponsors in all that goes with it and they get me in a Cup car, I’ll be ready. Whether that’s today, tomorrow, or two years away, it’s great.

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

REED: I think obviously we our success at the plate tracks for me and Roush Fenway as a whole, for me, I look forward to the plate races. I feel we have a great shot at contending for a win; those are always exciting. I think our mile and a half program is pretty strong and getting stronger, so that’s exciting to see. So Charlotte is a great track. I really enjoy going there. Its kind of a home track for us. Its a track I used to not like very much when I was younger, but as I matured in the series, I’ve come to enjoy it. So it’s a place that I have circled on my calendar that I look forward to going to.

PS: Who is your racing hero?

REED: So as a kid growing up, I was a huge Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. I remember watching his No. 8 Chevy go around the track every weekend. I was just a die-hard Dale Jr fan. I got a diecast that I got signed at Fontana that actually sits on my desk. That’s my only signed piece – kind of like fan stuff, whatever. So Dale Jr was my favorite Cup driver, but my dad raced for years on the west coast. He made a few Cup starts, but also raced in the now K&N series on the west coast. My dad has definitely been a huge part of my life and my success. He’s just been a great mentor and someone that I grew up watching.

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

OBSERVATIONS: My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway

Typically a race on an intermediate track can become boring as we’ve seen so far this year. Normally an event dominated by a single driver makes you want to fall asleep. Ultimately, the My Bariatric Solutions 300 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series was neither of those on Saturday afternoon. 

Right from the beginning, dramatics were in the air with three cautions in the first 17 laps. By having the teams practice in 80 Fahrenheit degree weather, followed by a temperature drop to 35 degrees over night, it’s no secret that teams were probably off on their adjustments. I mean, you had a veteran like Jamie McMurray just lose it off of turn four. When you’ve got conditions like that and having drivers pushed to the envelope to stay straight, you know you’re in for a show.

In the end, Ryan Blaney was dominate – leading 132 of 200 laps en route to earning the third straight victory for Team Penske’s No. 22 car, following the success of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Remember last year when everybody was simply asking the question when would they win again? 

Even though they’ve been fast, the diversity is still felt in the series with speed being shown by Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing in the first six races this year. It should make for a great season of racing. 

But with that said, it’s apparent based on Penske’s XFINITY Series success and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories that Ford certainly has their ducks in a row this year. 

Hendrick Motorsports is known for having some of the strongest motors in NASCAR with high reliability. Justin Allgaier, though, didn’t see that today as his day seen an early end with a trip to the garage following the first stage. It marks the first finish outside of the top-six for the JR Motorsports driver since wrecking in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. 

As a whole, it wasn’t the day that JR Motorsports was looking for, though. Elliott Sadler failed to post a lap in qualifying due to failing technical inspection, but fought back to place eighth. Tyler Reddick ran up in the top-five, but a pair of speeding penalties late relegated him to a 23rd-place finish. Lastly, Michael Annett ranked 15th at day’s end following an early unscheduled trip down pit road.

It should be easy for the group to brush off, though, as they currently hold three of the top-five spots in points and Reddick won the season opener at Daytona.

Ryan Reed turned a lot of heads in the first two stages as he ran in the top-10 solidly, in an aggressive fashion though as he ruffled some feathers along the way. Spencer Gallagher went for a spin at Lap 72 and stated afterwards, “It’s going to hurt when I get back to him.” But what did Reed have to show for a it? A 14th. It’s one thing to run up front, but it’s another to finish the deal. He needs to work at other half. 

Brandon Jones is wishing he would’ve had some better luck, too. He won the second stage after a nice strategy ploy to stay out for the two-lap shootout, but wrecked in the beginning stages of the third stage after restarting mid-pack. Simply put – he got loose, like many others today. After making the move over to Joe Gibbs Racing during the off-season, it kills the early momentum built as it his first finish outside of the top-17 in 2018. 

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

OBSERVATIONS: Powershares QQQ 300

The fans may have been treated to the closest finish in NASCAR XFINITY Series history with Tyler Reddick edging out Elliott Sadler in the Powershares QQQ 300, but it didn’t come without controversy or endless overtime attempts.

Although there have been concerns about a lack of competitiveness at times in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drafting package, those were unheard of in regards to the XFINITY drivers. From the drop of the green flag to the checkered, the competitors ran side-by-side for position. It was risky at times, with some of the blocks at the front of the field to keep the lead by the likes of Joey Logano and Kyle Larson, but everybody managed to escape trouble until the final laps.

Two of the drivers who had put themselves in position to challenge for the win in the late stages were JR Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Sadler, running up to second and third. But a push from Sadler, locking bumpers with the rear of Elliott’s No. 88 Chevrolet, resulted in a penalty from NASCAR for both. As in previous years, drivers may bump draft each other, but they cannot lock bumpers.

It’s one thing to penalize the driver who enables the push – Sadler in this case – as they are making the choice to plant themselves against their fellow competitor, knowing the risk of being penalized is out there. But, is it fair to penalize the driver getting pushed?

It goes without saying that Elliott gains an advantage from receiving the push from Sadler, but was it his choice to be pushed? He gets no say in the matter, as he can’t stop that person from doing what they’re doing. Now, there is a possibility that Elliott could break the draft, but we know the trouble that would cause instead. 

Since NASCAR implemented this rule, it has caused controversy at every turn, whether both drivers should be penalized, and whether it is always implemented. If you re-watch the end of the race, you can see that Ryan Reed was locked on Reddick’s bumper pushing him to the win. So where’s the penalty there, if the sanctioning body wants to be fair across the board?

“I’ve got a misunderstanding of the rule, so I’m sure they’ll explain it to me,” Sadler commented post-race. “I’ll get a phone call Monday, and they’ll explain to me what their interpretation of the rule is and what my interpretation of the rule is. 

“I thought you couldn’t lock bumpers to gain a position. That’s what I thought. I thought that’s what they’ve always said. So obviously now it’s not that, which you can black flag every single car in the field because, I mean, I tandem ‑‑ out of the 143 laps, 90 laps we were tandem‑‑ not the whole way around, but either down the frontstretch or down the backstretch or whatever. I’ve got to get an interpretation of what the rule really means.” 

Races mired by controversy stir the ire of the fans, taking away from the action that happened. The finish won’t be remembered in the weeks to come, but rather a penalty with 25 laps to go before the drama at the end. Is that what the sport wants when it seems like a pointless rule? 

Drafting on the restrictor plate tracks is supposed to be about who can make the most of the draft, the tools available of them, and making the moves that they can within their toolbox. It’s time that NASCAR takes themselves out of the box and lets the drivers play.

This wasn’t the only rule that came up in the discussion of this event, though, as the yellow line came back up as it did in the Advance Auto Parts Clash last Sunday.

With 21 laps to go, Reed pushed Ryan Truex down below yellow line, causing a wreck in turns three and four when Truex came back up onto the surface. NASCAR penalized Reed for forcing Truex, sending Reed to the back of the field for the restart.

The yellow line was brought into the rulebook to stop drivers from trying to get runs on the apron down the back, causing them to get a poor entry into turn three and cause a big wreck. However, through the years, it has become questionable whether drivers chose to go down, or were forced, at times. 

It’s no question reviewing the replays that Reed pushed Truex below the line entering the corner. However, Reed still feels he was unfairly punished, stating that he was just trying to save his car.

“I guess I forced the‑‑ I got loose and the 11 had to avoid me, so I forced him below the yellow line,” Reed said post-race.

So, is it fair to penalize a driver who is simply trying to save their car? Another angle to think about. 

But even with these concerns, it goes without saying that the XFINITY Series put together the best race of Speedweeks so far, even if it took multiple overtime attempts and chaos to get there. 

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

XFINITY Series: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here is a peek at Road America through Kentucky.

First Time Winners

With a road course, three intermediates and a short track over the past five races, along with desperation to impress before the year is over, a couple of drivers broke through for their first career wins.

Jeremy Clements started off the stretch, picking up his first career series victory at Road America in his seventh season of competition. Then, Denny Hamlin scored his second victory of the year for Joe Gibbs Racing at Darlington Raceway. Notably, the finish was encumbered after he failed post-race technical inspection.

Team Penske returned to victory lane at Richmond International Speedway with Brad Keselowski behind the wheel, with JRM Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier scored his second win of the year at Chicagoland Speedway.

And finally, Tyler Reddick picked up his first career win driving for Chip Ganassi Racing at Kentucky Speedway.

Peaking at the Right Time

Throughout the summer, the discussion focused on JR Motorsports’ rookie William Byron and his impressive resume. However, there’s another driver in their camp peaking at the right time.

After winning the last race of the regular season at Chicagoland, Allgaier backed it up with a third to start the playoffs at Kentucky. Now entering Saturday’s race at Dover International Speedway, he has scored four consecutive top-eight finishes.

The success is not a surprise, though, as Allgaier was one of the Championship 4 last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet was impressive last year, scoring just one finish outside of the top-10 en route to putting himself in title contention.

While he came up short last year with a sixth, 2017 could produce different results if he makes it to the finale based on his team’s strength.

Time To Panic

Although some drivers have momentum in the playoffs, there are others who could use a big turnaround.

Following the first event of the Round of 12, Michael Annett and Clements are sitting at the bottom of the bracket, more than 30 points each out of the top-eight.

While his JR Motorsports teammates have been scoring top-10’s, Annett has been stuck in the teens all year as noted by the past four races. Any improvement doesn’t look to be on the horizon, either, as he was 21st in final practice for Saturday’s Use Your Melon. Drive Sober 200 at Dover. 

Clements, meanwhile, made the playoffs with a surprise victory at Road America. However, since then, he has only scored one top-20 finish. 

The next two weeks at Dover and Charlotte Motor Speedway will see lots of points up for grabs to give an opportunity to both to make-up ground. But without significant improvement by their teams, it won’t matter at the end of the day.

No Trophy Engraving, Yet.

With top-five finishes each week and sweeping the top-three spots in the regular season, everybody was ready to hand JR Motorsports the series championship trophy. Not so fast, though. The cream is starting to rise to the crop in the early stages of the playoffs, and a couple of drivers are ready to lay a challenge to the top seeds.

Cole Custer kicked off the playoffs with a fifth-place finish at Kentucky Speedway, allowing him to move up to second in the standings, with a sizable gap of 23 points back to eighth-ranked Ryan Reed. The rookie has been solid all year and enters Dover on the heels of back-to-back top-10’s. 

Daniel Hemric has been quietly hanging right there with the JR Motorsports drivers, consistently locking down top-10’s with 13 in 27 events.  He also started off the playoffs well, scoring a seventh-place finish at Kentucky. He now enters this weekend at Dover with three straight top-seven finishes.  

Glimpse of Hope

If Ryan Reed could forget the past 10 races, he probably would as they haven’t gone as anticipated with three straight crashes, and just a pair of top-10’s. Thankfully, the second of those came to start the playoffs, as he placed 10th at Kentucky. The finish was enough for Reed to enter the next two races of the Round of 12 sitting in the last spot to move on – eighth. 

With two more races remaining, Roush Fenway Racing knows they have to step it up if they want to keep their single shot at the XFINITY Championship in the running. For Reed, if the slump carries forward at all, he will be in danger as the gap between him and Brendan Gaughan is only eight points.

So far, things are going decently at Dover as he was 13th quickest in final practice.  

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

XFINITY Series: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here is a peek at Indianapolis through Bristol.

New Faces

Running two short tracks, two road courses and one intermediate over the past five races allowed for some new faces to reach victory lane throughout July and August.

William Byron started off the stretch, picking up his third career victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Then, Ryan Preece made the most of his opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing at Iowa Speedway en route to his first ever series win.

JGR was able to make it two in a row, with Kyle Busch scoring the victory at Watkins Glen.

The other road course saw Team Penske at the top, with Sam Hornish Jr. picking up the hometown win.

And finally, it was Busch who would finish off the latest stretch with a dominating performance at Bristol.

Although Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers continue racking up wins, the series regulars have proven they can keep pace with top-tier invaders. 

JRM Remains at the Top

Twenty-two events have been completed, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much. JR Motorsports continues to occupy the top three positions, as they have since the third event this season.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, with Byron second, 110 points behind. Justin Allgaier continues to fall further behind, now 136 behind Sadler. 

Their strength shows through their statistics, with Sadler and Byron posting seven top-10’s in the past five events, including a victory for the latter. The concern, though, surrounds Allgaier. He started off the year well with no finishes outside of the top-15 till the 13th event of the year. However, in the past five races, he has only posted two top-15 finishes. 

Notably, JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway as Michael Annett currently sits 12th in points.

Playoff Bubble Watch 

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series playoffs, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Byron, Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in. Based on the gap between them and 13th being more than 100 points, you could also add SadlerBrennan Poole, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Matt Tifft to the winners above. 

Blake Koch and Dakoda Armstrong appears to be pretty safe with an advantage greater than 50. 

Annett was set to qualify barely easily, but posting only one finish inside the top-15 over the last five events has dropped him to 11th in the standings, 50 points over Chastain. If the poor results continue in the next three races, he could be out of the playoffs. 

Brendan Gaughan has hung around the bubble much of the season, now 43 points over Chastain, following back-to-back top-10’s on the road courses. With another road course left to go, he has a good chance of locking in.

Chastain, meanwhile, has not posted a top-10 since Daytona in July, making his efforts of closing the gap looking very unlikely. J.J. Yeley is currently tied with him in the standings, and has shown a better chance to make-up the ground if his top-10’s continue.

Although other series have lots of possibility surrounding who will qualify, the gaps between each position see the XFINITY Series playoffs just about set in stone, unless a surprise winner emerges in the next couple of races. The unpredictability of strategy at a road course like Road America, combined with another short track (Richmond) could very well produce the wild card needed to shake it up.

Losing Their Edge

While JR Motorsports continues to boast the top three positions in the standings, it may not be a simple easy road to championship with other drivers finding speed.

After struggling through June and the beginning of July, Hemric appears to be turning his season back around as we get closer to the playoffs. In the past five races, he posted no finishes worse than 12th to have the best average finish of all drivers – seven. Richard Childress Racing has battled for championships in the past, including Ty Dillon finishing in the top-five in the standings the past three years, so it would not surprise if Hemric makes the Championship 4.

Poole entered this year confident that he would be able to perform better than he did in 2016, and the last five races back that up. He posted only one finish outside of the top-10 for the second best average finish (8.4), while sitting fourth in the standings versus placing eighth last year. As Chip Ganassi Racing continues to make their Cup program stronger, expect the XFINITY program should follow suit to give Poole a chance to break through for his first career victory.

Need to Improve

Reed locked himself into the playoffs by winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. Although if he wants to turn that into contending for the championship, he needs to find some more speed.

There have been signs of hope as he placed sixth at Iowa Speedway, but he has failed to find any consistency, with no back-to-back top-10’s and running mid-pack as noted by an average finish of 22.4 for the last five races. 

The next stretch of races includes return trips to Richmond and Kentucky – where he failed to post a top-20 at each of those venues. If his Roush Fenway Racing can find what they’re missing and show improvement in their returns, it could give the team the hope they need before the playoffs.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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

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XFINITY

Aggressiveness Causes Early Crashes at Talladega

Daniel Hemic and Ryan Reed did not get to compete for the victory late at Talladega Superspeedway, after seeing their days end before the halfway point.

Coming off a pair of back-to-back top-fives, Hemric was looking to continue the string of success this weekend after qualifying in the top-10. However, he was one of the eight drivers caught up in a crash with six laps to go in Stage 1 when Brennan Poole got loose while trying to make a move in the middle lane.

“We were just trying to log laps, and I thought we were going to miss it, but the 18 (Matt Tifft) got turned down across and hit me in the left rear,” Hemric said. “That was the end of our day as it ripped the right rear truck arm mount of our car.”

The second stage ended in a crash as well, with Aric Almirola tagging the back of Reed with one lap to go, collecting six cars in total. Reed came into the event confident after scoring the victory in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

“Aric got careless there, and he took the blame for it, but I think it being Saturday and him not racing here that often he was a little more careless,” Reed said. “I don’t think if it was Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. or somebody he races with every week in front of him that he would have done that. So I wish he would have taken a little more time, especially that early on, and give us a little more respect because we do race in the series every week.”

The pair of incidents were a repeat of the first restrictor plate race of the season at Daytona, where three muli-car crashes saw just 20 cars finish the race, with only three drivers avoiding all of the wrecks. Stage racing certainly has contributed to the events, with Blake Koch stating after the second one that he got caught up due to wanting track position, and “trying to get those stage points.”

Others competitors have blamed the low-downforce package, along with the bumpers not lining up on the cars, with Reed stating “you’re really at other people’s mercy on how they push you.” Richard Childress called out NASCAR over Hemric’s radio asking for NASCAR to do something about it.

“Just a lot of guys not using their heads,” Hemric said. “You’d think after seeing what happened in Daytona that they’d be a little smarter. Everybody was just way too aggressive.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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

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XFINITY

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Sparks Energy 300

The second restrictor plate race of the season for the NASCAR XFINITY Series delivered the intensity and unpredictability that Talladega Superspeedway is known for.

From numerous multi-car crashes to a heart-pounding finish that came down to the final lap, Saturday afternoon featured pack racing at its best.

Stage Carnage

When the end of the stages neared, the level of aggression picked up. The two “big ones” unfolded with less than five laps remaining in each of the stages, collecting numerous series regulars who were vying for the championship points up for grabs.

William Byron, Daniel Hemric, and Ryan Reed all came into the race in the top-eight of the driver’s standings and were among those taken out in the accidents.

Carnage has been prevalent through first two plate races of the season. Through the intensity associated with the stages and the impact of less downforce on the cars, bumping in the draft has become treacherous and has caused many of the crashes.  

Ford Power

Race winner Aric Almirola and third-place finisher Joey Logano had two of the strongest cars in the field. They worked together in the draft for much of the event and led 29 of the 133 laps.

Logano was shuffled out of the front group numerous times but always recovered and returned to the front, attesting to the No. 22 Ford’s performance and his restrictor plate racing prowess.

Almirola’s No. 98 Ford seemed to be one of the few cars capable of challenging Logano, and he took advantage of this by taking the lead as Logano fell back late. This is the second consecutive year Almirola has captured a XFINITY Series plate race victory as he won last July at Daytona.

Staying Out of Trouble

In February at Daytona, four of JR Motorsports’ five entries were involved in crashes. The organization performed remarkably better on Saturday as only William Byron exited the race early following an accident.

Two of the team’s cars earned season-best results as Elliott Sadler came home second and Michael Annett placed seventh. Justin Allgaier finished eighth, and Kasey Kahne ended up 15th after a late-race penalty put him a lap down, concluding a much cleaner day for the JRM cars.

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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.

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Commentary

XFINITY SERIES: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break out some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here’s a peek at Daytona through Fontana.

Five Races, Five Different Winners

A lot has been made about five different winners this season so far in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, the same could be said for the XFINITY Series, as well. Each week, a new face has visited victory lane this season, with no team able to win multiple events.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed put together a run en route to winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. Cup regulars Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Joey Logano (Team Penske) took victories the following weeks, before series regular Justin Allgaier (JR Motorsports) captured the Dash for the Cash and the win at Phoenix International Raceway. Kyle Larson completed the string with a win for Chip Ganassi Racing last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Can the trend continue? It is possible as there’s plenty of series regulars running up front weekly, like Elliott Sadler and Darrell Wallace Jr. There’s also other Cup regulars who will be running XFINITY events, such as Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski.

It is highly unlikely a sixth straight different team will win, though, with each of the series’ frontrunners having scored their first victory of 2017. However, Stewart-Haas Racing could make it happen at Texas Motor Speedway with Cole Custer and Kevin Harvick. There’s also a possibility for Richard Childress Racing to win, based on the strength of rookie Daniel Hemric and Austin Dillon this year.

No Race Wins Still for the No. 22

Since Keselowski won at Texas Motor Speedway in October 2015 behind the wheel of the No. 22, the car has yet to return to victory lane. Team Penske has scored wins – three for Logano, but those came with the No. 12 entry.

The organization’s top car going 40 races without a win is unheard of, considering it was just a couple years ago they were winning multiple events and owner’s championships.

Truthfully, it’s only a matter of time before they break the drought. Since October, they’ve scored 20 top-fives, including a runner-up the past two weeks with Blaney (Phoenix) and Logano (California). They’ve also led 168 laps this year with the No. 22 entry in five races, versus leading 146 last year in the last 14 races.

JRM Reigns Supreme

Last year, the XFINITY Series was led by JR Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, with Daniel Suarez capturing the championship for JGR. This season, it appears Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s organization is the cream of the crop. Their drivers currently take up the top-three spots in the standings with veteran Sadler leading William Byron and Allgaier.

Nobody is caught off-guard, though, as both Sadler and Allgaier made the Championship 4 last year in the series and are working with the same guys in 2017. Byron may be the new suspect to JRM this year, but recall he won seven truck series races last year for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

The focus is now getting Michael Annett up in fourth behind them, who currently sits eighth in points. The Iowa native hasn’t been too far off, scoring four top-15 finishes this year with a best of ninth at Phoenix.

“We need to be up where our teammates are,” Annett told POPULAR SPEED earlier this month. “We’ve got three teammates that are in the top-five in points. We need to be up there with them and have the same goals as they do, which is to get as many points as possible, win races, be in there Chase at the end, and be in the group going into Homestead for the championship. I think looking at all the resources that we have and the teammates that I have, the guys I am surrounded by, if that wasn’t our goal, then I shouldn’t even be showing up to the track each weekend.”

Way to go, Rookies!

When word got out about who was moving up to XFINITY for 2017, a lot of people predicted a great Rookie of the Year battle. So far, those predictions are right. Five races in the books, and there’s a pair of rookies in the top-10 in points.

Beyond Byron, as mentioned above, Hemric is seventh in points after scoring two top-10s in the first five races. Hemric proved he’d be a driver to watch this season by running in the top-five throughout the day at Phoenix International Raceway en route to seventh.

Custer is just outside of the top-10 (12th), but it’s not for lack of effort. He’s running in the top-10 each race but has finished outside of the top-20 the past two weeks due to crashes. Before that, he had finished 10th at Atlanta and 11th at Las Vegas.

One of these drivers could score their first career victory at Texas in a couple of weeks as the track has been kind to rookies – just ask Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Trevor Bayne and Earnhardt Jr.

The Improvement of Roush Fenway

During the off-season, Roush Fenway Racing committed to making their team stronger by moving personnel around and hiring some new faces. It appears their efforts have paid off so far.

Last year, Reed finished eighth in points with Darrell Wallace Jr. in 11th. Five races in the books this year, Reed currently sits fourth with Wallace fifth. Reed only scored one top-five last year – but has already done so this year, while Wallace scored four top-10s in five races compared to nine in 33 last year. Notably, Wallace has finished sixth for four straight weeks.

So what now? While Reed has visited victory lane, Wallace still needs to make that happen. Given that he’s just outside of the top-five, it’s only a matter of time before his team figures out how to break through.

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.