Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Ryan Blaney Reflects on Rookie Season

AVONDALE, Ariz. – One of the most popular drivers in NASCAR, Ryan Blaney, had quite the rookie season in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.

Although he did not take home the Sunoco Rookie of The Year title, the 22-year-old driver still garnered three top-fives and 11 top-tens, an impressive feat for a newcomer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Blaney’s skill and maturity in the series came as no surprise given the success he achieved in both the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series, in which he competed for Team Penske and Brad Keselowski Racing. However, with this being the Wood Brothers’ first full season in eight years, the young driver was met with his fair share of challenges.

One of the biggest obstacles this season, per Blaney, was just trying to figure out the cars.

“Learning how to transfer from practice to the race to be good, that’s something that’s been really tough,” he said last month at Phoenix International Raceway.

Also, with the transition from the XFINITY Series to the Sprint Cup Series brought forth another challenge – the simple length of the races. The XFINITY Series typically runs 250-300 mile races, while Cup runs 400-600 mile events.

“The knowing what you need, in the course of over 400, 500 miles to be better,” Blaney added. “That’s something I need to work on. Something we need to work on for next time.”

The season wasn’t all difficult, though, for the North Carolina native hailing from Ohio. He said one of the most memorable parts of competing in his rookie season was merely getting the opportunity to compete every single week with the Wood Brothers.

“Just to be able to run every week and work with this team… it’s always nice to be at the track every single week with them,” he said. “That’s been really nice to have.”

Looking ahead to the 2017 season, the Wood Brothers will be making significant changes. The historic racing team moved shop from Harrisburg, N.C., to Mooresville, N.C. This new home is located much closer to Team Penske, who has been closely affiliated with the team throughout Blaney’s career.

Though it has yet to be written on paper, Wood Brothers co-owner Len Wood told Fox Sports that Blaney is expected back to run full-time again next season in the No. 21. Regarding what he intends to focus on for next season, Blaney said it’s important to “just improve the little things.”

“You always can improve on something,” he added. “Whether it’s my side that I got to improve on a lot, communication side, just putting the whole package together. It’s a lot of little things that make a big difference.”

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
XFINITY

Daniel Suarez Could Make History… Again

AVONDALE, Ariz. – With his win at Michigan in June in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Daniel Suarez became the first Mexican-born driver ever to win a NASCAR national touring series race.

However, it seems as though that simply wasn’t enough for the young driver from Monterrey, Mexico, since he went on to get 18 top fives and another win this season. With that much success, Suarez is in the Championship 4 of the Chase..

With a win at Homestead, or at least finish ahead of the other three contenders, Suarez would become the first ever Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national title, etching his name into the history books of the sport.       

Suarez began his career with NASCAR in 2008 when he competed in the preliminary category of NASCAR Mexico, where he became the youngest driver to to win a race in the series. He then went on to alternate his time between competing in the K&N Pro Series East and the Mexico Series in 2012. He made the full switch to the K&N Pro Series East in 2013 and also competed in the NASCAR Toyota Series that same year.

“I made the move to the U.S. when I wasn’t even speaking English,” Suarez said. “I’m very proud to have friends (who gave) a lot of help.”

During the 2013 season, he was named to NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, which encourages minority and female individuals to learn more about the sport and everything that goes into it.

“Who knows, without being Mexican, if I would be here right now because of the support I’ve had from NASCAR in the Drive for Diversity program [that] put myself in the right position and to get an opportunity like I have right now,” he said back in March during the race weekend at Phoenix.

In 2015, Suarez competed full-time in the XFINITY Series in the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He took the Rookie of the Year title in the XFINITY Series that year over Darrell Wallace Jr. by one single top-10 finish.

“It’s exciting to see someone like Daniel (Suarez) from another country be successful and have a great opportunity here. He’s with a good team with good stuff and he’s done a really good job in it,” fellow JGR driver Kyle Busch said. “I want to take some credit in helping him out, but I won’t take it all.”

Though he says he’s incredibly happy with the success since coming to the U.S., Suarez said he did not expect for it to come as quickly as it has.

“One day I had a dream about it, but I didn’t know how fast it was going to come. The only thing I know is that I was working super hard to try to make it happen as soon as possible and right now we’re in the position to do it,” he explained.

The 24-year-old will be competing against Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, and fellow JGR driver Erik Jones for the coveted trophy at Homestead. Though Jones is confident in his No. 20 Hisense Toyota Camry, he knows it won’t be easy to hold off Suarez for the win.

“It will be tough, you know? Daniel’s (Suarez) been fast and he’s been getting faster all year. I think he’ll be fast at Homestead, but the JR Motorsports cars have been getting better all year too, so everybody is going to bring their best stuff,” he said.

When asked about what it would be like to become the first Mexican-born driver to win the championship title, Suarez said it would be great, but he and his team have to work for it first.

“That would be something that we are all going to be able to enjoy if I do my work and the team does (their) work. We’ll have to work hard in the most important race of the year coming up and we have to do our best,” he said.

The 2016 champion in the XFINITY Series will be determined this Saturday in the EcoBoost 300.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
XFINITY

Bubba Wallace Has Emotional Night in Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – As the smoke that was emanating from the track subsided and the crowd watched in uneasy silence, Darrell Wallace Jr. emerged from his totaled No. 6 Leidos Ford and raised his fists triumphantly in the air to show he was okay.

You wouldn’t expect such a response from a driver who had just gotten involved in “the big one” of the race and ultimately lost the chance of competing for the championship, but Wallace was having one of those moments any driver is unlikely to forget.

With eight drivers vying for a spot in the Championship 4, it was evident from the beginning of the race that the competition would be incredibly tough for Wallace. Having started seventh and 20 points behind fourth-place Blake Koch, the Roush Fenway Racing driver knew he would have to run especially well to get a chance at competing for the title at Homestead.

Unfortunately, his hopes of making the Championship 4 were dashed when he and Koch made contact, sending the No. 6 Camry into the inside wall on the front stretch. Jeremy Clements, Corey LaJoie, and Garrett Smithley also became caught up in the mess, bringing out the red flag. Koch also lost his spot in the Championship 4, by four points due to an eighth place finish while Justin Allgaier finished fourth.

“It’s just unfortunate. My team gave me a great race car. Best race car that I’ve had all year long and we were making the most of it,” Wallace said of the crash. “That was one of my best restarts right there, and it was just taken away from us.”

When he exited the infield care center, Wallace was visibly upset in a way fans had never seen before from the often cheerful XFINITY driver.

What made this night especially emotional for Wallace was the fact he had a co-pilot with him over the weekend at Phoenix: his beloved grandmother who passed away earlier last week. As a tribute to her, rather than have his name on the door of the vehicle, the 23-year-old placed a sticker that read “Granny Jan.” which he said will stay on the car throughout the weekend at Homestead as well.

“My grandmother was giving me the ride of my life,” Wallace said. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had all year, and just circumstances took us out. It’s just hard. Thanks Granny, I love you. We’ll go on to Homestead and let her ride again.”

When asked to reflect back on The Chase, he compared the loss of a Championship 4 spot to the loss of his grandmother, saying, “Everything was going so good and then the next thing you know, she’s gone from us. So it was a long shot to get in the Chase, but to have a good race and get a good finish–We needed one.”

Despite having such a disappointing and emotional night, Wallace decided to end on a more hopeful note, saying, “I hope Granny had fun because I sure as hell did. So we’ll go on to Homestead, and we’ve won in the past there before. We’ll do it again.”

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
Trucks

CRAFTON: “Do Whatever It Takes To Win”

AVONDALE, Ariz – With a third place finish in Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, Matt Crafton has secured a spot in the Championship 4 of The Chase and a shot at earning his third title in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Having won back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014, Crafton said winning the coveted title for the third time would “say a lot.”

“We’ll love having a shot at winning a third, and we won two in a row,” Crafton said. “We’ll do what we have done. Duke and Rhonda Thorson sticking with me as long as they have — it really says a lot about this organization, and I love everyone in it.”

The driver of the No. 88 Slim Jim/Menards Toyota started towards the front of the pack in 10th. Although was riddled with cautions and battles for the front, Crafton ran consistently in the top-10 all night. “Sometimes, that’s racing,” Max Papis reminded him as he walked with Crafton to the garage from pit road following the race.

Happy with his outcome, Crafton says he is excited to compete at Homestead next weekend.

“I’m very happy with our mile-and-a-half program,” Crafton said. “We’ve been good at Homestead. We won that race last year and we were really good in Texas the other day. We were a little torn up and the body got a little worn but we were still good as we were.”

Being so close to taking home another title, the 40-year-old from Tulare, Cali., is turning his focus to defeating the other three competitors in points.

“They’re the ones racing us and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day,” he added. “It’s winner take all at that point and whichever way the wind blows, we’ll do whatever it takes to win that thing.”

Joining Crafton in the final four will be Johnny Sauter, Timothy Peters and Christopher Bell. The 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion will be decided in the EcoBoost 200 Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
Trucks

Noah Gragson to Make NCWTS Debut at Phoenix

NASCAR Next driver Noah Gragson will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut this weekend in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The 18-year-old will pilot the No. 18 Speed Vegas / Alert ID Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) Toyota Tundra entry, owned by Richie Wauters.

“We are excited to have Noah (Gragson) in the truck at Phoenix,” Wauters said. “I’m glad we were able to get Noah behind the wheel of a truck in the last two races before his full season next year.”

Gragson, a native of Las Vegas, Nevada, began racing at just 13-years-old in the Bandoleros at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the same place where drivers Kurt and Kyle Busch also got their start. He eventually made a move into late models and even competed in the INEX Legends car racing series, winning the 2014 Young Lion Road Course championship.

In 2015, Gragson began competing in the K&N Pro Series West in the No. 7 Ford for Jefferson Pitts Racing. In that first season of stock car racing, he was named Rookie of The Year and finished second in the final points standings with two wins, seven top fives, and 11 top 10s.

Just last month, it was announced Gragson would run the full Truck Series schedule next season for Kyle Busch Motorsports, replacing William Byron who moves up to the XFINITY Series with JR Motorsports. 

During the 2015 season, Gragson also had his first experience competing at PIR in the Casino Arizona 100. Though he finished 14th, the young driver says the experience helped him get acquainted with the track.

“I know driving the Toyota Tundra will be a new experience and I am certainly looking forward to it,” he added.

Gragson will also pilot the KBM Tundra at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Nov. 18 NCWTS season finale.

“My goal is to learn a lot these next two events, run all the laps and build towards next season,” he said.

The Lucas Oil 150 NCWTS at PIR is scheduled to begin at 10 pm ET Friday, Nov. 11.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
Trucks

Ricky Benton Racing Making Return to Truck Series with Whitt

Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises will be returning to NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) this weekend with Cole Whitt behind the wheel of the No. 92 Ford this week at Martinsville.

RBR started the season with Parker Kligerman behind the wheel of their Ford, running 11 of the first 18 races; Kligerman posted three top-10s, including a season-best finish of third at Daytona. The team was hopeful to run more events, however a constant struggle to find funding resulting in a shortened schedule.

Though it’s been more than four years since Whitt’s last truck start, RBR is confident their new driver will do well in its BTS Tire and Wheel Distributors/Valvoline Ford F-150.

“Cole is a driver who has had success in this series and we feel can run well for us at Martinsville,” said team owner Ricky Benton. “We have had some success here (at Martinsville) and are bringing a good short-track truck. I know we can have a good run.”

Whitt has only had two truck starts at the half-mile, both from 2011; in one of those races, he had a best starting position of second and a best finish of sixth.

“I enjoy Martinsville because it’s grassroots short-track racing,” Whitt said. “I think my driving style fits the 1.5 mile tracks a little better, but I know the RBR team highlights both Martinsville races on the schedule at the start of the season and I want to give them a good run.”

Whitt has been busy already this year, attempting to run the full Sprint Cup Series schedule for Premium Motorsports. He has qualified for 26 of the 32 races, with a best finish of 11th at Daytona International Speedway in February.

Despite the long absence from the series and the inaugural NCWTS chase is already halfway through, Whitt says his plan of attack this weekend in the Texas Roadhouse 200 is to drive the way he always does.

“I haven’t been in a truck in a few years but once I get my footing I’m sure we will be fine,” he said.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
News

PEAK Named Title Sponsor of NASCAR Mexico Series

On Wednesday, NASCAR announced a multi-year agreement with Old World Industries (OWI), making PEAK the title sponsor of the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series. PEAK additionally becomes an Official Partner along with other key brands such as BlueDEF.

This agreement comes as part of NASCAR’s plan to strengthen its presence in Mexico, which includes a full slate of races in 2017 and years to come.

“PEAK is a world-class brand, and its three decades of experience in motorsports will help elevate NASCAR-sanctioned racing in Mexico,” said Lou Garate, vice president, partnership marketing, NASCAR.

PEAK, which is only the third title sponsor in series history, has been working with NASCAR since the 1990s and serves as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s eSports partner iRacing.com. It was also a season-long associate sponsor of Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Chevrolet this season.

The NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series has helped developed talented young drivers such as Daniel Suarez, who became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national series race with his victory in June at Michigan.

Suarez, who drives the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, expressed gratitude in said how lucky he has been to be a part of some of the development programs NASCAR has put together, including the NASCAR Mexico Series.

“I am excited to see that other talented Latin American drivers will continue to have similar opportunities for many years to come,” he added.

On Dec. 3-4, The NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series will make its return with an exhibition race in Mexico City. The series, which will celebrate its 10th season, will officially get underway in 2017, with a full schedule to be announced at a later date.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
XFINITY

Cole Custer Moves to SHR for 2017

On Friday, Cole Custer was named as driver for Stewart-Haas Racing’s NASCAR XFINITY Series team that will debut in 2017. He will pilot the No. 00 entry full time and compete for rookie of the year honors.

Though the native of Ladera Ranch, California, will only be 19-years-old going into the 2017 season, he’s already accomplished quite a lot since debuting in late model stock cars at the age of 14.

He was the youngest winner in the K&N Series at 15 years, 190 days, when he won on Aug. 2, 2013. at Iowa Speedway. He went on to become the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ youngest race winner at 16 years, 239 days, when he won his first race on Sept. 20, 2014, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

With clear potential from the beginning, Haas Automation has maintained a close affiliation with Custer all along.

“I’ve watched Cole grow up on and off the racetrack,” said Gene Haas, founder and president of Haas Automation. “He’s found success at every level and represented Haas Automation very well. The Xfinity Series is the next step in his career and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Custer currently competes full-time in the Truck Series for JR Motorsports and holds two wins and four poles in 34 series starts.

In preparation for his advancement to the XFINITY Series, he also made three XFINITY Series starts this season, garnering two top-10s. His best finish was fourth place at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

“I’ve really enjoyed the XFINITY Series races I’ve run this year, and I’m looking forward to running the full schedule in 2017,” Custer said. “It’s a new challenge, and with the resources of Stewart-Haas Racing, I’m in the best position to learn and succeed. I’m grateful for the chance they’ve given me, and I plan to make the most of it.”

It is worth noting Joe Custer is the current executive vice president at Stewart-Haas Racing and chief executive officer of Haas F1 Team.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
News

Aric Almirola Gets New Crew Chief

Richard Petty Motorsports announced Tuesday that effective immediately Drew Blickensderfer will take over as crew chief for Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Ford Fusion team. He will begin his duties at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend.

Blickensderfer has been a valuable employee at RPM for the past four years, having most recently served as Director of Research and Development at the company. With nine years of experience as a crew chief, Blickensderfer has a proven history of winning.

Since his debut in 2006 as Crew Chief for Danny O’Quinn Jr. in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, he has worked with 13 different drivers in both series, including Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Sam Hornish Jr., and David Ragan, just to name a few. In that time, Blickensderfer has tallied 15 wins, including a Daytona 500 win in 2009, 16 top-five finishes and 104 top-10 finishes.

RPM is hoping in hiring the experienced crew chief it will bring the significant improvement the No. 43 team has been striving for. Since late last month, the company has been developing an aggressive new strategy to improve on-track results from 2016 and to capitalize on the progress made in previous seasons.

“We are continuing to analyze every part of our organizations and make adjustments where needed,” said Brian Moffitt, Chief Executive Office, Richard Petty Motorsports.

“We’ve made significant investments in both teams, and the results for the No. 43 team have not been what we expected. By making this change now, we hope that Drew (Blickensderfer) can begin momentum to improving on-track performance and get the team in a good place for the 2017 season.”

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
News

Ryan Newman’s Chase Chances Take a Hit

After an impressive eighth-place finish in last Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, Ryan Newman has hit quite a bump in the road in his path to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff eligibility.

NASCAR officials announced Wednesday after failing the post-race Laser Technical Inspection Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 team was given a P3-level penalty. Competition officials docked the team 15 points in both driver’s and team owner’s standings and fined crew chief Luke Lambert $25,000. Lambert had already been on NASCAR probation through the end of the year after being docked 10 points for the use of unapproved body attachment mounts and supports at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.

RCR released a statement following the announcement saying they will not attempt to appeal the penalty, though the rear toe settings were “well within specs during pre-race inspection.”

“The car made contact with the outside wall during the race and there was clear damage to the right rear fender and tire,” the statement read. “NASCAR has told us that the LIS standard is clear and the car must pass post-race inspection even if damage has been sustained.”

After the weekend in Darlington, Newman sat just seven points behind Jamie McMurray, who holds the last spot on the provisional Chase grid.

Now, in order to have any kind of chance to make the Chase, Newman will need to either win or rally to overcome a 22-point deficit in the regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway this Saturday.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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