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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Ty Dillon

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Ty Dillon was exposed to racing from every angle as a child.

His father, Mike, once competed in all three national NASCAR series. His grandfather, Richard Childress, went from competing in the Cup Series to being a very successful car owner. Mike even drove for Richard during his career.

Ty, at 24 years old, now does the same in the Xfinity Series, while his brother, Austin, competes in the Sprint Cup Series. Not surprising, Ty’s earliest racing memories also involve family.

“Just being a kid at the racetrack when my dad raced,” Dillon told NBC Sports. “Going with my grandfather and just hanging out with them; being a fan as a kid.”

In his rise through the racing ranks, Dillon captured the 2011 ARCA Racing Series championship after winning seven of the season’s 19 races. In 2012, Dillon was named Rookie of the Year in the Camping World Truck Series. He finished runner-up for the 2013 championship before moving to the Xfinity Series. He captured his first career series win in 2014 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where his grandfather and Dale Earnhardt were victorious in the second annual Brickyard 400.

No matter where Ty has been or what he’s accomplished, his father and grandfather are never far. Mike Dillon, who serves as the Vice President of Competition at RCR, can often be heard on the No. 3 radio during race weekend. Richard Childress not only plays grandfather and car owner but confidant and hunting buddy.

But when did Ty realize that Richard Childress was more than just his grandfather?

“I always knew who he was and how important he was to the sport and knew that he was famous,” Dillon said. “But I didn’t really know the impact he had on people and the way that he impacted the sport and done things as a person until I was driving and starting to meet different people and getting involved with sponsors and stuff. I didn’t really realize how special he really was until that time; he always first been a great grandfather more than anything.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: At home is it hard for you and the rest of the family to separate racing and be together as a family or does it seep over?

Dillon: It seeps over. We talk about it almost every time we’re together; there’s some kind of racing conversation that comes up. But as we get a little bit older and we’ve been in the sport a little bit longer, Austin and I, our conversations start to change, and we’re not so hell-bent on talking about racing 24/7. As our lives are changing and we’re growing up, and I’m married, Austin’s engaged, there are different things going in our lives, and we’re still very involved in racing, but our conversations have changed throughout the family.

NBC Sports: How did your love of the outdoors start?

Dillon: I’d say it had to start with my grandfather. When I was about seven or eight years old was the first time he took me hunting and we really starting going on hunting trips. He started that with Austin and I at a young age and it’s something that as you get older you grow more and more respect for and it’s something that I grew fond of. Just last week I went out and hunted and just sat in a deer blind by myself; it’s nice to get out and appreciate nature. Some people never get out and really see what this world has to offer. I also enjoy doing that with mountain biking, which has kind of grown my outdoors side even more. I love to go to different areas, whether it’s in North Carolina or different states and ride my mountain bike up in the mountains or up in the woods. It’s always fun to see different parts of the world.

NBC Sports: Do you have a favorite hunting story or something you consider an accomplishment?

Dillon: Nothing really specific. Just the times I’ve gotten to spend with good friends and people while hunting is something that I love more than anything about it. The time sitting by a campfire and just talking and telling stories is what I’ve enjoyed.

NBC Sports: You once mentioned that you had a motorcycle but don’t ride anymore because you got hurt, what happened?

Dillon: I used to ride a YZX 250 every day, we had a motocross track behind our house and probably from the time I was 16-17 until the time I was 19 or 20 I rode with a couple of buddies and my dad almost every single day and got pretty decent at it. I was showing my buddy how to do a jump one day, on a rainy day, and over-jumped a jump and broke my fibula and tibia in my left leg and kind of slowed down my racing. That was the end of me riding motorcycles for a while.

NBC Sports: So no more motorcycles or dirt bikes?

Dillon: I still have my dirt bike, but I don’t hardly ever ride it. I did do the Supercross Holeshot with Clint (Bowyer) and all those guys. That’s about as far as I need to go.

NBC Sports: Fantasy Football is a big deal for you and you are all-in when it comes to statistics and players, how did it get that far?

Dillon: It’s kind of like that for all sports; I played all sports growing up until I was probably 16 or 17 and had a passion for all of them. I appreciate the guys who are the top level and what it takes and Fantasy Football is about as close as I’m going to get to being a part of a professional sports team. So I got into that, and then the statistical side grew on me and I enjoyed starting to research it and learning more about it, just playing different stuff, playing the daily fantasy stuff, and you can get better at it by learning the statistical analysis side of it. Plus, it’s something that just keeps my brain going and just doing research. It’s fun, it’s a little hobby of mine and keeps my brain fresh it feels like.

NBC Sports: How did you and (wife) Haley meet?

Dillon: We met when we were both probably 13 or 14, her family is from Seattle, Washington, and they used to race Legends cars out West and they came down for the Summer Shootout, in 2011 maybe, at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) and just so happened that their family was parked beside our family for about the two or three months of time the Summer Shootout was going on. We got to know them pretty well; one of the guys that was working on our car that was also living with us at the time became really good friends with her two brothers. One of them actually came down and started living with our friend and we all became really close. I started asking about his sister because I remember seeing her at the racetrack and being so shy I didn’t even want to look her way because she was so pretty.

I finally got him to give me her phone number, and I tried to text her and call her for the longest time, and she wasn’t having anything to do with me. I kept wearing her out until we were about 18, 19 years old and I think it was around New Year’s her brother invited us to come out to their place in the mountains in Seattle. Around that time, she started to talk to me knowing I was going to be coming out there and the first time we really talked on the phone I think we talked for about five hours. Once she finally gave me a chance we really hit it off and ever since I went on that trip out to Seattle we’ve been together.

NBC Sports: How is married life? (Ty and Haley married in December 2014)

Dillon: It’s been great. Everybody kind of tries to scare you from being married and whatnot, but she’s been an awesome wife. Married life has been awesome for me.

NBC Sports: In an interview a few months ago you’ve mentioned being OCD about doing chores around the house, which ones specifically do you do, and I’m sure that makes Haley very happy?

Dillon: I think I’m probably the best husband (laughs). I do whatever; I don’t mind doing the dishes. I like vacuuming. Vacuuming is very satisfying to me. I got a leaf blower, probably my favorite thing I got at our new house.

Haley in the background says he’s handy

Dillon: Yeah, I just changed the brakes on Haley’s car the other day. I just like doing little projects, and stuff that I can see a difference from start to finish is mentally satisfying.

Previous spotlight interviews:

Morgan Shepherd

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Daniel Suarez

Brandon Jones

Elliott Sadler

Rod Sieg

Chris Gabehart

Garrett Smithley

Brendan Gaughan

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

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Long: 2018 schedule provides big test for one track; other musings on changes

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For all the talk about Indianapolis’ move to the last race before the playoffs or Charlotte’s road course event, the track that will face the most scrutiny from Tuesday’s 2018 schedule announcement is Richmond International Raceway.

Although the racing has been better when the track hosted day races, Richmond will go back to two night races next year and its September event moves into the playoffs after serving as the cutoff race since 2004. 

The change comes at a critical time for Richmond, a favorite among drivers but a track that has seen waning fan interest — thus the flip-flopping from night to day back to night events to please a fanbase that wants good racing but doesn’t want a sunburn. The spring crowd, no doubt affected by unseasonably warm temperatures in the 80s, was disappointing.

What makes the schedule change more critical for the track is what could be next. International Speedway Corp., which owns the facility, has slated Richmond as next for upgrades after Phoenix Raceway’s $178 million makeover is completed late next year.

While crowds have thinned at all tracks in the last decade, Richmond has seen its seating capacity cut from 110,000 in 2009 to its current capacity of 59,000, according to ISC annual reports. The 46.4 percent decline is the largest percentage capacity reduction among ISC’s 12 tracks that host Cup events.

The question becomes if the crowd continues to thin — even though Richmond is a day’s drive for nearly half of the U.S. population — will it be worthwhile for ISC to make the investments to the track? Or would it be better for ISC to invest in another of its facilities?

Something that could help Richmond is what will take place this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track’s upper groove is being treated by the same PJ1 TrackBite compound used at Bristol to improve the racing.

What’s unique is that the compound is applied to an asphalt track instead of a concrete track such as Bristol. If it entices drivers to use the high lane for part of the race, that will be significant. The challenge is that as the race moves into the evening and cooler temperatures, the bottom groove will be the fastest way around.

Richmond seemed to have a good solution when it sealed the track from 1988-2002 but hasn’t done since. The time seems right to do something to the track with two Cup night races. 

Drivers say that the best racing is during the day when conditions are the hottest. That’s not the most enjoyable conditions for fans. So fans who wanted night racing back at Richmond will get it for both events.

Fans should be careful what they wish for because cool, evening temperatures are not conducive to the best type of racing.

DAYTONA CHANGES

Another alteration to the schedule is that Daytona 500 qualifying and the Clash will be held on the same day, Feb. 11, a week before the 500.

It’s a nice move to tighten the schedule, but why can’t more be done?

Does Daytona need to be held over two weekends?

“I would say certainly we talked about a lot of things,’’ said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations when asked about shortening Daytona Speedweeks. “But when you kick off the season with your biggest event of the year, and you have a number of races to support that kickoff of the season, Daytona has a portfolio of races that commands a number of weeks. I think our fans look forward to spending a lot of time in Daytona in the month of February.

“Certainly there’s consideration around the race teams, the amount of time they spend. But when you talk about the biggest event of your season, it certainly warrants a couple of weeks based on what we have from a content standpoint.”

I’m not convinced. I think you could compress it into one week and make the week more entertaining.

Here’s one possible way how:

Tuesday: Cup haulers park in garage.

Wednesday: Cup teams practice and qualify. Truck teams park in garage.

Thursday: Cup teams compete in the Duels. Xfinity teams park in garage. Truck teams practice.

Friday: Cup teams practice. Xfinity teams practice. Truck teams qualify and race. Cup teams in the Clash practice.

Saturday: Cup final practice for the Daytona 500. Xfinity teams race. The Clash is held an hour after the Xfinity race ends.

Sunday: Daytona 500.

A doubleheader with the Xfinity Series and the Clash the day before the Daytona 500 creates more reasons for fans to be there for the weekend.

Maybe there’s a better way, but the point is cut a weekend out of Speedweeks and that can give teams a break at some other point in the season (or just start the season a few days later).

As the sport looks to be more efficient with its race weekends — Pocono, Watkins Glen and Martinsville each will have qualifying a few hours before the race in the second half of the season — cutting a weekend out of Daytona only makes sense.

Also, watch for more two-day Cup weekends if the experiment works this year.

INDY THE RIGHT RACE BEFORE THE PLAYOFFS?

Indianapolis taking the spot as the final race before the playoffs raises some questions.

When Richmond was there, at least many more teams had a chance to win. At Indianapolis, those that can win are fewer. Typically, the best teams excel at Indy because they have the best aero and engine packages. That’s not something a smaller team can overcome as much as it can on a short track.

The notion of an upstart winning their way into the playoffs is less likely at Indianapolis. Those who need stage points in a last-gasp effort to make the playoffs will have to gamble. Truthfully, that could make Indy more dramatic in some ways. Paul Menard won the 2011 race on a fuel gamble, but such payoffs are not likely to happen often and then what you are left with?

Something to consider is that the Xfinity cars will race there in July with restrictor plates and other modifications. If those changes enhance the racing, then it would make sense for the Cup cars to go with something similar. If NASCAR can get its cars to make passes like the IndyCars (there were 54 lead changes in last year’s Indianapolis 500), then you’d have something worth talking about.

If that doesn’t work, maybe you’re left with the tradeoff that Richmond gives the playoffs two short tracks.

A NOVEL IDEA BUT WILL IT WORK?

Charlotte’s roval for the playoffs will smack of desperation to some, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Still, one has to applaud the sport and the track looking for a different way to entertain fans. Sometimes, the greatest rewards come after the greatest risks.

While drivers will race on the infield road course, they still nearly will race all the way around the 1.5-mile track. If the action on the road course section mimics what fans see at Sonoma or Watkins Glen, then this will be a good move. If not, what then?

Charlotte’s format will present challenges for crew chiefs in setting up the car, but the key is going to be action. Few people go to races to watch the crew chiefs. It’s about the drivers. And it will be about contact on the road course.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD

Even with all the changes to the front half of the playoff schedule, three of the final five races are on 1.5-mile speedways.

Cassidy said NASCAR isn’t as concerned about that.

“I wouldn’t get too hung up on the number of intermediate tracks because I think what you’ve seen, if you want to focus on the back end of the playoffs, focus on the racing that we’ve seen at intermediate tracks, each of the intermediate tracks as kind of taking shape from having its own distinct personality from a racing standpoint,’’ he said.

“I think you saw that at Texas this year with the changes they made, again, a vision to change things up on that side, and to create a different racing dynamic at a mile‑and‑a‑half track.

“What you saw at Kansas a couple weeks ago kind of speaks for itself.

  “And then I don’t think you could argue that Homestead has provided some of the most compelling racing you could ever imagine to bring home a championship.’’

Miami is the best 1.5-mile track and has produced some good racing in the season finale. Nothing wrong with it where it is. Kansas has had its ups and downs but did have 21 lead changes earlier this month in what was viewed as an entertaining race. With its new track surface, we’ll see where Texas goes from its race in April.

If all three can provide entertaining racing and allow drivers to move through the field instead of being stuck in a line, then they should stay in their spots. But if they can’t do so, then NASCAR should not be afraid of making further changes to the playoff schedule.

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NASCAR America: Slugger Labbe says why he left Richard Childress Racing (video)

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Slugger Labbe announced Monday that after six seasons, he would be leaving the No. 3 team of Austin Dillon and Richard Childress Racing.

While he does not rule out a potential return to RCR at some point in the future, for now he’s just taking a break and fielding potential opportunities from other organizations.

Justin Alexander will take over as Dillon’s crew chief immediately, just in time for arguably the most difficult race on the schedule, Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.