KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 14:  Ty Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 14, 2016 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
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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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Nature’s Bakery in discussions with Stewart-Haas Racing about Danica Patrick sponsorship

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 11:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Nature's Bakery Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE – Stewart-Haas Racing and Nature’s Bakery, primary sponsor since last year for Danica Patrick, are “in discussions” regarding their partnership, the team confirmed to NBC Sports in a statement.

The news that seems to cast doubt on the sponsor’s future was first reported by the Associated Press.

The baked goods company became Patrick’s primary sponsor last season and was on the No. 10 Chevrolet for 28 races in 2016. It was slated to be the primary sponsor for more than 20 races this year.

Nature’s Bakery replaced GoDaddy, which left Patrick after sponsoring her in IndyCar and NASCAR for several years.

During media appearances Tuesday at the Charlotte Convention Center, Patrick wore a firesuit emblazoned with Tax Act, a sponsor for the partial season the last few years,  instead of Nature’s Bakery.

Here is the statement from Stewart-Haas Racing:

Nature’s Bakery and Stewart-Haas Racing are in discussions about how the sponsorship might look in 2017. Both sides have options, and it’s a matter of determining what is best for both parties.

Stewart-Haas Racing remains focused on its preparation for the 2017 NASCAR season where it will again field four entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series while also introducing a full-time NASCAR XFNITY Series team.

Kurt Busch ready to reclaim NASCAR Cup championship for himself, Ford

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Just barely falling short of winning the Race Of Champions championship this past weekend has Kurt Busch pumped up to win another kind of championship.

And it’s a Monster, indeed.

Busch, who was the first driver to win the then-new Chase for the Nextel Cup format in 2004, would like nothing more than to become the first driver to win the rebranded Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

What’s more, if Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion – which will also continue to be sponsored by Monster Energy as well – has an added bit of incentive tacked on from his championship run 12 years ago.

Busch is the last Ford-powered driver to bring a NASCAR Cup championship to the blue oval company. Since Busch’s championship with Jack Roush Racing in 2004, there have been 12 Chevrolets, one Dodge and one Toyota that have NASCAR’s most coveted crown.

But not Ford. Busch has high hopes of changing that 0-for-14 streak.

“It is a special homecoming feeling to head back to work with Ford and to have them with our power and our bodies at Stewart-Haas Racing,” Busch said Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “It really feels neat to come back to a place where I’ve seen the faces before and the way that the structure has been polished up on and the way that there’s more depth with Ford Performance.

“The best thing that I’ve seen already come out of things is that the engineering staff at Stewart-Haas.  It’s like they just opened up a whole new book of things to look at and to advance our program further from where we were with GM.”

Admittedly, while the entire Stewart-Haas organization is excited about its first season with all-new Ford power and bodies, there could still be a learning curve of getting used to a different manufacturer after SHR’s previous long tenure with Chevrolet.

But even without any preseason testing, Busch remains optimistic that he and his teammates can come out strong right from the start of the season.

“The teams have more depth,” he said. “There’s more simulations. It used to be the driver and the crew chief came back with a notebook. Now the notebook has been used by the lead engineers.

“Limited track time saves money, but you spend more on personnel to make the cars faster, safer, stronger. I’ve seen some of the drawings. We had to change a few of our suspension settings. There might be a few bugs here or there, but I’m not too worried about it.”

Competing in this past weekend’s Race Of Champions in Miami added yet another excerpt to Busch’s vast racing resume, including NASCAR to drag racing, midget cars to Legends cars and bandolero’s, and even drove in the Indianapolis 500.

But the ROC was definitely an adventure.

“The Race of Champions is very unique and it’s a lot of fun,” Busch said. “It’s a chaotic, frat house feel and to race against the Europeans, the South Americans, it truly was a unique challenge and all the different vehicles that the Race of Champions puts you in and how it’s structured and how it all works, but it’s the fun, it’s the other side of it too.

“After my first race Sunday, I got beat by Hinchcliffe (IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe) by only a fraction of a second and I was feeling a little down.

“And I said, ‘I think I’ve got the wrong mentality. I just need to go like this is a green-white-checker every time I go out there. Just grab gears, hard on the brake, hard on the gas, just attack the track and go for it.’

“And then I started winning. I was able to get on the other side of the second bracket that I needed to get in and then Kyle was winning as well.  He was beating guys like Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, and the next thing you know we advanced as the NASCAR group as brothers and represented the USA in the finals against (Sebastian) Vettel. That was an incredible feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Busch also regaled the media with the funniest part of this past weekend’s ROC.

“For some reason everybody was forgetting what gear to put their car in when they were leaving the staging area on Sunday,” he said. “Scott Speed literally drove through (Helio) Castroneves in the staging area and wrecked two cars.

“My little brother (Kyle Busch) thought he was in first gear, but he was in fast reverse and he backed into another car. I was like, ‘Guys, why are we all so nervous as the American team?’”

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Xfinity drivers respond to NASCAR’s new point system

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Brennan Poole, driver of the #48 DC Solar Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for Safety 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16, 2016 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE – While what was known as the Chase format was slow to arrive to the Xfinity Series, its replacement is being introduced to all three of NASCAR’s national series this season.

The three full-time Xfinity drivers present at the NASCAR Media Tour on Tuesday shared their thoughts on a format that awards points over the course of three segments, with the first two giving points to top-10 finishers. Those points will accumulate all the way through the second round of the playoff.

Here’s what Xfinity drivers had to say about the new points format.

Brennan Poole – No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing

“I think it’s cool. I think it gives an opportunity to a lot of drivers like myself to gain some bonus points. You win one of those stages, (those) points stay with you through the (playoff) so you can kind of give yourself a little more of a cushion when the playoff starts. I’m pretty excited about that. I think it’s great the way they’re doing it, where they’re just throwing the caution. I think for me, one of things I was concerned about was that it would be a break and we would stop, kind of how we did the Dash 4 Cash races … I think it’s going to change strategy, I think crew chiefs are going to have some headaches in the beginning. What’s going to happen when the caution comes out in the middle of one of  these stages?

Cole Custer – No. 00 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing

“We’ll see. I think we’re still trying to figure out if it’s going to affect our strategy or not. You’re definitely going to be trying to race harder for those bonus points and everything. I think that’s going to be interesting. And there’s going to be a lot more to talk about it in the race and I think it’s going to be a good thing for the sport.”

William Byron – No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports

“I think it’s going to be similar to (the Camping World Truck Series) but at least there’s something of a reward when that caution comes out (to end a segment). I think that’s going to be good if we qualify well … start on the pole and lead a segment to get a few bonus points … If you have a crash late in the race or something like that you still get to benefit from the race say if you dominated a race and you lose a race with five to go or on a green-white-checkered. You still get something.

Cole Custer eager for jump to Xfinity Series with Stewart-Haas Racing

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Cole Custer is in a position that likely makes him the envy of many of his fellow young drivers – not to mention a lot of fans who dream about being race car drivers.

Custer, who turned 19 on Monday, is essentially having a brand new team being built around him. He’s moved up from the Camping World Truck Series (finished 10th last season) to a full-time Xfinity Series ride in 2017.

What’s more, it’s the first time Stewart-Haas Racing has built an Xfinity team since its formation. While Custer’s father, Joe, is former general manager at SHR (he’s now in a similar position with the organization’s Formula One team), this isn’t a case of nepotism.

No, the younger Custer has earned his way into an Xfinity ride with his talent, and it just so happens that it’s with the same team his father is an executive in.

Custer earned two wins, nine top-fives, 24 top-10s and five poles in 42 Truck races over the last three seasons.

He also made five scattered Xfinity starts in 2016, earning one top-five and a pair of top-10 showings.

But now in 2017, Custer moves up to NASCAR’s junior league – comparable to Minor League Baseball’s highest level, Triple-A.

While such a move may intimidate or be heady for another 19-year-old, it’s not for Custer. He’s been around racing his whole life and is ready to step up to the next level.

Even though he admits there will be some things to get used to, he’s up for the challenge. And with a new team that has a lot of experience among its members, Custer is cool, collected and, most importantly, confident.

“Coming from the Truck Series, it’s a new competition level,” he said Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “I’m going to have to step up a little bit and it’s going to be a different challenge, but I think we can do it and we have a great team.

Custer is so confident in his own skill and his team’s ability that he’s already upgraded his expectations for the season, not fearful to boldly predict that if everything goes right, the new first-year team could wind up winning the Xfinity Series championship.

“I think so,” Custer said. “We have some great people that are smart and capable enough to do it. “At the start of the year, my expectations are a little bit lower, like just being in the top-10. But from what I’ve seen in the off-season, we have some awesome people that will make some fast cars and I think we’ll have a shot at it.”

Admittedly, there have been growing pains within the new team. While some members are SHR mainstays, there are also several new members to the organization. Trying to get them all to gel and mold together has been a challenge at times.

“It’s definitely been tough,” Custer said. “Our guys are working extremely hard right now, getting cars together. I can’t stress enough how hard they’re working.

“You’re creating a fab shop that never hung Xfinity bodies before. You learn how to do that and everything else that goes with it. It’s not easy but we have some awesome people that are really smart and that are going to get it together, so I think we’re going to have a strong team.”

While Custer has a literal luxury of having the minds of several drivers to draw from – including team co-owner Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick – it’s Kevin Harvick that Custer is leaning upon and trying to learn the most from.

“I’ve tried to get most of my advice from Kevin Harvick,” Custer said. “I’ve related to him more since he runs a lot of Truck and Xfinity races, so he can help with that. He’s kind of my go-to guy right now, but there’s a lot of great drivers at Stewart-Haas, so if I get a little information from any of them, I think that would be a great thing.”

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