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Connection between Erik Jones and Chris Gabehart was years in the making

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The Erik Jones-Chris Gabehart relationship didn’t start with a January 8 press release from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Although paired together for Jones’ rookie Xfinity Series season, the two, in fact, go way back. To October 2012.

Jones was given what turned out to be the start of his big break. A mutual friend suggested to Gabehart, who was working with Kyle Busch at the time, to let Jones shake down Busch’s Late Model for the All American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee. Busch would need an extra hand since he was going to be traveling from Talladega Superspeedway.

“Of course Kyle loves racing Late Models and wants to win all the big ones, and that’s one he hadn’t won yet,” Gabehart recalled Wednesday during a teleconference ahead of the Xfinity Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “But we had to be in Talladega. We were knocked out of the Chase, so we needed somebody to practice the car, and we had actually went through a few different names, names I think you all would probably know, and finally got to Erik as one who could do it and be willing to do it.”

Jones was 16 years old and had driven in very few Late Model races. He had also never been to Nashville before. Combine all that with getting behind the wheel of one of Busch’s racecars and Gabehart acknowledges the pressure that was put on Jones. But Gabehart easily remembers how fast Jones was and how well he dialed the car in.

“Just handled himself great,” Gabehart said. “Truthfully, that weekend while he didn’t get to race, was really the building block for the Snowball Derby. It allowed Erik and Kyle to get to know each other.”

Said Jones: “That was a cool experience for me. I remember going down there, and they gave me per diem, and I was like, ‘Man, this is pretty cool. I feel like I’m getting paid to drive a racecar.’ So that was a pretty neat experience and definitely one that I think played into getting my opportunity over at KBM.”

That’s where the Snowball Derby, run in December, comes in. Jones, in family-owned equipment, beat Busch in the most prestigious Late Model race in the country. Between that and the Nashville test, it appeared to be the tipping point for Busch in giving Jones a shot in NASCAR equipment.

“Erik did such a good job for us (in Nashville) that when we got to the Snowball Derby and Erik put up such a battle, David kind of beating Goliath there with 20 to go in a shootout, the foundation was already laid, and at that point Kyle was like, wow, this kid has got something,” Gabehart said.

Jones quickly rose through the Camping World Truck Series, winning four times in the 17 races he ran between 2013-14. In 2015, running full-time, Jones won three more times and took home the championship.

His move into the Xfinity Series resulted in a reunion with Gabehart, who was moved from a race engineer role in the Sprint Cup Series, to overseeing the No. 20 team. Jones and Gabehart have earned eight poles, led 624 laps, and won four races.

Saturday, they will be one of four teams competing for the championship at Homestead. Something that seems amazing to Gabehart when looking at how the two first met and how far Jones has come.

“It was really neat to be a part of all of that,” Gabehart said of 2012. “I think without any one of those little things going the way they did, there’s a good chance Erik Jones wouldn’t be where he is today, and that’s pretty special to be a part of.”

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NASCAR fines No. 6 Xfinity Series team crew chief for lug nut violation

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Only one penalty has emerged from this past weekend’s racing action at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

NASCAR announced on Thursday that the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series Ford Fusion, driven Darrell Wallace Jr., was found to be in violation of:

Sections 10.9.10.4: Tires and Wheels (lug nut not properly installed).

The penalty to crew chief Seth Barbour was a $5,000 fine.

There are no penalties against Wallace, team owners and Barbour will not be suspended.

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Full schedule for NASCAR Cup, Trucks this weekend at Martinsville

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The three-race West Coast Swing is over and NASCAR returns back east for this weekend’s racing action at Martinsville Speedway.

The half-mile, paper-clip shaped oval celebrates its 70th year of operation this weekend. Martinsville is the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, opening in 1947.

The NASCAR Cup Series will hold its STP 500 on Sunday. The Xfinity Series is off this weekend, while the Xfinity Camping World Truck Series races for the first time in nearly a month, since March 4 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Here’s this weekend’s NASCAR schedule with TV and radio information.

All times are Eastern.

Friday, March 31

9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. – Cup first practice (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network)

11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Truck garage open

1 – 1:55 p.m. – Truck first practice (FS1)

3 – 3:55 p.m. – Truck final practice (FS1)

4:35 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three-round) (FS1, MRN)

Saturday, April 1

7:30 a.m. – Truck garage open

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Cup garage open

10 – 10:55 p.m. – Cup second practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. – Truck qualifying (multi-vehicle/three rounds) (FS1)

1:15 p.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

1:30 p.m. – Cup final practice (FS1, MRN)

2:30 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

3 p.m. – Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck race (250 laps, 131.5 miles) (Fox, MRN, Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, April 2

8:30 a.m. – Cup garage open

12 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

2 p.m. – STP 500 NASCAR Cup race (500 laps, 263 miles) (FS1, MRN, Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio)

Stewart-Haas drops appeal, Knost to fill in for Childers as Harvick crew chief at Martinsville

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Daniel Knost – former crew chief for both Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick – will fill in as crew chief for Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion team for this weekend’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

SHR chose not to go forward with its appeal of a one-race suspension penalty against Rodney Childers, Harvick’s regular crew chief. Childers will sit out this weekend and pay a $25,000 fine after being penalized by NASCAR for an unapproved track bar assembly in post-race inspection March 19 following the Phoenix race.

“Basically we got in trouble for a part that was drawn a certain way and didn’t appear that way on the car,” Harvick said in a media release. “The way that NASCAR works now is you submit drawings for pretty much every part on your car. It has to meet certain specifications and that part didn’t meet it, so Rodney’s going to get to go on vacation this week.”

Harvick was also penalized 10 driver points and the No. 4 team lost 10 owner points for the infraction.

Knost is SHR’s director of vehicle dynamics. Previously, he was Busch’s crew chief for 33 races in 2014, including working together to earn a win at Martinsville in April of that year.

Knost then moved to Patrick’s team as crew chief for the last three races of 2014 and the entire 2015 season.

Harvick has one career win at Martinsville (spring 2006). But he’s struggled in the last two races at the half-mile, paper clip-sized oval, finishing 17th last spring and 20th last fall.

“I know this is probably one of the most painful weeks for (Childers) to go on vacation because Martinsville really hasn’t been our best track,” Harvick said. “… We push things and that’s what I want them to do. I want them to push everything on that car.

“Sometimes you’re going to get in trouble, but those guys have been the best in the business for the last three years. It’s kind of like growing up as a kid – sometimes you get in trouble and you have to suffer the consequences.”

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Daniel Hemric on racing his wife, his ‘Alter ego’ and sleepovers with Dillon brothers

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As a kid growing up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, Daniel Hemric spent a lot of time with brothers Austin and Ty Dillon.

Nights were filled with games of hide-and-seek, paint ball matches and dreams.

Having first encountered each other on the Bandolero circuit, the aspiring race car drivers would stay up late into the night, conspiring about their racing futures.

“I remember sitting there talking about ‘Man, what would we do if we ever made to the top of NASCAR? Or just made it to NASCAR?’,” Hemric told NBC Sports. “Here we are trying to figure it out.”

They figured it out together, as the three have risen through the ranks of NASCAR with Hemric usually one step behind the brothers.

Hemric is now teammates with the Dillons at Richard Childress Racing, which is owned by their grandfather. While the Dillons are now both in the Cup Series full-time, Hemric is five races into his rookie campaign in the Xfinity Series driving the No. 21. His move comes after two seasons in the Camping World Truck Series, with the last season at Brad Keselowski Racing.

Though there are many veteran drivers at RCR he could consult, the 26-year-old rookie usually seeks out the Dillons.

“My crew chief Danny (Stockman) and Austin and Ty have all worked together in the past, so they have a little bit of communication there that helps me break through with Danny,” Hemric said. “Stuff that Danny’s asking or expecting of me is stuff he’s asked of them. It’s easier to go to those guys and really lean on them because they’ve been through the exact situation I’m in.”

That communication led to Hemric, who is seventh in the point standings, qualifying on the front row for last weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

This Q&A had been edited and condensed:

Daniel Hemric with Darrell Wallace Jr. in the garage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Hemric: A ’95 Honda Civic, green.

NBC Sports: What kind of green? There’s good green and then there’s bad green.

Hemric: I’d say it’s probably a mix. I wouldn’t pick it for any other car if I had to have it. My mother bought the car brand new in ’95. She gave it to me and I still drive it up and down the road. … I’ve upgraded, I have a little nicer car for special occasions, but my little Honda still treats me right.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a street car or race car?

Hemric: Absolutely. I’ve had two of those. My Legends car was obviously very special to me, kind of helped me put my name on the map and her name was Sue. … We had a long-running joke with a guy I was teammates with back in the day, his mom was always a sweet lady. After we named the car we started winning a lot of races and it stuck. The other one I had a late model that I had a bunch of guys pitch in and build, a bunch of different owners were involved and the car was all white, white everything. Ran a couple races, won a couple races with it. Whenever I stripped the car and rebuilt it, went back and everything was exactly the opposite color. Everything was flat black, everything was black out. It took on the name “Alter ego.” Went on to have a lot of success with that car as well. Maybe that’s the thing, I need to start naming these stock cars.

NBC Sports: If you were to race in the Cup Series night race at Bristol, what would your intro song be?

Hemric: People probably wouldn’t believe me if I said this, but I’m actually into some old school rap. There’s an old Yung Joc song called “Hear Me Comin’.” I feel like that’s the proper language for a Bristol night race. (Writer’s note: “old school” apparently means 2006 these days.)

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Hemric: With being more heavily involved in golf and snowboarding, I’d like to go to Vermont or somewhere more exotic snowboarding with a lot of fresh snow, that would be really cool. Playing golf in some really cool places. Pebble Beach. I know a lot of people that have played there, so maybe go play there a couple times is something I’d like to knock off the list.

NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional reaction you’ve had to a sporting event that wasn’t auto racing?

Hemric: Here recently, within the last few weeks,we got to go to one of the top five majors of tennis and I’ve never followed it, never seen a tennis match, didn’t know the rules. Here we are pretty much sitting front row at this tennis match. To feel the intensity and what these guys are playing for, Roger Federer wound up winning the match, but to be able to all of a sudden go from not a fan, not know anything about the sport to watching these guys do battle … was just an overwhelming experience. These guys laid it on the line. Just pure emotion. I thought that was a really cool experience.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Who was your favorite driver growing up?

Hemric: Dale Earnhardt, no doubt. … Being from Kannapolis, North Carolina, it was kind of an obvious pick for me. With DEI being right down the road, with that being the pinnacle of the sport, I didn’t know anything else. My dad was a follower, all my family. It was one of those things that got kind of pushed down. As I began my own racing career and I got to choose a number, the number was three. As I started racing go karts heavily, the guy that I always pulled for, that kind of carried with me growing up.

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your face or name on merchandise?

Hemric: The first couple of years of Truck racing, I didn’t have a whole lot of stuff. I had been out of town racing and I got got back from a Truck race late one night. My wife (Kenzie Ruston), she raced as well, she was coming from a race. We met at our house at like 3 a.m. in the morning and there’s a box on the porch. And I’m thinking, ‘What did you order now?’ She says ‘I didn’t order anything.’ We get inside and open the box up and here’s a compete (cardboard) standup of myself in this box. I unfolded this thing and it was so random, unexpected. Draw Tite, the sponsor that was a big part of my career at Brad Keselowski Racing, just sent it to me saying ‘We think this is probably the first one you’ve ever had, hope you enjoy it.’ It’s a very awkward tease that we have in our house. We try to put it in the spare bedroom so when people stay over, it tries to spook them when they open the door.

NBC Sports: Your wife races too?

Hemric: Yeah, she grew up racing as well in Legend cars. She ran a couple of ARCA races and super late models (and three seasons in the K&N Pro Series East. She’s a former member of NASCAR Next). She’s kind of on the retiring path currently trying to keep up with me. She’s a heck of a driver herself, that’s how we met.

NBC Sports: You’ve actually raced against her?

Hemric: Yeah, we actually ran numerous races against each other, a couple of times in the super late-model ranks. Her claim to fame is that she was the only female ever to win a super late-model race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis. I can’t remember how it went down, but I was third, Ryan Blaney was fourth and Chase Elliott was fifth, somewhere in that order. That’s her go-to whenever you ask ‘Have you ever beat Daniel?’

Previous Xfinity Spotlight Q&A’s

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

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