Photo courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway

Byron, Custer, Gallagher wrap up two-day Xfinity test at Atlanta

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A two-day test that featured three promising young drivers who will be racing full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the first time this season, ended Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

William Byron, Cole Custer and Spencer Gallagher, who all jumped to the Xfinity Series after previously having competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, welcomed the opportunity to learn about one of the sport’s most well-known race tracks.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Portraits
William Byron (Photo Getty Images)

Byron, who won seven races in a Truck last season and was named the series’ rookie of the year, is now in the JR Motorsports fold.

“It’s great to know they’ve had that history and I know they bring good race cars to the racetrack,” said Byron, who will drive the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports. “Every time that you know you’re going to sit in something that’s going to be successful, that definitely makes it exciting.”

As for the new racing format being brought to NASCAR this year, featuring three stages to a race, Byron is looking forward to it.

“I think it’s going to be new for all of us, but I think it’s going to make it more exciting,” Byron said. “There’s going to be more on the line early in the race, so you definitely have to push yourself to get those segment wins and try to get some bonus points.”

Cole Custer
Cole Custer (Getty Images)

Custer, meanwhile, will highlight Stewart-Haas Racing’s first foray into the Xfinity Series. While there likely will be a learning curve for both Custer and his team, he’s confident that things will fall into place quickly.

“I think we have some really great people and a lot of great resources with Ford and at Stewart-Haas, so I think we’re going to have some awesome cars and we’re going to see what happens,” Custer said.

With three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart as team co-owner, along with former Cup champs Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, as well as Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick, Custer has a strong group of drivers to learn from.

“They’ve kind of volunteered,” said Custer, who will drive the No. 00 Ford Mustang. “Kevin has tried to help me a little bit. He’s definitely one of the greatest ones to ask because he’s run so many Xfinity races. He’s also been awesome in the Cup series. He’s obviously one I really want to talk to.”

Spencer Gallagher
Spencer Gallagher (Getty Images)

Gallagher, who will drive the No. 23 Chevrolet Camaro for GMS Racing, will have fond memories of his previous tenure in the Truck series.

“I’m certainly going to miss running around in the Camping World Truck Series,” he said. “But being able to get into these Xfinity cars and show the series what GMS Racing has to offer is a real opportunity and privilege for me. I cherish that and look forward to it.”

While he’ll be at Daytona for the Xfinity Series season opener on Feb. 25, Gallagher values the two days he had at Atlanta because it will be more like the other tracks he’ll be racing on for most of the season.

“Plate racing is really its own gig,” Gallagher said. “The first time you come to Atlanta, to an intermediate track, one of the styles you’re going to be running the rest of the year, that’s where you see a lot of people’s programs are really shaken out.”

The Xfinity Series races at Atlanta on Saturday, March 4 in the Rinnai 250, part of a doubleheader that day that also includes the Active Pest Control Camping World Truck Series. The Folds of Honor Quick Trip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Series race takes place on Sunday, March 5.

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Erik Jones fastest in 1st of 2 Cup practices at Fontana; Harvick, Ragan hit wall

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NASCAR Cup rookie Erik Jones was fastest in the first of two practice sessions Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Jones drove his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota to the top of the speed charts at the Fontana, California track with a best lap of 187.251, the only driver to exceed 187 mph.

Jones was followed by Chase Elliott (186.843), Ryan Newman (186.732), Jimmie Johnson (186.384) and Brad Keselowski (186.292).

There were two incidents of note during the session:

* With just over nine minutes remaining in the practice session, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet hit hard into the outside retaining wall, sustaining damage on the right side.

However, the team chose to repair the damage rather than go to a backup car.

Prior to the incident, Harvick’s car was sixth-fastest (186.128 mph).

* In the final two minutes, David Ragan spun and impacted the Turn 3 wall. It appeared something came loose from under Ragan’s car before impact.

Given the amount of damage, Ragan will likely have to go to a backup car.

Click here for how Saturday’s first of two practice sessions played out:

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Danica Patrick: ‘NASCAR makes a really big mistake of fining for some stuff’

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Danica Patrick wants her money back. Or she at least wants to know what it bought.

Fined $70,000 over the past 17 months for intentionally wrecking a rival driver under caution and tossing and walking onto the track to gesture at another, Patrick was asked Friday at Auto Club Speedway how she felt about Austin Dillon avoiding a fine for crashing Cole Custer under caution at Phoenix.

Give me my money back,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said. “I think NASCAR makes a really big mistake of fining for some stuff, especially something that happens in the car because it makes for good TV, just like fights and all that stuff.  We can handle it.

“I think it’s a mistake.  I might be speaking too much, but I’ve been fined a few times, and I think that it makes for good TV, and I think that we handle it out on the track ourselves.”

NASCAR has said it funnels the fine payments to the NASCAR Foundation, which supports several charitable organizations.

Patrick would prefer NASCAR avoid fining everyone but is curious about how the money gets earmarked.

“I would actually rather know what it did,” she said. “I would actually love to see like the playground that got built for it, or homeless people that got food.  I would like to see actually what the money does for fines because it’s supposed to go to charity, right?  So what does it really do?  I would like to see that.”

Today’s Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
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After four races, Xfinity Series regulars have won twice (Ryan Reed at Daytona and Justin Allgaier at Phoenix) and Cup drivers have won twice (Kyle Busch at Atlanta and Joey Logano at Las Vegas). The Xfinity Series regulars will look to take the lead in that category at Auto Club Speedway.

Here are the particulars for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Stu Crum, COO of Service King, will give the command for drivers to start engines at 4:07 p.m. ET. The green flag is scheduled for 4:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 150 laps (300 miles) around the 2-mile oval.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 10 a.m. The drivers meeting is at 2:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:35 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Karen Waldrup will perform the Anthem at 4:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Its coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com. MRN’s coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 63 degrees at race time with a 7 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Austin Dillon took the lead on a wild final lap and went on to win. Kyle Busch led and cut a tire. Daniel Suarez took the lead but ran out of fuel. Busch managed to retake the lead. Dillon got by Busch for the lead in Turn 4 after hitting the wall. Busch finished second and Darrell Wallace Jr. was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying at 12:30 p.m.

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule at Auto Club Speedway

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The Xfinity Series ends its part of the “West Coast swing” today with the Service King 300.

But the day is filled with Cup Series practice and Xfinity qualifying prior to the race.

Here is the full schedule for the day with TV and radio info.

All times are Eastern.

Saturday, March 25

10 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

10 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. – Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

12:30 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single vehicle/two rounds (FS1)

2:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

2:30 – 3:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. – Service King 300 Xfinity race; 150 laps/300 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)