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Martin Truex Jr. gets by with a little help from his friend, Erik Jones

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For the previous three seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was like a lone wolf with Furniture Row Racing, its sole driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.

At times it was tough, like 2014, his first year with Furniture Row, when he endured his worst Cup season. He finished 24th in the standings, failing to win and earned just one top-five and five top 10s.

When the team affiliated with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016, things got markedly better for the driver of the No. 78. He earned a career-best four wins, as well as eight top-fives and 17 top 10s.

Even though Truex and his team were receiving extensive help from JGR and Toyota, he still was going it alone as Furniture Row’s sole driver.

That changed this season, with the addition of Erik Jones in Furniture Row’s No. 77 Toyota. And the results have definitely helped Truex.

He’s won one of the first six races (Las Vegas), the only Toyota driver to do so.

Truex also has two top-fives, three top 10s and is ranked third in the Cup standings heading into this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the repaved Texas Motor Speedway.

While JGR is still helping Truex, the addition of Jones has also been significant to the latter’s success this season.

“Yeah, it’s something we do every week, looking at data and things,” Truex said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “You know, I say nothing’s really changed. That’s really a compliment to him (Erik Jones) and to his team because he’s done such a good job, they’ve done such a good job.

“You’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s a rookie,’ but he’s doing good and everything’s fine. It’s really impressive to watch how those guys do it. He goes to race tracks and it seems like he’s been there before. I guess I’m kind of playing it off as not much has changed when it’s really kind of a huge deal, you know, for those guys.

“It’s a huge compliment to them just by being able to say it’s not a big deal for them. So, yeah, it’s been cool. But all that data sharing stuff, I mean, he knows what he’s doing. He knows what he wants most importantly. He knows what he’s looking for. He feels the car out well. In our debriefs and things, he really kind of knows what he’s talking about. It’s real easy to buy into his information and use it, if needed. It’s been good.”

It’s also been good for Truex when it comes to the new stages format this season. He’s won four of the first 12 stages, garnering 63 points along the way, leaving him 16 points behind stage points leader Chase Elliott.

While other teams may have struggled early in the season getting used to the new format, Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn went in a different direction, looking at stage racing as business as usual.

“I think it’s really not doing anything different, but consistently running up front, leading laps and trying to perform well is kind of what the stage points system rewards,” Truex said. “We were able to do that last year. We’re hopeful this year it would pay off – so far it has.

“Certainly we’ve had a few weeks here and there where we haven’t been quite as good as we wanted to. I think overall the start to the season has been solid. Need to find a little more consistency, but all in all the stage racing has gone well, it’s been fun, added a little kink to things. Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to get some points out of it, so it’s been good.”

As for Pearn, he’s embraced working the stages into his race strategy atop the pit box.

“Cole’s always thinking of ways to find advantages, no matter what the situation,” Truex said. “You dangle some points out there in front of him, he’s going to try to figure out a way to get ’em.

“For the most part it’s really just been pretty straightforward as far as if you’re running up front, you’re in position to take advantage of those stages. I think Martinsville last weekend was the first time we’ve actually kind of gambled on one of them to get that first stage win.

“We weren’t the best car. Some guys had pit road penalties. We stayed out. It worked out – we got that first stage win. That’s the first time we’ve kind of done something a little different just to try to get ’em, was successful at that, so we’ll see how it plays out.”

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Tonight’s Cup race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

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Kyle Busch looks to win his third consecutive race of the season tonight at Richmond Raceway and become the second driver to accomplish that this season, matching what Kevin Harvick did earlier in the season.

Here is all the important information for the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Lauren Fulcher, Toyota car owner, will give the command to start engines for the Toyota Owners 400 at 6:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 6:44 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 400 laps (300 miles) around the .75-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 100. Stage 2 ends on Lap 200.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 1 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 6 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEMElliott Yamin will perform the anthem at 6:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race beginning at 6:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 5:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 64 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won the September race, finishing ahead of Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. Logano won this event a year ago (but his car failed inspection after the race). Brad Keselowski was second. Denny Hamlin placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Daniel Hemric “making the most” of first Cup start at Richmond

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Daniel Hemric made the rounds this week.

Hemric “talked to just about every car owner” he raced for in the last 22 years to thank them.

Without them, he wouldn’t be making his Cup debut tonight at Richmond Raceway.

The 27-year-old driver will start 22nd in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 8 Chevrolet. It caps a busy weekend as Hemric pulled double duty with his regular job driving the No. 21 for RCR in the Xfinity Series.

“I have a newfound respect for those guys who do double duty every week,” Hemric said Friday in the midst of a day filled with four practice sessions, two qualifying sessions and the Xfinity race, where he finished 29th following tire problems. “It’s been a lot to take in. It’s been a good time and a great problem to have trying to figure out how to get from one place to the next in the manner that you need to.”

Before qualifying, Hemric was 23rd fastest in the first practice session. He improved to eighth best in final practice.

The busy pace helped Hemric stay focused in his preparation for the most important race of his career so far.

“I think between getting in the Xfinity car and having time on the race track, and then just running straight over and getting in the Cup car has made the transition as easy as possible,” Hemric said Friday. “Think that’s helped to calm the nerves and staying busy has kept all that stuff kind of in-check as well. … It’s been a lot going on but it’s been fun.”

Hemric would consider it a “home run” if he ended the 400-lap race in the top 20.

“I think if we can do that as a group with only being a one-off race right here, obviously knowing we’re going to come back at it in the fall at (the Charlotte) road course, but it’s tough to do,” Hemric said. “It’s tough to bring guys out of the shop and know what the expectations are. That’s why I say we’ve got to take it a step at a time. That’s what we’ve done do far.”

Hemric is somewhat an oddity in modern NASCAR as he makes his first Cup start at the age of 27. He enters tonight’s race with 90 combined starts in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. He’s yet to win in either national series.

Despite not winning last year, he made it to the championship four last year in the Xfinity Series.

Cup driver Kyle Busch believes Hemric is “ready for the opportunity.”

“I think he’s done a really good job,” Busch said. “Maybe not has scored as many wins as he would have wanted to in Truck of Xfinity competition, but I think talent pool wise, I’ve seen him race in late models and I’ve seen what he can do in those things and he’s made a name for himself in being able to come up through these ranks and hasn’t caused chaos while doing it. He’s done it really, really clean. He’s raced his competitors as well as you can ask of anybody to race their competitors. I think the only thing lacking is just the win column, so I think Daniel is a great kid and look forward to seeing what he can do at the next level.”

Hemric said if he’d been asked two or three years if he would be about to make his Cup debut, he would have replied, “there ain’t no way.”

Hemric continued, “I’m going to continue to get older and I’m not sure how to put myself in any other better position than just making the most of that opportunity. … At the end of the day, nobody knows your story better than you know it.”

Hemric’s story includes one his RCR mechanics and former Legends racing owner selling his own Ford Mustang in order to keep his racing career going just before Hemric turned 15.

Hemric isn’t the only older driver getting their due this season. Last week, 27-year-old Ryan Preece won his second Xfinity race at Bristol. Next week, 37-year-old Timothy Peters will make his Cup debut after years of competing in the Truck Series.

“I saw where Jeff Burton told Ryan Preece last week that he won his first Cup race at 30 years old, so that gave me a little bit more confidence that I was on the right path,” Hemric said. “I never had a path or an age set for whenever I wanted to get there. I’ve just been fortunate to be able to continue that uphill climb and I know the trend is 17 or 18 years old; you’ve got to be in the top three series and doing it full-time. But I’m just doing it the way it’s provided to me and just trying to make the most of it.”

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Kyle Larson moving on from Bristol finish, looking to win again at Richmond

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After losing the lead with six laps to go and finishing second to Kyle Busch at Bristol, a frustrated Kyle Larson headed back to his motorhome.

He was greeted by son Owen, who had a question for him.

“Did you get me some Skittles?’ ‘’ Owen asked.

Even though the candy sponsors Busch, Larson admits he managed to smile at his son’s request.

‘That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it kind of lightened the mood, so it helps to get over it a little bit,’’ Larson said Friday at Richmond Raceway.

The runner-up finish for Larson marked the third time he’s finished second to Busch in a Cup race (2014 Auto Club Speedway, 2017 New Hampshire and 2018 Bristol).

Larson enters this weekend having won the most recent race at Richmond. He took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. with five laps to go on pit road and held on in overtime to win in September.

“Typically this hasn’t been a good race track for me, but for whatever reason, the last time we were here we were about a top-three car all race long,’’ said Larson, who starts tonight’s race fifth. “Truex was really fast. But, I was a little bit lucky there at the end with a caution to beat him off pit road and get the win. I think that adds a little bit of confidence coming back here.

“Even though I’ve struggled in the past, I enjoy this track because it is different than what we typically go to.”

Larson enters the weekend with three top-three finishes this season, including the Bristol result.

“I feel like our short track program has become really competitive over the last few years,’’ he said. “Aside from Martinsville, I don’t even know if our package is good or bad there; I think I’m just not very good there. But, for us to get a couple top-two finishes here at Richmond now the last couple of years, at a track that I struggle a lot at, I think says a lot about our short track program. Even Bristol, I think Bristol is my best race track, but a few years ago I would just kind of run around eighth to 12th. But now lately, I’ve been able to lead the most laps and get close to wins.’’

Larson’s Bristol race also included a spin after contact with Ryan Newman but Larson doesn’t blame Newman for the incident.

“I get along with Newman,’’ Larson said. “The line that I run in (Turns) 3 and 4 throughout a run is really fast, but I can get myself in trouble if people poke their nose in on me. That’s the second time I’ve gotten spun by running that line, so I think I just need to be a little more cautious. I don’t think he did anything wrong there. It was getting somewhat toward the end of the race. You’re trying to race for lead-lap spots. So, I cut it a little too close, I think, and ran across his front end.”

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Results, point standings after Xfinity race at Richmond

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Christopher Bell led a race-high 120 laps to win the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway. It’s his second career Xfinity win.

Bell beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Noah Gragson, Elliott Sadler, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric.

Elliott Sadler won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Click here for the race results.

Points

Elliott Sadler continues to lead the point standings through eight races. He has a 29-point lead over Bell.

Completing the top five is Tyler Reddick (-31 points), Daniel Hemric (-38) and Justin Allgaier (-48).

Click here for the point standings.