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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Brennan Poole on his love of ‘Star Wars’ and owning an A.J. Foyt truck

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“Without a doubt” the most fun Brennan Poole has had in the Xfinity Series ended in disappointment.

It was a year ago at Talladega Superspeedway when a chaotic finish ended with Poole and Elliott Sadler waiting five minutes at the start-finish line to find out who won the race. Though Sadler left the track a winner, Poole still cherishes the experience.

“I ran up front the whole race,” Poole told NBC Sports. “I was racing with (Joey) Logano and Sadler and (Justin) Allgaier. We’re all racing really hard. I got Jeremy Clements pushing me. A strange finish to that. It was a lot of fun to basically win the race, then not win the race.

“A lot of people would think that would be a terrible memory or something bad. It’s just how it panned out. It’s just racing. So that was a lot of fun.”

Ahead of the 10th race this season, Poole is still looking to top that moment. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is 10th in points and seeking his first top-five finish of the year.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

 (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: OK, I’ve been wanting to ask you about this since February. Your Star Wars helmet. How did that come about?

Poole: As a kid I always liked Star Wars and my dad was a huge Star Wars guy. He took me to see it and I watched all of them when I was really little. I remember going to see Episode I, II and III when all those came out. My dad I would go and watch them together. This winter over the off-season, my family and I, we all went out to see Rogue One. We went to dinner afterward and I was sitting there, ‘Man, it would be really cool if I painted my helmet like a Star Wars helmet or something cool.’ Really, as a driver, our only thing of creativity that we get to decide on our own (is our helmet). That’s where we get to express ourselves a little bit, you know? I just started thinking about it, started looking at helmets. Just sitting down at dinner goofing off and talking about it. That’s really where the idea started and I thought it would be sick if I did a Luke Skywalker X-Wing helmet. I thought it would be cool and neat to do it all scratched up and beat up and kind of worn out like his was.

When I got home from doing Christmas and New Year’s with my family I called up my helmet painter, Jason Beam, and we just talked about it. He’s a huge Star Wars guy too, so he was pumped about it too. He’s the creative side of it. I just wanted to do a Star Wars helmet and he was like ‘We’ll do this, we’ll do that.’ Started coming up with the idea and he started sending me drawings and things that he had. Finding a way to incorporate DC Solar and stuff on the front and really keep the helmet true to Luke’s helmet in the movie. He just did an outstanding job. Just more than special. Every time I put that thing on I feel cool, you know?

NBC Sports: Which Star Wars movie is your favorite?

Poole: People ask me that a lot. I like Episode I. I was like 10 or 11 or something when it came out. I was racing quarter midgets and stuff. The pod races, man. That’s like the coolest thing. To me that’s like the coolest part. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve watched all the movies. I’ve seen a bunch of them. The new ones, the technology has just grown so much and they’re done so beautifully. I would say right now my favorite is Rogue One. They did such an amazing job telling that story.

NBC Sports: If you had a time machine and you had to choose between going to the world premiere of Star Wars in 1977 or attending the 1979 Daytona 500, which would you choose?

Poole: (laughs) Both would be really cool. The ’70s are an interesting time. The music and everything that was going on. Racing is what I love. That’s what’s in my heart, it’s all that I’ve ever wanted to do since I can remember. So I would definitely like to go back and experience the Daytona 500 in the late ’70s. Just experience the crowd, the fans and what it was like. The drivers and see those cars and seeing them in person go around the track was probably amazing at the time. It’s still amazing today, but it’s just a little bit different feel to it and I’d like to experience that feel. … Hands down I would go to the race. Thinking about Star Wars though, going back to see the world premiere, like that’s cool, but I would want to go back and be a part of how they actually made the film. See how they’re hanging star ships up and filming it. I would like to see how they did that because it changed film and how they shot film forever.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Poole: My first car was a 1999 Ford F-350. It was a Legends Series and it used to be A.J. Foyt’s truck. A.J. Foyt owned it and he signed the dash. I bought it from the guy that built my dirt modified engines to pull my first modified trailer. I drove that thing to high school. When I turned 16 I got it and drove it all through high school. It was a good truck. … I could do burnouts for crying out loud. It was a lot of fun. I was that guy with the huge truck. People always gave me a hard time. ‘Why do you need a truck that big?’ ‘I pull my race car with it.’ Growing up in South Texas in Houston, I grew up in the city. Racing wasn’t a big thing. … I couldn’t even park it in the school parking lot. I had to take up multiple spots. It was kind of ridiculous. I pulled my race trailer and did all that stuff myself. I set up my own cars and couple of my buddies would help me, all young kids. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing. … I had that truck up until, I sold it a few years ago … in 2011. But I still miss it man.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car?

Poole: I’ve had several cars named. Several, several cars. The last car that I had named, I had this all red car. A dirt modified. It’s name was ‘Ms. Vivian’ after the movie Pretty Woman. It was a redhead, the car was all red. The car had a red chassis, a red body. So it was an ol’ red head. It said ‘Ms. Vivian’ right on the bumper.

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

Poole: I think about this a lot, of things I want to do or things I want to experience. I definitely want to go to a NBA finals game. I’m a huge basketball fan. I’ve been watching the playoffs. I’ve been a huge Charlotte Hornets fan for a few years since I live a couple blocks away from the stadium and I’ve gone to like 20 games each year that last two years. Of course, I’m a Houston Rockets fan, that’s where I grew up. They got knocked out of the deal, so I’m kind of bummed. … I want to go to a basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York. I’m fascinated by New York City for whatever reason, so I’d like to experience that. Most of my bucket list things have to do with sport. I’d love to go to the Stanley Cup finals as well and see a game in person. Hockey is so entertaining and amazing in person, it’s not-stop action the whole time. … I can definitely tell you I don’t want to go skydiving. I have no desire to experience that whatsoever.

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

Poole: Yeah, it was pretty cool. I think the coolest thing for me, I’ve had shirts and I’ve had things like that. I think it’s different when it’s a real piece. They have those baseball cards of me. I didn’t even know they existed and I had a fan ask me to sign some one weekend. I was like ‘Man, that’s pretty cool. I have my own baseball card.’ That’s pretty special. I have my rookie card, it says ‘RC’ on it like ‘Rookie Card.’ So I have one myself because I think that’s pretty neat. I didn’t think they did that. … I think I signed 150 yesterday with (PR representative) Ian (Moye) at his desk. That was just kind of special to see for the first time.

NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Cup race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?

Poole: Let’s just say ‘Down with the Sickness’ by Disturbed. That’s hard-core.

South Boston Speedway South Boston, Virginia. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: NASCAR announced the schedules for next year this week. If you could add one track to the Xfinity schedule, what would it be?

Poole: I think we should go somewhere ridiculous, like Hickory (Motor Speedway). It would be insane and there’s not even a pit road. People would be pitting all over the place. I’m just kidding, that would be insane. … I think I would like to see them go to South Boston, I never raced there. Just another short track or something. The Motor Mile (Speedway). Motor Mile’s pit road isn’t too terrible, they’d probably have to make it a little bit bigger or somethings. I would like a nice, tight short track. Maybe you got to do some bumping, some bump and runs, something like that would be a lot of fun.

NBC Sports: If you don’t have to be at the track or at the shop, all your family is busy and you have no obligations, how do you spend your day?

Poole: If you want a full day, you got it. Here we go. Probably wake up in the morning, have some coffee, make myself some eggs and bacon. I’d probably go on an hour and a half bike ride, maybe bust out 30 miles or something, 35 miles, something like that. Probably come home, literally would play X-Box for the rest of the afternoon. I’d probably be playing NBA 2K in ‘My Career’ playing as myself. Then I would order Hibachi. I would not leave the house. I would order Hibachi. There’s a great Hibachi place that delivers to where I live. Steak and shrimp. You get fried rice. You got to get noodles as well in the soup, I don’t know what the soup is called, the full deal. Just blow it out. Then I would watch some shows on Netflix as I’m falling asleep. That’s probably the full day.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

Blake Koch

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Your guide to 2018 Cup Series paint schemes

Stewart-Haas Racing
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The 2018 NASCAR Cup season is still two months away from its start with the 60th Daytona 500.

But it’s not too early to start brushing yourself up on the various Cup Series paint schemes that will be on track.

Some teams haven’t made many changes to their cars (Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing), while others have completely revamped their looks (Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing).

Here’s your look at all the released paint schemes so far for next season.

This post will be updated.

Jamie McMurray

Brad Keselowski

Source: Lionel Racing

Austin Dillon

 

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

 

Kevin Harvick

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

Trevor Bayne

Roush Fenway Racing
Lionel Racing

Chase Elliott

Lionel Racing

Aric Almirola

Stewart-Haas Racing

Denny Hamlin

Lionel Racing

Ryan Blaney

Team Penske

Ty Dillon

Lionel Racing

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Lionel Racing

Kyle Busch

Lionel Racing

Daniel Suarez

Lionel Racing

Erik Jones

Lionel Racing

Paul Menard

Lionel Racing

Joey Logano

Team Penske
Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

William Byron

Hendrick Motorsports
Lionel Racing

Ryan Newman

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing
Richard Childress Racing

Kyle Larson

 

Chip Ganassi Racing

Darrell Wallace Jr.

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Jimmie Johnson

Martin Truex Jr.

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Lionel Racing

Alex Bowman

Nationwide

John Hunter Nemechek’s Christmas came early with Chip Ganassi Racing ride

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Before this week, John Hunter Nemechek‘s best Christmas gift came about seven years ago.

He received an Allison Legacy car, a 3/4-scale stock car with about 110 HP. He raced it throughout the Southeast, competing at Hickory Motor Speedway and Bowman Gray Stadium and other tracks.

“That’s really the deciding factor of what I wanted to race,” Nemechek told NBC Sports on Thursday. “I wanted to get back in stock cars from motorcross. That was really the first stock car I had ever driven. So it was pretty neat to get that for Christmas.”

Nemechek, the son of former Cup driver Joe Nemechek, drove to the series championship in 2012 when he was 15. A year later, he competed in his first two Camping World Truck Series races.

“Without that Allison Legacy car, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now,” said Nemechek.

Nemechek is a few days removed from being named one of the drivers of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series next season. The move comes after he spent the last two seasons competing full-time for his family-owned NEMCO Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, with two part-time seasons before that.

The 20-year-old driver will join Kyle Larson in sharing the ride, which boasts the same number that Nemechek’s father raced when he earned his first Cup win in 1999. Then he drove for Felix Sabates, who now a co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing.

“It’s definitely up there,” Nemcheck said of where his new ride ranks among the Christmas gifts he’s received. “I’d have to say that it’s definitely up at the top of that list.”

The news of Nemechek’s jump up NASCAR’s ladder came six months after he stood in victory lane at Gateway Motorsports Park in tears on Father’s Day.

NEMCO Motorsports struggled through multiple seasons to attract sponsorship to its No. 8 Chevrolet. By the time Gateway rolled around in June this season, there were doubts the team would be able to make it to the following race at Iowa Speedway.

Having secured a playoff spot at Gateway, Nemechek wound up winning that race too.

Nemechek’s sponsor, Fire Alarm Services, stepped to sponsor him in 12 of the season’s remaining 14 races. He narrowly advanced to the second round of the playoffs before being eliminated.

“Before Gateway it kind of was like a make-or-break season for us in the Truck Series deal,” Nemehcek said. “Not knowing how many races we were going to get to in the full year. That definitely stunk for us. Being able to make it to all those races showed what we can do. I think the (Ganassi) opportunity arose some from that and what we’ve been able to do and show in years passed.”

For two weeks before the announcement, Nemechek kept his news quiet. The rest of the NASCAR world learned he had new plans on Dec. 5, when he posted a black-and-white video on Twitter.

Three days later, he posted a picture of a car underneath a black sheet, saying the news was coming soon.

Even then, some didn’t think he was going to be racing in Xfinity or even Cup.

“There was people saying that I was still going Truck racing even though we posted that picture,” Nemechek said. “I thought that was pretty funny. ”

During his time in the Truck Series, Nemechek managed to earn five wins. With NEMCO Motorsports financial struggles, Nemechek said he never believed his NASCAR career would end in the Truck Series, though “you always have thoughts in the back of your head.”

But winning does solve problems.

“We stayed focused on one goal and that was to run as best as we could and make sure we finish races and win races and the rest will take care of itself,” Nemechek said. “We had some great partners along the way. There’s been a lot of people that have helped me get to this point, from my first ever sponsor when I ran quarter midgets all the way to now with Fire Alarm Services. We didn’t have any speculation whether or not it was going to be an Xfinity ride or whatever it may be. The goal was to keep progressing and now we’re here.”

On Thursday, two days after the news broke (with another black-and-white video), Nemechek celebrated his first Christmas with his new team at Ganassi’s holiday lunch.

Every person Ganassi employees, from NASCAR to IndyCar, was there.

“I can’t even think of the number off the top of my head,” Nemechek said.

It’s a far cry from the team Nemechek has called home for most of his race career. Outside him and his father, NEMCO Motorsports has five full-time employees.

“It’s definitely going to be different getting to know everybody’s name,” Nemechek said. “I’m sure I won’t be able to remember every single name that works here in this building.”

Nemechek’s role will also slightly change with his new employment. His only job will be in the cockpit of the No. 42.

“I definitely loved driving for dad,” Nemechek said. “I loved every second of it. He taught me a lot. He’s given me every opportunity I’ve ever gotten until now. It’s definitely going to be a different transition into not working on the vehicle every day to being focused on one thing and that’s to be a driver. I definitely think there’s going to be some different changes there as far as what I’m focusing on and hopefully that’s going to make me a better driver in the long-run.”

While all the races Nemechek will run next year have not been finalized, he does know when he’ll get to fully enjoy his early Christmas gift.

He’ll hit the track as a Chip Ganassi Racing driver for the first time on Feb. 26 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Rick Ware Racing acquires NASCAR Cup charter for 2018, will also field ‘open’ car

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Rick Ware Racing (RWR) announced Friday that it has acquired a NASCAR Cup Series charter for the 2018 season.

However, RWR did not identify which Cup team it acquired the charter from.

As a result, RWR will be able to compete full-time in the Cup Series with the No. 51, beginning in the 60th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.

The team will also field an “open” team – one that will not have a charter and will have to qualify for every race it enters – sporting the No. 52 car number.

In addition to not identifying where it acquired the Cup charter, RWR is not identifying at this time what manufacturer it will field for either car in the upcoming season.

In a media statement, however, it did say that will be both be building and acquiring cars both during the off-season and in-season, including Chevrolet Camaros, Ford Fusions and Toyota Camrys.

The Thomasville, North Carolina-based organization is also increasing the amount of personnel, updating equipment, adding engineering support on and off the road, as well as upgrading its 20,000-square-foot shop.

The team said it will finalize its driver lineup for both the No. 51 and No. 52 “in the immediate future,” it said in a media release.

Six drivers drove a combined 29 races for RWR in the 2017 NASCAR Cup season: Timmy Hill (9 races), B.J. McLeod (8 races), Cody Ware (5), Ray Black Jr. (3), Kyle Weatherman (2) and Josh Bilicki (2).

The team’s two best finishes were both by Hill: a 28th-place showing at the spring race in Kansas, followed the next week by a 29th-place finish at Charlotte.

The team also entered three Camping World Truck races, with 2 starts by Jordan Anderson and one by Spencer Boyd. It also competed in one Xfinity race.

‘Old dog’ Matt Crafton preparing to make USAC Midget debut Saturday night

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Matt Crafton is proving it’s never too late for to try new things in auto racing.

Crafton, the 41-year-old driver for ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, will break new ground Saturday night.

It all started a few months ago over dinner with Jack Irving, the director of team and support services at Toyota Racing Development.

“We were just sitting down, having dinner one night a couple of months ago and thought it would be a great idea for me to drive a midget,” Crafton said last Saturday during the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series awards banquet.

“I didn’t think it was too crazy when (Irving) brought it up,” Crafton said. “At that point, it was just casual conversation. I said ‘Yeah, let’s do it’ and he texted (Keith) Kunz to see if it was okay. Two days later, he told me, ‘Okay, pick where you want to go.’”

Crafton chose Saturday night’s USAC Indoor Junior Knepper 55 in DuQuoin, Illinois, as the place to make his midget debut.

He will make it in a car owned by Keith Kunz Motorsports.

On Dec. 6, the two-time Truck Series champion found himself sitting in a midget for the first time, getting fitted for the dirt car.

“About to find out if you can teach an old dog new tricks,” Crafton later tweeted.

But Crafton has already been fine tuning his dirt racing skills over the last five years. Since 2013, the Truck Series has visited Eldora Speedway, the Tony Stewart-owned dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio.

Crafton has been in every Eldora race, but before 2017 his best finish was eighth in the inaugural event.

Before this season, Crafton decided to really figure out dirt racing.

He and his father worked together to rebuild a Modified dirt car and in the downtime between Truck races, Crafton took it racing.

It worked out quickly, with Crafton coming in second in an event at Volusia Speedway Park in February.

Then in July, Crafton triumphed over Stewart Friesen to win the fifth Eldora Dirt Derby.

“It helped a lot,” Crafton said after the race. “Just learning what the track does. In the years past, I didn’t know what I was looking at to be totally honest. Just kept studying and kept studying.”

That Eldora win was the only victory for the No. 88 ThorSport Racing team in 2017, but it put Crafton in the Truck playoffs.

When the prospect of a midget race was raised to him by Irving, the pursuit of a third Truck title kept Crafton from it until the offseason.

“I wouldn’t say the Eldora win propelled any of this … but it’s definitely opened up some more doors,” Crafton said last weekend. “Now, everyone realizes how much I enjoy it and how much of a racer I am and that I love to race.

“I’ll say it again: I’m a racer. There’s a reason why I race dirt races and do everything that I do, and it’s because I want to go out and race anything and everything I possibly can. That’s why I got my own dirt modified, that’s why I got a go-kart … to be able to perfect road courses and that style of racing as well.”

One of Crafton’s teammates in Saturday’s race will be the defending Truck Series champion and dirt veteran Christopher Bell. Crafton’s also received advice from Chase Briscoe, who drove for Brad Keselowski Racing this season.

“(Briscoe) won’t be my teammate, but he sent me some in-car footage of him racing at DuQuoin and I’ve watched it 10 times, just to see what I can learn,” Crafton said. “I mean, you get about four laps, and then you try to race your way into the main event. There’s gonna be a lot of cars there, so it won’t be easy.”

“I talked to Bell this week, and he has a simulator with the midget on it, so I may go over to his house and run the simulator a little bit and see if I can figure out anything there.”

Crafton said he keeps getting pressured to take his dirt experience one step further and compete in January’s Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But Saturday’s 55-lap race comes first.

“I’d love to give (the Chili Bowl) a shot in the future. But we’ll see,” Crafton said. “I’m going out to DuQuoin to have fun; that’s the main goal.”