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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Dakoda Armstrong

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If anyone is a fan of the controversial overtime line rule in NASCAR, it’s Dakoda Armstrong.

If not for the rule that decides whether a caution ends a race, the 26-year-old driver might not have earned the best finish of his NASCAR career two weeks ago at Daytona International Speedway.

The JGL Racing driver was third, tucked in behind Elliott Sadler and William Byron on the final restart of the Firecracker 250. But his No. 28 Toyota had a problem. His right-front fender had collided with Ryan Reed in the multi-car crash that caused a red flag and setup the two-lap finish.

Dakoda Armstrong drives his No. 28 Toyota during practice at Daytona. (Getty Images).

“I thought our car was done,” Armstrong told NBC Sports. “I thought it destroyed it, but really all it did was push the front in and there was a little bit of drag on the right front so I was just hoping our car would hold on. … I couldn’t lift and I just had to drive through whatever happened.”

The eventual five-car wreck happened behind him, but the caution came out after Byron crossed the overtime line.

“The overtime line saved us cause our right front was actually chunked,” Armstrong said. “It had almost dragged apart. It wasn’t going to make it another lap.”

A veteran of 122 Xfinity starts, it was the New Castle, Indiana native’s third top five and his second in a row. At Iowa Speedway, he finished fifth behind the likes of Ryan Sieg in second and Ross Chastain in fourth. After a finish of 17th at Kentucky, Armstrong heads to New Hampshire ninth in the points standings.

It’s the best season to date for Armstrong, who grew up on a soybean and corn farm and has competed for Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and one race last year for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is good, it shows that we’re building and going in the right direction,” Armstrong said. “When we can run good at those other tracks, it doesn’t hurt us as bad when we finish 17th or 15th at a mile and a half, that’s still a good points day for us. That’s where it really helps in the long-term.”

This Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: What’s been your highest high and your lowest low of your career?

Armstrong: As great as these top fives have been I would say my highest high really wasn’t even in the sport of NASCAR. It was when I was first starting out just racing stock cars. It was actually in ARCA when I won at Talladega (in 2010). That just really gave me a boost of confidence and it was the first real big track I had been at and to win there was something that was crazy. I can still go back and watch it now even though it was seven years ago and I’m like ‘Man, that was a really cool race,’ even though it was in ARCA and the way those plate races play out, there’s something about them that’s hard to describe.

As far as lowest low, that’s tough, there’s been a time where I haven’t been running good before in the sport and money’s been tight and just thinking you’re not going to be back the next year and that happens to almost everybody. Just not giving up and going out there and competing each week kind of brings you back. That’s the one thing about this sport, you can have a really good week but then it restarts on Monday and you’re right back at it. It always resets it on the good and the bad.

 

NBC Sports: You’re going to be a birthday boy this weekend (July 16). How are you celebrating turning 26?

Armstrong: Honestly, I doubt we’ll do anything, really. Just kind of let it go. Let it be. Just another number at this point. It’ll be good. I’m sure my wife will do something. I’ve always had birthdays right in the middle of racing. I’ve had a lot of races where it’s been my birthday or my birthday week and we’re going racing. That’s probably the best thing, at least that’s still happening. That’s the best present I guess.

NBC Sports: What’s the best birthday gift you’ve ever gotten?

Armstrong: Easily when I turned 16 my dad bought me my first vehicle, that’s pretty hard to beat. It was actually a 2004 Avalanche. That was pretty awesome. I drove that thing for a long time.

Dakoda Armstrong drove a Davey Allison throwback paint scheme last year at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Is the Avalanche a proper vehicle for a 16-year-old?

Armstrong: Probably not. I was OK with it but it was a big vehicle. My dad likes to have things really nice so he had it detailed out with some extra covers and he actually put 22-inch rims on it. I was like ‘this doesn’t fit.’ It didn’t fit for a country boy from the middle of Indiana, we’ll say that. It was still a really cool car.

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

Armstrong: Other than numbers, I never have. Just never have gotten really that attached to any of them. There is a sprint car that we kept. We’ve never named it, but it was such bad luck for a while we wouldn’t even talk about it. Because every time it went out something would break on it. It was always the fastest thing there, no matter where we unloaded it was always the top five, top-three car. But every time in the race something would break. Even if we finished, the shock would be broke, we’d have a right front go down, just something crazy would go wrong with that thing. That was a car we’d never talk about. That was really our only superstition.

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

Armstrong: Oh man, that’s really tough. I’ve always thought about it. I kind of want to come down to the Hulk Hogan wrestling song he’s had, “The Real American.” There’s a lot to choose. I feel the way you come down the (driver entrance) the wrestling songs would be the best, because that’s exactly what they’re for and they always get people hyped. They still get me even though I don’t watch wrestling anymore. When I was a kid watching I thought that was awesome. I’d probably steal some wrestler’s song.

NBC Sports: What’s the last song you got stuck in your head?

Armstrong: Me and my wife have been playing “Guitar Hero” a lot recently, so we were playing, I don’t know if you know “Through the Fire and Flames” but I had that stuck in my head because it’s one of the hardest songs on there and we do terrible on it. So we played it about 10 times in a row trying to get better so it was stuck in my head for a while.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing? And it can’t be sky diving.

Armstrong: Oh man, that was exactly where I was going to go with it. I have a huge fear of the ocean and sharks. I still want to kind of do cage diving with great whites even though I’m terrified of it. But the adrenaline from it would probably be crazy for me. I kind of want to do that in Australia or somewhere where they have a lot of great whites.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in a race?

Armstrong: Probably racing at Irwindale Speedway in California in our USAC midgets. I always felt that was the best track. I can’t remember what year it was but there was a race. I was really fast there for a while but my car fell off pretty bad, but it was still fun diving down, passing people running three wide. Every time I’ve went there the track’s been great. 

NBC Sports: Which phone app do you use the most that’s not social media?

Armstrong: Does YouTube count? I feel like I’m on YouTube 24/7. I like to hear what people have to say on different things, I actually watch a lot of YouTube as far as people reviewing stuff or just reading comments of different videos. I’m all over the place. I watch YouTube video for about anything you can think of. … Games or what people say about the election. I want to hear random people’s thoughts about it.

NBC Sports: If you could give any advice to Dakoda Armstrong from a year ago, what would it be?

Armstrong: Really, just not to worry. Just go out and do your job. I try not to worry every year. I’m just going to go out there and race. But whether it’s sponsor stuff, trying to get renewed or worrying about finishing or results, all that stuff just weighs down on you and actually really does hurt your performance. Even on the Cup side, I think that hurts a lot of people and they know it. Really just not worrying and trusting everything’s going to be all right and doing the best you can.

Previous Xfinity Series 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

Brennan Poole

Matt Tifft

Tyler Reddick

Kyle Benjamin

Ty Majeski

Ryan Sieg

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Kasey Kahne, Matt DiBenedetto marking Cup start milestones at Kansas

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway will mark career milestones for Kasey Kahne and Matt DiBenedetto.

Kahne, who is in the final five races of his tenure driving the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports, will make his 500th Cup Series start.

DiBenedetto, driver of Go Fas Racing’s No. 32 Ford, will reach the century mark with his 100th Cup start.

The two join the ranks of drivers who have celebrated similar milestones this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. marked his 600th start at Auto Club Speedway. Kevin Harvick made his 600th start in the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway and Kurt Busch made his in the Bristol night race.

Brad Keselowski won Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in his 300th Cup start.

Kahne, 37,  made his first Cup start in the 2004 Daytona 500 for Evernham Motorsports. The 24-year-old driver won the Rookie of the Year that season, making him the youngest winner of the award at the time since Jeff Gordon earned it at the age of 22 in 1993.

Since then he has earned 18 wins, 92 top fives, 175 top 10s and 27 poles. He has yet to miss a race in his 14-year career in the Cup Series.

DiBenedetto, 26, made his first Cup start on March 15, 2015 in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix Raceway. The start, in the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing, came after he failed to qualify for the previous two races at Atlanta and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In the two years since, DiBenedetto has earned three top 10s, including two this year in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

His career-best finish is sixth in the April 2016 race at Bristol.

Through 31 races this year, DiBenedetto has an average finish of 26.8, an improvement over his totals in 2015 (32nd) and 2016 (30th).

In five Kansas starts, DiBenedetto’s best result is 24th in the fall 2016 race. His average finish is 28.2.

“I really enjoy racing at Kansas Speedway,” DiBenedetto said in a press release. “Our mile-and-a-half program has been very strong this year and (Crew chief) Gene (Nead) has been giving me fast race cars to compete with. We qualified in the second-round here at Kansas earlier in the season, so that gives us a lot of hope.

“I like the racing at Kansas because you can move around a lot groove-wise and find a line that works with the balance of your race car. I’m usually one of the first people to move up into the high-groove and that seems to help find us some speed. If we can get a balance on the race car like we had in the spring, I know we’ll be fast and competitive.”

NASCAR America: Scan All from the Alabama 500 at Talladega

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“Ol’ Dega is giving me one last thrill.”

That’s the remark Dale Earnhardt Jr. made after he narrowly avoided being collected in the second of three wrecks in the final 16 laps of Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, his last start at the track.

It’s one of many highlights in the latest edition of “Scan All,” which documents the Alabama 500 at the restrictor-plate track.

In the above video, Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe relive the race, which ended with Keselowski’s sixth win at the track.

Here are more highlights from “Scan All.”

  • Listen to the communication of the No. 48 team as confusion breaks out over whether they can work on Jimmie Johnson‘s car during a red flag.
  • “It is a restrictor-plate race, so I’m not going to promise you anything.” – Brendan Gaughan after remarking he hoped his team wouldn’t have to make too many body repairs. He would be eliminated in a crash with 10 laps to go.
  • “Those stands are packed. They should get a free Dale Jr. autograph.” – Clint Bowyer on the large crowd that took in Earnhardt’s final Cup start at Talladega.
  • “Holy (expletive). What an idiot. That was the absolute stupidest (expletive) thing he’s ever done.” Kyle Busch after a crash involving Jame McMurray, Erik Jones and Jeffrey Earnhardt. The crash began when McMurray slowed down enter pit road and Jones ran into him.
  • Listen as Keselowski and his team struggle to communicate with each other do to a faulty radio system.
  • “How in the (expletive) did we wind up in the (expletive) back? (Expletive) stupid.” – Part of a tirade by Bowyer following a Lap 157 crash that collected him. Bowyer pulled his car into his pit box, exited it, had a brief exchange with his crew chief and walked back to the garage.

Watch the above video for more.

Race distance for Charlotte Motor Speedway road course still TBD

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CONCORD, N.C. — It still might be known as the Bank of America 500, but 500 kilometers might not be the distance of the first road-course race in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Charlotte Motor Speedway announced Wednesday in the media center during a break in tire testing that next year’s Round of 16 cutoff race would be 500 kilometers or about 130 laps on the 2.42-mile layout. Track officials said it would be the longest road course race on the circuit (roughly 90 miles longer than the events at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International).

That prompted a raft of buzz on social media about a 500-kilometer race that likely would be pushing at least four hours with two stage breaks and a few cautions (lap times were in the 90-second range during the test).

But in a statement early Wednesday evening, NASCAR wouldn’t confirm 500 kilometers as the distance of the Sept. 30 race.

Here’s the statement:

This week’s test provided valuable data that will be part of the equation in determining the distance for next fall’s race. We will continue working closely with our partners to develop the best event for fans and competitors alike.

There was no immediate response from Charlotte Motor Speedway to the NASCAR statement. A release from the track near the conclusion of the two-day tire test late Wednesday afternoon referred to next season’s race as the Bank of America 500 but didn’t specify the race’s distance.

Charlotte road course could be Talladega, Part II as Round of 16 cutoff race

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CONCORD, N.C. – There are many unknowns about the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course – passing zones, tire compound, even race distance – but Martin Truex Jr. said Wednesday there is one certainty.

When the new layout makes its debut as the Round of 16 cutoff race next season, playoff drivers will want to be assured of advancing ahead of time.

“I’m going to be hoping I’m going to win one of the first two in that round,” Truex said. “I’m going to put this right in there with Talladega.”

The Furniture Row Racing driver tested tires Tuesday and Wednesday on the 18-turn, 2.42-mile track (which incorporates most of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval) with Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Daniel Hemric.

Busch said the layout was similar to the Daytona International Speedway road course but with a much smaller footprint that ratcheted up the intensity.

“There’s no room for taking a break or having a quick, deep breath down the straightaway,” Busch said. “As soon as you’re in high gear off turn 2, you’re in a chicane. Back through the gears, you’re downshifting on the brakes to go to the frontstretch chicane. It’s a very busy track.”

There is a 35-foot change in elevation on the course, which features two chicanes that track officials say are designed to encourage passing and provide an option for rain tires.

The transitions between the high-banked surface and the flatter road course make it tricky to navigate.

“There’s all kinds of craziness going on,” Truex said. “Turns 1 and 2 are pretty wild, narrow with concrete walls on both sides. Intimidating.

“It’s a unique track. I don’t know if I’ve run a road course anything like it because of the elevation changes, the bumps and the humps. Charlotte isn’t smooth to begin with and add in infield that has been around a long time, there’s a lot of swells in it. It definitely is interesting. It’s a unique challenge. I don’t know I’ve raced anything like it.”

The track announced the race distance as 500 kilometers, which would make it the longest road course race on the circuit, but NASCAR didn’t confirm the length of the first playoff race with right turns (saying “it provided valuable data that will be part of the equation in determining the distance for next fall’s race”).

Also in flux is the layout. Truex talked to Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith about adding some safety features such as curbing, runoff areas, tire barriers and walls.

Busch also has recommended eliminating Turn 8 to connect the seventh and ninth turn, reducing the number of slow corners on the track. “There are a lot of slow sections with turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting. We need to speed up the track a bit.”

Truex, who shaved 10 seconds off his lap time on the first day, estimated the top-end speed is about 175 mph and said the ninth turn (before entering the oval in Turn 1) is the slowest.

Where are the best passing zones?

“That’s a great question,” he said. “I can’t tell you that. Single-car runs so far, it’s hard to say. There’s a lot of places you can crash. I’m not sure about the passing yet.”

After starting on the Watkins Glen tire, it’s expected Goodyear could bring a softer tire next year for faster speeds and better grip. Lap times were in the 90-second range, which Busch said was slower than anticipated but illustrated the difficulty of balancing a tire between a high-speed oval and a road course that drove more like the technical Sonoma than the high-speed Watkins Glen.

“The corners are sharp, low grip and we have 800 horsepower, so we’re trying to put the power down and sliding the tires quite a bit,” Busch said. “The process is to work with Goodyear and Charlotte Motor Speedway to find things we can change safety-wise and recommend the shapes of chicane around the back straightaway and even the front straightaway section.”

Busch, who drove the No. 14 Ford in place of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer, said he volunteered for the race because of its playoff implications in 2018.

“It’s a cutoff race,” he said. “Teams better get their arms wrapped around it and their heads focused on it because it’s one of the most important races of the year. When it’s a new situation like this, there’s a lot of oddities and variables. Fans will see it.”