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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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Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Indianapolis

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Larson. Only one winner in Brickyard 400 (Jeff Gordon, 27th in 2001) has started in a lower position — but if anyone can rebound after qualifying 25th on a track that’s difficult for passing, it’s the Chip Ganassi Racing driver this season.

Dustin Long

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Even before Daytona earlier this month I had this vision of Earnhardt scoring his win to make the playoffs at this track. We’ll see if I can see the future.

Daniel McFadin

Jamie McMurray reminds everyone what he’s capable of by earning his second victory in the Brickyard 400.

Jerry Bonkowski

Sentimentally, I’d like to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win this one. But from a realistic standpoint, I’m going with Kevin Harvick to earn his second career Brickyard win.

With Matt Kenseth available, Hendrick Motorsports already was set on Alex Bowman long ago

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INDIANAPOLIS – Hendrick Motorsports announced Alex Bowman as the driver of its No. 88 Chevrolet last week, but the choice effectively was made long ago.

“We had Alex in the back of mind for whatever opportunity we had,” team owner Rick Hendrick said during a news conference Sunday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It wasn’t much of a decision at all. Alex was the guy.”

Hendrick confirmed Bowman signed a multiyear contract last October that runs through 2019 and hardly considered any other options – including impending free agent — Matt Kenseth to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We were very, very careful not to guarantee (Bowman) anything other than if opportunities arose, he would have a shot,” Hendrick said. “I can’t make all the decisions. The sponsors have to be involved. But in my mind, Alex was going to get the next (ride).”

When Kenseth revealed two weeks ago that he wouldn’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, Earnhardt was confident his friend would find a ride for 2018.

But with Hendrick having solidified its lineup for next season with Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Bowman and perhaps Kasey Kahne (Hendrick plans to run four Chevrolets next year but left open the possibility that William Byron could drive the No. 5 – “we’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”), the options for Kenseth remaining in Cup seem limited.

“I love Matt Kenseth,” Hendrick said. “He is a tremendous talent. He and I have actually talked about this in the past. Sometimes things just don’t line up at the right time.”

Everything has seemed to line up well for Bowman, who drove the No. 88 in 10 races last year while Earnhardt recovered from a concussion. He also has tested for the team in its driving simulator and wheelforce transducer car (which gathers critical setup data).

“A lot of guys have the talent, they just need that one critical break, if they stay committed and keep pushing, eventually that opportunity might come along,” Earnhardt said. “(Bowman) gets that opportunity because of his commitment to his career and the gamble on himself he made a long time ago.

“He works hard and has been a key investment for Chevrolet, incredibly helpful for the company and race team. It’s very tedious work. He’s been a team player knowing if he put forth this effort, he possibly could get this opportunity.”

Hendrick said he knew little about Bowman before Earnhardt personally vouched for him. Bowman validated the recommendation by winning the pole at Phoenix International Raceway last November and leading 194 laps.

“The word for Alex is he deserved it,” Hendrick said. “He deserves a shot. He stepped into the most pressure point. I don’t think there’d be a situation on pit road of having the pressure of sitting in Dale Earnhardt’s car and to perform like he did and then the contributions he’s made to our company to help our guys.”

Rick Hendrick: ‘The plan is to run 4 cars’ next year

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INDIANAPOLIS – Car owner Rick Hendrick says “the plan” is to run four Cup cars next year even as questions have been raised about the company cutting back to three cars.

Questions have been raised with because the need of sponsorship for the No. 5 team next season. Both Great Clips and Farmer’s Bank Insurance are not returning after this season. Those companies are scheduled to sponsor the car in 22 races this year.

Hendrick said Sunday that “the plan is to run four cars” next year.

The comment was well-received. Jim Campbell, who oversees Chevrolet’s motorsports program, liked a tweet that had Hendrick’s comment about remaining four cars.

Hendrick also was asked Sunday about the status of the No. 5 car driven by Kasey Kahne but said only “that’s for another day” during a press conference with Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Nationwide’s Jim McCoy.

Kahne has a contract through next season yet questions have been raised if he’ll be back. If not, an option could be for William Byron, who won Saturday’s Xfintiy race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to move from JR Motorsports into that spot. The 19-year-old Byron, a rookie in the Xfinity Series, has won three of the last five races.

Asked about Byron moving into a Cup car next year, Hendrick said: “We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”

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Jimmie Johnson to start in the rear after gear change

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INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson‘s bid for a record-tying fifth Brickyard 400 will have to begin at the back of the 40-car field.

Johnson qualified fourth Saturday but stated on Twitter that he’ll have to go to the rear of the field because they had to change the rear gear.

Although track position is pivotal at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because passing is difficult, optimists can view Johnson’s woes as a good sign. He has scored two of his three wins this season – Texas and Dover – after starting in the rear.

Also starting at the rear today is Cole Whitt (rear gear change) and Joey Gase (engine change). Whitt qualified 34th. Gase qualified 38th.

Today’s race is on NBC. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green.

 

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