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NASCAR Xfinity Series to use composite body for three races this season

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NASCAR Xfinity teams will be allowed to use a flange-fit composite body for races at Richmond, Dover and Phoenix, series officials announced Wednesday.

The announcement is part of NASCAR’s move toward the composite body, which series officials said could provide cost savings for teams. The composite body can be used in 2018 for all races except superspeedway events. Series officials plan to make composite bodies mandatory for all Xfinity races in 2019.

Whether this will transfer to Cup remains to be seen.

“Right now we’re 100 percent focused on the success of this body in Xfinity,’’ said Brett Bodine, senior director of R&D at NASCAR, during a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll certainly learn about the performance of the body and the durability, and certainly always look at potentially moving things into other series, but currently we are just worried about Xfinity.’’

The composite body has 13 separate panels that attach together on flanges. Bodine said several body panels have security features to prevent teams from tampering with them to gain an advantage.

The body panels come from Five Star RaceCar Bodies in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.

NASCAR said the inspection process won’t change for teams with the composite body.

If a car crashes during practice, repairs to the car body should be easier, NASCAR states.

“Say you damage a right rear quarterpanel,’’ Bodine said. “It can be easily unbolted from the other body panels and from the chassis and another one can be bolted on in its place. And not only at a race event weekend, but that is how we envision this repair process taking place after an event. The turnaround time for a team that might have received damage at an event should be significantly reduced by the fact that these panels can be unbolted and a new one put on.’’

Wayne Auton, Xfinity Series managing director, said that the damaged vehicle policy remains. Teams will not be able to add new parts to the car during a race.

While NASCAR typically doesn’t create rule changes during the playoffs, Xfinity teams will run twice in the playoffs with the composite body.

“We looked at different models to roll this out, preferably in 2017,’’ Auton said. “Number one, we wanted to get it on the racetrack.  We’ve worked for a year to get the body finalized. We’re at the point now that teams are putting race cars together. They’re getting to do some aero testing with them. 

“So we feel confident that whenever they go into these three races …  that you won’t see a significant difference in the competition. We think it’ll bring the competition closer together, and that was just a collaborative effort of the teams on the type of racetrack that we wanted to start them on, and working with our third‑party vendor of when parts could be ready for teams.’’

For those teams that choose the steel body instead of the composite body at Richmond, Dover and Phoenix, they’ll face significant challenges.

“There will be competition restrictions on the steel body versus the flange fit,’’ Bodine said. “Obviously we want the flange fit to be the body of the future and phase out the steel body. There will be weight and aero differences between the two to make sure that the flange fit body has a competitive advantage.’’

The Xfinity Rule Book notes the difference in weight between the two car body styles. A composite body car with a driver who weighs between 130-139 pounds can have a minimum total combined weight for the driver and car of 3,540-3,549 pounds. That will be about 90 pounds lighter than a the minimum combined weight for a car and a similar driver in a steel body vehicle.

Another advantage that Bodine touts is the potential savings teams could experience as they use the composite body more.

“The efficiencies of using a composite flange fit body really are across the board from potentially needing less chassis to do the Xfinity Series because of the turnaround time on repairs, to the actual amount of time it takes to hang a complete new body on a chassis,’’ Bodine said. “The repairs most likely can be done by the team instead of potentially having to farm it out to a body hanger that they do business with now with the steel bodies. There’s a lot of areas that this cost savings of this type body will provide for the team owners.’’

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Denny Hamlin grabs Homestead pole, Martin Truex Jr. also on front row

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Denny Hamlin was last to make a final qualifying run but took the pole for Sunday’s and championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400.

Hamlin (173.980 mph) knocked Martin Truex Jr. (173.952) off the pole with a bonsai run around the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Love this racetrack, wish we would have a chance, but it’ll be another day and another year for us,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “I want to win, that’s all I care about.”

This is Hamlin’s second pole of his career (and second in the last three races) at Homestead, where he’s also a two-time Cup winner.

Truex is the highest qualifying driver of the four Championship 4 contestants.

“It was a good day overall,” Truex told NBCSN. “Hopefully, we’ll just make some minor adjustments (in Saturday’s two practice sessions) and get comfortable and get ready to race on Sunday.”

The other drivers are: Kyle Busch (qualified third, 173.930), Brad Keselowski (fifth, 172.452) and Kevin Harvick was the slowest of the four (ninth, 171.876).

“Not a bad lap, definitely was pole-worthy, so I hate that we weren’t able to get the No. 1 pit stall,” Busch told NBCSN. “I think we’re further ahead than we were 2015 when we won the whole thing.”

Keselowski told NBCSN: “It sure doesn’t feel bad, but there’s a long way to go. It’s just one day of a three-day weekend. … This is like a poker game. This is the deal, it’s qualifying. Tomorrow you start to see the turn of the cards with race trim. We’re not in a bad spot, not where we want to be, we still need a little speed obviously to run with the Toyotas, but we’re kind of first in class (among Ford teams) today.”

Harvick said to NBCSN: “Not exactly how I wanted it to go, but all-in-all I think we’re going to be fine. It’s not like we’re starting 39th or something.”

In addition to Hamlin, non-championship drivers that qualified in the top 12 include Matt Kenseth (fourth, 172.678), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (sixth, 172.359), Kyle Larson (seventh, 172.205), Kurt Busch (eighth, 172.106), Daniel Suarez (10th, 171.789), Ryan Blaney (11th, 171.255) and Trevor Bayne (12th, 171.124).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start last because of an engine change in practice Friday. … Danica Patrick, who announced she will race next year in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 before retiring, qualified 25th. … Sunday’s race will have 39 cars in the field.

Click here for qualifying results.

William Byron fastest in final Xfinity practice at Homestead-Miami

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William Byron was fastest in Friday’s final Xfinity Series practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Byron, who is one of four drivers in contention for the Xfinity Series Championship in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300, was the only driver to top 166 mph (166.087 mph).

Byron will jump to the NASCAR Cup Series next season, replacing Kasey Kahne.

The other three Championship 4 drivers in Saturday’s race were ninth-fastest Elliott Sadler (164.144 mph), 13th-fastest Justin Allgaier (163.503) and 15th-fastest Daniel Hemric (163.438).

Second through eighth were Ben Kennedy (165.685), Cole Custer (165.487), Christopher Bell (165.158), Sam Hornish Jr. (165.138), Casey Mears (165.057), Brennan Poole (164.880) and Tyler Reddick (164.179). Tenth-fastest was Ty Majeski (163.939).

Saturday’s championship race will be televised on NBCSN at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full practice speed chart.

Chase Briscoe earns Miami Truck pole; Austin Cindric highest of Championship 4 drivers

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Chase Briscoe took the pole for tonight’s Camping World Truck Series season-ending and championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Briscoe was fastest with a speed of 167.499 mph, followed by Ben Rhodes (167.348 mph), who will also sit on the front row when the green flag drops tonight.

Three of the four Championship 4 drivers didn’t qualify as well as they might have liked.

One did, however, as 19-year-old Austin Cindric qualified third (166.831). Cindric and Briscoe are both competing in the final race for Brad Keselowski Racing, which is folding after this season.

As for the other three Championship 4 drivers, two-time Truck champ Matt Crafton qualified eighth (165.614), defending series champ Johnny Sauter (165.092) qualified 11th, and Christopher Bell (165.309) failed to advance past the first round of qualifying. He’ll start tonight’s championship race 13th.

As for the rest of the top 12 qualifiers who are not running for the championship, Grant Enfinger was fourth (166.590) followed by Noah Gragson (165.909), Ryan Truex (165.848) and Justin Haley in seventh (165.705). Also, Stewart Friesen qualified ninth (165.431), Kaz Grala was 10th (165.203) and Myatt Snider was 12th (161.575).

The Ford EcoBoost 200 will take the green flag shortly after 8 p.m. ET. The race will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for the full qualifying grid.

Kaz Grala joining JGL Racing full-time in Xfinity next season

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Kaz Grala will make the move to the Xfinity Series in 2018 when he competes full-time in the No. 24 Ford for JGL Racing, the team announced Friday.

Grala, 18, makes the move after one season in the Camping World Truck Series with GMS Racing. Grala earned one win, in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. He is the youngest driver to win a national NASCAR race at Daytona.

Multiple drivers piloted the No. 24 this season, including Dylan Lupton, Corey LaJoie, Jeb Burton and Drew Herring. JGL Racing also fielded the No. 28 for Dakoda Armstrong, but the car hasn’t run since Kentucky due to a lack of sponsorship.

“I am beyond excited about the opportunity to drive for JGL Racing next year full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” Grala said in a press release. “I’ve been watching Xfinity races since I was a little kid, so to be able to compete at that high of a level is nothing short of a dream come true. I can’t thank James Whitener (owner of JGL Racing) and everyone at JGL enough for this opportunity.”

Grala has five top fives and an average finish of 14.1 in the No. 33 truck ahead of tonight’s season finale in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

JGL Racing’s move from Toyota to Ford coincides with the team entering a technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

“These are exciting times for the JGL Racing organization,” Whitener said in a press release.  “We appreciate the support we have received from Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing over the last few years. We felt that in order for our team to make the next step in our growth process that we needed a more robust technical alliance behind us – and this opportunity with Ford Performance and Roush Fenway Racing provided us that and made the most sense. We look forward to finishing out the season in our No. 24 car and then we will turn our attention to 2018 and getting all of the proper pieces into place.”