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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Playoff drivers share who they want to win title for

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After being awarded the Xfinity Series regular-season championship, Elliott Sadler reminded everyone who he wanted to win his first NASCAR championship for.

“I want to hand my trophy to my parents,” Sadler said last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. “That’s what I want to do. You don’t realize until you get older how much your parents sacrificed when you were a kid to make sure you were in good equipment, whether it was in go-karts or late models or maybe investing money in your career when you first started Xfinity racing or Busch racing back then.”

With the start of the Xfinity playoffs Saturday at Kentucky Speedway (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), NBC Sports asked the other 11 playoff drivers who they wanted to win a championship for.

Here are the best responses.

Brennan Poole (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Brennan Poole – Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet

“You do it for yourself because it’s what you love to do. I fight for it because I want that. But my parents sacrificed a lot to get me to this point. My dad spent a lot of time with me on the road and mom missed a lot those moments with me because I was traveling so much racing. I lived here (in Charlotte) on my own when I was 17, I lived on a guy’s sofa for a year until I turned 18 and got an apartment. But my parents were still in Texas. They didn’t move here until just last year. There’s five or six years of us apart while I was trying to go after this.

“I’ve been very blessed and very fortunate to have an amazing family like I had. I think it would be awesome to stand there and win that championship just for all those moments that they went through to get me there. But also, my parents weren’t a racing family. My dad wanted me to play golf. I’ve been very fortunate I’ve always had the right people come along in my life at the right time through quarter midgets and legends cars and dirt modifieds and late models and ARCA and now Xfinity. To help me get to that next level. To teach me the things I needed to get to the next step. It will be a huge payment to everybody that believed in me to get me to this point.”

Ryan Reed – Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 Ford

“I think your family is always really important to every race car driver. They’ve had a lot of help to get here. No one did it on their own. A lot of times it’s their family. But for me, after being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, obviously my partner Lilly Diabetes, who stuck with me essentially from the beginning. But then also for every person living with Diabetes. I would venture to guess 90 percent of them have been told they can’t do something because of diabetes. Winning a championship would absolutely be dedicated to all of them.”

Justin Allgaier (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Justin Allgaier – JR Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet

“I think my dad. When I won the ARCA championship, my dad was somebody that was hugely instrumental in that. That would be huge to be able to surmount that. We’ve had a lot of loss at JR Motorsports this year. Adam Wright for us was somebody that was a huge part in making sure this four-car team succeeded. Obviously, that’s something we’re thinking about. We’d love to win a championship for him. … I think anytime you have that it makes these emotions of when things go well that much better.”

William Byron – JR Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet

“I think about people that helped me in my in legend cars, my crew chief there, Dennis (Lambert), Rudy (Fugle) last year ( in the Camping World Truck Series) helped me. I saw how those guys hated to see how it unfolded last year. All those people that helped me get to this point. My parents obviously. Liberty (University), everyone. Hopefully everyone can be excited about it and when can go out and win it and be able to show those people all the support they’ve given me, be able to give back to them.”

Matt Tifft – Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota

“Definitely my mom and dad for sticking with me through this whole progression of my career. They’ve stood behind me. My dad’s been to every race since I started racing when I was 12. Obviously they’ve helped me a lot and encouraged me to go after my dreams and do what I love to do with this. At the same I think it’s well known my story and I’d love to be able and go do that to be a champion for all those who have gone through things similar to me with the brain surgery world and the brain tumor world I should say. I’d like to be able and go out and prove myself for that reason.”

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Daniel Hemric – Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet

“The first thing my mind goes to is for the hard-nosed short-track racer that will not ever get an opportunity like this. I’m one of the few that’s been fortunate to be given this seat to sit in and be able to have the opportunity to run for a championship. I think if I could hoist that trophy at Homestead it would be kind of one of those, ‘Hey, it can still be done the old fashioned way’ kind of things.”

Brendan Gaughan – Richard Childress Racing’s No. 62 Chevrolet

“Me … me … me. I’ve had a lot of people get me through this. This would be for everybody, but listen, anybody that says, ‘Oh, it’s going to be…’, no. You want to win championships for your sponsor, for yourself or your owner, yes, all that’s great. I’ve been doing this 20 years. I would love to get another championship, especially at this point in my career. That’s what we do it for and I would love to be able to catch it now.

Toyota executive calls Truck Series ‘critical step’ in developing drivers

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A Toyota Racing Development executive says that the manufacturer would accept a spec engine in the Camping World Truck Series, noting how valuable that series is for the development of drivers.

David Wilson, president of TRD, made the comments Friday on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

NASCAR tested a spec engine for the Truck series multiple times last year and it is expected to be optional this season.

Wilson admits the spec engine idea has raised concerns among manufacturers.

“It is a little bit of a sensitive issue with all the manufactures,’’ Wilson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Arguably the biggest single piece of (intellectual property) in any car or truck is the engine, so certainly that’s important to us.

“By the same token we understand the bigger picture. We have been working with NASCAR, all the (manufacturers) have been working with NASCAR to make sure that we keep this series going because here’s the bottom line — while our motivation to run in Trucks has changed over the years, it remains an absolute critical step in how we as an industry develop drivers.

“The leap from ARCA or K&N or Super Late Models straight to Xfinity, that’s too big of a leap. You need a step and that Truck Series is a very important step. You look the drivers that have come through just in our camp — Erik Jones, Christopher Bell, Daniel Suarez — that experience in the Truck garage has been absolutely critical in preparing them to be successful in Xfinity and ultimately in Cup. We’re going to continue to take a big picture approach with the Truck Series and work with our friends at NASCAR. If there are some spec engines that have to be under a Tundra hood, so be it, we’ll be OK.’’

Last year’s Xfinity champion and rookie of the year, William Byron, ran a full season in Trucks in 2016. Erik Jones, the 2016 Xfinity rookie of the year, ran 17 Truck races before his Xfinity debut. Daniel Suarez, the 2017 Xfinity rookie of the year, had run only one Truck race before his Xfinity rookie season but he also ran 13 Truck races while competing in Xfinity that first year.

Those young drivers also illustrate Toyota’s emphasis on new talent. But with only five seats — four with Joe Gibbs Racing and one with Furniture Row Racing —  with Cup teams partnered with TRD, Toyota is having a hard time finding spots for all its drivers.

Wilson said the manufacturer remains committed to developing drivers.

“It’s a commitment that Toyota has made to NASCAR and to motorsports,’’ he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We enjoy a tremendous amount of value. NASCAR is simply a phenomenal place for us to race. This is part of our payback.

“We feel like we have the social responsibility to give back to the series. We know we’ll lose as many of these young guys and gals as we’ll be able to keep because we simply won’t have enough seats for them. That’s just simple math. It’s already been proven out by William Byron (who raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports in Trucks before moving to Chevrolet in Xfinity and now Cup). We’ll be racing against William, who used to be in a Toyota.

“Bottom line this sport still benefits. As I’ve said before, getting to know these young kids and getting to know their parents at a young age and as they’re coming up in the sport, I believe that will pay dividends. These kids can have a career that spans decades. Who’s to say that we won’t cross paths again? By us building that relationship early on, showing them who we are … the responsibly we have to their well-being, I think it’s a sound investment.’’

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WATCH: Sneak preview of the Hall of Fame induction at 8 p.m. on NBCSN

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame’s ninth class of inductees won’t be remembered so much for the imprint left on the record books as on the revolutions in stock-car racing.

In a video essay that will be shown during tonight’s induction ceremony (which will begin at 8 p.m. on NBCSN), Robert Yates, Ray Evernham, Red Byron, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr. are saluted as much for what they achieved as how they accomplished it – and their lasting effects on the machines and people that they touched.

–Yates’ ingenuity with engines ranked him among the greatest engine builders. But along with the wins and championships, he also imparted life lessons and knowledge to the apt pupils who are carrying on his successful legacy.

— A crew chief with three Cup championships and 47 wins, Evernham transformed how races and teams were managed, from innovative car designs to clever tire strategies to finely tuned pit crews.

–As the premier series’ first champion, Byron raced with a special brace connecting his leg (which was injured in World War II) to the clutch pedal, embodying the self-determination and grit of NASAR.

–“The Great American Race” was coined by Squier, whose pitch-perfect wordsmithing helped make him a broadcasting legend whose dulcet tones described some watershed moments in evocative and remarkable detail.

–Four championships made Hornaday synonymous with the truck series, but he indirectly played a role in eight Cup titles, turning his couch into “Camp Hornaday” for fellow California natives and budding stars Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

You can watch the video essay above or by clicking here.

Tune in at 8 p.m. for TV coverage of a ceremony that should feature special moments and some surprises.

The Hall of Fame ceremony also can be viewed via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 8 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

The moral choice that Kyle Larson made in the closing laps at Miami

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CHARLOTTE – Every NASCAR driver has a code of ethics, and the closing laps of last season’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway presented a quandary for Kyle Larson.

If you can’t pass two title contenders with a championship on the line, does discretion become the better part of valor in choosing to pass neither?

It did for Larson, who reflected on his most recent Cup race this week.

With eventual champion Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch dueling ahead of him in the final 20 laps, Larson elected to stay in third place and let them settle the title instead of passing Busch and then taking a shot at Truex with his No. 42 Chevrolet, which led a race-high 145 laps.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who has led the most laps at Miami the past two years, said his only option in vying for a victory would have been having the consistent speed to assure he could overtake Truex and Busch.

“I think there were some laps I was faster than them,” he told NBC Sports during a Tuesday announcement to announce DC Solar as an expanded primary sponsor in Cup for 2018. “I obviously didn’t want to affect the outcome of the race. The only negative part of the (playoff) format is when you’re not in the final four, you can’t race your hardest.

“I don’t know if I would have won. I think I could have got to second and potentially the lead. I wanted to pass both of them quickly. I didn’t want to pass Kyle and then stall out for three laps and have him be upset or whatever.”

Indeed, Busch was upset with another driver, expressing frustration that he believed Joey Logano blocked him while trying to take fourth after the final restart.

Though Larson made a conscious choice to avoid separating Truex and Busch, he also dispelled the notion that he still wasn’t trying to muster the speed to win.

“I was driving my ass off,” Larson said. “Obviously, I ran into the wall a few times trying to pass them or get the run to pass both of them quickly, but I could never get it going. So no, I didn’t let (Truex) win or whatever. I was still racing hard.”

Larson, who scored a career-best four wins last year, seemed a good bet to be racing for a title until an engine failure at Kansas Speedway. After a busy offseason of racing sprint cars around the world, a refreshed Larson returned to his team’s NASCAR shop this week and ready to reset his focus.

“I don’t even think about NASCAR until now,” he said. “I feel like today is Day 2 of my offseason. I’m just now getting back into the swing of things.

Larson is enthused about a Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test of Chevrolet’s new Camaro at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (“You can kind of get an idea of how the start of your season will be there.”) before heading to Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks.

“Last year, I didn’t know we were going to be that good, and then we started the year off really good, and we maintained that consistency and competitiveness,” said Larson, who led the points standings after the fourth through 11th races of the 2017 schedule. “I hope that we can do that again. I feel like when you get close like we did last year, it pushes everybody to be as good or better than what we were.

“I expect that we’ll be contenders again, but it’s hard saying with the new body and stuff like that. I’m sure there’ll be growing pains throughout it, but I definitely feel we have an extremely smart group of people who can do what it takes to get our cars better every week to have a shot.”

Daytona International Speedway releases Speedweeks schedule

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Daytona International Speedway has released the schedule for Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck teams for Speedweeks.

Cup teams will have one practice of 1 hour and 20 minutes for the Clash (down from 1 hour, 50 minutes for Clash teams last year).

Cup teams will have five practices for a total of 4 hours, 10 minutes in preparation for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500. Last year, Cup teams had seven practices for a total of 6 hours, 25 minutes before the Daytona 500. The two Cup practices the day of the Duel qualifying races have been eliminated this year.

Xfinity will have the same amount of practice as last year. Camping World Truck Series will have one more practice this year for an extra 1 hour, 20 minutes of track time this year.

Here is the track schedule for Speedweeks.

SPEEDWEEKS SCHEDULE

*subject to change

SATURDAY, Feb. 10

10:35 – 11:55 a.m. — Practice only for teams in Advance Auto Parts Clash

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Cup practice (for all teams)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Cup practice (for all teams)

4:45 p.m. — ARCA race

SUNDAY, Feb. 11

12:15 p.m. — Daytona 500 qualifying

3 p.m. — Advance Auto Parts Clash

MONDAY, Feb. 12

No track activity

TUESDAY, Feb. 13

No track activity

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 14

No track activity

THURSDAY, Feb. 15

11:35 a.m. – 12:55 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series practice

2:25 – 3:25 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series practice

4:35 – 5:25 p.m. — Final Camping World Truck Series practice

7 p.m. — Can-Am Duel 1

9 p.m. — Can-Am Duel 2

FRIDAY, Feb. 16

12:05 – 12:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Cup practice

2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Final Xfinity practice

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Cup practice

4:30 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series qualifying

7:30 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series race NextEra Energy Resources 250

SATURDAY, Feb. 17

9:35 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying

12:05 – 12:55 p.m. — Final Cup practice

2:30 p.m. — Xfinity race PowerShares QQQ 300

SUNDAY, Feb. 18

2:30 p.m. — Daytona 500

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