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Xfinity Spotlight: Jeff Green on 26 years of marriage and growing up with the Waltrips

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CONCORD, North Carolina — Jeff Green hops up onto a counter in one of RSS Racing’s two team haulers.

The bearded, 55-year-old driver wears a camouflaged baseball cap and a Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band shirt.

Green saw Seger perform in Charlotte years ago.

“He played for three hours and every song you knew,” Green told NBC Sports. “I’m not sure how many more years he’s going to do it, so if you get the chance (to see him) you better do it.”

Green, the 2000 Xfinity Series champion, has competed in NASCAR since 1990 and has made 756 starts and won 16 races across all three national series as of last Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 1.5-mile track was the site of his last win and last top five, in October 2002 in the Xfinity Series.

Back in May, Green got a little dose of his glory days at Talladega Superspeedway. Driving the No. 8 Toyota for B.J. McLeod Motorsports, pit strategy allowed Green to lead 18 laps around the 2.66-mile speedway and finish 10th. It was only the third Xfinity race he’s led laps in since 2002.

Twenty-seven years after his first NASCAR start at Richmond, and with 22 DNFs in 27 starts this season, how many more years does Green see himself getting behind the wheel?

“As long as they’ll still have me,” Green said. “I still have a little bit of fun doing it. It’s not exactly what I want to do for sure. … I feel like I’m still the same guy I was 30 years ago. Competitive as ever and I want to lead and win every lap.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: What’s your earliest memory related to auto racing?

Green: My dad drag racing. As we were growing up, my brothers and I, we helped him. We had a one-car garage on our house, and he had a drag car pretty much from the time I could remember. Whether it would be polishing the wheel or helping him change something on it. The first thing I drove was a go-kart. I was 8 years old when I started doing it. My two brothers, my dad and my uncle and granddad, all of us started racing go-karts about the same time.

NBC Sports: Do you remember what that sensation was like when you mashed the throttle for the first time?

Green: What I was driving didn’t go very fast. As I got older, we graduated into different classes. It kind of came natural, kind of came easy. The first couple of races I remember I drove, I was just trying not to hit anything. You know what I mean? We were racing in the streets. We ran a series where they pretty much blocked the streets off, and we’d run around blocks.

NBC Sports: When was the first time you went to a NASCAR race?

Green: I would say probably in ’86 with Michael Waltrip down at Daytona. We grew up together and graduated high school together. That was probably the first time I went to a track as far as to watch it.

NBC Sports: What was Michael Waltrip like in high school?

Green: Just to grow up and to be around him and hear the stories that came from Darrell. That was in his heyday, the Gatorade days and things like that. Just to hear those stories was pretty cool, to be kind of have a hand on it. Outside lookin’ in. Michael went to a lot of races, so he’d come home to tell stories. I guess the main thing (was) Darrell came from Owensboro, Kentucky, too. In my mind, if he could make it, we could, too. With Michael’s help, he helped me get really my first opportunity with (Dale) Earnhardt driving his (Xfinity) car (1995-96). Without that, I don’t know if I’d have been able to sit in that car, much less get to the next opportunity.

NBC Sports: What was the biggest lesson you learned from Earnhardt?

Green: Chasin’ the dream, I guess. You know what I mean? Not ever giving up. When you have a bad week, you don’t go into the next week feeling sorry for yourself. Just try to make it better and go on and put it behind you.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun you’ve had in any race in your career?

Green: Racing my brother (David Green) at Pikes Peak (in 200o). We raced right down to the last lap. I ended up winning, and he ran second. That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. I knew that he raced me as hard as he could, and I did the same thing. But we also raced each other like gentlemen, too. It was pretty fun.

NBC Sports: I saw on Twitter you recently celebrated your 26th wedding anniversary (with wife Michelle). What’s the secret to 26 years?

Green: Listening. Really, without her I would have gave up a long time ago. I wouldn’t have ever made it. There had been days along the road long before I ever got to my championship years and even the Earnhardt years that I would have gave up. It’s just too hard a road. Having a good woman like that or a good lady that supports you but also envisions what you want and (is) able to push you in that direction. I think 26 years is more listening instead of talking.

NBC Sports: Outside of your championship trophy, which trophy means the most to you?

Green: Darlington, maybe. I won at Darlington (in 2001). You race that racetrack like no other. Darlington and Charlotte. I got two trophies from Charlotte. Charlotte being home back then. That’s pretty special to be able to sleep in your own bed and win the trophy there that week.

NBC Sports: What’s the best thing about Owensboro, Kentucky?

Green: Barbecue. I don’t know if it’s the barbecue capitol of the world, but it is for Kentucky. There’s a lot of great folks there but the barbecue. There’s so many restaurants I think it’s the leader in fast food restaurants, too.

NBC Sports: Where’s the best barbecue there?

Green: Moonlight Bar-B-Q (Inn) and Old Hickory Bar-B-Q. When we go back home, we eat one (meal) there and the next day we eat at the other one.

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

Green: Kill an Elk. Going Elk hunting and being able to put an old monster down.

NBC Sports: If you could have a one-on-one race with any driver past or present, who would it be against and where?

Green: It would be a short track, Richmond or Bristol. Probably “The King” (Richard Petty). I drove for him (2003-05 in Cup), and he was one of the best owners that I’ve ever driven for. Nice guy. I was on the race track with him. But I never really got to race with him before he retired. So that’s probably it.

Previous Spotlights

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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

Dakoda Armstrong

Brendan Gaughan

Garrett Smithley

J.J. Yeley

Harrison Rhodes

James Davison

Jeremy Clements

David Starr

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NASCAR America: Matt Kenseth unable to realize potential due to team’s mistakes

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Sunday’s pit road mistake — having seven crew members over the wall when only six are allowed — not only knocked Matt Kenseth out of the race, it also knocked him out of advancing in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

As a result, Kenseth lost out on his bid to earn a second Cup championship in what could potentially be his last season in the Cup series.

And it wasn’t the first time Kenseth has suffered through issues not of his making this season and in prior seasons.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan all gave their thoughts on what happened to Kenseth — and they didn’t hold back, either.

Click on the above video to hear what they had to say about Kenseth’s misfortune and how it could potentially impact his legacy going forward.

 

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s picks for Championship 4

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On Monday’s editions of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave his predictions for which of the eight remaining championship-eligible drivers — including Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott — will make it to the Championship 4 round.

In addition to Johnson and Elliott, Junior also makes it known in the above video that he’s also pulling for Ryan Blaney. He may even throw in a surprise to his picks.

Our NASCAR America team of analysts go over Junior’s picks and give their take, as well.

We don’t want to spill the beans of who Junior is picking here, so click on the video above to find out, as well as what our analysts think about his picks.

 

 

 

Long: Kyle Larson’s playoff exit significant to title contenders

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Lost among questions about rules, confusion on pit road and chaos on the track Sunday was just how significant Kyle Larson’s departure from the playoff is.

The owner of four wins this season, Larson was one of the few drivers who typically could race with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch on the 1.5-mile tracks and some even considered Larson the championship favorite if he made it to Miami.

“I think Kyle Larson was going to be the car to beat, and still will be the car to beat at Homestead,’’ said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch. “Now that he’s not in the (playoff) mix anymore, it probably opens it up for the rest of us.’’

Said Kevin Harvick: “I think you eliminated the best car at Homestead. That’s a big deal. For everybody.’’

Larson entered Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway with a 29-point cushion before his title hopes ended when his engine blew with nearly 200 laps left. He finished 39th.

“It’s crazy,’’ Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., said of Larson’s playoff exit. “You can’t ever be safe, for sure.’’

Sunday marked the first time since 2013 that Larson failed to finish a race because of an engine failure. His first two career Cup races ended early because of engine issues that season.

Larson’s departure was as shocking as Busch’s exit in 2014 when he entered the elimination race at Talladega second in the standings with a 25-point cushion to advance to the next round.

Now a spot many presumed would be taken by Larson is open for someone else.

WORK REMAINS

Jimmie Johnson overcame two spins to finish 11th and advance to the Round of 8, moving a step closer to an eighth championship.

Crew chief Chad Knaus, though, wasn’t pleased after Sunday’s race.

On the radio afterward, Knaus said: “That was a pitiful performance.’’

Knaus had more to say after the race, telling NBC Sports:

“We ran like (expletive deleted). It was a bad weekend. We managed to capitalize on some other people’s misfortune, which was great for us. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know what’s going on. We definitely don’t have the speed that we need.

“Good news is we’ve got three really good race tracks coming up for us, at least historically. Very optimistic heading into Martinsville and going to Homestead this week to test, so hopefully we can hit on some stuff there to take to Texas. We obviously have run well there in the past. Phoenix has been a really good race track for us as well. We’ve got three great opportunities. Just got to do the best.’’

Knaus is right to be concerned. The second round was mistake-riddled for the team.

The pit crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts late in the race at Charlotte, forcing Johnson to back up partially into his stall to remedy the issue, costing him time and positions.

An error by the team’s spotter led to the crew working on Johnson’s damaged car before the red flag period had ended, leading to the team being parked. The team had hoped to run one more lap after being collected in a crash to gain at least one more point.

Then came Kansas’ woes with the lack of speed, an ill-handling car and a seven-time champion causing back-to-back cautions.

“It’s no real surprise that mile-and-a-halves have been a little bit of a struggle for us this year,’’ Johnson said. “We’re putting in the effort. These guys are working around the clock. I’m looking under every stone I can to try to find something as well. We just don’t have the speed yet.

“We’ve got a real opportunity at Martinsville. If we’re able to win there … it sets us up for Homestead.’’

COMMUNICATION WOES

The communication issues Matt Kenseth’s team had Sunday wasn’t the first time for that team and crew chief Jason Ratcliff in the playoffs.

In the penultimate race of the 2013 season, Kenseth struggled all weekend and then had a disastrous pit stop when there was confusion on if the team would change two or four tires. After the call was made for four tires, Kenseth had to back up because the car was on the air hose.

The result was a 23rd-place finish that left Kenseth so far behind Johnson needed only to finish 23rd or better in Miami to win the title. Ratcliff apologized to his crew on the radio after the race for the effort.

Sunday’s scenario was different but communication again proved key and a miscue will keep the team from having a chance to race for a title.

“That’s one thing about that pit stall (closest to pit entrance), makes it difficult,’’ Ratcliff said. “You get to pit road really quick. You have a little less time to communicate. Thankfully, we don’t fall under the damaged vehicle policy that much. Other than last week at Talladega we did. We missed a head count there.’’

So what happened?

“Two of them were holding tires (over the wall),’’ Ratcliff said of crew members. “We have a gameplan. We have a gameplan that has worked really good for us all year and … I don’t know if someone missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically, it boils down to communication and that’s what happened there.’’

When Kenseth was told on the radio that he was being parked for having too many crew members work on his car while under the five-minute clock for crash damage, the former champion sounded incredulous that his — last? — chance to win a title ended in such a way.

With no plans announced for next year, there’s no guarantee Kenseth will be racing for a championship again. Now the goal becomes a win.

“We’ve had some great runs at Martinsville and there would be nothing greater than going there and finally getting that win with Matt,’’ Ratcliff said. “That would be special. Would it make up for not having a shot at Homestead? No, but it would be sweet to have that happen with just a few races to go in the season.’’

PIT STOPS

The final eight Cup playoff contenders include four former champions — Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. There has been a first-time champion in three of the last five years, which could be a good sign for playoff drivers Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. … With winning the pole at Kansas, Truex Jr.’s team earned the first pick of pit stalls also at Martinsville this weekend because qualifying is on the same day as the race there.

Memorial service to be held Friday for Furniture Row Racing team member Jim Watson

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A memorial service for Furniture Row Racing crew member Jim Watson will be held Friday in Lincolnton, North Carolina, his family announced Monday.

Watson, who served in a number of roles for both the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr. and No. 77 of Erik Jones, passed away Saturday night after suffering a heart attack in Kansas City, Kansas, where the teams were preparing for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race.

Watson was 55.

MORE: Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

MORE: Long: Tears turn to cheers for Furniture Row Racing

The memorial will be from 4-6 p.m. ET Friday at the Warlick Funeral Home, 125 Dave Warlick Drive, in Lincolnton.

Watson’s obituary was included in the announcement of the memorial service:

Watson was born Sept. 27, 1962, in Kenosha, Wis., to Betty Paulus Watson and the late David Harrison Watson. He is survived by his wife, Laurie Ann Watson; a daughter, Brittany May Watson; his mother, Betty L. Watson; brother, Mike Watson; stepchildren, Eric James Conover and fiancé Claudia Rodriguez, and Matthew Sean Conover; Michael Patrick Conover, and wife Michele, and Nicholas Ian Conover; three grandchildren, Patrick Michael Conover, Michael Winston Conover, and Coleton Daniel Conover; nieces, Jennifer Watson and Katie J. Ballou; and many other uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorials be made to hatsalive.org.