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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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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

Dakoda Armstrong

Brendan Gaughan

Garrett Smithley

J.J. Yeley

Harrison Rhodes

James Davison

Jeremy Clements

David Starr

Austin Cindric

Christopher Bell

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Update on Matt Kenseth report, Matt DiBenedetto visits

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features Matt DiBenedetto, who is coming off a 16th-place finish at Richmond Raceway.

Marty Snider hosts and will be joined at the Big Oak Table by Kyle Petty, Nate Ryan and DiBenedetto.

On today’ show:
  • NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan joins the show with the latest news following last night’s report from SB Nation that said Matt Kenseth is returning to the Monster Energy Series in a part-time role with Roush Fenway Racing.
  • Go Fas Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto will be our special guest! The leader of ‘DiBurrito Nation’ will discuss his solid run last weekend at Richmond and reveal his throwback scheme for this year’s Southern 500 at Darlington. But one question remains – will Matt bring fresh-baked treats from his Mom’s kitchen to the Big Oak Table?
  • We’ll have footage from the latest Dale Jr. Download, as Junior sits down with Kasey Kahne’s crew chief, Travis Mack – who tells the incredible story of how he unexpectedly delivered his own baby at home!
  • And our Tuesday tradition continues … We’ll listen in on all the action from drivers, crew chiefs and spotters on a Saturday night under the lights in Scan All Richmond!
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online 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 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Talladega

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Forty cars are entered for Sunday’s Geico 500 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Joey Gase will be in the No. 00 car for StarCom Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is back in the No. 62 this weekend for Beard Motorsports.

Timothy Peters is set to make his Cup debut in the No. 92 for RBR Enterprises.

Cole Custer is listed in the No. 51 car for Rick Ware Racing but a team spokesperson told NBC Sports that Custer will not be driving the car.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won this race a year ago in overtime, beating Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Click here for Cup entry list

Xfinity Series

There are 41 cars entered for the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity race.

The race is a Dash 4 Cash event, so no drivers who earn points in the Cup Series are permitted to race in this event.

Noah Gragson, who finished second in his series debut last weekend at Richmond, is back in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend.

Shane Lee, who finished 14th in his series debut two weeks ago at Bristol, is back in the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing.

Aric Almirola won this race a year ago, finishing ahead of Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

Bump & Run: Who are drivers seeking first win of the year to watch?

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Among non-winners this season, who is one driver who has your attention and why?

Steve Letarte: Recently it’s been Jimmie Johnson. At the beginning of the year it was obvious the equipment wasn’t up to par. I don’t think the equipment has got a whole lot better yet, but I think Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) are learning to race with not-winning cars. I think Bristol and Richmond were two races that they performed very, very well. My point being we have seen Jimmie make mistakes and crash and have accidents, but in the last two weeks they have found a way to take their car and get better finishes than they were running most of the day.

Kyle Petty: Besides Jimmie Johnson? Ryan Blaney. He has started off these first few races stronger than I anticipated. Leading laps, stage wins, just the total effort he and that team have shown so far this season. I believe the usual suspects will get their wins in time. Oh, did I mention Jimmie Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Alex Bowman; I know he hasn’t been flashy or spectacular, but he’s currently 13th in points and still ahead of his seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson. He is showing consistent pace each week, and I’m sure there will be weekends like this past one at Richmond. If he keeps up his average, he may be a lock to make the playoffs. 

Nate Ryan: Erik Jones. He’s been among the least discussed of the youth brigade, but aside from some short-track stumbles, he has exhibited the promise to indicate his breakthrough is near.

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He has eight top-10 finishes in the first nine races of the year. The only other driver who has accomplished that is Kyle Busch. Logano may be returning to Victory Lane soon.

Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. His instant speed this season and ability to move up through the field – especially going from 25th to second in the Stage 1 at Richmond – has been more than surprising. I expected it to take longer for the No. 10 team to get most of its wrinkles smoothed out. Now they just need to be consistent in putting together full races.

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have combined to win six of the past 13 restrictor-plate races for Team Penske. Who do you view as their biggest threats this weekend at Talladega?

Steve Letarte: Each other. Let’s be clear, Talladega is still somewhat of a crapshoot, but good cars still tend to trend toward the front. The big thing that nobody is talking about in my mind is the new ride-height rule, I thought, changed Daytona dramatically and I think will change Talladega dramatically. This is only the second restrictor-plate race without ride heights. I think someone may have an advantage. We’re going to have to see who. You can’t throw out what Brad and Joey have done, but you’ve got to diminish it a little bit with the rule changes.

Kyle Petty: Anyone in a Ford. Honestly, if I go back to Daytona, Penske, SHR and Roush were all strong once the green flag fell, and I believe almost all the drivers have won on a plate track … almost.

Parker Kligerman: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Busch; fairly simple choices in my opinion. Since Kyle is a great superspeedway racer and is on fire. Ricky, obviously has the record and has so much confidence. He also is in a Ford and we know how the Fords are the cars to beat at superspeedway tracks.

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Along with Logano and Keselowski, those are the five best plate drivers in Cup. Throw in Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch as dark horses and Kyle Busch because he can do no wrong lately.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick are the names that immediately come to mind.

Daniel McFadin: I expect Logano and Keselowski to be challenged by Aric Almirola and their own Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, who was the class of the field at Daytona before the late caution. As far as non-Ford drivers, I expect Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman to again be fast. It has to pay off as some point, right?

When the season is over who will have won more races — the drivers who have won already this year (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon) or the rest of the field (Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, etc)?

Steve Letarte: I think the rest of the field wins by a race or two. I don’t think Austin Dillon is a threat to win maybe more than one more race. I would say Clint Bowyer maybe one more race. I just think there are too many big names, Larson, Elliott, Johnson, Jones, too many guys that I think can go out and win multiple races.

Kyle Petty: Kevin and Kyle. Those two together could win more than everyone else combined. Their teams are that good and they are that good. 

Parker Kligerman: Barring some massive change in the rules, the drivers who have already won. I feel that for whatever reason, with the current packages and tire specs, it obviously is suiting those drivers’ styles and therefore they are producing at a high level. 

Nate Ryan: Between Busch, Harvick and Truex, that trio could account for half of this season’s wins.

Dustin Long: It’s hard to see Busch, Harvick and Truex not piling up more wins in the coming weeks.

Daniel McFadin: With the first group containing Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch, I would not be surprised if they have more victories than the current non-winners. 

Are the youngsters set to celebrate at Talladega?

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After Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in February, he was asked about how the top eight finishers that day each had at least eight full-time seasons experience and if that was coincidence.

Recall, this was after some veterans expressed discontent with how NASCAR promoted younger drivers and that youngsters finished first and second in the Daytona 500 with 27-year-old Austin Dillon winning and 24-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr. placing second.

Harvick’s response to the question about experience that day in Atlanta?

“Talladega is April,’’ he said. 

As NASCAR heads to Talladega SuperSpeedeway this weekend, Harvick’s forecast proved correct. No driver under the age of 30 has won since Dillon’s victory in the Daytona 500.

So, will the youngsters prevail? For that to happen, they’ll have to  outwit the veterans.

But one who has done so is 27-year-old Joey Logano, who has won two of the last five Talladega races and three restrictor-plate races since 2015, including that year’s Daytona 500.

If not Logano, who?

Talladega has been known as a place for drivers to score their first career — and sometimes only — victory. Defending event winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who turned 30 in October, became the 11th driver to record his first Cup win at Talladega last May.

Dillon’s best finish in nine starts at Talladega is third in May 2016. Chase Elliott’s best finish in four starts there is fifth in that same race. Elliott continues to look for his first series win after finishing second last weekend at Richmond — the eighth time in 86 career starts he’s been second.

Erik Jones failed to finish either Talladega race last year. His best result was 33rd in May 2017. Kyle Larson’s best finish in eight Talladega races is sixth in Oct. 2016. Ryan Blaney‘s best finish in seven Talladega races is fourth in May 2015.

This will be the first Cup start at Talladega for Wallace and William Byron.

Of course, any of them will have to beat Kyle Busch, who has won the past three Cup races, or Harvick, who had his own three-race winning streak earlier in the season.

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