Israeli-born driver Alon Day will make his debut in the No. 23 Toyota for BK Racing. Tommy Regan will drive the No. 15 Toyota for Premium Motorsports. Josh Bilick will drive the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. He replaces Cody Ware who is out indefinitely with back issues.
Last year, Tony Stewart won his 49th and final Cup race after swapping the lead twice with Denny Hamlin on the last lap, including passing Hamlin in the final turn.
Kyle Benjamin, a first-generation racer, doesn’t know whose idea it was to set him down the path of auto racing. But his earliest memory of visiting a track, a dirt track for go-karts, at the age of 5 is … distinct.
“I was so excited when I got to the track, I took off running and ran a lap around it,” Benjamin told NBC Sports. “When I finished my lap I puked. … I ran a lap around the track and puked everywhere. That’s probably my earliest memory of racing. I think it’s actually the first time I went to a track.”
Within 10 years, the native of Easley, South Carolina, would make history by becoming the youngest winner in the ARCA Racing Series, winning at Madison International Speedway in his sixth start with Venturini Motorsports.
“It was really cool, especially since you’re making the jump to a heavy car and you want to perform in a heavy car because that’s what you’re going to be in if you continue to move up the ladder,” Benjamin said.
He has continued to master “heavy cars,” winning five K&N Pro Series East races in the last three years. That resulted in a five-race deal to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series this year.
In his first two races, Benjamin qualified on the front row, including his first career pole last weekend at Pocono Raceway. He’ll be back next weekend at Iowa Speedway driving JGR’s No. 18 Toyota. Right now, Benjamin is only scheduled to compete in less than 10 races all year, including this weekend’s ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway.
“My off-time in the summer time is just doing some summer classes and doing some school. That’s pretty much it,” Benjamin said. “There’s not a whole lot in-between, which is why I’d like to be racing. I like to be at the track. It’s tough this year because I’m used to racing about 30-something races a year and I’m down to I think eight total or seven total. It’s been kind of tough.”
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.
NBC Sports: On your website, it says your hobby is collecting trophies. Where do you keep all your trophies?
Benjamin: I keep all the cool ones in the house, but there’s too many of those to keep them in the house so we gotta have to a storage facility for that one. But all the cool ones, the ones I really love, like the ARCA trophies and all the really big late model trophies, I keep in my house.
NBC Sports: Which trophy means the most to you?
Benjamin: The coolest trophy I have has to be the Dover trophy in K&N. The Monster Mile. You can’t beat Miles. Probably the coolest trophy in NASCAR, for sure.
NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?
Benjamin: That’s a tough one. One thing I’ve wanted to do is go skydiving. That’s probably on my bucket list. It’s one the things I think is on most people’s bucket lists, but I think it would be a really cool thing to do.
NBC Sports: Is driving at 180 mph not enough for you?
Benjamin: I guess not. You’re probably falling at 180 mph, too, out of an airplane I guess it would be kind of similar. It would be a really neat feeling to go experience that and also have bragging rights to say you’ve done it.
NBC Sports: If you were in the Bristol Cup race, what would your introduction song be?
Benjamin: That’s an even tougher one. Let me think for a second … It would have to be something funny, which is a problem. Probably “Another One Bites the Dust” (by Queen). That’s the only one I can think of that would be a funny one to play.
NBC Sports: What was the last song you got stuck in your head?
Benjamin: You’re going to laugh, but it’s actually a Katie Perry song. Me and my sister got it stuck in our head probably a week ago. I was singing it non-stop. I think it was “Roar” by Katie Perry. It’s funny when you get it stuck in your head. I would never just listen to that song, but it was stuck in my head for a week. It’s such an off-the-wall song.
NBC Sports: What’s the coolest merchandise you could imagine seeing your name or face on?
Benjamin: Someone having a tattoo with my face or name on it would be cool. That’s what I want to see. That would be cool. People do it, it’s amazing, but people do it.
NBC Sports: If you could add a track to your Xfinity schedule, what would it be?
Benjamin: I’d probably add Bristol, that’s probably one of my favorite tracks. Either that or Dover. Between those two, probably Bristol because you can’t beat that place. It’s such a cool place as far as the size and how fast you run around that place. It’s a different track and it’s also not a track you have to deal with the aero on, which is what I like about it too.
NBC Sports: You’re from Easley, South Carolina. What’s the coolest thing about Easley?
Benjamin: Probably Clemson right now. I know it’s not in Easley, but it’s so close to Easley. It’s about five minutes away. It’s right next to it, so I kind of include that. But it’s pretty cool to have a (college football) national championship team here right by your house.
NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional reaction you’ve had to a sporting event that wasn’t racing?
Benjamin: Probably the first (Clemson) loss to Alabama (in 2016 national title football game), that was pretty tough. I thought we had that game won. I was on the edge of my seat the whole game and I couldn’t believe how that thing ended.
NBC Sports: So you had more of an emotional reaction to Clemson losing the national championship than winning it?
Benjamin: Yeah, probably because I really thought that we had it. The whole game I thought we had them beat. I forget exactly how we did it, but we gave up a big play that allowed them to win the game. It was a heartbreak because at halftime I thought we had it and it wasn’t long after that that we lost it, so I was kind of emotional.
NBC Sports: If you have a day without any racing or family obligations, how do you spend you day?
Benjamin: If it was in the winter time, at the beginning of the race season, I’d probably be snowboarding. If it was in the summer time, I’d be mountain biking for sure.
NBC Sports: What’s your best snowboarding story?
Benjamin: Probably the time I almost broke my legs. I just started, I wasn’t really ready to hit it. My friend talked me into it. I don’t really know how to describe what I jumped. I guess you could call it a box jump or a pipe jump. But I hit that thing, I didn’t know what I was doing. I probably sailed 20 feet past the landing, way up in the air. … I thought I was going to break my legs, I don’t know how I didn’t. I must have landed perfectly, cause I was so high in the air it should have hurt something, but I got lucky on that deal.
Brad Keselowksi came back from the 13th position and used a last-lap pass of Kyle Larson to win the Pocono Green 250.
The win is the first in a Xfinity race for Keselowski and Team Penske’s No. 22 program since November 2015 at Texas Motor Speedway, ending a 46-race winless streak for the team.
Keselowski had dropped out of the top 10 after restarting first with 16 to go. Keselowski was forced out of the groove by Elliott Sadler in Turn 1, which caused the No. 22 to drop quickly. Larson then took the lead from Sadler in Turn 2.
“Elliott gave me a good push to clear (Cole Custer), but he carried it all the way into Turn 1,” Keselowski told Fox Sports. “I got down there and my rear tires were off the ground and I tried not back it into the wall. From there, it was never give up.”
On older tires after having stayed out during the previous caution, Keselowski was able to march his way back to the front, finally passing Larson down the backstretch leading to Turn 2 on the final lap of the 100-lap race.
“Drove by a bunch of cars and just pushed it as hard as I could,” Keselowski said. “Looked like Kyle (Larson’s) car was struggling just a little bit. He was getting tight in the middle, loose off. He was doing a really good job of holding me low so I couldn’t get any runs. Then on the last lap I got right to his bumper and got him loose. We tried to do the side draft thing on the backstretch, all the way down to the apron. That had to look really cool. I can’t wait to see the replay … Hell of a race. I’m really happy for the 22 team. It’s been awhile.”
WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Allgaier led 13 laps to increase his series-leading total among Xfinity regulars to 286. Allgaier also took the points lead for the first time this year … Sadler’s finish gives him five top fives through 12 races … Brendan Gaughan finished sixth for his best finish since placing fifth at Daytona … Kyle Benjamin started from his first career pole and led 28 laps before pit strategy and bad restarts led him to finish 16th.
WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Paul Menard wrecked on the final lap of Stage 2 when he lost a tire in Turn 2 and hit the inside wall. He finished 31st, three laps down …. Darrell Wallace Jr. was caught speeding during the second stage break. He finished 11th in potentially his last Xfinity Series race of the year with Roush Fenway Racing … Brandon Jones wrecked with 22 to go on the frontstretch after losing a tire and set up the final restart. He finished 36th for his fourth DNF of the year and his third in four races.
NOTABLE: Since the No. 22 team’s last win in November 2015, Team Penske’s part-time operation in the No. 12 car had won four times.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Really happy for the 22 team. It’s been a while. I think it’s been well documented that they haven’t been in victory lane. Discount Tire has been a part of this program for a long time. They deserve it. Without them I probably wouldn’t have a career in NASCAR.” – Brad Keselowski after winning the Pocono Green 250.
WHAT’S NEXT: Menards 250 Presented by Valvoline at Michigan International Speedway at 1:30 p.m. ET on June 17 on Fox Sports 1.
Kyle Benjamin wins first Xfinity pole for Pocono Green 250
Casey Mears‘ qualifying run in the first round was disallowed by NASCAR for impeding the progress of Matt Tifft during his qualifying run. Mears and the No. 98 Ford will start 40th. Tifft and the No. 19 Toyota will start 31st.
“Just a huge mistake on my part, I haven’t done single-car qualifying here in a long time,” Mears told Fox Sports 1. “Typically what you need to do is go down and run along the access road. I was in the middle of Turn 2 and I looked in my mirror and I went ‘I didn’t get down.’ I was the radio talking to (Crew Chief) Jon (Hanson) telling him what the car was doing. Shoot, I can’t remember the last time I did that. I hate it for the 19 guys. I was hoping they were on there up to speed lap, but it was their money lap.”
Casey Mears #XFINITYSeries qualifying time has been disallowed for impeding Matt Tifft.
Kyle Benjamin was the fastest in Friday afternoon’s second and final Xfinity Series practice, with a speed of 170.707 mph.
Benjamin not only was the only driver to exceed 170 mph, he also was faster than the fastest driver in the day’s first practice, Brad Keselowski, who turned a best lap earlier in the day of 169.14 mph.