While Kyle Larson was busy fighting for his second NASCAR Cup win of the year, Jamie McMurray was silently earning his second top five.
McMurray used three cautions in the last 20 laps of the FireKeepers Casino 400 and pit strategy to overcome a mid-pack day to finish fifth. With it he matched his top five total from 2016.
His other top five this season was finishing second at Talladega.
“At the beginning of the race it was weird,” McMurray told Fox Sports 1. “It seemed like you could run a couple of good laps and then I don’t know if you’d catch a gust of wind or what happened, but it would send the car up the race track. And it wasn’t just me. I saw the No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and the No. 2 car (Brad Keselowski) going through the same thing. But our guys did a really good job of adjusting on it.”
McMurray finished Stage 1 in 16th and only improved to 14th by the end of Stage 2. His average running spot was 12.88.
“We had great pit stops,” McMurray said. “And it’s a really good recovery from what happened to us last weekend.”
The former Camping World Truck Series driver has been behind the wheel of the No. 42 five times this season and earned his first top 10 two weeks ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Larson has won three times this season, but there’s no added pressure for Reddick, 21, as he navigates his part-time Xfinity schedule.
“It gives me a lot of confidence through knowing that car is capable of doing what it has so far this year,” Reddick told NBC Sports. “I would be honest by saying I would feel a little bit pressured if Kyle wasn’t having such a good year on the Cup side (where he is second in points). But he’s just doing really good right now. You can argue he’s one of the best Cup drivers at this point in the year. That makes me feel a little bit better about trying to compare myself to him.”
Reddick, a three-time Truck winner with Brad Keselowski Racing, took a huge stride in his development as a Xfinity driver following an open test at Charlotte last month.
“We were able to … put up on the screen how I drive the car and how he drives the car,” Reddick said. “It really helped me bridge a gap it seemed I was forever away from where I needed to be to run competitive lap times. Having the ability to look at that data brought stuff I needed to work on to full attention, and we were able to work on it really well over the next couple of weeks. How bad we were when we tested at Charlotte to where we ended up being speed wise and everything in the Charlotte race, I feel like we literally jumped over a mountain.”
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.
NBC Sports: How did you get interested in racing out in California?
Reddick: Well it all started withautomobiles in general. Both my parents worked at a dealership. I grew up at the dealership with them. So I was with them before I was old enough to go to school. So I had an obsession with cars from day one pretty much. My dad raced for a short time when I was really, really young. I don’t remember much of those really young days, but my parents noticed how obsessed I was with racing and cars and this and that, anything with wheels on it. I was just sucked right into it. Dad got the idea one day to kind of take me to a go-kart track and really gauge my interest in it. He set me in a car and kind of pushed me around in it, asked me if I wanted to do it and of course I said yes. I don’t know who would have said no.
NBC Sports: What was your first car?
Reddick: I only got my first car a couple of years ago. It was 2011 Ford Mustang GT California Special. They’re still making them now. They brought it back in ’06 or ’07, but way back when in the 1960s they had a Mustang that was called a California Special. At the time, they only built and sold them in California. Now you can get them anywhere they want. I guess you can say it’s the California twist on the Mustang. It’s a little bit nicer interior and the exterior. It’s really just like a trim package now, it’s not really anything performance wise. I still have that car, I love it to death. I don’t think I’m ever going to get rid of it. Can’t ask for more out of a street car, it’s wicked.
NBC Sports: You hit a home run on your first one.
Reddick: Yeah, most people’s first cars are something they had to work on. I mean I got really lucky. I don’t want to sound like a brat by saying this but I didn’t want something very nice for my first car. I didn’t want to trash it, but I wanted to … based on my life, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be driving on the road. There’s a chance I might be the world’s worst driver on the road. I just didn’t want to have something nice. I’m one of those crazy people, if I get one scratch, the world ends and I feel like I’m going to die right there on the spot, so I decided I didn’t want something nice. But it’s still in one piece. I feel it’s survived pretty well.
NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a street car or race car?
Reddick: Quite a few. BKR, this is just BKR’s thing, they didn’t put numbers on the truck, they gave them names. They have a pool to decide what the names will be. What we would do, it kind of depended, sometimes we would come up with a batch of four names if we were having four trucks made. Some of the first trucks we had were ‘Bonnie’ and ‘Clyde.’ We just named the trucks after certain things. We named four trucks after The A Team. … Actually, Clyde is the truck I won at Dover with and BKR at the Christmas party last year gave it to me. It’s now sitting at my parent’s house in Nashville covered up. They gave me ‘Clyde’ and that was my crew chief’s favorite truck. He damn near cried. He’d probably kill me if I told you that, but he cried when he gave it to me. It was his favorite truck, he won multiple races with it and it was my favorite truck too. I wish I could describe it.
NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup race at Bristol, what would you choose as your intro song?
Reddick: These are things I never really think about. You’ve got me on the spot. I feel like it has to be something upbeat … I’m going to have to go with a Sevendust or a Slipknot song, one or the other. They get me pumped up for a race.
NBC Sports: What’s the most fun race you’ve ever been a part of?
Reddick: Anytime I’m at Eldora (Speedway), it’s just a blast. The late model racing there, it’s hard to duplicate that anywhere else. Probably racing a late model at Eldora is one of the funnest things I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the best luck. We’ve been really faster there. You can go anywhere on that race track. When it slips off, it really widens out. It’s really something else.
NBC Sports: If you could add any track to the Xfinity schedule, what would it be?
Reddick: Unfortunately, a lot of people are going to say what I’m going to say. It’s a track that’s been on the schedule before. I wish they would add Lucas Oil Raceway (located just outside Indianapolis) back to the schedule. If that’s what it’s still called today.
NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your name or face on merchandise?
Reddick: Yeah, when I was racing go karts at the tail end my mom and dad had shirts made for family and friends and some other people ended up buying them. My dad had a couple of hero cards made for people and fans that wanted them, he was just trying to get my name and face out there a little more. I was so young I didn’t care. … We still got some of those hero cards. What is kind of sad and depressing is people have started … Someone has started copying those hero cards and making a smaller version and selling them on eBay. I’ve been coming across them more and more. That kind of pisses me off, I’m not going to lie. I guess at the end of the day we were giving them out for free, but there’s someone out there printing them and making money off of them and I don’t like that. I wish I knew who that was, but I can’t really do much about that, you now?
“I ran up front the whole race,” Poole told NBC Sports. “I was racing with (Joey) Logano and Sadler and (Justin) Allgaier. We’re all racing really hard. I got Jeremy Clements pushing me. A strange finish to that. It was a lot of fun to basically win the race, then not win the race.
“A lot of people would think that would be a terrible memory or something bad. It’s just how it panned out. It’s just racing. So that was a lot of fun.”
Ahead of the 10th race this season, Poole is still looking to top that moment. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is 10th in points and seeking his first top-five finish of the year.
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.
NBC Sports: OK, I’ve been wanting to ask you about this since February. Your Star Wars helmet. How did that come about?
Poole: As a kid I always liked Star Wars and my dad was a huge Star Wars guy. He took me to see it and I watched all of them when I was really little. I remember going to see Episode I, II and III when all those came out. My dad I would go and watch them together. This winter over the off-season, my family and I, we all went out to see Rogue One. We went to dinner afterward and I was sitting there, ‘Man, it would be really cool if I painted my helmet like a Star Wars helmet or something cool.’ Really, as a driver, our only thing of creativity that we get to decide on our own (is our helmet). That’s where we get to express ourselves a little bit, you know? I just started thinking about it, started looking at helmets. Just sitting down at dinner goofing off and talking about it. That’s really where the idea started and I thought it would be sick if I did a Luke Skywalker X-Wing helmet. I thought it would be cool and neat to do it all scratched up and beat up and kind of worn out like his was.
When I got home from doing Christmas and New Year’s with my family I called up my helmet painter, Jason Beam, and we just talked about it. He’s a huge Star Wars guy too, so he was pumped about it too. He’s the creative side of it. I just wanted to do a Star Wars helmet and he was like ‘We’ll do this, we’ll do that.’ Started coming up with the idea and he started sending me drawings and things that he had. Finding a way to incorporate DC Solar and stuff on the front and really keep the helmet true to Luke’s helmet in the movie. He just did an outstanding job. Just more than special. Every time I put that thing on I feel cool, you know?
NBC Sports: Which Star Wars movie is your favorite?
Poole: People ask me that a lot. I like Episode I. I was like 10 or 11 or something when it came out. I was racing quarter midgets and stuff. The pod races, man. That’s like the coolest thing. To me that’s like the coolest part. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve watched all the movies. I’ve seen a bunch of them. The new ones, the technology has just grown so much and they’re done so beautifully. I would say right now my favorite is Rogue One. They did such an amazing job telling that story.
NBC Sports: If you had a time machine and you had to choose between going to the world premiere of Star Wars in 1977 or attending the 1979 Daytona 500, which would you choose?
Poole: (laughs) Both would be really cool. The ’70s are an interesting time. The music and everything that was going on. Racing is what I love. That’s what’s in my heart, it’s all that I’ve ever wanted to do since I can remember. So I would definitely like to go back and experience the Daytona 500 in the late ’70s. Just experience the crowd, the fans and what it was like. The drivers and see those cars and seeing them in person go around the track was probably amazing at the time. It’s still amazing today, but it’s just a little bit different feel to it and I’d like to experience that feel. … Hands down I would go to the race. Thinking about Star Wars though, going back to see the world premiere, like that’s cool, but I would want to go back and be a part of how they actually made the film. See how they’re hanging star ships up and filming it. I would like to see how they did that because it changed film and how they shot film forever.
NBC Sports: What was your first car?
Poole: My first car was a 1999 Ford F-350. It was a Legends Series and it used to be A.J. Foyt’s truck. A.J. Foyt owned it and he signed the dash. I bought it from the guy that built my dirt modified engines to pull my first modified trailer. I drove that thing to high school. When I turned 16 I got it and drove it all through high school. It was a good truck. … I could do burnouts for crying out loud. It was a lot of fun. I was that guy with the huge truck. People always gave me a hard time. ‘Why do you need a truck that big?’ ‘I pull my race car with it.’ Growing up in South Texas in Houston, I grew up in the city. Racing wasn’t a big thing. … I couldn’t even park it in the school parking lot. I had to take up multiple spots. It was kind of ridiculous. I pulled my race trailer and did all that stuff myself. I set up my own cars and couple of my buddies would help me, all young kids. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing. … I had that truck up until, I sold it a few years ago … in 2011. But I still miss it man.
NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car?
Poole: I’ve had several cars named. Several, several cars. The last car that I had named, I had this all red car. A dirt modified. It’s name was ‘Ms. Vivian’ after the movie Pretty Woman. It was a redhead, the car was all red. The car had a red chassis, a red body. So it was an ol’ red head. It said ‘Ms. Vivian’ right on the bumper.
NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?
Poole: I think about this a lot, of things I want to do or things I want to experience. I definitely want to go to a NBA finals game. I’m a huge basketball fan. I’ve been watching the playoffs. I’ve been a huge Charlotte Hornets fan for a few years since I live a couple blocks away from the stadium and I’ve gone to like 20 games each year that last two years. Of course, I’m a Houston Rockets fan, that’s where I grew up. They got knocked out of the deal, so I’m kind of bummed. … I want to go to a basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York. I’m fascinated by New York City for whatever reason, so I’d like to experience that. Most of my bucket list things have to do with sport. I’d love to go to the Stanley Cup finals as well and see a game in person. Hockey is so entertaining and amazing in person, it’s not-stop action the whole time. … I can definitely tell you I don’t want to go skydiving. I have no desire to experience that whatsoever.
NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your name or face on merchandise?
Poole: Yeah, it was pretty cool. I think the coolest thing for me, I’ve had shirts and I’ve had things like that. I think it’s different when it’s a real piece. They have those baseball cards of me. I didn’t even know they existed and I had a fan ask me to sign some one weekend. I was like ‘Man, that’s pretty cool. I have my own baseball card.’ That’s pretty special. I have my rookie card, it says ‘RC’ on it like ‘Rookie Card.’ So I have one myself because I think that’s pretty neat. I didn’t think they did that. … I think I signed 150 yesterday with (PR representative) Ian (Moye) at his desk. That was just kind of special to see for the first time.
NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Cup race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?
NBC Sports: NASCAR announced the schedules for next year this week. If you could add one track to the Xfinity schedule, what would it be?
Poole: I think we should go somewhere ridiculous, like Hickory (Motor Speedway). It would be insane and there’s not even a pit road. People would be pitting all over the place. I’m just kidding, that would be insane. … I think I would like to see them go to South Boston, I never raced there. Just another short track or something. The Motor Mile (Speedway). Motor Mile’s pit road isn’t too terrible, they’d probably have to make it a little bit bigger or somethings. I would like a nice, tight short track. Maybe you got to do some bumping, some bump and runs, something like that would be a lot of fun.
NBC Sports: If you don’t have to be at the track or at the shop, all your family is busy and you have no obligations, how do you spend your day?
Poole: If you want a full day, you got it. Here we go. Probably wake up in the morning, have some coffee, make myself some eggs and bacon. I’d probably go on an hour and a half bike ride, maybe bust out 30 miles or something, 35 miles, something like that. Probably come home, literally would play X-Box for the rest of the afternoon. I’d probably be playing NBA 2K in ‘My Career’ playing as myself. Then I would order Hibachi. I would not leave the house. I would order Hibachi. There’s a great Hibachi place that delivers to where I live. Steak and shrimp. You get fried rice. You got to get noodles as well in the soup, I don’t know what the soup is called, the full deal. Just blow it out. Then I would watch some shows on Netflix as I’m falling asleep. That’s probably the full day.
After an All-Star race that featured three lead changes in 70 laps, a senior NASCAR executive defended the rules package but conceded that the option tire “didn’t make a huge impact.’’
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that one race isn’t going to lead to significant rule changes.
“I think we’ve got to keep it in context,’’ O’Donnell said Monday. “I find it ironic that you can go from one week of everyone saying this is the greatest rules package and then you walk into one race with a bit of a different format (and opinions not as high). We feel still really bullish on the rules package we have, the work we’ve done with the industry to get where we’re at. Certainly you want every race to be the best it possibly can be.
“We’ve got to look at the facts and the facts are a lot of different organizations winning this year, the (manufacturers) having an ability to win, Kyle (Busch) his first win ever (in Cup) at Charlotte, which is surprising to me, and a lot of young drivers really putting their names out there competing out front. Really like where we’re at right now.
“Our job is to look at the whole year. If I reacted to every comment you had on Twitter, it would be very different. It’s one of those things we’ve got to look at the overall picture, we’ve got to take the input from everybody in the industry and we do that. I think from a rules package standpoint we continue to see the sport moving in the right direction in terms of what we’re seeing in competitiveness from different organizations. That’s really how we judge it from an overall standpoint and not just one race.’’
Heading into this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, there have been eight different winners in the first 11 races. There have been at least eight different winners in the first 11 races in three of the last four years.
Among organizations, seven different teams have scored victories this season: Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Four organizations had won a race in the first 11 events last year and in 2015.
In the five races run on 1.5-mile tracks this season — Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas and the All-Star Race — lead changes are down compared to the same events last year. There have been 63 lead changes in those five events this year compared to 94 in those same events a year ago and 99 two years ago.
The three lead changes in the All-Star race were the fewest since 2007, although Saturday’s race had the fewest laps (70) since that 2007 race, which was 80 laps.
Still, the hope was that there could be plenty of cars moving forward and backward with the use of a second tire compound, a softer compound. The goal was for the tire to be a few tenths quicker at the onset but wear more quickly than the regular tire.
“Goodyear delivered on exactly what we had asked,’’ O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We wanted three to four-tenths on a tire and by the practice times and the early part of the race we saw that. Kudos to Goodyear. I think what you saw Saturday night was really the difference probably in the car versus the tire and maybe a need to go even further if you were going to pursue that avenue in terms of difference in speed. That’s something we could look at for the future. Obviously you guys saw what I saw, it didn’t make a huge impact.’’
Asked if the option tire is something still on the table for future events, O’Donnell said: “I think so. I think you look at what may be the impact versus the car. I think the bigger thing is, when you look at tires in general, continuing to focus on rain tire, what should be our priority. There’s talk, I don’t want to tip the hand, but way down the future could you ever run Martinsville if the track was damp because Goodyear is able to, in terms of the speed, put something together.
“It’s a balance for us of where do we put their focus. Obviously they’re capable of doing all things. I think something we’d look at All-Star for sure, not sure in terms of a points race.’’
Another question was about the splitter after Erik Jones’ bid for the lead in the final laps of the Monster Energy Open was foiled when he ran below the apron and through grass on the frontstretch. He damaged his splitter in the incident.
O’Donnell defended the splitter’s purpose on the car.
“Why we have it, I think everybody, including the drivers and the industry wanted to look at going toward the lower downforce package,’’ O’Donnell said. “That’s part of the package. It’s part of what we worked on with the (manufacturers). We’re actually very happy with the product we’ve had.
“If you look back to Kansas, one of the better mile-and-a-half races we’ve had. It’s always interesting with one incidentand everybody jumps on, ‘Hey, why do we have this on the car?’ Certainly something down the road you can always look at, but it’s part of the overall aerodynamics of the car. It all fits in.
“For now, we continue to like the direction of lower downforce and going to continue down that and see if there are certain tweaks we can make. We absolutely would do that but that’s where we’re at today.’’
O’Donnell also said that the 2018 schedule is expected to be released this week.
Kyle Larson will be in a backup car for the Go Bowling 400 after his No. 42 Chevrolet got into the wall early in final practice at Kansas Speedway.
The Cup Series points leader was running up high when he made contact with the Turn 1 wall and the spun exiting the turn.
“It felt like I was going to crash every lap since we’ve unloaded today,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “Only made (eight) laps the first practice because I was spinning out every time. They made some big adjustments there between practices. I actually thought my (Turns) 1 and 2 were better. (Turns) 3 and 4 has been my worst corner. I just tried open my entry up into 1 and it stepped out on me I feel like before I ever got to the corner. I didn’t really have a chance to chase it.”
Shortly after Larson’s accident, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray got loose in Turn 4 and made slight contact with the wall, but continued on.
“Yeah, we will try not to crash anymore today,” Larson said. “I don’t have much practice time left. By the time, we get this thing ready I will probably only be able to make one or two runs. I’m disappointed that I got into the wall, but I was definitely on edge all day so far.”