Cole Custer

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Sam Hornish Jr. feels right at home, takes Xfinity pole at Mid-Ohio

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Given that he’s an Ohio resident and has made countless trips to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as both a driver and a fan, it’s not surprising Sam Hornish Jr. felt right at home in Saturday’s Xfinity Series qualifying there.

Hornish was fastest of the 40 drivers in the field to earn the pole for this afternoon’s Mid-Ohio Challenge (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Hornish covered the course at a top speed of 96.863 mph. Elliott Sadler was second at 95.779 mph, followed by Blake Koch (95.574), Ryan Reed (95.439) and Matt Tifft (95.232).

Sixth through 10th were Daniel Hemric (95.188), Ben Kennedy (95.037), Justin Allgaier (94.997), Cole Custer (96.760) and Brennan Poole (92.535).

There was one significant incident in the closing laps when Cole Custer wrecked at the end of his qualifying lap. His Ford suffered significant front end damage, and will likely have to go to a backup car for this afternoon’s race.

Click here for the full qualifying grid.

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Sam Hornish Jr. fastest in final Xfinity practice at Mid-Ohio

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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Sam Hornish Jr. posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Xfinity practice session at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Hornish toured the road course at a speed of 94.857 mph for Team Penske. James Davison, who finished 20th in this year’s Indianapolis 500, was next on the speed chart with a lap of 94.846 mph. Matt Tifft (94.542 mph) was third and followed by Regan Smith (94.507) and Cole Custer (94.379).

Both Davison and Smith are in Joe Gibbs Racing cars this weekend.

Click here for full practice report

Saturday morning’s session was added after rain washed out both of Friday’s practices.

Qualifying is at noon ET on CNBC. The race is at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

What Xfinity Series drivers said after the U.S. Cellular 250 (video)

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Ryan Preece claimed victory in his second Xfinity race of the year and the 38th of his career.

He is the third Xfinity driver to earn his first-career win at Iowa Speedway. He is the ninth driver in series history to get his first-career pole and first-career win in the same race.

Here’s what the other top finishers had to say about the U.S. Cellular 250.

Kyle Benjamin– Finished second

Benjamin earned his first top five and top-10 finishes of his career in his fourth start of the year. His previous best was 16th at Pocono.

“I just needed more laps,” Benjamin told NBC. “I think our car was better on the long run there. I didn’t want to see the caution. … I was real surprised at the fire-off speed we had.  able to get beside (Ryan Preece) there at the end. But most importantly I learned a lot today. … There’s a lot I can carry throughout the year.”

Brian Scott – Finished third 

Brian Scott retired from full-time NASCAR competition after the 2016 season and made his first start of the year for Richard Childress Racing. It was his first Xfinity start since the 2015 finale.

“We weren’t very good in the first segment,” Scott told NBC. “We weren’t very good in the second segment but we made a big adjustment at the end of Segment 2. From then on I knew if we could battle back from the loss of track position and it came down to a long run that we had a shot. The restarts at the end (were) not what I wanted to see I thought but it ended up working to our advantage. It was fun. It was fun to be back out there. Congrats to Ryan Preece.’’

Brennan Poole – Finished fourth

Poole earned his first top five of the season. His previous best finish was seventh twice (Daytona II, Indianapolis).

“I felt like we had a shot at the win there at the end,” Poole told NBC. “I spun the tires a little bit on that last restart and I couldn’t quite roll up to (Ryan Preece) enough to try to make a move to make anything happen.  I was just behind a little it.”

Cole Custer – Finished fifth

Custer earned his fourth top five and his second in as many races.

“We definitely made huge gains on it since the last time we were here,” Custer told NBC. “Our short-track program definitely hasn’t been our strong suit, but we brought something completely different and it paid off. I was really proud of that.

Results of Xfinity race at Iowa

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Ryan Preece scored his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win Saturday, holding off several drivers also seeking their first career series win to capture the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway.

Click here for results

Preece, running his second race of the season with Joe Gibbs Racing, finished ahead of JGR teammate Kyle Benjamin, who does not have a series win. Brian Scott, who came out of retirement, placed third, just missing on his first career series victory. Brennan Poole was fourth and rookie Cole Custer was fifth. They both seek their first Xfinity victory.

 

Rule change hasn’t kept Cup drivers from dominating Xfinity Series – yet

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A rule change intended to help Xfinity Series drivers compete for more wins, particularly in the playoffs, has not diminished the domination of Cup drivers so far this season.

Twelve of the first 16 Xfinity races have been won by Cup regulars — the most since 2011 when they won 13 of the first 16 races. 

But they aren’t just taking the checkered flag.

Full-time Cup drivers have collected 48 top-five finishes this season — a 25 percent increase from this point last year and a 33 percent increase from this point in 2015.  The top six finishers in the Kentucky Xfinity race were all full-time Cup drivers.

A key reason for the sharp increase is NASCAR’s rule limiting Cup driver participation.

NASCAR announced last year that Cup drivers with more than five full-time seasons in that series would be limited to 10 Xfinity races this year.

NASCAR stated that those drivers— Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, among others — cannot compete in the final eight Xfinity races of the season and the four Dash 4 Cash races.

That means of the 33 Xfinity races, veteran Cup drivers are not allowed to compete in 12 events. That leaves 21 races for them to compete in up to 10.

With fewer opportunities, veteran Cup drivers have been running — and excelling — in more of the same Xfinity races this season. That’s left Xfinity drivers with limited chances to score a top-five finish.

That trend likely will continue.

Logano (six Xfinity starts this year) and Busch (five) both are scheduled to run 10 series races each. Keselowski (six starts) is scheduled to run three more races. Kevin Harvick (four starts) is set to run two more races.

They cannot compete in the Xfinity Series after the Sept. 8 race at Richmond International Raceway, giving Xfinity regulars a better chance to win in the playoffs. But those Xfintiy drivers still will have to beat some Cup competitors.

Cup drivers with less than five full-time seasons in that series are allowed to race in the Xfinity playoffs. That means that Kyle Larson (three wins this year), Erik Jones (two), Ryan Blaney (one), Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, and Daniel Suarez will be able to race until the finale in Miami.

The Xfinity Rule Book states that any driver who scores points in the Cup series is not eligible to run in the Xfinity championship race in Miami.

Even with the Cup veterans limited, Xfinity rookies William Byron and Cole Custer say they are learning when they race them.

“We have a great opportunities to go out there and succeed,’’ Byron said. “I’ve got good race cars, everyone is in good equipment, so when you have that you have to make the most of it and be around some veteran guys and not make mistakes and make a fool out of yourself. Just try to do the most and … learn from all the guys out there.’’

Byron has won two races, scoring victories at Iowa Speedway, a standalone race that did not have any Cup drivers in the field, and at Daytona International Speedway, which had four Cup regulars in the field.

Custer seeks his first win but has finished 11th or better in five of the last seven races.

“We all have really unbelievable opportunities to try to run good and make a name for ourselves,’’ he said. “You’re just trying to learn every single weekend, learn from the veteran guys.’’

Those lessons should prove helpful in the Xfinity playoffs, which begin Sept. 23 at Kentucky Speedway.

With Busch, (two wins this year), Logano (one), Keselowski (one), Denny Hamlin (one) and Aric Almirola (one) all among those ineligible to run in the playoffs, there could be more chances for Xfinity regulars to win.

Suarez won the season finale and the championship last year with many Cup drivers ineligible to compete.

“We talked about it for a long time,’’ NASCAR Chairman Brian France said last year of limiting Cup drivers in Xfinity races. “I’m glad we did it. It got a very worthy champion in Daniel Suarez.’’

 

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