Xfinity Series Spotlight

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Dakoda Armstrong

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If anyone is a fan of the controversial overtime line rule in NASCAR, it’s Dakoda Armstrong.

If not for the rule that decides whether a caution ends a race, the 26-year-old driver might not have earned the best finish of his NASCAR career two weeks ago at Daytona International Speedway.

The JGL Racing driver was third, tucked in behind Elliott Sadler and William Byron on the final restart of the Firecracker 250. But his No. 28 Toyota had a problem. His right-front fender had collided with Ryan Reed in the multi-car crash that caused a red flag and setup the two-lap finish.

Dakoda Armstrong drives his No. 28 Toyota during practice at Daytona. (Getty Images).

“I thought our car was done,” Armstrong told NBC Sports. “I thought it destroyed it, but really all it did was push the front in and there was a little bit of drag on the right front so I was just hoping our car would hold on. … I couldn’t lift and I just had to drive through whatever happened.”

The eventual five-car wreck happened behind him, but the caution came out after Byron crossed the overtime line.

“The overtime line saved us cause our right front was actually chunked,” Armstrong said. “It had almost dragged apart. It wasn’t going to make it another lap.”

A veteran of 122 Xfinity starts, it was the New Castle, Indiana native’s third top five and his second in a row. At Iowa Speedway, he finished fifth behind the likes of Ryan Sieg in second and Ross Chastain in fourth. After a finish of 17th at Kentucky, Armstrong heads to New Hampshire ninth in the points standings.

It’s the best season to date for Armstrong, who grew up on a soybean and corn farm and has competed for Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and one race last year for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is good, it shows that we’re building and going in the right direction,” Armstrong said. “When we can run good at those other tracks, it doesn’t hurt us as bad when we finish 17th or 15th at a mile and a half, that’s still a good points day for us. That’s where it really helps in the long-term.”

This Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: What’s been your highest high and your lowest low of your career?

Armstrong: As great as these top fives have been I would say my highest high really wasn’t even in the sport of NASCAR. It was when I was first starting out just racing stock cars. It was actually in ARCA when I won at Talladega (in 2010). That just really gave me a boost of confidence and it was the first real big track I had been at and to win there was something that was crazy. I can still go back and watch it now even though it was seven years ago and I’m like ‘Man, that was a really cool race,’ even though it was in ARCA and the way those plate races play out, there’s something about them that’s hard to describe.

As far as lowest low, that’s tough, there’s been a time where I haven’t been running good before in the sport and money’s been tight and just thinking you’re not going to be back the next year and that happens to almost everybody. Just not giving up and going out there and competing each week kind of brings you back. That’s the one thing about this sport, you can have a really good week but then it restarts on Monday and you’re right back at it. It always resets it on the good and the bad.

 

NBC Sports: You’re going to be a birthday boy this weekend (July 16). How are you celebrating turning 26?

Armstrong: Honestly, I doubt we’ll do anything, really. Just kind of let it go. Let it be. Just another number at this point. It’ll be good. I’m sure my wife will do something. I’ve always had birthdays right in the middle of racing. I’ve had a lot of races where it’s been my birthday or my birthday week and we’re going racing. That’s probably the best thing, at least that’s still happening. That’s the best present I guess.

NBC Sports: What’s the best birthday gift you’ve ever gotten?

Armstrong: Easily when I turned 16 my dad bought me my first vehicle, that’s pretty hard to beat. It was actually a 2004 Avalanche. That was pretty awesome. I drove that thing for a long time.

Dakoda Armstrong drove a Davey Allison throwback paint scheme last year at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Is the Avalanche a proper vehicle for a 16-year-old?

Armstrong: Probably not. I was OK with it but it was a big vehicle. My dad likes to have things really nice so he had it detailed out with some extra covers and he actually put 22-inch rims on it. I was like ‘this doesn’t fit.’ It didn’t fit for a country boy from the middle of Indiana, we’ll say that. It was still a really cool car.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a race car or street car?

Armstrong: Other than numbers, I never have. Just never have gotten really that attached to any of them. There is a sprint car that we kept. We’ve never named it, but it was such bad luck for a while we wouldn’t even talk about it. Because every time it went out something would break on it. It was always the fastest thing there, no matter where we unloaded it was always the top five, top-three car. But every time in the race something would break. Even if we finished, the shock would be broke, we’d have a right front go down, just something crazy would go wrong with that thing. That was a car we’d never talk about. That was really our only superstition.

NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup Series race at Bristol, what would you choose as your intro song?

Armstrong: Oh man, that’s really tough. I’ve always thought about it. I kind of want to come down to the Hulk Hogan wrestling song he’s had, “The Real American.” There’s a lot to choose. I feel the way you come down the (driver entrance) the wrestling songs would be the best, because that’s exactly what they’re for and they always get people hyped. They still get me even though I don’t watch wrestling anymore. When I was a kid watching I thought that was awesome. I’d probably steal some wrestler’s song.

NBC Sports: What’s the last song you got stuck in your head?

Armstrong: Me and my wife have been playing “Guitar Hero” a lot recently, so we were playing, I don’t know if you know “Through the Fire and Flames” but I had that stuck in my head because it’s one of the hardest songs on there and we do terrible on it. So we played it about 10 times in a row trying to get better so it was stuck in my head for a while.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing? And it can’t be sky diving.

Armstrong: Oh man, that was exactly where I was going to go with it. I have a huge fear of the ocean and sharks. I still want to kind of do cage diving with great whites even though I’m terrified of it. But the adrenaline from it would probably be crazy for me. I kind of want to do that in Australia or somewhere where they have a lot of great whites.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in a race?

Armstrong: Probably racing at Irwindale Speedway in California in our USAC midgets. I always felt that was the best track. I can’t remember what year it was but there was a race. I was really fast there for a while but my car fell off pretty bad, but it was still fun diving down, passing people running three wide. Every time I’ve went there the track’s been great. 

NBC Sports: Which phone app do you use the most that’s not social media?

Armstrong: Does YouTube count? I feel like I’m on YouTube 24/7. I like to hear what people have to say on different things, I actually watch a lot of YouTube as far as people reviewing stuff or just reading comments of different videos. I’m all over the place. I watch YouTube video for about anything you can think of. … Games or what people say about the election. I want to hear random people’s thoughts about it.

NBC Sports: If you could give any advice to Dakoda Armstrong from a year ago, what would it be?

Armstrong: Really, just not to worry. Just go out and do your job. I try not to worry every year. I’m just going to go out there and race. But whether it’s sponsor stuff, trying to get renewed or worrying about finishing or results, all that stuff just weighs down on you and actually really does hurt your performance. Even on the Cup side, I think that hurts a lot of people and they know it. Really just not worrying and trusting everything’s going to be all right and doing the best you can.

Previous Xfinity Series Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

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

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: A Q&A with Kyle Benjamin

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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.

 Kyle Benjamin drives the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pocono Green 250 at Pocono Raceway. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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.

Kyle Benjamin celebrating his win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 at Greenville Pickens Speedway on April 8, 2017. (Getty Images).

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.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

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

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Xfinity Spotlight: Tyler Reddick on being a nervous street driver, his disdain of bootleg hero cards

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There are two “California Kids” driving Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series this year.

When Kyle Larson, a native of Elk Grove, can’t drive it, the duty falls to Tyler Reddick of Corning.

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.

Tyler Reddick drives his No. 42 Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway. (Getty Images)

NBC Sports: How did you get interested in racing out in California?

Reddick: Well it all started with automobiles 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.

Tyler Reddick driving at Eldora Speedway in 2016. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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?

 

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

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

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Whispers in the Dark: Year after brain tumor scare, Matt Tifft can finally get some sleep

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Even before he knew about it, the tumor that once slowly grew in Matt Tifft‘s brain kept him awake at night.

When Tifft drove at night, walked through his darkened house or just lay in bed, a sense of paranoia would envelop the then 19-year-old.

“I actually for a long time would hear strange voices,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “One of the symptoms of brain tumors is badly increased anxiety. That would actually really bother me. I would have to have a box fan. I would have to have some kind of noise to distract me from it to be able to fall asleep.”

He couldn’t always drown out the “strange whispers.” Tifft would often hear eerie music.

“It seemed a lot of times like pop songs with female singers and it would get played into this bizarre, creepy tune in my head,” Tifft said. “And it was warping itself and it was really freaky. It was really bizarre. I didn’t know what it was and it didn’t bother me during the day or anything.”

The strange sensation grew “more and more frequent” as time went on. Tifft went from being “a very calm person to being a very paranoid person in that time frame. … It was totally taking over my head.”

The nocturnal feelings were compounded by an early morning sensitivity to light, which Tifft thought was the result a concussion earlier in his racing career.

This was what led to Tifft to ask for a MRI of his brain in early June last year during a doctor’s visit related to a back problem. Weeks later, on July 1, Tifft had brain surgery to remove a low-grade tumor in his right frontal lobe.

Almost a year later, the whispers and paranoia are gone.

Now Tifft is reminded of the tumor and recovery process that kept him out of the driver’s seat for three months every time he gets a hair cut.

That’s when he sees the scar.

“I always kind of forget it’s there until I go get a hair cut and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s still there,'” Tifft said. “You never know if it’s going to go away or not.”

Now what keeps Tifft awake at night is the general anxiety of being a rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series.

“For awhile it was, ‘ok, what’s wrong with me?'” Tifft said. “Now, it’s just, ‘Ok, how do I make myself better? What do I need to do to do get our team where it needs to be and get out of where we’ve been?’ … At the same time I’ve actually taken quite a few steps to control that stress and anxiety throughout the week.

“I think that’s been part of my maturation process, being able to control that and be able to just let it go a little bit. I’ve gotten better with that. It’s learning how to slow down and be your thoughts in your head. I think that’s the biggest thing now, just wanting to be better and wanting to succeed.”

The Hinckley, Ohio native is 10 races into his tenure driving the No. 19 Toyota full-time for JGR. So far his results haven’t been stellar. He is eighth in points and has earned just two top 10s (Texas, Talladega). He’s led only four laps, at Phoenix, and he placed 26th last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway for his second-worst finish of the year.

But the tense summer last year surrounding his tumor has provided Tifft with helpful insight surrounding his career and life.

It could be worse.

“Other than check ups, I’m good,” said Tifft, who gets a MRI every eight weeks to make sure there’s no signs of a resurgent tumor. “There’s still people that do have to deal with it.”

Every week, Tifft tries to meet fans at the track who have gone through similar experiences or with family members of those who have. At Charlotte, Tifft’s car was sponsored by the National Brain Tumor Society and BrainTumor.com as part of Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

In April, Tifft took part in Charlotte’s Brain Tumor 5k that raised $135,000 for research and awareness. A month later, Tifft traveled to Washington D.C. to petition members of Congress for more funding for brain tumor research programs.

“I guess that makes me feel good to still help out other people and families going through it,” Tifft said. “A lot of people, it’s not four months of stuff, it’s four years. It’s forty years worth of stuff. That’s a bit different than what I had to do.”

But the four months Tifft experienced will make June 26 mean a bit more to him this year. That’s when Tifft will turn 21.

“Everyone talks about turning 21, people know why you’re excited to turn that,” Tifft said. “But for me, I’ve gone through so much by the time I’ve been 21 years old. It’s crazy when you look back at the year. Not only me, everything I’ve had to grow through and things going on around me. It’s been a pretty challenging year just in itself. I’m hoping that’s a bit of a reset button.”

However he celebrates, at least he’ll be able to sleep it off.

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Brennan Poole on his love of ‘Star Wars’ and owning an A.J. Foyt truck

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“Without a doubt” the most fun Brennan Poole has had in the Xfinity Series ended in disappointment.

It was a year ago at Talladega Superspeedway when a chaotic finish ended with Poole and Elliott Sadler waiting five minutes at the start-finish line to find out who won the race. Though Sadler left the track a winner, Poole still cherishes the experience.

“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.

 (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

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?

Poole: Let’s just say ‘Down with the Sickness’ by Disturbed. That’s hard-core.

South Boston Speedway South Boston, Virginia. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

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Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

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Blake Koch

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