Xfinity Series Spotlight

Xfinity Series Spotlight: Previewing the championship drivers

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No matter what happens over the course of Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the Xfinity Series will have a first-time champion.

Four drivers will have 200 laps to determine the winner.

JR Motorsports’ Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, and William Byron will face off against Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.

Here’s a look at each of the candidates to become the 28th different Xfinity Series champion.

Justin Allgaier (Getty Images)

Justin Allgaier – JR Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet

Of the top 10 drivers in laps led this season, Allgaier is one of two Xfinity Series regulars.

Through 32 races, Allgaier has led a career-best 495 laps. His previous high was 222 in 2010. The next highest total belongs to Byron, who has led 262 laps.

The 31-year-old driver is in the Championship 4 for the second year in a row. The big difference this season is that he enters the season finale with two wins after going winless in 2016.

Allgaier qualified for the playoffs early with a win at Phoenix in March. He didn’t return to victory lane until the regular-season finale at his home track of Chicagoland Speedway.

He heads to Homestead with 10 top fives and 17 top 10s. Four of those top fives came on 1.5-mile tracks. In seven starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Allgaier’s best finish was sixth last year. It is his only top-10 finish at the track.

Allgaier will be without his primary crew chief, Jason Burdett, who was suspended for the race after his No. 7 Chevrolet failed post-race inspection at Phoenix.

It’s similar to the situation that his teammate, Elliott Sadler, was in last season.

Elliott Sadler (Getty Images)

Elliott Sadler – JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet

Sadler has strapped himself in to compete in NASCAR points races 819 times in his career.

But in none of those races – in the Cup, Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series – has the 42-year-old driver clinched a NASCAR title.

Sadler has finished in the top five in the Xfinity standings six times in his nine full-time seasons on the circuit. That number will rise to seven on Saturday no matter the outcome of the Ford EcoBoost 300.

One stat he doesn’t want to add to is the number of times he’s finished runner-up to the Xfinity champion.

His second-place finish to Daniel Suarez last year was the third occurrence.

“I’m definitely looking for redemption this year,” Sadler told NBC Sports in May. “Believe me, I don’t need any extra incentive to want to win a championship.”

Elliott is one of two championship drivers who haven’t won this season. The other is Hemric.

However, Sadler has been wearing his competition down with consistency, reaching the championship race through 12 top fives and 24 top 10s, both highs among Xfinity regulars.

“We’ve met our goals,” Sadler said after the Phoenix race. “We’re back in a one-race shootout at Homestead and we’ve saved our best car for there. So we’re very optimistic for when we get to Homestead. Just ready to get the weekend going. That was our goal when we went to Daytona in the beginning of the season and we’ve met our goal and that’s all we can ask for.”

If Sadler prevails with the first NASCAR title of his career, he’d be the third-oldest champion in Xfinity history at 42 years, 6 months and 19 days. He (or Hemric) could also be the second winless champion in Xfinity history  (Austin Dillon, 2013).

Sadler is the father figure of the playoff drivers by an average of 16.6 years. The biggest age gap is 23 years between him and 19-year-old JR Motorsports teammate, William Byron.

William Byron (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

William Byron – JR Motorsports’ No. 9 Chevrolet

Like Sadler, Byron is also looking for redemption from last season.

Byron looks to claim his first NASCAR title before departing for the Cup Series and his third consecutive rookie season, this time driving the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Byron entered the Xfinity Series after a year in the Camping World Truck Series. He won a rookie-record six races before a blown engine at Phoenix kept him from being among the Championship 4 in a race he won.

“This year we made sure that didn’t happen,” Byron said after winning last weekend at Phoenix. “We executed well. We had a lot of adversity I feel like through the playoffs. We’ve just had different things, weird things happen. We’ve been able to rebound from those. … We’ve been able to get a good finish and that’s what matters (in Miami).”

Byron heads to the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway with 11 top fives and 21 top 10s.

Unlike four of his Truck wins, none of Byron’s four Xfinity victories have come at a 1.5-mile track. His only finish better than seventh (three times) was fourth two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway.

Only five years removed from his beginnings on the online racing simulator iRacing, Byron is one of four full-time Xfinity regulars to have won this year.

Should he win Saturday’s race – and the championship – he would enter a four-way tie for most wins by a rookie (Greg Biffle, 2001; Kyle Busch, 2004; Carl Edwards, 2005).

He’d also join his future Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott in being the only rookies to ever win the Xfinity title.

Challenging Byron for that distinction is a driver he competed against in Legends cars and even once called a team owner: Daniel Hemric.

Daniel Hemric (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Daniel Hemric – Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet

If Hemric wins the Xfinity title, it’ll be for the “hard-nosed short-track racer that will not ever get an opportunity like this.”

The 26-year-old rookie – ancient by today’s NASCAR standards – made that proclamation prior to the start of the postseason.

Two months later, Hemric is in position to be that symbol due a display of his own hard-nosed talents last week at Phoenix.

The Richard Childress Racing driver took part in a nearly 13-lap battle with fellow rookie Cole Custer for the final Championship slot.

On the final restart, Hemric started on the front row with just two fresh tires. Custer, restarting behind him, had four.

A late charging Christopher Bell passed both of them with two laps to go, ensuring Hemric was safe – narrowly – points wise. But that didn’t keep Hemric from aggressively defending against Custer on the final lap before clearing him coming to the checkered flag and finishing fifth.

“Those are the moments you live for and you hope to get that excited about anything as your career goes,” Hemric said afterward. “I’m just very fortunate … it’s my rookie season, we’ve been through a lot together.”

Hemric clinched his championship spot while capping off a four-race stretch that saw him without his primary crew chief, car chief and an engineer. All had been suspended due a weight that fell off his No. 21 Chevrolet during practice at Dover in the first round.

Randall Burnett, who was Hemric’s interim crew chief in those four races, will remain in the position for the season finale.

Before Phoenix, Hemric finished seventh (Charlotte), 18th (Kansas) and 14th (Texas).

The fifth-place finish at Phoenix was his seventh top five of the year, but just his second in the playoffs.

Only one of his top fives, at Chicagoland, came on a 1.5-mile track.

“The heart of this group has done an unbelievable job just rebounding and sticking together and coming through the struggles with out heads held high and making the most of every weekend, and that’s why as a rookie group together we’ve been able to accomplish the things we have.”

While he and Sadler both hope to win their first race of the season, Hemric is also looking for his first NASCAR win overall.

Hemric would make history if he were to win the championship without having won a race in any of NASCAR’s three national touring series.

Said Hemric: “Hopefully we’ve saved our best for last.”

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Alex Bowman

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Alex Bowman doesn’t remember who gave him the most important advice of his racing career.

It came at some point before he drove Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet for the first time on July 17, 2016 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“It definitely stuck with me,” Bowman told NBC Sports. “It was just to have fun.”

That’s a tall order. Especially when you’re making your first Cup start six months after learning you lost your previous ride via Twitter. Also, you’re driving the car normally reserved for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I spent so many years racing being miserable if we had a bad day and not enjoying it,” Bowman said. “You lose your ride and that’s taken away from you and you’re like, ‘wow, I should have enjoyed the time I had more.’ Going into that I just wanted to have fun. I enjoyed all those races I got to run last year the most I possibly could and I think that was the best advice, just to enjoy it. ‘Cause you never know when it can be taken away or it could all change.”

Alex Bowman celebrates his first Cup Series pole last November at Phoenix Raceway while substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Bowman, 24, will succeed Earnhardt full-time in the No. 88 next season. The native of Tuscon, Arizona, earned the role in part from his performance substituting for Earnhardt in 10 races last season as Earnhardt recovered from a concussion.

In three months, Bowman will arrive at Daytona International Speedway as one of Hendrick Motorsports’ four Cup drivers.

But contrary to what some may believe, he won’t be a rookie.

The 60th running of the Daytona 500 will be Bowman’s 82nd start in the Cup Series.

But that doesn’t keep him from playing along.

“It is hilarious,” Bowman said. “I love giving people crap on Twitter for that. It’s been pretty funny. I get it. You don’t get noticed when you run cars like that (with BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing). I think it’s funny. Hopefully, everybody on Twitter knows I’m not really trying to be mean. I love running with it. ‘Yeah, I’ll run for Rookie of the Year.’ I think it’s really funny.”

Bowman will make the last of his three NASCAR starts this year Saturday at his home track, Phoenix Raceway. He’ll be driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series’ Ticket Galaxy 200 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

While spending most of his year as a simulator and testing driver for Hendrick and Chevrolet, Bowman’s only Xfinity start came in the Oct. 7 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Ganassi. In his 134th NASCAR start, Bowman claimed his first victory.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: Has it been difficult for you to switch into race week mode once the time comes this year?

Bowman: Not really. Honestly, the weirdest part of Charlotte was going to the race track. Driving there on race day, having a bunch of fans there and stuff. That was the weirdest part for me, just something I haven’t experienced it. But I’ve been in the car so much this year between testing and doing simulator stuff, I feel as far as driving the race car hasn’t been weird. Everything that goes along with race day, at least at Charlotte, was kind of different.

NBC Sports: What’s been the most surreal part of the last two years for you?

Bowman: I think probably that first time I strapped into the 88 car was pretty surreal. Not knowing if it was going to be my only shot or how we were going to run. Then getting the call from Mr. (Rick) Hendrick that we’re going to go full-time in the 88 car next year was also a big moment. There definitely have been a couple. I think right now the whole feeling’s kind of surreal. Probably going to feel that way until we unload in Daytona and get on the race track.

NBC Sports: How much was that Charlotte win a vindication for your entire career?

Bowman: I think a lot. A lot of people have said thing, ‘well, he hasn’t won a NASCAR race,’ ‘he doesn’t deserve the 88 car’ and stuff like that. To go out there and not have raced in six months or seventh months, whatever it was and go win right off the bat was kind of like, ‘hey, I can do this, I can drive a race car.’ It just lets me be a lot more confident going into next year knowing even though I’ve sat out. I don’t feel like I’ve lost much, and I feel like we can pick up right where we left off at the end of last year.

Alex Bowman in victory lane after earning his first NASCAR win in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Last week when you were on NASCAR America, you said when your first opportunity to race in Cup came up, you didn’t want to do it. Why was that?

Bowman: I think it’s really selfish reasons. I wanted to do it in a situation I knew I could thrive and win races. … I think looking back at it I probably could have had the attitude of, ‘look, I can learn so much here.’ Instead I was like, ‘man, I just want to win and run better.’ Selfishly, I just didn’t want to go into a situation where 25th was a great day. Looking back at it, without those opportunities I wouldn’t have been nearly as ready to fill in for Dale when I did get that opportunity. So I’m very thankful for those opportunities because they helped me mature as a race car driver and learn the Cup cars and learn how those longer races play out with really no expectations. So I think it was a huge bonus for me to be able to do that. It was just a little painful at the time.

NBC Sports: What was your welcome to NASCAR moment?

Bowman: My first Xfinity race getting lapped by Kyle Busch at Chicago. He straight up moved me out-of-the-way. … I was like, ‘oh, OK.’ ‘Cause I had come from winning everything and winning ARCA races. Shoot, I don’t think I had ever been lapped before. Then here comes Kyle Busch blowing my doors off, moving me out-of-the-way on a fast mile-and-a-half track. I was like,’wow, OK, these guys get after it.’

NBC Sports: What’s your earliest vivid memory of racing?

Bowman: That’s a tough one. Probably the first quarter midget race that I won. Cause when I started racing quarter midgets I was pretty terrible. I practiced a lot and my dad really pushed me as far as practicing and trying to get better and then all of a sudden it kind of clicked. Then I went out and I won and didn’t stop winning for a long time. That first win was really cool and then to continue to win was fun. Just quarter midget racing in general was really cool and really special to get to share a lot of friends and family. A lot of kids I grew up with are really successful race car drivers now and come from the same background, so it’s cool to be able to look back on those memories.

NBC Sports: Who is you best friend in the garage?

Bowman: I would have to say Dale Jr. on that one. I’m not friends with a lot of race car drivers. I don’t hang out or go get dinner with other drivers. I kind of do my own thing and keep to myself. Dale is probably, he’s got to be my best friend in the garage. He’s done so much for my career, he’s helped me so much. I’m pretty good friends with all the HMS drivers. Jimmie (Johnson’s) been great. Me and William (Byron) have become really good friends. Dale has been there for me for a long time and done a lot for my career and a lot for me on a personal level as well.

NBC Sports: If you could race head-to head with any driver past or present, who would it be and at what track and in what kind of car?

Bowman: That’s a really good question. I’d want to run Irwindale (Speedway) in a pavement midget. But I don’t know against who. Actually, I do know against who. Irwindale in a pavement midget against Dave Steele … Dave Steele was a sprint car midget guy, really, really talented on pavement. He died in a pavement sprint car earlier this year … He was probably the best there ever was on pavement in those cars. I did not get to race those cars nearly as much as I wanted to. They’re by far my favorite cars to drive and Irwindale is my favorite place to run them. It was just so much fun to race there, so I think racing him there would be a heck of a lot of fun.

Previous 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

Dakoda Armstrong

Brendan Gaughan

Garrett Smithley

J.J. Yeley

Harrison Rhodes

James Davison

Jeremy Clements

David Starr

Austin Cindric

Christopher Bell

Jeff Green

Casey Mears

Sam Hornish Jr.

Joey Gase

Xfinity Spotlight: Q&A with Joey Gase

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He’s only 24, but Joey Gase has been around for some time.

Gase is nearing the end of his fourth full-time season in the Xfinity Series, but he’s been competing in it since 2011 when he was 18 and mostly driving start-and-park rides. Since then, the Iowa native has accumulated 172 Xfinity starts and 19 Cup starts.

After six years with Jimmy Means Racing, Gase has decided it’s time to move on. He’s pursuing opportunities that would see him competing primarily in the Cup Series.

“It’s definitely weird,” Gase told NBC Sports. “I don’t think it’s too huge of a risky move, but you never know what can happen. It’s a little different for sure not knowing (with) 100 percent security (of) having a full-time ride with Jimmy and going out and talking with all these different teams. Through the winter last year, to be honest with you, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to make it through the whole Xfinity season, myself and Jimmy.

“Everyone on our team was nervous because of the competition level jumping up so much from the year before and so many new teams coming in and so many cars at Daytona. We were just worried about making Daytona, cause that kind of sets the rest of your season as far as funding for the team. That’s the biggest paying race of the year. … Lucky for us, the beginning of the year went really well for us and we finished seventh.”

Gase again finished in the top 10 at Daytona in July, bringing his career total to three.

Gase will get another chance to tryout for curious Cup teams this weekend as he competes for Tommy Baldwin Racing at Texas Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 7 Chevrolet, it will be his seventh Cup start of the year after previous races with BK Racing and Premium Motorsports.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: What’s your earliest vivid memory related to auto racing?

Gase: Ever since my first memories started, I have auto racing. My dad raced before I did back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He just raced at the local short track level. I remember going up there every Friday night in the summer and watching my dad race and cheer him on. I remember during the winter I just couldn’t wait for the racing season to start again so I could go back out and watch my dad race. And I loved working on the car with him as well.

NBC Sports: What was the first time you got in a car to race?

Gase: I did my first go-kart race when I was 8 years old. I was lucky enough to go out and win my first race, which was very surprising and cool to everybody. When I turned 14 I started to race my dad’s old dirt modified.

NBC Sports: What do you remember about winning that first race?

Gase: To have some of the other parents not be too happy and claim we were cheating because it was our first ever race. It was pretty funny and they tore us down in tech and we were legal. To have that and start off well was really cool.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Gase: A ’97 Mercury Mountaineer. It was my dad’s car. He had it since it was new. We kind of had to bring it back to life for me. It was a car I wanted to be my first car. Being from Iowa, it was a V8. It was all-wheel drive. It was really good in the snow to go out and have fun like you shouldn’t do when you’re in high school driving around. Go off-roading and stuff like that.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car or race car?

Gase: I have not, no. But I talk to them kind of weird, like a person. … I talk to them a little bit. The car has to know that you like them and you’re going to take care of them.

NBC Sports: You’re talking to it during a race?

Gase: More before the race or I guess if you get through a big wreck or something.

NBC Sports: What was the first NASCAR race you attended?

Gase: I forget what year it was, but it would be the Brickyard 400. I went with my grandparents every year. They had season tickets to that race and I would go every year to that. We probably went five years or so. To be able to race in the Brickyard 400 this year for the first time (finished 25th) too was pretty crazy to think about how I used to come there as a fan and thinking how cool it would be to race there and remembered exactly where I sat. … It was a pretty cool feeling.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun race you’ve ever been a part of?

Gase: There is one race in particular (at Richmond) I remember. Jimmy and I were actually arguing on the (pit) call. He didn’t want to take tires and I wanted to put four tires on. We came down pit road and not too many other people did and we put four tires on and it went green for the rest of the way to the checkered and everyone else had to pit under green. So we had better tires than everyone else, so we were able to fly by a lot people, including the leaders. So when you’re a small team and being able to get lucky on a call like that it’s a lot of fun.

NBC Sports: If you could have a one-on-one race with any driver, who would it be and what would the track and type of car be?

Gase: It would probably be with Rusty Wallace. He was my favorite driver when I was growing up. It would probably be at Iowa Speedway for multiple reasons. I’m from Iowa and I remember how excited I was when they announced they were building a NASCAR track in Iowa and also Rusty Wallace was helping build it and design it as well. I’ve been able to race at that track since I was 15 years old. I think it would be cool to race Rusty at the track he helped design and be at my home track at the same time. … How about a super late model?

Previous 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

Dakoda Armstrong

Brendan Gaughan

Garrett Smithley

J.J. Yeley

Harrison Rhodes

James Davison

Jeremy Clements

David Starr

Austin Cindric

Christopher Bell

Jeff Green

Casey Mears

Sam Hornish Jr.

 

Xfinity Series Spotlight: Sam Hornish Jr.

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For a quarter century Sam Hornish Jr. tried off and on to win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The circuit is located roughly 130 miles southeast of where he grew up in Defiance, Ohio.

Hornish started racing at the road course in his early teens. But it wasn’t until August 12, at the age of 38, that he finally conquered it in an Xfinity Series race.

In his fourth series start there, driving the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, Hornish led 61 laps from his third pole at the track to earn the win.

“The fact that I was able to do that this year with my wife and kids there, my in-laws and a bunch of other people that have supported me for a long time by coming out to races, that hadn’t got the opportunity to see me win a stock car race in person, that was pretty cool,” Hornish told NBC Sports.

Only a part-time driver, it was Hornish’s second Xfinity win in two seasons (nine starts) and his fifth overall.

But his celebration in August was different from when he was 25 and winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500.

“I had some friends from Indiana that were there who had cooked us some pork tacos earlier in the day before the race started,” Hornish said. “They made me two for after the race. We sat and talked for about 15 or 20 minutes, loaded up the motorhome and drove home and got home by 11:30. Got up and went to church in the morning. … It’s more of a relief now to win than it is sometimes a celebration, especially one that I wanted as badly as I wanted to win as Mid-Ohio. I just tried to enjoy the moment going through victory lane, hugging the kids, enjoying that with them because I know there’s probably not a ton of those left.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: What’s your earliest vivid memory related to auto racing?

Hornish: A lot of times, you’ve seen so much racing you’re not sure if, ‘was I really there for that or do I just remember it this way?’ One of the biggest things I’ve always thought about was seeing Danny Sullivan’s spin and win at the Indianapolis 500 (in 1985). The big part of that was … most kids …  you see a lot of racing, and you’re almost kind of waiting for the wreck. It’s a little bit more drama than the cars just going around the track. I remember seeing him spin and you’re like, ‘he’s going to wreck’ and then he comes out of it and he wins the race. You’re like, ‘wow, how cool was that?’ That just showed how close they were to the edge, even somebody that was good enough, had a good enough car to win the race, was that on edge that the big mistake almost happened.

NBC Sports: When was the first time you met Roger Penske?

Hornish: I’m sure that I had time where I talked to him about it or had talked to him previously (about) this. But I was about 12 years old and to kind of pay for my racing or learn things I washed trucks at my mom and dad’s company after school. I had a dream one night Roger came pulling up in this big motorhome. He wanted me to come race for him. I remember waking up and going, ‘yeah right, like that’s ever going to happen.’

I was 22 years old when I first started talking to him about the opportunity to come race for him. About 10 years for that to come to fruition. I remember probably the first time I sat down to talk to him was at his offices up in Detroit. I can’t remember exactly all that we talked about. It was a long time ago and to think at this point in time growing up thinking I would never have the opportunity to probably even meet Roger, but to have gotten to work for him for almost a decade and to have the opportunity of having him wish me a Merry Christmas or call me out of the blue to see what I was up to cause he hadn’t seen me at the track in a while. Lot of really cool people over the course of the years, but Roger was definitely about as good to me as anybody could be.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun race you’ve ever been part of?

Hornish: There was probably in the go-kart days, there was a lot of times we’d go up to Canada and race up there. They really didn’t like me that much because it seemed like I won a lot when I went up there. So it was like they were always looking for something to pick a part, like ‘oh, your rear axles are 1/36th of an inch too wide, so you get disqualified from the heat race’ and I’d have to start from the back of the feature. That happened a couple of times at their grand nationals. I remember a couple of years in a row, they found some little thing to basically disqualify us from our heat race and have to start at the back of the feature. Come from like 32nd to win the race in basically a kart sprint race of 30 laps. I’d say those are probably some of the funnest times that I had, just because in karts you’re doing it a lot more for just the love of the sport as opposed to trying to make a living at it.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Hornish: My first car was a truck. I had a Chevy short bed, 1500 two-wheel drive, stick shift pickup my dad wanted me to get. It’s kind of funny, because with the exception of my Corvette that I got for winning the Indianapolis 500, it’s the only other red car I’ve had in my entire life. … I remember I drove that truck harder than I probably ever drove that Corvette I got for winning the Indianapolis 500. Just because I was 16 and doing burnouts and sliding around in the stones and stuff like that. My dad had decided I should get a manual truck because he knew if I was going to be racing, I needed to be very proficient in shifting properly.

NBC Sports: Do you still have that Corvette?

Hornish: I still have the Corvette, yeah. It’s very low-mileage. I think I got 1,100 miles on it now.

Sam Hornish Jr. after winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: How often do you take it out?

Hornish: About once every couple of years. Something always happens when I take it out. I either get a speeding ticket. I had an issue with one of the body panels coming off of it. With the Corvette, it’s got a molded body panel that’s the roof. There’s a structural support underneath it that’s the roll cage. … I got a recall (notice) for paint delamination on the roof. I thought, ‘it’s paint delamination. I don’t drive enough for the paint to come off.’

We were having a Halloween party for the kids so I was cleaning the garage out and took it down off the lift and went to clean it out, drive it around the street and get the fuel burned out of it, keep the injectors and everything clean. Got up to second gear and I heard this big pop and the body panel on the roof came off. I had to go get that replaced. That’s a little bit different than what I thought paint delamination meant. I didn’t know it meant a painted part was going to come off. They were like, ‘Well, we don’t really know. We haven’t seen that one before.’

NBC Sports: What’s the best advice or criticism you’ve received in your career?

Hornish: I had one my friends tell me, it was pretty early into when I went back down to the Xfinity Series back in 2012. We were actually having a beer talking about racing or whatever. He said, ‘let me tell you something. You’re too damn good to have some of the problems you’re having’ (laughs). I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘if they give you a car that’s 35th and you bring it home 35th, you did all that you could do. If they give you car that’s a 15th-place car and you try to make it a first-place car and you end up 35th, that’s on you. So you got to be smart about taking what you have that day, trying to maximize, getting a little bit more out of it and you move on to the next day.’ I think if I had had that a little bit sooner and taken some of the weight off my own shoulders of thinking I was going to carry the car when it wasn’t right, I probably would have had some more opportunities.

Previous 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

Dakoda Armstrong

Brendan Gaughan

Garrett Smithley

J.J. Yeley

Harrison Rhodes

James Davison

Jeremy Clements

David Starr

Austin Cindric

Christopher Bell

Jeff Green

Casey Mears

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.

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