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Kaz Grala joining JGL Racing full-time in Xfinity next season

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Kaz Grala will make the move to the Xfinity Series in 2018 when he competes full-time in the No. 24 Ford for JGL Racing, the team announced Friday.

Grala, 18, makes the move after one season in the Camping World Truck Series with GMS Racing. Grala earned one win, in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. He is the youngest driver to win a national NASCAR race at Daytona.

Multiple drivers piloted the No. 24 this season, including Dylan Lupton, Corey LaJoie, Jeb Burton and Drew Herring. JGL Racing also fielded the No. 28 for Dakoda Armstrong, but the car hasn’t run since Kentucky due to a lack of sponsorship.

“I am beyond excited about the opportunity to drive for JGL Racing next year full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” Grala said in a press release. “I’ve been watching Xfinity races since I was a little kid, so to be able to compete at that high of a level is nothing short of a dream come true. I can’t thank James Whitener (owner of JGL Racing) and everyone at JGL enough for this opportunity.”

Grala has five top fives and an average finish of 14.1 in the No. 33 truck ahead of tonight’s season finale in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

JGL Racing’s move from Toyota to Ford coincides with the team entering a technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

“These are exciting times for the JGL Racing organization,” Whitener said in a press release.  “We appreciate the support we have received from Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing over the last few years. We felt that in order for our team to make the next step in our growth process that we needed a more robust technical alliance behind us – and this opportunity with Ford Performance and Roush Fenway Racing provided us that and made the most sense. We look forward to finishing out the season in our No. 24 car and then we will turn our attention to 2018 and getting all of the proper pieces into place.”

Tyler Reddick fastest in first Xfinity practice at Miami; William Byron tops championship drivers

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Tyler Reddick was fastest in the first Xfinity Series practice for Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300.

Reddick and his No. 42 Chevrolet posted a speed of 165.598 mph around Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver led Ben Kennedy (165.294), Cole Custer (164.770), Christopher Bell (164.099) and championship driver William Byron (163.860).

The other three championship drivers:

15th – Elliott Sadler (162.016)

17th – Justin Allgaier (161.740)

21st – Daniel Hemric (161.503)

Of the championship drivers, Byron recorded the most laps with 34.

Bell had the best 10-lap average at 160.339 mph. Byron was the only championship driver to make a 10-lap run. He was ninth fastest at 155.083 mph.

The second Xfinity practice is set for 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Click here for the practice report.

 

NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler leads three JR Motorsports drivers into Xfinity title race

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JR Motorsports has three chances to win the Xfinity Series title Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. will send veterans Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier and rookie William Byron to Homestead-Miami Speedway looking to win the team’s second title since 2014. They’ll go against Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.

All three JRM drivers will be seeking their first NASCAR title. Sadler is looking for redemption after finishing second in the standings last year, the third time he’s been runner-up in his career.

Sadler spoke with Marty Snider at NASCAR championship media day.

Sadler said what worries him the most about the race that he can’t control drivers in the race that are not a regular presence in the series.

“There’s a lot of new guys in the race this weekend that don’t really have a lot to race for,” Sadler said. “What I mean by that is they’re not really racing for a championship. They’re just racing to get noticed, they’re racing to get their name out. So I have to know whose in those particular cars. A lot of them are in fast cars. So they’re going to be up in the middle of everything.”

Sadler said he think he’ll win the title because his team is the most prepared.

Watch the above video for the full interview and watch interviews with Byron and Allgaier below.

NASCAR America: Daniel Hemric: Team overcame obstacles thanks to Richard Childress’ leadership

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Daniel Hemric has never won a NASCAR race at any level.

Yet after working with three different crew chiefs in his rookie Xfinity season due to suspensions, the 26-year-old driver is one of the four who will compete for the championship on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Hemric and Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 team will make a go of it against three JR Motorsports drivers.

Hemric spoke with NASCAR America’s Kelli Stavast at the championship media day about how his team made it this far in the playoffs.

“You’re going to work for an icon of the sport, what does that entail?” Hemric said. “To know that he was able to put different people in place, whatever the situation may be … We were able to overcome that because of the leader that Richard Childress is. To know you have a boss like that that’s done so much for our sport and done so much for me this year, that gives us a lot of confidence going into this weekend.”

If that confidence helps Hemric win the championship without winning the race, he would make history as the first driver to win a national NASCAR title without having won a race at any point in his NASCAR career.

Watch the above video for the full interview.

MORE: Preview of Xfinity Championship 4 drivers

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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