Canadian driver Cameron Haley steadily improving as rookie in Truck Series

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Look at a list of drivers competing in NASCAR’s three national series and you’ll soon notice why Cameron Hayley is unique.

Most hail from the United States with a few exceptions. Daniel Suarez and Carlos Contreras are from Mexico and primarily compete in the Xfinity Series, but when it comes to drivers that call Canada home, only three drivers can make that claim.

One of those is Hayley.

While Mario Gosselin and Derek White race in Xfinity, Hayley, a native of Calgary, Alberta, is the only Canadian competing in the Camping World Truck Series.

Hayley, 18, is in his rookie season in the Truck series, having driven the No. 13 Toyota for ThorSport Racing in the first four races of the year.

“Obviously we don’t have almost any drivers coming up from Canada into the national series,” Hayley told media Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It was difficult for me coming up, moving up through the ranks.”

Hayley said his fortunes began to change when he won the 2013 K&N Pro Series’ UNOH Battle at the Beach in Daytona. Driving for Gene Price, Hayley was one of six Canadians in the race that also featured Kyle Larson, John Hunter Nemechek and Ben Kennedy.

Hayley won on a last-lap pass in Turn 4 as he banged against the door of Gray Gaulding crossing the finish line. It was the only lap he led. Combine the win with a move to the K&N Pro East Series and people started to know who the Canadian driver was.

In June of that year, Hayley was announced as a member of the 2013-14 NASCAR Next class, which included Suarez, Dylan Kwasniewski, Kennedy,  Brett Moffitt, Ryan Gifford and Gaulding.

“It does seem like a long time ago now,” said Hayley, who recently moved to Sandusky, Ohio, where ThorSport Racing is headquartered. “I mean, it was only two years ago, but when it comes down to it – I’ve done so much since then. I’ve done so many races since then that it seems like a long time ago for sure.”

Now Hayley is in a prime position to make his name even more recognizable.

Through four races, Hayley’s best finish came last week at Kansas Speedway. He claimed fifth position for his first top five in seven CWTS races. Since finishing 23rd at Daytona International Speedway due to a wreck, Hayley has steadily improved, finishing 14th at Atlanta Motor Speedway and 11th at Martinsville Speedway.

All four races were Hayley’s first at those tracks and Friday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will continue that trend.

“Adjusting to all the different tracks and having all the tracks being new has definitely been difficult, but ThorSport has given me great trucks week in and week out,” Hayley said. “We’ve had great trucks and had some bad luck, and I think Charlotte is going to be another one where I have lots to learn, but I think we have a great truck here and can do well.”

It also helps to have two veteran teammates, Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter, in the ThorSport Racing stable.

Crafton, a native of Tulare, Calif., is the two-time defending series champion, and Sauter, a native of Necedah, Wisc., is a 10-time Truck race winner.

“I don’t really know him, he’s a rookie new to the deal – but I think he’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders,” Sauter said. “I see him doing things that maybe necessarily don’t see from a lot of rookie drivers and I think he’s taking care of his equipment and showing speed at the same time.”

Said Hayley: “I can study race tapes, videos all I want, but until to you talk to a driver you don’t really know a first-hand account of what’s happening,” Hayley said. “I haven’t been quite quick enough to run up beside them during races yet, but I think we’re getting there, and I think I can learn a lot from that as well.”

Denny Hamlin hopes teams don’t shoot selves in feet with pit guns

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Denny Hamlin is the hottest driver on the Cup circuit. He has two wins – including Saturday night at Bristol – as well as two runner-ups, and a third- and fifth-place finish in the last six races. He’s also moved up to third in the rankings in that string.

But Hamlin isn’t taking anything to chance, particularly some of the smallest details – such as loose lug nuts and wheels.

Hamlin appeared Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On-Track” show and was asked about how not only his team, but also other Cup teams, can overcome the loose lug nuts and wheels issues.

Hamlin said a significant part of the problem – particularly at a place like Bristol Motor Speedway – is pit guns, which are allocated and issued in a pre-race lottery by NASCAR, rather than have teams use their own guns.

MORE: Denny Hamlin earns hard-fought win over Matt DiBenedetto at Bristol

Hamlin does not like that system and explained why:

“(Bristol) puts probably some of the biggest loads we have on our tires. Truth be told, over the last two years since we’ve had these guns issued to us, they’re not capable of getting all the wheels tight, they really aren’t.

“It’s a lottery whether you get a gun that’s good enough to get ‘em tight. Through JGR, Stewart-Haas and other teams that have documented it, in the spring race there were over 20 loose wheels. This is not just a team thing. It’s just that the equipment is not quite up to par as far as what it’s capable of.

“We keep track of all the guns and how good they are and how bad they are. It’s a lottery system of whether you’re going to get (a good or bad one). It doesn’t matter how fast you go, you can hold the gun on there and it’s just not going to get the torque quite tight enough.”

Hamlin experienced a loose wheel that forced him to pit under green on Lap 186 of Saturday night’s race at Bristol, leaving him two laps behind the leaders. Hamlin had another loose wheel on Lap 374 and pitted while running 10th.

Thus far this season, in addition to several loose wheels in races, Hamlin’s team has also been penalized four times for loose lug nuts after races: Fontana, Bristol spring race, Chicagoland and the July race at Pocono.

This isn’t the first time Hamlin has publicly complained about pit guns and loose lug nuts and wheels.

NBC Sports has reached out to NASCAR for comment.

Check out what Hamlin said about that after Saturday night’s race in the video above (Hamlin talks about this issue starting around the 6:00 mark).

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Preliminary entry lists for Xfinity, Trucks this weekend

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While the NASCAR Cup Series will be off this weekend, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any racing.

On the contrary, the Xfinity Series will be racing Saturday at Road America and the Truck Series will compete Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Here are the entry lists for both series:

Xfinity – CTECH Manufacturing 180 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered.

Regan Smith will be in the No. 8 J.R. Motorsports Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger will drive the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Saturday’s Cup runner-up, Matt DiBenedetto, will drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

There is no driver listed yet for the No. 117 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Chevrolet Silverado 250 (2:30 p.m. ET FS1)

There are only 28 Trucks listed for the entry list.

All seats are filled.

Click here for the entry list.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. thanks all who have ‘lifted us up’ since plane crash

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. issued his first public comments Monday since he and his family survived a plane crash last Thursday afternoon at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport.

Earnhardt offered thanks to “everyone who has lifted us up with phone calls, messages and prayer since last Thursday. We are truly blessed that all on board escaped with no serious injuries, including our daughter, our two pilots and our dog Gus.”

Earnhardt also thanked the pilots, emergency personnel, law enforcement and hospital staff.

He stated that wife “Amy and I continue to be very appreciative of the privacy extended to us to process everything. It has been important to do that together and on our own time.”

Earnhardt stated that because of the ongoing investigation “we will not be speculating or discussing the cause of the accident.”

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected this week. Ralph Hicks, a senior investigator for the NTSB said in a briefing last Friday that “the airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right wing landing gear. You can actually see the right wing landing gear collapsing on the video (from nearby buildings). The airplane continued down the runway, off to the end, through a fence and came to a stop … on highway 91.”

Both pilots have been interviewed and Hicks stated that what they said was “very consistent” with what the video showed. Hicks also said investigators had talked to the Earnhardt family.

NASCAR America 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Recapping Hamlin’s Bristol win

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs on NBCSN at a special time, from 6-7 p.m. ET, and will recap Denny Hamlin’s win at Bristol.

Steve Letarte will be joined by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and A.J. Allmendinger to discuss Hamlin’s win and other storylines.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here for the special start time at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.