NASCAR’s Next Generation: Rico Abreu

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Rico Abreu is like any young race car driver.

When asked what’s on his bucket list not related to racing, the 23-year-old’s first answer – like the three NASCAR Next drivers before him – was skydiving.

Rico Abreu is not like any other young race car drivers.

The St. Helena, Calif.-native is 4-foot-4, a result of living with achondroplasia, a bone-growth disorder not shared by anyone else in his family.

That doesn’t impede Abreu, who won the 2015 Chili Bowl. He is scheduled to race in about 120 races in seven different classes in 2015.

When Abreu spoke with NASCAR Talk, he was more than week removed from winning his first stock car race, in the K&N East Pro Series at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed

NASCAR Talk: What’s the most races you’ve ever been in in one week?

Rico Abreu: I ran five in a row, five nights in a row. That was earlier in June in the USAC-Indiana Midget week. It’s five nights throughout Indianapolis race tracks.

source: Getty ImagesNT: How tiring was that?

Abreu: It wasn’t too bad because in open-wheel racing, they start around 4:30 p.m. and then they end up finishing around 10:30 to 11 p.m. You kind of have that morning and early afternoon to relax and not be too hard on yourself where K&N or NASCAR races is a little bit different where you have to be up at 8 o’clock for a driver’s meeting at nine and practice at 10:30, qualifying at 1 o’clock then you race anywhere from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

NT: What were you doing when you got the call about being part of the current NASCAR Next class?

Abreu: I believe I was at a sprint car race, and (I got) a text and it asked if we’d be willing to find the time and I was really happy to be apart of the NASCAR Next group. I wanted them to understand my schedule and how busy I am with my racing … I have 120 races this year on my schedule, so it’s really hard to get away and do something with them. Everyone worked really good with everyone at NASCAR Next and they worked out my schedule so it all works out where I can be at a majority of the events, but there’s only a few I can’t get to.

NT: What’s the worst accident you’ve ever been in?

Abreu: I crashed at Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (Angell Park Speedway) and wound up with a broken collarbone. That was probably the hardest crash I’ve ever had. A guy moved up on me and kind of pinched me into the wall and our cars are open-wheeled, the sprint cars, so it’s really easy to flip and be in a really vicious, violent crash. The walls are really short there, so I easily went over the wall and kept going outside of the track about 100 feet.

Video: Abreu’s wreck at Angell Park Speedway

NT: What do you remember seeing?

Abreu: At that point you’re hanging on, and once I was done crashing, I went to get out and right when I got out my collarbone instantly started being in pain, so I knew something was wrong. I had the guy that works on our car drive me to the hospital and got some X-rays and they told me it was broken. So I headed back to Indianapolis. It was about six-hour drive, drove all the way back to Indianapolis. Went to OrthoIndy to a Dr. Kevin Scheid, he takes care of a lot of IndyCar drivers. It was a pretty crazy week, because I went in there Monday morning at 9 a.m. and he said to come back at 1 o’clock and I was in surgery by 1:15 and he fixed my collar bone; plated it, screwed it and then I was actually home by 2:45. It was about an hour and a half and I was already fixed up. I took about 15 days off, I went back for a check-up and he said I was good to go. and I started racing again.

NT: What do you consider your theme song?

Abreu: I’ve always liked the song “Redneck Yacht Club” by Craig Morgan. I just like the lyrics to it and I don’t know, I’ve always liked the song. I know all the words. I sing it every now and then when I’m in a good mood.

NT: I know you got your start racing motorcycles, but what’s your earliest clear memory related to racing?

Abreu: Probably about 1998 or ’99 I went to a World of Outlaw sprint car race at Calistoga Speedway, about 10 minutes from my house. Jac Haudenschild won the race and he was running the top lane by the wall and everyone was on the bottom, so it was really exciting to watch and that’s where I fell in love with the sport of open-wheel racing.

NT: What do you remember about the first time you got on a motorcycle?

Abreu: I remember getting a motorcycle for Christmas. I don’t know how old I was. We have a lot of vineyards in our backyard, obviously, I’m from wine country, so we live on a vineyard. I remember being able to ride it through the vineyard rows and then out back behind a pond at our house. I remember I took it out through the mud and got it all muddy the first day I got it. My dad wasn’t too happy about that.

NT: Do you consider that the best Christmas gift you ever got?

Abreu: Yeah, I’d say so.

NT: Since your dad (David Abreu) runs a vineyard, do you consider yourself a wine person?

Abreu: Yeah, I’m into it quite a bit. I enjoy being able to be around him and everyone at our ranch. We have a couple of different ranches and he has about 20 ranches that he takes care of, so any chance I’m home, I’m definitely outside with them. I really enjoy getting to go to dinner with my dad, just understanding it more and more, the wine side of it and all the different kinds of wines.

NT: What’s your favorite kind of wine?

Abreu: I like some white wine. My dad doesn’t make any white wine, but a couple of his clients do that are really good. There’s a case of Sauvignon blanc that I really enjoy trying at dinner with him. He’s always into trying new wines or drinking really vintage Cabernet from the early 1900s, which is different for me because it’s got a different taste being an older wine with all this sediment in the wine. That’s something he enjoys doing, drinking an older bottle of wine at dinner with the family.

NT: What’s it like to grow up in wine country?

Abreu: It’s a beautiful area. I grew up on a ranch, so I always had a lot of stuff to do. We had a lot of livestock on our ranch. I raised market hogs for 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) for 10 years. I spent a lot of time doing that. We didn’t just raise them for one show a year, we raised them year around for like 10 shows.

Previous NASCAR Next Q&A’s:

What each Xfinity Championship 4 driver would accomplish with title

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The day before the Cup Series title is decided, the Xfinity Series will do the same with the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).

The four drivers who make up the Xfinity Championship 4 are rookies Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick and sophomore drivers Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer.

Regardless of who claims the title, the series will have its seventh different champion in as many years. They’ll also be the 13 different champion in 14 years.

Here’s a further breakdown of what would be accomplished by each driver should they emerge as the 2018 Xfinity champion.

YOUNG MAN’S SERIES

If Bell (23 years old), Reddick (22) or Custer (20) win, they’ll be the eighth consecutive champion 25 or younger.

Hemric (27) would be the first champion over 25 since Brad Keselowski (26) in 2010.

CALIFORNIA KIDS

If Reddick or Custer win, they’ll join Kevin Harvick as the second California natives to win the title.

Reddick hails from Corning while Custer is originally from Ladera Ranch. Harvick, who won the title in 2001 and 2006, is from Bakersfield.

ROOKIE ROYALTY

If Bell or Reddick claim the title, they’ll join Chase Elliott (2014) and William Byron (2017) as the only rookies to win the title.

Bell enters the race with a rookie record seven wins this season

CHAMPIONSHIP POTION No. 9

If Reddick wins the title – in his last race with JR Motorsports before moving to Richard Childress Racing next season – he would deliver JR Motorsports its third Xfinity title. All three  – Elliott in 2014 and Byron in 2017 – have come from the No. 9 team.

A Reddick title would also mean all three JRM titles have been with drivers in their first full-time year with the team.

Reddick won the pole for this race last year with Chip Ganassi Racing and placed fourth.

WINLESS CHAMPION?

Hemric will take part in his last Xfinity race as a full-time driver before departing for RCR’s No. 31 car in the Cup Series.

If he wins the race Saturday, it would not only be Hemric’s first career Xfinity win (in 66 starts), it would be his first career NASCAR win (in 118 starts across all three national series).

Should he not win the race but win the title, Hemric would join Austin Dillon (2013) as the second winless Xfinity champion.

He would also become the first Xfinity champion without any series wins to his name.

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NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 best at Texas in last three seasons

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Last year’s championship finale was as predictable as any NASCAR race can be.

Seven of the top-10 finishers qualified among the top 10. Eight of them finished among the top 10 in both stages and only one – Ryan Newman in 10th – failed to finish that well at the two breaks.

The top-three finishers all led significant portions of the race with Martin Truex Jr. pacing the field four times for 78 laps, Kyle Busch leading four times for 43 laps and Kyle Larson up front four times for 145 laps.

For the most part, these were the same drivers who were fast in practice, so this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster should be heavily influenced by the drivers with the best 10-lap averages.

Qualifying will also be important, but there is no reason to automatically discount a driver who starts outside the top 10. Last year, Chase Elliott advance to fifth from 18th on the grid while Joey Logano finished sixth after starting 19th.

1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.00) Playoff
Harvick has been as close to perfect as possible at Miami. Since the track went to its current configuration in 2003, Harvick has missed the top 10 only once (2007). In the 10 races since then, he has seven top fives, including the last four. He won the championship on the strength of his 2014 victory and is one of the best bets to do so again.

1. Kyle Busch  (three-year average: 3.00) Playoff
There are many signs pointing to this week being a two-man battle between Harvick and Busch. Las Vegas odds makers have had them as co-favorites most of the week at 2/1, they’ve dominated the 1.5-mile tracks with Harvick winning four times and Busch three. Their three-year average at Homestead are identical. Unless something happens to slow one of them down, the race and championship will come down to these two. 

3. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 3.33) Non-Playoff
It is unfortunate that Larson failed to make the Championship 4 because he will be part of the battle for the win this weekend. He enters with three consecutive top fives including a second in 2016 and a third last year. In four years of NASCAR’s current knockout format, a non-playoff driver has never won this race, so history could be made this week.

4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.67) Playoff
Logano is this week’s dark horse to win the championship. He has not been nearly as dominant on 1.5-milers as Harvick, Busch or Truex but he does have a couple of things in his favor. 1) He has had the luxury of preparing for Miami for three weeks since winning at Martinsville and 2) he has not finished worse than sixth in his last three starts at Miami. 

5. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 7.33) Non-Playoff
It has been easy to disregard Kenseth’s statistics in 2018. His most recent runs on a given track were with Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 6 at Roush Fenway Racing has struggled with both him and Trevor Bayne behind the wheel. Last week’s seventh-place finish at Phoenix changed that. Now that he knows how to get to the top 10, his Miami record of five consecutive results of eighth or better is suddenly meaningful.

MORE: Rotoworld Fantasy Power Rankings

6. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 8.00 in two starts) Non-Playoff
There is a old adage in racing that states drivers must first lose races in order to win them. The same is true of championships – and under NASCAR’s current rules, that also applies to simply making the Championship 4. Elliott has been eliminated in the Round of 8 in the past two seasons. Elliott knows he has been one of the strongest performers during the playoffs and if not for the poor start that Chevrolet endured at the beginning of the season, he might be one of the challengers if he had started winning earlier in the year. 

7. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 9.33) Non-Playoff
Hamlin will be on most fantasy radars because of his five race top-10 streak at Miami. He has not earned a top five there since 2013, but that year he won his second race on this track. His first came in 2009, so there is still some hope that he will keep his streak of winning every year since he was a rookie in 2006 alive.

8. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 10.33) Non-Playoff
McMurray is another driver who would like to close the season on a high note. He has not announced his plans for 2019, but he knows he will not be with Chip Ganassi Racing next year and with most of the major rides spoken for, he may not have another opportunity to win. Two of his last four attempts on this track ended in fifth-place finishes. The other two were a pair of 13ths. 

9. Austin Dillon (three-year average: 12.33) Non-Playoff
Dillon has come on strong in the last two weeks. His 10th at Texas and eighth at Phoenix is the first time this year that he has earned back-to-back top 10s. At Miami, he has a current streak of three top 15s without a top 10. With a little luck and some track position, he could close out the year with three consecutive strong runs.

9. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 12.33) Non-Playoff
Johnson has already shown what he will do for a win. It didn’t matter that he might miss the playoffs when he sailed into the final chicane at the Charlotte Roval and it won’t matter that the Championship 4 are battling for the Cup this week. If Johnson can sniff the lead, he is going to do everything he can to get to the checkers first. 

14. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 16.33) Playoff
Truex may have won last year, but he has not been overly impressive at Miami in recent years. That was his only top 10 in the past four seasons, which suggests he has his work cut out for him this week if he wants to beat Harvick and Busch.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Hamlin has won two of the last three poles at Miami. He will not be front-of-mind for most fantasy players this week and that could be a blessing in disguise. While most of the competition makes a safe pick like Harvick, Kyle Busch or Truex, someone willing to take a little risk could reap a huge benefit.

Segment Winners: Last year, the top-four finishers each swept the top five at the end of the stages. Meanwhile, there were only two drivers who earned stage points before falling out of the top 10 at the checkers (Clint Bowyer was 10th in Stage 1 before finishing 12th; Kurt Busch was seventh in Stage 1 and sixth in Stage 2 before losing two laps in the final segment and finishing 22nd). That suggests this week’s stage winners will come from among the drivers who impress the analysts most in practice.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

UPDATED: Entry lists for NASCAR weekend in Miami

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NASCAR heads to South Florida for the season finales for the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series. Here are the preliminary entry lists for each series:

Cup – Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine cars are on the entry list for this race, which will determine the Cup champion.

BJ McLeod will drive Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford.

Tanner Berryhill is entered in Obaika Racing’s No. 97 Toyota for the second week in a row.

Click here for the entry list.

 

Xfinity – Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Forty-five cars are on the entry list for this event.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Trucks – Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET Friday on Fox Sports 1)

Thirty-two trucks are on the entry list for this event.

Mike Harmon is now entered in Beaver Motorsports’ No. 50 Chevrolet

Click here for the Truck entry list.

Championship weekend schedule for Miami

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After 10 months, the NASCAR season comes to an end this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series all end their seasons on the 1.5-mile track.

Here’s the full weekend schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, Nov. 16

7 a.m. – Truck Series garage opens

8:35 – 9:25 a.m. – Truck practice (No TV)

10 a.m. – 8 p.m. – Cup garage open

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. – Final Truck practice (No TV)

11 a.m. – 8 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

1 – 2:20 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

2:35 – 3:25 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

3:45 p.m. – Truck Series qualifying; single truck/two rounds (Fox Sports 1)

5:05 – 5:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6 p.m. – Truck Series driver-crew chief meeting

6:10 p.m. – Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

7:30 p.m. – Truck Series driver introductions

8 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 200; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, Nov. 17

8:30 a.m. –  Xfinity garage opens

10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:35 – 12:25 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

12:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (NBCSN)

1:40 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

2 – 2:50 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

3 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

3:30 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 300; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Nov. 18

9 a.m. – Cup garage opens

12:30 p.m. – Driver-crew chief meeting

1:50 p.m. – Driver introductions

2:30 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 400; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBC, Championship 4 simulcast on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)