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:

Kaulig Racing mourns death of crew chief Nick Harrison

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Kaulig Racing President Chris Rice said that when he heard of crew chief Nick Harrison’s death on Sunday morning, he thought back to a conversation they had after Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley finished 13th in that race.

“All I could think about with Nick is when he got up on the plane and he came over and talked to me as we were leaving New Hampshire,” Rice said Monday night on “Late Shift” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“He was stressed out that we didn’t run that well. He looked at me and he goes, ‘You know, we sucked there.’ I said, ‘Nick, we have sucked at New Hampshire for a long time. So the good thing is, we’ve changed drivers, we’ve changed crew chiefs, ain’t nothing fixed it, so it’s obviously something, whatever we’re doing.’

“He said, ‘You’re right. We’re going to go get them at Iowa.’ He was worried about the next race.”

Harrison died Sunday. He was 37. Harrison’s brother, Zach, told the Tennessean that a cause of death has not been determined.

“We know that he lived every single day to the fullest,” Rice said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about Nick Harrison. “That’s what we want to do at Kaulig Racing. Tomorrow when we show up, it is going to be better than what it was today. The next day we show up is going to be better than what it was Monday.”

Rice also said it will be a challenge for the team when they get to the track this weekend at Iowa Speedway.

“We just know that walking into the race track this weekend is going to be tough,” Rice said, “so we need every fan’s support that we can get for all my guys and myself and we’ll definitely make it through it.”

Rice said on “Late Shift” that he will serve as Haley’s crew chief for the foreseeable future.

“You cannot replace Nick,” said Rice, who has served as an Xfinity Series crew chief for 318 races. “We will never replace Nick. We will just have somebody fill his job. But right now we’re not in a hurry to do anything.

“We will definitely be looking and looking at what our next step is. Justin has another year and a half, if not even more, with Kaulig Racing and we will put somebody with him that is going to be there through that time. We don’t want to put somebody that is going to be with us for 10 days or three months or whatever. We will want to look at somebody that is going to help us grow Kaulig Racing.”

Harrison’s service is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET July 30 at Spring Hill High School in Columbia, Tennessee. The family has requested that memorial donations be made to the Nick Harrison Scholarship Fund at First Farmers & Merchants Bank in Spring Hill, Tennessee or Spring Hill Memorial Funeral Home.

“We know it’s going to take time for us to get over the loss of our friend not being here,” Rice said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We will always miss him, but we will never forget him and he’ll always be with us. We’re going to dig like he would want us to dig.

“Once Justin makes the playoffs, it’s going to be in memory of Nick. Once Justin makes it to the final four and goes for that championship, that’s what it’s going to be for.”

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These are the broken records Jimmie Johnson doesn’t want to hear about

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Jimmie Johnson’s career has been marked with breaking countless NASCAR records. But there’s two broken records of a different sort that Johnson is tired of hearing about. Still, they keep spinning him around and around.

First, Johnson’s winless streak – the longest of his NASCAR career – has hit 79 races. His last win was more than two years ago, June 4, 2017 at Dover. Since then, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott has four wins and Alex Bowman one win to Johnson’s zero. 

Second, Johnson heads to Pocono Raceway this week on the outside of the 16-driver playoff bubble. He is 17 points behind the 16th and final playoff eligible driver, Clint Bowyer, and 31 points out of 13th place (currently held by Kyle Larson). 

So Johnson still has wiggle room and time to get back in the top 16. He also knows he needs just one win and he’ll be in the playoffs.

We’ve been trying all year, it’s not like we can magically flip a switch and all of a sudden have more (wins),” Johnson said. We’ve been able to run in the top five and we need to get back to doing that. That’s really what it boils down to.”

He’s not likely to reach the playoffs if his current run of bad luck continues. After having his two best finishes of the season — fourth at Chicagoland and third at Daytona — Sunday’s race at New Hampshire marked Johnson’s second consecutive 30th-place finish. That’s the 12th time he has finished outside the top 10 and fifth time he’s finished outside the top 20 in 2019.

Johnson’s struggles on Sunday can be blamed on mechanical issues that cost him valuable time on pit road while his team made repairs. He finished 13 laps off the pace.

It was certainly a letdown to say the least,” Johnson said. “We had some issue with the power steering and the water pump pulleys. I thought it might have been from some contact on a restart. I got in the back of the car in front of me. They told me that wasn’t the case.

So, I assume some debris got in the pulley system and took out my power steering and the water pump as well. So, it’s just unlucky on that front. Certainly the wrong time of the year to have some bad luck.”

Johnson dropped from 15th to 17th in the standings after Loudon. Conversely, Erik Jones and Ryan Newman both passed Johnson and moved up in the points to 14th and 15th respectively. And Daniel Suarez gained 12 points to tie Johnson for 17th, each with 488 points.

So as he heads to Pocono this weekend, Johnson will once again be faced with a situation where he has to bounce back from outside the playoff bubble — this is the fourth time he’s been 17th in the standings this season. If he can leave Pocono 16th or higher, it’s a spot he needs to remain in for the following five races lest he misses the 10-race postseason for the first time in his career.

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Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Pocono and Iowa

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All three NASCAR premier national series will be in action this weekend with the Cup and Truck Series at Pocono Raceway, and the Xfinity Series iat Iowa Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the weekend:

Cup – Gander RV 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN) at Pocono

There are 38 cars entered in the race but only 35 drivers listed on the preliminary entry list.

Cars still needing drivers are the No. 51 Ford of Petty Ware Racing, the No. 52 Ford of Rick Ware Racing and the No. 53 Chevrolet of Rick Ware Racing.

Kyle Busch won this race last season. Busch also won six weeks ago at Pocono.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – U.S. Cellular 250 (5 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN) at Iowa

There are 39 cars entered in this race. There is one unfilled driver slot on the preliminary entry list: the No. 17 Chevrolet of Rick Ware Racing.

Christopher Bell won the June race at Iowa.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Gander RV 150 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox) at Pocono

There are 31 Trucks entered in this race. There is one unfilled driver slot on the preliminary entry list: the No. 0 Chevrolet of Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year.

Click here for the entry list.

 

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Recapping Kevin Harvick’s Loudon win

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs on NBCSN from 5-6 p.m. ET and will recap Kevin Harvick‘s win at New Hampshire on Sunday.

Steve Letarte is joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan to discuss that 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 at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.