NASCAR’s Next Generation: Dalton Sargeant

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Dalton Sargeant has 45 minutes to spare and he has to eat lunch at some point.

The 17-year-old driver is between classes at Cardinal Gibbons Catholic High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when he speaks with NASCAR Talk.

He has just left math class and when the bell rings next he will be in government class. His favorite class is geography.

“The teacher is pretty lenient on everybody since we’re all seniors,” Sargeant says.

It was in math class last semester when Sargeant received a call from NASCAR about being part of the NASCAR Next program, which is aimed at spotlighting the sport’s emerging stars.

Without a word, Sargeant looked at a number he didn’t recognize and left the room.

He would discuss the next chapter of an unorthodox racing career that began by racing go-karts in the parking lot at Homestead-Miami Speedway and open-wheel cars in Europe for two years. Now he’s learning the stock-car racing ropes on the K&N Pro Series East circuit for HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks while dabbling in the Camping World Truck Series, making his debut at Bristol Motor Speedway last month and finishing 10th.

This Q&A had been edited and condensed.

 

during a game against the at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 27, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. The Texas Rangers defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 4-1.
Dalton Sargeant in the K&N Pro Series East

NASCAR TALK: You raced at Bristol a few months before your first Truck race in the K&N Pro Series East. How does Bristol drive differently in those series?

DALTON SARGEANT: One thing with the Truck compared to the K&N car is that the Truck is on radial tires, so it reacts a lot differently. It has a lot more grip, so you’re able to carry a lot more speed through the corners, which is a really cool experience. It’s a really fast track and absolutely a blast. Another great experience about running in the Truck series was I got to race against guys like Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch, and I got to learn a lot running around those guys and going in there with the trucks I was a lot more prepared than when I had gone there in the K&N car for the first time.

NT: Was it a difficult decision to move to Europe?

DS: It was easy.

NT: What made it easy?

DS: Just a desire to pursue a Formula One career made the decision easy. I desired that career path a lot, really. I didn’t have a problem whatsoever moving there.

NT: You lived in Europe for a little over two years. That’s not the usual route that stock car drivers take. What led to that?

DS: In the stock car industry you have to be living in Charlotte (N.C). It’s the same way in F1, you have to be living over in Europe. So it was really important. I went over there and I lived in Switzerland for two-and-a-half years. I was running karts as well as an open-wheel formula car, single-seaters and learning as much as I could. At the end of the day, I just didn’t have as much fun with it as I thought I was going to have and just didn’t enjoy it. So I decided to make the switch back to the U.S. and go stock-car racing, and I’ve loved it ever since.

NT: How would you compare the racing culture there to that in the Southeastern United States?

DS: It’s honestly a lot different. Everything over there, I’m not saying NASCAR is not advanced, they look at data acquisition a lot more than in the K&N series and Truck series and what we do. At the same time, it seems NASCAR is really advancing in some of that stuff. Another thing that was pretty difficult was the language barrier. I raced for two Italian teams over there, so I did have to pick up the language somewhat as well as them working with me on their English.

It was complicated but it was a good learning experience. It taught me a lot, and I think it was a positive move for me, not just for racing, but my life in general to be able to go over there and live there for a few years.

NT: Where in Switzerland did you live?

DS: I lived in Lugano, it’s a city about an hour north of Milan.

NT: Were you living there by yourself or were you there with family?

DS: I was there with my mother (Madelyn) and my brother (Logan). I attended an American school there in Switzerland for my first two years of high school. We didn’t really race much in Switzerland, we traveled around a lot, back and forth. My father was there somewhat as well. We just traveled around whether it was racing in Italy, England or wherever.

NT: What was your favorite place to visit?

DS: I definitely liked Rome a lot. It was a cool city, always busy. Whenever we had a race around Rome, I would try to swing by and the culture there is really cool.

NT: In Europe what was your favorite track to race?

DS: I would have to say my favorite Formula car track was probably Barcelona (Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya). It’s just really high speed, it was one of the larger tracks I had been on. Just a lot of fast sweeping corners and it was a really cool track. The track itself kind of nurtured a lot of tough competition.

NT: From that style of racing, have you learned anything that has helped you in your return to American racing?

DS: When I moved back from Switzerland and made the transition to stock cars, the passing’s a little different and you have a lot more side-by-side racing on the ovals than what you have on road courses in Formula cars. At the same time, it taught me quite a few unique techniques that some of these stock car drivers don’t know.

NT: Like what?

DS: Some of the techniques while braking as well as in the road course racing you have a lot of different styles of wheel control. You have tight hairpins (turns) as well as fast sweeping corners. Being able to make different transitions on the wheel throughout the race depending on the different lines that you take.

NT: How much of a culture shock was that for you going over there and when you came back, did it feel like you missed a lot?

DS: No, not really. I knew what I was going to be facing when I moved over there. I knew the expectations, and at the same time, when I came back I had almost gotten homesick within the three years, so to be able to come back was kind of a good feeling for myself.

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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

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 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

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Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

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The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

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Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

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Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.