NASCAR’s Next Generation: Jesse Little

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Jesse Little won’t be watching the latest scary movies this Halloween season.

“I’m not a fan of horror movies at all. I’m terrified,” said Little, the son of former Sprint Cup driver Chad Little. “My girlfriend and I watched the ‘Insidious’ movie that came out, I think, last year and I left. I’ll be honest, I got out of the theater and left, I was so terrified.”

Little’s girlfriend wouldn’t follow for five more minutes.

The 18-year-old driver shared this with NASCAR Talk while he prepared for last weekend’s K&N Pro Series East season finale at Dover International Speedway. Dover also gave Little his scariest moment as a driver.

During his first K&N practice session on the 1-mile track in 2012, Little was attempting to merge into traffic after two cars had passed him.

“I was relating myself to them and knowing where I was losing speed at and the first time I ever really went up to speed the car got a little loose,” Little said. “I didn’t even try to save it, I just slammed on the brakes and chased it all the way up the track. At the time I remember thinking, ‘wow, I guess this is why they call it ‘the Monster.'”

The following Q&A with Little, who is a part of the NASCAR Next program that spotlights the sport’s emerging stars, has been edited and condensed.

NASCAR TALK: Do you remember what you were doing when you got the call about being part of NASCAR Next?

JESSE LITTLE: Yeah, I was at school. I had just gotten out of calculus and was walking to my gym class and Jessica, who is in charge of the program, texted me and said, ‘Do you have a minute?’ Luckily my gym class teacher was pretty lenient and said, ‘Yeah, go ahead’ and I walked out of the building for a second and took the call. Came back in with a big smile on my face and a big sigh of relief.

Note: Little graduated from Banby High School in Claremont, N.C., in the spring and will begin attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in January.

NT: What degree are you looking to pursue?

JL: Definitely something on the business side. Finance, economics. Something in that category. Right now I’m looking at international business.

NT: What drew you to that? 

JL: My dad went to college in Washington state and graduated in business administration and I just enjoy it. Seeing all the opportunities it’s given him after his driving career, it’s something I certainly feel is a good field to go into to get a good knowledge base and background. At the same time, I love traveling. I was fortunate enough to go to Europe after I graduated high school. We traveled around France and Italy for two weeks and just fell in love with it. It’s something I’m passionate about and excited for at the same time.

Jesse Little drives his KNPSE car at Richmond International Raceway. His No. 97 is the same number used by his father, Chad Little, during the later years of his Sprint Cup career. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Jesse Little drives his K&N car at Richmond International Raceway. His No. 97 is the same number used by his father, Chad Little, during the later years of his Sprint Cup career. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

NT: In Europe, if you would tell someone that you were a NASCAR driver, would they recognize what that was?

JL: It’s funny you say that, because one of the waitresses at one of the restaurants we ate at in Rome was actually a NASCAR fan. The touring series over there has the NASCAR (Whelen) Euro series. She was a pretty heavy follower of that. She rattled off a couple of names of some of the active drivers in that series. I told her ‘I race very similar cars in America’ and she got a kick out of that. It was pretty neat to see such a strong American-based sport is also popular over there.

NT: Going back to the college thing, is that something your dad really wanted you to do or do you see that as your back-up plan or is it your main plan?

JL: A little bit of both. My dad definitely puts a heavy emphasis on education and I see why. I’ve grown up and kind of realized that best-case scenario I might be able to make a career out of racing, but the chances are kind of not really in my favor, but I’m going to do everything I can to make it my career. But if not, I want to have a good background to fall back on and continue to have a successful life, and I think college is the easiest path for me to do that. Plus, I want the education and I want to do everything I can to further myself.

NT: Ryan Newman has an engineering degree but I don’t think it’s commonplace to find NASCAR drivers who have made it that far with college degrees. How many drivers do you know that have degrees or how many drivers do you know say they wished they’d gotten their degrees?

JL: I know a lot more that are in that second category, for sure. It’s a tough thing to say, if I do land a full-time ride and I’m able to win races and make a good, successful career out of this, then I might look back and say that was a waste of four years, but I highly doubt that. It’s something that I want and am passionate about. I love racing, but at the same time I know I’m not going to be doing it forever, so why not have something that’s a successful thing to fall back on?

NT: What’s your earliest memory of racing?

JL: I was five or six years old, I remember My dad had just retired and had gone to work for NASCAR. I remember he took me to the Charlotte race. I unfortunately don’t have any memories of him racing. I was so young, he retired I think in 2004 or 2003. A couple of years after that, I remember going to (Charlotte) and pretty much everybody we ran into or walked by said ‘Hey Chad, how’s it going?’ and talked to him. I remember seeing how cool it was that everybody knew my dad and everybody was talking to my dad. The older I got the more I wanted that, the more I wanted to follow in his footsteps and have what he had and make a career out of it.

NT: After two full seasons in the K&N East Series, how do you mentally navigate a season where, without any full-time ride, you’re not guaranteed a race every week?

JL: I work in the shop every single day. Since I graduated in the spring, I’m down at our shop every day, 7 to 5, and being around it so much and building the cars, putting together and understanding the suspension and what adjustment makes the car do this and understanding all that, I think, gives me an edge to not being in the seat every week. I feel when I go to a K&N race, I’m really able to fine-tune the car even though I haven’t raced for a month before because I know when we adjusted this in the shop it changed the wedge this way. I’m able to focus on those little things, and I think it helps me a lot. Especially in relaying it to the crew chief.

NT: Earlier you said chances aren’t really in your favor of having a very long racing career. Is that something you’ve come to terms with recently, or is that something you recognized a long time ago?

JL: A little bit of both. (It) was always in the back of my mind a long time ago, but here recently I’ve really noticed, OK, not having the financial backing of some of the other drivers, it’s going to be really difficult to transition to that next level and be successful. But I think it’s something I can make up for with my talent, and I hope to meet the right people. That’s what it’s going to come down to, having somebody that believes in me and gives me a shot. To do that, I’ve got to prove that I’m capable of it.

 

 

Previous Q&A’s:

Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.