Buescher ready to claim Xfinity Series title, but so are three others

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Xfinity Series points leader Chris Buescher spoke this week about his championship hopes in today’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But Buescher’s comments could have been said by any of the three drivers he’ll be battling to win the Xfinity championship.

“I think we can go get this thing,” Buescher said. “Our team has been very good all year. I’m very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish and how consistent they have been, so we’ll go into Homestead and see how it plays out.

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Chris Buescher

“Everything that’s in our control, we can handle that. It’s just the rest of the components of this thing and the way racing goes, you’re never fully in control. We’ll go have some fun and see if it all plays out, and hopefully we get to raise a trophy.”

Buescher takes an 18-point edge into today’s race on Chase Elliott. Buescher leads Ty Dillon by 22 points and Regan Smith by 24. Buescher clinches the championship with a finish of 13th or better, or 14th with at least one lap led, or 15th and the most laps led.

He has been one of the most consistent drivers in the Xfinity Series this season. In 32 starts, he has two wins, 11 top-fives and 20 top-10s. That consistency, particularly in the second half of the season, has been significant, given Buescher has not won a race in the last 20 starts.

Buescher also has an average finish of 8.3 this season, best of the four Xfinity title contenders.

“(It’s) been a pretty solid season for us, been really happy with everything we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. “(We) built also the momentum we had from the 2014 season and were able to have a good year with good consistency.

“We’re looking forward to getting to Homestead and finishing it off. It’s one of my favorite racetracks that we go to, probably my favorite mile-and-a-half. It’s got an asphalt that’s worn out and makes for better racing from some of the other places we go to.”

But Buescher isn’t the only one who’s been consistent this season, especially down the home stretch. So, too, have been his three rivals.

Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, has one win, 11 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes, with an average finish of 8.9.

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 17: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, walks on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 17, 2015 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott

But Elliott has struggled at times, as compared to last season. During his 2014 championship season, he won three races and had 16 top-fives (along with 26 top-10s). He also led the Xfinity points for much of the season. He’s not led the points this year.

“Things definitely had its up-and-down times,” Elliott said. “We’ve had times where I feel like we’ve been pretty strong and we’ve given a lot of effort to try to improve upon throughout the year. We’re fortunate to get to victory lane once so far and we’re certainly trying to get there again before the year is out.

“Homestead is a place that I’ve enjoyed watching over the years. I think it produces some good racing. Hopefully we can go put on a good show for the fans and try to give ourselves a chance this weekend and worry about the things that we can control and forget about the rest.”

The third Xfinity contender, Dillon, is hoping to emulate what older brother Austin did in 2013 by winning the Xfinity championship.

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Ty Dillon

After winning at Indianapolis last season, the younger Dillon brother has failed to reach victory lane in 2015, but he’s tempered that with 12 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes in 32 starts.

His 8.7 per-race average finish in 2015 puts him between Buescher and Elliott. Plus, he’s doing some of his best racing of late: five top-five finishes, plus two other top-10 showings in his last eight starts.

“We led most of the series at the beginning of the year and started off pretty solid,” Dillon said. “Midway through the season we started having some issues and things that we couldn’t really control and made some changes within our team and changed crew chiefs, and it’s really, really turned our program around here lately.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity this weekend of hopefully winning the championship and getting our first win of the year, and also racing in the Sprint Cup race (on Sunday) and getting as much experience for the future.”

Smith has the biggest hurdle to overcome, 24 points behind Buescher, while six behind Elliott and two behind Dillon. Smith has had some strong runs the last two months that allowed him to cut into Buescher’s lead.

Had it not been for poor showings at Daytona and Dover in the early part of the season, Smith likely would be much closer to Buescher today.

NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 - Qualifying
Regan Smith

“Obviously we haven’t had a great year because we’re not going into Homestead with the points lead,” said Smith, who finished runner-up to Elliott in last year’s championship battle. “We’re doing the chasing right now. But with that said, we’ve had good consistency throughout the majority of the season.

“I think our main problems came within the first six races. We had a crash and we had a parts malfunction that kind of put us in a hole, so we’ve been trying to dig out of that hole all year long and have chipped away at it, and certainly closed it up.

“So to even be going into Homestead with a chance to win the title, it has been a lot of work to get to that point.”

Smith has earned two wins, as well as 11 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes this season, with an average finish of 9.0.

With his contract not renewed for 2016, Smith will be making his last appearance in the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.

It’ll be a bittersweet moment, but he hopes to make the best of it.

“I started my tenure at JR out on a bang (won his first race for the organization in the 2012 season finale at Homestead), and would like to end it the same way,” Smith said.

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announces 2020 driver, crew chief lineup

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced its driver-crew chief roster for the 2020 Gander Outdoors Truck Series season on Wednesday. It includes the addition of veteran Danny Stockman.

Stockman will be in charge of the No. 51 Toyota, which will be driven by Kyle Busch, Chandler Smith and more drivers to be announced at a later date.

Stockman was a long-time crew chief at Richard Childress Racing, most recently working with Austin Dillon in the Cup Series this season. He was Dillon’s crew chief when he won his titles in the Truck Series (2011) and Xfinity Series (2013).

Ryan “Rudy” Fugle will be paired with Christian Eckes on the No. 18 Toyota. Fugle worked on the No. 51 this year as it won six races, including all of Busch’s five wins and Greg Biffle‘s victory. Fugle has led KBM teams to five owner titles (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019) and two driver titles (2015 and 2017).

Mike Hillman Jr. will be the crew chief for Raphael Lessard‘s rookie season in the No. 4 Toyota. Hillman has two Truck Series titles, including Toyota’s first in 2006 with Todd Bodine.

 

DGR-Crosley switches from Toyota to Ford beginning in 2020

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Ford Performance is strengthening its driver development program by joining forces with DGR-Crosley, which announced its move from Toyota to Ford Wednesday.

The multi-year agreement will see team co-owner David Gilliland, a former Cup Series driver, lead the team’s driver development program as it field entries in late models, the ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

“We’re very excited to have DGR-Crosley come to Ford as part of our long-term efforts to develop drivers for NASCAR,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “We have just scratched the surface of what is possible in developing the next generation of Ford drivers with people like Chase Briscoe, and we believe a coordinated effort with a team like DGR-Crosley will help move that process forward successfully.

“David Gilliland was a trusted and valued Ford driver in NASCAR for many years, and we look forward to renewing that relationship with him in this new effort.”

Said Gilliland: “I’m super excited about the partnership with Ford and how things are lining up for 2020. I spent a lot of time racing Fords throughout my career, and it’s really special to now be able to bring them into our race shop. A lot of time and consideration was spent on this decision, and internally we know that this is the move that we needed to make in order to advance our program to the top level. We have a great group of hard-working, talented people at DGR-Crosley, and with Ford coming on board, our future is really bright. We’re excited for all the things ahead.”

DGR-Crosley will announce its driver lineup at a later date.

The team first entered the Truck Series in 2018. Tyler Ankrum won its first race this year at Kentucky Speedway, qualifying for the playoffs in the process.

It fielded a team record five entries in the playoff race at ISM Raceway.

Brennan Poole to compete full-time for Premium Motorsports in Cup Series

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Former Xfinity Series driver Brennan Poole will compete full-time in the Cup Series in 2020 with Premium Motorsports, Poole announced Wednesday on social media.

Poole, 28, will drive the No. 15 Chevrolet and would make his Cup debut in the Daytona 500.

He joins a rookie class that includes Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

“I’ve been working towards this moment since I was 5 and feel blessed to have the caliber of people surrounding me that I have in this next chapter of my racing career,” Poole said in a press release. “I look forward to the opportunity to showcase our sponsor partners, both new and existing, who are supporting me at the highest level of NASCAR competition.”

Poole takes over the car that was driven by Ross Chastain in a majority of his Cup starts in 2019.

A native of The Woodlands, Texas, Poole drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series from 2016-17. His best finish was second in the 2017 race at Kentucky Speedway.

He made 13 starts in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2019, driving for On Point Motorsports. His best result was second in the May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m very happy to welcome Brennan and his group to the Premium Motorsports family,” team owner Jay Robinson said in the press release. “Brennan is a very talented and dedicated young man, I believe he has a very bright future in the NASCAR Cup Series.”

Bojangles’ ends sponsorship of Southern 500

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The fast food chain Bojangles’ will no longer sponsor the Southern 500.

Bojangles’ has sponsored the event at Darlington Raceway since 2012.

Since 2015, the Southern 500 has been the site of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend, with Cup and Xfinity Series teams fielding retro paint schemes celebrating the sport’s history.

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“We’ve enjoyed a terrific relationship with Bojangles’ since 2012 and we look forward to their continued involvement in NASCAR for many years to come,” track president Kerry Tharp said in a statement. “Like Darlington, they are truly an authentic Southern brand.”

A logo for the race on Darlington’s website does not include a sponsor.

“Bojangles’ has enjoyed a long and successful partnership with the team at Darlington Raceway,” Bojangles’ said in a statement provided to NBC’s Myrtle Beach-affiliate WMBF. “While we will no longer be the title sponsor for the Southern 500, NASCAR remains an important part of our sports marketing strategy, and we look forward to announcing our plans for 2020 in the near future.”

The 2020 Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 on NBCSN.