(Photo courtesy Jennifer LaFever)

Jennifer LaFever: Maximizing the power in Roush Yates Racing Engines

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It would not be a stretch to say Jennifer LaFever is power hungry.

But that’s a good thing.

As quality manager for Roush Yates Racing Engines, it’s LaFever’s job to make sure every high-horsepower engine the company manufactures is as powerful as it can be when it’s placed under the hood of a NASCAR Sprint Cup or Xfinity race car or a Camping World Truck Series truck.

“We’re manufacturing a product and sending it out to be tested in real life, in real time,” LaFever told NASCAR Talk. “It’s being used by the end user and it better perform the way they want or else they’re going to be on our doorstep, asking why it didn’t.”

The 32-year-old California native worked in semiconductor tooling as an engineer after she graduated from the University of California-Davis. But the longtime race fan just didn’t feel her life was complete.

She moved to North Carolina to train at the NASCAR Technical Institute, landed an internship in the quality department at Roush Yates Engines, graduated and was promoted to her current role – all within about a year’s time.

“I quickly became a key player in the department,” LaFever said. “When I graduated from NTI, they said, ‘Hey, can you run the department?’ So I took on that. It shocked me that they trusted me, it really escalated quickly and the rest is history.”

LaFever’s hands touch and her eyes inspect every engine that Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Richard Petty Motorsports and other Ford-associated teams purchase or lease from Roush Yates Engines.

In so doing, she was directly part of several high points this season including Joey Logano’s Daytona 500 win, Logano’s three consecutive wins in Round 2 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, all of Logano’s six wins, as well as teammate Brad Keselowski’s performance.

“Every person in this building essentially touches an engine before it leaves, so every individual in our company is vital to that engine winning on Sunday, to winning a race or championship or just performing well every week,” LaFever said. “It is personally gratifying to see that win, to see that checkered flag show up in our hallway.”

But LaFever also gets gratification – and takes great pride in doing so – by being an example for and mentor to other young females who hope to carve out their own careers in the technical side of NASCAR racing or other forms of motorsports.

“I was a young female once and even with the passion and confidence I do have, I’ve had my moments of doubt and struggle, where there was someone resisting me and it did seem like it was just because I was a girl,” LaFever said. “Because I had those struggles, I am compassionate towards females who are going through those sorts of things. It really reignites the passion I have when I’m able to share my story and to encourage a female who’s feeling like the world’s against them.”

LaFever remains an advisor to NTI and is heavily involved in other programs that support female diversity in the industry.

“While I was in school, I found myself mentoring other females,” LaFever said. “A lot of females come into this industry thinking they’re the minority, are going to hang their head low and just do their thing and stay under the radar, not draw attention to themself because they don’t want to stand out or don’t want to make a mistake because it gets blown up.

“You can’t live your life like that. You have to go into it saying I’m a human being, this is what I have a passion for and this is what I want to do.”

Roush Yates Racing Engines employs about 200 people, with half of those dedicated solely to NASCAR racing. Many of LaFever’s co-workers also graduated from NTI, extending a kinship that formed when they were taking classes and hoping to someday make it in motorsports.

That’s why LaFever is the encouraging type. When others in training say they can’t do something, LaFever proves to them they indeed can.

“Male or female, whatever race you are, it’s not going to stop me because this is where I want to be and I have the credentials and experience to be here, as well as the passion,” LaFever said. “Passion is the biggest thing. I actually became a tutor at the California campus (of NTI before moving to North Carolina) and even male students were having doubts or struggling in their classes.

“Because I was older and had already been to college and worked in the industry, I was able to pass that information along. If this is what you want to do and keep working hard, you are going to get there. And I feel my story proves that. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re male or female, if you have the right credentials and work hard, you just have to do the work and do the work right. If this is what you want to do and you keep working hard, you are going to get there. I really feel like my story proved that.

“When you have conversations like this and people ask you questions … it reminds me that this is kind of a big deal, it is pretty cool and I should tell more people about it because maybe more people would want to be part of what I’m doing.”

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Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Decker provided this update Saturday morning.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)