What Sprint Cup drivers said after Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover

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The Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway brought the first round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup to a close.

Here’s what the Sprint Cup field had to say about the race.

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished first: “We’re not messing around I guess. I don’t know — what else can you say? We are here to get it done and golly, I’m telling you, just the best bunch of guys you could ever ask for. It’s just amazing to drive their race cars and do what we were able to do. I’m just ecstatic. So many people to thank again. I mean, this is just unbelievable. Especially here I love this race track. It’s been considered a home track for me for a long time. It’s been since ’07 since I won here. Have a lot of heartbreaks here, but all in all just a phenomenal race car again today … Golly, man, it’s just – I’ve got to pinch myself. It’s unbelievable.”

Kyle Busch – Finished second: “We’re not bad. I mean, obviously our cars are really fast, we just haven’t been able to find all of it that the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) had so far. Those guys are doing a phenomenal job, but can’t say enough about everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, (Toyota Racing Development). This M&M’s Camry today was really, really good and class of my field, my zip code, my area code. But, we just kept working on it all day long. We had loose, tight, both and it was just better to be on the looser side and just try to maintain the rear tires and keep them underneath you for the long haul and see what you could get. All in all just need a little bit more speed.

Chase Elliott – Finished third: “It’s been a decent weekend overall. We’ve been working on our car throughout the weekend and I feel like we got it the best we had had it there two runs before the end, which I guess was a good time to try to get it with that long green flag run things kind of worked out for us to get a couple of extra spots that would have been hard to get otherwise. I’m proud of the effort. Really really cool to move on this weekend, I’m proud of that like I said, this group has been doing a really good job. I’m proud of all these guys and we are excited to get on to Charlotte.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished fourth: “We had a decent day. We wanted to be just a little bit faster, but we’re just kind of gnawing away with these top-fives here these first three races, which is good. Of course, we want to get the wins, but top-fives will carry you a long ways.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished fifth: “We weren’t bad, we were just a little off all day and when you don’t get cautions that’s just kind of where you end up. Struggled a little bit passing, it was hard when I’d lose track position on a restart or what have you to get back through there I’d just kind of get stuck wherever we put my car. Then there we had a decent pit stop and good strategy and they put it in fifth and I was able to hang onto that.”

Joey Logano – Finished sixth:  “Overall, we did what we had to do. The points are back to zero and we can head to the next round and try to get a win. Every track is different. Dover is obviously a beast of its own. It’s a very cool race track, but everything is so different compared to where we’re gonna go next week to Charlotte and then Kansas and Talladega. They’re all gonna be a lot different for sure, but we’ll take what we learned here for next year and I’m sure there are some things that we can apply to the next race, but most of it is kind of track-specific.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished seventh: “Well I think today was a different set of circumstances on pit road. It was certainly, I think Chad (Knaus) still questions exactly what happened, but when I was coming into my pit box the No. 18 and the No. 43 were just leaving theirs and they were directly behind my box. I had to slam on the brakes and get turned and get underneath those guys to come in and I was pretty close to my box so I assume that just threw the rhythm off the pit stop and somebody came off the wall early. Certainly a mistake, but it’s not one that I’ve ever had happen on the No. 48 team. Thankfully, we had a strong car that we were only a lap down and still ended up seventh. I do feel like one got away, but very proud of this Lowe’s race team. I’m happy to be advancing we are certainly thrilled about that, but feel like one got away today.”

Austin Dillon – Finished eighth: “The race played into our favor. We did have a fast race car, I’m proud of that. I’m proud to be moving on to the Round of 12 where I have some really solid tracks, one being Talladega where we were able to finish third earlier this year. Just too proud of this AAA team. We didn’t panic. I had a lot of people telling me not to worry. We didn’t have a good practice, and we had a fast race car today, a really fast race car.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished ninth: “So-so day. We knew it was a so-so day and that’s what we did. It’s so hard to race and be aggressive when you have to race to not make any mistakes. We knew we were plenty fast enough today to just do what we had to do, but you can’t make any mistakes on pit lane so you’re a little bit slower. Behind the wheel I’m a lot more conservative than I would be and that equals about a ninth place finish and that’s where we were.”

Tony Stewart – Finished 13th: “I’m pretty excited about our day. We were much better than we were yesterday. Really proud of our team. We kept making it better all day. That is good as we had.”

Carl Edwards – Finished 14th: “I’m so grateful that we made it to this next round because now it’s a zero-zero ballgame. We did not run well these first three races. We really struggled. This place is usually one of our best. Our ARRIS Camry, we’ll work on it and get ready to go racing next week. Now we’ve just got to put all of this behind us and go onto Charlotte.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 15th: “Really proud of this team. We deserve to move on to the next round, but a day like today really tested us to let us know that we’ve got work to do. I’m ready for the challenge. Today was a challenging day, but thanks to our Monster Energy fans, Haas Automation fans, employees, everybody. We are not here just to advance through (a) round, we are here to do well and be a force towards the front. I like Charlotte and I like Kansas. We will see how they play out. We need to gain points there because you can’t go to Talladega expecting a good finish.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 17th: “Unfortunately we had a fast WIX Filters Chevrolet and nothing to show for it today. It was at least a top-10 car. We got caught on pit road when the caution came out early on and that put us down two laps and then we had several tire issues that prevented us from racing back onto the lead lap. It’s pretty frustrating, to say the least, and very disappointing for this team. We had a really good car. Congratulations to the No. 3 team for making the transfer into the next round in the Chase.”

Paul Menard – Finished 22nd: “This wasn’t the afternoon we had in mind today at Dover. The Duracell/Menards Chevrolet had speed this weekend, but starting 26th we knew we had a lot of cars to pass. We kept adjusting on the handling of the car, but the leaders were running such fast laps we fell a lap down. The speeding penalty put us even more laps down and we just didn’t have the cautions we needed to get those laps back.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 23rd:  “Now we go back to racing the same way we did this weekend. Nothing really changes. We’ve got the opportunity to test a little bit more and we still have the opportunity to take chances for the rest of the season, but I’m really proud of the guys for all the work this year. To even be in the Chase was a really big deal for Front Row Motorsports and this 34 team. My hat’s off to everybody who has worked so hard this season. It’s unfortunate this is the end of our Chase, but it was a pretty good deal to make it in our first season.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 25th: “There wasn’t much we could do. I cut the right front tire down and got in the wall and still had good speed in the race car after that but it just didn’t work out. Our team has come a long way this season from where we started the year. We were pretty awful at the start of the season but then got a win at Michigan to lock ourselves in the Chase. That was good. I know we have the speed to have made it past a couple of rounds but it’s my typical luck I guess, where it just doesn’t work out.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 38th: “I think we just blew a right-front (tire) pretty bad. We were running pretty good before that and I wasn’t really getting tight, I was kind of just riding around, and blew a big hole in it. We’ll have to look at it and see what happened, but it’s a shame. We got our car pretty good that second run and were driving up through the field pretty good. I would have liked to see what we would have had if we had a couple more chances to work on it, but we’ll try to get it fixed and make some laps. It’s a shame we couldn’t run good today but it’s a testament to our team of not starting very good and getting a lot better in one pit stop, so that’s something we can take away.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 40th (engine): “It’s really hard when you run bad, but the fact that we have run so well the last two months and have been very consistent, both cars. You will have things like this happen. It’s frustrating that it happens at this point when you can’t really afford to have anything bad go wrong, but Hendrick motors have been pretty amazing for the last six years I think, five years that we have had them. I think I have only had two motor failures they just both have happened in the Chase.”

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

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While NASCAR celebrates Michael Jordan’s entry as a Cup owner, his arrival comes at the expense of another team.

Jordan and Denny Hamlin purchased Germain Racing’s charter, marking the end of that single-car team when the season concludes Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

Seven races remain for Germain Racing, Ty Dillon and the team’s 40-plus employees before they scatter, some within the sport and others elsewhere. The team races for the first time since the announcement Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN). 

“It’s not been real easy the last couple of weeks,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

He has been Germain Racing’s driver the past four seasons. The team, which won Truck titles in 2006 and 2010 with Todd Bodine, has competed in Cup since 2009. Germain Racing’s best Cup finish is fourth, accomplished by both Dillon and Casey Mears.

The team’s future soured when GEICO determined it would not return after this season. Without sponsorship money and with multiple groups interested in the team’s charter, a sale became the best route for owner Bob Germain. Hamlin and Jordan quickly put together an effort to buy the charter and made headlines with their deal.

With lives upturned by the novel coronavirus, Germain Racing employees now seek work in a pandemic. It adds stress to a 2020 that has tested so many.

“We all in life go through things,” Dillon said. “Life is … never going to be easy or perfect. For me, this has definitely been an extremely stressful time with all the things, the virus that is going on, our team announces that we’re selling and is sold now with seven races to go, and you still have people that you care about that you want to see get opportunities.

“Everyone is trying to keep a good attitude. It’s a very tough situation. Then I have a little girl (who turns 3 in November) and my wife is pregnant and we’re going to have our son in November. You have your virus concerns and also wanting to make sure your daughter is raised and still be able to get out and do things a 2 1/2-year-old should be able to do. That is what is most important to me over all things, spending time with her.

“Then you have in the back of your mind you want to provide for your family. I’m 28 years old and just getting started. … Also, I’ve been (racing) since I was 13, I’ve put a lot of effort and time in it myself. I feel like I still haven’t gotten to prove what I’m fully capable of yet. That’s always in the back of my mind. So it’s been extremely stressful.”

Dillon said he’s relied on his faith to navigate these challenges.

“I believe that God is with me in this process, no matter how much I don’t understand,” he said. “He’s on the other side. He’s going to put me in a place that is going to allow me to do the most for his kingdom, and he’s going to bring me the most joy at the end of wherever I’m going here.

“Knowing that is my teeth in this bit of a storm. It’s definitely not an easy season, and I’m immature in the fact that I want to know what is going to happen.”

Dillon, who finished a season-best 10th at Las Vegas in February, said he’s put together sponsorship for 2021. He is among a number of drivers who have not announced rides for next year. That list includes Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley, among others. 

Dillon told NBC Sports that “this week and next week are going to be really crucial weeks in figuring out what the next step is. There’s an array of things that can happen and I’m not sure which one is going to happen.”

2. Staying Power

While Michael Jordan has made news for coming to NASCAR, the key is how long he stays as an owner.

The sport is filled with former athletes and celebrities who have come and gone in ownership roles through the years.

While many in the sport hope Jordan can help attract more fans and businesses, he needs to remain in the sport to help achieve some of those goals.

Denny Hamlin, who is partnering with Jordan on the new team with Bubba Wallace as driver, told NBC Sports and Fox in an exclusive interview this week that he is confident he can create a program with staying power.

“He has me to help him with the day-to-day stuff,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Obviously, I’ve got a day job, racing a car and that’s what I’m going to continue to do for years and years with my FedEx team, but I know enough about this sport that I can help guide this ownership team in the right direction.”

The team is expected to align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Another key will be the personnel hired to run the team with Hamlin racing and Jordan busy as owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and his other business ventures.

“I think we’re going to have the ability by starting a team from scratch essentially of hiring the best people available at every position,” Hamlin said. “Believe me, since this became public knowledge, we’ve already started those conversations.

“We’re going to give Bubba the best possibility or chance to win in Year 1. I believe that he can win in the first year, but I’m also not naive to think this is an easy business either. It’s hard to win.

“Two years ago, I didn’t win a race. I’ve got 12 years experience and I’m with the best team. My teammate, Kyle Busch, is one of the best, and hasn’t won yet in 2020. It’s not easy. It’s going to be difficult, but I have very good faith that Bubba is going to have everything that he needs to be capable of winning.”

If so, that should keep Jordan in the sport for a long time.

3. TikTok the timing was right

For all the time Ryan Vargas spent searching for sponsorship, networking in the NASCAR garage and looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series, he could have not imagined how he landed a deal with this year’s hottest social media property.

Credit goes to Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas who designs paint schemes for some NASCAR teams.

Pistana created a TikTok car for Vargas because Vargas uses the social app so much. Pistana posted his concept scheme for Vargas on social media in July.

TikTok soon saw the image and talks began.

TikTok
Ryan Vargas’ TikTok car for JD Motorsports mirrors the design Vargas’ friend, Ryan Pistana, created in July and posted on social media. (Photo: JD Motorsports)

“They loved the scheme, they loved the sport,” Vargas told NBC Sports. “They’re very enthusiastic about jumping in.”

TikTok also had a good representative in Vargas, who has more than 40,000 followers and nearly 600,000 likes. Vargas’ TikTok videos are a mix of fun, behind the scenes images and inspiration.

Within about two months, TikTok completed a six-race deal with Vargas and JD Motorsports that will begin next week at Talladega Superspeedway. The agreement allows Vargas to run the rest of the season.

Those six races equal the number of races Vargas has run in the series since last year. He ran three races last year and three this season.

When he hasn’t been racing, he’s often been on the road crew for JD Motorsports. In the last month, Vargas was a mechanic for BJ McLeod’s car at Richmond and Daytona, drove for the team at Darlington (finishing 25th) and was a mechanic for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car at Dover.

“I learn just by doing that,” Vargas said of his role as mechanic at the track. “So when I hop into the car, I know what I want changed.”

It’s a great learning experience but drivers want to drive and Vargas is no different.

“I would be lying to you if I said that didn’t kind of sting sometimes, your friends are out there racing and doing what they want,” he said. “I’ve experienced what it’s like to have pretty much everything fall apart. I was very close to being completely done racing at the end of 2018, so I know what it’s like to sit out and not be in the car.”

Vargas credits a meeting with Mike Davis, director of brand strategy for JR Motorsports and co-host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download, with helping him push through after the 2018 season.

“His piece of advice to me, be present, have your gear and never stop working,” Vargas said of what Davis told him in their meeting.

Vargas has kept following his dream. Now he has a ride for six races thanks to social media.

4. A fan’s last ride

For nearly 20 years, Kenneth Chase took grandson Brendon Harmon to NASCAR races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

They’d travel from Chase’s home in Sebago, Maine and camp with friends and family. Sometimes the group was so large, they’d need a second camper to accommodate everyone.

The trips started when Harmon was about 5 years old. They continued when Chase, known as Pa to his grandchildren, was found to have prostrate cancer.

Kenneth Chase with grandson Brendon Harmon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014. (Photo: Brendon Harmon)

As his grandfather went through treatments in 2012, Harmon decided he wanted to take him to the Daytona 500.

Harmon worked two jobs and saved more than $3,000 so he could take his grandparents and mom to the 2013 Daytona 500. He paid for the plane tickets, race tickets and hotel.

Chase later got colon cancer. Doctors removed the tumor. The cancer returned. They did another surgery. The cancer came back and spread.

Chase died Aug. 25. He would have been 77 years old Saturday.

“He’s what I aspire to be some day,” Harmon said of Chase. “I really hope my future grandkids think of me the way I think of him.”

Harmon has found a way to honor his grandfather. The NASCAR Foundation and Martin Truex Jr. Foundation partnered for the Nominate a Cancer Hero program. The program auctions off space on a NASCAR Truck or car to put a person’s name for this weekend’s Las Vegas races. More than 40 drivers are participating. The program raised about $100,000.

Harmon found out about the auction shortly before it closed. He didn’t have enough money to provide a winning bid but asked friends for help and they rallied to provide the winning bid of about $2,800 to have Chase’s name on Alex Bowman’s car Sunday at Las Vegas.

Chase was a Dale Earnhardt fan. He switched to Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson after Earnhardt’s death. Chase remained a Hendrick fan after that, so putting his name on a Hendrick car was perfect for Harmon.

“He gets to go fast one more time,” Harmon told NBC Sports. “He gets to feel the race car one more time and hear the race car one more time.”

Harmon will gather with family Sunday and have a cookout at his house, serving deer steak and chicken on the grill. He’ll also have ice cream. Chase would eat ice cream, often chocolate, as he watched the races on TV.

Watching Sunday’s race on NBCSN and knowing his grandfather’s name will be on Bowman’s car will be special for Harmon.

“It’s going to kind of be a mixture of tears with joy,” he said.

5. Learn by example

The Xfinity playoffs begin Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

While Chase Briscoe enters after his seventh win of the season, tying regular-season champ Austin Cindric for the most victories this season, rookie Harrison Burton looks to take the lessons he’s learned this season and turn them into a title run.

Burton told NBC Sports that one of the areas he’s improved most this season is “using my head and thinking about things.”

He notes his third-place finish at Kansas Speedway was a turning point.

“I think Kansas was probably one of the most fun races I ever lost,” he said. “I was really thinking, how can I beat Austin (Cindric, who finished second to Brandon Jones)? What can I show him to make him do something that I want him to do? (It’s) things I listen to Denny Hamlin talk about and say on his radio. Using the mental side of the game to their advantage. That has been really fun to go to the places where that is a big deal and try to make the most of it.”

The key, Burton said, is having a car that will allow a driver to think as they’re hitting their marks in each corner.

“When that becomes muscle memory, that’s when you free up your brain and you’re able to strategize in your head,” he said. “You’re able to show people lines that you know are going to hurt their tires but it’s fast. Then you run them down on a long run because they have been doing that.”

Who has taught Burton a memorable lesson in such a situation?

“Briscoe does a good job of that, of showing you a different lane and catching you with a different lane and then he has the ability to pass you in a completely different (lane),” Burton said.

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Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”