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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with Ryan Reed

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Growing up, one of Ryan Reed‘s favorite NASCAR drivers was Dale Earnhardt Jr.

That’s why years ago, a young Reed “waited for hours” outside the driver’s lot at Auto Club Speedway with his dad, Mark Reed, a racer himself.

A native of Bakersfield, California, that day is Ryan Reed’s earliest memory of attending a NASCAR race weekend. He had a simple mission.

“I had gotten his diecast earlier that day,” Reed told NBC Sports, remembering the Budweiser car he held. “I was going to get it signed no matter what.”

Years before he would become one of them, Reed learned an important lesson about the lives of NASCAR drivers.

“Drivers don’t stop when they sign autographs,” Reed said. “They’ve got places to be.”

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Eventually, Earnhardt made his way past the Reeds.

“I thought he was going to stop and sign it and my dad was standing next to me and he’s like ‘You better keep walking, son.’ I looked up and he was about 20 feet in front of me so I was running next to him.”

Reed would get to run next to Earnhardt again about a decade later, albeit significantly faster. The two have competed in 10 Xfinity Series races together since 2014 and Reed remembers the first time they were on-track together.

“It was like 10 seconds of racing door-to-door with Dale Jr.,” Reed said. “It was pretty amazing and then it was like, ‘Oh man, now I want to beat him.'”

Reed satisfied that desire in February 2015.  The Roush Fenway Racing driver won his first career Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway while Earnhardt finished 10th. Last month, Reed became just the fourth Xfinity driver since 2000 to repeat as a winner at Daytona. The others? Tony Stewart (seven wins), Matt Kenseth (two wins) and Earnhardt (six wins).

Reed is the first since Kenseth in July 2013.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your face or name on merchandise?

Reed: No, I’m trying to think. I know the first time I saw my face on my hard card and it was a terrible picture. My face was all red, but it was so cool because it was my first NASCAR hard card and that’s actually still my picture today, I’ve never changed it. So it’s an absolute awful picture of me. … I was probably 19 years old, (so it was taken) about four years ago.

NBC Sports: That’s like walking around with your senior high school photo.

Reed: Actually I changed my driver’s license a couple years ago to a North Carolina one and it was (the photo) I had from when I took my permit picture at 15 and half. So I definitely put off for awhile sometimes on changing my picture.

Ryan Reed celebrates his February 2017 win at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Reed: My first car was a diesel pickup truck and it had two uses. One, to get me to and from school and the race shop. The other, pull the trailer to the race track every weekend. I was running late models at the time so I was in charge of getting the late model and all the other supplies to the race track. So I learned how to drive a pickup and a trailer pretty much from the time I could drive. … It was definitely not easy to park in my high school parking lot.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, either a street car or a race car?

Reed: No, I don’t think so. We never named it. The deal was that we couldn’t name the car until we won with it. When we won my first late model race we sold that car immediately. From then on, no matter what we won with we never really named it. We never got in the business of naming race cars.

NBC Sports: If you were to race in the Bristol Cup night race, what would be your introductory song?

Reed: That’s a tough one. I’ve actually thought a lot about that. I love music, but I like the heavy screamo def metal kind of music. I don’t know man. I grew up listening to Metallica with my dad at 5, 6 years old going to go-kart races. So I gotta go with a Metallica song, I just don’t know which one.

NBC Sports: How did you get into scream death metal music?

Reed: In high school I started listening to it. In high school I was long hair and band tees, not high school but like junior high. I started listening to screamo music and my parents hated it. I’ve just loved it ever since. I was a total band freak when I was in middle school. There’s some pretty stellar pictures out there that I try to hide.

NBC Sports: I know Darrell Wallace Jr. is also into that kind of music.

Reed: It’s funny that we’re teammates, because we’re some of the few NASCAR drivers that are into it. If we’re ever going to an appearance or something, it’s death metal the entire time we’re in the rental car together.

NBC Sports: What was the hardest you’ve ever laughed?

Reed: I think the hardest I’ve ever laughed is the first time I ever saw Step Brothers, it’s one of my favorite movies and the first time I saw it I was in tears in the move theater the whole time. I’m a huge Will Ferrell fan. Obviously that one is a classic.

NC Sports: What’s on your bucket race that’s not related to racing?

Reed: I have a lot on my bucket list. I would say to probably meet Dez Bryant. I’m a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. If I had to pick one player to meet right now, it would probably be Dez Bryant.

NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional reaction to a sporting even you’ve had that wasn’t auto racing?

Reed: It’s definitely going to be the Dallas Cowboys. I was pretty upset when they lost their playoff game last year, but I think when the whole, was it a catch, was it not a catch (against Green Bay in 2015) I was pretty fired up on that one. … I’m just over the Cowboys playing Green Bay in the playoffs. That just doesn’t need to happen anymore.

Previous Xfinity Q&A’s

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

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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.