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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.

https://youtu.be/1khK6is-Bfs?t=1m11s

Previous Xfinity Q&A’s

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Darrell Wallace Jr.

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John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
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One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

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Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
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Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

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UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
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UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.