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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Spencer Gallagher doesn’t hold back with what he says

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Spencer Gallagher‘s earliest NASCAR memory is one of “shock and awe.”

As an 8-year-old, Gallagher stood near the start-finish line as the green flag dropped during a race at his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I could not believe what transpired before me,” Gallagher told NBC Sports of the moment the field roared by. “That is still one of my favorite sounds to this day, those things sounding like F1 cars made by Satan.”

A few years later, Gallagher got the final push to getting in a car himself after witnessing a Legends race at the road course outside LVMS.

“I thought to myself, ‘My God, that is the angriest swarm of bees I’ve ever seen,'” Gallagher said. “I kind of got hooked from there. I thought it looked really cool and I wanted to try it. … I was terrible for a good while, but eventually I got pretty decent at it and that kind of kicked off the saga of me.”

Gallagher’s saga carried him through the ARCA Racing Series, where he won his 51st and last start in 2014 at Kansas Speedway before he and his families’ team, GMS Racing, transitioned full-time to Camping World Truck Series in 2015.

Now Gallagher is 27-year-old rookie in the Xfinity Series, driving the No. 23 for GMS Racing.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What was your ‘Welcome to the Xfinity Series moment’?

Gallagher: I think the big welcome to the Xfinity Series moment is when you’re just racing your ass off, you are driving as fast as you possibly can and you remember that this is for 15th. This is really stepping into the bottom echelon of what I consider to be really big-time American stock car racing.

The Truck series is incredible competitive, but you go up to the Xfinity Series and it’s competitive in a different sense of the word. It’s no longer Christopher Bell and the (Kyle Busch Motorsports) No. 4. No, no. That’s Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs Racing Camry, right there. You are officially in the deep end of the pool and with that comes a great deal of challenge.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Gallagher: I think it was actually, I’m probably going to get crucified for this since I’m a Chevrolet driver, it was actually a Prius. I got my mom’s used Prius in high school and I remember distinctly making extensive use of the brake mode feature to get into some corner and roundabouts going to high school around Vegas.

NBC Sports: The what feature?

Gallagher: It is a regenerative braking mode where when you put it in it’s like drive, but when you roll off the gas the electric motors get really aggressive about braking for you and trying to recoup some energy. So what that means if you wanted to be a hooligan, you could drive it off in the corner on the braking mode and the second you lift off the gas it is planting itself on those front tires and it will cut. So many a misadventure was had in that Prius.

NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup Series night race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?

Gallagher: I think you have to go with the classic, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” … I tell people that is actually how you know as a race car driver you’ve reached 200 mph despite not having a speedometer in the car. “Danger Zone” just automatically starts playing in your head. You ask anybody that, if they deny it, they’re lying.

NBC Sports: What’s the best criticism you’ve received over the course of your career?

Gallagher: I remember one of my first crew chiefs, he told me, ‘At the very least I don’t have to light a fire under your ass to get you to go. It’s slowing you down more than anything.’ I took that as a high compliment. If you got to pick one attribute to have in a race car driver I would think having to put a leash on them is probably a little better than having to light a fire under ’em.

NBC Sports: During the media tour back in January was really the first time I’d ever been exposed to you for an extended period of time.

Gallagher: Oh, I’m sorry.

NBC Sports: That’s OK. It was very obvious and clear you’re very comfortable with yourself. You’re very extroverted. Has that always been the case for you?

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Gallagher: You know, I’d like to believe I’ve been confident in who I am and what I am for a while. I sort of learned when I was young that this is kind of the only go around you get so you may as well love yourself while you’re doing it. I’ve always believed very firmly in the idea of knowing myself. I know myself. I know who I am, what I am and where I want to be. That’s something that’s always given me confidence. As far as the extrovert thing. I tell people I’m an introvert that learned to become an extrovert.

In my early days I wasn’t like this, but when I found, especially NASCAR, when I started to interact with fans, I found the more I put myself out there and the bigger I let myself be the more they loved it. So give the people what they love. That’s kind of been my MO ever since. This is a sport that thrives on personalities. I think one of the chief criticisms you hear about drivers when they talk to someone or get in front of a camera, ‘He’s bland, he’s boring.’ There is no greater sin in an environment where you’re on TV than to be boring. I could do that. I could do that and go up and thank the sponsors, have a stone slab of a face and move on. I choose not too. Also, I think it’s a great waste of the potential of showing how you feel and showing that you love to do this every day.

NBC Sports: You see a lot of young drivers like having a personality on social media and in other environments. But once they are on pit road or in the garage with a camera or microphone in front of them, it’s one slate of emotions the entire time. Why do you think that is with this current generation of drivers?

Gallagher: That’s an interesting question. I think you could of course harken it back to the old idea, people get a camera stuck in their face and all of a sudden they become really cautious of themselves. I think that has a lot to do with it. Something I’ve observed in most people, you stick a camera in front of their face and they completely change. … Once they have a red light pointing at their face, they’re conscious of what they’re saying and you watch their personalities change. If there’s one thing I have to say I have a gift in life, I’ve never minded the camera. The camera don’t bug me. If anything, it encourages me. It hypes me up. I like to put on a good show and give them something to watch. I don’t think that’s a common instinct in people.

In drivers especially, drivers are in an odd position. They’re athletes that are simultaneously thrust into the position of being entertainers in a lot of respects. They don’t receive any training for that and in any other life they wouldn’t have been in any kind of entertainment because they don’t necessarily want the attention. You’re taking a subset of people who when they grow up and all their lives they were never necessarily wanting to be trained to be in front of a camera. Then you throw them in front of a camera. That doesn’t come naturally or off the cuff to a lot of people. For some reason, it does to me. … But that’s been me always. I’ve never minded public speaking. I was great in debate class. I don’t mind getting up in front of people and talking.

NBC Sports: Who was your favorite driver growing up?

Gallagher: I always liked Tony Stewart. For one simple reason. Something I always loved about Tony, whenever someone asked him a question, you never had to guess what Tony Stewart was thinking or feeling. You always knew exactly what was on his mind because he’d tell you. He wasn’t scared of it. I always admired and respected that.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Results, point standings after second Xfinity race at Kentucky

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Austin Cindric dominated to win Friday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway, leading 130 of 200 laps.

He completed a sweep of the series’ doubleheader races at the 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Ross Chastain and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the results.

Check back for the point standings.

Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton fight after Xfinity race

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Noah Gragson punched Harrison Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson and Burton were battling for fourth on Lap 188 of the 200-lap race when Gragson, on in the inside of Burton, drifted up the track into Burton’s car. Both cars hit the wall. There was no caution and both fell back. Gragson finished seventh. Burton finished 12th. Austin Cindric won for the second consecutive night.

FS1 cameras caught Burton and Gragson having a discussion after the race. The cameras caught Burton pushing Gragson away. They continued to talk when Burton shoved Gragson again and Gragson punched Burton. Crew members jumped in. NASCAR officials broke up the fight.

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports that series officials spoke with both drivers and that no penalties are anticipated.

Burton told FS1: “Just frustrated. That’s two times since we’ve come back after the COVID-19 pandemic on restarts, same situation. We rallied all night to get … (into) fourth place and (Gragson) happens to start in third and just, I don’t know, forgets what racetrack we’re at or what. Both times puts us in the fence, Charlotte and now here. I had a lot of people coming up to me afterwards saying that was a long time coming, so I guess that was a popular move. But honestly, it’s about these guys that work on these racecars and give me fast racecars.”

Gragson told FS1: “This track is so much about track position and restarts. … We’ll go on to Texas and rebound.”

FS1’s Jamie Little told Gragson that Burton noted their incident at Charlotte and asked if he saw what happened Friday coming: “Not really. We’re all racing hard. Us teammates are beating and banging for the finishes at the end and whatnot. I really don’t have a comment.”

Austin Cindric completes Xfinity sweep at Kentucky

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A night after claiming his first oval track win in NASCAR, Austin Cindric followed it up with a victory in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

The Team Penske driver completed a sweep of the series’ doubleheader races on the 1.5-mile track, dominating with a stage win and leading 130 of 200 laps.

Cindric crossed the finish line with a 2.2-second advantage over runner-up Chase Briscoe.

The top five was completed by Justin Haley, Ross Chastain and Justin Allgaier.

Unlike Thursday night, Cindric celebrated with a burnout on the frontstretch.

“I hope I laid enough rubber down to make up for Watkins Glen last year, that was pathetic,” Cindric told FS1. “I’m just so excited. … what we did tonight was really impressive. Because we ran one setup last night and won the race. We came with another setup and won the race again. That happens at the shop, that happens with the guys on the (pit box).”

Later in his press conference, Cindric said a change in setup was in part due to the tracks that are coming up, at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Obviously with mile-and-half-tracks being really important in the second round of our playoffs with Texas and Kansas, our next two races being Texas and Kansas, and the question of having practice or not is looming very big for me,” Cindric said. “Obviously, Phoenix (site of the championship race) is the most important race of the year, but you’ve got to get there first. I feel like those are two really important steps other than Martinsville to get there. So deciding on what we want to run at those race tracks given those characteristics and more … that’s why we decided to change the game tonight.”

After the race, Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson got into a scuffle. They had made contact on a restart with 13 laps to go. Gragson finished seventh and and Burton placed 12th.

STAGE 1: Noah Gragson

STAGE 2: Austin Cindric

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Chase Briscoe finished in the top two for the seventh time in 15 races this season … Justin Allgaier finished in the top five after he spent just 33 of 200 laps on the lead lap after a flat tire brought him to pit road early in the race and put him a lap down … Ross Chastain placed fourth for his 13th top-10 finish of 2020, most of all drivers.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ryan Sieg spun in Turn 2 on Lap 3. He finished 35th … Riley Herbst finished 10th after he was caught speeding on pit road with 52 laps to go … Brandon Jones spun and wrecked with 22 laps to go while racing for second with Daniel Hemric. It’s his fourth consecutive DNF.

NOTABLE: Cindric is the first driver since Richard Petty in July 1971 in Cup to win races in the same series in consecutive days.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Texas Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. ET July 18 on NBCSN

NASCAR to teams: Address ‘complacency’ to COVID-19 mask protocols

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NASCAR sent a memo to teams earlier this week advising them to address “pockets of complacency” toward its COVID-19 mask protocols.

The memo was first reported by WCNC, NBC’s Charlotte affiliate.

In the memo, NASCAR said it was “seeing more and more van loads of crew members rolling up to the track without masks on, and people wearing their mask down around their chin.”

The memo stated that further flouting of the protocols “will threaten our ability to continue racing.”

“More people in our industry are going to contract the virus,” the memo added. “The key is limiting it.”

“It is important for everyone to do their part ALL THE TIME. One cluster outbreak can derail our season.”

In May, NASCAR issued a bulletin stating failure to comply with COVID-19 rules could result in a $50,000 fine.

The memo comes after seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 last week, forcing him to miss the Brickyard 400. Earlier this week Johnson had two negative tests, allowing him to be cleared for Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Previously, Stewart-Haas Racing had two employees test positive for virus and Team Penske had one employee test positive.

In North Carolina, where most NASCAR teams are based, the state now has 81,000 cases and it has reached 1,000 hospitalizations for the first time.

The Cup Series is scheduled to hold its All-Star Race on Wednesday at Bristol Motor Speedway in Northeast Tennessee. Tennessee has just over 59,000 confirmed cases and has had 86 deaths since Sunday, a single-week record.

NASCAR is scheduled to compete next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Texas has more than 235,000 cases and almost 3,000 deaths. On Thursday, it recorded 10,000 new daily cases for the second time.