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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

Roger Penske was ready for his close-up in popular commercial

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MONTEREY, California – Roger Penske is the only team owner in auto racing history who has 18 “Baby Borg” Trophies in his possession for his team’s record 18 wins in the Indianapolis 500.

Perhaps his next trophy should be an Emmy.

Penske took part in a commercial along with 103rd Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and one of his NASCAR Cup drivers, Ryan Blaney. The commercial was shot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 7 while NASCAR was in town for the Brickyard 400.

The premise of the commercials is a takeoff on the 2006 comedy, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” with Blaney playing the Ricky Bobby role and Pagenaud playing the Jean Girard role.

The commercial was shot by NBC to promote its coverage of the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and concludes with Penske stepping in between the two drivers, demanding them to, “Go out there and win races.”

Penske delivered the line perfectly and in just three takes.

“It took me about five minutes,” Penske told NBCSports.com. “They made it very easy for me. We let the guys do all of the hard work. It was fun for me to do. I saw it, and I didn’t make a fool out of myself.

“I’m ready for the next commercial.”

Penske’s ability to deliver his lines perfectly impressed NBC Sports Group President of Programing Jon Miller.

“I assume he’s got his SAG card,” Miller told NBCSports.com. “He has certainly been in front of the camera enough, and he’s quite an ambassador for the sport, so we were not at all surprised by that.”

NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood was also highly impressed with Penske’s ability to turn into an actor in front of the camera.

“We were thrilled that he agreed to do it,” Flood told NBC Sports.com. “It’s one of those special things and the kind of guy he is to jump on board and make it even bigger because we had a ‘Plan B’ if Roger couldn’t do it, and when we got the confirmation, we knew we had something special that was going to happen.

“Roger Penske did the ad with two of his drivers that we shot at the Brickyard last week that got out there. A lot of fun, a lot of great response to it, and that’s things we couldn’t have done in the past. I think that’s part of us leaning in as NBC in trying to grow all of motorsports, and it’s important that every form of racing gets attention, and that’s what we’re pushing, as you know all too well.”

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, who will take a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi into Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix, also was complimentary of his team owner.

“Wow, I was impressed,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com. “First of all, how did they get him to do a cameo? That was cool. And he nailed it.

“The pressure on Simon and Blaney to nail it, after Roger does it in only three takes? Wow, the pressure was really on them to deliver their lines.”

Pagenaud thought Penske’s first take was the best.

“It didn’t take long for Roger to deliver his line, he was on top of it,” Pagenaud told NBCSports.com. “NBCSN was very excited about the idea. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles made sure we were able to get into Gasoline Alley early that day. It was the Saturday of the Brickyard 400 and it was early, but Roger was probably up since 2 a.m. I’m sure, so it wasn’t early for him.

“It was good, the script was fun and well done. I forced my French and Blaney being the perfect American NASCAR driver and Roger just being himself was just perfect. It shows personality between NASCAR and INDYCAR. NBC is doing such a great job showing both fans on both sides what is going in and it helps everybody get interested in both sports.”

Penske was asked if that is how he normally talks to his drivers in a prerace situation to fire them up.

“That’s not the normal, daily message, but that’s how it helped those two guys get going,” Penske said. “I think NBC has done a great job in all cases on IndyCar. The continuity of having the same partner has made a huge difference. The talent knows the drivers. They know the situation. Guys like Paul Tracy and the experience of Leigh Diffey and the whole group has done a great job.

“It’s about good racing. We have good teams. Lots of competition, new drivers and date equity. And it’s attracting young people.”

Penske believes the addition of NBC Sports to the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, including the season’s final race on the NBC, has been a big boost to the series.

“Any time you are on network is great,” Penske said. “It’s great for the sponsors, the notoriety for the team and the drivers is very important for all of us as we finish up the season. It’s going to be a great weekend, and I hope we can continue the movement we’ve had and the momentum we’ve had coming up to the last weekend.”

Richmond winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — It was a 1-2-3-4 finish until Erik Jones’ car failed inspection. Still the team scored a 1-2-3 finish and claimed its fourth consecutive win on a short track with Martin Truex Jr.’s triumph. Don’t forget, the organization also won Friday’s Xfinity race with Christopher Bell.

Ryan Newman His fifth-place finish tied his best result of the year and was his third consecutive top-10 showing. He was encouraged by the team running toward the front and noted: “You take away those four Gibbs cars, we were racing for the win. I know it doesn’t work that way, but if they would have had one bad meeting (incident) we would’ve been in the hunt.” Still, Newman moved into a transfer spot heading into this coming weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Brad KeselowskiHe finished fourth and was the only driver outside of Joe Gibbs Racing to lead Saturday’s race.

Bubba Wallace His 12th-place finish was his third top-15 result in the last five races. He had one top-15 finish in the first 23 races of the season.

Front Row Motorsports — All three of its cars placed 21st or better, the first time the team has accomplished that feat this season. David Ragan was 19th, rookie Matt Tifft placed 20th and Michael McDowell was 21st.

LOSERS

Erik Jones He was feeling good about his fourth-place finish that put him within three points of the final transfer spot to the next round only to later find out that his car was disqualified for failing inspection after the race. Now he’s 45 points out of the final transfer spot and is essentially in a must-win situation. He faces being eliminated from the first round of the playoffs for a second year in a row.

William Byron Got lapped in the final circuits before the end of each stage and also had a pit road speeding penalty. That led to a season-worst 25th-place finish. He holds the final transfer spot to the second round by two points on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman heading to the Roval.

Brad Keselowski bumped up to fourth, but JGR domination still ‘not good news’

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Brad Keselowski ended Saturday’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Richmond Raceway with what he thought was a fifth-place finish.

About an hour later though, Keselowski was moved up one position to fourth place after original fourth-place finisher Erik Jones was disqualified after his car failed post-race inspection.

Still, gaining one extra finishing position didn’t make the 2012 NASCAR Cup champion happy because of Joe Gibbs Racing’s domination in the second race of the playoffs – even with Jones’ DQ.

(How JGR finished is) definitely not good news,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got work to do. (JGR is) really strong and we’re not where we need to be to be able to beat them heads-up, but we threw everything we had at them.

We put down a great qualifying lap, got the first pit stall, had great pit stops and got to the lead, but just didn’t have the raw speed to keep it.”

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. completes Richmond sweep with playoff win

MORE: Results, points after 2nd race of Cup playoffs at Richmond

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ car for failing inspection

Keselowski tweeted a few hours after the race that he didn’t “take no pleasure & seek no treasure from another man’s loss,” referring to Jones’ DQ.


Even so, Keselowski took some consolation from his overall performance.

We led 80-some laps, so it’s not a bad day but just not nearly fast enough to dominate the race and win,” he said.

Keselowski mistakenly said in a post-race interview that he had joined Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in advancing to the Round of 12 two weeks from now due to his points in the standings.

Yeah, we’re locked into the next round,” Keselowski said. “That feels good. I’m proud of that effort.”

Actually, Keselowski left Richmond two points shy of being locked into the next playoff round. That will have to come next Sunday at Charlotte’s Roval.

There’s still work to do not only for Keselowski’s car, but also those of his teammates — Joey Logano finished 11th and Ryan Blaney 17th — to counter JGR’s domination.

But what exactly has to be done is a question mark, Keselowski said.

Honestly, I don’t know,” Keselowski said. “They’ve got all the secrets so we need to find some more secrets.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch sees progress in runner-up finish at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. — After his fiery comments last week led some to be critical of his attitude toward slower drivers, Kyle Busch was calmer after his runner-up performance to Martin Truex Jr. on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Busch led a race-high 202 of 400 laps but lost the lead to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate with 26 laps to go and had to settle for second place.

“We put up a valiant effort,” Busch said.

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ fourth-place finishing car

While his winless drought starched to 14 races, Busch noted that the performance was a step forward for the No. 18 Toyota team.

“I know we’re capable of it, the team is capable of it,” said Busch, who clinched a spot in the second round with his 54-point night. “Just stupid things have been biting us this year and we put it all together tonight. I didn’t speed on pit road, pit crew did a good job, our car was fast and we made the most of our effort.”

Whether it was Busch hitting the wall (or another car) at Las Vegas, an engine failure at Indianapolis, the pit crew losing the lead at Darlington or a speeding penalty at Watkins Glen (and hitting cars), Busch and the team have been off in recent races despite often having the speed to challenge for wins. In the process, Busch has lost the chance to collect many more playoff points.

He was strong enough Saturday night to win the second stage, giving him his third stage win in the last seven races.

But Busch didn’t have enough at the end to keep Truex behind him.

“We ran OK,” Busch said. “(Truex) could follow closer than I could, and he was better on the long run than I was. Why? Maybe I pushed my tires too hard there at the last stint at the beginning trying to stay ahead of (Denny Hamlin), which gave (Truex) the opportunity to kind of save his stuff and roll around and attack later.”