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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

What drivers said after Coca-Cola 600

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Kyle Busch – Winner: “It’s awesome. I mean I’ve dreamt of that – not only winning here and winning the Coke 600 as a kid and being in victory lane here for this race, but to just be a force that people got to be reckoned with, you know. I go across the country and race Super Late Models because I want to win at every single race track. I just want to show that there is no weakness. My guys have given me that chance here tonight and being able to get to victory lane with this M&M’s Toyota – it sure looks pretty in victory lane here tonight. I definitely want to give a shoutout to all of our men and women, all the service men and women across the world past and present, fallen and of today’s heroes – we had (SGT) Eric Toth with us here and his family riding along with us this weekend, so that was a pleasure. Got to meet up with them earlier and spend some time, so that was really cool.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 2nd: “I mean we definitely gained some ground that last run, but I think (Busch) might have just been taking care of it. Just definitely just a battle-back night for us. The speeding penalty and then the pit road penalty right after that in just two stops. It really hurt us and it’s hard to pass – hard to come from behind with these cars right now with the flat splitters and everything they’ve done to them the past month and a half or so. It was good to be able to get back up to second. I thought we had the second-best car all night. I don’t think anybody had anything for that 18. He was stout. We gained a little on him that last run under green, but like I said, I think he was just taking care of it a little bit.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 3rd: “We’re third or fourth best every week.  That’s frustrating.  But it could be 35 spots worse.  We’ve just got to ‑‑ we just need two or three tenths a lap.  It seems like that’s kind of what I’m off, and I just can’t get the speed out of the car.  I was just handling a certain way, and it’s just a razor’s edge for us.  We’re either really good or we’re average at best.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 4th: “I thought the 78 (Truex) was really strong, him and the 18 (Busch) were probably pretty close. I don’t know, he had some kind of issues that kept holding him back, but they were just in another league. I ran as hard as I could tonight and the team did a great job the last few stops to put us in a position and that was just kind of what we had. We’ll go back to the drawing board and try to find some more speed. If we keep this execution that we had tonight, then we’ll get some wins, but we’ve got to have more speed.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 5th: “It feels good, but damn I want to win. I’m tired of running fifth, I’m tired of running whatever it is. We got off on some adjustments today and it was amazing how sensitive the car was with some minor adjustments the car just lost half a second. We had a hard time trying to grasp it and understand it and communicate about it. We put it back to the way it was and it took off and I drove right back up into the top three. Just a very small sweet spot with the car. Luckily, we finished in that sweet spot and got a good finish out of it, including a spin and we had a jack break on a stop. We had to overcome a lot tonight. Really proud of these guys. Wish that I could have got this special paint scheme into Victory Lane with the soldier we were carrying on the car today.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 6th: “Yeah, I don’t know what was wrong with the tires we had two sets that they felt loose like it shook so bad that I pitted that one time under green and then we had a real short run and I had to pit again. I was just positive they were loose, but they said there was nothing wrong, but it was shaking so bad I mean I was scared so I went ahead and pitted. But, we had a really good car and we’ve come a long way, especially the Chevy’s from the beginning of the year 1.5-miles. I think in less than a month we will contend to win. That is a good feeling.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 7th: “I’m bummed I gave up some track position when I got into the wall, but I was glad to see our team stay with it and come back for a top-10 finish tonight. Our DC Solar Chevy was pretty good all night, but we had to adjust on it throughout the race to stay ahead of some vibrations in the rear of the car. We had a shake to start the race, and I think that’s what upset me when I got into the wall, but we were able to work around it. This hasn’t been a great race for me, so glad to see us come away with a good finish tonight.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 8th: “We just didn’t do anything spectacular tonight. We had one really good restart, but we were positioned for restarting fourth. We struggled on pit stops the first half of the race, but the second half they cleaned them up and we kept up with the track as best we could. We just didn’t have any short-run speed that was stellar. We didn’t have any long-run speed that was stellar. We kind of just did everything as a top 10 team would do and I’m glad we put the Haas Automation Ford in eighth. We’ll have to keep fighting.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 9th: “Yeah, for sure, to qualify 27th and finish ninth it was definitely a good night. I feel like it was way more pit crew than anything. My pit crew they killed it on pit road all night. They did a great job and got us a couple of spots on that last green flag stop. Extremely proud of those guys. Greg (Ives, crew chief) made good calls from on top of the box and our car was much better than it had been all week. Happy for that. I really like this place, so hopefully when… well I guess we are coming back to the ROVAL, so it doesn’t really matter, but hopefully next year we run a little better here.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 10th: “I’m real happy. I think we were a little concerned, even though the package wasn’t the same as the All-Star Race, I feel like we made some gains for the 1.5-mile program this year. I felt like this is about where we were last year at this time, so for us to start the year off from where we did last year, I feel good that we’re headed in the right direction. It’s never as fast as you want. It was a tough battle for us out there. We were really good the first two stages and made an adjustment and was off for two runs – a full stage and had to fight back to get that track position. All in all, it was a good day to come back.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 11th: “Thought we were better than we have been lately, which is nice. I just hit the wall towards the end and it ended up costing us, I think, the finish we deserved.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 12th: “It’s frustrating. You come here and it’s a long race, and what a weird race. It was like we had track position and cars were way back and laps down and then all the wrecks opened the door for them to get the laps back. Then we lost track position on tires there and kind of halfway got it back, but it was just a frustrating weekend altogether, really.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 13th: “We just missed it. The first half of the race was pretty good for us and then we missed an opportunity to pit there when we kind of stayed out on older tires and we were one of the last couple cars on old tires, and we went from running in the top five or six to finishing that third stage in 17th and then that’s kind of the end of the night. That last run went green, so I hate it. We had extra tires laying in the pits, but they didn’t do us any good.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 15th: “It was a decent finish with our Interstate Batteries Camry. The guys did a good job working on the racecar, but the car didn’t have a lot of speed. We had a 14th- or 15th-place car at times. We had issues with a vibration and lost two laps, but we were able to overcome that, but it took us a long time because we didn’t have a lot of speed. We have to go back home, work hard and try to get better and see what happens at Pocono.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 21st: “I’ve been telling everyone all season that we’re constantly growing and improving as a race team, and we certainly showed everyone that this weekend. We had speed on Thursday and had our best qualifying effort of the year. We worked hard in practice on Saturday and felt really good about our chances in the race. There were definitely challenges throughout the night, but it was a good race for us in comparison to other mile and a half tracks we have run this year. I ran on the lead lap for most of the night, even battling back to get our lap back in Stage 3, and our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 had a pretty good balance under the lights. There is obviously still more work to be done, but we’re going to keep digging and getting stronger every week.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 36th: “We had a cylinder let go maybe around lap 150 and we were just trying to limp it home. When they go that early you don’t expect it to last all race, but it lasted a lot longer than I thought and then it finally let go into one there. That stinks. I thought we had a really good car. I would have liked to see how the race would have progressed for us, but we won’t see that anymore. Hopefully, we can go out and have a good run at Pocono and then at Michigan.

William Byron – Finished 39th: “We just were really loose and just trying to make the top work. I just got loose, the car came around and hit the wall and then we had a bunch of damage. It started rubbing on the tire and then it wasn’t rubbing on the tire, it was cleared, but it just felt like something broke going into (Turn) 3 and we just hit the wall again and then we had an electrical issue. Unfortunate, but we will go to Pocono and figure it out there.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 40th: “We stood in the garage and looked at it and I can’t tell if we ran something over. There’s enough things that could have happened right there, but I’m just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1/Busch Ford. The car was really, really fast. We came all the way through the pack and made it up into the top three there and sometimes those things happen. I can’t complain about anything that’s happened this year. We have to take the good with the bad. The guys did a great job in basically guessing at where the car needed to be today with all the penalties, no practice and starting in the back. To come out and have the fastest car again was quite an honor to drive and they’re doing a great job. It was just bad luck.”

Martin Truex Jr. charges to second place in Coke 600 despite pit issues

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CONCORD, N.C. — The only reason Martin Truex Jr. didn’t get a shot at celebrating his second Coca-Cola 600 win was because the guy who finished in front of him – Kyle Busch – was “flawless.”

That’s how Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, described Busch’s night.

Truex’s 600 miles were anything but.

The No. 78 Toyota finished second in Sunday night’s race despite qualifying 15th and suffering consecutive pit road penalties, for speeding on Lap 203 and an uncontrolled tire on Lap 227.

The speeding penalty came after Truex entered and exited the pits in second.

Then there was the pit guns.

Pearn told NBC Sports the team went through three pit guns during the 400-lap race. One mishap resulted in the second penalty.

“The gun screwed up on the right rear and the front (tire) changer left and left the tire sitting there, cause usually the rear carrier comes to get it,” Pearn said. “But we went through three guns tonight … The whole reason we got the uncontrolled tire was cause the gun screwed up.”

Truex said the pit gun problem was “one of those freak things” where it reversed on the changer as he was hitting the fifth lug nut and he had to manually switch it back.

The No. 78 also had one unsecured lug nut following the race.

Even with the issues, Truex said it was a “solid day overall” for his team, which earned its third consecutive top five.

As for the speeding penalty?

“I can’t wait to see the time,” Truex said. “It couldn’t have been much. But I just hit some of those bumps a little bit wrong and got going a little too fast and tapped the brake just a split second too late. I typically don’t get a lot of speeding penalties, so Cole won’t ride my butt too hard this week about it.”

Truex said his team “cleaned it up well” after that.

The final restart came with 93 laps to go and Truex restarting eighth. With 55 to go he was in second, but lost multiple spots during green flag stops.

But he was back in second with 34 to go.

That’s when Pearn and his team started “praying” for a restart.

“I thought we were really equal to them the last few runs of the race,” Pearn said. “It was just a matter of track position and chasing from behind.”

Two years after Truex led 392 laps to capture his Coke 600 win, Busch led 377 while sweeping all four stages.

It was also the first time Truex hadn’t led a lap in the race since 2014.

“At the end of the day, we ran second,” Truex said. “He kicked everybody’s tail. That’s just the way it goes.”

Points after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch padded his NASCAR Cup points lead by winning all three stages of the Coca-Cola 600 and the race.

Busch added eight playoff points to his total as a result of this performance and now has 25 playoff points to Kevin Harvick‘s 24.

Joey Logano is second in the standings – 67 points behind Busch.

The battle for the final transfer position into the playoffs got even tighter as Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have 296 points apiece. Elliott finished 11th in the Coke 600; Stenhouse finished 10th.

Click here for the full points report.

Results, stats for Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch dominated the Coca-Cola 600 and became the first driver in NASCAR history to win on every track where he has competed.

Busch won all three stages and paced the field for 377 of the 400 laps.

Martin Truex, Jr. finished second and was able to close the distance slightly during the final stage as Busch seemingly managed the gap between the two.

Denny Hamlin finished third to score his third consecutive top five at this track and his 14th top 10 in the last 16 Charlotte races.

Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.

This was the second top five earned by Johnson this season.

Click here for full results.