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Xfinity Series Spotlight: A Q&A with Kyle Benjamin

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Kyle Benjamin, a first-generation racer,  doesn’t know whose idea it was to set him down the path of auto racing. But his earliest memory of visiting a track, a dirt track for go-karts, at the age of 5 is … distinct.

“I was so excited when I got to the track, I took off running and ran a lap around it,” Benjamin told NBC Sports. “When I finished my lap I puked. … I ran a lap around the track and puked everywhere. That’s probably my earliest memory of racing. I think it’s actually the first time I went to a track.”

Within 10 years, the native of Easley, South Carolina, would make history by becoming the youngest winner in the ARCA Racing Series, winning at Madison International Speedway in his sixth start with Venturini Motorsports.

“It was really cool, especially since you’re making the jump to a heavy car and you want to perform in a heavy car because that’s what you’re going to be in if you continue to move up the ladder,” Benjamin said.

He has continued to master “heavy cars,” winning five K&N Pro Series East races in the last three years. That resulted in a five-race deal to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series this year.

In his first two races, Benjamin qualified on the front row, including his first career pole last weekend at Pocono Raceway. He’ll be back next weekend at Iowa Speedway driving JGR’s No. 18 Toyota. Right now, Benjamin is only scheduled to compete in less than 10 races all year, including this weekend’s ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway.

“My off-time in the summer time is just doing some summer classes and doing some school. That’s pretty much it,” Benjamin said. “There’s not a whole lot in-between, which is why I’d like to be racing. I like to be at the track. It’s tough this year because I’m used to racing about 30-something races a year and I’m down to I think eight total or seven total. It’s been kind of tough.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

 Kyle Benjamin drives the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pocono Green 250 at Pocono Raceway. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: On your website, it says your hobby is collecting trophies. Where do you keep all your trophies?

Benjamin: I keep all the cool ones in the house, but there’s too many of those to keep them in the house so we gotta have to a storage facility for that one. But all the cool ones, the ones I really love, like the ARCA trophies and all the really big late model trophies, I keep in my house.

NBC Sports: Which trophy means the most to you?

Benjamin: The coolest trophy I have has to be the Dover trophy in K&N. The Monster Mile. You can’t beat Miles. Probably the coolest trophy in NASCAR, for sure.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Benjamin: That’s a tough one. One thing I’ve wanted to do is go skydiving. That’s probably on my bucket list. It’s one the things I think is on most people’s bucket lists, but I think it would be a really cool thing to do.

NBC Sports: Is driving at 180 mph not enough for you?

Benjamin: I guess not. You’re probably falling at 180 mph, too, out of an airplane I guess it would be kind of similar. It would be a really neat feeling to go experience that and also have bragging rights to say you’ve done it.

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

Benjamin: That’s an even tougher one. Let me think for a second … It would have to be something funny, which is a problem. Probably “Another One Bites the Dust” (by Queen). That’s the only one I can think of that would be a funny one to play.

 

NBC Sports: What was the last song you got stuck in your head?

Benjamin: You’re going to laugh, but it’s actually a Katie Perry song. Me and my sister got it stuck in our head probably a week ago. I was singing it non-stop. I think it was “Roar” by Katie Perry. It’s funny when you get it stuck in your head. I would never just listen to that song, but it was stuck in my head for a week. It’s such an off-the-wall song.

NBC Sports: What’s the coolest merchandise you could imagine seeing your name or face on?

Benjamin: Someone having a tattoo with my face or name on it would be cool. That’s what I want to see. That would be cool. People do it, it’s amazing, but people do it.

NBC Sports: If you could add a track to your Xfinity schedule, what would it be?

Benjamin: I’d probably add Bristol, that’s probably one of my favorite tracks. Either that or Dover. Between those two, probably Bristol because you can’t beat that place. It’s such a cool place as far as the size and how fast you run around that place. It’s a different track and it’s also not a track you have to deal with the aero on, which is what I like about it too.

NBC Sports: You’re from Easley, South Carolina. What’s the coolest thing about Easley?

Benjamin: Probably Clemson right now. I know it’s not in Easley, but it’s so close to Easley. It’s about five minutes away. It’s right next to it, so I kind of include that. But it’s pretty cool to have a (college football) national championship team here right by your house.

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

Benjamin: Probably the first (Clemson) loss to Alabama (in 2016 national title football game), that was pretty tough. I thought we had that game won. I was on the edge of my seat the whole game and I couldn’t believe how that thing ended.

Kyle Benjamin celebrating his win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 at Greenville Pickens Speedway on April 8, 2017. (Getty Images).

NBC Sports: So you had more of an emotional reaction to Clemson losing the national championship than winning it?

Benjamin: Yeah, probably because I really thought that we had it. The whole game I thought we had them beat. I forget exactly how we did it, but we gave up a big play that allowed them to win the game. It was a heartbreak because at halftime I thought we had it and it wasn’t long after that that we lost it, so I was kind of emotional.

NBC Sports: If you have a day without any racing or family obligations, how do you spend you day?

Benjamin: If it was in the winter time, at the beginning of the race season, I’d probably be snowboarding. If it was in the summer time, I’d be mountain biking for sure.

NBC Sports: What’s your best snowboarding story?

Benjamin: Probably the time I almost broke my legs. I just started, I wasn’t really ready to hit it. My friend talked me into it. I don’t really know how to describe what I jumped. I guess you could call it a box jump or a pipe jump. But I hit that thing, I didn’t know what I was doing. I probably sailed 20 feet past the landing, way up in the air. … I thought I was going to break my legs, I don’t know how I didn’t. I must have landed perfectly, cause I was so high in the air it should have hurt something, but I got lucky on that deal.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

Matt Tifft

Tyler Reddick

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Preliminary entry lists for Sonoma, Gateway

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This weekend sees the NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series in action, with Cup competing at Sonoma Raceway in California and the Trucks at Gateway Motorsports Park just outside St. Louis.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races.

Cup – Toyota/Save Mart 350

There are 39 entries.

Trevor Bayne will make his first start in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford since the May 6 race at Dover.

Tomy Drissi is entered in StarCom Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet. It will be his fifth career Cup start and his fourth at Sonoma.

NBC Sports analyst Parker Kligerman will make his second start this season in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota.

Last year, Kevin Harvick won this race over Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski for his first Cup win at Sonoma.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200

There are 34 entries for the race.

There is no driver attached to the No. 50 Chevrolet for Beaver Motorsports.

John Hunter Nemechek won this race last year over Chase Briscoe and Johnny Sauter for his second win in a row.

Click here for the entry list.

Road course racing about being ‘accurate’, ‘smooth’ and not breaking anything

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For the first time this season, the Cup Series will have to turn left and right this weekend.

The circuit heads to the West Coast, where the 12-turn, 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway awaits.

After 15 races on ovals of varying designs, drivers will have to brush up on skills they mastered in other racing disciplines or skills they’re just now developing.

“My focus when I go to road courses is to not wheel hop, not spin out, not break anything,” Kyle Larson told NBC Sports. “But I seem to always do those things when I go there.”

Larson has only one top-10 finish (fourth at Watkins Glen in 2014) in four starts at each track.

“I never had any road course experience growing up, you know?” Larson said. “All my stuff was on dirt tracks and ovals, which was totally opposite, but in a way, those stock cars on a road course feel more similar to a sprint car on a dirt track to me than anything. … I feel like at road courses I can kind of feel the car a little bit better. I always qualify well at them. I don’t really race great for whatever reason.”

How do drivers get themselves in the mindset to turn right for the first time in a season?

Thanks to limits on testing, teams can use simulators and road course schools to give their drivers a boost.

That helps drivers like Bubba Wallace, who will make his Sonoma debut this weekend, and Alex Bowman, who makes his first road course start of any kind in Cup since 2015.

“I want to do everything I possibly can,” Bowman told NBC Sports. “So simulator, road course school, whatever I can get my hands on to be better.”

Bowman’s start will also come in an appropriate car.

“I’m excited to go road racing in a Hendricks Motorsports car,” Bowman said. “It’s going to be different. Last time I went road racing (with Tommy Baldwin Racing) we raced a superspeedway car. So it should be quite a bit of fun. A little bit more fun than that was.”

Wallace last competed on a road course in 2016 in the Xfinity Series at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio.

“I think the simulator will do,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “The simulator is good for putting the corners together. It is so hard to translate speed from a simulator, but then when we go to the actual road course for driving school the cars aren’t the same, the speeds aren’t the same so that is kind of tough as well.”

Fellow rookie William Byron will also make his first Cup start on a road course. In his championship campaign last season in Xfinity, Byron had finishes of 10th (Watkins Glen), 25th (wreck at Mid-Ohio) and sixth (Road America).

“I think road courses, you just try to be as accurate as you can,” Byron told NBC Sports. “It’s obviously a different skill set than it takes for an oval. So you have to adapt, and kind of grow your style at those places, but you don’t get to do it a lot. So I think the biggest thing there is being able to get through the gears and downshifts and everything successfully.”

What about veteran drivers who have already experienced the twist and turns and elevation changes at Sonoma?

Daniel Suarez, who will make his second Sonoma start in Cup, relies on his experiences from racing go-karts.

“One of the main things for me to think about was to be smooth and slow to actually (being) fast on the clock,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “That’s something very important. Sometimes you want to rush everything and to try to make things happen very quick and that’s when the car can do many things at the same time so you have to be smooth, aggressive, but everything at the right time so you can make some speed.”
Suarez and Bowman will get a little more track time this weekend. In addition to Aric Almirola and Erik Jones, they are entered into the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma. Suarez competed in the race last year.

After Sonoma, Cup will race at Watkins Glen on Aug. 5 and then it will hold its inaugural race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course on Sept. 30.

But three road courses isn’t enough for Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard, who has one top five at Sonoma and an Xfinity win at Road America.

“I don’t think we have enough of them on our schedule,” Menard told NBC Sports. “The whole thing with road racing is you … have these braking zones and you have these points and you always try to push it to get a little bit more in a braking zone, try to get back to the gas sooner all the while trying to be smooth so you are not abusing your tires, your brakes, your transmission.

“It definitely puts it in the driver’s hands a little bit more which is cool for us.”

Results, Xfinity point standings after Iowa

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Justin Allgaier had a career day, leading 182 laps and sweeping all three stages in his win at Iowa Speedway.

The JR Motorsports driver claimed his seventh career Xfinity win.

Allgaier was followed by Christopher Bell, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Brandon Jones.

Click here for results.

Points

After his second straight finish of 28th or worse, Elliott Sadler‘s point lead after 14 races is down to a four-point advantage over Custer.

The top five is completed by Hemric (-7 points), Tyler Reddick (-31) and Bell (-3).

After his win Sunday, Allgaier is sixth in the standings, 51 points back from his JR Motorsports teammate.

Click here for the full standings.

Justin Allgaier dominates in Xfinity win at Iowa Speedway

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Justin Allgaier fended off Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell to win Sunday’s Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway.

Allgaier held Bell and the rest of the field at bay in a 12-lap shootout to capture his second win of the year.

The top five was completed by Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Brandon Jones.

Allgaier led a career-high 182 laps and swept every stage.

“We had a great car today, these guys did a fantastic job,” Allgaier told Fox Sports 1.

The JR Motorsports driver took the lead for the first time with two laps to go in Stage 1 when he passed pole-sitter Austin Cindric.

The win qualifies Allgaier for the playoffs. His first win at Dover was disqualified toward playoff contention after his car failed post-race inspection.

Bell placed second after starting from the rear. His car failed to get through qualifying inspection, resulting in him not making a qualifying attempt.

“Man, I just needed to be in front of (Allgaier)” Bell told FS1. “It was really good on the bottom in both corners. I just didn’t have enough to clear him.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

MORE: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Christopher Bell earned his fourth top-two finish of the season … Daniel Hemric claimed his fourth top-three finish in the last five races … Riley Herbst placed sixth in his series debut … Justin Haley placed 12th in his debut … Kaz Grala placed 10th for his second top 10 in four starts for Fury Race Cars … Ty Majeski finished seventh, giving Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 team its first top 10 of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Elliott Sadler cut a tire and got into the wall late in Stage 1. He finished 28th for his second straight finish outside the top 25. He had finished in the top 10 in the first 12 races … Brandon Hightower wrecked with 17 laps to go to set up the final restart. He finished 30th.

WHAT’S NEXT: Overton’s 300 at Chicagoland Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on June 30 on NBCSN