Ryan Sieg is getting out of his comfort zone after years in the Xfinity Series

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During the final 10 laps of last weekend’s Xfinity Series race, Ryan Sieg was slightly confused.

“We’re not at Daytona and we’re running second!” Sieg thought to himself.

While Sieg was “in shock,” he was in fact second as the laps wound down on the race at Iowa Speedway.

“It was a surprise to be running second at Iowa where you have to have everything resource-wise and car-wise … you have to have the best of everything,” Sieg told NBC Sports.

Ryan Sieg drives his No. 39 Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway (Getty Images).

His No. 39 Chevrolet trailed JR Motorsports’ No. 9 Chevy driven by 19-year-old Wiliam Byron and was ahead of 21-year-old Tyler Reddick in the No. 42 Chevy owned by Chip Ganassi Racing.

Pit strategy and a late caution had put Sieg and a handful of other smaller teams used to mid-pack racing in contention at the front.

The 30-year-old Sieg – a veteran of 116 Xfinity races – had a chance for one of his best finishes in the series.

“I was kind of out of it,” Sieg said. “There was just too many laps left to tussle with (Byron) and I didn’t want (Reddick) to get by. Tried to get the best restart I could without getting into (Byron). If there was less laps, it might have been a different story. But with 10 to go, there was probably not much I could do, just try to get a good restart and try to hang with him as long as I could and hopefully something could happen to him.”

Byron eventually slipped away, leaving Sieg to duel with Reddick right up to the last turn.

Sieg crossed the line second for his career-best NASCAR finish. He’d never placed better than eighth in a non-restrictor plate Xfinity race. It was only his third top five in his national NASCAR career, which includes 106 Camping World Truck Series races from 2008-2015.

Weeks before his career moment, BK Racing owner Ron Devine was insistent that Sieg drive one of his Cup cars. But the prospect of making his debut in NASCAR’s premier series wasn’t one Sieg was too hot on.

“He kept asking and we kept saying, ‘yeah, nah,’ I wasn’t sure I really wanted to do it,” Sieg said. “I didn’t know how tough it was and wasn’t too sure about how I would perform. I didn’t want to go over there and be multiple laps down. You know what I mean? It just didn’t seem very fun. … You’ve got have everything.”

Sieg has been comfortable getting by without everything so far in his NASCAR career. RSS Racing’s No. 39 car, owned by Rod Sieg, is worked on by less than six full-time crew members. The team’s shop is based in Tucker, Georgia, Sieg’s hometown and a community in the metro Atlanta area of roughly 35,000 people that only became an official town two years ago.

It’s just over 230 miles away from NASCAR’s epicenter in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Sieg is comfortable with the distance.

“The guys I worked with told me there’s no point in moving up there,” Sieg said. “It’s more expensive up there, it’s harder to keep people up there because I think people back in the day were switching teams and they’d just leave and go here or there.”

The distance has worked out so far. Last season, Sieg and his team qualified for the inaugural Xfinity playoffs and finished ninth in the standings.

Devine’s persistence finally worked out. Sieg agreed to drive BK Racing’s No. 83 Toyota at Dover International Speedway. Sieg’s decision was based on the track, which aligns with what he’s had to work with in his career so far.

“You don’t have to have all the best things to go to Dover,” Sieg said. “You don’t need a whole bunch of motor. You can kind of get way with having less motor there and get a decent run. … I finally decided to go over there and do it.”

Though he finished six laps down, Sieg started 34th and placed 26th at the “Monster Mile.”

“I just didn’t want to make a mistake or have anything happen,” Sieg said. “Little things … you don’t want to mess up your first time out there. That was about it. Once I got used to it, it was pretty fun. I figured out about halfway through the race kind of how it needs to drive.”

Sieg got another chance two weeks later at Michigan, where he took BK Racing’s No. 23 Toyota to a 33rd-place finish.

Now a week after the biggest night of his career and a few days of celebration on the beach, Sieg will get his third weekend of double duty at Daytona International Speedway (Friday night on NBCSN). It’s a track that has been a destination for his family for many years.

“Probably been coming down here each July since I was a baby because my grandpa and his brothers would go down to the July Daytona race,” Sieg said. “They would always come down here … since they probably raced on the beach, that’s how long they’ve been coming.”

If things work out, his family will get two chances to see Sieg to accomplish what he did in Iowa.

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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

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Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

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The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

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Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

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Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.