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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Dakoda Armstrong

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If anyone is a fan of the controversial overtime line rule in NASCAR, it’s Dakoda Armstrong.

If not for the rule that decides whether a caution ends a race, the 26-year-old driver might not have earned the best finish of his NASCAR career two weeks ago at Daytona International Speedway.

The JGL Racing driver was third, tucked in behind Elliott Sadler and William Byron on the final restart of the Firecracker 250. But his No. 28 Toyota had a problem. His right-front fender had collided with Ryan Reed in the multi-car crash that caused a red flag and setup the two-lap finish.

Dakoda Armstrong drives his No. 28 Toyota during practice at Daytona. (Getty Images).

“I thought our car was done,” Armstrong told NBC Sports. “I thought it destroyed it, but really all it did was push the front in and there was a little bit of drag on the right front so I was just hoping our car would hold on. … I couldn’t lift and I just had to drive through whatever happened.”

The eventual five-car wreck happened behind him, but the caution came out after Byron crossed the overtime line.

“The overtime line saved us cause our right front was actually chunked,” Armstrong said. “It had almost dragged apart. It wasn’t going to make it another lap.”

A veteran of 122 Xfinity starts, it was the New Castle, Indiana native’s third top five and his second in a row. At Iowa Speedway, he finished fifth behind the likes of Ryan Sieg in second and Ross Chastain in fourth. After a finish of 17th at Kentucky, Armstrong heads to New Hampshire ninth in the points standings.

It’s the best season to date for Armstrong, who grew up on a soybean and corn farm and has competed for Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and one race last year for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is good, it shows that we’re building and going in the right direction,” Armstrong said. “When we can run good at those other tracks, it doesn’t hurt us as bad when we finish 17th or 15th at a mile and a half, that’s still a good points day for us. That’s where it really helps in the long-term.”

This Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: What’s been your highest high and your lowest low of your career?

Armstrong: As great as these top fives have been I would say my highest high really wasn’t even in the sport of NASCAR. It was when I was first starting out just racing stock cars. It was actually in ARCA when I won at Talladega (in 2010). That just really gave me a boost of confidence and it was the first real big track I had been at and to win there was something that was crazy. I can still go back and watch it now even though it was seven years ago and I’m like ‘Man, that was a really cool race,’ even though it was in ARCA and the way those plate races play out, there’s something about them that’s hard to describe.

As far as lowest low, that’s tough, there’s been a time where I haven’t been running good before in the sport and money’s been tight and just thinking you’re not going to be back the next year and that happens to almost everybody. Just not giving up and going out there and competing each week kind of brings you back. That’s the one thing about this sport, you can have a really good week but then it restarts on Monday and you’re right back at it. It always resets it on the good and the bad.

 

NBC Sports: You’re going to be a birthday boy this weekend (July 16). How are you celebrating turning 26?

Armstrong: Honestly, I doubt we’ll do anything, really. Just kind of let it go. Let it be. Just another number at this point. It’ll be good. I’m sure my wife will do something. I’ve always had birthdays right in the middle of racing. I’ve had a lot of races where it’s been my birthday or my birthday week and we’re going racing. That’s probably the best thing, at least that’s still happening. That’s the best present I guess.

NBC Sports: What’s the best birthday gift you’ve ever gotten?

Armstrong: Easily when I turned 16 my dad bought me my first vehicle, that’s pretty hard to beat. It was actually a 2004 Avalanche. That was pretty awesome. I drove that thing for a long time.

Dakoda Armstrong drove a Davey Allison throwback paint scheme last year at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Is the Avalanche a proper vehicle for a 16-year-old?

Armstrong: Probably not. I was OK with it but it was a big vehicle. My dad likes to have things really nice so he had it detailed out with some extra covers and he actually put 22-inch rims on it. I was like ‘this doesn’t fit.’ It didn’t fit for a country boy from the middle of Indiana, we’ll say that. It was still a really cool car.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a race car or street car?

Armstrong: Other than numbers, I never have. Just never have gotten really that attached to any of them. There is a sprint car that we kept. We’ve never named it, but it was such bad luck for a while we wouldn’t even talk about it. Because every time it went out something would break on it. It was always the fastest thing there, no matter where we unloaded it was always the top five, top-three car. But every time in the race something would break. Even if we finished, the shock would be broke, we’d have a right front go down, just something crazy would go wrong with that thing. That was a car we’d never talk about. That was really our only superstition.

NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup Series race at Bristol, what would you choose as your intro song?

Armstrong: Oh man, that’s really tough. I’ve always thought about it. I kind of want to come down to the Hulk Hogan wrestling song he’s had, “The Real American.” There’s a lot to choose. I feel the way you come down the (driver entrance) the wrestling songs would be the best, because that’s exactly what they’re for and they always get people hyped. They still get me even though I don’t watch wrestling anymore. When I was a kid watching I thought that was awesome. I’d probably steal some wrestler’s song.

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

Armstrong: Me and my wife have been playing “Guitar Hero” a lot recently, so we were playing, I don’t know if you know “Through the Fire and Flames” but I had that stuck in my head because it’s one of the hardest songs on there and we do terrible on it. So we played it about 10 times in a row trying to get better so it was stuck in my head for a while.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing? And it can’t be sky diving.

Armstrong: Oh man, that was exactly where I was going to go with it. I have a huge fear of the ocean and sharks. I still want to kind of do cage diving with great whites even though I’m terrified of it. But the adrenaline from it would probably be crazy for me. I kind of want to do that in Australia or somewhere where they have a lot of great whites.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in a race?

Armstrong: Probably racing at Irwindale Speedway in California in our USAC midgets. I always felt that was the best track. I can’t remember what year it was but there was a race. I was really fast there for a while but my car fell off pretty bad, but it was still fun diving down, passing people running three wide. Every time I’ve went there the track’s been great. 

NBC Sports: Which phone app do you use the most that’s not social media?

Armstrong: Does YouTube count? I feel like I’m on YouTube 24/7. I like to hear what people have to say on different things, I actually watch a lot of YouTube as far as people reviewing stuff or just reading comments of different videos. I’m all over the place. I watch YouTube video for about anything you can think of. … Games or what people say about the election. I want to hear random people’s thoughts about it.

NBC Sports: If you could give any advice to Dakoda Armstrong from a year ago, what would it be?

Armstrong: Really, just not to worry. Just go out and do your job. I try not to worry every year. I’m just going to go out there and race. But whether it’s sponsor stuff, trying to get renewed or worrying about finishing or results, all that stuff just weighs down on you and actually really does hurt your performance. Even on the Cup side, I think that hurts a lot of people and they know it. Really just not worrying and trusting everything’s going to be all right and doing the best you can.

Previous Xfinity Series 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

Kyle Benjamin

Ty Majeski

Ryan Sieg

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Brendan Gaughan set for Daytona road course after COVID-19 recovery

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On July 15, part-time Cup Series driver Brendan Gaughan became the second NASCAR driver to announce he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

After quarantining for two weeks and testing negative for COVID-19 twice more than 24 hours apart, Gaughan has been medically cleared to go racing again.

And he won’t even have to wait until the Cup Series regular-season finale on Aug. 29 to do it.

Originally scheduled to only compete in the season’s four superspeedway races with Beard Motorsports, Gaughan will suit up to drive the No. 62 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

He joins Jimmie Johnson in having tested positive for COVID-19 and returned to race. While Gaughan last competed in the June 22 race at Talladega, Johnson only missed the Brickyard 400 before returning to the track.

“I feel fantastic,” Gaughan said in a press release. “I’m finally out of the house. The toughest part of the whole ordeal was the mental aspect. I truly feel for people who struggle with depression and have to deal with COVID-19, because this thing is tough. You literally get stuck in a location by yourself. Fortunately for me, I had my puppy. I missed my two children tremendously. But it’s amazing now because we live in the age of the Jetsons that we can pick up a phone and look at their faces.”

To get clearance to race, Gaughan tested twice for COVID-19 in more than 24 hours and also had to get a doctor’s note saying he was good to go.

“That was it,” Gaughan said. “As long as I’m negative, they are good with it. They still have their protocols in place, so when we get to the track we are all still separated. The drivers don’t get to mingle with the teams right now. NASCAR has done a phenomenal job with it and they have been able to stay open for business while having very, very minor effects from this.”

While he was originally just going to race at Talladega and the Daytona oval, Gaughan says this weekend’s road course race “technically counts.”

“We said all of the Daytona races,” Gaughan said. “What happened is that as soon as it got added to the schedule immediately my mind went, ‘Wow, I would love to race the Daytona road course.’ There’s very few of us Cup drivers that have experience on that race course. And with no practice and no qualifying, that gives about 10 of us a very large advantage over the field.”

Brendan Gaughan
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Gaughan competed on the road course and earned a class victory in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with his team beating second place by a full lap. He’s ran in the Rolex 24 twice since, finishing third in 2016 in the Prototype Challenge class and 14th in 2018 in the Prototype division.

“I was immediately enticed by it,” Gaughan said of the road course race. “Then you know how much I always speak so highly of Richard Childress Racing. Richard called and said, ‘Hey, come on man, you know you want to do it,’ and I kind of chuckled because everyone knows I love my road racing. I talked to the Beard family and said, ‘Hey, you want to add a race to the schedule?’ It wasn’t in the budget. It wasn’t planned originally, but the Beards were on board.

“They are in the same boat as me. This is a retirement year like me and they are having the same fun I am. They went, ‘Ooohh, we can do well there.’ So we called Richard up and he built me a brand new Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro from RCR that we were able to rent for Beard Motorsports to go race.”

Gaughan, who will start last in the race due his lack of owner points, dissected how different it will be navigating the road course in Cup compared to the sports car he drove the last time he raced on it.

“I need to remember that the last time I raced there in an LMP car, I could lift at the ‘1’ sign going into the chicane on the back straightaway,” Gaughan said. “Now if I lift at the ‘1’ in a Cup car, I will end up at the airport. So I need to remember that I’m going to need a little more braking zone room. But you basically already know the line and you know where you want to be. You know the feel of the place.

“You know where some passing zones are. You kind of know how to run that race, which is the big advantage that comes with it. Having a car built from Richard Childress means that I don’t have to worry that it’s going to have parts and pieces that aren’t any good. And I still have Darren Shaw, my crew chief, who I’ve been working with at Beard Motorsports. We’ve still got our guys working it and our guys doing it, so I kind of have the best of all worlds here. And there is an advantage for people that have been there. I also gave myself a little bit of an insurance policy. I offered to sponsor Andy Lally in the Xfinity race. To me, Andy Lally is the premier sports-car racer in America.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that there is anybody better than Andy Lally. So, I offered to sponsor Andy because he’s racing Saturday. I told him he has to stay over Sunday and do some driver coaching and give me his notes. Not only do I have experience on the track, I will have notes from a stock car on the track from the day before.”

Christopher Bell: ‘Pretty scared’ about future before re-joining JGR

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Early last week, Christopher Bell was “pretty scared” about his NASCAR future after Leavine Family Racing, the Toyota-backed team the rookie driver competes for in the Cup Series, announced it would sell its assets to Spire Motorsports.

That left Bell’s relationship with Toyota, the manufacturer that’s been the “centerpiece” of his racing career since 2013 and 2015 in NASCAR, up in the air.

“I’ve said it time and time again, but Toyota has been my – they’re the ones that got me here,” Bell said Tuesday in a press conference. “They’re the ones that took me from dirt track racing to pavement racing to Truck (Series) racing to Xfinity racing and then obviously made this deal happen with LFR too. At the time, it’s either the 20 car (at Joe Gibbs Racing) or I’m done with Toyota. There’s no other options. It was very scary. I didn’t want that to end.”

Bell acknowledged that despite his 2017 Truck Series title, his seven Truck wins and 16 Xfinity wins, a lack of sponsorship backing didn’t make him the most valuable hire for another team.

“The sponsorship piece is a huge part of it,” Bell said. “It’s no secret, you have to have sponsors in order to succeed in this sport and I’ve been really fortunate to have Rheem with me for the last couple of years. If I get pushed out of the Toyota group, I don’t really have much to say, ‘hire me.’”

Bell said, “I knew that once LFR shut down, there was only one place for me to go and the 20 car has obviously got a great driver in there right now.”

That driver was Erik Jones, who has been with Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup full-time since 2018 and been a Toyota driver in NASCAR since 2013 in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“‘How is that going to work?'” Bell asked himself. “‘How am I going to be able to go to JGR whenever they’re full?’ Unfortunately my homecoming so to speak was at the expense of another driver.”

Two days after LFR’s announcement, Joe Gibbs Racing revealed Jones would not return to the team in 2021, a move that “blindsided” Jones.

On Monday, JGR announced Bell’s ascent up the ranks would finally land him in the No. 20 next season.

“It was very, I mean, uncomfortable is a good way to put it,” Bell said. “I don’t think any of us – myself, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota – none of us expected the whole LFR deal to go down like it did, so I think that put everybody in a little bit of a box. … I’m extremely grateful that I get to continue that relationship and that I get to continue to drive Camrys on Sundays and race with TRD for hopefully a long time to come.”

How does Bell see his relationship with Jones playing out over the final 14 races of the season?

“As far as me versus him, that situation is already done, so I don’t know how he’s going to race me going forward,” Bell said. “I’m going to be cheering for Erik, just as everybody is at Joe Gibbs Racing, just hoping that he gets a nice solid deal and lands on his feet. I’ll be cheering for him and trying to race him with as much respect as I can, just like every other competitor. I hope he performs well, and obviously, the better he performs now in the 20 car, the better off I’ll be at the start of the year with the owner points standings. It’s really important that he does well this year in the 20 car for my future next year as well.”

Bell observed that it’s “absolutely crazy” to look back at his career path, which began in UASC Midgets and has led to him driving a “house” Toyota Cup car at JGR next year.

Going into 2021, Bell said he still has a “great relationship” with the people at JGR from his time there in the Xfinity Series.

“Whenever I was on the Xfinity side, I still got to mingle and interact with the Cup shop a little bit, so I have a rough idea how everything operates there,” Bell said. “I got in a little bit deeper with the LFR deal, and having that technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, but it’s going to be very nice to be able to go back home.”

Spire Motorsports confirms purchase of Leavine Family Racing

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Spire Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that it will acquire the assets from Leavine Family Racing upon the completion of the 2020 season. Spire Motorsports also will expand to a two-car team in the Cup Series in 2021.

The purchase will include LFR’s charter, the team’s race shop near Charlotte Motor Speedway and all of its owned inventory. LFR’s fleet of cars and chassis will be returned to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Spire, which began competing in 2019 after it purchased Furniture Row Motorsports’ charter, fields the No. 77 Chevrolet. It has made 58 starts for more than a dozen drivers since last year, including an upset win in the July 2019 race at Daytona with Justin Haley behind the wheel.

The team is co-owned by Jeff Dickerson and Thaddeus “T.J.” Puchyr.

“This is an exciting moment for Spire as we take the natural next step in our long-term plan to build our race team and prepare for the Next Gen car in 2022,” said Dickerson in a press release. “Bob Leavine invested more than money into LFR and this industry. He built a team brick-by-brick and we have long admired how he took his own steps in the garage. He also did it with his family at his side. We won’t let that be lost in this transaction. When you build something with your family, it always means a little bit more. His ability to connect with fans was genuine and we are thankful he chose us to carry this team forward.

“These are no doubt trying times, but I have never been prouder to be part of this sport. NASCAR has managed several difficult situations this spring and into the summer. We believe in the ownership model that NASCAR has built and where this sport is going now more than ever.”

The team said details about drivers and manufacturers for 2021 will come later.

Daytona road course entry lists

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NASCAR’s national series will make their debuts on the Daytona road course this weekend. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck events will be held without any practice or qualifying.

NASCAR is prohibiting drivers from competing in more than one series this weekend on the Daytona road course in an effort to get extra track time. NASCAR states that is to make the event fair for everyone.

Sunday’s Cup race will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the races at the Daytona road course 

Cup – Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for the race at the Daytona road course.

JJ Yeley is in the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase is in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Gray Gaulding is in the No. 53 for Rick Ware Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports.

Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for Motorsports Business Management.

Reed Sorenson is in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports.

Click here for Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – UNOH 188 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Andy Lally is back in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car after finishing fifth last week at Road America.

AJ Allmendinger, who finished second last week at Road America, is in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

IMSA driver Earl Bamber will make his Xfinity debut this weekend in the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing.

Brandon Gdovic will make his second start of the season, driving the No. 26 for Sam Hunt Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Sunoco 159 (Noon ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered in the race that will be held before the Cup event on Sunday on the Daytona road course.

Alex Tagliani will drive the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Click here for Truck entry list