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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Garrett Smithley

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The motto that drives Garrett Smithley‘s career is summed up by a decal on the dashboard of every car he races:

“Patience, never give up.”

It’s guided the 25-year-old driver for the last decade since he began driving a Bandolero in Peach Tree City, Georgia, and finished fourth in his first race on Oct. 27, 2007 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Garrett Smithley during practice for the Xfinity Series Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway (Getty Images).

In the years since, Smithley has won numerous trophies and awards that are spread out over his living room in Kannapolis, North Carolina, his parent’s house in Dallas, Georgia, a golf cart shop in Peach Tree City and both his grandparent’s houses.

But one award, a Rookie of the Year plaque from that first year of racing, means the most to the man who grew up rooting for Dale Jarrett and now drives the No. 0 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

“I think it’s just because I was 15 years old when I started racing and that first season I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, neither did my dad,” Smithley told NBC Sports. “Looking back at it, knowing what I know now, I don’t know how we won any races because we had no idea what was going on. … For me it’s just because I had to figure it out, I had to pick it up. That was the moment where I knew I had some driving talent because I went out there, first season and won Rookie of the Year without ever racing anything else in my entire lap.”

Now Smithley is 52 starts into his Xfinity career. In his second season with JD Motorsports, Smithley has earned two top 10s, in February at Daytona and June at Iowa Speedway.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

Garrett Smithley (right) celebrates top-10 finishes with teammate Ross Chastain during his post-race interview with Fox Sports 1 on June 24.

NBC Sports: After the first Iowa race, you snuck up behind your teammate Ross Chastain during his TV interview and you looked like it was your birthday. When was the last time you had that feeling after a race?

Smithley: I guess it would have to be Daytona, I’m trying to think. We’ve had good runs here and there this year. I would say honestly that was the first time this season since Daytona that we’ve had that. It’s such a good feeling. Again, with that race, I had one set of sticker tires the whole day to finish like that. Who knows what could have happened if we had a little bit more tires. For Ross to go in there and finished fourth and for me to go in there and finished 10th. Harrison (Rhodes) unfortunately had an issue on his car, but he was probably going to be racing with us. … Anytime that we can do that, it’s a David and Goliath story. We’re up against these multi-million dollar teams that spend millions and millions on just one car and we’ve got probably not even a million on all three cars. To do that is special for sure.

NBC Sports: Do you feel like you’ve made it in NASCAR?

Smithley: That’s a good question (laughs). I would say to some I’ve absolutely made it. I still see guys I raced with when I was a kid who have way more experience and way more money and way more talent that aren’t currently racing anything right now. I think to a lot of guys I’ve raced with, that I’m friends with, absolutely. I think for me I’m happy where I’m at. It’s surreal just to be in this position at all. To be racing full-time and making a living at it. But at the same time, for me I set my goals extremely high, and I think with that you’ll never stop working. So for me, I’m not going to stop and I’m not going to quit until I make it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and that’s my ultimate goal.

For me, if I have that goal, no matter how many wins I get, no matter how many championships I get, no matter what I do, I’m always going to be chasing that goal and it gives me something to work toward, no matter what I’m doing. I’m always going to be happy where I’m … I’m not (always) going to be happy where I’m at, but I’m always going to appreciate where I’m at and I’m always going to enjoy it. But at the same time I’m not going to stop working. If I fall short, I fall short and I feel like that goal is high enough to where if I do fall short, hopefully I’ll have accomplished a lot along the way.

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

Smithley: I’m maybe a nerd for this, but I don’t know if you watch Spongebob (Squarepants), but it’s called “Sweet Victory” and it’s when Spongebob plays at the Bubble Bowl.

NBC Sports: Why that?

Smithley: I think that’s such a cool song. I’m like a huge Spongebob fan. And I can see the pyrotechnics and could just envision what that would look like to people.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Smithley: A 2001 Pontiac Montana minivan. … I drove it in high school. Peach Tree City is notorious for golf carts and there’s like 90 miles of golf cart paths throughout the city. I didn’t get my license until I was 17 and a half and had been racing for a year and a half in Bandoleros. I didn’t feel like there was a need to drive because I had golf carts. When I was 15 I could drive my golf cart. We drove golf carts to school and to the store and everything like that. So it was pretty crazy. But my parents had a minivan they bought new in 2001 and they said, ‘Here, you can have the minivan’ and I was like ‘All right.’ At first I was like, it’s a car, that’s fine. Then it ended up working out because everyone wanted to ride with me cause I had plenty of room. So I was popular. To this day I still wish I had that minivan cause I love that car.

NBC Sports: If you have a free day, how do you spend it?

Smithley: I’m out so much and doing things that when I do have a free day I just want to stay in and do nothing. There’s two things I really like to do when I just want to get away from life. One is put my headphones in, listen to really loud EDM music and play “Counter-Strike” on my computer, it’s a first-person shooter game. I do that or iRacing. I’ll get on a road course. They just came out with Nürburgring, I’ll just get in a Legends car or something like that and just drive it on Nürburgring, just for fun. Or I will go downstairs, I have a piano. I used to take piano lessons when I was a kid. I took them for like years. I’ll go down to the piano and play music.

NBC Sports: What songs can you play?

Smithley: ‘Let it Be’ is my favorite. ‘Let it Be’ by The Beatles. I can play ‘Apologize,’ (by OneRepublic), ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ by Aerosmith. There’s a couple of others that aren’t coming to my mind. I enjoy playing.

NBC Sports: If you could have a conversation with Dale Jarrett, what would you ask him?

Smithley: Funny enough, in 2015 I got a call from a producer from NBCSN and Jeff Burton does those hot laps every week before the Cup races for pre-race. So he called me and said ‘Hey, are you going to be in town for the Charlotte race?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m planning on going.’ I wasn’t racing at that point. He said, ‘I wanted to see if you could do some laps for us.’ … He said ‘You’re going to be driving along Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett.’

I was like, ‘Wait, what? I’m going to drive with them on-track?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to be in Petty cars and you’re going to do this for a segment.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s incredible.’ So I got to be in the production meeting with all the NBC executives, Rick Allen, Marty Snider and Dale Jarrett and all the drivers. It was just incredible. … At that point I only had three truck races under my belt. So I’m sitting here with a hall of famer, a champion and a guy who won several Cup races. I’m here at this like, ‘Hey, I’m Garrett. I’ve really only run three races in the Truck series.’ It was pretty surreal. So I got to talk to Dale that day. I just went over and said ‘Hey, I hate to be a fan, but you’ve always been my favorite driver when I was a kid and it’s really, really cool to be driving with you.’ He said, ‘Hey, just never give up. Keep digging. You’ll get there.’ For him to say that, now I can’t give up because my hero just told me that I can’t.

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

Kyle Benjamin

Ty Majeski

Ryan Sieg

Dakoda Armstrong

Brendan Gaughan

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Clint Bowyer, William Byron look to extend streak of first-time winners in playoffs

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In the 15-year-history of the NASCAR playoff era, only 16 times has a Cup Series playoff driver earned their first win of the season in the playoffs itself.

Two of those occurrences have happened in the last two weeks.

Kyle Larson got the streak going with his dominating win in the Round of 12 opener at Dover International Speedway. That snapped a 75-race winless streak for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

It continued Monday when Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney barely beat Ryan Newman to win at Talladega Superspeedway. It snapped a 37-race winless streak for Blaney.

Can the first-time winner steak continue?

If it does, it will take place Sunday at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). But of the 16 instances a playoff driver earned their first win in the playoffs, it’s only happened once on the 1.5-mile track.

Jack Roush and Mark Martin celebrate winning the Banquet 400 on Oct. 9, 2005 at the Kansas Speedway. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Mark Martin was the winner on Oct. 9, 2005, a day that saw Roush Fenway Racing put four of its five cars in the top five.

It was Martin’s first win in 52 races. It was just the second time a playoff driver’s first win in a season came in the playoffs. The first was three races earlier at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Ryan Newman).

Ahead of Sunday’s race there are only two Cup Series playoff drivers left who could potentially extend the streak: William Byron and Clint Bowyer.

Aside from securing them spots in the Round of 8, wins by either would be notable in their own right.

A victory by Bowyer would be his first on his home track in 23 attempts in the Cup Series. Like Martin, a victory would end a 52-race winless streak.

Bowyer’s best finish at Kansas was a runner-up finish in his second start in 2007. Since then he has just two top fives at Kansas, including a fifth-place finish in this year’s spring race.

Bowyer enters this race 11th in the standings, 24 points back from the cutoff line.

“We know what we have to do this weekend,” Bowyer said in press release. said. “We need to get stage points, a great finish and maybe even a win. We finished fifth here in May, we just have to do a few spots better this weekend.”

A win by Byron would be significant because he’s yet to win a Cup Series race in 67 starts.

In his previous three Kansas starts Byron’s only managed to finish once. The Hendrick Motorsports driver placed 20th in the spring after starting third. He won in his lone Truck Series start there in 2016 and had a top five in his only Xfinity Series start at the track in 2017.

After he was eliminated in a wreck at Talladega, Byron enters Sunday last on the playoff grid, 27 points behind the cutoff and essentially in a must-win scenario.

“I think it will be interesting to see how things play out with how our mile-and-half packages have evolved just throughout the year,” Byron said in a press release. “Whether it continues that trend this weekend or whether it reverts back to how it was in the spring at Kansas. I’m just interested to see how that is since the cars have come a long way since that race. I’m also interested to see with it being an elimination race, I think it will open things up for different strategies. It’s a bit of an unknown at this point.”

NASCAR completes merger with International Speedway Corp.

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NASCAR announced Friday morning it had closed on its merger with International Speedway Corp.

Jim France will serve as the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. Lesa France Kennedy will be the executive vice chair. Steve Phelps has been appointed president and will oversee all operations of the company.

“The merger of NASCAR and ISC represents a historic moment for our sport,” France said in a statement. “There is much work ahead of us, but we’re pleased with the progress made to position our sport for success. Delivering for our race fans and partners is job number one and we look forward to doing that better than ever for years to come.”

As part of the new organization, the Board of Directors will consist of France, France Kennedy, Mike Helton and Gary Crotty, chief legal officerPhelps’ direct reports will include Ed Bennett, executive vice president & chief administrative officer; Jill Gregory, executive vice president & chief marketing and content officer; Craig Neeb, executive vice president & chief innovation officer; Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president & chief racing development officer; and Daryl Wolfe, executive vice president & chief operations and sales officer.

Helton and John Saunders will serve as senior advisors under the new leadership structure.

“With great racing across all of our series, an exciting 2020 schedule on tap, and the Next Gen race car in development, we are better positioned than ever before to lead the sport into a new era of growth,” said Phelps in a statement. “We have a strong, experienced leadership team in place with incredibly dedicated employees at every level throughout our organization. Our best days are ahead of us and our new organization is going to allow us to better deliver great racing to our fans everywhere.”

NASCAR’s Friday schedule at Kansas Speedway

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The NASCAR playoff race weekend at Kansas Speedway begins today.

Cup and Xfinity Series teams will each hold two practice sessions.

The wunderground.com forecast predicts a high of 74 degrees, partly sunny skies and a 10% chance of rain.

Here’s the day’s schedule.

(All times are Eastern)

Noon – 11 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

1 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

3:05 – 3:55 p.m.  – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4:05 – 4:55 – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

5:05 – 5:55 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:05-7:55 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

 

Friday 5: Is this Kyle Busch’s time?

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Will this become the fall of Kyle Busch?

Not fall as in stumble but fall as in season — when he takes control of the Cup playoffs.

Busch, the regular-season champion, has been many things this postseason — moody, controversial and mistake-prone — but he’s not been a dominant figure on the track.

His average finish in the first half of these playoffs is 16.6 — marking the fourth time since 2015 he’s had an average finish of 14th or worse halfway through the postseason.

Busch, though, made it to the championship race each of those four years, winning the title in 2015.

But with Busch, there’s always something more.

Instead of a streak of Championship 4 appearances, it is his winless streak that draws more attention. Busch has failed to win in the past 17 races, his longest drought since going 36 races between Cup victories in 2016-17.

Since Busch last won at Pocono in early June — before Justin Haley’s improbable win at Daytona, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. losing his ride at Roush Fenway Racing and then signing with JTG Daugherty Racing and Bubba Wallace and Busch beating and banging at Watkins Glen — he’s seen Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones all win.

Miscues have hindered Busch’s playoffs. He hit the wall on Lap 3 of the opener at Las Vegas. Busch rallied from two laps down to be back on the lead lap before running into the rear of Garrett Smithley’s car. After the race, Busch called out Smithley and Joey Gase, questioning their credentials to be in the Cup Series.

Busch’s Dover run was hurt by a speeding penalty. He had a flat tire after contact with Kyle Larson on a restart at the Charlotte Roval and had to pit. A suspension issued later led to his day ending. Several laps down and with nothing to gain, Busch drove the car back to the garage during a red flag. His Talladega race was impacted by an accident, just like about every other driver. The only playoff driver not involved in an incident in the race was winner Ryan Blaney.

But things could be changing for Busch.

For all his struggles, he’s finished second three times during his winless drought and had six top-five results. Only Hamlin (10 top fives), Truex (eight) and Kevin Harvick (seven) have had more top fives than Busch in this stretch.

Provided Busch advances — he is 41 points Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a transfer spot — he’ll likely be the points leader heading into the Round of 8 after Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Round of 8 begins at Martinsville Speedway. Busch finished third there in the spring. He’s not placed worse than eighth in any of the five short track races this season. He led 66 laps before finishing 10th at Texas and won at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, leading 177 of 312 laps.

Get Busch to Miami (again) and he could leave as a two-time champion.

2. Tough challenge for hopefuls 

The most likely way Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer or William Byron — the four drivers outside a playoff race — will advance to the next round will be to win Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Bowman trails Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot by 18 points. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points. Bowyer trails Logano by 24 points, and Byron trails Logano by 27 points.

The only time Byron and Bowyer outscored Logano in a race by as many points as they trail was at Dover in the playoffs when Logano spent the first 24 laps in the garage.

Bowman has outscored Logano by 18 points in three races this year: Dover playoff race, Talladega in April (Bowman was second) and Kansas in May (Bowman was second)

Elliott has had better results. He has outscored Logano by 22 or more points in a race five times this year: Martinsville in March (Elliott outscored Logano by 28 points), Talladega in April (22 points), Kansas in May (29 points), Watkins Glen (46 points) in August and the Bristol night race (25 points) in August. Elliott won at Talladega and Watkins Glen. He was second at Martinsville, fourth at Kansas and fifth at Bristol.

That’s the challenge those four drivers face this weekend trying to knock Logano out of the final playoff spot.

3. Looking to help 

Brad Keselowski expressed his concern about team members who will be or could be losing their jobs in the near future as the sport goes through change.

He recently sent this tweet:

So what can Keselowski do?

“I haven’t gotten an answer to it yet, but I’m looking at it, trying to think about what ideas there might be” Keselowski said. “I haven’t come up with a solution yet. I just wanted those people to know that are affected by it that I cared about it. I can’t employ the couple of hundred people that are probably going to get laid off in the next few weeks, but I’m sure I can do something for someone.”

4. Youth movement?

The last three races have been won by three of the five youngest drivers in the playoffs: Chase Elliott (Charlotte Roval), Kyle Larson (Dover) and Ryan Blaney (Talladega).

Elliott is 23, Larson is 27 and Blaney is 25. The playoffs also include William Byron (21 years old) and Alex Bowman (26). Erik Jones (23) was eliminated in the first round.

5. Drought busters

Five drivers have ended winless streaks of 30 or more races this season: Kyle Larson (75 races) Denny Hamlin (45), Erik Jones (42), Ryan Blaney (37) and Kurt Busch (30).

Among drivers with long winless droughts: Paul Menard (299 races), David Ragan (237), Chris Buescher (118), Ryan Newman (99), Jimmie Johnson (90), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (86), Austin Dillon (66), Clint Bowyer (52), Aric Almirola (36),

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