Xfinity Spotlight: Jeff Green on 26 years of marriage and growing up with the Waltrips

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CONCORD, North Carolina — Jeff Green hops up onto a counter in one of RSS Racing’s two team haulers.

The bearded, 55-year-old driver wears a camouflaged baseball cap and a Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band shirt.

Green saw Seger perform in Charlotte years ago.

“He played for three hours and every song you knew,” Green told NBC Sports. “I’m not sure how many more years he’s going to do it, so if you get the chance (to see him) you better do it.”

Green, the 2000 Xfinity Series champion, has competed in NASCAR since 1990 and has made 756 starts and won 16 races across all three national series as of last Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 1.5-mile track was the site of his last win and last top five, in October 2002 in the Xfinity Series.

Back in May, Green got a little dose of his glory days at Talladega Superspeedway. Driving the No. 8 Toyota for B.J. McLeod Motorsports, pit strategy allowed Green to lead 18 laps around the 2.66-mile speedway and finish 10th. It was only the third Xfinity race he’s led laps in since 2002.

Twenty-seven years after his first NASCAR start at Richmond, and with 22 DNFs in 27 starts this season, how many more years does Green see himself getting behind the wheel?

“As long as they’ll still have me,” Green said. “I still have a little bit of fun doing it. It’s not exactly what I want to do for sure. … I feel like I’m still the same guy I was 30 years ago. Competitive as ever and I want to lead and win every lap.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: What’s your earliest memory related to auto racing?

Green: My dad drag racing. As we were growing up, my brothers and I, we helped him. We had a one-car garage on our house, and he had a drag car pretty much from the time I could remember. Whether it would be polishing the wheel or helping him change something on it. The first thing I drove was a go-kart. I was 8 years old when I started doing it. My two brothers, my dad and my uncle and granddad, all of us started racing go-karts about the same time.

NBC Sports: Do you remember what that sensation was like when you mashed the throttle for the first time?

Green: What I was driving didn’t go very fast. As I got older, we graduated into different classes. It kind of came natural, kind of came easy. The first couple of races I remember I drove, I was just trying not to hit anything. You know what I mean? We were racing in the streets. We ran a series where they pretty much blocked the streets off, and we’d run around blocks.

NBC Sports: When was the first time you went to a NASCAR race?

Green: I would say probably in ’86 with Michael Waltrip down at Daytona. We grew up together and graduated high school together. That was probably the first time I went to a track as far as to watch it.

NBC Sports: What was Michael Waltrip like in high school?

Green: Just to grow up and to be around him and hear the stories that came from Darrell. That was in his heyday, the Gatorade days and things like that. Just to hear those stories was pretty cool, to be kind of have a hand on it. Outside lookin’ in. Michael went to a lot of races, so he’d come home to tell stories. I guess the main thing (was) Darrell came from Owensboro, Kentucky, too. In my mind, if he could make it, we could, too. With Michael’s help, he helped me get really my first opportunity with (Dale) Earnhardt driving his (Xfinity) car (1995-96). Without that, I don’t know if I’d have been able to sit in that car, much less get to the next opportunity.

NBC Sports: What was the biggest lesson you learned from Earnhardt?

Green: Chasin’ the dream, I guess. You know what I mean? Not ever giving up. When you have a bad week, you don’t go into the next week feeling sorry for yourself. Just try to make it better and go on and put it behind you.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun you’ve had in any race in your career?

Green: Racing my brother (David Green) at Pikes Peak (in 200o). We raced right down to the last lap. I ended up winning, and he ran second. That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. I knew that he raced me as hard as he could, and I did the same thing. But we also raced each other like gentlemen, too. It was pretty fun.

NBC Sports: I saw on Twitter you recently celebrated your 26th wedding anniversary (with wife Michelle). What’s the secret to 26 years?

Green: Listening. Really, without her I would have gave up a long time ago. I wouldn’t have ever made it. There had been days along the road long before I ever got to my championship years and even the Earnhardt years that I would have gave up. It’s just too hard a road. Having a good woman like that or a good lady that supports you but also envisions what you want and (is) able to push you in that direction. I think 26 years is more listening instead of talking.

NBC Sports: Outside of your championship trophy, which trophy means the most to you?

Green: Darlington, maybe. I won at Darlington (in 2001). You race that racetrack like no other. Darlington and Charlotte. I got two trophies from Charlotte. Charlotte being home back then. That’s pretty special to be able to sleep in your own bed and win the trophy there that week.

https://youtu.be/KIhOmLrR5tg?t=1h19m

NBC Sports: What’s the best thing about Owensboro, Kentucky?

Green: Barbecue. I don’t know if it’s the barbecue capitol of the world, but it is for Kentucky. There’s a lot of great folks there but the barbecue. There’s so many restaurants I think it’s the leader in fast food restaurants, too.

NBC Sports: Where’s the best barbecue there?

Green: Moonlight Bar-B-Q (Inn) and Old Hickory Bar-B-Q. When we go back home, we eat one (meal) there and the next day we eat at the other one.

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

Green: Kill an Elk. Going Elk hunting and being able to put an old monster down.

NBC Sports: If you could have a one-on-one race with any driver past or present, who would it be against and where?

Green: It would be a short track, Richmond or Bristol. Probably “The King” (Richard Petty). I drove for him (2003-05 in Cup), and he was one of the best owners that I’ve ever driven for. Nice guy. I was on the race track with him. But I never really got to race with him before he retired. So that’s probably it.

Previous 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

Garrett Smithley

J.J. Yeley

Harrison Rhodes

James Davison

Jeremy Clements

David Starr

Austin Cindric

Christopher Bell

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Sammy Smith to run full Xfinity season for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023

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Sammy Smith will run the full Xfinity schedule in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday.

The 18-year-old Smith, a Toyota development driver, won the ARCA Menards Series East title for a second consecutive year in 2022 and also made nine Xfinity starts with JGR.

Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation and Allstate Peterbilt will be sponsors on Smith’s car throughout the 2023 season. Jeff Meendering will be Smith’s crew chief.

“This is an opportunity I have been working towards,” Smith said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get behind the wheel full-time and am looking forward to a great season. I learned a lot in 2022 that will really help me to be competitive and run up front in the Xfinity Series. Thank you to Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation, Allstate Peterbilt Group, and Toyota Racing Development for supporting me in my racing career. I am excited for next year and appreciate the opportunity.”

Said Steve DeSouza, JGR executive vice president of Xfinity Series and driver development, in a statement: “Sammy is a fantastic addition to our 2023 Xfinity lineup. He proved to have the passion and the talent to necessary to compete for wins in the races he ran for us in 2022,” .“We are excited to get him in the No. 18 full time and know he will be competitive from the jump.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Racing through the numbers

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Some drivers carry one car number throughout their racing careers. The most famous racers in NASCAR’s 75-year history typically are associated with one number, although some have raced under several.

Victories, championships and driver personalities give life to something as generally mundane as a number. And the most popular produce even bigger numbers, as in sales of T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most iconic NASCAR numbers:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 43 — Since Richard Petty’s emergence as a superstar in the 1960s, the number 43 has been NASCAR’s most iconic. Although Lee Petty, Richard’s father, usually drove No. 42, he actually scored the first win by the 43, in 1959. The Petty blue No. 43 carried Richard to a string of championships. He scored 192 of his 200 race wins with the number. It rolls on today with Erik Jones, who took the 43 to the Southern 500 victory lane this season.

2. 3 — The fiercely facing forward No. 3 became ultra-famous while driven by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (although Earnhardt won his first title driving the No. 2). Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet carried the number to new heights, but Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Ricky Rudd, among others, also won in the car.

MORE: Where are they now? Buddy Parrott

3. 21 — The list of drivers who have raced Wood Brothers Racing’s famous No. 21, with the familiar gold foil numbers, reads like a history of NASCAR. David Pearson brought the most fame to the number, but Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, team owner Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Dale Jarrett also have driven the 21.

4. 11 — This number is responsible for more race wins — 228 — than any other. It also has scored eight championships — three each by Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and two by Ned Jarrett. Other stars in the 11 over the years: Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Bill Elliott and Denny Hamlin. And some guy named Mario Andretti.

5. 48 — This number was largely ignored until the arrival of Jimmie Johnson, who carried it to seven championships, including five in a row.

6. 24 — The number 24 was a lonely number until 1994 when a kid named Jeff Gordon drove it to its first win, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The brightly colored 24 became a regular visitor to victory lane from that point forward, carrying Gordon to four championships and becoming one of NASCAR’s most decorated numbers.

MORE: Will Kyle Busch follow footsteps of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

7. 18 — Although Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won in the 18, Kyle Busch, draped in the bright colors of sponsor M&Ms, took it into new territory.

8. 22 — NASCAR’s first Cup champion (Red Byron) and its most recent (Joey Logano) rode with the 22. The number has produced 87 wins over the years, including victories by Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Byron and Logano.

9. 2 — Although the 2 carried Dale Earnhardt (1980) and Brad Keselowski (2012) to Cup championships, it is perhaps most identified with Rusty Wallace, whose menacing black No. 2 was powerful at Team Penske. Also successful in the 2: Bill Blair, Kurt Busch and Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

10. 9 — The 9 was basically nondescript until Bill Elliott roared out of the north Georgia mountains to turn it into a big winner in the mid-1980s. His son, Chase, continues the trend.

 

 

Truck Series: Rajah Caruth joins GMS Racing

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Rajah Caruth will drive the No. 24 truck full-time for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023, the team announced Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Caruth ran a full season in the ARCA Menards Series last year, placing third in points. He also made seven Xfinity starts and four Truck starts last year. 

“I am extremely honored, and really excited to join GMS Racing and be in the fold of a professional race team with so much history,” Caruth said in a statement from the team. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this throughout my whole career, and I’m going to do the best in my power to make the most of it.

“First and foremost, I can’t thank everybody at GMS enough for believing in me and believing that I have what it takes to drive one of their trucks. Same goes for everybody at Chevrolet for their support, we truly wouldn’t be able to make this happen without them. 

Caruth joins Grant Enfinger and Daniel Dye as GMS Racing’s full-time Craftsman Truck Series drivers. Chad Walter will be Caruth’s crew chief. Jeff Hensley will be Enfinger’s crew chief. Travis Sharpe will be Dye’s crew chief. 

The primary partner on Caruth’s truck will be the Wendell Scott Foundation. The foundation, named for the first Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup race, seeks to provide resources and services to underprivileged Black youth communities near Scott’s hometown of Danville, Virginia. Since the foundation’s formation in 2011, more than 25 students have been awarded more than $50,000 from the Wendell Scott Legacy Scholarship programs.

“We are excited for Rajah to compete full-time with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023,” said Dayne Pierantoni, GM Racing Program Manager for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. “Through Chevrolet’s partnership with Rev Racing, we have been impressed with Rajah’s talent both on and off the track. He has proven his ability to compete at the NASCAR national level, and we look forward to seeing his continued success with a series championship winning team.”

The Truck season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. 

In other Truck Series news:

Dean Thompson will drive the No. 5 for TRICON Garage this coming season. The 21-year-old was a rookie in the series this past season. He had a season-best finish of 11th at Las Vegas.

“I am thrilled to start the next chapter of my career with TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing Development,” Thompson said in a statement from the team. “The team and manufacturer have quickly made a statement in the Truck Series as striving to be the best of the best. I’m ready to take on the challenge and live up to the expectations of being a driver for TRICON.”

McAnally Hilgemann Racing announced Tuesday that Christian Eckes and Jake Garcia will drive full-time in the Truck series for the team next season.

Eckes, who will drive the No. 19 truck, moves over from ThorSport Racing. Garcia will drive the No. 35 truck in pursuit of the series Rookie of the Year award.

NAPA AutoCare will continue as a team sponsor.

Garcia is 17 and is scheduled to make his first start March 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Because of NASCAR’s age restrictions, he will miss the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The team’s Daytona driver has not been announced.

Sponsor adds more races in 2023 with Josh Berry

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Jarrett Companies will increase the number of races it will sponsor Josh Berry‘s No. 8 JR Motorsports ride in 2023, the Xfinity Series team announced Monday.

Jarrett Companies will sponsor Berry in six races after serving as the primary sponsor in three races in 2022. Those six races will be Phoenix (March 11), Richmond (April 1), Dover (April 29), Atlanta (July 8), Indianapolis (Aug. 12) and Texas (Sept. 23).

The deal gives Berry at least 26 races with sponsorship for next season. Bass Pro Shops will serve as the primary sponsor of Berry’s car in 11 races in 2023. Tire Pros is back with JRM and will sponsor Berry in nine races in the upcoming season.

Berry, who reached the Xfinity title race and finished fourth in the points, will have a new crew chief in 2023. Taylor Moyer will take over that role with Mike Bumgarner serving as JRM’s director of competition.

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.