Dash 4 Cash drivers gear up for first battle for $100,000 at Bristol

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Burt Reynolds’ character, the Bandit, drove from Georgia to Texarkana and back again in 28 hours with 400 cases of Coors for very specific reasons in the 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit.

“For the money, for the glory, and for the fun. Mostly for the money.”

And the prize money was only $80,000.

For the next four weeks, the Xfinity Series will give four different sets of drivers a chance at the money, the glory and the fun with the return of the Dash 4 Cash program.

The Money

Each week, beginning this Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, four drivers will compete for $100,000. The competition continues at Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway and Dover International Speedway.

The Glory

Whoever finishes highest among the four drivers each week wins the money. That driver and the three drivers placing behind him advance to the next Dash 4 Cash round.

The Fun

For these four races, Cup Series drivers are not permitted to compete.

That means the money, the glory, the fun – and the race wins – will only be enjoyed by Xfinity drivers. Through six races, Xfinity regulars have won once, in the season-opener at Daytona.

The Drivers

As the highest finishing Xfinity regulars last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Daniel Hemric, Christopher Bell, Ryan Preece and Cole Custer are the first set of four competing for $100,000.

Hemric, in his second full-time year with Richard Childress Racing, is the only of the four who participated in the Dash 4 Cash last year and won money. The 27-year-old driver won $100,000 at Bristol when it was the second stop among the Dash 4 Cash races.

“As young as we are we get to run for a hundred grand, there’s not a lot of people (who) can say that,” Hemric said after the Texas race. “Having the opportunity to taste that last year and experience that was really something that we definitely enjoyed and hopefully we can do that again next week.”

Hemric enters Bristol with two consecutive top fives, including placing third at Texas. His first two Xfinity starts at Bristol resulted in a top five and a top 10.

Cole Custer. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Custer, 20, is also in his second full-time season and was part of the Dash 4 Cash last year at Bristol. Custer wrecked out of that race and finished 10th in the August Bristol race.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver enters the weekend coming off his first top five of the year, placing fourth in Texas.

“I think at the start of the year we had some speed, we just had some bad luck with things going wrong and getting in wrecks,” Custer said after the race. “As it went, we’ve cleaned ourselves up a little bit and haven’t had the bad luck. We’ve had fast cars, so I think we just have to get a little bit better and I think just have a really smooth and everything go right race and I think hopefully we can put that together next week.”

The other half of the four drivers are made up of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell and Preece.

Bell is in his first full-time season in Xfinity and Preece is competing part-time after a four-race tryout last season.

Preece has two starts at Bristol that came in 2015 when he competed with JD Motorsports in his only full-time Xfinity season.

He likely wouldn’t be in the position to race for $100,00 if not for two things – gambling on himself last season and the retirement of Carl Edwards.

“I think I’m pretty grateful for just having the opportunity,” Preece said. “Did I think this (would be possible) last January in 2017? Absolutely not. I fully intended on pretty much settling and racing modifieds for the rest of my life. When Carl Edwards retired and everything kind of shifted, I was like, ‘OK, there’s an opportunity here. I need to try and take advantage of this’ and it got me to those two races and I think you’ve seen how things have kind of taken off from there.”

Preece, 27, earned one win and four top fives in all of his starts with JGR last year. That resulted in 10 more races this season for the Connecticut native.

“Every time I show up to the race track, I’m almost treating it like it’s my last, even though I know I have 10 races right now,” Preece said. “Each one of these races could determine my future. That’s pretty much how I show up and that’s how I’m going to race.”

Ryan Preece. (Getty Images)

Preece said winning the $100,000 would help him finish building a race car.

Preece is well aware of the backgrounds of his Dash 4 Cash competitors entering the first short track race of the season.

“Daniel and I, he’s from late models, I actually raced Daniel in modifieds growing up quite a while ago,” Preece said. “So we’re kind of from the same old deal on the East Coast and then you got Bell, he’s a midget driver from out west and then you got Cole who is (from the) K&N (Pro Series) and all that. We’re all from the short tracks.”

How will these kindred spirits race each other for the money, the glory and the fun without those pesky Cup drivers getting in the way?

According to Bell, who has four top fives through six races, just like they would at “any rental go-kart track.”

“We’re going to run just as hard as we would for a Cup win,” Bell said. “We’re race car drivers. It doesn’t really matter what we’re racing for, we’re going to go give it our all no matter what.”

Hemric said  it’s “very humbling” knowing where his competitors come from.

“It’s just a nature of something that we’ve all been passionate about and love to do since a time we could remember,” Hemric said. “I think we all know each other’s stories pretty well. It’s pretty special to share a moment like that next week with these guys and look forward to battling to the end with them.”

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Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.