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Spencer Gallagher reflects on return to racing after ‘long, hard ordeal’ of suspension

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Spencer Gallagher was all smiles Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The 28-year-old was unveiling his throwback paint scheme for the Sept. 1 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway, a tribute to Davey Allison’s 1985 ARCA car, or as Gallagher calls it, “The Beautiful One.”

He did so as GMS Racing also revealed Bill Elliott’s car for next weekend’s race at Road America.

After the unveilings, Gallagher playfully approached a group of kids in attendance with a sharpie in hand. Pictures and autographs ensued.

On Aug. 14, 2018, life was good for Gallagher. He had something to smile about.

That wasn’t the case on May 2.

Three days after he earned his first career NASCAR win in the Xfinity race at Talladega, Gallagher received a phone call.

He was told he had failed a drug test and violated NASCAR’s substance abuse policy. He was given an indefinite suspension.

“I’m pretty sure they had to get an excavator because my heart dropping through the building left a crater,” Gallagher told reporters Tuesday.

Three months later, and more than one month after his reinstatement upon completion of NASCAR’s Road to recovery program, Gallagher won’t say what he tested positive for and when he took his drug test.

But he did talk about what he learned from the experience, which saw drivers Johnny Sauter, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Justin Haley, Casey Roderick, AJ Allmendinger and now Hall of Famer Bill Elliott take his place in the No. 23 Chevrolet.

“I like to think I’ve grown up a lot in that time. Not that I didn’t before,” Gallagher said. “I spent time at GMS like it was my life because it is my life. I’m here and dedicated to making this race team everything I possibly can. With guys like (President) Mike Beam on it, I’m very confident in what we’re going to be able to accomplish.”

Gallagher, the son of team owner Maury Gallagher, has made two Xfinity starts since his reinstatement, on July 13 at Kentucky and last weekend at Mid-Ohio, where he finished eighth.

Gallagher views his wading back into competition as a benefit to how he views his race team.

“You always enjoy being in the seat week in, week out,” Gallagher said. “But it’s been really nice getting back into the garage, being with the team. I just get to sit on the box and play owner for a couple of races, I look at it, observe from the outside what’s going on, where we need to improve, where we can improve and how well we’re doing. That’s a role you don’t often get to take on as a driver.

“You have such blinders on trying to get the car to go faster and faster, you don’t get the time to stop and look around and see what’s happening … I relish the opportunity for that and look forward to being back in the seat full-time. But I’m definitely taking advantage of the times that I can when we got another talent behind the seat.”

That talent includes the Cup Series’ latest first-time winner and 2014 Xfinity champion Chase Elliott and a road course expert in Allmendinger.

Elliott will be back in the car this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I get a couple of amazing drivers to have as sounding boards,” Gallagher said. “You can’t help but learn, you can’t help but develop and grow and get better as a driver. That’s something honestly that I really like seeing, is getting that Cup level talent because it’s good for you as a driver. You get to learn how to improve yourself and your race craft, but it’s also great for the team. They get an outside pair of eyes that knows exactly what they’re doing that does this at the highest level you can and they get to evaluate yourself and tell you what they think is going on. I’m not a selfish guy, I’ve always been one for second opinions. Anytime we were out testing I always welcomed people to jump in my car and tell me what they think. The first thing I know is I know nothing. I always welcome another pair of eyes.”

Gallagher called his return to competition at Kentucky “the end of a long, hard ordeal.”

“Getting back out there and dropping it in fourth (gear) and holding it wide open, that felt really good,” said Gallagher, who started 15th and finished 20th. “That’s kind of one of those things that (shows) your life is back together and back on-track.”

Gallagher has received one other chance at significant track time since his reinstatement.

He made his Cup debut in the Aug. 5 race at Watkins Glen, driving the No. 23 owned by BK Racing, a team whose assets GMS Racing’s Beam is trying to bid on.

Gallagher qualified 34th and finished 35th, 17 laps down after mechanical problems, a result of running through grass.

“Teething issues, that happens,” Gallagher said. “As it turns out, engines don’t like it when you have to run them at 310 degrees because they’re full of grass.”

Would he be ready to go run full-time in Cup should GMS Racing’s Beam be successful in its pursuit of BK Racing’s assets?

“Something I’ve learned through my progression in this business is I’ve effectively been thrown in the deep end of every series that I’ve ever participated in just because I started out late in this game,” said Gallagher, who made his first laps on an oval at 19. “My entire career has been one long chain of ‘Sink or swim, kid.’ I haven’t sunk yet.

“I know it’s going to be a challenge if that’s what it comes to. We’re not just jumping in the deep end of the Cup Series, you’re jumping in the ocean. Let us remind ourselves these are some of the best drivers on planet earth, period. And that’s what you have to run against every Sunday. If I get the call, I’ve kind of inoculated myself against that fear of the unknown.”

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Regan Smith to return to JR Motorsports for two Xfinity races

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JR Motorsports announced Wednesday that Regan Smith will drive the team’s No. 8 car in two Xfinity Series races this season.

Smith, who also serves as a Fox Sports analyst, will pilot the car Aug. 10 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Aug. 24 at Road America. Long-time sponsor Fire Alarm Services will join Smith.

This will mark the 35-year-old Smith’s first Xfinity start in two years and his first for JR Motorsports since 2016. Smith won in his JR Motorsports debut in 2012 in Miami and drove full-time for the team from 2013-15. He won five times during that stint, including at Mid-Ohio.

“Regan is a great friend, and he means so much to our company,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a statement from the team. “He won a lot of races here, but for me his significance was no more evident than in his very first race for JRM at the end of 2012. That win at Homestead was enormous. It ended a winless streak for JR Motorsports that had dragged us down for more than two years. It was a tone-setter. It gave us momentum that, to be honest, I’m not sure we’ve ever lost. That’s what Regan means to this company, and that’s why I’m thrilled to have him back for these two races at Mid-Ohio and Road America.”

Said Smith: “I can’t tell you how pumped I am for this. Dale, Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) and everyone at JRM have been like family to me, so in a way, it feels like I’m coming home. I have great memories of the years I spent there and the success we had during that time. And to have Fire Alarm on board for these races makes it all the more meaningful. They’ve been both friends and supporters of mine for a long time.”

Comcast NBCUniversal to salute military at next two Xfinity races

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Comcast NBCUniversal will use the next two Xfinity Series races – June 29 at Chicagoland and July 5 at Daytona – to honor the military during the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola campaign.

It will sponsor Jeffrey Earnhardt in Xtreme Concepts Racing’s No. 81 “Salute to Service” Toyota for the race at Chicagoland Speedway, which is the first NASCAR race broadcast by NBCSN this year.

“I’m really excited to be partnering with Comcast and the military on the Comcast Salute to Service Toyota for Chicagoland Speedway,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “Our race team at Xtreme Concepts Racing feels as though we can’t ever do enough for the men and women that protect us and it’s awesome to be partnered with a company like Comcast that feels the same. We will give the fans at Chicagoland Speedway and watching on NBCSN something awesome to cheer for. Hopefully, they watch us park it in victory lane.”

Also, for the fourth consecutive season, all Xfinity Series drivers will bear the names of active military units and installations on their race car windshields in place of the traditional Xfinity branding during the NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR and teams collaborated with Comcast to select these military units and installations to showcase the industry’s strong ties back to the military community.

Comcast NBCUniversal has a long-standing reputation as a military-friendly and military-ready company. That includes its commitment to hiring military community members – veterans, National Guard and Reserve members and military spouses. Comcast hired more than 10,000 military community members from 2015 to 2017 and are committed to hire 11,000 more by the end of 2021. Also, as a “thank you” for their service, veterans and actively-serving military customers can get a $100 prepaid card and $25 Xfinity coupon by visiting https://www.xfinity.com/military.

“At Comcast NBCUniversal, our sustained commitment to our nation’s military community has never been stronger,” said Brigadier General (Ret.) Carol Eggert, senior vice president of military and veteran affairs at Comcast NBCUniversal in a press release. “We truly value the tremendous contributions of those who serve our country and wanted to recognize them and their families in a special way as we celebrate our country’s independence.”

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Rutledge Wood is joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

They’ll take fan phone calls and discuss the big storylines of the week.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows 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 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After ARCA win and strong Truck debut, Chandler Smith ready for more at Gateway

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Chandler Smith can drive well over 100 mph on a race track. But after an ARCA or NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, he can’t drive out of the race track and proceed on a city street or rural road or freeway.

That kind of thing happens when you’re 16 years old – he turns 17 on June 26 – and have yet to get your driver’s license from your home state (in Smith’s case, Georgia).

But even without a license, the soon-to-be high school junior from tiny Talking Rock, Georgia, – population 69 – is proving he sure knows how to wheel a race car or race truck.

Last weekend is more than enough proof to any driver’s examiner of Smith’s ability behind the wheel. On Saturday night, he earned his fourth career ARCA win – in just 14 total starts in the series – in Madison, Wisconsin, for Venturini Motorsports.

Just over 12 hours later, Smith made his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut by starting on the pole (due to being fastest in first practice when second practice and qualifying were both rained out) in the M&Ms 200 race for Kyle Busch Motorsports, led 55 laps and ultimately finished eighth (he may have finished higher if not for a pit road penalty that sent him to the tail end of the field).

So what does Smith do for an encore? Double duty again in both ARCA and Trucks events this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (formerly Gateway Motorsports Park), that’s what.

Smith is looking forward to both races, particularly the next step in his evolution with KBM, for whom he’s driving a limited schedule in both Trucks and super late models.

It’s very humbling to have all of these opportunities on the table and I can pick and choose what pathway I am going to take,” Smith said in a media release. “I am grateful for all of the people around me.

I have finally gotten to the age and the maturity when I realize this is a big deal. There is no one I know that is my age that has the opportunities I have. I have some bigger opportunities than some Cup drivers right now. I am really trying to stay humble about it.”

Busch has high expectations for the young drivers that pilot his trucks, and Smith is not excluded from that category even with just one start to date.

I don’t think it adds pressure at all,” Smith said. “When you have drivers that aren’t winning in the very best stuff, he has a valid point. If I don’t do good, I would go up and ask him what I did wrong. I will deserve it. I want to make sure I am aware of what I am doing wrong so I can fix it.”

Saturday will be one of the longest race days – an estimated 14 hours, all told (barring any weather issues) the teenager has experienced to date. He has two ARCA practices, qualifying and the 120 laps/150 miles Day to Day Coffee 150 race at 7:30 p.m. ET. He also has two Truck practices, qualifying and a 160 laps/200 miles CarShield 200 race at 10 p.m. ET.

I think it’s going to be all mental,” said Smith, who has never been in the St. Louis area and may not know about it’s notorious heat and humidity at times. “You are going to have to want to have the drive to do it. If you are like ‘oh my gosh, I have to do that?’ because if you have that attitude you are going to suck at it.

I’ve never been to the track before. I know you need to be patient and hit your marks there. There is definitely going to be a big learning curve. I have never raced on a track like that before. I have practiced there a little on the simulator. I have a good bit of laps under me and I have a general idea so when we get there so I will know what to do.”

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