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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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Austin Hill wins Truck Series opener at Daytona in overtime finish

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Austin Hill won Friday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series season opener at Daytona in an overtime finish, claiming his first career Truck Series win.

The win comes in Hill’s 52nd series start and his first with Hattori Racing Enterprises. Hill, a former member of the NASCAR Next driver program, took over for defending champion Brett Moffitt in the No. 16 Toyota.

Hill, 24, beat Grant Enfinger, Ross Chastain, Spencer Boyd and Matt Crafton in the second attempt at an overtime finish.

Hill, who is from Winston, Georgia, led 39 laps and survived a race that saw 11 cautions and 26 of 32 trucks involved in accidents.

“Man, this truck was fast,” Hill told Fox Sports 1. “I knew we had a truck that could compete. Got a little scared there at the end. I thought (Enfinger) was going to get me, he got a big run. We were able to protect it. I can’t believe my first win came at Daytona. It’s so surreal, I can’t wait to party with these guys.”

Hill’s win is the third in a row for Hattori after Moffitt won the last two races of 2018.

The overtime period was created by a wreck with two laps left in the scheduled 100-lap distance that involved 10 trucks and nearly every remaining frontrunner. The final restart was setup by a two-car incident on the first overtime attempt.

Only nine of the field’s 32 trucks took the final green flag.

“It was a crazy night … carnage everywhere,” Enfinger said. “We tore up a lot of crap tonight.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Johnny Sauter

Click here for the race results.

Click here for the point standings.

NOTABLE: Billy Rock, the jackman on the No. 28 of Bryan Dauzat, was awake and alert after he was hit on pit road early in the race by Dauzat, who had lost his brakes. Rock was transported to a local hospital … Angela Ruch, the niece of Derrike Cope, placed eighth in NEMCO Motorsports No. 8 truck. She is just the second woman to earn a top 10 in the Truck Series. Jennifer Jo Cobb placed sixth at Daytona in 2011.

NEXT: Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 4:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 23 on Fox Sports 1

Christian Eckes wins Truck Series pole at Daytona

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Christian Eckes won the pole for tonight’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series season opener at Daytona.

Driving the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Eckes posted a top speed of 182.604 mph.

It is the first career pole for 18-year-old Eckes in his fifth career start.

“I felt way more confident in our car in the draft yesterday,” Eckes told Fox Sports 1. “I really wasn’t sure where we would qualify but here we are on the pole.”

He will be joined on the front row by David Gilliland (182.556 mph).

The top five is completed by Todd Gilliland (181.686), Harrison Burton (181.357) and Grant Enfinger (181.349).

Burton will start from the rear after an engine change was made on his No. 18 Toyota on Thursday.

The race is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Meet the ‘Gen 7 for NASCAR’ that could include shorter races and capped costs

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Are shorter races better? That’s a discussion taking place in NASCAR, along with the length of the season and other key topics.

“We have to keep (fans) engaged,” car owner Jack Roush said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “We have to think about their attention spans. The races may need to get shorter.  That could be cost savings all the way around. Probably need to get shorter. 

“People say we need to race fewer times. I’m not sure that’s true. I used to tell (NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton, if he had three or four races a week, I’d be there for him. I don’t know if I’d say that today.”

Already this week, Kevin Harvick has advocated eliminating the Clash, and Denny Hamlin has noted one of the most popular events in the Olympics is the 100-meter dash instead of the marathon, a hint to shorter races

These comments have been made as the sport looks to cut costs for teams and energize fans who can become weary over a 38-race season that goes from February to November. NASCAR President Steve Phelps said last year that various ideas would be considered for the 2020 schedule and beyond. 

Car owner Roger Penske, whose organization is coming off Joey Logano’s Cup championship season, likens the sport’s look at race lengths to its focus on the next car, which is targeted to debut in 2021.

“I think we’re really talking about Gen 7 for NASCAR,” Penske said, using the term for the next car. “It’s not just the car or the engine. I think it’s the show, it’s the length of the races, it’s where we’re going to run, are we going to run more at night, short tracks. Let’s call it Gen 7 for NASCAR, not just the car.”

A shorter season could limit how many weekends NASCAR goes head-to-head against the NFL in the fall. Shorter races could provide the opportunity for midweek races. The belief from those advocating shorter races is that it would create a better show for fans.

“I think it’s an exciting time for us really in the sport,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “You know, there’s times that you struggle, and I think we have struggled some, but I honestly think (NASCAR Chairman) Jim France is on board and after it.  I think we, having constant meetings with everybody has kind of put everything on the table. 

“We’ve got a great fan base, but I think everything is really out there, scheduling, everything that you’re talking about, cost savings, everything is on the table. And so sometimes when you go through a tough time, those wind up being the best times because it causes you to really think your way through things.”

Just as important to teams are the costs, which NASCAR continues to look to cut. There’s also been talk of some type of spending limitation for teams.

“You’re going to see other things happen with the cars, engine packages, that’s going to reduce the cost,” car owner Rick Hendrick said. “So NASCAR is really on it. When you look at it, we talk about a spending cap. I don’t know how you regulate that with all we have going on. I mean, everything is on the table.”

Bob Jenkins, car owner for Front Row Motorsports, said cost containment can make an impact for his three-car organization.

“The ultimate goal has always got to be how can we do more with less with any team,” he said. “I think some of the larger teams have felt the financial pinch maybe more so than we have. When you’re in a constant evolution mode, it’s hard for us to keep up. We can make suspension changes a few times a year. Like Roger said, we can’t change cars every week.

“In previous years, we were always a generation or two behind and it shows on our performance. I think now when they come with these common parts that are produced by a third-party manufacturer that can’t be tweaked or re-engineered it only helps a team like us.”

Menard, McMurray, Stenhouse fastest in second Cup practice at Daytona

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Paul Menard (200.758 mph) was fastest in Friday’s second Cup practice session at Daytona International Speedway.

Jamie McMurray in his Chevrolet Camaro was second-fastest (200.696 mph) and the only driver not in a Ford in the first 13 positions.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (200.664) was third-fastest, followed by Ryan Newman (200.638) and Clint Bowyer (200.588).

Sixth through 10th were Aric Almirola (200.571), Daniel Suarez (200.535), defending Cup champion Joey Logano (200.450), Ryan Blaney (200.428) and Brad Keselowski (200.428).

Only 29 of the 40 cars entered in Sunday’s Daytona 500 took part in the second practice. There is one final practice scheduled for Saturday.

Click here for the full second practice speed chart.

In the first practice session earlier in the afternoon, Kyle Busch led a Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut.

Busch paced the 40-car field with a top speed of 200.285 mph, followed by JGR teammates Martin Truex Jr. (200.200) in second, Erik Jones in fourth (200.156) and Denny Hamlin was seventh-fastest (200.044). Ryan Preece was third-fastest in a Chevrolet at 200.169 mph, while Ryan Newman rounded out the top five at 200.093 mph.

Click here for the full first practice speed chart.

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