Long: Ross Chastain’s win ‘gives all the little guys hope’

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LAS VEGAS — Garrett Smithley walked out of Victory Lane with a smile on his face.

On a day when he wrecked in qualifying and finished 18th in a backup car, he couldn’t contain his excitement for Ross Chastain, typically his teammate at JD Motorsports but not on this day.

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was one of three races this season that Chastain will run in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet — a car with more funding and resources than Chastain’s regular ride.

Chastain scored a dominating win.  

Garrett Smithley hugs Ross Chastain in Victory Lane after Chastain won the Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Photo: Dustin Long

“It gives all the little guys hope,” Smithley said of Chastain’s victory.

As if it to make sure that Chastain’s win was real and the embrace they shared in Victory Lane was not imaginary, Smithley said it again.

“It gives all the little guys hope.”

Money is king in NASCAR and the owners with it are the kingmakers.

For those without money, everything is harder. There are fewer resources to develop new parts and make cars faster. Instead, such teams rely on less reliable parts, tape measures instead of laser measurements and hand-written notebooks instead of computer simulation programs. It’s a gap that rarely can be closed.

Facing such obstacles, teams are left only with hope. It’s why crew members get up at 5 a.m. to head to the shop and why they might not leave until midnight trying to repair a car from the last race and get it ready for the next one. Instead of flying to the upcoming race like many teams, it often means long drives through the night with little sleep before the garage opens the next morning and the race for speed resumes.

For such teams, the race for 25th can be as meaningful as the race for the lead to bigger teams.

Ryan Preece knows both worlds. He drove for JD Motorsports in 2016 and had one top-10 finish for the underfunded team.

Nobody noticed him.

So he took the sponsorship money he had and went to Joe Gibbs Racing to run two races (that later became four) instead of 33.

Ryan Preece celebrates his first career Xfinity race in 2017 at Iowa Speedway. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Preece won in his second race with Gibbs. He’s won again with the team this year. Although he says he’s focused on the remaining races with Gibbs, his gamble will likely lead to a full-time ride next season in the sport. 

Preece isn’t alone in believing less is more. Alex Bowman lost his Cup ride before the 2016 season. With no rides left, he signed to run select races with JR Motorsports that year and also served as the test driver for Hendrick Motorsports’ simulator program. That put him in position to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Earnhardt had to sit out the second half of that season because of symptoms from a concussion. Bowman went on to take over the No. 88 when Earnhardt retired after last season and is in the Cup playoffs.

Those moves did not unnoticed.

Matt DiBenedetto, who also had to start and park early in his career and has run for a variety of small-budget teams, announced recently that he would leave his full-time Cup ride with Go Fas Racing after this season and bet on himself like Preece did.

“I paid a whole lot of attention to those guys and what they did,” DiBenedetto told NBC Sports of Preece and Bowman. “They were a big driving force in me making this decision.”

Matt DiBenedetto hopes to be the next to follow in the success of Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain to attain a more competitive ride. (Photo: Getty Images)

DiBenedetto said he decided to follow the model Preece tried after “seeing other guys get just barely bumped above me on those lists (for rides). That was the push I needed to make this bold and risky decision.”

For Chastain, the risk was low. Jeff Carpoff, president and CEO of DC Solar, which sponsors the No. 42 Xfinity car, approached Chastain earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway as Chastain walked with helmet in hand from his Xfinity car to the Cup garage. The brief conversation led to further talk by Carpoff of putting Chastain in the No. 42 Xfinity Ganassi car at some point this season.

Chastain revealed Saturday that he’s not getting paid for these three races — he also ran the car at Darlington and makes his last start in it next week at Richmond.

“I get laughed at from inside the garage,” Chastain said of his no-money deal for these three races. “We literally bet on ourselves that we wouldn’t make any money now, but it would pay off.”

Chastain had to hold off Justin Allgaier, the regular-season champion, in a spirited duel that included contact and had Allgaier ranting on the radio at the time. Allgaier later attributed his anger to being in the moment.

But when Chastain pulled away from the field on the final restart and it became clear he would score his first career Xfinity win — in his 132nd series start — he just wanted to enjoy the moment.

Ross Chastain in Victory Lane. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

He didn’t yell or scream on the radio. He put his head down, punched the steering wheel and stayed silent.

“They were all congratulating (me) on the radio,” Chastain said of the team. “I just wanted to listen and hear it.”

It was a sound he could not have imagined when he was starting and parking early in his career because there wasn’t the money to run a full race.

“That’s not the ideal way,” Chastain said. “I wouldn’t recommend that because it’s tough, and it’s very trying. A lot of phone calls (with family) late at night. We didn’t know it was going to get better, but they kept telling me that.”

Back then, he only had hope.

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NASCAR America: Daytona 500 ‘Turning Point’ came on Stage 2 pit stop

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The moment that set up Denny Hamlin‘s Daytona 500 win on Sunday came on Lap 108, according to NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte.

That’s when Hamlin made a pit stop near the end of Stage 2.

“(Crew chief Chris) Gabehart calls his car to pit road,” Letarte said. “He doesn’t care about stage points. He cares about four fresh tires on a hot, slick Daytona track.”

Then on Lap 122, during the stage break pit stop, Gabehart decided to only put fuel in the No. 11 Toyota when he was 21st.

“On Lap 163 he got six seconds of gas, that’s it, no tires,” Letarte said. “That gave him track position (eighth) in front of all of those accidents. The turning points to this race was before Stage 2 even ended.”

Watch the above video for more.

Garrett Smithley in Spire Motorsports car at Atlanta as entry lists released

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Garrett Smithley is listed as the driver of Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Smithley, a native of Peachtree City, Georgia, competes in the Xfinity Series with JD Motorsports and made three Cup starts last year.

Spire purchased Furniture Row Racing’s charter after the team closed at the end of last season. It fielded Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 in the No. 40 in a partnership of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Quin Houff also will compete for Spire this season.

Click here for the preliminary Cup entry list.

Click here for the preliminary Xfinity entry list.

Click here for the preliminary Truck Series entry list.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Daytona 500 recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and recaps all the action from Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett will discuss all the major storylines from the race that saw Denny Hamlin claim his second 500 win.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it 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.

‘Bizarre’ Daytona 500 marks Jamie McMurray’s likely final Cup start

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If Sunday’s Daytona 500 turns out to be Jamie McMurray‘s 583rd and final Cup start, then the race threw all it could at him as a going away present.

McMurray finished 22nd in what the Chip Ganassi Racing driver called a “bizarre” Daytona 500.

The 43-year-old driver had to start his 17th “Great American Race” at the rear due to a rear gear change. By Lap 19 in he was in 19th.

His day was complicated on Lap 50 when he was caught up in a six-car wreck, which damaged his right front fender. With repairs made to his No. 40 Chevrolet, the 2010 Daytona 500 winner continued.

Even with the damage, McMurray managed to navigate his way up to 10th by Lap 84.

He then led the field from Laps 164-169, with just the last two laps under green.

Then chaos reigned.

The final 20 laps saw three multi-car wrecks, but McMurray managed to avoid the ones that caught 21 and seven cars.

“Certainly, a bizarre 500 to have so much green-flag racing and then so many wrecks at the end,” McMurray said. “It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps. It’s part of it. You were able to get big runs. It seemed like as the sun went down those runs happened more often. When the Daytona 500 is on the line, people are willing to take big risks. They just all waited to the end.”

But McMurray couldn’t avoid the last major wreck. While running eighth he was ensnared in a nine-car melee that resulted in the overtime finish. 

“I’m thrilled I made it as long as I did,” said McMurray. “I made it through two or three wrecks I should have been in and didn’t get torn up. It is just part of it. It is what it is and I’m just thankful I’m safe. This is just one of those places you come to that there are a lot of unknowns and certainly after flipping at Talladega (last April), speedway racing was a little different in my mind.”

McMurray will now transition to an analyst role for Fox Sports.

Should the native of Joplin, Missouri, never make another Cup start, he ends his career with seven wins, 63 top fives and 168 top 10s.

He exits the NASCAR stage after 581 consecutive Cup starts.

Next week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the first without McMurray since the Oct. 20, 2002 event at Martinsville Speedway. That was the race after McMurray scored a surprise first career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway driving Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge in substitution of an injured Sterling Marlin.

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