Getty Images

Who is hot and cold entering Richmond

1 Comment

The Cup playoffs continue this weekend with the second race of the first round, Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

It’s the first of two short tracks the series will visit during the playoffs, the second being Martinsville Speedway.

After a crash fest in the opener at Las Vegas impacted more than half of the playoff field, here’s who is hot and cold entering Richmond.

Who is Hot

Brad Keselowski
• Won at Las Vegas (13th in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 75 laps led)
• Won three straight races for 1st time in career
• Finished in top 2 in 4 of last 5 races
• Advanced to Round of 12 for 5th consecutive season
• Finished 8th or better in 6 of last 9 Richmond races, 8th in April
• Started 15th, 21st stage 1, 5th stage 2. Finished 11th in this race one year ago
• Three top 10s in the last five short track races

Kyle Busch
• Finished 7th at Las Vegas (6th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); pit for a 2nd time on Lap 113 due to missing lugs on right-front tire; spun off Turn 4 on Lap 233 while running 18th and went through the grass
• Finished 8th or better in 3 straight races and 8 of last 9 races
• Won 6 of last 21 races
• Finished in top 5 in 10 of last 15 races
• Finished in the top 10 in 14 of last 16 races
• Finished in the top 5 in 17 of 27 races this season
• Finished top 10 in 6 of last 8 Richmond races, including win in April
• Started 7th, 1st in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2, 38 laps led, finished 9th in this race one year ago
• Won 4 of last 7 short track races
• Top 10 six of the last seven short track races

Paul Menard
• Finished 10th at Las Vegas (22nd in Stage 1, 27th in Stage 2)
• Finished in Top 10 in the last two races, his first back-to-back top 10s this season
• Finished 15th or worse in 9 straight Richmond races, including 24th in April
• Started 26th, 22nd in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2, finished 28th in this race one year ago
• No top 10s in the last 15 short track races, his last top 10 was at Martinsville in April 2016

Ryan Newman
• Finished 9th at Las Vegas (10th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2)
• Finished in top 10 in the last two races
• Top 10 in two of the last three Richmond races but finished outside the top 10 in five of the last seven
• Finished 3rd in this race one year ago
• One top 10 in the last five short track races

Who is Cold

Austin Dillon
• Finished 11th at Las Vegas (18th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2); started in the rear due to illegal body modifications
• Finished outside the top 10 in 8 of last 9 races
• Finished 12th or worse in 19 of last 22 races
• Finished outside top 10 in 23 of 26 races since Daytona 500 win
• Never finished better than 13th in 9 career Richmond starts, including 15th in April
• Started 31st, 16th in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2, finished 21st in this race one year ago
• No top 10s in the last nine short track races, his last top 10 on a short track was at Martinsville in April of 2017

Chase Elliott
• Finished 36th at Las Vegas (5th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2); DNF – collected in wreck with Jamie McMurray on Lap 212 while running 6th.
• Finished 15th or worse in the last two races
• Finished in top 10 in 6 of last 8 races
• Top 10s in last 2 Richmond races, including 2nd in April
• Started 9th, 9th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, finished 10th in this race one year ago
• Finished top 10 in 3 of last 4 short track races

Jimmie Johnson
• Finished 22nd at Las Vegas (17th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2); hit the wall on Lap 256 while running 7th
• Finished 16th or worse in six of the last seven races
• Finished outside the top 10 in 11 of last 13 races
• Currently on a 50-race winless streak (longest of career)
• Top 10 in six of the last eight Richmond races
• Started 20th, 15th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2, finished 8th in this race one year ago
• Top 10 in the last three short track races

Alex Bowman
• Finished 19th at Las Vegas (3rd in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2); penalized for uncontrolled tire on Lap 162 while running 9th; hit the wall on lap 256 while running 9th
• Finished 19th or worse in 3 straight races and 14th or worse in 5 of last 6
• Never finished better than 18th in 5 career Richmond starts (18th in April)
• Finished top 10 in 3 of last 4 short track races

Tyler Reddick gears up for Xfinity title defense in new territory

Getty images
Leave a comment

Tyler Reddick wishes he had been able to be more “selfish” with his offseason.

Over the last two months, Reddick didn’t have much time to dwell on anything – past or future.

He claimed his unlikely Xfinity Series championship Nov. 17 in Miami. The following weeks were filled by a trip to Universal Studios and driving to Bloomington, Illinois, and Nashville, Tennessee, for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Between the holidays, the 23-year-old’s championship was recognized in Charlotte at the Xfinity Banquet.

After putting roughly 10,000 miles on a brand new Chevy truck in less than two months, Reddick was taken out of commission for two weeks thanks to a tonsillectomy.

“With everything thrown together, I lost track of time,” Reddick told NBC Sports.

The offseason whirlwind didn’t leave him much time to contemplate what lays ahead in 2019 – being the first Xfinity champion to return to the series to try and defend his title since Chase Elliott in 2015 after winning in 2014.

But Reddick will have to do it under vastly different circumstances from last year.

New Team

When Reddick hoisted his title trophy in Miami, it was as the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.

But just a few weeks earlier his move to Richard Childress Racing in 2019 – where he’ll drive the No. 2 Chevrolet – was made official.

Reddick now calls RCR’s campus in Welcome, North Carolina, his professional home.

When Reddick made his first trip to RCR’s campus he was taken aback by the vastness of the team’s campus.

In addition to RCR’s Cup and Xfinity programs, the campus is home to the RCR Museum, Richard Petty Motorsports, Kaulig Racing and the newly arrived Germain Racing.

“I’ve been involved in NASCAR, I can see what’s going on and what not, right?” Reddick said. “But I had no idea they had so many buildings. It’s just insanity.”

The primary reason behind Reddick moving to his third Xfinity team in three years? He was thinking ahead.

Tyler Reddick drives his No. 31 Chevrolet during Daytona 500 practice. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

“It just looked like the avenue to get to the Cup Series with a more clear path than it was at JR Motorsports,” Reddick said. “That was the bulk of it. I got along great with (crew chief) Dave (Elenz) and my whole team. I loved them. I think they loved me as well.”

That foresight paid off quickly, with Reddick set to compete in Sunday’s Daytona 500. His first Cup start will come in RCR’s No. 31 Chevrolet. He’ll start 39th after finishing 13th in his qualifying race on Thursday.

But there are other reasons Reddick likes RCR.

“The thing that makes me feel really good is Richard just has a lot of involvement in everything that goes on,” Reddick said. “Honestly, he’s the decision maker. It’s his business. A lot of these team owners and what have you that are in NASCAR have other business that have been successful. Richard, like a couple of others, not many, Richard and Chip (Ganassi) are the two that come to mind that make their living, their bread and butter is racing. So they take it very seriously and spend a lot of time around it. For me that’s important.”

No (Official) Full-Time Teammates

A year ago Reddick was able to claim three full-time teammates, all who were 10 or more years older than him.

Now he’s technically alone.

RCR will field one full-time Xfinity car in 2019, with Reddick at the helm of the No. 2.

That’s two years after RCR fielded five cars. Last year, the team ran Daniel Hemric and Matt Tifft full-time and various drivers part-time in the No. 3.

But thanks to RCR’s many partners in its technical alliance, Reddick will have the equivalent of a teammate.

Reddick’s offseason was so chaotic he had to ask NBC Sports if Kaulig Racing had officially announced Justin Haley as the driver of its No. 11 Chevrolet.

“In all seriousness, he’s going to be like my teammate,” Reddick said after being told it was official. “Even though it’s not under the RCR banner … we’re still going to be sharing everything.”

Haley, 19, enters his rookie season in Xfinity. He’s made 50 starts in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series since 2015 and earned three wins last year. He also made three Xfinity Series starts with GMS Racing.

But the move to being essentially a one-car operation makes the No. 2 a “nimble” team in the eyes of the man who leads it.

New Crew Chief

Somehow, some way Reddick made it to the end of the 2018 season with Dave Elenz as his crew chief.

“I think any other crew chief in the garage would have pulled out his hair and quit on me halfway through the year but Dave wouldn’t do it,” Reddick said. “He believed in me, more so than anybody else did in the entire garage and that’s what held us together last year and got us to Homestead.”

After Reddick’s win at Daytona last year, the No. 9 team finished in the top five just twice in the next 22 races.

Their struggles stemmed partly from a difficulty to communicate when it came to diagnosing issues on the JRM cars, which were significantly different from what he drove in 2017 at Ganassi.

Reddick took the blame, saying he wasn’t consistent enough in what he conveyed to Elenz.

“Dave was at a huge disadvantage because at the time the Chip Ganassi Racing cars drove night and day different than what JR Motorsports cars did,” Reddick said.” I feel like in the sim (simulator), the Richard Childress Racing cars and JR Motorsports cars are a little bit closer together.”

Reddick says his Ganassi experience is part of the reason he’s connected so quickly with his new crew chief, Randall Burnett.

Burnett was crew chief on the No. 2 in 2018 when it was driven by Tifft. This will be Burnett’s third season as a crew chief for RCR after two years spent in Cup working with AJ Allmendinger.

Before that, Burnett spent 10 years as an engineer at Ganassi. That tenure included working “hand-in-hand” with crew chief Mike Shiplett to build its Xfinity team, which won 14 races from 2016-18 before shutting down due to a lack of sponsorship.

“I think we’ve got a lot of common ground with our racing background, growing up racing go karts and mini-outlaw karts and this, that and the other,” Burnett said. “I think we’ve just got a lot of common ground that we kind of relate to one another and are able to communicate really well so far.”

Burnett has a history of working with a multitude of drivers in a short amount of time. In 2017 he worked with four drivers, including the final five races with Hemric during his run to the Championship 4.

“I feel like I’ve kind of got a pretty good checklist of things to learn relatively quick so I can hit the ground running with a new driver,” Burnett said.

Without any time at a track in the last two months, the duo has adapted to each other through time at the team shop, talking on the phone and in the simulator.

“That’s been a huge benefit too, trying to learn how his language is about the car’s terms that he uses,” Burnett said of the simulator time with Reddick. “Like his scaling. How loose and tight the car is on a 1-10 scaling and how big of an adjustment I need to be able to make based on that scaling.”

Compared to other drivers he’s worked with, including Hemric, Paul Menard, Ben Kennedy and Allmendinger, Burnett describes Reddick as being more “laid back” and in the form of Kyle Larson.

“Kind of not too hands-on in the car setup stuff,” Burnett said. “Just kind of tells you, ‘Hey, it’s doing this.’ Where Daniel Hemric was kind of on the other extreme of that, he’s very in-tune, building his own race cars and everything. Tyler’s kind of on the opposite end. He’s like, ‘You do your job, I’m just going to tell you what it’s doing and you all fix it.'”

‘Do It Better’

With his title defense Reddick joins Christopher Bell, who won a rookie record seven races in 2018, in having a target on his back.

But Reddick says he feels less stress entering his title defense than he did last year.

“I feel like the weight is off my shoulders,” Reddick said. “I know that I can do it again, I just want to do it better than the first time. Winning a title is really cool and it’s great, but it wasn’t a perfect year. Everyone talks about they want to have a perfect year, they want to win every game they play and they want to win the Super Bowl at the end of the season. It’s very hard to do, but I want to strive more towards perfection.”

Simply, he wants to “be more like Christopher Bell” last year, even though he proved you don’t have to be to win the title. No matter how he does it, if Reddick pulls off back-to-back titles, he’d be the first Xfinity driver to do so since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011-12.

“We can easily, if we execute properly and be smart and kind of play to our strengths, I think we should be able to have a year like Christopher Bell put together,” Reddick said.

Kyle Busch, JGR teammates take four of seven fastest spots in first of two Cup practices

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Busch led a Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut in Friday’s first of two NASCAR Cup practices at Daytona International Speedway.

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 practice speed chart.

The second Cup practice session of the day is scheduled later this afternoon at 3:05-3:55 p.m. ET.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Chase Briscoe fastest in first of two Xfinity practices at Daytona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe turned in the fastest speed (196.455 mph) in the first of Friday’s two NASCAR Xfinity Series practices at Daytona International Speedway.

Defending Daytona Xfinity race winner Tyler Reddick was second-fastest (196.344 mph), followed by John Hunter Nemechek (196.202), Ross Chastain (196.002) and Justin Haley 195.135.

Click here for full results of the first practice.

Today’s second and final Xfinity practice runs from 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. ET.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch Motorsports adds Canadian teen for three Truck races

Kyle Busch Motorsports
Leave a comment

Kyle Busch Motorsports has a long history of developing young drivers such as Erik Jones and Christopher Bell.

Now, KBM has gone north of the border for its latest addition to the fold, 17-year-old Canadian teenager Raphael Lessard.

Lessard, a native of Saint Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, is slated to drive the No. 46 Toyota Tundra in three Gander Outdoors Truck Series races for KBM this season: Martinsville (March 23), Dover (May 3) and Bristol (August 15). He turns 18 in July.

“Driving for KBM I will be assured of having one of the best vehicles in the Truck Series and that will allow me to go for the win every time out,” Lessard said in a media release. “KBM is a team of winners, and I intend to take full advantage of the great situation I find myself in.”

Raphael Lessard (Photo: Kyle Busch Motorsports)

The move to Trucks is a promotion for Lessard, who competed for KBM’s Super Late Model Program in 2018. He captured two wins: the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol last May, and the Red Bud 400 ARCA/CRA Super Series race at Anderson (Indiana) Speedway last July.

In 16 combined starts for KBM last season, Lessard recorded two wins, three poles, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 2018 across the CARS Super Late Model Tour, the Southern Super Series and the ARCA/CRA Super Series.

“Raphael was really fast in our Super Late Models last season and added a couple of marquee wins to KBM’s resume,” team owner and NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Busch said in a media release. “We expect that he’ll be able to step right in and be competitive as he makes the jump to the next level.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski