Cole Custer wins Xfinity race in Texas with last-lap pass

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Cole Custer won Saturday’s Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway with a last-lap pass of Tyler Reddick.

Custer, who snapped a 30-race winless streak, passed Reddick on the backstretch after their cars banged doors.

It is Custer’s second Xfinity Series win. Custer had to rebound from a penalty for a crew member going over the pit wall too soon on Lap 127.

“I can’t believe it,” Custer told NBCSN at the start-finish line. “We just did all we could. I drove it in deeper than I have all weekend into (Turn) 1 trying to get on (Reddick’s) bumper. It worked out.”

Reddick, who placed second, admitted to making a “mistake” on the last lap as they exited Turn 2, which allowed Custer to get a run on him.

“I’m not mad at all with what happened there,” Reddick told NBCSN. “I think a lot of him. He’s a great driver.”

The win locks Custer into the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the site of his first series win.

“We haven’t won all year and we’ve been so close,” Custer said. “We kept going and this is the perfect time to (win).”

The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, John Hunter Nemechek and Justin Allgaier.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

MORE: Points, race results

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Austin Cindric earned his fifth career top five after he started from the rear in a backup car and suffered damage to his right-front bumper on the first lap … John Hunter Nemechek bounced back from a Lap 1 spin to finish fourth … Justin Allgaier earned his first top five at Texas in 17 starts.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Christopher Bell, who started from the pole, earned his second consecutive DNF after he was spun by Austin Cindric and wrecked on Lap 134 … Ryan Truex wrecked on Lap 126 and finished 33rd … Brandon Jones managed to place sixth and Michael Annett finished 16th after they made contact and spun on a Lap 97 restart. Jones later got loose and wrecked teammate Ryan Preece on Lap 139. Preece placed 31st.

NOTABLE: The race saw a track record 13 cautions … Cole Custer has finished in the top five in all four of his Xfinity starts at Texas.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “The 2 (Matt Tifft) drove into the back of me off of (Turn 2) and that put me in the middle and put the 3 (Shane Lee) underneath me. He just lost it underneath me and took me out. Nothing the 3 could do. The 2 is the one that put me in that situation. It’s all good. We work really good together. It’s just a frustrating day. You’re bound to have days where we run into each but never happy about it when it happens.” – Daniel Hemric to NBC Sports and NASCAR.com on the incident with his two teammates on Lap 194.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “The good thing is we ran together the whole race and both of our cars had speed. I think both we’re both frustrated at the end because we felt like it played out to where we got to the back of the pack and we were both trying to make our way back up. Honestly, I don’t think I ever touched (Hemric). I think the air got him free. I had momentum behind, so once he got sideways, I just tried to duck out to make sure he didn’t get turned and I had a clear path too. He was frustrated that he got put in that situation but he understood that I had to go. If I would have gave, somebody would have done the same to me and put me in the same spot. It’s so narrow coming off of (Turn) 2. We’ll be find. We’ll talk it out.” – Matt Tifft to NBC Sports

WHAT’S NEXT: Whelen Trusted to Perform 200 at ISM Raceway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 10 on NBCSN.

‘How can we be upset?’: Ross Chastain discusses losing Ganassi ride, hopeful future

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Ross Chastain received word of the events “out west,” he knew the loss of his full-time Xfinity Series ride with Chip Ganassi Racing was “inevitable.”

The events were the Dec. 18 dual raids by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in California on the headquarters of DC Solar, Ganassi’s primary Xfinity sponsor, and the home of the company’s CEO, Jeff Carpoff.

Seventeen days later, Ganassi made it official. The biggest opportunity of Chastain’s NASCAR career was gone roughly two months after it had been announced due to a lack of sponsorship.

Chastain, who turned 26 in December, made his first public appearance in a month on Friday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There, he announced plans to compete part-time for Niece Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, beginning with the season opener at Daytona.

“Early on there was a couple of dark days following everything that went down. I’m not going to shy away from it,” Chastain told reporters before later clarifying himself. “It wasn’t dark, that’s probably going to come across wrong when you write it down now that I think about that. I don’t want people to get the wrong impression, but it was a big deal.

“(The Carpoffs) did a lot for me. They changed my life. I’ll forever be thankful for them and Chip (Ganassi) and Felix (Sabates) … and everybody involved with CGR and all the people in the office, they still stand behind me, I’m still tied to them, I’m still working for them.”

Chastain said he hasn’t been in contact with the Carpoffs since the FBI raids.

“Chip and (Chief Operating Officer) Doug Duchardt, they tried everything they could to keep that deal going,” Chastain said. “Talked to Chip back-and-forth throughout the process … it was going to affect so many people and so many mechanics and crew guys on that, including me.

“He knew that and it affected him. He was the ultimate loser here in Charlotte for it. Nobody wanted it to happen, man. We think we know what we could accomplish or what we were going to shoot for and the cards that were laying out on the table of what we could do in 2019, but it’s just not how it was intended to happen.”

While he won’t be driving the No. 42 for CGR in 2019, he’s still under contract with the team and said Ganassi himself calls “every now and then to make sure I’m doing ok.”

So what did Chastain do during a holiday season where his career was upended through no fault of his own?

He went home.

Chastain spent Christmas and New Years clearing his head on his family’s watermelon farm in Alva, Florida.

“Spent a lot of time at the farm on a tractor,” Chastain said. “Leaving my phone in the truck. Get on the tractor and a couple of days of that will make you appreciate the life I do get to live and I knew I wasn’t done racing. I was just going to change my schedule for this year. Family was really good.  It kind of made us all even closer.”

The time was also spent reflecting on everything that has transpired in the last half-year.

“If you would have told me six months ago, right, that I was going to drive for Chip Ganassi, I was going to win a race (at Las Vegas), I was going to finish second in a race (at Richmond) and I was going to crash – for the win – in a race (at Darlington) with a very high-profile driver (Kevin Harvick) and he was going to say a bunch of bad things about me and I was going to come back the next race in that car and win? I would have told you you were crazy. …

“We talked through all that and realized ‘Man, what we would have given six months ago to have all this happen,'” Chastain said. “‘How can we be upset?'”

While Chastain had been silent, including on social media, since the day before the raids, other NASCAR drivers have been in touch with him. That includes Elliott Sadler, who tweeted about Chastain on Jan. 7 after talking with him.

“Elliott has probably been the biggest one through all this,” Chastain said. “I don’t get along with many drivers. Me and him connect on a lot of things. … He was just like, ‘Yeah, it’s terrible, but you’re going to get through it. You have a future’ and that’s what he kept saying.

“He said he’s been here long enough to see it. It’s going to work out. You’ve just got to believe. I was already back on track, digging on this year when I talked to Elliott and he sent that tweet out. His biggest thing was ‘Just believe. Know it’s going to work out. I’ve seen this before. Nobody could see this coming. You didn’t do anything wrong.’ It’s head down and dig.

“He’s been really instrumental in staying on me to make sure I’m doing that.”

When it comes to who Chastain will dig deep for in races this year, Chastain said there are restrictions Ganassi has on who he can compete for that are still being worked out.

His deal with Niece Motorsports, who he made three starts for last year, was not a result of the Ganassi closure and had been in the works for months. He’ll share the No. 45 Chevrolet with Reid Wilson.

In addition to his truck ride, Chastain plans to compete full-time in Cup with Premium Motorsports in the No. 15 Chevrolet while declaring for points in the Xfinity Series.

That way he can compete in any Xfinity and Truck races in the playoffs, when all Cup drivers are banned from competition in those series.

Chastain did not reveal who he has “hand shakes galore” with in the Xfinity Series, but that he plans to compete in all three points races at Daytona in February. He does anticipate racing at some point this season with JD Motorsports, the Xfinity team he raced full-time for from 2015-2017 and all but three races in 2018.

“However many races we end up at we’ll be great,” Chastain said. “I’m getting to run, getting paid to drive in NASCAR and that was my dream growing up.”

Despite having multiple opportunities to race this season, the question was raised whether last year’s feel-good story has been set back in a way that could harm his hopes of marketing himself for a top-tier ride after 2019.

“People are going to think what they want to think if it set me back or not,” Chastain said. “We’re writing our own story for how this is going to work out.”

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Chad Knaus admits he’ll likely think he’s still with Jimmie Johnson’s team when season begins

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For perhaps the first few races of the 2019 Cup season, Chad Knaus may need a road map of both the garage area and pit road as a reminder he’s no longer with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, but rather in his new role as crew chief of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team with driver William Byron.

“Look, I had 18 years of working on that 48 car, so I guarantee I’m going to walk into the wrong transporter,” Knaus said Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “At some point, I’m probably going to key up the radio and start to say ‘Jimmie,’ by accident.”

He then added with a laugh: “I may look at the 48 as it rolls down the front straightaway periodically and get confused, but hell, I’m getting old, so I get confused anyhow. So, that’s just going to be part of life.”

After 17 seasons with Jimmie Johnson, Knaus will be on the pit box of the No. 24 and with driver William Byron in 2019.

Knaus admits regularly referring to Johnson, with whom he won a NASCAR record-tying seven championships and 83 races in 612 starts together, is a hard habit to break..

“As we’re going through and setting rosters and doing our car lineups and what not, I’ve caught myself no less than at least 1,500 times, saying ‘On the 48, we want this,’” Knaus said. “It’s definitely a reality.

“But quite frankly, it’s a good thing. I’ve always been a 24 guy at heart, always. All the really productive years of my career began when I came to Hendrick Motorsports and began working with Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham back in 1993.

“To be able to wear that badge again is really exciting to me. It’s really kind of a homecoming for me. I’ve always had that passion for the 24 and always been a fan of that. So I’m excited to be back and be a part of it.”

As for working with Byron, Knaus admits it will be an interesting change, with Knaus being more of an old-school crew chief, while Byron is more of a new-age race car driver.

“The ability is there (but) it’s definitely different,” he said. “When you get yourselves into positions of a guy like myself or Ray (Evernham) … in the contemporary term of mechanical engineer, being very good at algebra, algorithms, material properties and things of that nature, you have to dig in deeper.

“The days that have come in by old school racer knowledge to really make things happen have kind of passed us to a degree. But, and the big but is, that isn’t necessarily what makes a good crew chief nowadays. What does make a good crew chief nowadays is to be able to come up with is good practical racer knowledge and convey that to the people that can make things happen.

“That’s kind of how I’ve started to approach things over the last couple years and it’s starting to show fruit from my perspective. So yeah, there are things you can do. The one thing that has remained consistent is we’re trying to get from the start/finish line back to the start/finish line as fast as you possibly can. That is a fundamental problem in our sport. And if you can do that, faster than anybody else, you’re going to be successful.”

While Knaus admits he’ll miss working with Johnson, the challenge of working with Byron has reinvigorated him.

“It’s definitely lit a fire back in me that I wouldn’t say died, but maybe helps transforms me into a more aggressive approach, which is definitely what we need,” Knaus said.

As for Daytona, Knaus can see Johnson win his third 500 — and a lot more with new crew chief Kevin Meendering.

Knaus says it would be “awesome” if Johnson can win a third Daytona 500, but also has high goals for Byron, as well.

“Jimmie Johnson’s going to go out there and win races with Kevin Meendering, period, 100 percent,” Knaus said. “Is he going to win the Daytona 500? I sure as heck hope so. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

“I love Jimmie like a brother. I hadn’t seen him since the end of last season. We saw each other at the shop two days ago and we gave each other a big old hug. My goal and our goal at Hendrick Motorsports is to have four teams that are capable of going out there and battling for wins and are in a position to battle for championships every single race and every single year. I feel that William has the ability to do that.”

While he’s not putting any pressure on Byron, Knaus definitely has Johnson-like goals for his young driver.

“The goal is to win the Daytona 500 and sit on the pole and win the 150 and we’re the fastest in practice and led every lap,” Knaus said. “That’s the goal. But the reality is it’s going to take a little time.”

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Jamie McMurray to race in Daytona 500 with Spire Motorsports

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Spire Motorsports announced Friday that 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray will drive the No. 40 car in this year’s Daytona 500.

The Chevrolet Camaro will have branding from Bass Pro Shops, McDonald’s and Cessna, which have all had an affiliation with McMurray. The effort will be done in partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The Daytona 500 is the one race that every NASCAR driver would want to win,” McMurray said in a statement from the team. “For the rest of your life you get to be introduced or recognized as a Daytona 500 champion. I’m excited to have the opportunity to potentially be a two-time winner of the race and it would mean so much to celebrate one more win with all of the great partners that have been with me for so many years.”

Spire Motorsports is a new entry to the Cup Series this year. Spire Sports + Entertainment executives Jeff Dickerson and TJ Puchyr purchased the charter from Furniture Row Racing after last season. The team will field the No. 77 the rest of the season but is using the No. 40 for this race. That’s the car number McMurray drove at the beginning of his Cup career in 2002. The charter ensures McMurray a starting spot in the 500.

The team also announced that Joe Garone, who was President of Furniture Row Racing, will have that same role for this team, which will be based in Mooresville, North Carolina.

McMurray completed his 16th season last year. Kurt Busch is taking over the No. 1 ride McMurray had the past nine seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing. McMurray has seven career Cup victories. McMurray is one of three drivers to have won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season, joining Dale Jarrett (1996) and Jimmie Johnson (2006). McMurray accomplished the feat in 2010.

McMurray will be a Fox Sports analyst this year and have a role at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Fire Alarm Services continues sponsorship of John Hunter Nemechek

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GMS Racing announced Friday that John Hunter Nemechek will continue to be sponsored by Fire Alarm Services in 2019.

Nemechek, who will drive the No. 23 Chevrolet full-time, will be backed by Fire Alarm Services in 13 Xfinity races.

FAS has been a supporter of Nemechek since 2016.

FAS will be on the No. 23 Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway (spring and fall), Auto Club Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway (spring and fall), Darlington Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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FAS was on Nemechek’s car last year when he won his first Xfinity Series race in October at Kansas Speedway with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I couldn’t be more excited to continue this relationship with them in 2019,” Nemechek said in a press release. “I am super thankful and blessed that Shannon and Connie Smith, owners of Fire Alarm Services, Inc., believe in me and my career. They have been a staple in various first accomplishments for me, and I hope we can add an Xfinity Series Championship on to that list of firsts.”

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