Dave Elenz among small group of Xfinity crew chiefs to win multiple titles

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Dave Elenz had two very different experiences in his last two seasons as crew chief of JR Motorsports’ No. 9 Chevrolet, but still wound up as a Xfinity Series champion each year.

In 2017, Elenz and rookie driver William Byron claimed four wins, 12 top fives and finished third in the season finale to earn the title.

This season, again paired with a rookie driver in Tyler Reddick, the No. 9 team made it to the Championship 4 with just one win and six top fives.

They left Miami with their second win and JR Motorsports’ third Xfinity title.

Elenz, 37, is just the 10th Xfinity crew chief since 1982 and the fourth since 2000 to win multiple titles.

Both of those came in his first two years as crew chief for full-time drivers. In 2015, he worked with five drivers. In 2016, he worked with seven.

“Dave is critical,” JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday after Reddick’s win. “Dave’s ability to take those young guys and mold them into men and mold them into people that believe in themselves and know what they need to do and don’t drive over their head, don’t make a lot of mistakes, they’re going to make mistakes.  Everybody does.  They will continue to make them.  But Dave has them ready when it’s time to be ready.  You saw it in Tyler throughout the playoffs.”

Reddick entered the playoffs with four top fives. In the seven-race playoff, he earned three top fives (all in the final four races) and placed outside the top 10 just once at Dover.

At Miami, Reddick took advantage of bad pit strategy by Cole Custer‘s team and passed Christopher Bell for the lead with 37 laps to go. He spent the rest of the race running against the fence, scraping the wall multiple times but going unchallenged to the checkered flag.

“(Reddick) had a good focus and ran hard, ran aggressive but never took himself out or did anything to hurt their chances of getting here to Homestead,” Earnhardt said. “Dave has a big involvement in his ability to do that, as Dave is coaching him throughout the year to put him in position to make those last few laps and keep the car out of the fence.”

The victory was Elenz’s 10th as a crew chief. Those wins have come with five drivers: Byron (four), Kevin Harvick (two), Earnhardt (one), Chase Elliott (one) and Reddick (two).

Elenz doesn’t know why he meshes well with young drivers.

“Every year it’s a fresh guy with a new style of driving, new thoughts and everything,” Elenz said Saturday.  “As they progress throughout the year, you let them make their mistakes, try to be easy on them and just when they’re down, try to bring them up a little bit.  But I don’t really know what it is.  I know we have great teammates like Dale was saying, and with Elliott (Sadler) and Justin (Allgaier), they help guide the 9 team quite a bit because it’s tougher for the young guys to tell us what they need.  We’ve got two of the best right next to us in the crew chiefs that help me out to make sure we’re not getting too far off base.”

Elenz will likely be paired with yet another rookie driver in 2019. Incoming driver Noah Gragson sat on the No. 9 team’s pit box for during the Miami race.

“I think that only makes sense,” team co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller said Saturday. “(With) Kevin (Meendering) moving up (to crew chief Jimmie Johnson in Cup), and we’re still working on our fourth car, but the three cars that we have in place, we’ve got three crew chiefs in-house, and seems like that would make the most sense.”

Multiple Championships (1982 – 2018) – Crew Chiefs
Steve Bird      1989, ’95, ’96, ’97
Jack Ingram    1982, ’85
Gere Kennon  1983, ’84
Ricky Pearson 1986, ’87
Bob Labonte   1991, ’94
Tony Eury Jr.  1998, ’99
Kevin Manion  2004, ’05
Mike Kelley      2011, ’12
Scott Graves   2015, ’16
David Elenz     2017, ’18

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Sam Bass, famed paint scheme and race program designer, dies

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Sam Bass, the artist known for designing many iconic NASCAR paint schemes and race programs, died Saturday.

His wife Denise confirmed Bass’ passing on Twitter. He was 57.

Bass, who designed Jeff Gordon’s striking “Rainbow Warriors” paint scheme, had spent the last few years looking for a new kidney. That was a result of a sepsis infection that originated in a blister on his left foot in 2005 and led to a below-the-knee amputation in 2008. Bass also had Type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 29.

Bass was inspired to become a NASCAR artist when he was 7 after attending his first race at Southside Speedway in suburban Richmond, Virginia.

“I was so amazed that night not only by the excitement and watching those cars run around and beat and bang on each other, but also the color – how all the cars were painted so many different colors,” Bass told NBC Sports in 2017. “I was like, ‘How cool is this?’ I couldn’t wait to get home to pull out my markers.”

The first car Bass designed was Bobby Allison’s Miller High Life car in 1988. That car went on to win the Daytona 500.

He went on to design the first Cup schemes for Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bass first designed a race program for the 1985 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He designed programs for it and other Speedway Motorsports, Inc. tracks through 2018.

Marcus Smith, the CEO and President of SMI, issued the following statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are with Denise and her family today. Sam Bass has been a significant part of NASCAR’s history. He poured his heart, soul and talent into producing souvenir program covers at many speedways including Charlotte for more than 30 years. His work provided our fans a keepsake to treasure, and that was so appropriate, because Sam was always such a fan of our sport and he was such a treasure to the entire NASCAR family. His body of work will be a legacy that lives forever. We will miss Sam’s smile and positivity.”

Michael McDowell leads final Daytona 500 practice

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Front Row Motorsport’s Michael McDowell was fastest in the final practice session for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

McDowell and his No. 34 Ford recorded nine laps and a top speed of 191.440 mph.

The top five was completed by Ty Dillon (191.432 mph), pole-sitter William Byron (191.339), Alex Bowman (191.278) and Daniel Hemric (190.921).

Only 20 cars made at least one lap in the session.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps in the session with 16 and was 11th on the speed chart at 189.741 mph.

Of four drivers to make a 10-lap run, Bowman had the best average at 190.334 mph.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

Jeffrey Earnhardt honors grandfather Dale Earnhardt with helmet design

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Xfinity Series driver Jeffrey Earnhardt is honoring the “GOAT” in his family with a helmet he’s debuting this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The “GOAT” – or “Greatest of All-Time” – is his grandfather, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt.

The helmet, which you can see below, bears an image of the seven-time Cup champion riding a horse while shirtless and wearing a cowboy hat.

Next to the image is the text, “Just a goat on his horse!”

Earnhardt will have the helmet today as he starts on the front row of the Xfinity Series season opener (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1).

It is the first of nine Xfinity races he’ll start for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

MORE: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning in Xfinity

Today’s Xfinity race at Daytona: Start time, lineup and more

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series kicks off the 2019 season today with the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

The 38-car field will feature defending series champion Tyler Reddick, who seeks to become the first driver to defend his Xfinity championship since Ricky Stenhouse Jr., won in 2011 and repeated in 2012.

Here’s how today’s pre-race schedule looks:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Drew Patey, VIP Partner of the NASCAR Racing Experience, at 2:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 2:49 p.m.

PRERACE CEREMONIES: Driver introductions begin at 2:10 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:30 p.m. by Sonny Gallman, Pastor of Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida. The National Anthem will be at 2:31 p.m. and sung by Gina Marie Incandela.

DISTANCE: The race is 120 laps (300 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2 p.m. and also can be heard at MRN.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for cloudy skies with a high of 74 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Tyler Reddick won last year’s season-opening race. He started 11th and led 11 laps en route to the victory.

TO THE REAR: Pole-sitter Tyler Reddick will start from the rear after changing a tire with an air leak.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.