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Friday 5: Cup rookie will ‘Turn the Page’ to new chapter

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HARRISBURG, N.C. — Wailing strands of a saxophone leap from Ryan Preece’s phone. The distinctive opening notes of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” take Preece back in time even as the NASCAR Cup rookie looks ahead.

“If you listen to the lyrics, there’s a lot of things I can relate to,” Preece tells NBC Sports. He speaks while seated at a table that comfortably accommodates 10 people in the competition room at JTG Daugherty Racing, his new home after running limited Xfinity races the past two years with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Although Seger’s song is about a musician, it could be about the highs and lows of a racer. Preece, born 17 years after the song’s debut, has lived life in the spotlight and experienced the late-night road trips on his circuitous path to Cup.

On a long and lonesome highway

The song’s opening line resonates with Preece. The 28-year-old Connecticut native raced modifieds throughout the Northeast and traveled to the South numerous times in his quest to reach NASCAR’s premier series. There were many nights on the road.

Preece worked his way to the Xfinity Series in 2016 but had limited success with an underfunded JD Motorsports team. With no other opportunities after that season, Preece returned home and faced the likelihood he would race modifieds the rest of his career.

Things changed when Carl Edwards shocked the sport by announcing in January 2017 that he would no longer compete. Joe Gibbs Racing suddenly had some Xfinity races available.

If Edwards had not left the sport, “I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” Preece said. 

“There was no talk of going anywhere. When I went home, I went home (after 2016). I spoke to a few teams and the (cost to run those cars) were so high. I just figured I could go make a living running a modified and winning. It wasn’t a sense of I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond … this was my best chance at being successful.”

Preece spent 2016 living in former Cup crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion’s race shop before moving back home after the season. After Edwards’ announcement, Manion called Preece and told him to contact JGR.

“I was going to figure a way out,” Preece said. “That was the chance I was waiting for.”

He gathered enough money for two races, won at Iowa and got two more races that season. That turned into 15 races in 2018. He won at Bristol. His success that season led to the ride at JTG Daugherty Racing in place of AJ Allmendinger.

When you’re ridin’ sixteen hours

and there’s nothin’ much to do

And you don’t feel much like ridin’

you just wish the trip was through

A crew member often played the song on long road trips and it has remained with Preece since, a reminder of those all-night drives from one region of the country to another to race.

As he plays the song on his phone, Preece slips back to the past. He recalls a time he raced at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, finished around 11 p.m. and drove through the night with his team to be at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for a race that Saturday. He won that weekend.

Preece smiles at the memory.

Here I am

On the road again

There I am

Up on the stage

Here I go

Playin’ star again

There I go

Turn the page

“When I was younger, I was like that’s pretty catchy,’’ Preece said of the song. “As you grow older and you go through different events and different situations in your life, you start to relate to it. Every time there has been a great moment in my life, the more I can relate to that song.”

He hopes to add to the collection of memories this season with the No. 47 team. Preece is ready for the season to begin. He’ll get an early start. His team will be among those that will test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Jan. 31 – Feb. 1.

Shortly after that, he will be off to Florida to compete in his first Daytona 500.

Even as he heads on a new journey with Cup, Preece won’t leave the modified series behind. He plans to run a few races this season when his schedule allows.

But after years of going back-and-forth from the Northeast to the South, Preece has one trip left. He heads to Connecticut today to retrieve the last of his belongings and complete the move he and his wife have made to North Carolina. He also will tow his modified with him.

He plans to leave Connecticut at 3 a.m. Sunday. He knows through experience that’s the best time to depart to avoid New York traffic snarls.

One more overnight road trip. This time he’s headed for a new journey and a chance to turn the page in his racing career.

2. Study habits

Coleman Pressley admits he’s a “huge note taker” and he’s been doing just that as he reviews film and prepares for his first season as Brad Keselowski’s spotter.

Pressley, the son of former Cup driver Robert Pressley, spent the past four years spotting for AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing. Pressley became available after Allmendinger was not brought back for this season.

One of the biggest challenges for Pressley will be Daytona Speedweeks and the Daytona 500. Keselowski is among the sport’s premier drivers at that track and Talladega. He and former spotter Joey Meier — they had been together since 2006 until parting after last year — were among the top driver/spotter duos, winning four of the last 17 plate races (only teammate Joey Logano matches Keselowski’s record in that span).

Pressley, who doesn’t have as much experience spotting a car at the front of the field at a plate track, has been studying how the race is different there than in the middle of the field.

“I went to school the last two or three weeks just learning what the first two or three rows do,” Pressley told NBC Sports. “It’s amazing how much the draft changes in the first three rows then it does in the 10th or 12th row. I’m learning from arguably the best superspeedway racer right now.

“I feel like I’ve learned more in two or three times sitting down with Brad than in four years of spotting. He’s that good at it. It’s like dealing with AJ at a road course. AJ is so good at a road course, I learned a lot from him there.”

One of the challenges with racing at Daytona is how the lead car controls the field and moves up and down the track, blocking the run from the cars in the lanes behind. It’s critical for the spotter to tell the driver which lane is making a move so the driver can block and remain in the lead.

“Everything that we’re reviewing is more situational,” Pressley said. “Like what happens when three cars are this close and this lane is a car length apart. … Does this change if you’ve got a slower car third in line or what happens if there’s three lanes. We’re trying to make sure that when we get there, when I’m on the roof, that when I see something I know what is going to happen.”

Pressley already has watched last year’s Daytona 500 multiple times and planned to watch the race with Keselowski this week.

3. Caution laps won’t count

South Boston Speedway will not count caution laps this season for its local division races 150 laps and shorter, the track announced this week.

It’s an interesting concept. While it’s not something that could be done for a 500-lap Cup race, maybe it is something to ponder for the K&N Pro Series. Possibly a Truck race. Or maybe don’t count caution laps in the last 50 laps of a Cup or Xfinity race at a short track.

Maybe that is extreme, but with NASCAR President Steve Phelps saying last fall that “everything is in play” when examining the sport, why not consider such an idea?

Cathy Rice, general manager at South Boston Speedway, a .4-mile track, told NBC Sports that the change — caution laps did not count previously for local races 75 laps or less — was made to give fans more racing.

What if the race has several cautions and the night stretches on? Rice, entering her 31st season at South Boston, said they would shorten the event. It goes back to her belief that they should limit the racing to three hours (not including practice and qualifying). If the first race takes the green flag at 7 p.m., then the checkered flag should wave on the final race by 10 p.m. so fans can return home at a reasonable time.

“I’m pretty hard on that … that’s what we want to do, that’s what we’ve got to do,” Rice said.

Rice said she’ll keep a close eye on how long the races go with the caution laps not counting. The rule may work perfectly or may need some tweaking, but for Rice it was worth trying after fans had told her they wanted more green-flag racing.

That’s what they’ll get this season.

4. Close quarters

Daniel Suarez’s first time on the track with his new team at Stewart-Haas Racing was Wednesday and Thursday at a Goodyear tire test at Auto Club Speedway.

Two other cars were there, including Suarez’s former team, the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing now driven by Martin Truex Jr.

5. NBC SPORTS SCORES app 

The NBC SPORTS SCORES app is a new way to engage, read and watch all of the content across our platforms.

Available on iOS and Android, the NBC SPORTS SCORES app has up-to-date scores, standings, schedules, podcasts, access to NBC Sports radio content, videos and more.

You can also get all of the latest NASCAR news on the app from NASCAR Talk. All of the NBC SportsTalk sites are available on it.

Click on the links below to download the brand new NBC SPORTS SCORES app via iTunes and Google Play.

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/nbc-sports-scores/id1123078102?mt=8

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nbcsports.news&hl=en_US

 and on Facebook

Regan Smith to return to JR Motorsports for two Xfinity races

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JR Motorsports announced Wednesday that Regan Smith will drive the team’s No. 8 car in two Xfinity Series races this season.

Smith, who also serves as a Fox Sports analyst, will pilot the car Aug. 10 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Aug. 24 at Road America. Long-time sponsor Fire Alarm Services will join Smith.

This will mark the 35-year-old Smith’s first Xfinity start in two years and his first for JR Motorsports since 2016. Smith won in his JR Motorsports debut in 2012 in Miami and drove full-time for the team from 2013-15. He won five times during that stint, including at Mid-Ohio.

“Regan is a great friend, and he means so much to our company,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a statement from the team. “He won a lot of races here, but for me his significance was no more evident than in his very first race for JRM at the end of 2012. That win at Homestead was enormous. It ended a winless streak for JR Motorsports that had dragged us down for more than two years. It was a tone-setter. It gave us momentum that, to be honest, I’m not sure we’ve ever lost. That’s what Regan means to this company, and that’s why I’m thrilled to have him back for these two races at Mid-Ohio and Road America.”

Said Smith: “I can’t tell you how pumped I am for this. Dale, Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) and everyone at JRM have been like family to me, so in a way, it feels like I’m coming home. I have great memories of the years I spent there and the success we had during that time. And to have Fire Alarm on board for these races makes it all the more meaningful. They’ve been both friends and supporters of mine for a long time.”

Comcast NBCUniversal to salute military at next two Xfinity races

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Comcast NBCUniversal will use the next two Xfinity Series races – June 29 at Chicagoland and July 5 at Daytona – to honor the military during the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola campaign.

It will sponsor Jeffrey Earnhardt in Xtreme Concepts Racing’s No. 81 “Salute to Service” Toyota for the race at Chicagoland Speedway, which is the first NASCAR race broadcast by NBCSN this year.

“I’m really excited to be partnering with Comcast and the military on the Comcast Salute to Service Toyota for Chicagoland Speedway,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “Our race team at Xtreme Concepts Racing feels as though we can’t ever do enough for the men and women that protect us and it’s awesome to be partnered with a company like Comcast that feels the same. We will give the fans at Chicagoland Speedway and watching on NBCSN something awesome to cheer for. Hopefully, they watch us park it in victory lane.”

Also, for the fourth consecutive season, all Xfinity Series drivers will bear the names of active military units and installations on their race car windshields in place of the traditional Xfinity branding during the NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR and teams collaborated with Comcast to select these military units and installations to showcase the industry’s strong ties back to the military community.

Comcast NBCUniversal has a long-standing reputation as a military-friendly and military-ready company. That includes its commitment to hiring military community members – veterans, National Guard and Reserve members and military spouses. Comcast hired more than 10,000 military community members from 2015 to 2017 and are committed to hire 11,000 more by the end of 2021. Also, as a “thank you” for their service, veterans and actively-serving military customers can get a $100 prepaid card and $25 Xfinity coupon by visiting https://www.xfinity.com/military.

“At Comcast NBCUniversal, our sustained commitment to our nation’s military community has never been stronger,” said Brigadier General (Ret.) Carol Eggert, senior vice president of military and veteran affairs at Comcast NBCUniversal in a press release. “We truly value the tremendous contributions of those who serve our country and wanted to recognize them and their families in a special way as we celebrate our country’s independence.”

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Rutledge Wood is joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

They’ll take fan phone calls and discuss the big storylines of the week.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch 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.

After ARCA win and strong Truck debut, Chandler Smith ready for more at Gateway

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Chandler Smith can drive well over 100 mph on a race track. But after an ARCA or NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, he can’t drive out of the race track and proceed on a city street or rural road or freeway.

That kind of thing happens when you’re 16 years old – he turns 17 on June 26 – and have yet to get your driver’s license from your home state (in Smith’s case, Georgia).

But even without a license, the soon-to-be high school junior from tiny Talking Rock, Georgia, – population 69 – is proving he sure knows how to wheel a race car or race truck.

Last weekend is more than enough proof to any driver’s examiner of Smith’s ability behind the wheel. On Saturday night, he earned his fourth career ARCA win – in just 14 total starts in the series – in Madison, Wisconsin, for Venturini Motorsports.

Just over 12 hours later, Smith made his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut by starting on the pole (due to being fastest in first practice when second practice and qualifying were both rained out) in the M&Ms 200 race for Kyle Busch Motorsports, led 55 laps and ultimately finished eighth (he may have finished higher if not for a pit road penalty that sent him to the tail end of the field).

So what does Smith do for an encore? Double duty again in both ARCA and Trucks events this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (formerly Gateway Motorsports Park), that’s what.

Smith is looking forward to both races, particularly the next step in his evolution with KBM, for whom he’s driving a limited schedule in both Trucks and super late models.

It’s very humbling to have all of these opportunities on the table and I can pick and choose what pathway I am going to take,” Smith said in a media release. “I am grateful for all of the people around me.

I have finally gotten to the age and the maturity when I realize this is a big deal. There is no one I know that is my age that has the opportunities I have. I have some bigger opportunities than some Cup drivers right now. I am really trying to stay humble about it.”

Busch has high expectations for the young drivers that pilot his trucks, and Smith is not excluded from that category even with just one start to date.

I don’t think it adds pressure at all,” Smith said. “When you have drivers that aren’t winning in the very best stuff, he has a valid point. If I don’t do good, I would go up and ask him what I did wrong. I will deserve it. I want to make sure I am aware of what I am doing wrong so I can fix it.”

Saturday will be one of the longest race days – an estimated 14 hours, all told (barring any weather issues) the teenager has experienced to date. He has two ARCA practices, qualifying and the 120 laps/150 miles Day to Day Coffee 150 race at 7:30 p.m. ET. He also has two Truck practices, qualifying and a 160 laps/200 miles CarShield 200 race at 10 p.m. ET.

I think it’s going to be all mental,” said Smith, who has never been in the St. Louis area and may not know about it’s notorious heat and humidity at times. “You are going to have to want to have the drive to do it. If you are like ‘oh my gosh, I have to do that?’ because if you have that attitude you are going to suck at it.

I’ve never been to the track before. I know you need to be patient and hit your marks there. There is definitely going to be a big learning curve. I have never raced on a track like that before. I have practiced there a little on the simulator. I have a good bit of laps under me and I have a general idea so when we get there so I will know what to do.”

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