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Zane Smith to make Xfinity debut in Las Vegas

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Zane Smith sat atop the pit box for JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet during last Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Atlanta when his phone started “blowing up.”

The gist of the messages barraging the 19-year-old who was a week away from making his Xfinity Series debut?

“Hey, Jimmie Johnson just gave you a huge shout out.”

The seven-time Cup champion was serving as an analyst on Fox Sports 1’s broadcast and had brought up Smith. The mention meant a lot to Smith, who “always looked up” to Johnson, a fellow California native.

“It’s kind of hard not to look up to him,” Smith told NBC Sports. “We kind of come from the same backgrounds. Our dads worked in off-road racing and come from nothing. I always have weird Déjà vu with him. I say that a lot, but it trips me out all the time. If I can be half the dude he can be I’ll be happy. ”

The New Guy

Of the six drivers slated to drive JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet this year in the Xfinity Series, Smith is not like the others.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott, Jeb Burton, Ryan Preece and Ryan Truex are all veterans with 56 or more starts across NASCAR’s three national series.

Smith, a member of the 2018-19 NASCAR Next class, has only one Gander Outdoor Truck Series start and will make his Xfinity debut today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

A winner of four Menards ARCA Series races, Smith said he entered this weekend “super focused.”

“I was actually just talking to my dad (Mike) about it,” Smith said.  “It’s crazy how we’ve gotten this far and really everyone that’s got me to this point.”

A native of Huntington Beach, California, Smith has competed since he was a 3-year-old riding a BMX bike.

After making the switch go karts, he steadily moved up the ranks, racing in Legends cars, Super Late Models and ARCA before making his only Truck Series start last June at Gateway Motorsports Park. He finished fifth for DGR-Crosley.

“We won’t move up until I win everything you kind of can. Or if you don’t win, you put yourself in contention to,” Smith said.

So why move to Xfinity after just one impressive Truck Series start?

“In my opinion, and a lot of people will kind of tell you as well, is that the Truck Series can kind of teach you bad habits,” Smith said. “I’ve kind of watched that from a lot of people. I feel like the Truck Series is kind of on its own. They just drive different from the rest. I totally agree if you have the money or the backing to go do a full year of trucks, absolutely I would first. But with my situation I can’t do that.”

Smith’s situation is a group of dedicated investors who have backed him since his go-kart days.

“It’s more than just slapping your logo on a side of a car,” Smith said. “They’re trying to get me to the top-level (Cup) and then I pay them back.”

The major investors in the group consist of Roy Debhan of ProAm Racing, Tim Casey of La Paz Margarita Mix and La Paz Racing and former Truck Series team owner Jimmy Smith.

He’s also received support from the Herbst family, which operates Herbst Smith Fabrication and whose Terrible Herbst Motorsports odd-road team his father manages.

“We had to figure out how to get to the race track when I was in go karts when a race weekend would cost a couple grand,” said Smith.  “Now it’s a couple hundred. It’s tough getting to the race track and a lot of fans I think needed to be educated on that no matter who you are you’re going to have to pay.”

Next Chapter

After a 2018 season where Smith finished second in the ARCA point standings, Smith landed at JR Motorsports for a tentative eight-race schedule after a deal with GMS Racing failed to come together.

After Las Vegas, he’s set to compete at Bristol Motor Speedway (April 6), Richmond Raceway (April 12 and Sept. 20), Dover International Speedway (May 4 and Oct. 5) and Iowa Speedway (June 16 and July 27).

Zane Smith during the Jan. 31 test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Smith got his feet wet on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 during the Las Vegas test. While the focus of the test was on the Cup Series and its new rules package, Smith was among four Xfinity rookies who took part.

Smith said he was the fastest of the Xfinity drivers.

“I felt super comfortable in it,” Smith said. “In my opinion, if you’re good enough to run with these guys you should be able to hop in anything and be fast in it.”

While he spent the first two race weekends shadowing the No. 8 team as Elliott and Preece drove it, Smith said he’s been leaning the most on teammate Justin Allgaier.

“He’s like the nicest person you’ll meet off the race track and he’s a badass on the track,” Smith said. “He’s kind of confusing honestly. I don’t know how to explain it. Really, whatever you need to ask him, he’s going to answer it for you. Definitely seems like one of the best teammates you’ll ever have.”

Saturday will see Smith will get to show off all he’s picked up from his teammates in the last month.

Roughly 70 family members, friends and investors in his racing future will be in attendance.

“I’ve got zero expectations,” Smith said. “Just to make the most out of it.”

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Miami Championship Weekend schedule

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The NASCAR season ends this weekend with the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Watch Sunday at 3 pm on NBC or the NBC Sports app.)

Three drivers will leave the 1.5-mile track as champions.

For Friday, wunderground.com forecasts a temperature of 75 degrees, partly cloudy skies and a 14% chance of race for the start of the Truck Series race.

On Saturday, the forecast is for a temperature of 77 degrees, sunny skies and a 10% chance of rain for the start of the Xfinity race.

On Sunday, the forecast is for a temperature of 75 degrees, sunny skies and no chance of rain for the Cup race.

MORE: NBC to have multi-network coverage of Cup championship race

Here’s the complete weekend schedule with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, Nov. 15

7:30 a.m. – Truck Series garage opens

9:05 – 9:55 a.m. – Truck Series practice (No TV)

10:35 – 11:25 a.m. – Final Truck practice (No TV)

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:30 – 10 p.m. – Cup garage open

2:35 – 3:25 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

3:35 – 4:25 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

4:35 p.m. – Truck Series qualifying; single truck/one lap (FS1)

5:35 – 6:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Truck Series driver-crew chief meeting

6:30 – 7:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

7:30 p.m. – Truck Series driver introductions

8 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 200; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, Nov. 16

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

12:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single car/one lap (NBCSN)

1:45 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

2:05 p.m. – Cup qualifying/impound; single car/one lap (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

3 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

3:30 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 300; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Nov. 17

11 a.m. – Cup garage opens

1 p.m. – Driver-crew chief meeting

2:20 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 400; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBC, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Jagger Jones earns K&N West Rookie of the Year honors

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Like grandfather, like father and now like son. Racing success is definitely a tradition in the Jones family.

Jagger Jones has followed in the shoes of his legendary grandfather Parnelli and father P.J., capturing the 2019 Sunoco K&N Pro Series West Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, it was announced Wednesday.

“(Winning Rookie of the Year) and to win races, those were our two main goals,” the youngest Jones, of Scottsdale, Arizona, said in a statement. “I think the whole season we’ve led the Rookie of the Year standings, which is pretty cool, and separated ourselves from the other rookies and got it done.”

Driving for Sunrise Ford and team owner Bob Bruncati, the 17-year-old Jones earned one win, eight top fives and 11 top 10s in the 14-race season. He also earned one pole, led 248 laps and had an average finish of 5.4. He finished second in the overall standings behind champion Derek Krause and three points ahead of third-ranked Hailie Deegan.

MORE: Parnelli Jones’ grandson Jagger set to make own racing mark in K&N debut

Brittney Zamora, driving for Bill McAnally Racing, finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting.

“McAnally versus Sunrise was definitely the race in the West competition wise,” Jones said. “To get that and finish second in the points in my rookie season, I was pretty pleased with that.”

Jones becomes the sixth Sunrise Ford Racing driver in the last 13 years to win the top rookie honors, joining Jason Bowles (2007), Luis Martinez Jr. (2010), Austin Dyne (2012), Dylan Lupton (2013) and James Bickford (2014). Bill McAnally Racing won the top rookie award in each of the last three seasons: Todd Gilliland (2016), Derek Kraus (2017) and Hailie Deegan (2018).

Sam Mayer previously won the K&N Pro Series East Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for 2019.

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Daniel Hemric, Jeb Burton to drive JR Motorsports’ No. 8 car in 2020

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JR Motorsports’ revealed Wednesday that Jeb Burton and Daniel Hemric will drive its No. 8 Chevrolet for the majority of the 2020 Xfinity Series season, in addition to one race with Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind the wheel.

Hemric, who drove Richard Childress Racing’s No. 8 car in the Cup Series this season, is scheduled for 21 races.

RCR is replacing Hemric with Tyler Reddick in 2020.

Hemric returns to the Xfinity Series, where he competed for RCR from 2017-18. He made the Championship 4 in both seasons.

“I want to thank Dale, Kelley and everyone at JR Motorsports for believing in me,” Hemric said in a press release. “For a Kannapolis (N.C.) boy like me, driving for the Earnhardt family is pretty awesome.

“My goal here is simple — to go win races for JR Motorsports and to help their program any way that I can. I’ve raced against their cars before and I know how they’re capable of running. My focus is on finishing the Cup season out strong, but once the checkered flag flies at Homestead, we’ll set our sights on getting the No. 8 car to Victory Lane early and often next season.”

Said Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “Daniel is a solid competitor with a great personality. He’ll be a quality addition to our lineup in 2020. We’re lucky to have him. I feel like he has grown as a driver from his time in the Cup Series. That will be valuable to him with this new opportunity to compete in the Xfinity series. He’s a local Kannapolis native with a lot of determination to succeed, and I’m excited to work with him.”

Burton, who has driven in six races for JRM this season, is set for 11 next year.

Other drivers who have piloted the No. 8 for JRM this season included Zane Smith (10 starts), Ryan Truex (six starts), Ryan Preece (four starts), Regan Smith (two starts), Brett Moffitt (one start), Chase Elliott (one start), Sheldon Creed (one start) and Earnhardt (one start).

 

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths airs at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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Today’s edition of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

On the show will be Rutledge Wood, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan.

Obviously, the main topic of discussion will be this weekend’s championship races, particularly the Cup battle between Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

You can join the conversation by calling 1-844-NASCARNBC or reach out on Twitter via #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show 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.