Xfinity’s Big 3 get spotlight at Iowa Speedway

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What a difference a year makes.

When the Xfinity Series made the first of two visits to Iowa Speedway last year, its 14th race of the season, only four Xfinity Series regulars had claimed race wins.

Those drivers – Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Spencer Gallagher –  had one win apiece (part-time driver Ryan Preece also had one win).

With the series set to return this weekend to the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa, the balance of power in the Xfinity garage couldn’t look more different than 12 months ago.

Entering Sunday’s CircuitCity.com 250, the series again sees just four regulars with race wins. But only one of those drivers, Michael Annett, is stuck on a single victory.

Reddick, Bell and Cole Custer are miles ahead of the competition with three wins each and are vastly improved over their 2018 selves.

Tyler Reddick claimed his third win of the season at Michigan. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tyler Reddick

Agreed upon by NBC Sports’ writers as the most impressive national series driver this year, Reddick’s performance in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet is a complete 180 from this point last year.

After winning the 2018 season opener at Daytona, the then JR Motorsports driver fell off a cliff. He earned just one more top five before the first Iowa race and wouldn’t get another until race No. 24 at Darlington, which began his championship surge.

Now Reddick is enjoying the best stretch of racing in his career and making history in the process.

His win Saturday at Michigan was his 10th consecutive top five, the longest streak by a non-Cup competitor since Sam Ard had 11 straight in 1984 (Ard had 15 straight from 1983-84).

Through 13 races, Reddick is tied for the most top fives all-time at this point (11) and has the second best average finish (3.9).

And if not for a pass by Custer on the last turn at Pocono, Reddick would have four wins.

While all six of Reddick’s Xfinity wins to date have come at different tracks, none have been on a track shorter than 1.5-miles.

He’ll try to change that at Iowa, where he has one top five in four starts (third in 2017).

“This year we’ll be headed into Iowa Speedway with some unknowns since we have a new tire,” Reddick said in a media release. “We had a tire test there about a month ago that we participated in (and involved Bell and Custer) and it looks like they’re going in a direction with a harder tire that won’t have as much fall-off. I think they’re hoping with a harder tire there will be some more interesting strategy calls in the race, so that we may see some teams take two or no tires in order to gain track position.

“We’ll see what happens with that. The tire we used to have there was really fast and didn’t really have any fall-off, so I would go to the top groove right away. This time the bottom lane will be open for everybody, but I don’t think it will be quite as fast.”

Christopher Bell has two more wins than he had after 13 races in 2018. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Christopher Bell

Bell is staying just ahead of his pace last year that made him the championship favorite before Reddick’s surprising surge.

While Bell won a rookie record seven races in 2018, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn’t turn on the afterburners until after the July Daytona race. By race No. 14 last year, Bell had one win (Richmond), with seven top fives with no finishes between sixth to 10th.

A year later, Bell again has seven top fives and one finish between sixth and 10th after 13 races. He also has one less DNF than he had in 2018 (three).

Bell’s wins this year have come at Atlanta (1.5-mile track), Bristol (half-mile) and Dover (1-mile).

Now Bell will look to continue a hot streak at Iowa. With three starts there he finished in the top two in both races last year, including a win in the July race.

“We should have a good shot at it; short track racing seems to be our strong suit right now,” Bell said in a media release. “I enjoy 1.5-mile tracks and intermediate style racing better, but for whatever reason, we seem to run better on the short tracks. Iowa is like a short track with intermediate track speeds; it’s in its own unique category. It’s a fun racetrack; you get to go there and typically you can pass, move around and find different lanes.”

Cole Custer is well ahead of the pace he set in his first two Xfinity seasons. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Cole Custer

While Reddick is arguably the most improved driver from last year, don’t let it overshadow what Custer has accomplished.

In his third full-time season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Custer has hit his sweet spot. He has three wins after earning only one each in 2017 and ’18. Both wins came in the final three races of those seasons.

Thus far this season, the No. 00 Ford has seven top fives including its three wins. Custer had four top fives at this point in 2018.

One downside is that Custer has two fewer top 10s heading to Iowa than he did last year (10). He is tied with Bell with eight.

Custer took pride earlier this year in finally earning a win on a short track (Richmond). He’ll attempt to back it up in Iowa, where he has two top fives in four starts. He led 104 laps there last July before finishing ninth after he made late-race contact with the wall.

“It’s the best track we go to,” Custer said of Iowa on NASCAR.com. “It’s so fun, you’re able to run from the top to the bottom, throw slide jobs. It’s probably the biggest track we throw slide jobs at. … It’s every driver’s dream I would say.”

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET with David Hoots

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

Rutledge Wood and Dale Jarrett are joined by former NASCAR race director Dave Hoots. They’ll discuss this week’s storylines and take fan phone calls. Call in at 844-NASCAR-NBC or reach out on Twitter at #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.

Xfinity Series 2020 race fields cut, most Cup drivers limited to 5 starts

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The 2020 season will have a slightly different look in both the Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

Among the more notable changes: reduction in Xfinity Series race fields, as well as a decrease in the number of Xfinity races that full-time Cup drivers with more than three years of experience can compete in.

Also unveiled were the 2020 Dash 4 Cash and Triple Truck Challenge race dates and tracks.

Here’s the breakdown:

XFINITY SERIES:

* The starting field for each race will be cut to 36 cars (from 38 currently).

* The field will be set with 31 starting positions based on qualifying, four provisional positions based on the rulebook and one past champion provisional.

* Drivers with more than three years of full-time NASCAR Cup experience will be limited to a maximum of just five starts (down from seven currently). Those five starts cannot include the final regular season race or the playoffs. The current maximum for 2019 is seven starts for Cup drivers with five years of full-time Cup experience.

* The Dash 4 Cash battle will have the qualifying race at Homestead-Miami (March 21, 2019), followed by the four Dash races: Texas (March 28), Bristol (April 4), Talladega (April 25) and Dover (May 2).

* Drivers electing to accumulate NASCAR Cup series points are ineligible to take part in the Xfinity Series Dash 4 Cash.

TRUCK SERIES:

* Drivers with more than three years of full-time NASCAR Cup series experience will be allowed to make a maximum of just five starts (as is the case currently, although drivers must have five years of full-time Cup tenure). Those five starts cannot include the final regular season race or the playoffs.

* The Triple Truck Challenge, introduced this season, will continue. The three 2020 races will be at Richmond (April 18), Dover (May 1) and Charlotte (May 15).

* Drivers electing to accumulate NASCAR Cup or Xfinity Series points are ineligible to compete in the Triple Truck Challenge races and the championship race.

* Removed post entry driver and owner caveat. Greg Biffle, who made one start earlier this season for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the first challenge race and won, would have been prevented from being eligible for the second Truck Challenge race because of the current limitation of not being named on the initial race entry list, which will now be rescinded for 2020.

“These updates to the Xfinity Series and Gander Trucks procedures continue our commitment to strengthening our race teams and providing a stronger field with even greater competition for our fans,” Meghan Miley, NASCAR Senior Director of Racing Operations, said in a media release. “We’re excited about the return of the Dash 4 Cash in the Xfinity Series and the Triple Truck Challenge with the Gander Trucks.

“These programs provide our teams with an incredible performance-based bonus opportunity each season. By removing the entry deadline requirement for the Triple Truck Challenge, we ensure our teams and fans know immediately if a driver is eligible to race for additional bonuses.”

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2019-20 Drive for Diversity pit crew program class announced

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The next generation of pit crew members will begin training next month with Rev Racing as part of NASCAR’s Drive for Development Program.

Seven former college athletes have been chosen for the 2019-20 program.

The athletes were selected from a fitness assessment in May at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. The assessment tested their agility, strength and flexibility, with all participants learning the roles of different crew members during pit stop simulations.

The class will relocate to the Charlotte area for a six-month training program led by Phil Horton, Rev Racing’s director of athletic performance. All members will train to become tire changers, tire carriers and jackmen, “with hopes of one day earning a spot on a national series race team,” according to a news release.

The pit crew element is part of the overall Drive for Diversity program, which also provides opportunities for aspiring drivers. All programs are geared toward providing opportunities for women and minorities in the pursuit of careers within NASCAR. Since its inception, more than 100 individuals have graduated from the Drive for Diversity program, with more than 50 currently working within the sport..

“We look forward to welcoming this year’s class to NASCAR’s most comprehensive pit crew training and development program,” Rev Racing CEO Max Siegel said. “We couldn’t be prouder of the journey both our pit crew development program and graduates have taken from its inception.

“With the expansion of our recruiting efforts across the country, the talent level rises, and our program continues to evolve and create more opportunities for advancement at a higher level.”

The 2019-20 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program participants are:

Name Hometown University Primary Sport
Hadji Gaylord Norfolk, Va. Norfolk State University Football (Defensive End)
Robin Loza Charlotte, N.C. Central Piedmont Community College Football (Wide Receiver)
Maurice McKinnon Charlotte, N.C. Guilford College Football (Wide Receiver)
Dalanda Ouendeno Paris, France University of Miami Soccer (Defender)
Mequel Phillips Chester, Va. Virginia State University Football (Linebacker)
Raynard Revels Richmond, Va. Norfolk State University Football (Linebacker)
Alvin Wilson Lexington, Miss. Alcorn State University Football (Linebacker)

 

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Retro Rundown 2019: Paint schemes for the Southern 500

Hendrick Motorsports
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We’re now under two weeks from the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 1 on NBCSN), which will mark the fifth year of NASCAR’s official Throwback Weekend.

Here’s your guide to the retro paint schemes that have been announced so far for the weekend, including schemes for the Aug. 31 Xfinity Series race.

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford – The Team Penske driver will race Rusty Wallace’s 1996 Cup Series scheme.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet – Dillon will boast a paint scheme that was driven by his grandfather and team owner Richard Childress in the late 1970s.

Ryan Newman, No. 6 Ford – With Oscar Mayer taking the place of Valvoline, Newman’s car will take its cue from the scheme Mark Martin raced in 1993, when he earned Roush Fenway Racing’s first Southern 500 victory.

Via Roush Fenway Racing

Daniel Hemric, No. 8 Chevrolet – Hemric will drive a car inspired by the design of CAT equipment and the logo used on them from its launch in 1925 until 1931.

Chase Elliott, No. 9 Chevrolet – Elliott will boast the scheme his father, Bill Elliott, claimed his first Cup pole with in 1981 at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota – Hamlin’s car will evoke Darrell Waltrip’s Western Auto paint scheme from the 1990s.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford – The Team Penske driver will have a scheme inspired by Michael Waltrip’s Pennzoil car from 1991-95.

Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Toyota – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will throwback to himself with the Bass Pro Shops paint scheme he drove during his 2004 Xfinity Series championship campaign. That year he drove for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Chance 2 Motorsports.

Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota – To mark his 100th Cup Series start, Jones will boast a scheme based on his rookie late model car.

Paul Menard, No. 21 Ford – Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to late team founder Glen Wood with the paint scheme Wood drove himself in 1957, including in his only appearance as a driver at Darlington.

William Byron, No. 24 Chevrolet – Byron will drive one of Cole Trickle’s paint schemes from the 1990 Tom Cruise movie “Days of Thunder.”

Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford – GoFas Racing’s car will be based on Dale Jarrett’s 1990-91 Nestle Crunch sponsored Xfinity car.

Michael McDowell, No. 34 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will have a paint scheme that pays homage to the career of long-time owner and driver Jimmy Means, who was once partnered with FRM owner Bob Jenkins.

Front Row Motorsports

David Ragan, No. 38 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will drive a scheme inspired by David Pearson’s 1969 championship car.

Screenshot

Bubba Wallace, No. 43 Chevrolet – Wallace’s car will be a tribute to the late Adam Petty and his 1998 ARCA win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Richard Petty Motorsports

Ryan Preece, No. 47 Chevrolet – Preece will have a tribute to modified racing legend Ron Bouchard. The scheme is based on the No. 47 Majik Market/Hawaiian Punch car Bouchard drove at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in 1984.

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet – Bowman’s Axalta-sponsored car is inspired by Tim Richmond‘s Folger’s Coffee scheme from 1986-87.

Stewart-Haas Racing – In celebration of co-owner Tony Stewart’s election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, three SHR drivers will have paint schemes based on the cars Stewart raced to his three Cup Series titles. Aric Almirola‘s No. 10 Ford will be based on Stewart’s 2002 car, Daniel Suarez‘s No. 41 Ford will be based on the 2005 season and Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 Ford will look like the car Stewart drove to his 2011 title.

Xfinity Series

Michael Annett, No. 1 Chevrolet – The JR Motorsports driver will channel Jeff Gordon circa the 1992 Xfinity Series season with Gordon’s Baby Ruth paint scheme when he drove for Bill Davis Racing.

Via JR Motorsports

BJ McLeod, No. 4 Chevrolet – McLeod’s car is designed after the No. 44 Slim Jim car Bobby Labonte drove in the Xfinity Series in 1992.

Justin Allgaier, No. 7 Chevrolet – Allgaier’s scheme will be based on the No. 90 Truxmore Chevrolet Ricky Rudd drove in the 1979 season.

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet – Earnhardt will pilot the scheme his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove in his first Cup start in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley, No. 11 Chevrolet – Kaulig Racing will boast Jeff Burton’s 1994 rookie Cup paint scheme with matching sponsorship from brake parts company Raybestos. It also serves as a tribute to team owner Matt Kaulig’s father and team chief financial officer, Bob Kaulig, who served as a vice president of Raybestos from 1985-2008.

Via Kaulig Racing

Denny Hamlin, No. 18 Toyota – Hamlin will have a scheme based on Bill Elliott’s No. 11 Budweiser car.

Joey Gase, No. 35 Toyota – Gase’s throwback is based on the 1997 Tabasco paint scheme raced by Todd Bodine.

Jeremy Clements, No. 51 Chevrolet – Like William Byron, Clements will pilot a “Days of Thunder” paint scheme. He’ll be using Rowdy Burns’ No. 51 Exxon scheme.

Brandon Brown, No. 86 Chevrolet – Brown’s scheme is inspired by Terry Labonte’s 1993 Kellogg’s Cornflakes scheme.

Chase Briscoe, No. 98 Ford – Briscoe will pilot a scheme based on the No. 98 Ford Parnelli Jones won the 1963 Indianapolis 500 with.

Stewart-Haas Racing

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