Cole Custer dominates for fourth Xfinity win of season

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JOLIET, Illinois – Cole Custer had one of the most dominant performances of his career, leading 151 of 200 laps to win Saturday’s Camping World 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Having previously won this season at Fontana, Richmond and Pocono, Custer joins Christopher Bell as the only two drivers to earn four NASCAR Xfinity Series victories apiece thus far this season.

Awesome car, I don’t know how it could have been any better,” Custer told crew chief Mike Shiplett over the team radio after grabbing the checkered flag.

The 21-year-old Custer held off a strong challenge in the closing laps from pole sitter Joey Logano – making his first Xfinity start of the year – and Bell to earn the sixth win of his Xfinity Series career (in 86 starts).

“This is a great track, I’ve wanted to win here for a long time,” Custer said. “You can see we’ve been getting better and better over the year. … It means a lot.”

Bell, who finished third, was disqualified about an hour after the checkered flag fell when his car was found to be too low in post-race inspection. He becomes the second driver to be disqualified in a NASCAR race in the last 13 days (Ross Chastain was DQ’d after winning the Trucks race at Iowa on June 16, also for the front end of his truck being too low).

Before Bell’s disqualification, Custer was asked about beating his two top challengers in the series, Bell and Tyler Reddick. “The three of us are racing for wins every weekend,” Custer said. “I think we will continue to get better throughout this summer stretch and have something to look out for.”

Logano finished second, followed by Michael Annett, Brandon Jones and Austin Cidric. Sixth through 10th were Noah Gragson (highest-finishing rookie), Justin Haley, Ross Chastain, Reddick and Riley Herbst.

Race results: Click here

Xfinity standings: Click here

Logano paid Custer a big compliment, saying, “He did good. It’s funny when you come down to the next level down and see the next up-and-coming talent, he’s ready for it (NASCAR Cup), I can say that much.”

BJ McLeod hit the wall on Lap 173, bringing out the caution, leading several drivers to pit for tires and a final tank of gas. On the ensuing restart on Lap 179, Custer dove to the bottom of the track and easily went from fourth to first and set sail the remainder of the way for the victory.

Several drivers were penalized prior to the race and dropped to the back of the field for the green flag: The No. 98 (Chase Briscoe) and No. 78 (Vinnie Miller) for unapproved adjustments, the No. 28 (Shane Lee) for an engine change, the No. 17 (Josh Bilicki) for a driver change (the team had not listed a driver name on the original entry list), the No. 38 (Jeff Green) for missing the driver/crew chief meeting and the No. 42 (Chad Finchum) for crew chief (Brian Keselowski) missing the driver/crew chief meeting.

Stage 1 winner: Cole Custer (6th stage win of season)

Stage 2 winner: Joey Logano

Who had a good race: Cole Custer put on a driving clinic with his performance. He went high when he needed to and also dropped low, essentially using virtually every inch of the track he needed. While so much has been said about Christopher Bell this season, if Saturday’s performance is a good indicator, keep your eyes on Custer as a potential Xfinity champion.

Who had a bad race: Illinois native Justin Allgaier had a rough day. He had a solo spin on Lap 11 while running third, was forced into the wall on Lap 116 after Jeffrey Earnhardt got loose and washed up the racetrack in front of Allgaier, and then hit the wall hard on Lap 129. He immediately took his car to the garage, his day over. “Just bummed to be here,” Allgaier told NBCSN after being checked at the infield care center. “It was a rough day … a very disappointing day.”

Notable: Joey Logano drove like he’s been competing all season in the Xfinity Series, even though this was his first start of the season in NASCAR’s junior league. Logano started from the pole and had the second-best car on track, but didn’t have quite enough to overtake Custer.

Next race: Circle K Firecracker 250; Friday July 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET; Daytona International Speedway (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Kevin Harvick’s rear tire changer sidelined by cancer treatment

Photo: Dustin Long
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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team, left a hospital Saturday afternoon after surgery this week as part of his cancer treatment.

Smith, who had the planned surgery Thursday, told NBC Sports through a team spokesperson that he should be back in four to six weeks. The Cup playoffs begin in four weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It was shortly before the Bristol night race last year that doctors discovered Smith had testicular cancer. He spent the day before that race undergoing scans, blood work and other tests to determine if the cancer had spread. Doctors found that the cancer had infected two lymph nodes in his lower abdomen and also saw a spot on his lung that was concerning.

Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team, was released from a hospital Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Dustin Long)

Two days after last year’s Bristol night race, Smith had surgery to remove the tumor in his testicle. After a few weeks to heal, he began chemotherapy treatments. Each round consisted of one week in a hospital and two weeks of recovery. He had four rounds (12 weeks) of treatments. Smith returned to the track to watch Harvick compete in the championship race in Miami last year and then was back to changing tires at Daytona in February.

Thursday’s surgery is expected to be the final one Smith needs. Tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) is the first he’s missed this season. He stated through a team spokesperson that he walked a mile in the hospital Friday and again on Saturday before his release.

Harvick, who won last weekend at Michigan, starts eighth in tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Matt DiBenedetto focused on winning as he looks for 2020 ride

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Looking for a ride for next season, Matt DiBenedetto enters tonight’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway focused on one goal.

“I want to win in Cup,” says the driver whose family moved from California to North Carolina when he was a teen to help his racing career, who ran start-and-parks at one time in the Xfinity Series to keep in the sport and who has 13 races left in what is the best ride of his five-year Cup career.

DiBenedetto found out this week that he would not return to Leavine Family Racing after this season. DiBenedetto said that “I don’t want to say I was blindsided” but said he held out hope that “my performance behind the wheel (would) do the talking and hope that that would prevail over everything.”

Instead, business matters prevailed. With Erik Jones near an extension to remain at Joe Gibbs Racing — keeping all four driver spots there filled — Toyota and JGR needed a place to move Christopher Bell from the Xfinity Series to Cup. Leavine Family Racing’s alliance with JGR makes it the natural spot for Bell. While Bell said this week nothing is set, all signs point to him driving the No. 95 car next year.

Despite his disappointment, DiBenedetto remains grateful to Leavine Family Racing for the chance to run the No. 95 this year.

“I want everyone to know, fans especially and social media and stuff, is to be easy on our team and Toyota and (Joe) Gibbs and everything because they’re all still great people and they gave me this opportunity,” he said. 

Still, about a year after DiBenedetto left his ride with Go Fas Racing and unsure of where he’d land, he’s again looking for a ride for the upcoming season.

“I don’t want to retire yet because I’m only 28 years old,” said DiBenedetto, who starts seventh in tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “Just getting started, but I want to win in the Cup Series. That’s what I’ve said and that’s my goal. I’m here to keep on climbing the ladder, not go backwards.”

As for what he might do next year, he’s not sure.

“I have no irons in the fire per se, yet, but this all just happened just this week,” he said.

One question is if it might be possible for him to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity program — DiBenedetto made his Xfinity debut with JGR in 2009 as a development driver and he will drive the team’s No. 18 Xfinity car in the upcoming race at Road America.

“I don’t think there is that opportunity or as of now, there’s not,” he said. “Not that I’m aware of. I’ve talked to the Toyota folks and stuff and I don’t foresee any opportunities within the camp, I don’t think. Just going to have to really pursue everything, but the main goal is to keep proving myself behind the wheel, which I’ve shown I’m here to win and run up front.”

Maybe something good will happen to him tonight. Bristol is where he scored his first Cup top 10 in 2016, placing sixth for an underfunded BK Racing team. He and his family celebrated that finish on pit road after the race.

Alex Bowman, who also drove for underfunded teams before working his way up to a ride at Hendrick Motorsports, is rooting for DiBenedetto to remain in Cup next season.

“I think he does a really good job in the race car,” Bowman said. “Obviously, he has shown that he continues to deserve (a Cup ride). He’ll land on his feet. Everything happens for a reason. I was pretty bummed when I lost my gig. It all ended up working out for the better.”

Tonight’s Cup race at Bristol: Start time, lineup and more

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With the playoffs looming in a few weeks, the Cup Series returns its short-track roots tonight for a rumble under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The duo of Kurt and Kyle Busch have won the last four races in “Thunder Valley.” Who can claim the Bristol throne from the brothers?

Here’s all the info you need for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:41 p.m. by Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops; Richard Childress; Bill Dance, legendary fisherman; Becky Humphries, National Wild Turkey Foundation CEO; Nick Wiley, Director of Conservation Ducks Unlimited; R. Joseph Hamilton, QDMA Founder and Senior Advisor; John Eastman, QDMA Senior Director of Operations. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 1:30 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Ronda Paulson, Founder and Executive Director of Isaiah 177 House. MRO Kids will perform the National Anthem at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile short track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green begins at 7 p.m. The Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 6:30 p.m and also can be heard on goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts clear skies, a temperature of 86 degrees with no chance of precipitation at the race start time.

LAST TIME: Kurt Busch won this race last year over Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. Kyle Busch won in the spring over Kurt Busch.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup

Results, points after Xfinity race at Bristol

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Tyler Reddick capitalized on Justin Allgaier‘s misfortunes and led the final 11 laps to win Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It is his fourth win of the season.

The top five was completed by Chase Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek, Jeremy Clements and Austin Cindric.

Click here for the results.

Points

Reddick keeps his lead in the standings with a 55-point advantage over Christopher Bell.

The top five is completed by Cole Custer (-139 points), Allgaier (-159) and Cindric (-193).

Click here for the point standings.