Xfinity Series Championship 4 outlook

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What a difference a year makes in the Xfinity Series.

The series enters this weekend’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with only a slight change to its Championship 4 driver lineup but with a massive difference in their record. (Watch at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Last season, Miami arrived with the four drivers – Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick – owning just nine wins among them. Hemric had none, Reddick and Custer each had one and Bell hoarded a rookie record seven victories.

Twelve months later only one name has changed in the final four, with Justin Allgaier entering the fray through his win last Saturday at ISM Raceway.

Together the four drivers have won 21 of the 32 races held this year, with 20 victories claimed by the “Big 3” of Bell, Custer and defending champion Reddick.

Here’s a more detailed analysis of the Championship 4 field.

Christopher Bell (No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

Wins: Eight (Atlanta, Bristol I, Dover I, Iowa I, New Hampshire, Road America, Richmond II, Texas II)

Career Playoff Wins: Six (including Kansas win in 2017 as part-time driver)

Miami Record: Has a DNF (engine) and an 11th-place finish in two Xfinity starts. Was plagued by a pit stop for a flat tire with 10 laps to go last year. Best finish of second in three Truck Series starts. Won the Truck Series title in 2017. Has been in the Championship 4 in each of his four full-time seasons in NASCAR.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): When Bell is on, he’s on. Twice this year – New Hampshire and Richmond II – he has led all but 14 or less laps.

Outlook: There was no sophomore slump for Bell. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver matched and exceed almost all of his major stats from 2018 and then added to them (he tied his total for top 10s). Notably, he led 1,968 laps compared to his 2018 total of 759. Can Bell get his coveted Xfinity title before making the jump to Cup in the offseason?

“I like where we are at, that’s for sure,” Bell said after his win at Texas two weeks ago. “There were a couple of places earlier in the year that the car drove really, really nice and we just weren’t able to compete with some of the other competitors, but right now, I feel like we can be a little off on balance and still be competitive. So that’s means whenever we hit it we are going to be really good.”

 

Cole Custer (No. 00 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing)

Wins: Seven (Auto Club Speedway, Richmond I, Pocono I, Chicago, Kentucky, Darlington, Dover II)

Career Playoff wins: Three (Won at Miami in 2017 when he wasn’t a Championship 4 driver)

Miami record: Three starts in Xfinity. Finishes of 17th, second (2018) and a win (2017). Started second in 2017 and led 182 laps on the way to his first career Xfinity win.

Championship-caliber moment(s): In an overtime shootout to decide the Pocono race in June, Custer capitalized on a bobble by Tyler Reddick in the final turn to pass him and take the win. He also delayed Kyle Busch earning his 200th national series win by a day when he beat him in March at Auto Club Speedway.

Outlook: Cole Custer is really good in Miami, leading 277 laps and finishing in the top two in his last two starts there. That was before he was paired with crew chief Mike Shiplett and stormed to a seven-win season this year. Watch out.

“I think we can go there and win,” Custer said after his runner-up finish Saturday at ISM Raceway. “There’s no reason why we can’t. Last year we led the most laps and this year we’re probably better, so I think we can go there and really compete for a championship.”

 

Tyler Reddick (No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing)

Wins: Five (Talladega, Charlotte I, Michigan, Bristol II and Las Vegas II)

Career Playoff wins: Two (one was as a part-time driver in 2017 at Kentucky)

Miami record:  Two Xfinity starts with finishes of fourth and a win last year to claim a surprise championship. In three Truck Series starts he never finished worse than sixth.

Championship-caliber moment(s): Held off a swarm of threats on the final lap to win at Talladega. Conserved enough fuel to ward off Christopher Bell and win at Las Vegas. Started last in the Bristol night race (due to inspection failures) and had a pass through penalty on the first lap and still managed to win the race. Reddick has won in every imaginable way this year.

Outlook: Reddick is a proven commodity at Homestead and he solidified that last year when he rode the high line against the wall to a championship no one expected him to claim. He’s also proved you can win a championship and arguably be the most improved driver the following year.

“Just had to play it safe at the end to make sure we had enough fuel to get to the checkered flag,” Reddick said after he finished third Saturday. “It’s definitely not the way we normally like to race, but we did what we had to do to get to Miami next week. That was the goal all season, and now we’re there. I’m proud to keep RCR’s streak of making the Championship 4 in the Xfinity Series alive for another year. We’ll be ready to race for the title next weekend, and I know my No. 2 team is up for the challenge.”

 

Justin Allgaier (No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports)

Wins: One (Phoenix II)

Career Playoff wins: One

Miami record:  In nine Xfinity starts since 2008, Allgaier’s best two finishes are sixth and seventh, coming in the last three seasons. He’s only led seven laps in those nine starts.

Championship-caliber moment(s): If you’re going to end a 39-race winless streak you might as well do it in the last race that can send you to the Championship 4. Allgaier’s Phoenix win put him into the title round for the third time in four years.

Outlook: The oldest driver in the Championship 4 by nine years, the 33-year-old Allgaier has a chance to put a dent into the “youth movement” narrative that’s driven the Xfinity Series for years. Should he hoist the championship trophy Saturday, he’d give JR Motorsports its third consecutive title.

“We needed this momentum. We’ve had an off year, no questions asked. Every time we think we’re going to be in a great shot to go win a race things have gone completely the opposite of what we thought,” Allgaier said Saturday. “I think we go into next week with a new mentality, a new energy and we got a shot at winning a championship.”

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Jim France bullish on the future: ‘We’re getting some momentum back’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a rare interview Friday, NASCAR CEO and chairman Jim France said he’s bullish about the momentum of his racing series, particularly since last year’s ISC merger.

“Very much so,” France said when asked if he’s looking forward to the return of stock cars to Daytona International Speedway next month for Speedweeks. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus has been on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said with a laugh. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

France spoke with a small group of reporters after a major news conference at Daytona involving the IMSA Series that will create a bridge for the premier sports car classes at Daytona and Le Mans.

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, who is also the chairman of IMSA.

Kaz Grala returning to Richard Childress Racing for select Xfinity races

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Kaz Grala will return to compete for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series this year in select races, the team announced Friday.

Grala, 21, will be one of three drivers to pilot the No. 21 Chevrolet during the full season, joining Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo.

Grala made five starts in the No. 21 in 2019, earning a best result of fifth at Road America.

“I learned a lot as a driver working with RCR last year, so I feel confident that our existing chemistry as a team will lead to even better results in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season,” Grala said in a press release. “RCR’s Xfinity Series program is top-notch, and with the No. 21 car running all year, I am excited to be a part of the team chasing yet another owner’s championship. I’m very grateful to Richard Childress for giving me this opportunity to further my career.”

No sponsors were part of the announcement.

“Kaz showed quite a bit of speed and promise in the No. 21 car last year for RCR,” Richard Childress said in a press release. “I’m confident the results will show in 2020, especially after a year under his belt in our proven Xfinity program.”

A ‘crucial’ year for Hailie Deegan’s career begins today at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Hailie Deegan will be racing a sports car today at Daytona International Speedway with an eye toward her future in stock cars.

Signed by Ford Performance to a developmental deal that will put her in a full-time ARCA car (and possibly a truck race or two) this season, Deegan was surprised when the manufacturer also expressed a desire to put her in a few IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge events.

The first will be Friday’s season-opening BMW Endurance Challenge, a four-hour warmup race at Daytona International Speedway ahead of Saturday’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Deegan and Xfinity Series veteran Chase Briscoe will start 20th in the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.

MEET HAILIE DEEGAN: ‘I put my helmet on the same way as everyone else’

“I originally never planned on this, but (Ford) came to me and were like ‘we want to get you on our IMSA program,’” Deegan said. “’That’s what we did with Briscoe, (Cole) Custer, (Austin) Cindric. All the guys that came through the ranks with Ford.’

“When they told me that, I was excited because more road courses will be in the NASCAR world, and there already are quite a few. I think what makes an all-around good driver are the ones that are good at every single type of track.”

There’s been much talk of adding road and street races to the Cup schedule in the next few years, and the Xfinity Series schedule just expanded to five road courses with the move from the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 that will be driven by Hailie Deegan and Chase Briscoe.

Deegan, 18, still remains a long way from the top two national series, but they are her goal, which makes 2020 critical for earning results.

“This is the year that’s very important and crucial to my career because it decides contracts for years out with sponsors getting behind you for the higher levels,” said Deegan, who had three K&N Series victories in 2018-19. “If we can do good this year, I feel I can get more people behind me so we can go in the top three level series (of NASCAR), and have sponsors that want to stay with me full time while I’m there.

“My goal is to win a few races in the ARCA Series, which is going to be hard. There are a lot of good guys, good cars this year.”

Aside from running full time in ARCA for DGR-Crosley, Deegan would “love to do a truck race” if the sponsorship materializes, “but funding right now is all focused on ARCA so we can try to work toward those championships and winning races. I know I want to be in a good car with good people behind me. If we can focus on that, hopefully everything else will come along.”

Click here to read the full version of this story from NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk.

2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Start time, TV schedule, lineup and more

Speedy Cash expands deal with Front Row Motorsports, John Hunter Nemechek

John Hunter Nemechek
Front Row Motorsports
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After sponsoring John Hunter Nemechek in two of his first three Cup Series starts last year, Speed Cash has expanded its backing of Nemechek for the 2020 season, Front Row Motorsports announced Friday.

Speedy Cash, an omni-channel financial services provider specializing in short-term loans, will be on Nemechek’s No. 38 Ford for multiple races, including events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

It will serve as an associate sponsor throughout the year for both Nemechek and Michael McDowell and his No. 34 Ford Mustang team.

Speedy Cash sponsored Nemechek last November in his Cup debut at Texas Motor Speedway and in the season finale at Miami. Nemechek finished 21st at Texas, the best of his three starts filling in for Matt Tifft in the No. 36 Ford after he stepped out of the car due to suffering a seizure.

Nemechek will be part of a deep rookie class in Cup this year after he raced full-time for GMS Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2019.

“As a driver, partnerships like this one with Speedy Cash are so important to our entire team,” Nemechek said in a press release. “It’s always great to see partners expanding their involvement in the sport. For me, Speedy Cash is pretty cool. If you need cash, there are so many easy ways you can get it using their services. I enjoyed getting to know them in the last few races of the 2019 season and we’re going to work hard to make them proud in 2020.”