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Ryan Sieg leading underdogs to open Xfinity season

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Ryan Sieg “never really expected” this is where he’d be three races into the Xfinity Series season, as one of two drivers – along with Auto Club Speedway winner Harrison Burton – who has finished in the top 10 each time.

Sieg, who has been competing full-time in the Xfinity or Truck Series since 2010, finished fourth at Auto Club Speedway Saturday to earn consecutive top fives for the first time in his career.

“It’s a big deal, especially since they came at tracks that aren’t really tracks we’d normally get top five finishes at,” the 32-year-old Sieg told NBC Sports. “It’s always fun to be competitive. I don’t think I ever dreamed that this would kind of be the start to the year.”

(Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In the opening three races, the Georgia native has finished ninth (Daytona), third (Las Vegas) and fourth. The top fives match his career-best total, earned last year.

It is the highlight among a few career performances for underdog, independent teams so far this season. Jeremy Clements placed ninth at Auto Club for his first top 10 on the track in 11 starts. Josh Williams of DGM Racing posted his first non-superspeedway top 10 (10th) at Auto Club in his 64th career start.

Sieg sits fourth in the point standings ahead of the final stop of the West Coast swing, Phoenix Raceway (4 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox).

His performance comes after Ryan Sieg Racing had to “scramble” in the offseason. Sieg lost his crew chief last year, Shane Wilson, to a Truck Series team. He also lost a mechanic and the man who did the team’s shocks.

The crew chief role was filled by Kevin “Cowboy” Starland, who was the team’s competition director last year. It also has Michael “Big Mike” Scearce, a former long-time Richard Childress Racing employee, as car chief.

Together, Ryan Sieg Racing brings 12-13 crew members to the track each weekend to work on its two cars, with some coming from Kentucky and Texas.

“We outsource our pit crews to Roush and Stewart-Haas for our two cars, which is nice because you have good pit crews and we’re not losing time on pit road too much,” said Sieg, adding their success is a result of “little upgrades here and there on things. It’s one of those things, you can’t build it overnight. It’s taken a number of years and it’s sort of worked in our favor with some of the Cup teams moving out of the Xfinity Series.”

Cup team that have reduced or completely left the Xfinity Series in recent years include Roush Fenway Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing (from four full-time cars in 2016 to one in 2020) and Stewart-Haas Racing (two cars in 2019 to one this season).

Adding to his impressive opening stretch is that Sieg’s performance is not coming in new equipment. Last year, Sieg had a few relatively new cars purchased from RCR that he drove to a career-best 12 top-10 finishes and a playoff entry.

Those cars are still in Sieg’s stable but his top fives have been in a RCR car they bought roughly three years ago.

“We sort of rebuilt it to what I was comfortable with and what I thought worked,” Sieg said. “Just seems like we hit it pretty well.”

One of the 2019 cars will be in action this weekend at Phoenix, the flat 1-mile track Sieg has 13 starts. He placed 10th in last year’s spring race, his first top 10 there, before finishing 13th in the fall.

“I think we’re going to go back to what we ran in the spring, we tried something a little bit different in the fall and it didn’t work,” Sieg said.

 

Watch for Sieg to attempt bold strategy as the season unfolds. At Las Vegas, when NASCAR gave teams an extra set of tires for a competition caution, Sieg’s team opted to wait to use their set until the final stage, which helped put Sieg near the front.

At Auto Club, the team gambled on fuel strategy – attempting to save five laps of fuel over the final 50 laps – but two cautions in that stretch cancelled it out.

What kind of strategy could they employ at Phoenix? It depends on the level of tire falloff.

“Say there’s 110 laps in that last stage,” Sieg said. “If a caution comes out 30 laps into the final stage, what do you do? Do you put your tires on and hope it goes green or do you save your tires and hope there’s a caution later and you can put the tires back on.”

At Phoenix and beyond, Sieg will be watching the cars in front of him to determine his late-race pit strategy.

“If we’re an eighth-place car, we don’t want to do what the top seven does,” Sieg said. “We’re going to do something different.”

Despite his “incredible start,” Sieg’s team is trying to “keep our heads on” and “keep real, smart goals.”

An obstacle is in store this weekend though, as two full-time Cup Series drivers make their first Xfinity start of the season.

“Obviously, you’ve got a couple of aces coming this week with (Brad) Keselowski and Kyle Busch,” Sieg said. “I think you’ll have a better pace at the front of the field if that makes sense … I’m going to guess Kyle Busch is going to be a half a second faster than if you were to put a rookie in that car. So over the course of a 70-80 lap run, he’s going to lap more guys and make up more time on people. That used to be kind of the thing we’d look at as we tried to stay on the lead lap. I don’t think we’ll have that trouble this weekend, but it’s one of the many things you can look at.”

Sieg observed a track like Phoenix can be a “better opportunity” for a small team like his, however there are disadvantages when going against team’s like Keselowski’s and Busch’s.

“When you get away from one area, like the aerodynamics of a mile-and-a-half, then you’re getting into another, like the brakes,” Sieg said. “You’re up against teams that have better brakes and spend more money on brakes. That’s an important part of Phoenix, obviously. You lose the aerodynamic part, you have another part that comes in where the teams can beat you.”

With Busch and Keselowski present, Sieg’s goal is to run from fifth to eighth.

“I don’t expect to be a contending car for the win,” said Sieg.

Luckily for him, Sieg knows a thing or two about exceeding expectations.

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NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”