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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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eNASCAR Pro Invitational Qualifier to be streamed online

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The qualifying race for Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway will be streamed on enascar.com/live, NASCAR announced.

The qualifier features Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers looking to advance to the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race that will be at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. At this time, four drivers from the qualifier will advance. That number could change depending on any late additions or drops to the race featuring Cup drivers.

MORE: Roush, Greg Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

MORE: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing 

MORE: eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series reminds Clint Bowyer of being a rookie

The qualifier is scheduled to take place at 11:02 a.m. ET and have 34 drivers battling for those four transfer spots.

The qualifier will be 30 laps at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. The race will have no cautions.

Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 10:55 a.m., lasting five minutes, followed by the race.

Last week, six drivers advanced from the qualifier to the main event. They were: Anthony Alfredo, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Ryan Truex.

Drivers scheduled to compete in Sunday’s qualifier at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway are (with car number):

02 – Spencer Boyd

7 – Justin Allgaier

08 – Jeb Burton

15 – Brennan Poole

16 – Justin Haley

22 – Austin Cindric

23 – Sam Mayer

26 – Tyler Ankrum

27 – Ruben Garcia

29  – Kaz Grala

29a – Trevor Bayne

33 – Anthony Alfredo

35 – Todd Gilliland

36 – Jesse Iwuji

40 – Ryan Truex

45 – Ty Majeski

46 – Chandler Smith

50 – Jeffrey Earnhardt

52 – Stewart Friesen

53 – Joey Gase

54 – Kyle Weatherman

63 – Scott Stenzel

68 – Brandon Brown

74 – Sheldon Creed

78 – Ryan Ellis

80 – Joe Graf Jr.

81 – Christian Eckes

90 – Alex Labbe

93 – Myatt Snider

98 – Chase Briscoe

99 – Harrison Burton

TBD – Derek Kraus

TBD – Drew Dollar

TBD – JJ Yeley

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

Roush, Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

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After four years, Roush Fenway Racing and Greg Biffle are getting the band back together … digitally.

Roush Fenway Racing announced its former driver will compete in Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event on a digital Texas Motor Speedway.

Like he did in the Cup Series from 2003-2016, Biffle will pilot a No. 16 Ford in the race (1 p.m. ET on Fox and FS1).

“How exciting is it to get back behind the wheel of the No. 16,” Biffle said in a press release. “I watched the iRace last week on TV and I was really impressed with the overall quality of the broadcast and the racing. It was just a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to being a part of the show this weekend.

“We are running a really cool Castrol scheme on the car. I think it’s going to show up really well. My plan is to log a ton of practice time leading up to the race, so hopefully we can have a strong showing and you’ll see a lot of the Castrol green and red on the broadcast.”

This will be Biffle’s iRacing event debut.

After parting ways with Roush Fenway Racing after the 2016 season, Biffle returned to NASCAR last year for a one-off Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch Motorsports, which he won.

NASCAR teams impacted by North Carolina stay at home order

Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay at home order for the entire state of North Carolina, beginning at 5 p.m. ET Monday because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order is for 30 days.

The move impacts all NASCAR teams based in North Carolina.

“These are tough directives, but I need you to take them seriously,” Gov. Cooper said in afternoon news briefing.

MORE: N.C. Governor enlists Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson for COVID-19 PSA

MORE: North Carolina stay at home order

The order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least six feet away from each other. The order requires all residents to stay at home except for essential activities. The order states: “non-essential business and operations must cease.”

The order also states that among the definitions for an essential business and operation is “Businesses that meet Social Distancing Requirements. Businesses, not-for-profit organizations or educational institutions that conduct operations while maintaining Social Distancing Requirements:

a. Between and among its employees; and

b. Between and among employees and customers except at the point of sale or purchase.”

Mecklenburg County and Cabarrus County, which are home to such race teams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, were already under a stay at home order through April 16.

By the end of the week, more than 20 states will have issued stay at home orders, including California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.