Friday 5: Will Martinsville provide another memorable door-banging finish?

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Last fall’s Martinsville race was memorable for a finish that saw Joey Logano move Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the final lap to win and earn a spot in the Championship 4 in Miami.

As the series returns to the half-mile Martinsville Speedway this weekend, what are the chances of such action repeating?

“I would say that it’s probably not going to be, there’s less of a chance that it will be like that,” Truex said. “Just because it’s not a race to get into the final four. I would think it would be tame and normal like we’ve seen there in the past.”

Logano disagrees.

“I see a trophy on the line,” said the reigning series champion. “A big clock (given to the winner). I don’t see that any different from the spring to the fall.”

The first race of the season at a track less than 1 mile will test drivers and could lead to aggressive actions. The question is how aggressive will drivers be.

“The (driver) code has definitely changed,” said nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson. “People reference the code a lot. But I think ultimately whatever code exists is between the two drivers. And that same code might not exist between driver C and driver D or driver A and driver D; it just changes all the time.

“When I look at it, sure it was a very aggressive move and Joey knew what he was doing to get that win and I’m sure we’ll expect the same to come back from Martin at some point. … In my eyes, sure it was aggressive but it could have been a lot worse.”

2. A familiar refrain

Coming off his dominant run on the West Coast swing, Kyle Busch heads to a type of track he’s ruled lately. Busch has won five of the last nine Cup races on tracks less than 1 mile in length.

Busch’s wins have been at both Richmond races in 2018, the spring Bristol race in 2018 and fall race there in 2017 and at Martinsville in fall 2017.

Teammate Denny Hamlin, whose last win at a track less than 1 mile in length was at Richmond in Sept. 2016, explains Busch’s success.

“He works tremendously hard at his craft,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think it’s just all natural talent. I think he works very hard as well.”

3. Perfect attendance

Ross Chastain is the only driver who has competed in every national series race this season. That’s five Cup, five Xfinity and three Truck races. He’s entered in this weekend’s Truck and Cup races at Martinsville.

Chastain has been running at the finish in every race. He’s completed 98.7 percent of the laps run in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks this season (2,498 of 2,532 laps run).

Such a schedule was expected entering this season. He had a deal to drive select races for Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series. He also was set with a Cup ride with Premium Motorsports.

Chastain was to have raced for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series but those plans went away after the FBI raided the headquarters of sponsor DC Solar and home of the DC Solar’s CEO. With DC Solar unable to fulfill its sponsor obligations, Chip Ganassi Racing shuttered its Xfinity team. That forced Chastain to look for other options.

He’ll drive three races for Kaulig Racing (he drove for the team at Daytona) and the rest of JD Motorsports this season.

So far this season, Chastain finished 10th in the Daytona 500 — giving Premium Motorsports its second top 10 in 231 Cup starts — placed seventh at Las Vegas for JD Motorsports and was third in the Daytona Truck race for Niece Motorsports.

4. “Like what I don’t like”

Xfinity rookie Justin Haley enters the off-weekend for the series 12th in points with a season-best finish of eighth at Atlanta.

Haley placed 10th last weekend at Auto Club Speedway and explained what he needs to do to have better finishes.

“I just need to get better on the feel from practice to the race, how the car transitions and goes through the process of loose and tight,” the Kaulig Racing driver told NBC Sports. 

Haley, who finished third in the points in the Truck series last year, said that experience can’t help him with what he’s seeking to improve upon this year.

“A lot of the times the Truck races are at night, so it’s gripped up,” Haley said. “These are day races, it transitions a lot. Really these Xfinity cars have less downforce. The Trucks, if you were good at the start of the run, you were going to be good at the end. There was no falloff really. Even at like Atlanta, the balance stayed the same. These things (Xfinity cars) take a huge swing throughout the run. So just getting a feel for that is the biggest thing.

“What I like most of the time isn’t what’s fastest, so I have to learn to like what I don’t like to make it fast.”

5. Ever return?

Martin Truex Jr. was asked last weekend at Auto Club Speedway if he thought Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser would return to NASCAR after shutting his team down after last year.

Said Truex: “We talk every week. He’s been watching. He’s been talking to us and telling us we’ve been doing a good job, and things like that. I think it’s probably a bit of a relief for him that he doesn’t have to worry about all of the things that come with being a team owner and he’s just able to enjoy it.

“I told him he needs to get to the track soon, we’d like to see him and get him around. As far as your question on whether he’ll be back, if you mean as a team owner? I have no idea. We haven’t talked about it. He hasn’t mentioned it. My best guess is no, but I guess you can never rule out anything.”

A.J. Allmendinger joins Kaulig Racing for multiple Xfinity races

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A.J. Allmendinger will return to NASCAR competition this year in multiple Xfinity Series races for Kaulig Racing, the team announced Thursday.

Allmendinger, who serves as an analyst for NBC Sports’ motorsports coverage, will drive the No. 10 Chevrolet in an undisclosed amount of races. Kaulig Racing fields Justin Haley full-time in the No. 11 Chevrolet.

Allmendinger joins a growing list of drivers who are scheduled to pilot the No. 10 this year, including Ross Chastain, Austin Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

“I am excited for the opportunity to hop back into a Xfinity Series car,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “I look forward to helping Kaulig Racing build their program, as well as fight for wins with them.”

Allmendinger has one win and 11 top-five finishes in Cup and two Xfinity wins. All three wins were on road courses.

Allmendinger last made laps in NASCAR in the 2018 Cup finale in Miami. He also competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona earlier this year.

Xfinity practice report from Phoenix

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Austin Cindric topped Friday’s second and final Xfinity Series practice at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix.

Much like his Team Penske counterparts Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski, who were 1-2 in Friday’s sole Cup practice, Cindric put the Penske camp atop the second Xfinity practice with a speed of 132.129 mph.

Christopher Bell was second-fastest (131.791 mph), followed by John Hunter Nemechek (131.560), Ryan Truex (131.473) and Kyle Busch (131.430), who was fastest in the first practice earlier in the day.

Sixth through 10th were Cole Custer (131.043 mph), Tyler Reddick (130.942), Justin Allgaier (130.890), Noah Gragson (130.686) and Justin Haley (130.345).

There was one incident in the session when Ronnie Bassett Jr.’s Chevrolet Camaro hit the Turn 3 wall hard with about three minutes remaining, ending the session early. Bassett is slated to make his Xfinity Series race debut on Saturday. It’s unclear if his team will be able to repair the damage.

Xfinity teams will qualify (multi-vehicle, three rounds) Saturday at 12:40 p.m. ET, with the iK9 Service Dog 200 race later that afternoon at 4 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Click here for the full second practice speed chart.

FIRST PRACTICE SESSION:

Kyle Busch was fastest in the first of two Xfinity Series practices Friday at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix.

Busch topped the 29-driver field with a speed of 131.921 mph. The Las Vegas native will be seeking his 94th career Xfinity win in Saturday’s iK9 Service Dog 200. He’s also going for his second win in a row, having won last week’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas.

Christopher Bell was second-fastest (131.579 mph), followed by Cole Custer (131.148), Austin Cindric (131.133) and John Hunter Nemechek (131.043).

Sixth through 10th were Ryan Truex (130.890), Tyler Reddick (130.776), Noah Gragson (130.615), Justin Allgaier (130.572) and Justin Haley (130.506).

The second and final Xfinity practice session will run later this afternoon from 5:05 to 5:55 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full practice speed chart.

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Ryan Sieg having ‘a lot more fun’ during career-best start to Xfinity season

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Ryan Sieg was “mad.”

While running eighth in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a Brandon Jones crash with two laps to go left Sieg thinking the worst going into overtime.

“I thought we were going to finish eighth and now we have to restart over again,” Sieg told NBC Sports.

The reaction by the 32-year-old from Tucker, Georgia, was likely instinctive. In five previous full-time years on the Xfinity circuit, Sieg has never had an average finish better than 17.8 and had only nine top 10s in 169 starts.

Things have changed in 2019.

In overtime, Sieg avoided a four-car wreck among the leaders coming to the white flag. On the last overtime attempt, he restarted fifth and lost one spot before the checkered flag.

It was his second top 10 to start the season on top of placing 11th a week before at Atlanta. It also was his best finish on a 1.5-mile track.

That leaves Sieg with a career-best position of eighth in the point standings. His previous best through three races was ninth in 2016.

Sieg said his Las Vegas experience was the most fun he’s ever had in a race.

“It was definitely wild,” Sieg said.

Ryan Sieg during Speedweeks in Daytona. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

New and Improved

Sieg is used to wild racing.

But the wild he’s experiencing at the front this year is different than previous seasons.

“You’d get side-by-side with a couple of drivers and just kind of cringe ’cause you were worried about them holding their line,” Sieg said. “This year I’ve been racing with the 9 (rookie Noah Gragson), the 11 (rookie Justin Haley), the 22 (Austin Cindric), pretty much all of them, the JR Motorsports cars. You’re passing them and you’re racing them and they’re racing you clean.

“It’s given me a better feeling racing side-by-side with people you can trust, so that’s definitely a positive compared to other years where I think you had some drivers who were in equipment that was a little bit better than they were.”

Now Sieg can say he’s in equipment worthy of his own talents.

Last year, Sieg ended the season 16th in the standings. It tied his career-worst result and was his lowest mark in four seasons.

One culprit was age. Not for him, but the cars he was driving.

“Our cars last year were I think 4 to 5 years old,” Sieg said. “When you’re running cars that are four and five (years) off what the Cup (affiliated) cars are, you can’t beat it. That’s (on top) of being down on horsepower a little bit, down on engineering, down on everything. … I would say the Cup teams in Xfinity were two to three generations ahead of what we had. It makes a big difference.”

Now Sieg is piloting essentially brand new cars bought from Richard Childress Racing.

“‘Cowboy’ (nickname for competition director Kevin Starland), whose been with us for a while, said they’re the best cars we’ve ever had,” Sieg said.

He qualified for the season-opener at Daytona in eighth and stayed in the top 10 most of the day before he finished third.

It was his fourth career top five and his third at Daytona.

“Racing in the top 10 all day you realize it’s a different level of a car and a program,” Sieg said. “When you go out every weekend, 33 races and you have a car you know is going to be off the pace of other drivers it wears on you. It gets tiring, it gets old. You get frustrated with it. You almost just get stuck in that same mold of, ‘OK, that guy’s faster than me, that guys faster than me.’ It gets frustrating but now it’s a lot more fun.”

Crew chief Shane Wilson worked with Brendan Gaughan from 2014-17. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

More with less

Another addition for Sieg’s team is at crew chief.

After Starland served in the position for much of last season, Sieg decided to hire Shane Wilson about two weeks before the team headed to Daytona.

Wilson, a winner of 17 Xfinity races since 2006, worked at RCR from 2014-17 with Brendan Gaughan. In 2018, he was paired with rookie Kaz Grala at JGL Racing and then the very quickly formed Fury Race Cars.

He’s now part of an effort that includes seven full-time employees in addition to the “weekend warriors” Sieg says help them out at the track.

“I don’t want to slight anyone we’ve worked with in the past, but I’ll say Shane is definitely very smart and comes to the race weekend with a plan,” Sieg said. “A big difference is on Fridays we’re not trying to set a fast lap. … We’re really working on the balance on the longer run. A lot of that is how your car is set up. You can go out and cut a fast lap in practice, but 10 laps into the race don’t do you a whole lot of good.”

What Sieg and his team are capable of this week could say a lot about the gains they’ve made.

The series heads to the flat, 1-mile ISM Raceway outside Phoenix, a place Sieg has never finished better than 14th (twice). Last year he earned finishes of 25th and 19th.

“For sure, our flat track results, Phoenix and New Hampshire and some of those other tracks have really been our biggest weakness,” Sieg said. “I’ve never really been to that track with a car I felt has been under me. The goal again is to have a good car for the longer run. It can go green there. … I’m definitely more excited to go there this year than any other year in the past.”

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Justin Haley fastest in final Xfinity practice in Las Vegas

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Justin Haley led a 1-2 sweep by Kaulig Racing of the top spots in Friday’s final Xfinity practice session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Haley posted a top speed of 180.307 mph around the 1.5-mile track. He was followed by Austin Dillon, who posted a speed of 178.194 mph in the No. 10 Chevrolet.

The top five was completed by Kyle Busch (177.977 mph), Christopher Bell (177.930) and Tyler Reddick (177.778).

Busch, who had the best 10-lap average at 176.792 mph, scrapped the outside wall in Turn 2 early in the 50-minute session but won’t have to go to a backup car.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

In a session that was heavily impacted by 23 cars incurring pre-practice inspection penalties, Justin Allgaier was fastest in Friday’s first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series practices at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Allgaier covered the 1.5-mile track at a speed of 178.737 mph and was followed by Busch (178.642 mph), Reddick (178.642), Haley (178.625) and Cole Custer (178.536).

Sixth through 10th were Dillon (178.394), Bell (177.819), Austin Cindric (177.427), Noah Gragson (177.282) and Zane Smith (177.264 mph), who is making his Xfinity Series debut this weekend.

Those drivers penalized due to inspection issues and the amount of practice time they lost due to the penalty were:

Late to inspection (15 minutes): Jeremy Clements, Cole Custer, Mike Harmon, John Jackson

Two-time failures (15 minutes): Jeff Green, Garrett Smithley, Justin Haley, Tyler Reddick, Brandon Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Christopher Bell, Stephen Leicht, Chase Briscoe, Josh Williams, Vinnie Miller, Kyle Busch, Matt Mills, Timmy Hill

Late to inspection and two-time failures (30 minutes): Ryan Sieg, BJ McLeod, Ja Junior Avila, Cody Ware

Three-time failures (30 minutes): Joey Gase

Click here for the full practice speed list.

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