Kyle Busch

Austin Cindric rebounds from rough July to crash Xfinity’s ‘Big 3’ party

Leave a comment

When the month of August opened, Austin Cindric was in a desperate need of a “good weekend.”

So much so that the 20-year-old driver “didn’t even care about winning the race” when the Xfinity Series visited its first road course of the season at Watkins Glen International.

A “miserable” July saw Cindric fail to finish in the top 10 at Kentucky (spin), New Hampshire (engine change before the race) and Iowa (crash).

Despite being one of the favorites to win at WGI due to his sports car background and near-misses on road courses last year, Cindric just wanted to finish the race.

At the same time, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had been experiencing his own July misery. But that didn’t stop him from being one of the first people to send Cindric a message of congratulations when Cindric won at WGI.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but the first text I got after the race was from Jimmie Johnson,” Cindric told NBC Sports. “I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Before my grandma, before anyone else, Jimmie Johnson was the first text in my phone.”

It was a “pretty simple” congratulatory message for Cindric’s performance in beating AJ Allmendinger to secure his first career Xfinity Series win.

“Stuff like that for me goes a long way,” Cindric said. “I think it does for most guys in my position.”

Cindric had gone 54 starts before earning his first Xfinity win and his second in a national NASCAR series. His victory was Team Penske’s first Xfinity win in 28 races.

Now after months of talk about the “Big 3” – Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer – Cindric has forced his way into the conversation.

“The goal is to be able to outrun them, not just run with them, but outrun them,” said Cindric, who added that the trio of drivers – who compete for three different teams and manufacturers – has provided a good “gauge” for his team.

Over the last three weeks Cindric has won twice, backing up the Watkins Glen triumph with a victory at his home track of Mid-Ohio. He’s the only series regular after Reddick, Bell and Custer with more than one win through 22 races.

Austin Cindric races beneath eventual race-winner Tyler Reddick at Bristol Motor Speedway (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Cindric’s hot steak continued last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Though he didn’t win, Cindric earned his third consecutive top five. That was after he won his second pole in a row, edging Kyle Busch.

Though he has nine top fives this year, Cindric said there’s “no doubt” his Bristol performance helps solidify the confidence that his team is more than just a contender on road courses.

“I don’t think that hangs over my head as much as it probably seems like it does,” Cindric said. “The road courses were going to be a strength for us this year, I don’t think that’s a secret that’s my skill set, that’s where my experience is at. At the same time, I’ve got six poles in the Xfinity Series, three of them are on ovals and three of them are on road courses. I feel like I’ve definitely got a strength in that regard.”

Now comes Road America (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).

The series heads to the 14-turn, 4.048-mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, for its third road course in four races.

Cindric, who made his series debut there in 2017, will try to win a third straight road course race. That hasn’t been done in the Xfinity Series since Terry Labonte won at Watkins Glen from 1994-96.

He’ll also look to add to Penske’s all-time series-leading numbers on road courses in wins (12), top fives (39), poles (19) and laps led (963).

Cindric has raced on the track a half-dozen times across NASCAR, ARCA and sports cars. He says piloting a stock car around Road America requires slowing “everything down” compared to sports cars.

Austin Cindric racing at Road America in 2018 (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images).

“You’re braking before any brake marker on the race track, which is pretty crazy,” Cindric said. “The longevity, you’ve got really long straightaways, followed up by really long brake zones and the longevity of brake pressure applied is insane there in a stock car. So you really have to time things well on a restart and in traffic. I think it’s a really easy place for guys to overshoot the braking zone. …

“I think that’s what makes driving a stock car there really difficult. But it is also a very fun track because the lap is so long that there’s so many different opportunities to pass lapped cars, lapped traffic or even find a strength or weakness in your car. I think it’s somewhere you can differentiate yourself just by putting a lap together.”

Cindric is confident enough in his abilities that he can finally master Road America and claim his third win of the month.

“You just got to mind your Ps and Qs at the beginning of it and not get caught up in the argybargy (British term for a an argument or disagreement) and caving your nose in. … That’s where my focus is.”

Well, not entirely. While one Cup driver was paying attention to him at Watkins Glen, Cindric will have his eyes peeled this weekend for the driver that’s been at the forefront of conversation this week in NASCAR.

Matt DiBenedetto,” Cindric is quick to say. “He’s the man of the hour and he’s driving the (Joe Gibbs Racing) 18 car. And that car’s been really, really good the last two road courses. I’m looking forward to racing him, because I know I will be because he’s obviously really good on road courses.”

DiBenedetto, who placed second last weekend in the Cup race at Bristol, has road course finishes of fourth (Sonoma) and sixth (Watkins Glen) this year. Saturday’s race will be his first in the Xfinity Series since 2016.

“I’m excited to see what he’s got and see if we’ve got anything for him,” Cindric said.

and on Facebook

Xfinity Series 2020 race fields cut; most Cup drivers limited to five starts

8 Comments

The 2020 season will have a slightly different look in both the Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

Among the more notable changes: reduction in Xfinity Series race fields, as well as a decrease in the number of Xfinity races that full-time Cup drivers with more than three years of experience can compete in.

Also unveiled were the 2020 Dash 4 Cash and Triple Truck Challenge race dates and tracks.

Here’s the breakdown:

XFINITY SERIES:

* The starting field for each race will be cut to 36 cars (from 38 currently).

* The field will be set with 31 starting positions based on qualifying, four provisional positions based on the rulebook and one past champion provisional.

* Drivers with more than three years of full-time NASCAR Cup experience will be limited to a maximum of just five starts (down from seven currently). Those five starts cannot include the final regular season race or the playoffs. The current maximum for 2019 is seven starts for Cup drivers with five years of full-time Cup experience.

* The Dash 4 Cash battle will have the qualifying race at Homestead-Miami (March 21, 2019), followed by the four Dash races: Texas (March 28), Bristol (April 4), Talladega (April 25) and Dover (May 2).

* Drivers electing to accumulate NASCAR Cup series points are ineligible to take part in the Xfinity Series Dash 4 Cash.

TRUCK SERIES:

* Drivers with more than three years of full-time NASCAR Cup series experience will be allowed to make a maximum of just five starts (as is the case currently, although drivers must have five years of full-time Cup tenure). Those five starts cannot include the final regular season race or the playoffs.

* The Triple Truck Challenge, introduced this season, will continue. The three 2020 races will be at Richmond (April 18), Dover (May 1) and Charlotte (May 15).

* Drivers electing to accumulate NASCAR Cup or Xfinity Series points are ineligible to compete in the Triple Truck Challenge races and the championship race.

* Removed post entry driver and owner caveat. Greg Biffle, who made one start earlier this season for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the first challenge race and won, would have been prevented from being eligible for the second Truck Challenge race because of the current limitation of not being named on the initial race entry list, which will now be rescinded for 2020.

“These updates to the Xfinity Series and Gander Trucks procedures continue our commitment to strengthening our race teams and providing a stronger field with even greater competition for our fans,” Meghan Miley, NASCAR Senior Director of Racing Operations, said in a media release. “We’re excited about the return of the Dash 4 Cash in the Xfinity Series and the Triple Truck Challenge with the Gander Trucks.

“These programs provide our teams with an incredible performance-based bonus opportunity each season. By removing the entry deadline requirement for the Triple Truck Challenge, we ensure our teams and fans know immediately if a driver is eligible to race for additional bonuses.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Retro Rundown 2019: Paint schemes for Southern 500

Hendrick Motorsports
Leave a comment

We’re now under two weeks from the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 1 on NBCSN), which will mark the fifth year of NASCAR’s official Throwback Weekend.

Here’s your guide to the retro paint schemes that have been announced so far for the weekend, including schemes for the Aug. 31 Xfinity Series race.

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford – The Team Penske driver will race Rusty Wallace’s 1996 Cup Series scheme.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet – Dillon will boast a paint scheme that was driven by his grandfather and team owner Richard Childress in the late 1970s.

Ryan Newman, No. 6 Ford – With Oscar Mayer taking the place of Valvoline, Newman’s car will take its cue from the scheme Mark Martin raced in 1993, when he earned Roush Fenway Racing’s first Southern 500 victory.

Via Roush Fenway Racing

Daniel Hemric, No. 8 Chevrolet – Hemric will drive a car inspired by the design of CAT equipment and the logo used on them from its launch in 1925 until 1931.

Chase Elliott, No. 9 Chevrolet – Elliott will boast the scheme his father, Bill Elliott, claimed his first Cup pole with in 1981 at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota – Hamlin’s car will evoke Darrell Waltrip’s Western Auto paint scheme from the 1990s.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford – The Team Penske driver will have a scheme inspired by Michael Waltrip’s Pennzoil car from 1991-95.

Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota – Busch will pilot a Snickers-sponsored car based on Bobby Hillin’s 1990 No. 8 Snickers scheme.

Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Toyota – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will throwback to himself with the Bass Pro Shops paint scheme he drove during his 2004 Xfinity Series championship campaign. That year he drove for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Chance 2 Motorsports.

Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota – To mark his 100th Cup Series start, Jones will boast a scheme based on his rookie late model car.

Paul Menard, No. 21 Ford – Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to late team founder Glen Wood with the paint scheme Wood drove himself in 1957, including in his only appearance as a driver at Darlington.

William Byron, No. 24 Chevrolet – Byron will drive one of Cole Trickle’s paint schemes from the 1990 Tom Cruise movie “Days of Thunder.”

Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford – GoFas Racing’s car will be based on Dale Jarrett’s 1990-91 Nestle Crunch sponsored Xfinity car.

Michael McDowell, No. 34 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will have a paint scheme that pays homage to the career of long-time owner and driver Jimmy Means, who was once partnered with FRM owner Bob Jenkins.

Front Row Motorsports

David Ragan, No. 38 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will drive a scheme inspired by David Pearson’s 1969 championship car.

Screenshot

Bubba Wallace, No. 43 Chevrolet – Wallace’s car will be a tribute to the late Adam Petty and his 1998 ARCA win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Richard Petty Motorsports

Ryan Preece, No. 47 Chevrolet – Preece will have a tribute to modified racing legend Ron Bouchard. The scheme is based on the No. 47 Majik Market/Hawaiian Punch car Bouchard drove at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in 1984.

Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet – The car is inspired by one that Burt Reynolds’ character raced in the movie “Stroker Ace.”

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet – Bowman’s Axalta-sponsored car is inspired by Tim Richmond‘s Folger’s Coffee scheme from 1986-87.

Stewart-Haas Racing – In celebration of co-owner Tony Stewart’s election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, three SHR drivers will have paint schemes based on the cars Stewart raced to his three Cup Series titles. Aric Almirola‘s No. 10 Ford will be based on Stewart’s 2002 car, Daniel Suarez‘s No. 41 Ford will be based on the 2005 season and Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 Ford will look like the car Stewart drove to his 2011 title.

Xfinity Series

Cole Custer, No. 00 Ford – The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will have a throwback to Buckshot Jones’ 1997 Xfinity Series car.

Michael Annett, No. 1 Chevrolet – The JR Motorsports driver will channel Jeff Gordon circa the 1992 Xfinity Series season with Gordon’s Baby Ruth paint scheme when he drove for Bill Davis Racing.

Via JR Motorsports

BJ McLeod, No. 4 Chevrolet – McLeod’s car is designed after the No. 44 Slim Jim car Bobby Labonte drove in the Xfinity Series in 1992.

Justin Allgaier, No. 7 Chevrolet – Allgaier’s scheme will be based on the No. 90 Truxmore Chevrolet Ricky Rudd drove in the 1979 season.

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet – Earnhardt will pilot the scheme his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove in his first Cup start in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley, No. 11 Chevrolet – Kaulig Racing will boast Jeff Burton’s 1994 rookie Cup paint scheme with matching sponsorship from brake parts company Raybestos. It also serves as a tribute to team owner Matt Kaulig’s father and team chief financial officer, Bob Kaulig, who served as a vice president of Raybestos from 1985-2008.

Via Kaulig Racing

Denny Hamlin, No. 18 Toyota – Hamlin will have a scheme based on Bill Elliott’s No. 11 Budweiser car.

Joey Gase, No. 35 Toyota – Gase’s throwback is based on the 1997 Tabasco paint scheme raced by Todd Bodine.

Jeremy Clements, No. 51 Chevrolet – Like William Byron, Clements will pilot a “Days of Thunder” paint scheme. He’ll be using Rowdy Burns’ No. 51 Exxon scheme.

Brandon Brown, No. 86 Chevrolet – Brown’s scheme is inspired by Terry Labonte’s 1993 Kellogg’s Cornflakes scheme.

Chase Briscoe, No. 98 Ford – Briscoe will pilot a scheme based on the No. 98 Ford Parnelli Jones won the 1963 Indianapolis 500 with.

Stewart-Haas Racing

and on Facebook

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin No. 1 for fifth straight week

1 Comment

By winning Saturday night at Bristol, Denny Hamlin maintained his stranglehold on the NBC NASCAR Power Rankings.

For the fifth consecutive week, Hamlin is No. 1 in the rankings – and by unanimous selection. But he’s not the only big story: Matt DiBenedetto, who finished second in Saturday’s race, made the biggest jump in this week’s rankings, going from unranked to No. 2.

Conversely, taking the biggest falls are Kevin Harvick (second last week to seventh) and Martin Truex Jr. (third to eighth).

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings shape up:

1. Denny Hamlin (40 points): Doing everything right. Could this finally be the year he earns that elusive first Cup championship? Last week: 1st.

2. Matt DiBenedetto (29 points): Starting to come on at the right time. Runner-up run at Bristol gives him four top 10s in the last five races. Last week: Unranked.

(tie) 3. Chase Elliott (27 points): After struggling to find consistency at times, he has three consecutive top-10 finishes heading into the off-weekend. Last week: 6th.

(tie) 3. Kyle Busch (27 points): Finished fourth for his fifth top 10 in the last six races but lamented after the race to NBCSN that “we’re flat out getting our ass kicked by our teammates so we’ve got to get better.” Last week: 5th.

5. Kyle Larson (26 points): Sixth-place finish marked his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. This team is cutting down on the mistakes that plagued it earlier in the year. Last week: 4th.

6. Brad Keselowski (23 points): As well as he’s run in Bristol over a long while. Earned first top five in 10 starts on the track. Last week: 9th.

7. Kevin Harvick (16 points): Freak mechanical failure ruins a very good weekend but look for him to bounce back big-time at Darlington in two weeks. Last week: 2nd.

8. Martin Truex Jr. (11 points): Flat tire caused his streak of four consecutive top 10s to come to an end with a 13th-place performance at Bristol. Last week: 3rd.

9. Daniel Suarez (9 points): Team and driver are showing a lot of fight. Don’t be surprised if Suarez is the next first-time Cup winner. Last week: 7th.

10. Clint Bowyer (4 points): He may have fallen below the playoff cutline, but you have to admire the way he bounced back from adversity to finish seventh at Bristol. With the pressure on him in the last two races to make the playoffs, Bowyer will have to have two of his best efforts of the year at Darlington and Indianapolis. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Ryan Blaney (3 points), Ryan Newman (2 points), Kurt Busch (2 points), Tyler Reddick (1 point).

Bump and Run: Time to be concerned about Kyle Busch’s winless drought?

1 Comment

Kyle Busch is winless in his last 10 Cup races — his longest drought since 2017. He said after Saturday night’s race that “we’re flat out getting our ass kicked by our teammates so we’ve got to get better.” What kind of concern do you have with this team as the playoffs near?

Nate Ryan: Not too much concern. It was expected there would be a dropoff in results at some point for Busch. While it’s surprising he struggled at Bristol (though still scored a top five), and it comes on the heels of a disappointment at Michigan, he had blazing speed at Watkins Glen, Pocono and New Hampshire but without the results. Better to get the “slump” out of the way now before the playoffs begin for the No. 18.

Dustin Long: Minimal. His average finish is 8.3 during his “drought” and he averages 37.3 points per race, which is the equivalent of a fourth-place finish (with no stage points). Can understand if he’s frustrated but would not count this team out at all.

Daniel McFadin: None. Kyle Busch has finished in the top five or top 10 in five of the last six races. He’ll be fine. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I have mixed emotions. It’s hard to feel bad for Kyle Busch, given he’s leading the points. But at the same time, could he potentially have peaked too early in the season with his four wins? Or is he just in a slump and needs a big win at a place like Darlington or Indianapolis to get back on track? Sure, he’s struggled to reach victory lane of late, but it’s too early to start holding a tag day for the younger Busch brother.

Could Matt DiBenedetto become NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver this year, taking the title from Chase Elliott?

Nate Ryan: Highly unlikely he wins, but he could crack the top 10 or maybe even the top five.

Dustin Long: I don’t see it happening. Matt DiBenedetto’s popularity continues to grow but it still has a way to go to reach Chase Elliott’s level.

Daniel McFadin: As enticing as that story would be, I don’t see it. He didn’t even win the All-Star Race fan vote in May, losing to Alex Bowman. He’s got a lot momentum right now, but I think Chase Elliott would have to remove his name from contention for that to happen.

Jerry Bonkowski: While there’s no question Matt DiBenedetto has been one of the best feel-good stories of the season, he’d have to win Darlington or Indy (or both) and then a couple of playoff races and make it all the way to Miami in the final four before he’d have a shot at unseating Elliott. Still, I can easily see DiBenedetto finishing No. 2 to Elliott no matter how the rest of his season goes.

Who will score their initial Cup victory first: Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Daniel Suarez or someone else?

Nate Ryan: William Byron, sometime before the end of this season.

Dustin Long: William Byron. I like what Matt DiBenedetto has done lately but the equipment is behind what fellow Toyota team, Joe Gibbs Racing has, so it will be hard to beat that. Byron’s Hendrick team could be one to watch in the coming weeks. Remember how well Chevrolet teams worked together at Talladega in the spring? Byron’s teammate, Chase Elliott, won that race. Could things set up for Byron at Talladega in the playoffs?

Daniel McFadin: My gut is to say William Byron, but Matt DiBenedetto has outperformed both of them by a mile over the last two months. I’d watch out for him at Talladega, the Charlotte Roval, Richmond and maybe even Martinsville. I’d like to see him put together impressive runs in consecutive weekends rather than every other race.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d love to see Matt DiBenedetto do it at either Darlington or Indianapolis to get himself into the playoffs. But honestly, given their success this season, my pick would be either Daniel Suarez or William Byron as the next first-time Cup winners.