Ronnie Bassett Jr.

Xfinity Series storylines for Darlington

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Remember the Xfinity Series?

It’s been a while. Xfinity Series drivers will compete Tuesday night at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on FS1) in their first race since March 7 at Phoenix Raceway.

Jeff Meendering, the last crew chief to win in Xfinity, looks back at the March 7 race and it “honestly feels like it was the last race of the season and we’re getting ready to start a new season.”

But it’s not a new season. It’s race No. 5 of the 2020 season. Here’s a refresher on where the Xfinity Series is heading to Darlington.

1.) Joe Gibbs Racing Strikes Back

Entering 2020, there were a lot of questions surrounding Joe Gibbs Racing’s driver lineup, which consisted of Brandon Jones (one win in 137 starts), Harrison Burton (nine Xfinity starts, winless in 38 Truck Series starts) and Riley Herbst (winless in 17 Xfinity/Truck Series starts).

Even Jeff Meendering, crew chief on Jones’ No. 19 Toyota, had concerns.

We were pretty nervous going into the West Coast swing that, ‘Oh my gosh, we could come home and be in trouble car wise from potential wrecks and everything,'” Meendering said. “It actually didn’t turn out anything like that.”

Instead, JGR went into NASCAR’s COVID-19 imposed lockdown with two consecutive wins after Burton won at Auto Club Speedway and Jones found Victory Lane at Phoenix. Meanwhile, Burton, who finished in the top five in all four races, leads the point standings. The team’s only DNF was from Herbst at Daytona.

“We heard the doubters from outside, I guess, but that just only motivated us to be better,” said Burton, who went winless as a Kyle Busch Motorsports driver in the Truck Series in 2019. “There was the Big 3 last year (Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer), we had a meeting and we wanted our three guys to be the Big 3 this year. We wanted to race each other every weekend for wins and go against each other every weekend and have to beat our JGR teammates, which is kind of how it’s been.”

While Burton, 19, has led the charge for JGR, it’s Jones, 23, who is the veteran of the group. He’s in his fifth full-time Xfinity campaign and third with JGR.

“We all laughed at the start of the year,” Jones recalled. “I said, ‘Well, dang boys. I’m the old man of the group I guess this year.’ But it is it is interesting. Christopher (Bell) last year was obviously dominant. But I still have more races than he had in Xfinity, but he just took to the car so well. But this year kind of coming in, I feel that I’m kind of playing that role now a little bit. I’ve definitely helped (Burton and Herbst) come up to speed at race tracks and they’ve actually helped me too.”

Burton recalled how advice from Jones helped in his effort to win in his first start Auto Club Speedway on Feb. 29.

“I asked him, ‘Hey Brandon, how far are you going to drive in (to the turns)?’ and I ended up winning … and he said ‘I’m never telling you how deep I drive in ever again!'”

But with where the Xfinity Series is going tomorrow, Jones’ experience will be invaluable.

2) Darlington Rookie Stripes

When the green flag drops on Tuesday night’s Xfinity race, it will be a big moment for select drivers in the 39-car field.

Among the competitors will be 11 – more than 1/4th of the field – who have never taken a lap around Darlington. Not in practice, qualifying or a race.

The first lap will truly be the first lap of action at Darlington for Burton, Jesse Little, Herbst, Anthony Alfredo, Myatt Snider, Kody Vanderwal, Colby Howard, Ronnie Bassett Jr., Mason Massey, Joe Graf Jr. and Colin Garrett.

“I think I’d lie if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about it,” said Burton. “But the cool thing is, everybody’s nervous about it. Everyone’s in the same boat. … There’s an advantage to have in your head that everyone’s in the same boat and you just have to do your job the best you can do it.”

As for Burton’s crew chief, Ben Beshore, he doesn’t have too many concerns about Burton’s first Darlington experience.

“I felt that way about Fontana too and he showed up there and hauled ass,” Beshore said. “He’s really quick to adapt and uses the tools that he has available to him before he gets there. Whether it be studying data or notes that I sent him or running in iRacing races, he seems to be able to use that to his advantage.”

Little, a rookie driver for JD Motorsports, took on the mindset of “they’re gonna race with or without me” as he dove into his preparation of watching film, taking notes, talking to drivers and making laps on iRacing. Meanwhile, he reiterates to himself “I’m gonna go there and I’m gonna be cautious.”

When it came to advice from drivers, he didn’t have to go far.

“Definitely lean heavily on my roommate/landlord,” Little said.

That would be Cole Custer, current Cup Series rookie and winner of last year’s Xfinity race at Darlington.

“I’ve picked his brain as much as I can,” Little said. “I can’t really think of a better Xfinity driver to do it than him. … He’s helped me out quite a bit … (Making sure I’m not) psyching myself out, not being too timid or scared, you know, in a sense of, ‘It is Darlington, but if you approach it this way it’s really just another racetrack and you know, you’ll enjoy it.'”

Unlike Burton and Herbst at JGR and Alfredo at Richard Childress Racing, Little won’t make his first visit to Darlington in top equipment.

That’s something that concerns former JD Motorsports driver, Ross Chastain.

“I probably feel … the worst for Jesse, just knowing that situation and how important practice is,” Chastain said. “Even though in a normal situation going there he would only have one set of tires, he would have limited laps, but he would have 10 quality laps to learn the track and he has nothing now and you’re going to get thrown into a random draw starting position. That’s tough. Just because I know that.

“Harrison, Riley, those guys … They know their car is going to go down in the corner and it’s going to do normal stuff. Jesse’s, it can do something that he’s not expecting. And I just know that. He’s probably got the biggest, biggest challenge, but when you catch them or you’re passing them or they’re passing you, you just have to trust them.”

3) Briscoe’s Opportunity

The turnover in the Xfinity Series driver ranks this year stands out when looking at the results of the 2019 race at Darlington.

None of the top five finishers – Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Dale Earnhardt Jr. –  are entered in Tuesday’s race, with Custer, Reddick and Bell now rookies in the Cup Series.

That’s leaves Chase Briscoe as the highest-finishing returning driver from last year. In his first start at Darlington, he started fifth and finished sixth.

Count the 25-year-old driver among those excited about a lack of on-track preparation for the race.

“I actually like the no practice and qualifying deal,” Briscoe said. “I feel like that kind of fits my team’s style. You know, last year I wouldn’t have said that at all. But this year, even at the end last year we were just always really good off the truck.”

Briscoe heads into Darlington with three tops 10s, including one win (Las Vegas) through four races this season.

“I feel confident that we’ll be good,” Briscoe said. “And you know, there’s a lot of inexperienced guys in the field as far as never even racing at Darlington. I don’t have a ton of experience there, but at least I know what to expect. I think the biggest question mark for myself is (it’s) at nighttime now. How much does that change things? Last year, it was a pretty hot race and we were slick and sliding around. That fits my driving style a lot more.”

Briscoe also is concerned about there being more grip on the track, a result of Sunday’s Cup race. It’s a situation Xfinity drivers are not used to.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous about the added grip that we’re gonna have, just because I feel like that kinda kind of evens the playing field,” Briscoe said. “Regardless of the temperature outside, it’s still gonna be slick to a certain extent.”

4) What day is it?

While the Cup Series competed on Sunday, Justin Allgaier watched from a distance.

The JR Motorsports driver said it was “hard to not get your blood pumping” as he’s in the final days of prepping for his own return to racing.

Allgaier and the rest of the Xfinity Series race at Darlington and then six days later will race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the oval.

“Some of the most difficult races that we have on the schedule now on the Xfinity Series side … are kind of happening in a short amount of time,” said Allgaier, who has nine Xfinity starts and two Cup starts at Darlington. “I’m looking forward to it. I think that it’s going to be a little bit different being (at Charlotte) on a Monday. Obviously, Memorial Day. It’s going to be super, super weird.

“But somebody the other day asked me if it threw me off to race on a Tuesday at Darlington. I said ‘Well, to be honest with you, because of this pandemic, I don’t know what day it is half the time anyways. So a Tuesday and a Saturday, they’re kind of the same.”

With the Charlotte race being held at night, rather than in the day like the last oval race there, Allgaier predicted that the track will have “a little bit more character” to it.

“We all call bumps character, we know that,” Allgaier said. “The weather has been kind of hot, cold, hot, cold here in North Carolina, obviously. And that a lot of times has more affect than just all the time hot or all the time cold.”

5) Over prepared

When Jeff Meendering was first able to enter the JGR shop after stay-at-home orders were lifted in North Carolina, his first stop was his office. The next was to check on the condition of the car Brandon Jones would race at Darlington.

“Obviously, we shuffled some our cars around a little bit,” Meendering said. “Our car racing at Darlington was originally going to be our Atlanta backup car. And the car we were taking to Texas originally is now going to Charlotte. So we’ve had to shuffle some stuff around, looking at the condition our cars are in and what makes sense with a limited crew to put it out.”

Despite the 10-week shutdown, Meendering’s team had been able to put together car builds through at least August. But Meendering and much of the NASCAR world didn’t know where they’d be racing beyond Charlotte until last week. On Thursday, NASCAR announced Cup and Xfinity would race at Bristol Motor Speedway the weekend after the Charlotte races.

“Those builds we were just basing them off of what the original schedule was,” Meendering said. “We got pretty deep into the original schedule. … We might have built for races that we don’t even go to now. I feel like we’re over prepared for whatever could get thrown at us.”

 

Practice report for Friday’s Xfinity sessions at Chicagoland

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Defending NASCAR Cup champion Joey Logano was fastest in Friday’s second and final NASCAR Xfinity Series practice at Chicagoland Speedway.

Driving the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang, Logano paced the field around the 1.5-mile oval at 174.554 mph. This is Logano’s first appearance in an Xfinity Series race field this season.

Tyler Reddick was second-fastest at 173.896 mph.

Cole Custer was third-fastest (173.879 mph), followed by Austin Cindric (173.874), Justin Allgaier (173.745), Noah Gragson (173.734), Ross Chastain (173.533), Brandon Jones (172.855), Zane Smith (172.706) and Ryan Sieg (172.315).

The start of the session was delayed by more than 30 minutes due to a lightning strike that occurred near the track, as well as a severe thunderstorm warning that was issued for the area due east of the track.

NASCAR held off on sending cars back on-track before the abbreviated 30-minute session began.

Click here for the speed chart from the second practice.

FIRST PRACTICE:

Tyler Reddick was fastest (174.916 mph) in Friday’s first Xfinity Series practice at Chicagoland Speedway. Reddick was nearly 2 mph faster than Cole Custer (173.182 mph), followed by Christopher Bell (173.044), Joey Logano (172.927) and Michael Annett (172.822).

Sixth through 10th were Ross Chastain (172.535 mph), Justin Haley (172.177), Chase Briscoe (171.985), Zane Smith (171.832) and John Hunter Nemechek (171.478).

With about eight minutes to go in the session, Chastain skimmed the outside wall but damage was very minor.

Overconfidence by the driver,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “Just a little too confident trying to run the top. So I have to learn and be a little bit better.”

Four drivers were penalized for various violations:

* The No. 28 of Shane Lee – 15 minutes for being late to inspection.

* The No. 42 of Chad Finchum – 15 minutes for being late to inspection.

* The No. 90 of Ronnie Bassett Jr. – 15 minutes for failing inspection twice.

* The No. 81 of Jeffrey Earnhardt – 30 minutes for being late to inspection and failing inspection twice.

Click here for the full practice speed chart.

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Updated entry lists for Xfinity, Trucks at Iowa Speedway

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Xfinity and Truck Series teams will have the NASCAR stage to themselves this weekend when they make their first trip of the year to Iowa Speedway.

The Cup Series will enjoy its second off weekend of the year for Father’s Day.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for this weekend’s races at the .875-mile track, which will host a second Xfinity race in July.

Xfinity Series – Circuit City 250 (5:30 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1)

There are 39 entries for the race.

Former Richard Childress Racing driver Shane Lee will make his season debut with H2 Motorsports in the No. 28 Toyota.

Ryan Ellis will make his first start of the year in B.J. McLeod Motorsports’ No. 99 Toyota.

Joe Graf, Jr. is entered in his second race in RCR’s No. 21 Chevrolet. Graf failed to qualify for last weekend’s race at Michigan.

Ronnie Bassett Jr. is now entered in DGM Racing’s No. 90 Chevrolet, replacing Alex Labbe.

Justin Allgaier won this race last year, beating Christopher Bell and Daniel Hemric. Bell won the July race last year over Allgaier and Kyle Benjamin.

Click here for the entry list.

Truck Series – M&M’s 200 (8:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

There are 33 trucks entered in the race, which is the second in the three race “Triple Truck Challenge.”

One truck will not qualify for the race.

Ross Chastain is entered in the No. 44 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports. Kyle Benjamin is entered in the team’s No. 45 Chevrolet.

Riley Herbst is entered is Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 46 Toyota for his second start of the year.

After Greg Biffle‘s win at Texas Motor Speedway, ARCA driver Chandler Smith is entered in KBM’s No. 51 Toyota for his first career Truck start.

Tyler Ankrum is now entered in NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 truck, replacing Joe Nemechek.

Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 32 Truck with Daniel Sasnett is no longer entered.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year over Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson.

Click here for the entry list.

Today’s Xfinity race at Pocono: Start time, lineup and more

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Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer have combined to win the last five Xfinity races.

The last time Reddick, Bell or Custer did not win a series race was two months ago when Kyle Busch won at Texas. Busch isn’t entered in today’s race at Pocono Raceway.

Will the winning streak by Reddick, Bell and Custer continue?

Here’s all the info for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Robert Venditti, J.P. Mascaro & Sons, assistant director of maintenance & training, will give the command to start engines at 1:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 1:18 p.m.

PRERACE: Qualifying is at 10:05 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11:15 a.m. Driver introductions begin at 12:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1 p.m. by Billy Mauldin, CEO and President of Motor Racing Outreach. Dave Bray, U.S. Navy veteran and national recording artist, will perform the National Anthem at 1:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 100 laps (250 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 25. Stage 2 ends on Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. The Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 12:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly sunny skies with a high of 74 degrees and a 15% percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Busch won last year and was followed by Chase Elliott and Daniel Hemric. None of those drivers is entered in today’s race.

TO THE REAR: Tyler Reddick (transmission change), Matt Mills (backup car), John Hunter Nemechek (backup car), Ronnie Bassett Jr. (unapproved adjustments).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup

Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Pocono

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Following this past Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the 26-race NASCAR Cup regular season is now halfway down before the playoffs.

Sunday, the Cup and Xfinity series visit the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle, otherwise known as Pocono Raceway. The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off until June 7 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for this weekend’s two races:

Cup – Pocono 400 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-seven cars are entered.

Cody Ware will make his fifth consecutive start and 11th overall in the No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Chevrolet, while JJ Yeley will be in the No. 52 Rick Ware Racing Ford. Quin Houff will be back in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevy.

Martin Truex Jr. is the defending race winner, beating Kyle Larson.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

Xfinity – Pocono Green 250 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

There are 38 cars entered in this race.

Cup regular Austin Dillon will be in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet. Cup regular Ryan Preece will drive the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Camden Murphy is entered in the No. 17 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

Ronnie Bassett Jr. will make his fifth start of the season in the No. 90 DGM Racing Chevrolet.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is back in the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing for a second consecutive weekend. 

Kyle Busch won this race last year, beating Chase Elliott.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

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