Spencer Gallagher

Xfinity’s Big 3 get spotlight at Iowa Speedway

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What a difference a year makes.

When the Xfinity Series made the first of two visits to Iowa Speedway last year, its 14th race of the season, only four Xfinity Series regulars had claimed race wins.

Those drivers – Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Spencer Gallagher –  had one win apiece (part-time driver Ryan Preece also had one win).

With the series set to return this weekend to the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa, the balance of power in the Xfinity garage couldn’t look more different than 12 months ago.

Entering Sunday’s CircuitCity.com 250, the series again sees just four regulars with race wins. But only one of those drivers, Michael Annett, is stuck on a single victory.

Reddick, Bell and Cole Custer are miles ahead of the competition with three wins each and are vastly improved over their 2018 selves.

Tyler Reddick claimed his third win of the season at Michigan. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tyler Reddick

Agreed upon by NBC Sports’ writers as the most impressive national series driver this year, Reddick’s performance in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet is a complete 180 from this point last year.

After winning the 2018 season opener at Daytona, the then JR Motorsports driver fell off a cliff. He earned just one more top five before the first Iowa race and wouldn’t get another until race No. 24 at Darlington, which began his championship surge.

Now Reddick is enjoying the best stretch of racing in his career and making history in the process.

His win Saturday at Michigan was his 10th consecutive top five, the longest streak by a non-Cup competitor since Sam Ard had 11 straight in 1984 (Ard had 15 straight from 1983-84).

Through 13 races, Reddick is tied for the most top fives all-time at this point (11) and has the second best average finish (3.9).

And if not for a pass by Custer on the last turn at Pocono, Reddick would have four wins.

While all six of Reddick’s Xfinity wins to date have come at different tracks, none have been on a track shorter than 1.5-miles.

He’ll try to change that at Iowa, where he has one top five in four starts (third in 2017).

“This year we’ll be headed into Iowa Speedway with some unknowns since we have a new tire,” Reddick said in a media release. “We had a tire test there about a month ago that we participated in (and involved Bell and Custer) and it looks like they’re going in a direction with a harder tire that won’t have as much fall-off. I think they’re hoping with a harder tire there will be some more interesting strategy calls in the race, so that we may see some teams take two or no tires in order to gain track position.

“We’ll see what happens with that. The tire we used to have there was really fast and didn’t really have any fall-off, so I would go to the top groove right away. This time the bottom lane will be open for everybody, but I don’t think it will be quite as fast.”

Christopher Bell has two more wins than he had after 13 races in 2018. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Christopher Bell

Bell is staying just ahead of his pace last year that made him the championship favorite before Reddick’s surprising surge.

While Bell won a rookie record seven races in 2018, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn’t turn on the afterburners until after the July Daytona race. By race No. 14 last year, Bell had one win (Richmond), with seven top fives with no finishes between sixth to 10th.

A year later, Bell again has seven top fives and one finish between sixth and 10th after 13 races. He also has one less DNF than he had in 2018 (three).

Bell’s wins this year have come at Atlanta (1.5-mile track), Bristol (half-mile) and Dover (1-mile).

Now Bell will look to continue a hot streak at Iowa. With three starts there he finished in the top two in both races last year, including a win in the July race.

“We should have a good shot at it; short track racing seems to be our strong suit right now,” Bell said in a media release. “I enjoy 1.5-mile tracks and intermediate style racing better, but for whatever reason, we seem to run better on the short tracks. Iowa is like a short track with intermediate track speeds; it’s in its own unique category. It’s a fun racetrack; you get to go there and typically you can pass, move around and find different lanes.”

Cole Custer is well ahead of the pace he set in his first two Xfinity seasons. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Cole Custer

While Reddick is arguably the most improved driver from last year, don’t let it overshadow what Custer has accomplished.

In his third full-time season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Custer has hit his sweet spot. He has three wins after earning only one each in 2017 and ’18. Both wins came in the final three races of those seasons.

Thus far this season, the No. 00 Ford has seven top fives including its three wins. Custer had four top fives at this point in 2018.

One downside is that Custer has two fewer top 10s heading to Iowa than he did last year (10). He is tied with Bell with eight.

Custer took pride earlier this year in finally earning a win on a short track (Richmond). He’ll attempt to back it up in Iowa, where he has two top fives in four starts. He led 104 laps there last July before finishing ninth after he made late-race contact with the wall.

“It’s the best track we go to,” Custer said of Iowa on NASCAR.com. “It’s so fun, you’re able to run from the top to the bottom, throw slide jobs. It’s probably the biggest track we throw slide jobs at. … It’s every driver’s dream I would say.”

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

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The Xfinity Series competes this afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s Dash 4 Cash race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Dee Choubey, MoneyLion CEO, will give the command to start engines at 1:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 1:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Driver/crew chief meeting is at Noon. Driver introductions begin at 12:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1 p.m. by Billy Irvan, Alabama Raceway Ministries. Amia Nico will perform the National Anthem at 1:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) around the 2.66-mile track.

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

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. 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 a high of 73 degrees and a 0 percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Spencer Gallagher won this race last year, beating Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup

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Entry lists for NASCAR at Talladega

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This weekend will mark the first time Talladega Superspeedway will hold a NASCAR Cup race without restrictor plates in more than 30 years.

Instead of restrictor plates, NASCAR requires Cup teams to use tapered spacers to limit the engine’s horsepower. 

Both the Cup and Xfinity Series will be in action this weekend at the 2.66-mile track. The Truck Series does not race again until May 3 at Dover International Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for each race:

Cup – GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox)

There will be a full 40-car field in Sunday’s main event.

Cody Ware will once again be back in the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

Stanton Barrett will make only his second Cup start since 2008 in the No. 52 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. He finished last in the 2018 Cup playoff race on the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley will make his NASCAR Cup debut in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet.

Jeffrey Earnhardt will be in the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Inc. (XCI) Racing Toyota. It will be the first Cup race for XCI.

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman will be in the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota.

Joey Logano won this race last year, leading 70 of 188 laps and beating Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. Aric Almirola won last fall’s playoff race at Talladega, beating Clint Bowyer and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

Xfinity – Money Lion 300 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports 1)

There are 37 cars entered.

B.J. McLeod will be in the No. 15 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports.

Brett Moffitt will make his third career Xfinity start – and first since 2017. He’ll be in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Chris Cockrum will make his second Xfinity start of the season in the No. 17 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing.

Jeffrey Earnhardt will make his fourth Xfinity start of the season – and his third for Joe Gibbs Racing – in the No. 18 Toyota.

Max Tullman will make his fifth career Xfinity start – and second of the season – in the No. 42 Motorsports Business Management Toyota.

Brandon Brown returns to the No. 86 Brandonbilt Motorsports after competing for RSS Racing at Richmond.

Canadian driver Alex Labbe will make his third start of the Xfinity season in the No. 90 DGM Racing Chevrolet.

There is no driver listed yet in the No. 99 B.J. McLeod Racing Toyota.

Spencer Gallagher won this race last year, leading just one lap. Brandon Jones was second and Justin Allgaier was third.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

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Chase Elliott to drive JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevy in Xfinity opener

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Chase Elliott will drive JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, the team announced Thursday.

The NASCAR Racing Experience 300 will mark a return of sorts for Elliott, who earned JR Motorsports’ first NASCAR championship when he captured the 2014 Xfinity Series title. He also won the 2016 Xfinity opener for JRM.

“This is more than just putting a driver in a car,” JRM general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller said in a media release. “Chase is family to us and an integral part of our history.

“He helped kick-start our run of championships back in 2014 and has driven our cars to victory in several prestigious events, including a win at Daytona in 2016. We jumped at the chance of having one of our own return for this race.”

Chase Elliott won the 2016 Xfinity season opener for JR Motorsports. (Getty Images)

The car will be sponsored in the race by AfterShokz, a headphone brand and current partner of Elliott, who was voted NASCAR Cup’s Most Popular Driver in 2018.

“I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel for JRM in Daytona,” Elliott said. “Kelley, Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and the entire organization have been so great to work with over the years. We won this race back in 2016, and this year we’re looking to get back into victory lane with AfterShokz.”

Elliott, who earned his first three NASCAR Cup wins last season, has five career Xfinity Series wins, all with JRM.

The 23-year-old Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, will be one of several drivers who will pilot the No. 8 Xfinity Chevy in 2019 for JRM. The other drivers include Jeb Burton, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Spencer Gallagher, Ryan Preece, Zane Smith and Ryan Truex.

Other drivers for JRM in the Daytona Xfinity opener include Michael Annett (No. 1 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet), Justin Allgaier (No. 7 BRANDT Professional Agriculture Chevrolet) and Noah Gragson (No. 9 Chevrolet).

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State Water Heaters to sponsor Jeb Burton’s 5 races with JR Motorsports

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JR Motorsports on Wednesday announced that State Water Heaters will sponsor Jeb Burton’s five-race stint in the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series.

State Water Heaters has been involved with the Burton family since 2007, starting first with Jeb’s father, Ward Burton, in NASCAR Cup and the NASCAR Truck Series, as well as with Jeb Burton in the Truck Series and in Late Models.

“I’m very excited to continue my partnership with State Water Heaters and make the introduction between them and JR Motorsports,” Jeb Burton said in a media release. “State has been an amazing partner over the years and has become family – helping me from the very start of my career going back to Late Models.”

Burton will debut the black, orange and blue No. 8 State Water Heaters Chevrolet Camaro at Texas Motor Speedway (March 30), as well as Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 25), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Sept. 7), a return stint to Texas (Nov. 2) and the season finale at Miami (Nov. 16). Alsco and Ultimate Headers will serve as associate partners for those same five races.

Burton will share driving duties of the No. 8 through the course of the season with Spencer Gallagher, Ryan Preece, Ryan Truex and Zane Smith.

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