Cole Custer was fastest in the first of two Xfinity Series practices Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
The Stewart Haas Racing driver roared around the 2-mile high speed oval in his Ford Mustang at 177.039 mph, the only driver to exceed 177 mph.
Christopher Bell was second fastest (176.882 mph), followed by the man who is getting the most attention this weekend, Kyle Busch (176.350 mph), who is seeking to become only the second driver in NASCAR history to reach 200 wins in a career.
Busch comes into this weekend with 199 career NASCAR wins: 52 in Cup, 53 in Trucks and 94 in Xfinity. He can reach 200 with a win in Saturday’s Xfinity race or in Sunday’s Cup event.
Tyler Reddick was fourth fastest in the session (175.970 mph), leading a surge of five Chevy drivers in a row, followed by Justin Allgaier in fifth (175.833), Noah Gragson (175.653), Jeremy Clements (174.834) and John Hunter Nemechek (174.478).
Rounding out the top 10 were Austin Cindric (174.338 mph) and Ryan Preece (174.350).
The final Xfinity practice will take place later this afternoon from 4:35 to 5:25 p.m. ET.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The landscape for Austin Cindric in 2019 is much different than what he faced last season as a rookie in the Xfinity Series.
Quite simply, it’ll be a less chaotic atmosphere for the 20-year-old who will drive Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford full-time in Xfinity.
“Continuity is important,” Cindric told NBC Sports Monday during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Having the one team the entire year is a crucial point for me, having to have that continuity, not only on the track but off the track on the sponsorship side. I feel very lucky to have that kind of opportunity.”
2018 saw Cindric split time between Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing, driving the No. 22 and No. 12 for Penske and sharing Roush’s No. 60 with two other drivers.
“You’d show up at the race track just knowing all your stuff is stored, (that) you’d fit in the car,” Cindric said. “You have somewhat of a practice plan. A lot of time it was busy work throughout the week to make sure you’re prepared enough to get in and go.
“Having 12 different primary sponsors throughout the year, racing with three different teams, five different crew chiefs. It’s still a great position to be in during a full season, but obviously best case scenario is what I got on the slate this year.”
Cindric finished 10th in the standings in a season where he earned seven top fives and 13 top 10s – all with Penske – and experienced seven DNFs.
Now he’s preparing for a full slate in the No. 22 with crew chief Brian Wilson. Wilson was on the No. 22 last year and also worked with Cindric for one ARCA Racing Series race in 2017.
Together, they will be Penske’s first full-time Xfinity effort since Sam Hornish Jr. and Greg Erwin in 2013.
“Brian and I have a really good relationship,” Cindric said. “I think we both understand each other really well. So to be able to apply that in the full-scale is going to be really important. I feel very comfortable working together. Both of us have confidence in what we’re both capable of. Now it’s time to go apply it.”
Where does Cindric see himself needing to focus on more this year?
“Part of it is learning the cars, but also what to focus on in practice to make our lives a lot easier in the race, give ourselves an adjustable package,” Cindric said. “Racing wise it’s definitely a step up. It’s a step closer to the Cup level … the driver caliber is definitely a step higher. To learn from guys like that and apply it to my own driving is pretty important.”
In addition to the limited presence of Cup drivers, Cindric’s sophomore effort in Xfinity will come against a formidable field of series regulars.
“You look at guys like Justin Allgaier, who has been around this for a long time and obviously he had probably a career year last year, and guys like Christopher Bell and Cole Custer coming in for a (second and third year respectively),” Cindric said. “Then you have obviously (defending champion) Tyler Reddick.
“It’s an amazing pointy end of the field. The pointy end is pretty wide. I’d like to hope we’re a part of that.”