Charlotte Roval

Ryan Sieg Racing

Ryan Sieg, Shane Wilson ready for opportunity races in Xfinity playoffs

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When Shane Wilson answered his phone Tuesday he was in the process of leaving a UPS store, a weekly destination that’s part of his many crew chief duties at Ryan Sieg Racing.

This week the team had to: prepare three cars for Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond – including a car for Hermie Sadler, who is making his first Xfinity start since 2016 and the first ever for RSR, as well as repair a wrecked No. 93 car from Las Vegas and get Ryan Sieg’s No. 39 Chevrolet ready for a playoff run.

“Shoooo, we’re busy,” Wilson tells NBC Sports. “But, you know, good busy.”

That’s all been done with seven crew members at the team’s shop located just outside of Atlanta.

“We can go with seven-and-a-half to make sure I don’t leave anybody out,” jokes Wilson.

At the UPS store he had mailed a shock destined for Vermont. Its recipient would be Steve Hibberd, the team’s shock guy.

Hibberd is a former employee of Orleans Racing, the Truck Series effort for Brendan Gaughan in the early 2000s that Wilson led. He’s one of Wilson’s two “secret weapons.”

The other is another Orleans team member and former Dodge employee, Ryan Isabel, who provides engineering support for the team in identifying trends via a database of car setups.

This small, spread out operation helped Sieg produce the best season in his six years of full-time Xfinity competition and his second playoff berth, following his 2016 campaign.

He enters Richmond with two top fives and nine top 10s (matching his top 10s from the rest of his Xfinity career). His previous best total for top 10s was three in 2016, the first time he went to the playoffs.

But Wilson, a former long-time employee at Richard Childress Racing who crew chiefed for Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, doesn’t seem too stressed about the playoffs before him or his limited resources. In fact, he’s having his most fun in NASCAR in “a long time.”

For a former electrician apprentice from Vermont, he could be doing worse.

“Whenever I have a bad day in racing I think about running pipe in December in Vermont along the Connecticut River,” Wilson says with a chuckle.

Ryan Sieg has made the Xfinity playoffs for the second time in his career. (Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sieg and Wilson don’t want to hype up a potential Cinderella story for the Xfinity Series playoffs, even if it does have a few ingredients for that.

Sieg and his small team will start their playoff run at the track he had his best non-superspeedway performance earlier this year.

The April 12th race at Richmond saw Sieg start 13th, finish Stage 2 in fifth and then finish the race in fifth for his second top five of the year.

That leads into the Sept. 28 race on the Charlotte Roval. The opening round then closes out at Dover International Speedway.

Wilson sees the first round as three “opportunity races.”

“They’re not cookie cutter mile-and-a-halves, like Vegas,” Wilson says. “I really feel like we can go there and do well.

“I like road racing, Ryan doesn’t necessarily like road racing. I’m trying to get him in the state of mind and that’s a good opportunity race.”

But….

There are a few of those.

They make Wilson a “realist” about their situation, especially when it comes to facing the juggernauts of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and the other Cup-affiliated teams.

First, there’s the cars.

Those Cup-affiliated teams will likely be bringing new or updated cars to the track as the playoffs open.

Meanwhile, Sieg’s team will be using the same three cars they’ve been rotating through all year. Luckily for Wilson, they’re relatively new chassis the team purchased from Richard Childress Racing before this season, so he’s familiar with them.

“Here we will be running the same cars as we have been because that’s what we have,” Wilson says. “But I don’t think I’d ever switch that anyway, you gotta kind of ride the horse that got you there and try not to out trick yourself or race something that’s a little bit better cause you really need to bring something you know and that you’ve raced all year then see where you land.”

Then there’s the playoff points.

Sieg enters Richmond 11th in the standings with 2,001 points after the standings were reset. That one playoff point is a result of Sieg winning Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway in March.

“Looking at it, those top three cars (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) have such a big advantage, you almost have to pencil them into Homestead,” Sieg says. “To make it through the first (round), that’s what we want to do and need to do. But if we don’t, be consistent over the seven races and get top 10 in points, I think we got eliminated in the first round in 2016, but we still finished ninth in the standings. So it’s always nice to be top 10 in points. … Anything can happen.”

However, with all that, there’s one additional tool in the No. 39 team’s utility belt they didn’t have in April.

They return to Richmond with a Cup pit crew, which they began using in May at Charlotte.

Why is that notable?

Shane Wilson, right, has been a NASCAR crew chief since the early 2000s in Truck Series. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

“We lost I think 30 spots on pit road that first race and still finished top five,” Sieg says.

Well, maybe it felt like 30.

“It wasn’t quite 30, but it was like 17 though,” Wilson says with a hearty laugh. “Which is still a lot.”

Even with a more experienced pit crew, Sieg’s philosophy on what happens on pit road has been drilled into him.

“We don’t want to gain spots on pit road, we don’t want to lose any either,” Sieg says. “We just want to maintain. I bet you in my career if you counted the number of times I’ve come off pit road I’ve probably lost more positions than I want to count. That’s part of being a small team. If we come in eighth and Brandon Jones is ninth, he’s got a Joe Gibbs pit crew. If they beat us by two seconds, you’re going to lose that spot. I’ve kind of dealt with that a lot in my career. I’m not complaining, cause it’s part of what it is. So I just want to come in 10th and go out 10th. Yeah, it would be great to come out fourth, but that’s less realistic.”

And what if that Cup pit crew had been in place at Richmond six months ago?

“We might of won,” Wilson says. “Or we would have finished second. Because we passed two guys who finished in front of us about three different times. The only one we never passed was (winner Cole Custer).”

While advancing to the next round would be huge for Sieg’s team, Wilson’s goal for the next three races is straightforward: “finish ahead of four of those guys every week” and “accumulate enough points to make them have to race us at Dover.”

Martin Truex Jr. explains frustration with Jimmie Johnson about Roval finish

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DOVER, Del. – Martin Truex Jr. explained his anger Saturday with Jimmie Johnson over Johnson’s actions on the final lap of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

“I was mad, of course,” Truex told NBCSN during a morning practice session that was canceled by rain. “It’s natural. It’s human to get mad in situations like that. That was a big race. That was a big day. We put so much effort into that and there were so many things surrounding that race that made it special to me and reasons that I wanted to win, mostly for my guys and the effort they put in, so yea, I was mad about the outcome and the way it went down.

“I was not mad at all, and I think people got the wrong impression, I was not mad at all about Jimmie trying to win. That’s his job. That’s what we all try to do every single weekend. He was trying to win the race. I get that.

“I was mad that he screwed up. I told him. I said, ‘I give you a lane,’ I got tight in Turn 4, NASCAR Turn 4 (on the oval). I was like, well I’m not going to slow down and block him, brake check him, whatever. I’m going to give him the inside lane because I don’t want him on my right side because if I give him the right side, he’s probably going to clean me out. I gave myself the best opportunity to win.”

Instead, Johnson locked his brakes entering the final chicane, spun and then made contact with Truex. Instead of winning – and scoring five playoff points – Truex finished 14th. Johnson fell from second to eighth and then was eliminated from title contention when Kyle Larson passed the stalled car of Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s less than 100 yards from the finish line. That put Larson, Aric Almirola and Johnson into a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots. Larson and Almirola advanced via the tiebreaker (best result in that round).

Johnson said he made a mistake in that chicane.

Friday, Johnson said that he would have done the same thing but made a couple of changes.

Jimmie Johnson: ‘My desire to win has never been stronger’

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson would go for the win entering the final chicane at the Charlotte Roval if he had to do it again.

“I still have got to make that move,” Johnson said Friday at Dover International Speedway. “I still got to try for it.

“I would have made a small brake bias adjustment, and I think I would have modulated the brakes a little bit different entering the corner. Looking back, I was a little lower than I typically was entering that braking zone and had a bit more steering wheel input in the car and that’s initially why the left front locked up.

“I would change a couple of things, but I don’t know how I don’t go for it.”

Even though Johnson was in a position to advance to the second round of the playoffs, he attempted to maneuver around leader Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap. Johnson spun after his brakes locked, lost six positions and finished eighth.

“It wasn’t this desperate move to try to pass him in that braking zone,” Johnson said. “My intent was to be alongside of him, one side or the other because I felt that would have tripped him enough to where I had a real shot on the exit of the corner to the start/finish line.”

Johnson was eliminated from title contention when Kyle Larson passed Jeffrey Earnhardt’s stalled car less than 100 yards from the finish line. That was the one position Larson needed to forge a three-way tie for the final two transfer spots with Aric Almirola and Johnson. Larson and Almirola advanced via a tiebreaker (best finish in the first round).

The result has provided a week’s worth of second-guessing of Johnson and the No. 48 team.

“I’ve thought about it a lot and what I would do differently,” he said. “I would just like to learn from my mistakes. I do feel bad for my team and the fact that we didn’t advance and how much we put into that, but countless text messages, phone calls, walking though the shop, they’ve all supported my decision to race for the win.

“The other piece that weighs on me … I feel bad for Martin and that No. 78 team. I hate that my mistake affected them and could impact their season to some degree. I don’t like that aspect to it, but it is racing and I know in my heart that it was a legitimate attempt at winning the race and a mistake was made. I didn’t go in there to try to move him out of the way and wreck him and create all of this havoc. I’ve moved on and did have a good week but there are a couple of things that still linger.”

Johnson comes to a track where he’s won a record 11 times and is the site of his most recent victory in June 2017.

“My desire to win has never been stronger,” said Johnson, who is on a career-long 52-race winless streak. “I’m happy last week that people were able to see that.

“But when I’ve been criticized about my commitment and desire while running 20th, this is the same fire has been there. I think it’s unfair to be judged by the performance on track. It’s a collective group that puts the car in position to win.

“We’re at my favorite race track and absolutely do I want to win the race. I will do everything in my power to win the race, but it takes a collective group to have the car, the pit stops, the strategy and I don’t know if this weekend is that weekend. But if there is a track I can make up a tenth (of a second) or two for the team, this would be one of them.”

NASCAR America: Charlotte’s Roval ranks high among major changes to NASCAR

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In 1950, NASCAR added its first speedway to the schedule. The high-banked 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway was a departure from the traditional direction of the sport.

“The first time they went to Darlington, a mile race track, … guys ran the whole race and never got off the apron,” Kyle Petty said during Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “Never got up on the bank because they were afraid to because they’d only run half-mile dirt, quarter-mile dirt, stuff like that.”

Today, tracks more than a mile in length make up the vast majority of NASCAR races.

Nine years after Darlington hosted its first race, the top division of NASCAR left the Daytona Beach and Road course and headed to the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Once again, the drivers were nervous about this major change.

“Then they come off the beach at Daytona and they went over there (to Daytona International Speedway) in ’59 and they say, ‘look at this place.’ ” Petty continued. “And my Dad (Richard Petty) said the talk in the garage was they were going to take off like airplanes, because it was so different. Look what that’s evolved to.”

Those examples from the past are not the only times NASCAR has made a major change. Nor are they the only times that drivers have worried about the consequences of a bold move.

The NASCAR All-Star race was first run under the lights in 1992.

“They were paying so much money, we had to say this was the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Petty said. “And we all had that fear we were going to outrun the lights.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted those types of changes are still happening.

“Even more recently: the All-Star race from this year,” Earnhardt said. “That would be another Hail Mary … that everybody thought was crazy. All the drivers hated the idea, and it turned out to be one of the best All-Star races we’ve seen in years.”

The future of oval and road course racing will come down to its reception by fans and the competition the track creates. Just as 1.5-mile tracks exploded in the early 2000s, there are other opportunities to run Roval races.

“At the same time, it’s begged the question – and we’ve seen it on social media this week with Daytona International Speedway – would fans want to see a race on the road course of Daytona?” Earnhardt asked. “It’s started this whole new conversation of what’s down the pipe for this sport?”

The Charlotte Roval is not only a hybrid oval and road course – it has elements of the two existing road courses. The interior may be as technically challenging as Sonoma, but the oval portion is going to make the track behave like Watkins Glen.

“When you incorporate any of the oval into the race track, the cars are going to tend to spread out,” Earnhardt said.

“If you look at the difference between Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The Glen is a faster road course and they get a little more spread out there. We still have great battles … but over time, they do put some distance between one another and we’ll see even more of that with this Roval.”

For more, watch the video above.

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William Byron wrecks during Charlotte road course test

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CONCORD, N.C. — The second open Cup test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course has been adventurous for some and dangerous for William Byron, who experienced an ugly wreck early Tuesday afternoon.

The Hendrick Motorsports rookie lost brake pressure and plowed into both tire barriers located in Turn 1, the left-hand turn that leads to the infield portion of the course.

Byron was able to exit his car.

The rookie’s incident was the fourth notable one of the day.

The first three all occurred in Turns 3 and 4. Alex Bowman was the first, as he spun and hit a tire barrier, receiving minor damage. The splitter on his No. 88 Chevrolet was replaced.

Ryan Blaney followed later, hitting the wall twice and forcing the team to a backup car.

Erik Jones then spun in the same area without hitting anything.