Cole Custer

Friday 5: Xfinity driver’s quest for success goes one call at a time

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“Hey, my name is Brandon. What do you think of NASCAR?”

That’s not how Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown starts every phone call looking for sponsorship, but sometimes it’s not too far off.

While other drivers watch film, run laps on iRacing, work out or fulfill sponsor obligations during the week, Brown often is on the phone looking for sponsorship for his family’s team.

That’s life in the middle of the field in the Xfinity Series where the chassis are older, sponsorships harder to find, pit crew members interchangeable and results are overshadowed by the dominance of Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

Through it all — and that includes Brown moving from his family’s primary car to another ride twice because someone else brought sponsorship money — Brown is 14th in points heading into Sunday’s Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway.

He is 97 points out of the final playoff spot, held by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones. While the playoffs would be quite an accomplishment, it will be difficult for a team such as Brown’s to top many of the better-funded organizations ahead.

Even so, Brown is reaching one of his goals for the season.

Brandon Brown (right) races Jeremy Clements (51), Justin Haley (11) and Jeffrey Earnhardt (18) at Charlotte last month. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“Our focus this year was to crack the top 15,” he told NBC Sports. “Getting a top-10 finish would be great. I don’t want it to be because the leaders wrecked. Superspeedways, we can count them if we want, but that’s like a crapshoot. We want to earn a top 10 this year.”

He hasn’t gotten there yet. Brown finished a career-best 13th this season at Atlanta, Dover and Pocono.

It’s not easy to get into the top 10 with a fleet of older chassis that includes those once driven by John Wes Townley at Athenian Motorsports. Brown said the team also added some Richard Childress Racing chassis when RCR downsized its program.

There have been other changes throughout the season. Brown has had seven different pit crew combinations in the first 13 races because not everyone they’ve used is always available. With tenths of a second often the difference between gaining or losing spots on pit road, the less a crew and driver are familiar with each other, the longer it can take to complete stops.

“When you’re switching to new guys, I don’t think they know what to expect (from the driver) until after the first stop,” he said.

Brown’s biggest challenge, though, is money, especially for a team with fewer than a dozen full-time employees. Even Brown has a dual role. The team’s website lists him as marketing director/driver.

That means the 25-year-old makes a lot of phone calls.

“The goal is obviously to search for any company that has expressed any interest in motorsports at all, whether it is circle track racing, road course racing, dirt bike, whatever,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Also, it kind of comes down to who do we know, who do any friends and family know, try to make some sort of a connection so that it’s not a complete cold (call), ‘Hey my name is Brandon, what do you think of NASCAR?’

“It’s going through everybody’s rolodex in the shop because a lot of the guys come from different areas, try to pull from each one of them.”

For every phone call that provides hope, there are many more rejections or calls that aren’t returned.

Brandon Brown has finished in the top 20 in 11 of the season’s first 13 Xfinity races. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“It’s definitely tedious,” said Brown, who graduated from Coastal Carolina University in December. “It’s not the most fun at all. I understand that each and every team in the garage in some shape or form has gone through something similar. I just kind of throw it up to growing pains and just kind of look forward to … a day where I can just go to the track and come home and just focus on watching film or doing a simulator.”

Until then, he’ll keep looking for money for Brandonbilt Motorsports, which is running its first full-time season in NASCAR.

Brown ran the season’s first seven Xfinity races without a primary sponsor. He has had a sponsor in five of the past six races. Vero True Social is back as a sponsor this weekend at Iowa after it served in that role at Charlotte and Michigan.

“It all comes down to the dollar that keeps the race team alive,”  Brown said.

He will remain in the No. 86 for the foreseeable future since no one has purchased any more races at this time.

Even with all the challenges, Brown has made gains. His season-worst 26th-place finish last weekend at Michigan ended a streak of five consecutive top-20 finishes. Despite not having sponsorship early in the season, he opened with six top 20s in a row.

“We want to peg up the ladder,” Brown said. “We understand as a team where we are in comparison to the rest of the garage.”

That doesn’t mean he’s satisfied with staying there. So he keeps calling, searching for the money that will help this team climb higher.

2. Familiar foes

Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer have combined to win each of the last seven Xfinity races heading into Iowa Speedway this weekend.

Reddick has three wins during that stretch, while Bell and Custer each have two wins.

Reddick notes how competition between helps make each better.

“Every single week and every single lap I feel like, if say I’m leading and they’re catching me, I push harder, if I’m catching them, they push harder,” Reddick told NBC Sports of Bell and Custer. “Most people I’m able to run down and catch and make something happen, but those two are definitely the hardest to pass. They work the hardest to keep you behind them. It’s a lot of fun battling with them.”

3. Wanting to scream!

Chase Cabre did just that after winning his first K&N Pro Series East race June 2 at Memphis International Raceway. The win came in his 33rd career series start.

Chase Cabre celebrating his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win June 2. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP, NASCAR)

Cabre, in his third season in the series, had three runner-up finishes, including two this year, before the win.

OK, so once the celebration in victory lane is done, the car passes inspection, and it’s time to leave, then what?

Cabre drove back to the Charlotte area with his mom and brother but first they stopped for dinner at a Red Robin restaurant.

“It’s funny how the emotions change so fast,” Cabre told NBC Sports. “You get out, you’re screaming and the next thing you know you want everybody to realize I won. (At the restaurant), nobody here knows you won.

“They have no clue. ‘What are you so excited about?’ “

If only they knew.

4. Truck debut

Sixteen-year-old Chandler Smith makes his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut this weekend at Iowa Speedway. He’ll be in the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. The Toyota development driver has three ARCA wins and six poles in 13 starts. His most recent ARCA victory was May 19 at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway.

Smith also is scheduled to drive for KBM on June 28 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Aug. 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway and Nov. 7 at ISM Raceway. He will drive the KBM Super Late Model Oct. 13 at the Winchester (Speedway) 400, Nov. 3 in the All-American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and Dec. 2 in the Snowball Derby.

5. Chastain’s chase

In his first Truck series race since declaring for Truck points, Ross Chastain scored 38 points for his 10th-place finish last week at Texas Motor Speedway.

He must be in the top 20 in points to be eligible for a playoff spot should he win. His Kansas victory does not count toward playoff eligibility because he had not declared for Truck points at the time.

Chastain enters this weekend 64 points out of 20th place in the season standings. Anthony Alfredo is 20th with 102 points.

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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.”

Tyler Reddick wins Xfinity race at Michigan

Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images
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BROOKLYN, Mich. – Tyler Reddick took the lead with 11 laps to go when the leaders had to pit and cruised to his third victory in the last five Xfinity Series races Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

“I’ve had good strings of runs as a young driver racing in dirt cars, but this is the best run I’ve had in my career I feel like on the level that I am,” Reddick said. “I’m already thinking about (next weekend’s race) at Iowa.”

The race changed on a caution at Lap 78 of the 125-lap race. Christopher Bell led and Cole Custer was second. There was a miscommunication between Bell and his pits and he stayed on track. Custer, told to do what Bell did, also stayed out. Reddick pitted.

“My definition was a little different than what Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) had planned,” Bell said. “Ultimately, that was a big hiccup in our day.”

Said Custer: “The strategy just didn’t work out for us.”

With track position critical, Reddick’s move proved to be the key. The race went the rest of the way without a caution, forcing Bell and Custer to pit under green, moving Reddick into the lead.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points report

Noah Gragson finished second and was followed by JR Motorsports teammate Michael Annett. Paul Menard, who started on the pole, placed fourth. JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier finished fifth.

Custer placed 12th. Bell finished 13th.

This marked the seventh consecutive race that either Reddick, Custer or Bell has won.

Stage 1 winner: Paul Menard

Stage 2 winner: Christopher Bell

Who had a good race: JR Motorsports had three drivers in the top five and all four place in the top 10. Noah Gragson tied his career high by placing second. Michael Annett was third for his best finish since winning at Daytona. Justin Allgaier was fifth for this third top five in the last four races. Jeb Burton spun early but battled back to finish ninth, giving him top-10 finishes in all three starts this year. … Chase Briscoe rallied back from a spin to place seventh.

Who had a bad race: Riley Herbst was involved in an early accident and finished 37th in the 38-car field. … Dillon Bassett finished last because of an accident.

Next: June 16 at Iowa Speedway

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

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer have combined to win the last six Xfinity races.

The last time Reddick, Bell or Custer did not win a series race was more than two months ago when Kyle Busch won at Texas.

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

Here’s all the info for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Master Sergeant Rodney Gray will give the command to start engines at 1:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 1:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Qualifying is at 10:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11:45 a.m. Driver introductions begin at 1:05p.m. Lisa Bascom will perform the Canadian National Anthem at 1:28 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1:30 p.m. by Father Geoff Rose, St. Francis de Sales High School. Lisa Bascom will perform the National Anthem at 1:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 125 laps (250 miles) around the 2-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 60.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. The Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 75 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Austin Dillon won this race a year ago and was followed by Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup

Xfinity practice report from Michigan

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
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BROOKLYN, Mich. – Christopher Bell was the fastest in Friday’s final Xfinity Series practice at Michigan International Speedway, sweeping the day’s two sessions.

Bell had a lap of 189.021 mph. He was followed by Cole Custer (188.039 mph), Tyler Reddick (187.960), Dillon Bassett (187.588) and Landon Cassill (187.520).

Click here for final practice report

First practice

Christopher Bell posted the fastest lap in the first of two practices Friday for the Xfinity Series at Michigan International Speedway.

Bell led the way with a lap of 188.763 mph. He was followed by Tyler Reddick (188.536 mph), Justin Haley (188.181), Ryan Sieg (187.607) and Cole Custer (187.227).

Noah Gragson ran the most laps at 35. He was eighth on the speed chart with a top lap of 186.940 mph.

Click here for practice report

Riley Herbst hit the wall and went to a backup car. He will start at the rear of the field for Joe Gibbs Racing.