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Friday 5: Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief makes a simple request

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A year into his role as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief and facing another challenge to make the playoffs, Cliff Daniels has a simple request.

“I’m not even asking for things to exceptionally go our way,” he told NBC Sports. “I’m just asking for them to exceptionally stop going against us. When that happens, we’ll be OK.”

This has been a dizzying season of disappointment for Johnson and his team since the season resumed in May. The result is that the seven-time Cup champion is outside a playoff spot heading into this weekend’s doubleheader at Michigan International Speedway and in danger of missing the playoffs for a second year in a row.

Since May, there have been few highlights for Johnson and the No. 48 team.

# In NASCAR’s return May 17 at Darlington, Johnson was on his way to winning the first stage when he made contact with Chris Buescher and crashed on the final lap of the stage.

# Johnson finished second in the Coca-Cola 600 but his car failed inspection for what Daniels said was a part failure and was disqualified. The penalty cost Johnson 45 points.

# Clint Bowyer gained five spots in the last 11 laps at Atlanta to remain 12th in the owner standings and ahead of Johnson. That was critical because cars 1-12 in owner points are eligible to start in those spots via the random draw. Cars 13-24 in owner points, drew for those spots. Johnson’s luck in the random draw would prove to be terrible in the summer, costing him points in the first stage. Johnson has scored Stage 1 points in three of the 10 races since Atlanta.

Cliff Daniels has completed his first year as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief. His first race in that role was Aug. 4, 2019. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

# Johnson missed the July 5 race at Indianapolis after testing positive for COVID-19.

# He returned the following week at Kentucky and was third on a late restart when contact with Brad Keselowski spun Johnson. Instead of a chance to win, Johnson finished 18th.

# Johnson started 20th at Texas and finished the opening stage seventh. He hit the wall in the second stage and that ruined his race, finishing 26th.

# While running 13th at Kansas, Johnson was collected in a multi-car crash and finished 32nd, again losing points.

# Last weekend at New Hampshire, contact with Clint Bowyer’s car spun Johnson as they raced for fifth place late in the opening stage. Johnson went on to finish 12th — his best finish in his last eight starts.

All this has put Johnson 25 points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron for what would be the final playoff spot with six races left in the regular season.

The challenge is that with Johnson only eligible for starting spots 13-24, it is not easy to score points in the first stage of any race. It won’t be easy this weekend at Michigan. The first stage in both races is at Lap 40 — a quarter of the way through the 156-lap race. Last year, the first stage ended about a third of the way into the race. With fewer laps, it makes it more challenging to gain points early. NASCAR will change how the starting lineup is determined beginning next weekend and that could help Johnson.

Johnson will start 17th on Saturday. That also impacts how Daniels will set the car.

“We really have to slide our scale more toward the traffic balance potential, and you’ve got to be aggressive on the restarts, get all we can for positions there, and then make sure we’ve got a car that is able to pass,” Daniels said. “If you look at Kentucky, if you look at Texas, if you look at Kansas, that kind of paid off for us in making sure that we could pass and we did. We were able to pass and get up into the top 10 or better at all three of those tracks pretty quickly. … I do expect us to get our shot out front at some point during the day (at Michigan), at least that’s the plan.

“We’re going to keep marching forward in what we have built into the car in terms of being able to pass, have good pit stops and good restarts and a good strategy. The tough part is when we get up to the front we may not have quite the raw potential built into the car, so we’ll have to duke it out with them and that puts even more emphasis on executing those restarts and pit stops to keep our track position.”

2. Now what does Toyota do?

With the sale of Leavine Family Racing and expectation that the new team will not be aligned with Toyota, it leaves the question of what does Toyota Racing Development do?

If TRD can’t find another organization to align with, that would leave Joe Gibbs Racing’s four-car operation and Gaunt Brothers Racing’s new one-car effort in TRD’s fold.

PODCAST: How Toyota develops its young drivers 

With what Toyota invests in driver development, it will need more seats to avoid losing drivers as it will do with Erik Jones not returning to Joe Gibbs Racing after this season.

Erik Jones started the year winning the Busch Clash. He’ll end it headed for another team in 2021. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The statement from Ed Laukes of Toyota Motor North America seemed clear that Toyota would not have a place for Jones in 2021.

“Unfortunately, the time has come that we have to part ways from a competitive standpoint,” Laukes said in his statement.

With Jones’ departure, it leaves Toyota with Christopher Bell and Daniel Suarez, who came up through its development program. Through the years, Toyota has lost Kyle Larson, William Byron, Noah Gragson and Hailie Deegan to other manufacturers.

Toyota’s pipeline remains stocked with Harrison Burton, Riley Herbst and Brandon Jones in the JGR Xfinity program. Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Truck team runs Chandler Smith, Christian Eckes and Raphael Lessard. Other Toyota drivers in the Truck Series include Derek Kraus with McAnally Hilgermann Racing and Austin Hill with Hattori Racing Enterprises.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, explained in 2018 the manufacturer’s interest in developing talent:

“If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that manufacturer’s don’t have any business developing drivers. You know you look at Kasey Kahne being brought up as a Ford driver and getting poached by Chevy or Jeff Gordon, kind of all of these examples – what we came to realize is one, why shouldn’t manufacturers have a role in driver development? From the competitive perspective you have two options, develop your own or steal them and you know Rick Hendrick and I have had a friendly you know jab about that because he’ll say ‘I’ll just steal them from you.’

“Arguably, he did already, but that’s okay because the second part of it is more altruistic I’d say and that’s that I think as a stakeholder in this sport, we have a responsibility to give back and we recognize – and the troubling part about it is Toyota doesn’t own racing teams. That’s not our role. The tough part about it is we’ll lose as many of these young kids as we’ll be able to keep just because you know the higher you climb the ladder, the fewer seats are available. That’s what keeps me up at night, frankly.”

3. A catwalk unlike any other

Among the many events postponed by the pandemic was the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Catwalk for a Cause.  The charity event held in May has raised more than $600,000 each of the past two years and highlighted pediatric cancer patients and survivors — heroes as they are called — in the fashion show.

Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Last year’s event raised money for the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Children’s Emergency Department at Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center and the Sherry Strong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic at Novant Health Presbyterian Main.

Sherry Pollex, partner of Martin Truex Jr., told NBC Sports that COVID-19 and the economy are forcing foundations to examine how they raise funds.

“I think we’re going to have to come up with some ideas that are outside of the box, that we’ve probably never seen before because we need to honor these commitments to these hospitals and these children that we were going to fight for,” Pollex said.

An example is what the foundation looks to do with Catwalk for a Cause. 

“We’re hoping that we can still do something special,” Pollex said. “We’re trying to put all the pieces together right now. We’re not really sure what it’s going to look like. We want to obviously protect the kids and their health and their families and everybody that is going to come in, but we’re hoping it’s going to be kind of like a drive-in movie theater type atmosphere where you drive your car in and are tailgating from the back of it. We’ve got some great ideas for that and we’re hoping that goes off in September so we can get funding from that.”

Fundraising continues for the foundation, which has been selling a variety of T-shirts this summer. Truex said the key is to keep the “word out on what we’re doing. Simple things like selling T-shirts. Our fans and supporters have been excited about little things like that and that keeps the fire burning.”

Truex’s sponsor Auto-Owners Insurance combined with his foundation to sell 500 limited edition mini helmets signed by Truex and Pollex. The helmets sold out this week in less than three hours. Auto-Owners also matched employee donations to the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation. That and the sale of the helmets raised more than $80,000. To celebrate, the hood of Truex’s car this weekend at Michigan will have the names of 1,900-plus Auto-Owners associates who made donations to the MTJ Foundation.

4. Knows the feeling

Brad Keselowski, who got a one-year contract extension this week, can relate to the despair Bob Leavine felt in selling his Cup team. Keselowski shut down his Truck series team after the 2017 season. Keselowski said previously how his organization lost $1 million a season.

“Racing is tough,” Keselowski said in a media conference Thursday. “It’ll make you bitter. There ain’t no way around it. It’s competition in all forms. It’s competition from the driver level, the owner level, the crew chief level and it’s tough.There’s no way around it. 

Bob Leavine, center, at the 2018 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“I’ve heard a lot of talk lately about the ownership model being broken. I’m not so sure I believe that. Sometimes I think it is. Sometimes I think it isn’t. There’s a lot to be said for the very pure and true competitive and capitalist model that NASCAR team ownership has, so it’s got its positives and its negatives. 

“I don’t enjoy seeing guys like Bob Leavine or anyone else for that matter leave the sport in ownership. I take no pleasure in their pain, but then on the other side I do recognize that in competition there must always be winners and losers, and maybe some people lose that don’t deserve to lose. That probably happens from time to time, but it’s part of the story of our sport is that there are winners and losers. 

“We don’t have to like who the winner is, and we certainly don’t have to wish for someone to lose. We might not like who it is that loses. I think in this case, Bob seemed like a really great gentleman who has brought a lot to this sport in a very short period of time, but it’s a tough sport. It really is, and this is part of that unfortunate cycle of life for our sport as well.”

5. Kyle Larson’s future

Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, met with the media this week. One of the questions he was asked was if there had been any conversations about whether Kyle Larson could be in a Ford next year.

Larson is interested in returning to NASCAR. Chip Ganassi Racing fired him in April after he uttered a racial slug during an online race. He’s since returned to dirt track racing with tremendous success.

So, could Larson drive for Ford in NASCAR next year?

“We’re in the midst of silly season and what I can say is we’re looking at all of our options,” Rushbrook said. “A lot of our seats have long-term contracts and are solid. You saw the extension announced (Monday) for Brad (Keselowski). We certainly have some seats in play, so looking to see what the best options are. 

“We’re here to win races in the right way. We want to be competitive on track. We want to have our innovation and tech transfer, and we want the marketing out of it, so looking to see what we can do with any open seats for next year to fill them with the best driver.”

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Toyota exec ‘not throwing in the towel’ on keeping Christopher Bell

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The announcement by Leavine Family Racing earlier this week that it had been sold puts Christopher Bell‘s Cup career in “immediate peril,” according to Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson.

Wilson made his comments about Bell’s future Wednesday night to Claire B. Lang on “Dialed In” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“The immediate impact is to Christopher Bell,” Wilson said. “Christopher Bell, who is certainly one of our development drivers and somebody that we have invested a lot in over the years, it puts him in immediate peril. … We don’t know yet if we can recover, having to go out, it’s the first of August and this has been a relatively recent development. But to go out in this climate, in this environment, and to try to put together a partnership with no time and the demands required of that partnership from a sponsorship perspective, are just very difficult.”

Bell, a rookie, drives Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 Toyota. Leavine Family Racing is one of three teams, including Joe Gibbs Racing and Gaunt Brothers Racing, that receives support from Toyota.

While the identity of who bought LFR has not been disclosed, Wilson said “It’s doubtful that there’s a plausible solution” that sees Toyota’s current deal with the No. 95 team continuing with the new ownership next year.

“I think this is widely known, part of the partnership, part of the way LFR worked was a technical alliance, a hardware reliance on Joe Gibbs Racing,” Wilson told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Those cars are leased, they’re not owned by Bob (Leavine) and the team. Those go back to Joe Gibbs Racing. What I can tell you is that as soon as we became aware of this problem, Joe and I have been working very closely, very aggressively, every day. It’s what’s keeping me awake every night right now, trying to figure out if we can adapt, if we can come up with a bridge to get us another year down the road.”

Bell has been a Toyota development driver his entire NASCAR career, including two full-time seasons in the Truck Series at Kyle Busch Motorsports and two full-time Xfinity Series seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing.

A winner of 16 Xfinity races, Bell joined Leavine Family Racing in part due to JGR’s stable of drivers being full in the Cup Series. Erik Jones, who drives the No. 20 Toyota, is in a contract year. That car could be driven by Bell in 2021.

But Wilson acknowledged Bell could not be in a Toyota come 2021.

“In the end, if we can’t, the collective we, Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing or a new Toyota affiliated team, if we cannot find a solution for Christopher then he’s got to do what he’s got to do,” Wilson said. “We are, again, very invested in Christopher. We’re not throwing in the towel, we are being very aggressive. I’ve been very candid in the past, probably overly so, to the effect that Christopher Bell is going to be in a Toyota for years and years and years to come. That has been our intention. That remains our intention. I would say today, stay tuned. It’s very late, but we’re working on it and we should have something to share between ourselves and Joe Gibbs Racing in the very near future.

Erik Jones: It’s time for better finishes and future

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Erik Jones doesn’t need to look at a clock to know now is his time.

The Michigan native earned a season-best third-place finish – and his second top-five in the last three starts – in Sunday’s back half of the NASCAR Cup doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as Jones is closing in on the end of a one-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing he signed last year. His future remains uncertain.

“We started talking to them about next year and what we’re going to do moving forward,” Jones said after the race.

“I feel like right now that’s kind of the plan, working with them. We’ll see what happens, but I feel good about it right now moving forward.”

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said on June 17 that it’s his hope to keep both Jones and Christopher Bell in the manufacturer’s fold.

“We all know that Erik is at the end of his current contract,” Wilson said. “What’s the plan there? We don’t know. We’re working on that. (Car owner Joe Gibbs) and I are talking about that now every week. Our desire obviously is to keep both of those young men in our company. How we do it is yet to be determined.”

Jones’ finish Sunday was a strong rebound after finishing 38th in Saturday’s race due to a wreck.

“We needed a good run, a good rebound,” he said. “It’s great we finished third, but in a way it’s frustrating because I think our primary car (in Saturday’s) race was quite a bit better than our backup car was today, but obviously third is a good run.”

After struggling through much of the season – including seven showings of 20th or worse in the first 14 events – Jones believes he’s turned a corner and sees more promising results ahead.

“It’s nice to rebound and hope we can keep the momentum going next week and keep going strong,” Hamlin said. “It’s nice to run a normal race. I think on a normal weekend we can run top five and I think we showed that today.”

Sunday’s finish – Jones’ sixth top-10 in eight career Cup starts at Pocono – also put Jones back in the top 16 Cup playoff rankings.

“We feel like we definitely should make the playoffs,” said Jones, who entered Sunday six points out of a playoff spot. “We’ve done that the last few years and I don’t see this year as any different.

“Hopefully we can keep moving forward. We’ve got good racetracks coming up for us, places we’ve run well at in the past, I think we’re going to keep racking up some good finishes here and hopefully get a win here pretty soon.

“I think our cars are way faster than a 16th-place team. Hopefully we can keep up the good runs. We just need three-four more races running strong like we need to, get some stage points and we’ll be in the top 12 pretty quickly.

“… It’s not even a question in my mind, making the playoffs or not. I feel we’ll be strong enough here to get a win at a race here in the next month or two.”

Earlier in the day, Jones drew attention for a tweet he posted criticizing over-aggressive driving by many in the field of the Xfinity Series race, which preceded the Cup race.

The most notable example of that was when Justin Haley hooked Riley Herbst on the Pocono straightaway. NASCAR held Haley for two laps on pit road after the incident and met with Haley and crew chief Alex Yontz after the race.

“The Xfinity Series is in kind of a weird spot right now,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of young guys, very talented guys, don’t get me wrong, but definitely some of the guys can click it down a notch.

“I watch it on TV every week and it’s like, man, some of those guys are so fast and some of the things they do just blows your mind. The way I grew up racing, hooking somebody on the straightaway is pretty out there. I don’t think you want to face the repercussions of what would have happened coming into the pits.

“It’s just kind of a lack of respect. I grew up with a lot of respect in racing and respect for my equipment and competitors. I don’t believe in intentionally wrecking people. I think that’s pretty low, low-class and doesn’t belong in our sport. It’s just Saturday night, Mickey Mouse stuff and I don’t like to see it.”

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Friday 5: Despite 2 wins in a row, Toyota boss has sharp words for teams

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Although Toyota has won four of 12 Cup races this season, including the past two, the president of Toyota Racing Development used the words “embarrassing,” “dog crap” and “unacceptable” in discussing a recent race, and performance this season.

A third of the way through the Cup season, Toyota has not shown the strength it did last year in winning 19 of 36 points races and the championship.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said this week that the manufacture’s advantage has declined.

“It’s not that we’ve fallen behind as much as they’ve caught up, and there’s no question that that new Chevrolet Camaro and the nose that is on that car has elevated their program,” Wilson said. “The fact that they’re only sitting on two wins right now is shocking to me. I always look at not necessarily the wins, but the potential, what is the true potential of your race cars and that being a function of raw speed. You could argue that we’re punching above our weight right now and they’re not running at their full potential.”

MORE: Toyota executive keen on keeping young Cup drivers

Wilson said even with wins in the last two Cup races, that’s not satisfying because of the performance of the Toyota cars.

“Coming off two wins, I still think we’re on our back foot a little bit,” he said. “In many respects I feel much better about our loss at Atlanta than our win at Martinsville. … The reason I say that is because at Atlanta we had three cars in the top five, we led laps, we had a couple of cars that were good enough to win that race.

David Wilson. (Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“In Martinsville, we embarrassed ourselves. This is one of the most embarrassing races I can remember for the Toyota family. We weren’t ready for the new tire that Goodyear brought to the racetrack. There’s circumstances behind it, but I’m not going to make excuses for it. We weren’t prepared for it.

“Our engine drivability was terrible. On pit lane and restarts. We could have had our worst finish since 2007 had it not been for Martin (Truex Jr.) hanging on long enough to get the car balanced correctly for the tires and putting himself, ultimately, in a position to win the race.

“I was encouraged at what we saw at (last weekend) Homestead. Where we need to be better is our consistency of how we unload from the haulers across the camp. We’ve had too many guys that are just dog crap for the first stage and use that time to try and catch up. That’s unacceptable. We should be better with the tools that we have, with the experience that we have, we should be better.

“There’s definitely room for improvement. Having said all of that, within our camp, within the JGR camp, we’re still positive because we know that our potential is there to lead laps and win races if we execute consistently on pit lane, if we do a better job with our sim, we will be in a position to win more races.”

Toyota is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Family and Gaunt Brothers Racing. The drivers for JGR and Leavine all have scored significantly fewer points in the first stage compared to the second stage, illustrating Wilson’s frustration with how the teams begin the race.

Erik Jones has scored 12.5% of all his stage points in the first stage. Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch has scored 29.6% of all his stage points in the first stage. Martin Truex Jr. has scored 37.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin has scored 41.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.

To compare, Chase Elliott, who has a series-best 141 stage points this season, has scored 51.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Joey Logano, who is tied with Truex for second with 127 stage points, has scored 49.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.

Among manufacturers, Fords have won six of the season’s first 12 races and Chevrolet has won twice this season.

Even if Toyota went on to win 12 Cup races this season, based on its current pace, it would be its fewest wins in a season since 2014. Toyota has averaged 15.6 Cup wins a season since 2015.

2. Looking ahead to 2021

With the Next Gen car’s debut pushed back to 2022, the sport will have an additional year with the current rules. That also means an additional year with a similar workforce. With the move to the Next Gen car, teams are expected to reduce their workforce because of limits on the cars.

Now, teams will keep a similar workforce through next year while finding sponsorship at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the economy.

David Wilson, president of the Toyota Racing Development, said next year will be among the key points discussed in a meeting among the manufacturers with NASCAR next week.

“Part of the agenda is going to be looking at ’21 and how do we as an industry help our teams bridge one more year that wasn’t in the plan,” Wilson said. “We already have enough teams in trouble and on the brink. The focus needs to be not selfishly on us as individual (manufacturers) but on the industry as a whole.”

3. Talladega changes

Rule changes for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway will lead to slower speeds as NASCAR looks to reduce the chance of a crash similar to what Ryan Newman experienced at the end of the Daytona 500.

Among the changes is a reduction in the throttle body from 59/64” to  57/64” that is expected to reduce horsepower by 35-40. That would put teams around 510-515 horsepower this weekend.

NASCAR also has eliminated the aero ducts to help reduce the likelihood of tandem drafting.

One change not made was to the spoiler. John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development, explained why such a change wasn’t made.

“Certainly spoiler changes were looked at,” Probst told reporters this week. “… The items that were under consideration were largely centered around slowing (cars) down, which would usually mean a bigger spoiler.

The spoiler that we have on there now is as tall as we can get them without putting significant bending … on the deck lid to the point at which we’d be worried structurally. From that standpoint, getting larger wasn’t really a good option. The more direct knob for us to turn to slow the cars down is directly to the horsepower.”

Another change is the addition of slip tape to the rear bumper. The contact from Ryan Blaney‘s car to the rear of Newman’s car triggered Newman’s crash.

“We’re trying to make the rear bumper of the car being hit like ice, where they slide across, don’t contact and start influencing the car in front laterally, left to right, if you will,” Probst said.

4. COVID-19 protocols

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked this week if the sport has had anyone test positive for the coronavirus and about the status of protocols NASCAR has in place for each race weekend.

“Everything has been going, actually, remarkably smooth, in terms of the protocols that have been set in place,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve certainly had some folks who may have presented some symptoms that we’ve turned away early. That’s up to them to disclose if there were any issues in terms of did someone have COVID or not, but I would say (the protocols have) worked 100% according to plan.

“We’ve not had challenges during an event where anything has come up where we’ve had to react during the hours that the garage was open. It’s been if there were any issues prior to someone entering the facility, which have been very minimal.

“We expect there will be some challenges. We need to continue to do our due diligence. We need to continue to wear our masks. We need to continue to follow the protocols.”

5. Leader of the pack

Team Penske has won seven of the last 11 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway, a 63.6% winning percentage.

Brad Keselowski has won four times during that stretch. Joey Logano has three wins during that time, and Ryan Blaney won last year’s playoff race. 

The races not won by a Team Penske driver during that stretch were won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott.

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Toyota executive keen on keeping young Cup drivers

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The president of Toyota Racing Development said Wednesday that “our desire” is to have both Erik Jones and Christopher Bell race for the manufacturer beyond this season but said “how we do it is yet to be determined.”

Jones’ one-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing expires after this season. Bell, a rookie for Leavine Family Racing, is in the first year of a multiyear contract. But Bell’s car owner, Bob Leavine, told The Athletic last month that “I’m walking that tightrope” to keep the team running beyond this season because of the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

David Wilson, president of TRD, addressed both drivers’ status with Toyota beyond this year in a video conference with reporters Wednesday.

“We all know that Erik is at the end of his current contract,” Wilson said. “What’s the plan there? We don’t know. We’re working on that. (Car owner Joe Gibbs) and I are talking about that now every week. Our desire obviously is to keep both of those young men in our company. How we do it is yet to be determined.”

The 24-year-old Jones enters Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway 18th in points for Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones has placed 20th or worse in each of the last three Cup races.

He was running seventh last weekend at Miami when he hit the wall and cut a tire with less than 10 laps left, finishing 21st. The weekend before, Jones had a flat tire and later was caught speeding on pit road within the last 125 laps at Atlanta, leading to a 28th-place finish.

Bell, 25, enters Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway 24th in points. He started the season with five consecutive finishes outside the top 20, dropping him to 32nd in the points. He’s finished 11th or better in four of the seven races since.

Wilson was asked about Leavine Family Racing’s performance this season.

“The 95 is candidly a little more disappointing and there’s circumstances behind that,” Wilson said. “I think Christopher’s raw speed has actually been quite good. A couple of races, he started the third stage inside the top 10 and he had a 14-second pit stop and loses nine to 10 spots. That’s happened twice already. … I think Christopher could have won (at Bristol) had he not had to restart whatever that was 18th (after his final pit stop) and he still drove up to the top 10. That’s cause for optimism. If we collectively can eliminate the easy things like execution on pit lane and such, I think we’ll see more consistency and more top 15s and more top 10s out of Christopher.”