While the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Cup Series won’t be announced until Thursday, NASCAR on Wednesday revealed winners of the most popular drivers voting in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks Series.
In voting by NASCAR fans, Justin Allgaier earned Most Popular Driver honors in the Xfinity Series for the first time in his career.
Meanwhile, Ross Chastain was named Most Popular Driver in the Truck Series, also for the first time in his career, earning the honor on his 27th birthday.
Driver of the popular No. 7 Chevrolet, the 33-year-old Allgaier extends JR Motorsports’ domination of the Most Popular Driver award in the Xfinity Series to a record eight consecutive years. Elliott Sadler was the top vote-getter from 2016 through 2018, preceded by Chase Elliott (2014-15), Regan Smith (2013) and Danica Patrick (2012).
Allgaier reached the Championship 4 round for the third time in the last four years, including winning at Phoenix – the 11th win of his Xfinity career – to assure his spot in the championship race at Miami. Allgaier finished fourth this past season in the Xfinity standings behind Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.
And then there was Chastain, who has the popular nickname of the “Melon Man” due to being part of his family’s watermelon farm business in his native Florida.
Chastain entered the 2019 season not even planning to run a full season in the Truck Series. But when it became apparent that he would have the best chance at a championship in a Truck, Chastain and Niece Motorsports announced in June he would switch and declare to earn championship points – and a bid for the Most Popular Driver – in the Truck Series.
Chastain ultimately finished second to series champion Matt Crafton.
Chastain wound up competing in a total of 77 overall NASCAR races in the 2019 season: 23 in the Truck Series, 19 Xfinity races and 35 Cup events. He won three races in the Truck Series and a fourth checkered flag in the Xfinity Series.
Rodney Childers has agreed to a multi-year extension to remain as crew chief for Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal first reported the news Monday.
Childers then took to Twitter to confirm the report.
Well, not sure how this got out. It’s been a while back and I have tried to keep that stuff private. But obviously I’m very happy to continue with the 4 team and @KevinHarvick .. I’m very fortunate to work with so many great people and have such a great group of guys. https://t.co/5Pcu8Jrsg9
Childers, 43, has 28 career wins as a Cup crew chief, 25 of those coming with Harvick. Harvick and Childers both joined SHR in 2014 and went on to win the Cup championship that first season together. They also finished runner-up in 2015 and third in both 2017 and 2018.
In addition to Harvick, Childers has also worked with several other drivers in his Cup career, including Scott Riggs, Patrick Carpentier, Elliott Sadler, David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.
“One hundred percent sure this is the last time I’ll ever put a helmet on,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “It definitely has a different feel to it than what we had at Homestead.”
Last year, Sadler ended his full-time racing career at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 14th-place finish.
However, the 17-time NASCAR winner knew a potential opportunity awaited for him to climb behind the wheel again on a limited basis with sponsor Nutrien Ag Solutions.
“But this weekend I know this is the last time,” Sadler said.
His racing career will end with his second start in Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet following a start at Richmond Raceway in April (finished 12th). It will mark his 855th NASCAR start across all three national series.
“That’s a lot isn’t it?” Sadler says after a hearty laugh. “That’s too many. Look, I’m very fortunate. That’s a mind-boggling stat. 855 starts from a little, small-town boy in Emporia, Virginia. That’s a lot of time to strap on a helmet to go racing.”
Sadler, 44, will get to honor his Virginia roots in a way he’d hoped to in the Miami race 10 months ago.
His car will be made to look like the yellow and black No. 16 late model stock car he raced in the mid-90s before he made the jump to the NASCAR stage.
Sadler said Kaulig Racing “caught me off guard” when they surprised him with the scheme Monday.
“I begged my sponsors last year at Homestead to let me run that paint scheme. But it wasn’t meant to be. For (sponsor Nutrien Ag Solutions) to give up a paint scheme to let me do it means a lot,” Sadler says. “(It’s) a paint scheme that is very near and dear to my family. All of my dad’s gas stations and transport trucks and everything are painted the exact same way. So it’s a color that means a lot to us. For (team president) Chris (Rice) and (team owner) Matt (Kaulig) and those guys, everybody at Nutrien Ag Solutions to let us go out with that color. That’s pretty special.”
Adding to the nostalgia is who will be calling the shots for Sadler atop his pit box – Chris Rice.
Rice will return to a role he’s familiar with. He served as Sadler’s crew chief during Sadler’s late model days. Their relationship started in 1992 when Rice began working with Sadler’s brother, Hermie.
“Chris and I kind of pretty much started living together in 1994,” Sadler said. “Then in 1995, we got our breakout season, setting all kinds of records in the late model stock-car world in Southern Virginia. We got a special relationship. I think we helped each other a lot in getting our careers to where they are today. I think we have a lot to be thankful for and it’s pretty cool for it to come full circle to where we first started.”
Together, Sadler and Rice earned the South Boston Speedway track championship in 1995.
Rice was the one who revealed the scheme to Sadler.