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Blake Koch to drive for JD Motorsports full-time in 2019

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Blake Koch will return to NASCAR full-time in 2019 to drive the No. 4 for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, the team announced Tuesday.

Koch replaces Ross Chastain, who will drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next season.

Koch will be sponsored by FilterTime in select races, beginning with the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. Koch started FilterTime after he lost his ride at Kaulig Racing following the 2017 season.

The 33-year-old driver has 213 Xfinity Series starts since 2009. He competed full-time from 2015-17, with the last two seasons coming with Kaulig Racing in the No. 11. He made the playoffs both years.

“It’s hard for me to explain how excited I am to race again and to do it for JD Motorsports,” Koch said in a press release. “I have seen the progress of this team and have raced against them for many years. Coming off their best season with Ross making the playoffs, it’s a perfect time to join them.”

Outside of starting FilterTime, Koch stayed within the sport as a driver coach for Matt Tifft and as an analyst for Fox Sports.

“We are excited to get Blake back in a race car,” said team owner Johnny Davis in a press release. “He is another overlooked talent that needs an opportunity to race, and we’re happy to have him at our organization.”

Silly Season: Handful of unannounced rides in Cup, Xfinity for 2019

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It’s now December and there’s not a NASCAR race in sight until February.

But there’s still some announcements waiting to be made for teams and drivers in preparation for 2019.

Here’s a look at unannounced changes in Cup and Xfinity through two weeks of the offseason.

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto announced Sept. 7 that he would not return to the team after this season.

No. 77: Spire Sports + Entertainment purchased Furniture Row Racing’s charter and will go racing in 2019. The group will use the car number 77. A driver has yet to be announced (announcement made Dec. 4).

XFINITY RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

JR Motorsports: Team still has one open car. It has not been announced if Noah Gragson will drive the No. 9 or No. 1.

No. 23: GMS Racing hasn’t announced a replacement for Spencer Gallagher, who retired from competition after this season (announcement made Oct. 19).

RCR: Hasn’t announced which car Tyler Reddick will drive. Both the No. 21 and No. 2 are open.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 1: Kurt Busch joins Chip Ganassi Racing for 2019 and brings along sponsor Monster Energy (announcement made Dec. 4)

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22).

No. 13: Ty Dillon said he will remain at Germain Racing for the 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 24)

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn move to Joe Gibbs Racing from the defunct Furniture Row Racing team (announcement made Nov. 7)

No. 31: Daniel Hemric replaces Ryan Newman at Richard Childress Racing for 2019 (announcement made Sept. 28).

No. 36: Matt Tifft joins Front Row Motorsports in a third car for the 2019 season (announcement made Nov. 27).

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28).

No. 47: Ryan Preece replaces AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28).

No. 95: Matt DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing for 2019. Leavine Family Racing also switches to Toyota beginning next year (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 97: Tanner Berryhill will compete full-time for Obaika Racing (announcement made Dec. 3)

CUP DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

AJ Allmendinger: He told NBC Sports on Nov. 17 that he didn’t have any races for 2019 lined up at the time.

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement that he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Jamie McMurrayHas yet to announce what he’ll do in 2019 but it won’t be a full-time ride in the No. 1 car at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Daniel Suarez: With Martin Truex Jr. taking over the No. 19 in 2019, Suarez is looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.” Suarez is the favorite for the No. 41 ride.

XFINITY DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

John Hunter NemechekRan limited schedule in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 this year. Ross Chastain will drive it full-time next year.

Ryan Truex: Was replaced at Kaulig Racing by Justin Haley.

Ryan ReedLost ride at Roush Fenway Racing after sponsor Lilly announced it was leaving the team (announcement made Oct. 15).

CREW CHIEF CHANGES

No. 3: Danny Stockman replaces Justin Alexander as Austin Dillon‘s crew chief in 2019 (move confirmed Nov. 26)

No. 11: Mike Wheeler will not return as Denny Hamlin‘s crew chief for 2019 (announcement made Nov. 16). No replacement has yet been announced.

No. 24: Chad Knaus replaces Darian Grubb as William Byron‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 48: Kevin Meendering replaces Chad Knaus as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 95: Mike Wheeler joins the team and replaces Jon Leonard, who moved back to Richard Childress Racing to be an engineer on Austin Dillon’s team.

XFINITY SERIES

ANNOUNCED CHANGES FOR 2019

No. 1: Noah Gragson replaces Elliott Sadler at JR Motorsports for 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 25).

No. 4: Blake Koch will take over this ride with JD Motorsports in 2019 (announcement made Dec. 4).

No. 11: Justin Haley replaces Ryan Truex at Kaulig Racing after two season in the Truck Series (announcement made Dec. 1).

No. 18: Jeffrey Earnhardt will compete in nine races for Joe Gibbs Racing (announcement made Nov. 10).

No. 22: Austin Cindric will drive full-time for Team Penske (announcement made Nov. 8).

No. 42: Chip Ganassi Racing signs Ross Chastain to drive the No. 42 full-time for 2019 (announcement made Nov. 9).

No. 98: Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to drive the team’s second Xfinity car and be a teammate to Cole Custer (announcement made Nov. 27).

RCR: Both Matt Tifft and Daniel Hemric will move up to Cup. Tyler Reddick moves from JR Motorsports to RCR for the 2019 season. Reddick’s car number, sponsor and crew chief will be announced later (announcement made Oct. 31).

Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Texas

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All three series will be back in action this week as NASCAR makes its final push to the Miami finale.

Drivers have two more opportunities to win and become part of the championship battle in all three series.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for each race.

Cup – AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

There are 41 entries for the race, so one car will go home.

Joey Gase is entered in the No. 51.

Kyle Weatherman is in the No. 99.

Parker Kligerman will attempt to make his fourth start of the season in the Gaunt Brothers No. 96.

Trevor Bayne will make his final appearance of the season in the No. 6.

David Starr will drive the No. 97 car Obaika Racing announced Wednesday.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There are 40 entries for the race.

Drivers who score Cup points are not permitted to compete in playoff races.

John Hunter Nemechek will drive the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Austin Cindric is entered in Team Penske’s No. 22.

Quin Houff will make his third Xfinity start in JD Motorsports’ No. 15. He finished 14th in this car at Kansas.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – JAG Metals 350 (8:30 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 35 entries for the race.

John Hunter Nemechek will do double duty in the NEMCO No. 8 in addition to the CGR Xfinity entry.

Ross Chastain is entered in all three series, racing the No. 15 Premium Motorsports car in Cup, the JD Motorsports No. 4 in Xfinity and the No. 38 Niece Motorsports entry in Truck.

Click here for the entry list.

 

Ross Chastain’s first NASCAR win ‘didn’t seem real’

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ross Chastain had a lot on his mind.

It was the third weekend in March and the 25-year-old driver was hustling from one job to another.

With helmet in hand, Chastain walked from the Xfinity Series garage to the Cup garage at Auto Club Speedway. There he would climb into Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet for practice around the 2-mile oval.

He was “nervous.”

He had just left his Xfinity car and was preparing to go “200 and something MPH,” which he would be reminded of by a large digital screen displaying his speed every time he entered Turn 1.

“This is about to be real,” Chastain thought.

Chastain had no idea the next few minutes would change his life and career six months later.

Chastain wasn’t familiar with the man who called his name and approached.

“Hey, hi. How are you doing, sir?” Chastain told the stranger.

The man replied: “I’m Jeff Carpoff, I want to introduce myself.”

Carpoff is the co-founder and CEO of DC Solar, a primary sponsor of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity and Cup Series.

While Chastain was just meeting Carpoff, he was no stranger to DC Solar.

In addition to his full-time jobs of racing for JD Motorsports in Xfinity and Premium in Cup, Chastain has had an occasional side hustle over the last couple of years driving DC Solar’s motorhome to tracks, as he did in the spring at Martinsville.

“I was never a client of theirs, but I just wanted to be a part of their group, their family,” Chastain said. “Anytime they need help I’m the guy they call. … Then I can hang out with them, I really am friends with them.”

Carpoff had been keeping tabs on Chastain during his four years at JD Motorsports, a team that runs four cars but Chastain says has “enough people to run two.”

Before departing, Carpoff said, “I want you to know we’re going to try and do something for you. We don’t know what, we don’t know how. Don’t know if it’s going to work out this year, it might be down the road. But we like what you do and we really want you to be part of it. We want you to be part of our family.”

Even though he didn’t hear anything from Carpoff the next few months, the conversation remained with Chastain.

“You don’t forget a conversation like that,” he said. “With somebody like Jeff, you know he’s serious. But it went so long, what are the chances it happens this year?”

Chastain laid in bed Sunday morning having woken up before his alarm could have a say in the matter.

A realization quickly hit him.

“It was probably 20 seconds I would say before I said out loud, ‘We won. Oh my gosh. We won yesterday. That’s insane.’ I had forgot all about it,” Chastain said. “Honestly, I don’t believe that I won. It’s insane.”

The concept of being a NASCAR winner became even more surreal early Monday morning. He arrived home at 3 a.m. after flying back from Las Vegas. He promptly downloaded video of the DC Solar 300, in which he’d driven Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet. It was just his second start with the team.

“To watch it back, it didn’t seem real,” Chastain said. “I saw the car. I knew the moves I was making in the car, so to see it on TV, see the onboard (cameras) from other guys of how my car looked. I honestly (had to say), ‘That’s me. That’s me in there.’ It’s crazy.”

He watched himself lead 180 of 200 laps and fend off Justin Allgaier and the field through three restarts in the final 20 laps. The win came in his 215th NASCAR start.

“We kicked their butts,” Chastain said. “That’s really cool to say and I’m proud to say it. I’m proud to say that we went to Las Vegas, where the first time I ever went there … and start-and-parked. In 2012 (in the Camping World Truck Series race). We come back in 2018 and win the fall Xfinity race. That’s insane. That’s not supposed to happen.”

Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric, a fellow playoff driver, was not surprised by Chastain’s success.

“He did exactly what he was supposed to do getting in a race car of that caliber,” Hemric said Tuesday. “He’s prepped and drove stuff that wasn’t nowhere near that level. Him taking those chances to drive stuff that was lesser equipment is what gave him that opportunity. I promise you no one knows that better than he does. It’s rewarding for me, even though I was getting frustrated chasing him all race, it was so cool to see him make the most of that shot. It gives everybody hope, right?”

Chastain has one more race with Chip Ganassi Racing in Friday’s playoff opener at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). After that, it’s back to Chastain’s usual job of racing for JD Motorsports and six races of scrapping and clawing for top-15 and top-10 finishes.

But for one afternoon, thanks to an almost passing conversation with Carpoff, Chastain was the man to beat.

“I’ve had so many (conversations like that),” Chastain said. “People genuinely are always trying to put together a program, whether it’s a third-party company or whatever. Everybody’s trying to hustle. That’s what I love about NASCAR. We all hustle. … I knew it was a chance then, but I never thought it would happen.”

Long: Ross Chastain’s win ‘gives all the little guys hope’

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LAS VEGAS — Garrett Smithley walked out of Victory Lane with a smile on his face.

On a day when he wrecked in qualifying and finished 18th in a backup car, he couldn’t contain his excitement for Ross Chastain, typically his teammate at JD Motorsports but not on this day.

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was one of three races this season that Chastain will run in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet — a car with more funding and resources than Chastain’s regular ride.

Chastain scored a dominating win.  

Garrett Smithley hugs Ross Chastain in Victory Lane after Chastain won the Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Photo: Dustin Long

“It gives all the little guys hope,” Smithley said of Chastain’s victory.

As if it to make sure that Chastain’s win was real and the embrace they shared in Victory Lane was not imaginary, Smithley said it again.

“It gives all the little guys hope.”

Money is king in NASCAR and the owners with it are the kingmakers.

For those without money, everything is harder. There are fewer resources to develop new parts and make cars faster. Instead, such teams rely on less reliable parts, tape measures instead of laser measurements and hand-written notebooks instead of computer simulation programs. It’s a gap that rarely can be closed.

Facing such obstacles, teams are left only with hope. It’s why crew members get up at 5 a.m. to head to the shop and why they might not leave until midnight trying to repair a car from the last race and get it ready for the next one. Instead of flying to the upcoming race like many teams, it often means long drives through the night with little sleep before the garage opens the next morning and the race for speed resumes.

For such teams, the race for 25th can be as meaningful as the race for the lead to bigger teams.

Ryan Preece knows both worlds. He drove for JD Motorsports in 2016 and had one top-10 finish for the underfunded team.

Nobody noticed him.

So he took the sponsorship money he had and went to Joe Gibbs Racing to run two races (that later became four) instead of 33.

Ryan Preece celebrates his first career Xfinity race in 2017 at Iowa Speedway. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Preece won in his second race with Gibbs. He’s won again with the team this year. Although he says he’s focused on the remaining races with Gibbs, his gamble will likely lead to a full-time ride next season in the sport. 

Preece isn’t alone in believing less is more. Alex Bowman lost his Cup ride before the 2016 season. With no rides left, he signed to run select races with JR Motorsports that year and also served as the test driver for Hendrick Motorsports’ simulator program. That put him in position to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Earnhardt had to sit out the second half of that season because of symptoms from a concussion. Bowman went on to take over the No. 88 when Earnhardt retired after last season and is in the Cup playoffs.

Those moves did not unnoticed.

Matt DiBenedetto, who also had to start and park early in his career and has run for a variety of small-budget teams, announced recently that he would leave his full-time Cup ride with Go Fas Racing after this season and bet on himself like Preece did.

“I paid a whole lot of attention to those guys and what they did,” DiBenedetto told NBC Sports of Preece and Bowman. “They were a big driving force in me making this decision.”

Matt DiBenedetto hopes to be the next to follow in the success of Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain to attain a more competitive ride. (Photo: Getty Images)

DiBenedetto said he decided to follow the model Preece tried after “seeing other guys get just barely bumped above me on those lists (for rides). That was the push I needed to make this bold and risky decision.”

For Chastain, the risk was low. Jeff Carpoff, president and CEO of DC Solar, which sponsors the No. 42 Xfinity car, approached Chastain earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway as Chastain walked with helmet in hand from his Xfinity car to the Cup garage. The brief conversation led to further talk by Carpoff of putting Chastain in the No. 42 Xfinity Ganassi car at some point this season.

Chastain revealed Saturday that he’s not getting paid for these three races — he also ran the car at Darlington and makes his last start in it next week at Richmond.

“I get laughed at from inside the garage,” Chastain said of his no-money deal for these three races. “We literally bet on ourselves that we wouldn’t make any money now, but it would pay off.”

Chastain had to hold off Justin Allgaier, the regular-season champion, in a spirited duel that included contact and had Allgaier ranting on the radio at the time. Allgaier later attributed his anger to being in the moment.

But when Chastain pulled away from the field on the final restart and it became clear he would score his first career Xfinity win — in his 132nd series start — he just wanted to enjoy the moment.

Ross Chastain in Victory Lane. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

He didn’t yell or scream on the radio. He put his head down, punched the steering wheel and stayed silent.

“They were all congratulating (me) on the radio,” Chastain said of the team. “I just wanted to listen and hear it.”

It was a sound he could not have imagined when he was starting and parking early in his career because there wasn’t the money to run a full race.

“That’s not the ideal way,” Chastain said. “I wouldn’t recommend that because it’s tough, and it’s very trying. A lot of phone calls (with family) late at night. We didn’t know it was going to get better, but they kept telling me that.”

Back then, he only had hope.

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