Johnny Davis

Mike Harmon: Help from teams ‘heartwarming’ after race car, trailer theft

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The last few nights have been hard for Mike Harmon to “get good rest.”

Since early Sunday, he and his Xfinity Series team have tried to find their truck and trailer that were stolen from a Cracker Barrel parking lot in Kingsland, Georgia.

Inside the trailer was one of the team’s six race cars, a pit box, team radios and tools. According to a police report, the estimated cost of the stolen property was $400,000.

“It’s already tough enough coming from Daytona and having to be at Dover on Friday morning,” Harmon told NBC Sports on Wednesday, not long after the reward for info on the stolen property was raised to $10,000. “You also have it going on in your head, ‘Where is my stuff? Are they going to find it? What kind of shape is it going to be in?’ You can’t get good rest, cause you can’t get your mind off of it. It’s a big, big, big, hinderance. But you can’t survive in this business by not being strong. But we’re strong enough to do it and we will do it. It’s tough enough without having unnecessary stuff like this happen.”

The race car that was in the stolen trailer was the No. 47 Chevrolet Kyle Weatherman drove to a 17th-place finish Saturday on the Daytona road course. While it was a road course specific car, Harmon said it had “our best parts on it that we interchange every week. Its carburetor, shocks, sway bar, stuff like that. The seat insert for the driver.”

Three days after the theft, Harmon said there’s “not very many” leads in the search, outside security camera footage taken from the Cracker Barrel that showed the pickup truck and trailer being taken.

“I’m doing a little bit better each day, but I don’t know how to describe it, it’s a different feeling than I’ve ever had,” Harmon said. “So many people are searching for it, (but) haven’t really turned up anything yet.”

Making it easier for Harmon’s team to compete in this weekend’s Dover doubleheader weekend are his fellow NASCAR competitors.

Harmon said it’s been “heartwarming” to receive aid from team owners Rick Ware and Johnny Davis and Josh Reaume. Ware has provided a truck and hauler. Davis has chipped in tire and gas can carts, while Reaume has contributed a fuel cell and driver seat.

“It really helps out because we’d all do the same for each other,” Harmon said. “I’m sure we’re not done yet, but that’s to name a few.”

After the Dover weekend, the team will have to travel back south to Daytona for the Aug. 28 race on the Daytona oval.

What precautions will Harmon take when traveling between races now?

“Well, I’m going to make sure we got a GPS locator on it, that’s for sure,” Harmon said. “I wasn’t actually with them when it got stolen. I stayed back in Daytona and I was meeting the guys the next morning. I told them I didn’t want them to drive sleepy, because you know how dangerous that is. … I wish we had done it different, but we didn’t.”

Harmon doesn’t believe the culprits knew what they had on their hands when they pulled away.

When asked if he wished he could have seen their face when they opened the trailer, Harmon laughed.

“Well, I wish I could have seen them,” Harmon said. “I’m pretty sure my hands would be pretty beat up now. That’s for sure.”

Landon Cassill to run Talladega Xfinity race

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Landon Cassill will drive for JD Motorsports in the April 27 Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway, the team announced Tuesday.

The race is a Dash 4 Cash event. Drivers earning Cup points cannot compete in those events. Cassill confirmed to NBC Sports that he has switched what series he’ll earn points from Cup to Xfinity to be eligible to compete.

Cassill will drive the No. 4 car at Talladega for Ross Chastain, who will be in the No. 10 car for Kaulig Racing that weekend. Chastain will return to the No. 4 car at Dover, the week after Talladega.

Cassill drove full time for JD Motorsports from 2013-15 and in three races for the team last season. The Talladega race marks his first Xfinity superspeedway race since July 2015 at Daytona.

“We are ecstatic to have Landon back in the seat for Talladega”, said team owner Johnny Davis in a statement. “He has always been considered one of the best drivers we had ever had in our cars in the time that he has spent driving for us, and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish with his wealth of experience on the Superspeedways.”

Flex Seal will sponsor Cassill’s car.

Garrett Smithley, Stephen Leicht to compete for JD Motorsports in Xfinity

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JD Motorsports continues to fill out its driver lineup for the 2019 Xfinity season with announcements that Garrett Smithley and Stephen Leicht will compete for the team.

Smithley, 26, returns to drive for the team for the fourth consecutive year. He will pilot the No. 0 Chevrolet.

The Feb. 16 season-opener at Daytona International Speedway will be his 100th series start.

“I’ve been working hard this offseason to make my fourth year with JDM the best ever, I think it will be,” Smithley said in a press release. “I’m so blessed to be given the opportunity to race here by Johnny and all my sponsors. Daytona will be my 100th Xfinity start and all but two of those races have been at JDM. It’s an amazing race team and family, and I can’t wait to get this season going.”

Leicht, 32, is set to drive the No. 01 Chevrolet in his first full-time season since 2007 with Robert Yates Racing. That season he won his only NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway.

Daytona will also be his 100th series start.

“I’m super stoked about my opportunity to drive for Johnny Davis,” Leicht said in a press release. “He has competitive cars with smart people in his stable and I’m looking forward to seeing what the season brings.”

Jani-King will be an associate sponsor of Leicht this season.

“Stephen is a great talent to have in our arsenal this season at JD Motorsports,” owner Johnny Davis said in a press release. “With his experience spanning nearly ten years in the series, we are confident that he will be able to take care of his equipment, which as we all know is very important for family teams. I am genuinely looking forward to seeing how he can improve our operations this season with all the knowledge he brings to the team.”

The announcements for Smithley and Leicht follow the news that Ross Chastain will return to drive the No. 4 Chevrolet in 30 races, in addition to competing in three races for Kaulig Racing.

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.”

Long: Even as playoff run ends, Ross Chastain can’t stop smiling

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DOVER, Del. — Ross Chastain, whose run since Labor Day weekend included a tussle on the track with a Cup champion, a watermelon smash after his first career Xfinity win and one last desperate flurry Saturday, saw his fun-filled playoff journey end Saturday at Dover International Speedway.

Chastain, who finished 13th, missed advancing to the second round of the Xfinity playoffs by three points.

“We did all we could,” car owner Johnny Davis told the team on the radio after the checkered flag waved. “It wasn’t meant to be. Keep your heads up high.”

Chastain did, sharing the same smile he had when he took Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 car to a win last month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

That ride with Ganassi was a three-race fairy tale but Chastain’s main ride this season — as it has been since 2015 — is with Johnny Davis Motorsports, an underfunded team based in South Carolina that has scored 37 top-10 finishes in 1,076 career starts.

Ross Chastain’s team watches the final laps of Saturday’s race at Dover. Photo: Dustin Long

“It’s not a disappointment. We had these guys,” Chastain said, noting cars from better funded teams such as Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing and JR Motorsports, “we had them nervous we were going to beat them. That’s really cool. We did outrun a few of them. We took a big step forward this weekend and this year.”

A pit road speeding penalty on Lap 167 of the 200-lap race put Chastain at the back of the field and on the offensive. He bumped Matt Tifft in the corner. The contact sent Tifft up the track and into Chase Briscoe‘s car. Briscoe hit the wall to bring out the caution.

“I was trying to pass him,” Chastain said. “It’s my job. I bring my friends with me. He runs into me after the race. It’s all good.”

Tifft wasn’t impressed.

“What an idiot,” he said on the radio after the incident.

Tifft, the last driver to advance to the next round of the playoffs, was more understanding after the race.

“He was doing what he had to do,” Tifft said of Chastain. “I happened to be the one on the receiving end.”

That Chastain was in this position was among the heartwarming stories in the series. His JD Motorsports team had put in him that spot and then Chastain’s run with Chip Ganassi Racing at Darlington and Las Vegas got him into the playoffs.

Chastain won both stages at Darlington and battled former Cup champions Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski in the final stage. After Keselowski fell back, Harvick challenged Chastain. As they raced side-by-side in the corner, Harvick’s car slid up and made contact, forcing Chastain into the wall. Chastain came down the track and spun Harvick on the straightaway, upsetting Harvick.

“Got a really inexperienced guy in a really fast car that made a really bad move and then wrecked me,” Harvick said after the incident. “Probably the reason he’ll never get to drive many of them again.”

Two weeks later, in a race without Cup regulars, Chastain scored a dominating win and shared that he was not getting paid for his three races in the Ganassi car. The move to Ganassi’s car had been a gamble to show what he could do in a top car.

The eighth-generation watermelon farmer celebrated by smashing a watermelon at the start/finish line.

At Richmond, he finished second in Ganassi’s car. A win would have moved him to the next round. He placed 12th at the Charlotte Roval for Davis’ team last week.  Chastain entered Saturday’s race in the final transfer spot, nine points ahead of Austin Cindric.

Saturday, Cindric outscored Chastain 8-1 in stage points. That proved critical. Cindric went on to finish eighth to leapfrog Chastain in the standings.

Chastain admitted that the disappointment would hit later, but he was philosophical after the race.

“Something, I’ll never forget,” he said of his playoff run. “All of this. In my time here in NASCAR, it’s going to be over one day and seasons like this are the good ones. Seasons like last year and 2013 for me in the Trucks are terrible and you hope you never have to go through that again. Ultimately, they made me realize this season is one of the good ones.”