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JTG Daugherty Racing, Leavine Family Racing win eNASCAR Heat playoff opener

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The Cup Series isn’t the only NASCAR series starting its playoffs this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The eNASCAR Heat Pro League got its four-race playoff underway Wednesday with two races on a virtual version of the 1.5-mile track.

Justin Brooks (mrTRACKBAR33) won for JTG Daugherty Racing in the Xbox One race, scoring his third win of the season. Josh Harbin (ThAbEaR_95) won for Leavine Family Racing in the PlayStation 4 race, earning his second win of the season.

You can watch the full races in the video below. The second round of the playoffs will be held Sept. 25 on a virtual Kansas Speedway. The third round is scheduled for Oct. 9 on a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. The championship race will be held Oct. 23 on a wild card track.

Friday 5: Can Jimmie Johnson repeat Tiger Woods’ Masters magic at Indy?

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A generation of drivers grew up watching Jimmie Johnson win races and championships year after year.

After year.

After year

After year

It was nearly all they knew from 2006-10 when Johnson won the Cup championship five consecutive seasons and visited victory lane in nearly 20% of the races run during that time.

Now, they see the seven-time champion winless in his last 84 races and fighting to make the playoffs. Critics question Johnson and expect his 15-year streak of postseason appearances to end when the checkered flag waves in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Those drivers who watched Johnson dominate when they were teens are not among the doubters.

“I would like to see him just win to shut everyone up,” said Kyle Larson, who was 14 when Johnson won his first Cup title. “When you are watching somebody like that dominate, you never expect to see them in this position, being winless for as long as he’s been, at risk of not making the playoffs and having a chance to win the championship.

Kyle Larson chats with Jimmie Johnson last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I think it just shows how tough our sport gets, how tough our drivers are, how close our equipment is, and how good of a combination him and Chad (Knaus) really were. Hopefully they can figure something out and finish upfront where he belongs.”

Xfinity title contender Christopher Bell also is rooting for Johnson this weekend.

“I love to see the greats win,” said Bell, who was a month shy of turning 12 when Johnson celebrated his first Cup crown. “For example, seeing Tony Stewart win at Sonoma (Raceway in 2016) was unbelievable. That was one of the coolest things ever. Sammy Swindell, Steve Kinser, the dirt drivers, seeing those guys still compete and win – Steve’s done now, but Sammy still runs – that’s the coolest thing ever to me.

“Like Tiger Woods winning the golf deal, right? How awesome was that when he won the Masters? I don’t think Jimmie is done by any means, but it’s going to be really, really cool whenever we see him win again just because he’s been doing it for so long and you have to respect how good he’s been for so long and we’re not sure if we’ll ever see that again, right?”

Alex Bowman was 13 when Johnson’s title reign began. Now he watches Johnson’s challenge up close as a teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.

“We are doing all we can to get Jimmie into the playoffs,” Bowman said. “But, at the end of the day, they’ve had a lot of bad luck and a tough year. He is still more motivated and fired up than ever, at least since I’ve been around. He’s a big part in the success that I’ve had, I feel like. He definitely still has it and he’s not given up.

“I think everyone has learned over the years that you can’t count the 48 out by any means.”

Johnson enters the weekend 18 points out of the final playoff spot. He’s among four drivers vying for the final two spots. Clint Bowyer has an eight-point lead on Daniel Suarez, who holds the last playoff spot. Suarez and Ryan Newman have the same number of points but Suarez is ahead based on the tiebreaker of best finish this year. Then comes Johnson.

For those that have counted out Johnson?

“I can’t wait to shut up the keyboard warriors that are out there,” he said. “The people that are close to me and the people on my race team know the truth. They know the story. They’ve been working hard on it and when you work hard, wins will come. So, that’s where I find my peace. I know all the effort I’ve put into this program and for what my guys have put into the program.”

2. Sticking to the plan

For all the focus on Jimmie Johnson seeking to make the playoffs a 16th consecutive year, new crew chief Cliff Daniels continues to preach the need to build the No. 48 team at a deliberate pace.

While making the playoffs gives Johnson a chance to win a record eighth title, realistically, his odds of accomplishing that feat this year would be slim based on how the team has performed.

Crew chief Cliff Daniels is taking a “methodical approach” to building the No. 48 team. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It is Daniels’ job to manage building a team while pursuing the playoffs.

“Part of the reason for the methodical approach we took coming (to Darlington) and we’re going to take to Indy is to make sure we’re placing the building blocks correctly so that as we move forward we know why we have run good, why we’ve made the calls that we’ve made or made the decisions that we’ve made and all of that is in place,” Daniels said after last week’s Southern 500.

“Jimmie and I both know how important it is to meet our goals now but sometimes things just don’t work out. We’re still going to go to Indy with a really solid approach and things may work out and I certainly hope they do. But in the event that they don’t, we still have 10 races where this approach, this team, this energy, this vibe and just the whole process that we’ve built is really going to carry us. Now we get to go into the season one way or the other with a plan in place for how we’re going to meet our goals and take that into those final 10 races one way or the other and build on that for next year.”

A key is that Daniels is having more of an impact on the cars Johnson drives. Daniels was promoted from engineer to crew chief before last month’s race at Watkins Glen. With cars built or refined ahead of time, it wasn’t until last week’s Southern 500 where Daniels was able to do more with the car’s setup for Johnson. The result was that Johnson qualified sixth — his best starting spot since Chicagoland in June — scored points in both stage points for only the third time this season. 

3. Don’t look back

History can’t beat someone but history can show the challenges ahead.

Take Ryan Newman and Roush Fenway Racing. Newman enters this weekend outside of the final playoff spot based on a tiebreaker with Daniel Suarez.

Ryan Newman seeks to lead Roush Fenway Racing into the playoffs for the second time since 2015. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

While Newman could finish deep in the field and still make the playoffs, that scenario isn’t as likely. Good chance he’ll need a strong finish, but history has not been kind to Roush Fenway Racing at Indy.

The organization’s last top 10 at Indy was in 2012 when Greg Biffle placed third.

Since, these are the organizations that have scored at least one top 10 at Indy:

Joe Gibbs Racing (16 top 10s since 2013)

Stewart-Haas Racing (10 top 10s)

Hendrick Motorsports (9 top 10s)

Team Penske (8 top 10s)

Chip Ganassi Racing (5 top 10s)

Richard Childress Racing (5 top 10s)

JTG Daugherty Racing (2 top 10s)

Furniture Row Racing (2 top 10s)

Wood Brothers Racing (1 top 10)

Go Fas Racing (1 top 10)

Michael Waltrip Racing (1 top 10)

If you wish to counter that, then look at what Newman did the past two seasons with Richard Childress Racing, finishing 10th at Indy last year and third the year before. And he won the 2013 race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

4. Familiar foes

Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have each qualified all their drivers for the playoffs. That’s nine of the 16 spots taken by Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson.

Hendrick Motorsports has qualified three of its drivers (Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and William Byron) with Jimmie Johnson trying to claim one of the final spots.

Stewart-Haas Racing could have all four of its drivers make the playoffs for a second year in a row if Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez both advance to join Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola.

Roush Fenway Racing is trying to break into the playoff picture with Ryan Newman.

Unless there is a surprise winner Sunday at Indy, the Cup playoffs could feature drivers from just five organizations. Last year’s Cup playoffs featured drivers from seven organizations.

5. High standards

Tyler Reddick could clinch the Xfinity regular-season title in Saturday’s race at Indianapolis (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Tyler Reddick could clinch the Xfinity regular-season title Saturday at Indianapolis. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

He needs to leave Indy with a 61-point lead on second in the standings. Reddick holds a 51-point lead on second-place Christopher Bell.

Reddick, the reigning series champion, is on the cusp of the regular-season title because of a season that ranks among the best in series history.

His average finish of 4.9 ranks second all time among drivers to compete in all 24 races. His 21 top 10s are tied for second most through 24 races all time in the series. His 19 top-five finishes are third most through 24 races all time in the series.

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Nick Ottinger wins NASCAR America’s iRacing All-Star race

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Nick Ottinger won the eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series All-Star race held Thursday on NASCAR America.

He claimed the win on a virtual Iowa Speedway after a last-lap pass and side-by-side finish with Ryan Luza, the 2017 series champion.

Ottinger, a 24-year-old from Claremont, North Carolina, competes in the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing.

The race, which was the first iRacing event broadcast on national television, included NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kilgerman and teams owned by real NASCAR organizations, tracks and drivers, including Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer.

Ottinger and Luza swapped the lead multiple times over the last three laps after Luza led most of the 70-lap race.

“I just had to bide my time for a straight exit and really research which line to run to get a better run on him,” Ottinger told NASCAR America after the race. “He set up the door for a crossover so I just had to keep my foot to the floor.”

Ottinger, who is currently eighth in the PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series, has won more than 350 iRacing races including 13 at the pro level.

Following this week’s event, iRacing will return to NASCAR America on NBCSN on the last Thursday of every month for a four-race series. More information on the three future iRacing events on NBCSN will be revealed in the coming weeks. Need more video? Check out our YouTube page here.

 

JTG Daugherty Racing, Leavine Family Racing win Round 5 of eNASCAR Pro League

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The eSports teams of JTG Daugherty Racing and Leavine Family Racing were the winners Wednesday night in the fifth round of eNASCAR Heat Pro League.

The races were held on a digital Chicagoland Speedway. Justin Brooks (mrTRACKBAR33) won for JTG Daugherty in the Xbox One race. Josh Harbin (ThAbEaR_95) won for Leavine Family Racing in the Playstation 4 race.

Brooks’ win is his second of the season after he won Round 3 on a digital Bristol Motor Speedway.

There are three rounds left until the playoffs begin. The sixth round will be held July 24 on a digital Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The regular season will be rounded out at Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 7) and Daytona International Speedway (Aug. 24).

Here are the point standings after five rounds:

You can watch the full races in the video below.

Quick friendship makes Ryan Preece, Chris Buescher better teammates

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Since Ryan Preece joined Chris Buescher at JTG Daugherty Racing for the 2019 season, their relationship has become one of more than just teammates.

Did we just become best friends?” Buescher laughed during a recent interview at Chicagoland Speedway.

To which Preece quickly replied with a smile of his own: “We did.” That left Buescher to put a spin on their friendship: “So which one are you, Will Farrell or John C. Reilly?”

They’re not Ricky Bobby nor Cal Naughton Jr. of “Talladega Nights” fame, but their fast friendship underscores the fact they’re more than just NASCAR teammates.

Rather, they’ve become bro’s both on and off the race track, as they strive to not only make each other better as drivers, but also build JTG Daugherty Racing into a stronger and more consistent NASCAR Cup organization.

And like brothers, there is a considerable amount of good-natured back-and-forth between Preece and Buescher.

We have very similar personalities,” Preece told NBC Sports. “We’re both a little goofy, we love racing and we love anything with a motor and wheels. It makes it easy when you get along with a teammate and have similar interests.

And when you talk about racing and race cars, your feels are pretty similar to where you can diagnose kind of the same issues you’re having and hopefully communicate those things with others and make the cars better. At the end of the day, that’s how you get better.”

Buescher concurs.

It’s been really good,” he said of their relationship. “This season, Ryan coming board, it’s been pretty seamless. It’s been cool to be able to have similar personalities, definitely similar interests and the same career. All those things add in where it makes it either work together and try to figure out how to make things faster.

It’s always nice to have background from different places to pull, like Ryan coming from short-track racing and modifieds, whereas I’ve been in stock cars and big cars my whole career. They’re little things that help you bring in more information and things that you know have worked on along the way and that’s what has helped us get dialed in over the course of this season.”

At 28, Preece has become an older brother of sorts to the 26-year-old Buescher. But it’s the latter who has become a teacher. Buescher, a Texas native, is in his fourth full season in Cup, while Connecticut native Preece is a rookie in NASCAR’s biggest circuit.

He’s kicking my butt right now, so he’s pushing me to be better,” Preece said of Buescher. “Usually, I’m kind of the person that’s pushed people to be better, and right now Chris is pushing me to be better.

I’ve been getting a little bit more familiar with it. It’s more than just throttle and brake. What’s this feel that he has and try to find it. We’re narrowing down on it. Once we get there, it’ll be easier. Even though he’s younger than me, he’s pretty much my teacher and I’m okay with that. That’s fine.”

Added Buescher, “I think we learn from each other. We try and tune in on some of those little things. Because at the end of the day, it’s those little things that you build on to find that little bit of speed. It’s not as easy as one thing is going to find you a half-second on a weekend, it’s more like three or four things that will maybe get you a tenth of a second.”

The duo moves on to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.

It’s one of those that’s a wild card of sorts,” Buescher said of Daytona. “There are a handful of drivers that have definitely adopted very well to it and typically can get real good finishes out of. For me, there’s a good amount of luck that goes into it as well, not getting caught in someone else’s mistake. That frustrates me from time to time, especially when you end up in one of those accidents.”

Buescher has enjoyed a decent start to the season, including three top-10 finishes (sixth at Charlotte, ninth at Atlanta and 10th at Kansas). He sits 22nd in the season standings, 82 points out of the final playoff spot.

Preece is 26th in the standings, with one top-five (third at Talladega) and one other top-10 finish (eighth at Daytona).

Buescher wrecked at NASCAR’s two biggest super speedways this season: 37th at Daytona and 30th at Talladega.

For us, it’s so hard to give up any valuable points week in and week out,” Buescher said. “You look at the beginning of the season and have a certain amount of mulligans that you feel you may have to be able to still be where you want to be in terms of points and good runs, but we’ve used up two already on super speedways this season and that hurts.

I try to have a positive attitude going into them and see them as an opportunity – and they are – but at the same time, they’re not my favorite races. We’ll put on a show one way or other. It may not be my favorite, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to sit back and ignore the race, so we’re going to put all the effort we can into it.”

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