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.
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.”
“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.”
The talk before the race was how track position would be critical. Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, struck early. With a competition caution on Lap 20, Childers had Harvick pit for four tires before that caution.
“I know on our box when we got to Lap 19, (Harvick) rolled on to pit road and I looked at my engineer and I said, ‘Why are they … awwww’ because Rodney made a great call on that one, one we totally should have gotten and missed, the field missed it,” said Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” on Monday.
Harvick was 11th when he pitted.
Harvick returned to the pits during the competition caution for fuel — teams cannot add fuel before a competition caution. Filling the car with fuel didn’t take as long as changing four tires. That allowed Harvick to pass cars on pit road.
The move put Harvick ninth on the restart — gaining two positions — but six of the eight cars in front of him had two tires to his four.
Harvick moved to sixth on the first lap of the restart. By pitting before the competition caution for tires and then filling up the tank during the caution, Childers gained Harvick two spots and put him in position to gain three more positions on the restart.
When Austin Dillon crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later, Harvick restarted sixth in the outside lane — the preferred lane — and moved to fourth after the restart.
Childers adjusted his strategy to be on the same plan with Kyle Busch and Stevens. They were among those who pitted on Lap 94 while others stayed out until the end of the second stage at Lap 100.
That put Harvick on the front row with Busch for the restart after stage 2 since they stayed out during the break. Harvick’s chances took a hit with a penalty for an uncontrolled tire on a two-tire stop on Lap 124 and then a steering box issue. But up to that point, Childers had played the game well enough to put Harvick in position to challenge for the win.
Wolfe did a masterful job in guiding Brad Keselowski to a second-place finish. While others sacrificed stage points for track position, Keselowski finished third in the first stage and fifth in the second stage. Keselowski scored 50 points — more than any other driver.
Wolfe’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t the point total but adjusting his strategy when things went against him. It’s a trait the champion crew chief has had for years.
Wolfe called for a two-tire pit stop for Keselowski during the competition caution. Keselowski entered the pits seventh and exited second. Keselowski was the first of two cars (Martin Truex Jr. was the other) who did not pit after the first stage. That gave Keselowski the lead. He needed to pit but since a car at the front can do it at Pocono without losing a lap, Keselowski was in good shape.
Then came the caution a couple of laps after the restart for Matt DiBenedetto’s spin.
Wolfe had to adjust his strategy. He pitted during that caution (as did Truex) and was outside the top 15 and mired in traffic. Keselowski moved up to fifth by the end of stage 2 as others in front pitted and he didn’t. Keselowski then pitted during the break.
But Keselowski still didn’t have track position. He was 13th on the restart. He gained three spots to 10th on the first lap of the restart but was stuck there.
Keselowski was 12.5 seconds behind the leader when Wolfe called Keselowski in to pit on Lap 119 of 160. Keselowski was in his fuel window to make it to the end, so Wolfe decided to bring his driver in for a two-tire stop to stay on the lead lap (changing four tires likely would have put Keselowski a lap down).
Keselowski was the first car to pit and worked his way through the field as others stopped under green. Keselowski was fourth when the caution came out on Lap 148 for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s incident.
The leaders stayed out. Keselowski, fourth, restarted in the outside lane and took advantage of that spot. He pushed Busch to the lead and shot to second, passing Erik Jones in Turn 1.
But Keselowski couldn’t get by Busch, a tribute not only to Busch but to Stevens. Busch and Stevens have combined to win 26 of 142 races (18.3%) in Cup since being paired in 2015.
A good crew chief puts his driver in position to excel. For Stevens, that is putting Busch close to the front. While Keselowski and a few others pitted ahead of Busch on what was their final stop, Stevens held his driver out until Lap 124.
Four years ago, Busch lost a bid to win a fourth consecutive Cup race when he ran out of fuel on the last lap at Pocono. Stevens said that day that they were good with fuel to make it to the end but didn’t factor how much the pace increased in the closing laps and that cost Busch the win.
Stevens didn’t let the same thing happen this time and was celebrating in victory lane with Busch afterward.
It’s easy to overlook since Chris Buescher didn’t finish in the top 10 but Sunday’s 14th-place finish was significant.
It marked the first time Buescher has placed in the top 15 in three consecutive races for JTG Daugherty Racing since joining the organization in 2017. He was 10th at Kansas and sixth in the Coca-Cola 600.
Seven finishes of 20th or worse have Buescher 22nd in the season standings. He’s 60 points out of what would be the final playoff spot.
Still, this is a step forward for the organization and will be worth watching in the coming weeks if similar performances can continue.
Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski have combined to win 10 of the 14 points races this season.
There’s a similar level of domination taking place in the Xfinity Series among three drivers. Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer have combined to win the past six Xfinity races.
They’ve also combined to win eight of the 12 races this season. Busch has three wins. Michael Annett is the only other driver to win, capturing the season-opening race at Daytona. Bell, Custer and Reddick also have combined to win 13 of 24 stages and lead 58.8% of the laps (1,300 of 2,212).
They’ve also all finished in the top five in five races. They went 1-2-3 at Bristol with Bell winning, followed by Reddick and Custer.
The key question is where will they be next season. Reddick, the reigning Xfinity champ, is in his second full season. So is Bell. This is Custer’s third full season in Xfinity. They’re showing that it’s time to move them to Cup next season.
Chris Buescher — His 14th-place finish marked his third consecutive top-15 finish. It’s the first time he’s had such a streak since joining JTG Daugherty Racing in 2017.
Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin — Nothing bad happened to them. Jones finished third to move into a playoff spot. Hamlin was sixth, ending a streak of four consecutive finishes of 15th or worse.
Chase Elliott — His fourth-place finish marked his series-best fifth consecutive top-five finish.
Kyle Larson — Bold moves needed to be made to pass at Pocono, and Larson’s bold move backfired in the waning laps as he ran in the top 10. Contact with Clint Bowyer’s car caused Larson to hit the wall. Larson finished 26th, losing about 20 points from where he likely would’ve finished. Because of that failed move, Larson is tied with Jimmie Johnson for the final playoff spot. Will Larson need those 20 points when the playoff field is set in September?
Austin Dillon — Contact with Paul Menard sent him into the wall early and to a last-place finish. Dillon entered the race 27 points out of a playoff spot. He left Pocono Raceway 57 points out of a playoff spot.
Jimmie Johnson — He is tied with Kyle Larson for the final playoff spot but would lose the tiebreaker and wouldn’t make the playoffs if the field was set today. Johnson has 12 races to either secure a playoff spot with a win or put himself in a better position via points. Johnson has qualified in the previous 15 seasons of the playoffs.
Certainly not the finish we deserved yesterday. 🤬 While loading the car, my guys noticed the track bar was bottomed out on the RS. Something happened which allowed it to drop multiple inches. 🤨
“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” – Babe Ruth