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Cole Custer joins Dash 4 Cash battle at Richmond

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There will be one new face this weekend among the four Xfinity Series drivers who will compete for the Dash 4 Cash bonus at Richmond Raceway.

Cole Custer joins the repeat drivers of Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe in jostling for $100,000 in the ToyotaCare 250 Friday night (7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1).

It will be the third time the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been part of the Dash 4 Cash program, having been in it one time in each of the last two years.

Custer earned the spot for this weekend with a third-place finish last Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway. That was his second top five in five starts at the half-mile track. He’ll likely need another at Richmond to have a realistic shot at the $100,000.

Working against Custer is his Richmond record so far. He’s never finished higher than sixth (twice) on the .750-mile track in five starts. Outside of those two results, he hasn’t placed better than 13th. He did show promise in this race last year, leading 43 laps from the pole and placing in the top five in the first two stages.

“We’ve gotten better, I feel like, at the short tracks this year,” Custer said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “It’s always kind of been not our strong suit, going to the short tracks. But we’ve had some pretty decent runs this year. Richmond’s a hard track to get a hold of. Especially since you have to worry about the long-run speed so much.”

Custer is the most tenured driver of the Dash 4 Cash participants, being in his third full-time season. Dating back to his five starts in 2016, he has four top fives and nine top 10s on short tracks. Those numbers pale compared to his record on tracks one to two miles in length (two wins, 17 top fives and 30 top 10s).

But the first seven races of 2019 have seen the 21-year-old driver improve significantly upon his performance from the first two seasons. His win at Auto Club Speedway last month marked the earliest he’s won in a season. In 2017 and ’18, his first wins came in the final three races of the year.

His four top fives so far – at Atlanta, Phoenix, Auto Club and Bristol – are three more than at the same point last year, when he went on to record 14.

Oh, and he also has three poles, half of the series-high total he earned in 2018.

He’s accomplished that with the help of new crew chief Mike Shiplett, who joined the team after Chip Ganassi Racing closed its Xfinity operation in the offseason due to a lack of sponsorship.

Cole Custer pits during Saturday’s race at Bristol (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images).

Custer’s Auto Club win was Shiplett’s 18th as a Xfinity Series crew chief.

“We’ve been really fast,” Custer told SiriusXM. “I think there’s been a group of three or four us that have been the ones fighting for the wins. It’s just a matter of getting everything a little bit better. I think as a whole we’re going to get better as a team throughout the year, especially when we go back to tracks for the second time, just because I have a new crew chief this year and a couple of new engineers with Mike Shiplett.

“I think the more we go to tracks for a second time we’re going to have a better handle when we unload of where we want to be and how we’re going to adjust our cars throughout the weekend. It’s just a matter of getting more races under our belt.”

The No. 00 team and the rest of the series won’t make a second visit to a track until July 5 at Daytona. So Custer and his team will add race No. 8 to their record Friday night with the prospect of $100,000.

“You’re still going to approach it like a normal race weekend, giving it 100 percent, doing your homework,” Custer said. “Also, if it comes down to the last few laps at the end of a stage or whatever and you’re racing those guys and racing for the hundred grand, you’re going to push things to the limit and get a little aggressive for sure.”

Custer emphasized running “your own race” while being mindful of where Bell, Briscoe and Reddick are.

“If you’re racing right with them, you’re going to race them hard because you want the track position in front of them,” Custer said. “But you still got to run your own race and you can’t put yourself in jeopardy trying to run someone else’s race.”

Auto Club Speedway winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kyle Busch Had it not been for a speeding penalty in the Cup race at Las Vegas and pit road penalty in the Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway this past weekend, he would have swept the West Coast swing, winning all seven national series races.

Kurt BuschHis sixth-place finish marked his fourth consecutive finish of seventh or better.

Cole Custer Last year, car owner Gene Haas said he needed to see Custer win consistently when there were questions about if Custer was ready to move to the No. 41 Cup car. Custer won Saturday’s Xfinity race with the help of new crew chief Mike Shiplett. 

Team Penske — Placed all three of its drivers in the top five in the Cup race. Joey Logano was second, Brad Keselowski third and Ryan Blaney fifth.

LOSERS

Qualifying — Having all 12 Cup cars in the final round fail to complete a lap before time expired was a “mockery” as NASCAR’s Scott Miller called it. Changes are coming.

Spire Motorsports — It’s been tough for this new team, which came about after purchasing Furniture Row Racing’s charter. The team, which has had multiple drivers, has not had a finish better than 30th in the last four races. Sunday, the team placed 36th.

Stewart Haas Racing names Mike Shiplett as Cole Custer’s crew chief

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Stewart Haas Racing on Friday announced that NASCAR veteran Mike Shiplett has been named crew chief for the No. 00 Xfinity Series Ford and driver Cole Custer.

I’m very excited to start here over at Stewart Haas Racing,” Shiplett said on the first-ever SHR Podcast. “There’s a lot of technology. I’ve been here a little over two weeks and I’m learning a lot of stuff.”

Shiplett became available when Chip Ganassi Racing shut down its 2019 Xfinity Series racing operation on Jan. 4.

Yes, doors close, but fortunately opened up pretty quick thanks to (SHR president) Joe Custer,” Shiplett said. “Just putting our best foot forward and getting ready for the 2019 race season.

“The goal every week is to go and win races. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a lot of young drivers and get them their first wins. I’m very proud of that.”

Shiplett takes over for Jeff Meendering, who was the 21-year-old Custer’s crew chief last season. Meendering has moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing for the upcoming Xfinity Series as crew chief for Brandon Jones.

“I’m looking forward to working with Cole and refining his talents, see where he needs help and just helping him in those areas so he can win multiple races each year,” Shiplett said.

Shiplett has served as a crew chief for 191 Xfinity Series races dating back to 2007, with 17 wins, 49 top-five and 83 top-10 finishes. Drivers he’s worked with include Kasey Kane, Elliott Sadler, Patrick Carpentier, Kyle Larson, Justin Marks, Brennan Poole, Alex Bowman, Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain, Jamie McMurray and John Hunter Nemechek.

Shiplett also has 121 starts as a NASCAR Cup crew chief, with zero wins, three top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. Drivers he worked with include Terry Labonte, Mike Wallace, Reed Sorenson and A.J. Allmendinger.

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Long: A decision where the head won out over the heart

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LAS VEGAS — Car owner Barney Visser stood outside the Furniture Row Racing hauler Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and chatted with team members, some he had not had the chance to talk to personally since announcing that the team would cease after this season.

It was his first time back at the track since the Sept. 4 announcement. He plans to be at many of the remaining nine races as Martin Truex Jr. seeks a second consecutive Cup championship.

Each week, though, brings Visser closer to the end of a remarkable run in NASCAR that saw his organization start as a part-time team in Denver, elevate to full-time status, score its first win in the Southern 500, align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, expand to a second car, win the Cup title, downsize to one car and seek to repeat as champion.

Visser admits it was a hard decision — and an easy decision — to not continue the team after this season.

“You got your soul and you got your heart and you got your mind,” Visser told NBC Sports. “Two of the three are hurting, and my mind is saying you got to do this.”

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The announcement in July by 5-hour Energy to leave the team and the sport after this season left Visser facing a gap of millions of dollars. With budgets already set for many companies, the likelihood of replacing 5-hour Energy’s millions with one company was slim. Visser would have to put more of his own money into the team if he wanted to continue. Then, he would need to renew deals with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing and sign Truex to an extension. 

“The family, we had all sat down and decided together that there would be a limit on what we could put in any given year,” Visser said. “We were talking about that the last couple of years. This (gap) was so far off.”

Visser’s tale could prove cautionary for the sport. He was an outsider who came into NASCAR, built his team, won races and captured a championship. There are few such success stories in Cup in recent years.

It’s not that others don’t try but they don’t have the success for various reasons. Ron Devine and a group of investors started BK Racing in 2012, ran as many as three full-time teams, but never had the success, struggled to find sponsorship, fell behind in payments on loans and to the IRS, among others, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy before this year’s Daytona 500 and was sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports in August.

Visser, though, doesn’t think that his exit will mean the end of outsider owners coming into NASCAR. But change will need to take place, he admits.

“Hopefully they’re going to standardize the equipment more, and they’re going to find a way to maybe protect sponsors from leaving, from going with drivers and protect the teams, just some kind of standard contract, that would be good,” Visser said, although he admits such a contract “wouldn’t have saved us” with 5-hour Energy.

“There’s not going to be a shortage of drivers in this sport, there’s going to be a shortage of quality teams. We’ve got to get that figured out.”

Standing about 30 feet from Visser on Sunday was Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and also the owner of Haas F1.

He’s searching for a driver for the No. 41 car for next year and noted the importance of a driver bringing sponsorship.

Haas laments the decline in the number of teams.

“We used to have 40-50 cars showing up for some of these races and now you’re barley filling the field,” Haas told NBC Sports. “From an economic standpoint it’s not working. There’s not enough money for teams to do that.”


Can friendship carry over to the track? And should it?

The issue came up at the end of the first stage in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Ryan Preece was two laps down after an early incident. Leader Ross Chastain, a teammate to Preece at JD Motorsports in 2016, slowed his Chip Ganassi Racing ride coming to the line to end the first stage. That allowed Preece to beat Chastain to the line and get a lap back.

“I was hoping,” Preece told NBC Sports that Chastain would allow him to get a lap back there. “That was something he didn’t have to do. I’m sure one day I’ll return the favor.”

Mike Shiplett, crew chief for Chastain, told his driver on the radio not to do that again.

He was already a couple of laps down and he was torn up,” Chastain said of letting Preece get a lap back. “I’ve been on the other side of that. I wish they would just give that little bit. I know Mike wasn’t happy, and I didn’t do it again.

“I ran as hard as I could to prove a point to him that I listened to him. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would do it again. It did let the second-place car close up to us for pit road, but our guys were so fast it didn’t matter.

“It didn’t matter if it was Preece or whoever. Those are the guys that I have raced with for years and I just wanted to be nice. Be nice every now and then. It’s not going to kill you. Just give a little bit.”

Preece got back on the lead lap less than 20 laps later when there was a caution and he got the free pass. He ended up having issues later in the race and never put himself in position to challenge for the win, but the move by Chastain to allow Preece to get a lap back could have backfired.

When he got the free pass later, I was like uh oh,” Chastain said. “I didn’t know if he was fast or what. If he comes back and beats me, I’m never going to live that down. It all worked out. I was just trying to be nice.”


When a car doesn’t have the speed to challenge the top cars, a team has to do other things to win.

Such is the case for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team, led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.

After each of Keselowski’s last three wins, Keselowski or Wolfe have talked about needing to find more speed. So, how have they won three races in a row?

It has helped that the Big 3 have had their issues in those races. Martin Truex Jr. was among the strongest at Darlington in the first half of the race before an uncontrolled tire put him a lap down and he didn’t get back on the lead lap until the end.

At Indy, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had issues on pit road that kept them from leading much of the race.

At Las Vegas, Harvick crashed and Busch spun.

So in each of those races, Keselowski didn’t have to beat each of the Big 3 head-to-head on speed.

Still, Keselowski had to outrun others to win. He did it with restarts, short-run speed and pit stops.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski fended off the field on the final three restarts and was stronger on short runs than Truex, whose car was set for long runs there.

“Our car was very good on restarts, would run fast for a few laps,” Wolfe said. “I think our car had some good stability. That’s really what it comes down to those first couple laps when everyone is jammed up and you don’t have a lot of clean air is having a lot of security, and our car seemed to be able to fire off really well, and the pit crew was really flawless.”

Four times Keselowski was first off pit road, gaining positions, and a fifth time he entered pit road first and left first at Las Vegas.

At Indy, Wolfe’s pit strategy put Keselowski in position to win on a late restart because of fresher tires than Danny Hamlin.

At Darlington, Keselowski beat Kyle Larson off pit road for the lead on the final pit stop and shot out to the lead on the restart. Keselowski led the final 22 laps to win.

“We have not been the best car the last three weeks,” Keselowski said after his Las Vegas win. “This week we were probably a top‑three or ‑four car. I didn’t get to see (Kevin Harvick) before he had his issue, but I thought he was running pretty good. He was obviously in front of me at one point. And him and (Martin Truex Jr.) were very strong. 

“The 78 (Truex) was clearly the best car, and we put everything together when it counted, and kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks. 

“I thought (Larson) was the best car in Darlington, and we hit the strategy right and executed the last pit stop and that put us in position to win. 

“And in Indy, we were nowhere near probably even a top‑10 car. We were probably a 15th‑place car, and Paul Wolfe hit the strategy right, and I hit the restart right to make all the passes when it counted and won that race. With that in mind, no, I feel like we stole the last three races. We’re not complaining, but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads up without those issues.”


It has been a rough year for the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity team.

Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski have shared the ride throughout the season but last weekend’s race provided an all-too-familiar scene for that team — the car hitting the wall.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas marked the 10th time in 26 races this season the No. 60 car has been eliminated by an accident.

The team has had only four top-10 finishes. Its best finish is seventh at Iowa with Ty Majeski.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas was eerily reminiscent of Jeff Gordon‘s crash there in 2008 before a SAFER barrier was placed on the inside wall.

“I’m really disappointed right now in this speedway for not having a soft wall back there, and even being able to get to that part of the wall,” Gordon said after the crash. “That kind of hit shouldn’t happen. It’s just uncalled for. There’s no reason why any track should have that (kind of opening).”

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NASCAR suspends two Xfinity crew chiefs for New Hampshire violations

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NASCAR suspended the crew chiefs for Ryan Preece and John Hunter Nemechek for the next three Xfinity races after both their cars failed inspection after last weekend’s New Hampshire race.

NASCAR announced Tuesday that it also had fined crew chiefs Eric Phillips (Preece) and Mike Shiplett (Nemechek) $10,000 each. NASCAR penalized both drivers 10 points and docked the teams 10 owner points each. Their finishes will not count if needed in any tiebreaker. Preece placed third, and Nemechek was fourth at New Hampshire.

Both teams were penalized for failing post-race height requirements. It is an L1 infraction.

Joe Gibbs Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing both stated that they would not appeal the penalties.

NASCAR also fined Timothy Brown, the crew chief for David Starr, $5,000 for having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In Cup, NASCAR fined Darian Grubb, crew chief for William Byron, $10,000 for one lug nut not safe and secure on Byron’s car after the race.

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