Shane Wilson

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Ryan Sieg’s crew chief shares secrets to early success in Xfinity Series

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What started off as a pleasant surprise this year has become the norm for Ryan Sieg Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Through eight races, Ryan Sieg and his No. 39 Chevrolet have yet to finish worse than 12th.

The team based just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, has an average finish of 8.6, sixth-best among series regulars.

Heading into the second off-weekend of the year for the Xfinity Series, Sieg is probably still cleaning up from the Larry’s Hard Lemonade shower he received after he placed fifth last Friday at Richmond.

According to veteran crew chief Shane Wilson, the second non-superspeedway top five of Sieg’s career was made possible by what Sieg didn’t do a month earlier at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

By not tearing up their short-track car at Phoenix, it allowed the team to take that car’s setup and add Richmond-specific tweaks that “worked out pretty good,” Wilson said Tuesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Late Shift.”

Sieg has kept his cars clean so far, finishing on the lead lap in every race but one (Bristol, 12th) and earning five top 10s. That’s the most in his seven-year, 133-race Xfinity career.

Shane Wilson has been heading Ryan Sieg’s surprise run in 2019. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Two weeks before Richmond, Sieg captured the first stage win of his career by not pitting late in Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.

What Wilson has accomplished with the family owned team is a product of a late union and a “big departure” from what Wilson was used to just a few years ago with Richard Childress Racing.

Wilson, who last year was crew chief for Kaz Grala’s upstart Fury Race Cars, was hired a couple of weeks before Speedweeks in Daytona.

Since then, Wilson wakes up every Monday around 3:45 a.m. at his home in the Charlotte area and drives around 200 miles to the team’s shop in Sugar Hill, Georgia.

“Most times I get home by Wednesday night and then we go race,” Wilson said. “That’s kind of been my schedule so far. A little here, a little there. I chase parts in the Charlotte area, Mooresville some days. It gets me home a little quicker. There’s a few of us that make the trip down here and they have a nice little, kind of like a college dorm up above the shop and some of us stay there. It’s been fun. It’s different, it’s fun and it’s been challenging.”

Another part of Sieg’s surprise performance this year are the cars he’s been keeping unscathed. The team bought three new cars from RCR in the offseason.

“We had the ECR engine deal and it was good year to buy cars from RCR because they downsized from numerous Xfinity cars to a single car,” Wilson said. “I feel like we got good stuff.

“It’s a good relationship. The Siegs bought or leased engines from RCR for many years ever since they’ve been racing in the Truck Series. So they’re a good engine customer to ECR, bought a lot of chassis from Richard. That’s kind of where it stops. There’s a few different tiers that you can get nowadays and we don’t get simulation or any kind of parts tracking or the database or anything like that.

“Chevrolet helps us with a few tools. We have what we need and we don’t have a whole lot extra, but we have enough to compete.”

Wilson said recruiting talent to help out the small team is made easier with fewer Xfinity teams.

But he’s not just getting help from the North Carolina and Georgia areas.

“I got a good friend of mine doing our shocks now and shipped some more of those up to him in Vermont,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the experience reminds him of the days “when we volunteered and helped out our best friend.”

“Ryan has some experience, so he’s very helpful,” Wilson added. “His feedback is good now that we have current cars, good engines. More people working on it. We’re able to put up more of a fight at the race track.”

Ryan Sieg having ‘a lot more fun’ during career-best start to Xfinity season

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Ryan Sieg was “mad.”

While running eighth in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a Brandon Jones crash with two laps to go left Sieg thinking the worst going into overtime.

“I thought we were going to finish eighth and now we have to restart over again,” Sieg told NBC Sports.

The reaction by the 32-year-old from Tucker, Georgia, was likely instinctive. In five previous full-time years on the Xfinity circuit, Sieg has never had an average finish better than 17.8 and had only nine top 10s in 169 starts.

Things have changed in 2019.

In overtime, Sieg avoided a four-car wreck among the leaders coming to the white flag. On the last overtime attempt, he restarted fifth and lost one spot before the checkered flag.

It was his second top 10 to start the season on top of placing 11th a week before at Atlanta. It also was his best finish on a 1.5-mile track.

That leaves Sieg with a career-best position of eighth in the point standings. His previous best through three races was ninth in 2016.

Sieg said his Las Vegas experience was the most fun he’s ever had in a race.

“It was definitely wild,” Sieg said.

Ryan Sieg during Speedweeks in Daytona. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

New and Improved

Sieg is used to wild racing.

But the wild he’s experiencing at the front this year is different than previous seasons.

“You’d get side-by-side with a couple of drivers and just kind of cringe ’cause you were worried about them holding their line,” Sieg said. “This year I’ve been racing with the 9 (rookie Noah Gragson), the 11 (rookie Justin Haley), the 22 (Austin Cindric), pretty much all of them, the JR Motorsports cars. You’re passing them and you’re racing them and they’re racing you clean.

“It’s given me a better feeling racing side-by-side with people you can trust, so that’s definitely a positive compared to other years where I think you had some drivers who were in equipment that was a little bit better than they were.”

Now Sieg can say he’s in equipment worthy of his own talents.

Last year, Sieg ended the season 16th in the standings. It tied his career-worst result and was his lowest mark in four seasons.

One culprit was age. Not for him, but the cars he was driving.

“Our cars last year were I think 4 to 5 years old,” Sieg said. “When you’re running cars that are four and five (years) off what the Cup (affiliated) cars are, you can’t beat it. That’s (on top) of being down on horsepower a little bit, down on engineering, down on everything. … I would say the Cup teams in Xfinity were two to three generations ahead of what we had. It makes a big difference.”

Now Sieg is piloting essentially brand new cars bought from Richard Childress Racing.

“‘Cowboy’ (nickname for competition director Kevin Starland), whose been with us for a while, said they’re the best cars we’ve ever had,” Sieg said.

He qualified for the season-opener at Daytona in eighth and stayed in the top 10 most of the day before he finished third.

It was his fourth career top five and his third at Daytona.

“Racing in the top 10 all day you realize it’s a different level of a car and a program,” Sieg said. “When you go out every weekend, 33 races and you have a car you know is going to be off the pace of other drivers it wears on you. It gets tiring, it gets old. You get frustrated with it. You almost just get stuck in that same mold of, ‘OK, that guy’s faster than me, that guys faster than me.’ It gets frustrating but now it’s a lot more fun.”

Crew chief Shane Wilson worked with Brendan Gaughan from 2014-17. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

More with less

Another addition for Sieg’s team is at crew chief.

After Starland served in the position for much of last season, Sieg decided to hire Shane Wilson about two weeks before the team headed to Daytona.

Wilson, a winner of 17 Xfinity races since 2006, worked at RCR from 2014-17 with Brendan Gaughan. In 2018, he was paired with rookie Kaz Grala at JGL Racing and then the very quickly formed Fury Race Cars.

He’s now part of an effort that includes seven full-time employees in addition to the “weekend warriors” Sieg says help them out at the track.

“I don’t want to slight anyone we’ve worked with in the past, but I’ll say Shane is definitely very smart and comes to the race weekend with a plan,” Sieg said. “A big difference is on Fridays we’re not trying to set a fast lap. … We’re really working on the balance on the longer run. A lot of that is how your car is set up. You can go out and cut a fast lap in practice, but 10 laps into the race don’t do you a whole lot of good.”

What Sieg and his team are capable of this week could say a lot about the gains they’ve made.

The series heads to the flat, 1-mile ISM Raceway outside Phoenix, a place Sieg has never finished better than 14th (twice). Last year he earned finishes of 25th and 19th.

“For sure, our flat track results, Phoenix and New Hampshire and some of those other tracks have really been our biggest weakness,” Sieg said. “I’ve never really been to that track with a car I felt has been under me. The goal again is to have a good car for the longer run. It can go green there. … I’m definitely more excited to go there this year than any other year in the past.”

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NASCAR America: Kaz Grala has one more chance to impress at Iowa Speedway

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An accident on lap 76 of 200 at Dover International Speedway ended a 10-race stint with JGL Racing. And that might have been an inauspicious end to Kaz Grala’s Xfinity series campaign in 2018; he finished 37th in that race.

When the opportunity arose to run a four-race schedule with Fury Race Cars, Grala had nothing to lose – so he jumped at the opportunity. Three of those four events are in the books, leaving Iowa Speedway as the last scheduled event.

“Each week, we’ve been getting better as a team. We’ve been getting more organized, picking up speed, faster race cars, and that’s what we need to do,” Grala told NASCAR America on Thursday.

Grala earned a top 10 in his first attempt with the new team at Charlotte Motor Speedway and has not finished worse than 16th in three races.

“About five weeks ago, all the shop did was manufacture late models, modifieds, and road course cars … so they were not technically a race team; they were a car manufacturer.”

Given the circumstances of their formation, no one would have been surprised if the new race team was not successful, but the leadership of Tony Eury Jr. and Grala’s crew chief from earlier in the season Shane Wilson brought a level of experience that immediately elevated their performance.

“As drivers, we usually race with the thought in the back of our head that we can’t screw this up. We’ve got to do everything right. But it’s a different mentality you can approach it with when you have this situation. You can say, ‘well, we don’t have any expectations on us. We don’t know how we’re going to run so we can just go into this saying whatever we accomplish is going to be icing on the cake.'”

With additional sponsorship, Grala hopes to be able to continue to help Fury Race Cars improve.

For more, watch the video above.

Kaz Grala to attempt next four Xfinity races with Fury Race Cars

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Three days after announcing he had been let go from his contract at JGL Racing, Kaz Grala revealed plans to compete in the next four Xfinity Series races with Fury Race Cars, a team co-owned by his father, Darius Grala.

Grala will attempt to make four starts in the No. 61 Ford beginning next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

A rookie in the Xfinity Series, the 19-year-old driver started the first 10 races of the season in JGL Racing’s No. 24 Ford. The team is being shut down due to a lack of sponsorship.

Grala finished fourth in the season opener at Daytona. His best finish since was 12th at ISM Raceway.

He is 19th in points.

Founded in 2016 by Darius Grala, Tony Eury Jr. and Jeff Fultz, Fury Race Cars builds race cars for competition in NASCAR, ARCA, CARS Tour, Pro All-Star Series, SRL Southwest Tour and the Southern Super Series.

In two years, cars built by them have won the Snowball Derby, Redbud 300, CRA SpeedFest, Rattler 250, and swept first, second and third place at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.

Grala will be joined by many crew members from the No. 24 team, including crew chief Shane Wilson.

“I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to continue competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” Grala said in a press release. “I had a great relationship with Shane …  and the rest of our crew, and I believe that we only scratched the surface of that potential in the limited time we had together. I am amazed with all the outreach I’ve received and the help that everyone has been willing to lend, and that is really what has made this all possible. I began the 2018 season with the intent of running full time, and we hope to find the sponsorship to still make that a reality. That would be a dream come true.”

Shane Wilson joins JGL Racing as crew chief to Kaz Grala

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JGL Racing has paired Kaz Grala, its rookie driver in the Xfinity Series, with crew chief Shane Wilson for 2018, the team announced Thursday.

Grala, who competed for GMS Racing in the Camping World Truck Series in 2017, will drive JGL Racing’s No. 24 Ford.

Grala, 18 (turns 19 on Dec. 29), made the playoffs with his win in the season-opening race at Daytona.

Wilson arrives at JGL Racing after four seasons at Richard Childress Racing as crew chief for Brendan Gaughan, who will not race full-time in 2018.

Wilson served as Gaughan’s crew chief in multiple series off-and-on since his first year as a crew chief in 2000 on the K&N Pro Series West circuit. He has earned 17 Xfinity Series wins and two Cup wins.

“I am excited to join JGL Racing,” Wilson said in a press release.  “They have been improving their performance each year since they started racing in the Xfinity Series.  With the addition of the technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing and Kaz as the driver – along with the internal support from James (Whitener) and Steven (Lane) – this should make for another positive step in performance and results in 2018.”

Steven Lane, who was crew chief on the No. 24 in 2017, will now be team manager and competition director.

JGL Racing will also field the No. 28 next season, but no announcement have been made regarding it.

“The addition of a talented and experienced crew chief such as Shane is great for our entire organization,” said team owner James Whitener in a press release. “We continue to build our program and it is crucial for us to add personnel such as Shane. This move also allows us to shift Steven Lane to a bigger leadership position which we feel only makes our program stronger.”

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