xfinity chase

Elliott Sadler discusses crew chief situation for Xfinity finale

Leave a comment

At 41-years-old, Elliott Sadler feels like he’s “back in school again.”

It’s not most ideal situation to find yourself in two days before the Xfinity Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The JR Motorsports driver enters the Ford EcoBoost 300 with a crew chief he’s never worked with before in Mike Bumgarner. It is a result of Kevin Meendering, Sadler’s crew chief through the first 32 races of the season, being suspended by NASCAR for a violation of its lug nut policy.

“We’ve had a really good week of preparation because it is a little bit different circumstances than what we’ve had the rest of the year,” Sadler said Thursday at Championship 4 Media Day. “We’ve had some extra meetings, make sure our language is right, make sure we know the strategies we want to apply not only during the race, but also qualifying and practice, because it’s the first time Mike and I are working together.”

Bumgarner has 22 years of NASCAR experience and joined JR Motorsport in 2013 after years at Hendrick Motorsports. He last crew chiefed in 2014 and has been the team’s race operations manager since then.

That role has Bumgarner working on Sadler’s No. 1 car and the No. 7 of Justin Allgaier during a usual race week. But this is the least usual week of the season for Sadler’s team.

“Bummy is the one guy in the shop that works on all of our cars, I mean, hands on, he physically knows what’s going on with our race cars every single week before we go to the racetrack,” Sadler said. “As far as working on the cars, knowing what they want, knowing what’s in them, he had the most experience.

“He and Kevin have known each other from the Hendrick days. He’s a big part of why our cars go fast, because of stuff he can do to them. He just seemed like the perfect fit for all of us to kind of stay on the same page, which way we’re going as far as communication, attitude, being together.”

Communication is key for Sadler, who has a very specific way of talking to Meendering on the radio during races.

“They have the same personality. Communication‑wise, they both got the same type of speech pattern and things like that,” said Sadler, who has three wins this season working with Meendering.

But as Bumgarner said Wednesday, he’ll be “leaning heavily” on Sadler, who has competed in NASCAR since 1995 and has yet to win a title.

“It’s all on me, my shoulders,” Sadler said. “I’m the quarterback, I’m the leader of the team. I know that Mike is going to feed off of me and follow my lead.”

If the unexpected game of follow the leader pays off, Sader could give JR Motorsports its second Xfinity title in three years.

Elliott Sadler’s substitute crew chief will ‘lean heavily’ on veteran driver in Xfinity title race

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the biggest race of Elliott Sadler‘s NASCAR career, the driver will have a new voice talking to him over the radio during the Ford EcoBoost 300 on NBCSN.

After the one-race suspension of crew chief Kevin Meendering for a lug nut violation, Sadler will be working with Mike Bumgarner in the Xfinity Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Bumgarner, JR Motorsports’ race operations manager, will be crew chiefing his first race since 2014.

“I think having someone like Elliott Sadler alone speaks for itself,” Bumgarner said in teleconference Wednesday. “I’ll lean heavily on Elliott. He’s the leader of this team as well as Kevin, and these guys have worked really hard the last few days to set forth a plan to move forward to Homestead and have a shot to win this championship.”

Bumgarner steps into the role after Sadler joked at Phoenix International Raceway that team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be his crew chief.

“It would have definitely made it easier on me,” said Bumgarner with a laugh. “I would have much rather just went down there and sat back and watched.”

A 22-year NASCAR veteran, Bumgarner joined JR Motorsports in 2013 as a crew chief for Kasey Kahne and Brad Sweet on the No. 5 car. In 2014, he transitioned into the race operations manager position.

On Saturday he will try to finish the job Meendering started, giving Sadler, a 21-year veteran of NASCAR racing, his first championship. The No. 1 team enters Homestead with three wins, 13 top fives and 28 top 10s.

“I don’t see much of a challenge from my side,” Bumgarner said. “Kevin has a good group of guys, and these guys know what their role is played … It’s just more or less for me just to guide these guys along and answer any questions and try to do my best at calling a good race and getting Elliott in and off pit road. I think that’s probably the biggest task.”

Navigating pit road will also involve communicating with Sadler’s spotter, Brett Griffin.

“(Sadler) and Brett, they have a good combination as far as speaking and talking together, and I think that is going to make it easy,” Bumgarner said. “Elliott knows what he needs to do with the race car. These guys, they’ve shown on paper or speed charts as the week goes on every week, they progressively get better as the week goes, and I think that’s due to all the roles that Kevin has set aside as far as his guys and Elliott.”

NASCAR America: Blake Koch confident about Phoenix

Leave a comment

Blake Koch calls into NASCAR America to discuss his rough weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and what he hopes to accomplish at Phoenix with a chance to be one of the four drivers to compete for the Xfinity tite.

Kyle Larson takes high lane to Xfinity win at Texas

1 Comment

FORT WORTH, Texas — Lapped traffic and then his trademark high lane were Kyle Larson‘s saving grace Saturday as he used them to beat Brad Keselowski and win the Xfinity Series’ O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway.

With a big push from Elliott Sadler in the outside lane, Larson beat Keselowski on the race’s final restart with 30 laps to go. He never allowed the No. 22 to lead another lap despite a heated duel that lasted about 10 laps.

“I love seeing Elliott Sadler behind me on restarts,” Larson told NBC Sports. “He’s really good at taking off and pushing me. He helped win Pocono earlier this year.”

Larson and Keselowski ran side-by-side multiple times before a steady stream of lapped cars kept Keselowski from getting back to Larson.

Larson used the middle to high lanes to get around lapped traffic as Keselowski stuck within half a second of his rear bumper. When he ran against the bottom line in traffic, Larson battled a “really tight” car.

“Once I got to clean air I was like, ‘Oh, man, we’re going to lose,'” Larson said. “Got to the top just in time and got rolling.”

With his second Xfinity victory of the season, Larson ensured the winless streak for Team Penske’s flagship team would last passed one calendar year. Keselowski gave the No. 22 its last win in this race last year.

After starting from the pole, Keselowski led a race- and season-high 145 laps after only leading 104 in 13 previous starts this year.

The top five was Larson, Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.

MORE: Race Results

MORE: Point standings

HOW KYLE LARSON WON: He deftly navigated lapped traffic and the high lane late to keep Brad Keselowski at bay in the closing laps.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: While never a factor for the lead, Kevin Harvick kept his No. 88 in the top five most of the day and finished third, his second top five in seven starts this season … Daniel Suarez overcame a broken alternator and replacing a battery to finish fifth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Chase driver Blake Koch had to pit around Lap 40 for a tire beginning to shred. He was later caught speeding on pit road and finished 14th, his best finish at the track … Brandon Hightower caused the first and final cautions of the race and finished 35th … Matt DiBenedetto caused the fourth caution on Lap 133 when spun and hit the Turn 4 wall. He finished 36th.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the year – just been kind of a weird year. Some odd circumstances took some wins away from us, some mistakes I’ve made have taken some wins away from us. It’s just kind of an odd year and it’s carried over into the Chase some too.” – Erik Jones, who leads Xfinity regulars with four wins, but none since the Chase opener at Chicagoland.

NEXT: Race at Phoenix International Raceway, 7:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 12 on NBCSN.

Blake Koch not sweating Xfinity Chase after hard wreck in practice

Leave a comment

FORT WORTH, Texas — If you paid attention to how Blake Koch‘s Friday played out at Texas Motor Speedway, one would assume he’d be stressed.

The Kaulig Racing driver spent the morning praising the potential of the new car his team had built for Saturday’s race, the second in the Round of 8 in the Xfinity Chase. That potential lasted through two turns of practice.

Something broke on his No. 11 Chevrolet, which shot into the outside wall in what Koch admitted was “probably the hardest hit I’ve ever taken.”

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 04: Crew members work on the car of Blake Koch, driver of the #11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, after an incident during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway on November 4, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Kaulig Racing and crew from technical alliance partner Richard Childress Racing, including an electric saw wielding Slugger Labbe, tried to discover what had doomed Koch’s car, to no avail.

“Everything’s broke because you hit the wall, so you don’t know what broke first,” Koch told NBC Sports.

Then came the backup car. With it arrived more problems. Koch sat out the first half hour of the second practice as the team dealt with a faulty clutch line. This all occurred as Koch sits third in the Xfinity Chase standings with two races left for him to get into the Championship 4.

But no, Koch isn’t stressed. The 31-year-old driver has the perspective of eight years of stock-car racing to know what’s really stressful.

“Having 50-lap tires with a car that doesn’t handle and having to make the race or go home and not get paid to pay the bills. Much more difficult,” Koch told NBC Sports. “When you got a strong team that brings out a backup car and is (15th fastest) off the truck in a backup car. That’s not very stressful.”

But the pressure is still present for Koch, who a decade ago asked Google about the best way to become a race car driver.

Eight years after his first Xfinity start, Koch is part of the inaugural Xfinity Chase with a single-car Xfinity team in its first year of existence (with help from RCR). The native of West Palm Beach, Florida, is also eight weeks into growing a playoff beard and he’s doing all he can to ensure he keeps it until the Xfinity awards banquet in his home state.

“You’ve got momentum going, you’ve got a rhythm and you just want to keep it going to the end of the year,” Koch says.

After spending much-needed time with his wife and two kids during the Xfinity Series’ two week hiatus, Koch threw himself into preparation for today’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge. Every Monday, Koch practices on iRacing with the help of Byron Daley, an RCR engineer who was at Tri-Star Motorsports last year with Koch.

“You can call him my driver coach,” Koch says. “I have the ability to take really good criticism from him.”

A sample of that criticism includes corner entry and managing his tires during a run.

“If I told you everything, then everybody would know the secrets,” Koch said.

And how did Koch spend the rest of his week?

“Every second I get I’m on my phone looking at YouTube videos, looking at notes,” he says.

Koch, who has an average finish of 31.5 in 11 Texas starts, types in “Xfinity Texas” and watches anything he’s presented with.

“If you can learn one thing out of five hours of watching videos, that one thing is worth it,” Koch says.

“Google got me here, YouTube is keeping me here.”