Ryan: Even without plates, Talladega still served up a spectacular show

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Better plate than never?

That was a major question entering this year’s Daytona 500 — and particularly after a pair of lackluster races at Talladega Superspeedway last season.

The 2019 season opener marked the last superspeedway race before horsepower-sapping restrictor plates permanently were removed and replaced by the (similarly shaped) tapered spacers used to choke down engines at the rest of the tracks on the circuit.

The plates defined some of the most indelible moments, both tragic and triumphant, in NASCAR over the past three decades

So what would the post-plate era look like in NASCAR?

The 26 Hours of Talladega provided a definitive answer: A lot like most of everything that transpired on the biggest, fastest tracks in NASCAR for the previous 31 years.

Incessant chaos, crushed sheet metal and costly errors.

In other words, insanity on four wheels (as Marcos Ambrose infamously dubbed it) for 500 miles at a time.

It’s the bedrock upon which superspeedway racing happily has rested for three decades in the interest of entertainment (and, ostensibly, safety in ensuring speeds are manageable enough to prevent cars from sailing over catchfences with disturbing regularity at Daytona and Talladega).

After an off-year in 2018, NASCAR found its sweet spot in Sweet Home Alabama this season.

The most arbitrary form of racing delivered by NASCAR’s premier series again felt as predictably unpredictable as it ever had since the restrictor-plate era began in 1988. There were colossal crashes, double-crossing duplicity and razor-tight finishes.

That was great for fans. It wasn’t necessarily good for Cup drivers.

Of course, it rarely is in the finicky and violent environs of Dega, which was unusually tame last year with only two wrecks of at least a half-dozen cars across 1,013 miles (this year, there were three times as many).

The knock on plate racing in 2018 was the lack of driveability. It’s hard to make passes when cars aren’t stable at 200 mph-plus in the draft.

That put the leader at a huge advantage of being able to tow lines at will and control the front of the pack in a decidedly un-Talladega-esque manner. It was most evident last October when Stewart-Haas Racing led 155 of 188 laps with cars that (stunningly) were built for handling instead of speed.

NASCAR addressed this by raising spoilers to 9 inches with the advent of the spacers. That didn’t do much for handling, but it did punch a bigger hole in the air that caused massive acceleration in the draft and eradicated the “aero bubble” barrier that drivers said made it difficult for trailing cars to pass last year.

So the ability to catch the leader improved … even though handling didn’t nearly as much (look no further than Joey Logano’s in-car camera, which was a furious blur of hands manhandling the steering wheel on every shot).

That was a recipe for the return of the huge wrecks that felt like Dega of yesteryear. Holes in the draft vanished much more quickly, and blocking became futile as drivers scrambled (and often failed) to adapt to the higher closing rates.

If there was a theme, it was that misjudgment on blocking and bumping made the racing much more treacherous – particularly in the rain-shortened July 7 wreckfest at Daytona and the extravaganza Sunday-Monday.

As analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted in the NBC broadcast, though the bumpers don’t line up as well with the Gen 6 as in the previous iteration (which spawned the nefarious tandem drafting), the bump-drafting has become even more aggressive in the era of stage points and playoff berths tied to wins.

With bigger runs coming from every direction, an increased susceptibility to being passed and cars just as unstable when in a pack, the lead no longer was the place to be at Talladega.

There were more lead changes Sunday-Monday (46, up from 38 in the April 28 race) than the combined total (40) for both 2018 races. There were 22,214 green-flag passes (59 per lap) at Talladega in 2019, up from 13,294 last year (35 per lap).

A NASCAR without restrictor plates?

Talladega still served up the action for fans — on a silver platter strewn with twisted sheet metal, of course.


The situations weren’t entirely analogous, but NASCAR’s non-call on the final lap Monday was reminiscent of its controversial non-call on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winning pass of Matt Kenseth in the April 6, 2003 race at Talladega. In both instances, officials claimed the spirit of the yellow-line rule wasn’t violated even though the letter clearly was.

Here’s how the rule was presented in the drivers meeting at Talladega: “Drivers, this is your warning. Race above the double-yellow line. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you go below the double-yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you force someone below the double-yellow line in an effort to stop someone from passing you, you may be black-flagged.”

It’s indisputable that, just like Earnhardt did in passing Kenseth 16 years ago, Ryan Blaney went below the yellow line before taking the lead for good Monday from Ryan Newman. It’s possible that contact with Newman caused Blaney to dip below the boundary, and that seems to be NASCAR’s explanation in why no call was made.

But it also seems like the rule demands that (as it did in 2003) a penalty should have been called on either Blaney or Newman. NASCAR can rule that “in its judgment,” Blaney didn’t intentionally go below the yellow-line to improve his position … but if that’s the case, it means he had to have been forced there, right?

Regardless, NASCAR officials say they are happy with the language of the rule.

Given that it affords them tremendous leeway to turn every yellow-line pass into a ball and strike call, it’s easy to see why.


As many have noted, manufacturer alliances at Daytona and Talladega were invented long before the 21st century. In the 1990s, Chevrolet and Ford drivers regularly worked together – when possible — to try to ensure their makes won the race.

But there were some glaring differences about the tempest that sprung forth last weekend and sparked major disgruntlement among fans and media.

Chevrolet’s decision to call an in-race meeting at Garage Suite 3 in full public view was ill-advised, at best. The references afterward to shilling Corvettes and watching PowerPoints were too clever by a factor of maybe 100, and they also were indicative of why the optics were problematic.

Chevy’s extremely disciplined approach felt too corporate, and it seemed micromanaged to the point of making Michael Scott blush. Chastising drivers for racing three wide instead of single file while still in Stage 1 is hardly palatable to anyone in NASCAR, which has an appealing undercurrent of cutthroat intensity (especially at Daytona and Talladega).

It’s understandable why Jim Campbell demanded his Chevy drivers stay on script. The heat from GM headquarters in Detroit surely was unbearable after Hendrick Motorsports essentially helped Toyota win the Daytona 500. And Ford and Toyota drivers surely were given virtually the same marching orders at Talladega – just much more discreetly.

That might be the right line to choose next time.


The focus on manufacturer alliances wasn’t all bad, though.

It forced some good discussions on awkward topics into the open, and it raised important issues about how much influence manufacturers and teams should have in effectively determining race winners. If younger drivers for midpack teams essentially are told to subjugate themselves for the greater good (or risk being stripped of perks), is that a just sacrifice at a track that might offer their best opportunity at winning all year?

That conversation got shoved to the forefront by the weekend’s manufacturer debate. And it was nice that none of it actually mattered at the conclusion of a race that featured a passel of unheralded underdogs vying for the checkered flag.

It also could be indirectly good for NASCAR while continuing to court new manufacturers to enter with its next generation engine (which probably won’t happen until 2023). With the overall decline in the corporate sponsorship spend over the past decade, there are few entities investing as much in stock-car racing as the automakers.

At least they got good bang for their bucks at Talladega, particularly if you ascribe to the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity.


Ryan Blaney still isn’t a favorite to reach the Championship 4 this season, but Monday might be remembered as a turning point if the No. 12 driver eventually wins a Cup title.

Ryan Blaney receives congratulations from teammate Joey Logano (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

There is enormous pressure on the 25-year-old to perform at Team Penske, which has been enjoying a worldwide results bonanza well beyond NASCAR that is impressive even for this storied organization. Never mind championship teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Blaney also is competing against winners of the Indianapolis 500, Bathurst 1000 and Rolex 24. If he makes the playoffs but still goes winless this year, it gets noticed more than it would at a less successful team.

It was important that his 2019 breakthrough happened at Talladega after a string of plate failures the past few years. Blaney’s Fords led four of the past six races at Talladega but didn’t finish higher than 11th in any of them. He finished seventh in the 2018 Daytona 500 despite having the best car and leading a race-high 118 laps.

The confidence-booster of making every right move over the final two laps (including the bold decision to choose the outside for the lead on the final restart) should go a long way toward making Blaney feel his place is secure at one of racing’s greatest teams.

 

What Cup drivers said after Talladega

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Here’s what Cup drivers said after a chaotic playoff race at Talladega

Ryan Blaney, winner – “I know a lot of guys had their problems today.  But we had our problem last week (at Dover), a bad problem.  We have kind of been saying all week, we’ve been wanting to win races all year.  Why have any different mindset? This was a huge, huge race for us.  I’m pumped up

Ryan Newman, finished second – “I told Aric (Almirola), I said they spent $50 million redeveloping this place.  I should have threw in 50 bucks for them to move the start/finish line, repainted it or something. It was a great run for our Wyndham Rewards Ford.  Everybody at Roush‑Yates, Roush Family Racing.  All the team effort that went into it was good.

“I mean, we just came up that little bit short.  I don’t know what else to say.  I could have pinched him some more.  I could have probably took the aero.  You can go back and bench race that three weeks from now.  It was a good race until the end.

“I saw the guys spinning in the back.  I was hoping for a yellow, but there wasn’t.”

Denny Hamlin, finished third – “(Our agenda) changed with every caution.  It changed with every car that fell out.  I mean, just a game of chess all day.  Sure, we could have got up there and raced, got in the middle, but we would have been in all those wrecks.  Didn’t make sense to me. I knew the statistics, the odds, the chances.  I looked at how many cars were on the lead lap if we were to crash at that point in the race.  It just wasn’t worth the risk.  There wasn’t enough to gain with cars still crashing. We waited till the bulk of them got out, then went up there and tried to win.  We almost did.”

Aric Almirola, finished fourth –  “Obviously, when you get that close to the end and you feel like you’re in position you want to win.  Man, it’s hard.  It’s hard to make the right move and do the right thing at the right time.  It’s so situational.  There’s maybe a couple of things, maybe one thing I could have tried to get up in front of (Ryan Newman), but he was coming so fast.  There was no way I was gonna block that run.  He was just gonna get to my outside and then I was gonna be stuck in the middle three-wide.  All in all, it was a good day.  We needed a good run.

Michael McDowell, finished fifth – “You’re always looking for anything to build momentum.  Results always do that and that’s always part of it.  Talladega and Daytona in particular are unique race tracks and a unique style of racing.  I don’t know how much it helps you going into Kansas, but it’s always good to get a top five and to have a strong day and be in position to push a Ford to Victory Lane.  That’s good, too.”

Austin Dillon, finished sixth – “It pushed really well and to get up through there at times, it just didn’t seem to be able to maintain the lead. But I’m glad we were able to get a good finish. Sixth place, we needed that. The No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), he had a heck of a run down the backstretch. If he could have picked me up, it would have been nice. We did everything we could for what we had, and the race was very close.”

Corey LaJoie, finished seventh – “We call that stacking pennies.  You take a 33rd-place car and finish seventh with it, so we’ll take it and run.”

Chase Elliott, finished eighth – “We had our ups and downs for sure today. Got caught up in that crash but my guys did a nice job of putting it back together as best we could. Just head out West to Kansas now and try to get a win out there. That’s about all we can do now.”

“You have to have the mindset to go out there and control what we can control and do everything we can to get a win. That’s all we can do.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished ninth – “It’s nice being that close.  We put ourselves in the right positions, got to control the race for a little while.  I felt like my spotter and I did a really good job blocking the right lines at the right time and just trying to learn for the end of that race.  That one restart we picked the bottom and I don’t know if that hurt us and it let (Kurt Busch) get to the outside and the third lane formed, so, all in all, we had a really fast car.  I’m bummed we couldn’t finish it off.  There at the end I felt like we were still plenty fast enough to get the job done, but I just ran out of laps to get back up there.”
Ty Dillon, finished 10th – “When there’s so few cars left running at the end of the race, the top just seemed to never really go. On the last restart, there were only eight or nine cars running, so I knew we were in a little bit of trouble. I needed a push in the outside line as far as I could to try to get us in position where we were in second or third and I just couldn’t get any help from behind. We had a nice, big run there at the end, but couldn’t really do a whole lot with it. Another top-10 finish for our team, which is good at the superspeedways. A top-10 finish is always good for us.”
Joey Logano, finished 11th – “It scared the crap out of me because it came out of nowhere.  I was riding around and everything was good in second place and, ‘Boom.’  The next thing I know I’m sideways and up in the air.  My team did an amazing job today because when we got done with the crash the hood was up and I couldn’t see.  The thing was barely rolling with four flat tires and everything else, and they got it to where it would run and then got through another crash to get the lucky dog and finished 11th on the day.  Two second places in the stages and an 11th-place finish with a crashed race car isn’t ideal, but it’s way better than it could have been, so I’m proud of that.”
Kevin Harvick, finished 17th – “You always want to do better.  I would have loved to have scored stage points and finish better, but we didn’t.  You can’t put much merit into this.  It’s kind of like bumper cars with your friends that don’t know how to drive at the go-kart track.”

Kyle Busch, finished 19th – “Everybody starts getting more aggressive towards the end and some guys just started pushing and I got pushed. I don’t know if (Kurt Busch) was getting pushed from behind him or what, but just got turned sideways the wrong way on the straightaway and that was it.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 23rd – “I brushed the wall.  I got into (Daniel Hemric) and was just pushing like I was all day long.  I don’t know.  He ran up too high and when you push you’ve got to kind of be to the outside and run me into the wall.  I was afraid it was gonna go flat, so I bailed out of there and, sure enough, it went flat.  And then I just got stuck down there.  I couldn’t get those guys to cooperate.  They stared at me for a lap.  I was like, ‘Boys, we’ve got to figure this out.  We’ve got to push this thing off.’  I don’t know that they knew I was stuck.  I shut it off and was trying to scream, but it is what it is.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 25th –  “I got wrecked, but I haven’t see the replay.  We were about to take the lead. I was pushing Brendan Gaughan and was really excited about how it was looking there for a minute and it just didn’t work out.”

Martin Truex Jr., Finished 26th – “Obviously we tried to find a safe place there and chill out and ride. That’s kind of what our plan was and we couldn’t even do that. Wrong place, wrong time, which seems like about every time I come here. I feel like I should just race as hard as I can race because I’m probably going to get wrecked anyway.”

Brendan Gaughan, finished 27th –  “It was okay, it was just one easy, quick flip and we put it down. The only thing you worry about then is somebody hitting you.  That is what you don’t want and that is where the fear comes in. Other than that, I am fine and like I said, some people would argue that I have anything up there that’s going to hurt. Thank you to Chevrolet and thank you to the Beard family, love you guys, and yes, I will see you at the Daytona 500. Mom, sorry.”

Kurt Busch, finished 28th – “I was just trying to make the middle lane work and all hell broke loose. I was having a lot of fun out there. Just trying to hold it steady and gain some points. I don’t even know who is left. It was pretty wild. These cars are so unstable in those big packs pushing hard. It just takes the smallest little mistake.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 29th – “I don’t really know what to say.  I don’t know what we could have done different.  We were just racing hard and then went straight to the back.  We were coming back to the front and then the whole mess started in front of me and I turned the wheel a little bit too hard to try to avoid the wreck and I ended up spinning out myself.  It was either spinning out myself or wrecking, so nothing really I could have done there.”

Matt DiBendetto, finished 30th – “I saw a car go up in the air and over. It’s just crazy. I don’t know. The car was fast, pushed great obviously. … I wanted to get this car to victory lane so bad for Toyota and LFR (Leavine Family Racing). It just stinks being that close. Man, that’s insane. I was pushing Kurt (Busch) earlier before that all happened and was just focused on pushing ahead of me because my car did it so well locking on the guys in front of me. I don’t know. Seems like a dang routine. We run a superspeedway race and then I meet you guys here for an interview after the care center. These races are crazy.”

David Ragan, finished 32nd – “Everybody just got to pushing and shoving and that’s just a product of speedway racing.  These guys race extremely hard.  The cars are really safe.  I don’t really think anyone is gonna get hurt, so that probably makes everyone drive a little bit more crazy than they should and when you’re pushing and shoving at 200 miles an hour eventually you’re gonna wreck people.  I think most of the big wrecks today were because of that and that’s just the way it is, so you get out there and you tear all of these race cars up.  I hate it for the car owners, but the fans saw a lot of great racing today.  Our Envision USA Ford Mustang was fast.  It was fun, but it just didn’t last to the end.”

William Byron, finished 33rd – “Obviously, our noses are pointed and it just jacked me right up and turned me around. I have to look at it. Yeah, it just turned me to the inside first. I don’t know what to do different there to get the push better. Just unfortunate for us. We had a really good run going. I felt like we were going to at least finish pretty solid. Our car was good, just trying to bide our time. Just unfortunate, for sure.”

Erik Jones, finished 34th – “It looks like the 1 (Kurt Busch) turned the 24 (William Byron) and kind of caused that wreck, so it’s unfortunate. We had a really fast car today. It’s one of the best superspeedway cars we’ve brought as far as single car and pack speed. It’s disappointing. The DeWalt Camry was definitely a contender, I thought, for a win today. We battled back from a lap down and got right back to the front. It’s unfortunate. We’ve just been on a bad streak and we haven’t been able to shake it. Hopefully next week at Kansas – it’s been a good track to us – we can get things back going again.”

Alex Bowman, finished 37th – “My guess is that I threw a block I shouldn’t have thrown a block. I got shoved way out there. I knew the No. 22 (Joey Logano) was coming and I just tried to move down just a little bit. As soon as he touched me, it just turned it sideways. They just had a bigger run than I realized. I should have let them go and shouldn’t have thrown a block. I apologize to all the cars that got torn up, that’s on me. Talladega happens. I hate it for all of our sponsors.”

Jimmie Johnson, finished 38th – “I was just drafting and looking through the window like we do on the back straightaway and I noticed out of the left side of the windshield that the 88 was down there sideways by himself. So, something happened up there that got him pitched out of the line and unfortunately just slid right back up in front of myself and Chase (Elliott). I hope I did not knock Chase into the 88, and I feel like fortunately I may have turned him away from it and down the track. Hopefully he can still get some points here. It’s just one of those plate racing incidents and I hate it for Alex but a few people made it through from the Hendrick side of things in having a couple cars still in the race

Kyle Larson, finished 39th – “I just saw a little bit of smoke. I was in the top lane just hoping to get through it and it all happened quick. I saw the No. 88 (Alex Bowman)’s door numbers and I got into it. Yeah, that was a huge hit on my part. Thankfully, I’m OK and we’ll move onto next week and try to get a run at Kansas.”

Preliminary NASCAR entry lists for Talladega

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Two of the most unpredictable races of the playoffs are this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Cup Series will reach the midpoint of its 10-race playoffs, while following a month off, the Gander Outdoors Truck Series resumes with the fourth race of its seven-race playoffs.

The Xfinity Series is off this weekend. It returns to action next weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for this weekend:

Cup – 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

A full field of 40 cars are entered for this race.

Spencer Boyd is in the No. 52 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet.

Blake Jones will make his first start of 2019 and fourth of his Cup career in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet.

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman will pilot the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Toyota.

Aric Almirola won this race last year. Clint Bowyer was second, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Chase Elliott won this year’s spring race, followed by Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece.

Click here for entry list.

Trucks – Sugarlands Shine 250 (1:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

There are 33 trucks and drivers entered for this race.

Korbin Forrister will drive the No. 7 All Out Motorsports Toyota.

Clay Greenfield will drive the No. 68 Clay Greenfield Motorsports Toyota.

Timothy Peters won this race last year. Myatt Snider was second, followed by David Gilliland.

Click here for entry list.

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Ryan Sieg, Shane Wilson ready for opportunity races in Xfinity playoffs

Ryan Sieg Racing
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When Shane Wilson answered his phone Tuesday he was in the process of leaving a UPS store, a weekly destination that’s part of his many crew chief duties at Ryan Sieg Racing.

This week the team had to: prepare three cars for Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond – including a car for Hermie Sadler, who is making his first Xfinity start since 2016 and the first ever for RSR, as well as repair a wrecked No. 93 car from Las Vegas and get Ryan Sieg’s No. 39 Chevrolet ready for a playoff run.

“Shoooo, we’re busy,” Wilson tells NBC Sports. “But, you know, good busy.”

That’s all been done with seven crew members at the team’s shop located just outside of Atlanta.

“We can go with seven-and-a-half to make sure I don’t leave anybody out,” jokes Wilson.

At the UPS store he had mailed a shock destined for Vermont. Its recipient would be Steve Hibberd, the team’s shock guy.

Hibberd is a former employee of Orleans Racing, the Truck Series effort for Brendan Gaughan in the early 2000s that Wilson led. He’s one of Wilson’s two “secret weapons.”

The other is another Orleans team member and former Dodge employee, Ryan Isabel, who provides engineering support for the team in identifying trends via a database of car setups.

This small, spread out operation helped Sieg produce the best season in his six years of full-time Xfinity competition and his second playoff berth, following his 2016 campaign.

He enters Richmond with two top fives and nine top 10s (matching his top 10s from the rest of his Xfinity career). His previous best total for top 10s was three in 2016, the first time he went to the playoffs.

But Wilson, a former long-time employee at Richard Childress Racing who crew chiefed for Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, doesn’t seem too stressed about the playoffs before him or his limited resources. In fact, he’s having his most fun in NASCAR in “a long time.”

For a former electrician apprentice from Vermont, he could be doing worse.

“Whenever I have a bad day in racing I think about running pipe in December in Vermont along the Connecticut River,” Wilson says with a chuckle.

Ryan Sieg has made the Xfinity playoffs for the second time in his career. (Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sieg and Wilson don’t want to hype up a potential Cinderella story for the Xfinity Series playoffs, even if it does have a few ingredients for that.

Sieg and his small team will start their playoff run at the track he had his best non-superspeedway performance earlier this year.

The April 12th race at Richmond saw Sieg start 13th, finish Stage 2 in fifth and then finish the race in fifth for his second top five of the year.

That leads into the Sept. 28 race on the Charlotte Roval. The opening round then closes out at Dover International Speedway.

Wilson sees the first round as three “opportunity races.”

“They’re not cookie cutter mile-and-a-halves, like Vegas,” Wilson says. “I really feel like we can go there and do well.

“I like road racing, Ryan doesn’t necessarily like road racing. I’m trying to get him in the state of mind and that’s a good opportunity race.”

But….

There are a few of those.

They make Wilson a “realist” about their situation, especially when it comes to facing the juggernauts of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and the other Cup-affiliated teams.

First, there’s the cars.

Those Cup-affiliated teams will likely be bringing new or updated cars to the track as the playoffs open.

Meanwhile, Sieg’s team will be using the same three cars they’ve been rotating through all year. Luckily for Wilson, they’re relatively new chassis the team purchased from Richard Childress Racing before this season, so he’s familiar with them.

“Here we will be running the same cars as we have been because that’s what we have,” Wilson says. “But I don’t think I’d ever switch that anyway, you gotta kind of ride the horse that got you there and try not to out trick yourself or race something that’s a little bit better cause you really need to bring something you know and that you’ve raced all year then see where you land.”

Then there’s the playoff points.

Sieg enters Richmond 11th in the standings with 2,001 points after the standings were reset. That one playoff point is a result of Sieg winning Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway in March.

“Looking at it, those top three cars (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) have such a big advantage, you almost have to pencil them into Homestead,” Sieg says. “To make it through the first (round), that’s what we want to do and need to do. But if we don’t, be consistent over the seven races and get top 10 in points, I think we got eliminated in the first round in 2016, but we still finished ninth in the standings. So it’s always nice to be top 10 in points. … Anything can happen.”

However, with all that, there’s one additional tool in the No. 39 team’s utility belt they didn’t have in April.

They return to Richmond with a Cup pit crew, which they began using in May at Charlotte.

Why is that notable?

Shane Wilson, right, has been a NASCAR crew chief since the early 2000s in Truck Series. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

“We lost I think 30 spots on pit road that first race and still finished top five,” Sieg says.

Well, maybe it felt like 30.

“It wasn’t quite 30, but it was like 17 though,” Wilson says with a hearty laugh. “Which is still a lot.”

Even with a more experienced pit crew, Sieg’s philosophy on what happens on pit road has been drilled into him.

“We don’t want to gain spots on pit road, we don’t want to lose any either,” Sieg says. “We just want to maintain. I bet you in my career if you counted the number of times I’ve come off pit road I’ve probably lost more positions than I want to count. That’s part of being a small team. If we come in eighth and Brandon Jones is ninth, he’s got a Joe Gibbs pit crew. If they beat us by two seconds, you’re going to lose that spot. I’ve kind of dealt with that a lot in my career. I’m not complaining, cause it’s part of what it is. So I just want to come in 10th and go out 10th. Yeah, it would be great to come out fourth, but that’s less realistic.”

And what if that Cup pit crew had been in place at Richmond six months ago?

“We might of won,” Wilson says. “Or we would have finished second. Because we passed two guys who finished in front of us about three different times. The only one we never passed was (winner Cole Custer).”

While advancing to the next round would be huge for Sieg’s team, Wilson’s goal for the next three races is straightforward: “finish ahead of four of those guys every week” and “accumulate enough points to make them have to race us at Dover.”

Longtime crew chief Nick Harrison dies at 37, team announces

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LOUDON, N.H. — Kaulig Racing announced Sunday morning that veteran crew chief Nick Harrison died. He was 37.

Harrison was the crew chief for Justin Haley‘s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series and had called the car’s 13th-place finish Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In a statement attributed to team owner Matt Kaulig and president Chris Rice, the team said in a tweet that “It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Nick Harrison, our beloved crew chief of the No. 11 car at Kaulig Racing. Please keep Nick’s family in your thoughts and prayers at this time.”

No cause of death or information on services was immediately available. A Kaulig Racing spokesperson said “further details would be provided as they come.”

NASCAR released a statement on Harrison’s death: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of longtime crew chief Nick Harrison, and offer our thoughts, prayers and support to his family, friends and Kaulig Racing colleagues.”

According to Racing-Reference.info, Harrison made his debut as an Xfinity crew chief in 2006. He was a crew chief for 184 Xfinity races (including 17 with Haley this year) and had five victories, his first with Kurt Busch in 2012 at Daytona International Speedway with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.

He also worked 120 races as a crew chief in the Cup Series, including full seasons in 2011-12 with Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet. He guided Busch to a third place June 24, 2012 at Sonoma Raceway, marking Harrison’s best finish as a Cup crew chief.

Harrison also won three times in the Xfinity Series with Austin Dillon and once with Paul Menard. He also won with Dillon in the Aug. 2, 2014 truck race at Pocono Raceway, one of three truck races for Harrison as a crew chief.

During a career with several teams including Phoenix, Richard Childress Racing and Kaulig, Harrison worked with more than a dozen Cup and Xfinity drivers. The roster included Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Boris Said, A.J. Allmendinger, Micahel McDowell, Regan Smith, Ryan Truex, Landon Cassill, Jamie McMurray, Ty Dillon, Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones, Ben Kennedy and Brendan Gaughan.