Friday 5: Recent winners share long journey to Victory Lane

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Recent races reaffirm Ross Chastain’s message to young drivers.

“I still tell people to chase it,” he said of going after their dreams of competing at racing’s highest levels.

Chastain is among three drivers who overcame long odds early in their careers to win NASCAR races within the last month. Coincidence? Sure, but it also shows how perseverance can be rewarded.

Chastain, who has driven for low-budget teams and saw a full-time Xfinity ride go away in the offseason because of a sponsor’s legal issues, won last weekend’s Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway and won a Gander Outdoors Truck Series race last month at Gateway.

Brett Moffitt, the reigning Truck champion whose career early was plagued by lack of funds, won last month at Chicagoland Speedway.

Alex Bowman, who once found out he had lost a Cup ride on Twitter and spent time as a sim driver for Hendrick Motorsports, scored his first Cup victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

“All of us … have been in bad situations in their career,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “Some people, they get that good opportunity, and when that falls through, they just don’t have the willpower to fight back and do what you have to do to survive. It sucks, I’ll admit it.

“I’ve been in really bad equipment at times and it’s really frustrating and you find yourself asking why you’re doing this, and you just keep working away and hoping the right opportunity comes back.

“I think that’s what you’ve seen between Alex, Ross and myself. We’ve all paid our dues and done the bad stuff. Fortunately, we all find ourselves in a good position now.”

Chastain admits there is no guarantee that someone can climb the ranks that he, Moffitt and Bowman have, but the odds are worse if one doesn’t try.

“It might be six months, it might be six years, it might never happen,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s the same way if you graduate college today and you try to go get a job. You’re not guaranteed to go find a job, not the one you want. So you might have to take a start-and-park job.”

Chastain had to start and park in the Truck Series, but he doesn’t regret it.

“You run 10 laps all weekend, but … you have a whole year to think about the track,” he said. “I see so much value in track time and laps on track.”

Moffitt was without a ride in 2017 when Red Horse Racing shut down after the fifth race of the Truck season. He later ran seven races for BK Racing in Cup.

“You’re just doing it for money,” Moffitt said of taking a ride with the low-budget Cup team that went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy before being sold during the 2018 season. “I did it at the end of ’17 after Red Horse shut down and I went and raced for BK Racing simply to pay bills. You’ve got to do what you’ve go to do to pay rent and to keep yourself relevant in the sport. It kept me going through the offseason and fortunately I landed the job at Hattori (Racing) the following year.”

That led to the Truck Series title.

It’s a crown he looks to defend with GMS Racing. One of his main challengers will be Chastain, who is with Niece Motorsports.

Chastain admits Bowman provides a lesson even for him.

“Something like Alex, I’d always heard him for years say Mr. (Rick) Hendrick is not going to call me, but (Hendrick) did,” Chastain said. “I think the same thing. Chip Ganassi is not going to ask to be in his Cup car. The Xfinity car, yeah, but that was a whole different situation. He’s never going to ask me to be in his Cup car, but I’ve got to keep trying. I’ll be there if they ever need me.

“Running this truck race and the Cup race Saturday night and running in the 30s will help me if that day ever comes. If not, I got to run a freaking Cup race and I got to come here with the opportunity to win in the Trucks.”

Chastain also has a sense of perspective when he looks at where he’s come.

“Go back one year and look at all that has happened,” he said, standing on pit road at Kentucky Speedway. “One year ago … I was just racing and having fun.”

Now he’s having more fun winning. Just like Moffitt and Bowman.

2. Lightning strikes at Daytona

More than 40 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were recorded within an 8-mile radius of Daytona International Speedway during a two-hour period Sunday, according to data from Earth Networks and the company’s Total Lightning Network.

The lightning strikes were recorded from just before NASCAR stopped last weekend’s Cup race to shortly before series officials declared the race finished.

NASCAR’s policy is to stop all activity at a track for any lightning within an 8-mile radius of the facility.

Randy Smith, Homeland Security Specialist for Earth Networks, told NBC Sports that the first lightning strike within an 8-mile radius of Daytona International Speedway was recorded at 3:12 p.m. ET. That strike was located about 6.3 miles east of the track in the Ormond Beach area.

Cars were called to pit road soon after and the race was stopped at 3:18 p.m. ET, according to NASCAR.

There were nearly 30 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes from 3:12 – 3:45 p.m. ET Smith said, according to data from Earth Networks’ Total Lightning Network.

The network recorded no cloud-to-ground lightning strikes from 3:46 – 4:23 p.m. Drivers were back in their cars and close to restarting their engines when another lightning strike hit within the 8-mile radius.

Smith said data showed there was a lightning strike 6.7 miles south of the track at 4:23 p.m. About 10 lightning strikes within the 8-mile radius soon followed. Rain later followed.

NASCAR receives direct notifications from The Weather Company in Atlanta throughout a race weekend. There is a dedicated senior meteorologist at The Weather Company who is on call throughout the weekend with NASCAR. NASCAR also is in contact with representatives from law enforcement, medical support and other local, state and federal agencies monitoring weather conditions.

3. New Daytona class

This season’s Daytona points races saw a unique winning class.

Three of the five points race winners at Daytona International Speedway this year scored their first series win: Austin Hill in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Michael Annett in the February Xfinity race, and Justin Haley in the July Cup race.

Ross Chastain won the July Xfinity race, giving him his second career series victory. The outlier this year was Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, who scored his 32nd career win with that victory.

Since 2017, five of the 15 points race winners at Daytona scored their first series win. Joining Hill, Annett and Haley on that list are Erik Jones (2018 July Cup race) and Kaz Grala (2017 Truck race).

Since 2017, 11 of the 15 points race winners at Daytona scored either their first or second series win with the victory. Those that scored their second career series win at Daytona were: Chastain, Tyler Reddick (2018 February Xfinity race), Austin Dillon (2018 Daytona 500), Ryan Reed (2017 February Xfinity race), William Byron (2017 July Xfinity race) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017 July Cup race).

4. Deal or no deal?

Justin Haley said he’s received offers for additional Cup races since he won last weekend’s rain-shortened race at Daytona International Speedway.

But Haley has said no deal to all of them. He’s not scheduled to run another Cup race this year and that’s fine with him.

“I’m so focused on the Xfinity stuff, and I really don’t like jumping out and doing a lot of extra races,” he said. “I just like to focus where my job is at.”

But what about the extra track time he could get?

“In my deal, I think the only place I can be super competitive (with Spire Motorsports) are the super speedways because of the 10-inch spoiler,” he said. “I think we saw at Talladega I was very competitive and I wrecked the race car that was our backup car that we took to Daytona. It was just as fast. I could have went up there and raced. I could have competed in the top 10 all day, but they were three wide and I didn’t want to put myself in that position because I already wrecked one of their car cars.

“It was so hard to keep in the back because I definitely could have went up there and raced. Everyone was like a back marker won … it was a personal and team decision to run in the back because we knew there would be a big one. I think taking that car to a mile and a-half probably wouldn’t be helpful for me. And those cars are so much easier to drive than Xfinity cars with the downforce and everything, you’re pretty much wide open. The Xfinity cars are the hardest cars to drive right now.”

The deal Haley wants is on the winning car. He wants to buy it but the team has such few cars it’s not willing to part with the car at this time.

“I’m in talks to get it,” Haley said. “It’s my first win car. I don’t care what it takes. I’ll probably end up with it somehow, if I have to buy another car (for the team) or whatnot.

Once Haley gets the car, where will he put it?

“I’d probably knock a wall down,” he said, “and put it in my living room.”

5. How times change

This weekend marks the ninth year Cup has raced at Kentucky Speedway but only about a third of the drivers who competed in that inaugural Cup race in 2011 are still in the series.

Twenty-nine of the 43 starts are no longer competing in Cup. That includes drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and David Reutimann, who finished second in that race to Kyle Busch.

The 14 drivers who ran in that race and remain in the series are Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Landon Cassill, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell.

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Northwest racer Brittney Zamora progressing in K&N West competition

Photo by Nigel Kinrade Photography/NASCAR
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Stock-car racing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about the Pacific Northwest, but make no mistake, despite being the only region in the continental United States without a NASCAR national series race, the Northwest has produced plenty of talented drivers who achieved success in NASCAR’s highest levels.

Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Mike Bliss and Derrike Cope are all drivers who once called the Northwest home, and Kennewick, Washington’s Brittney Zamora hopes to become the next Northwest racer to become a NASCAR star.

At age 20, Zamora may be a NASCAR K&N West Series rookie, but she enters the series with an impressive racing resume.

Born into a racing family, Zamora began racing karts at age four. She went on to race in the Northwest Super Late Model Series, where she would win Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, and won championships in 2017 and 2018.

Zamora’s success in late models led to the opportunity to drive the No. 99 ENOS/NAPA Filters Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing this season in the West Series, as well as on part-time basis in the East Series. Through seven K&N West Series events, Zamora has four top fives, five top 10s, 26 laps led and one pole.

“It’s been a pretty good start,” Zamora told NBC Sports. “A lot of people have expectations for me to go out there, but my expectations for myself are a little higher. I’m disappointed that we haven’t gotten that win yet.”

Regardless, Zamora believes she’s on the right track. When asked what grade she would give her performance this year, Zamora gave herself “a B+ or an A-.

“For our first year in the series, and with the competition out here, we’ve done really well progressing and achieving our goals,” Zamora said. “We’ve already met a lot of our goals and we’re only halfway through the season. As long as we can keep improving and keep setting those goals and reaching for them, (we’ll be fine).”

Zamora insists she would have never made it into the sport without the help of her racing hero.

“A lot of drivers get asked ‘who’s your biggest idol in racing?’ and they’ll say A.J. Foyt, Dale Earnhardt, one of the guys in the Cup Series or someone like that. Mine would have to be my dad,” Zamora said.

“He is who got me into racing. I went to the racetrack when I was four days old to go watch him with my family. It’s been my whole life. Growing up and seeing him win championships racing super late models, I wanted to follow in his footsteps, and not only have I done that but I went beyond that with his help and support. I wouldn’t be here today without him.”

Brittney’s father, Mike Zamora, raced across the Northwest for more than 20 years. Once it was time for Brittney to move up to those cars, Mike gave up his seat and began serving as her crew chief.

In the K&N West competition, however, Mike finds himself watching his daughter race from a distance. He and Brittney still find plenty of time to talk to each other during race weekends, and Mike offers his daughter advice when she asks for it, but he doesn’t get to be as hands-on with her K&N car as he is in late models.

“I don’t mind it at all, but it was kind of hard to take a step back because with our racing, I’m so involved,” Mike said.

“I’m the crew chief. We’re building the cars ourselves in our garage. With Bill McAnally Racing, they have guys that this is what they’re doing for a living and they’re better at this than I am. It’s hard to just sit back and watch, but I know that she’s in good hands.”

Though it is too early to predict how her racing career will turn out, she is on the right track to hone her racing skills.

“I’ve thought about this my whole life because I want racing to be my career,” Zamora said. “I don’t want a normal job. I want to be in a race car. Holding a steering wheel is my profession.”

“The Cup Series would be great. It’s the highest level of stock car racing there is, but honestly if I could make a career out of racing ARCA, Trucks, or Xfinity, I would be happy. As long as I’m in a race car competing every weekend, that would be nice.”

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano tie for No. 1

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This week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings not only feature two ties, but also two unique additions.

First, Kyle Busch and Michigan winner Joey Logano are tied for first place. There’s also a tie for sixth place between Chase Elliott and Xfinity Series points leader Tyler Reddick.

But perhaps the two biggest surprise names in this week’s rankings are one from NASCAR’s past and the other from NASCAR’s future:

* Greg Biffle, who made his first race start in 2 ½ years, went on to win last Friday’s Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, earning him enough points to take No. 8 in this week’s rankings.

* Conversely, K&N Series driver Hailie Deegan, also got one vote in this week’s rankings for her bump-and-run win last Saturday at Colorado National Speedway.

Dropping out of this week’s rankings are Kevin Harvick, as well as Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, William Byron and Denny Hamlin.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings shape up:

(tie) 1. Kyle Busch (38 points): Still the driver the rest are measured against. Last week: 1st.

(tie) 1. Joey Logano (38 points): Five top fives (and a win) in his last eight races is building Logano’s case to be sole No.1. Last week: 4th.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (32 points): Hit or miss in his last seven races. Has three wins and a third-place finish but also has three finishes of 19th or worse. Last week: tied for 8th.

4. Brad Keselowski (23 points): Three finishes of sixth or better, including a victory, in the last four races. Last week: 3rd.

5. Kurt Busch (19 points): Michigan runner-up finish was huge. Four finishes of seventh or better in the last eight races. He’s knocking on victory’s door. It will come soon. Last week: Not ranked (was in others receiving votes).

(tie) 6. Chase Elliott (13 points): Saw his streak of five consecutive top-five finishes end at Michigan. Even though he drops in this week’s rankings, still belongs in the top 10. Last week: 2nd.

(tie) 6. Tyler Reddick (13 points): Having an absolutely amazing season. In first 13 races, he has three wins (including Saturday at Michigan), 11 top fives and one other top 10. He has just one finish lower than 10th. Last week: Not ranked (was in others receiving votes).

8. Greg Biffle (12 points): When you win in your first race since 2016, you get into the top 10. Don’t be surprised if The Biff gets a few job offers to make a comeback in either Trucks or Xfinity. Last week: Not ranked.

9. Daniel Suarez (11 points): Has back-to-back top 10 finishes and is having his best season overall. Still, just like the rest of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, he keeps coming up short of victory lane. He needs to steal a win away. Last week: Not ranked (was in others receiving votes).

10. Alex Bowman (8 points): We would think he’d have been ranked higher this week: five top 10s in the last six races (including three runner-up finishes). Last week: Not ranked (was in others receiving votes).

Others Receiving Votes: Ross Chastain (3 points), Kevin Harvick (2 points), Hailie Deegan (1 point).

Greg Biffle ineligible for Triple Truck Challenge bonus at Iowa Speedway

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – NASCAR confirmed Saturday that Texas winner Greg Biffle is ineligible for the Triple Truck Challenge bonus next weekend at Iowa Speedway.

Biffle won Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, the first race in the Triple Truck Challenge that could pay as much as $500,000 for any eligible driver who wins at Texas, Iowa and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

Biffle, making his first Truck start since 2004, led the final 13 laps to win for Kyle Busch Motorsports at Texas and collect a $50,000 bonus for winning that Triple Truck Challenge race.

Biffle’s victory led to talk of if KBM could field him in a fifth truck at Iowa to go after the bonus. KBM has Todd Gilliland, Harrison Burton, Christian Eckes and Riley Herbst for that race.

Biffle is ineligible because the driver and truck must be entered before the deadline, which was June 4 for the Iowa race. Biffle was not entered. His appearance at Texas had been a planned one-race deal only with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Even though he is ineligible for the bonus, Biffle could still enter the race but Kyle Busch indicated Saturday the difficulty in having a fifth team ready in time for the haulers to leave on Tuesday.

Here is the wording from the Iowa entry blank on eligibility for the Triple Truck Challenge.

 

Just like old times: Greg Biffle celebrates first Truck win in 18 years

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Greg Biffle, running in his first Gander Outdoors Truck Series race since 2004, survived a caution-filled event to win Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

Biffle led the final 13 laps in the 167-lap race.

It is Biffle’s 17th Truck win but first series victory since 2001 at what is now ISM Raceway. Biffle, 49, ran Friday’s race for Kyle Busch Motorsports. It is his only scheduled start for the team this year.

“It was not easy,” Biffle said. “I had my work cut out for me. At the beginning of the race, so much odd stuff happened. We ran five laps at a time and then the caution would come out. There was a lot of people wrecking in front of me and behind me. I was just trying to keep the truck clean and stay out of trouble. Then we got four-wide off of turn 2, and I didn’t know you could do that here.

“We beat the fenders in a bit, but the Mobil 1 Toyota ran really good tonight. I want to thank those guys for coming on board and helping us. Kyle Busch assembles a great group of guys. The pit stops were phenomenal. Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) did a great job calling the race from the top of the box. It’s not easy to win these, but I can see how Kyle has done very well.”

The race featured a record 13 cautions. The previous record was 10 on two different occasions.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points report

Friday’s race was the opening round of the Triple Truck Challenge, awarding a $50,000 bonus to Biffle and the team. This is Biffle’s first NASCAR win since a Cup victory at Michigan in June 2013.

Matt Crafton finished second and was followed by Tyler Ankrum, Grant Enfinger and Harrison Burton.

Stage 1 winner: Johnny Sauter

Stage 2 winner: Ben Rhodes

Who had a good race: Rookie Tyler Ankrum finished a career-high third. Grant Enfinger’s fourth-place finish was his sixth consecutive top 10.

Who had a bad race: After winning the first stage, Johnny Sauter hit the wall. Austin Hill drifted up and made contact with Sauter, sending both into the wall early in Stage 2. That ended Sauter’s hopes of a win. Sauter placed 13th. … Todd Gilliland lost control when his Truck broke loose while battling for the lead on a restart in the second stage. He finished 27th.

Notable: Ross Chastain finished 10th and scored 38 points in his first race since declaring points for the Truck Series. He is 35th in the points. Chastain needs to be in the top 20 by the end of the regular season and have a win to be eligible for the playoffs. He is 64 points from 20th in the standings.

Next: June 15 at Iowa Speedway