Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

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While NASCAR celebrates Michael Jordan’s entry as a Cup owner, his arrival comes at the expense of another team.

Jordan and Denny Hamlin purchased Germain Racing’s charter, marking the end of that single-car team when the season concludes Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

Seven races remain for Germain Racing, Ty Dillon and the team’s 40-plus employees before they scatter, some within the sport and others elsewhere. The team races for the first time since the announcement Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN). 

“It’s not been real easy the last couple of weeks,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

He has been Germain Racing’s driver the past four seasons. The team, which won Truck titles in 2006 and 2010 with Todd Bodine, has competed in Cup since 2009. Germain Racing’s best Cup finish is fourth, accomplished by both Dillon and Casey Mears.

The team’s future soured when GEICO determined it would not return after this season. Without sponsorship money and with multiple groups interested in the team’s charter, a sale became the best route for owner Bob Germain. Hamlin and Jordan quickly put together an effort to buy the charter and made headlines with their deal.

With lives upturned by the novel coronavirus, Germain Racing employees now seek work in a pandemic. It adds stress to a 2020 that has tested so many.

“We all in life go through things,” Dillon said. “Life is … never going to be easy or perfect. For me, this has definitely been an extremely stressful time with all the things, the virus that is going on, our team announces that we’re selling and is sold now with seven races to go, and you still have people that you care about that you want to see get opportunities.

“Everyone is trying to keep a good attitude. It’s a very tough situation. Then I have a little girl (who turns 3 in November) and my wife is pregnant and we’re going to have our son in November. You have your virus concerns and also wanting to make sure your daughter is raised and still be able to get out and do things a 2 1/2-year-old should be able to do. That is what is most important to me over all things, spending time with her.

“Then you have in the back of your mind you want to provide for your family. I’m 28 years old and just getting started. … Also, I’ve been (racing) since I was 13, I’ve put a lot of effort and time in it myself. I feel like I still haven’t gotten to prove what I’m fully capable of yet. That’s always in the back of my mind. So it’s been extremely stressful.”

Dillon said he’s relied on his faith to navigate these challenges.

“I believe that God is with me in this process, no matter how much I don’t understand,” he said. “He’s on the other side. He’s going to put me in a place that is going to allow me to do the most for his kingdom, and he’s going to bring me the most joy at the end of wherever I’m going here.

“Knowing that is my teeth in this bit of a storm. It’s definitely not an easy season, and I’m immature in the fact that I want to know what is going to happen.”

Dillon, who finished a season-best 10th at Las Vegas in February, said he’s put together sponsorship for 2021. He is among a number of drivers who have not announced rides for next year. That list includes Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley, among others. 

Dillon told NBC Sports that “this week and next week are going to be really crucial weeks in figuring out what the next step is. There’s an array of things that can happen and I’m not sure which one is going to happen.”

2. Staying Power

While Michael Jordan has made news for coming to NASCAR, the key is how long he stays as an owner.

The sport is filled with former athletes and celebrities who have come and gone in ownership roles through the years.

While many in the sport hope Jordan can help attract more fans and businesses, he needs to remain in the sport to help achieve some of those goals.

Denny Hamlin, who is partnering with Jordan on the new team with Bubba Wallace as driver, told NBC Sports and Fox in an exclusive interview this week that he is confident he can create a program with staying power.

“He has me to help him with the day-to-day stuff,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Obviously, I’ve got a day job, racing a car and that’s what I’m going to continue to do for years and years with my FedEx team, but I know enough about this sport that I can help guide this ownership team in the right direction.”

The team is expected to align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Another key will be the personnel hired to run the team with Hamlin racing and Jordan busy as owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and his other business ventures.

“I think we’re going to have the ability by starting a team from scratch essentially of hiring the best people available at every position,” Hamlin said. “Believe me, since this became public knowledge, we’ve already started those conversations.

“We’re going to give Bubba the best possibility or chance to win in Year 1. I believe that he can win in the first year, but I’m also not naive to think this is an easy business either. It’s hard to win.

“Two years ago, I didn’t win a race. I’ve got 12 years experience and I’m with the best team. My teammate, Kyle Busch, is one of the best, and hasn’t won yet in 2020. It’s not easy. It’s going to be difficult, but I have very good faith that Bubba is going to have everything that he needs to be capable of winning.”

If so, that should keep Jordan in the sport for a long time.

3. TikTok the timing was right

For all the time Ryan Vargas spent searching for sponsorship, networking in the NASCAR garage and looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series, he could have not imagined how he landed a deal with this year’s hottest social media property.

Credit goes to Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas who designs paint schemes for some NASCAR teams.

Pistana created a TikTok car for Vargas because Vargas uses the social app so much. Pistana posted his concept scheme for Vargas on social media in July.

TikTok soon saw the image and talks began.

TikTok
Ryan Vargas’ TikTok car for JD Motorsports mirrors the design Vargas’ friend, Ryan Pistana, created in July and posted on social media. (Photo: JD Motorsports)

“They loved the scheme, they loved the sport,” Vargas told NBC Sports. “They’re very enthusiastic about jumping in.”

TikTok also had a good representative in Vargas, who has more than 40,000 followers and nearly 600,000 likes. Vargas’ TikTok videos are a mix of fun, behind the scenes images and inspiration.

Within about two months, TikTok completed a six-race deal with Vargas and JD Motorsports that will begin next week at Talladega Superspeedway. The agreement allows Vargas to run the rest of the season.

Those six races equal the number of races Vargas has run in the series since last year. He ran three races last year and three this season.

When he hasn’t been racing, he’s often been on the road crew for JD Motorsports. In the last month, Vargas was a mechanic for BJ McLeod’s car at Richmond and Daytona, drove for the team at Darlington (finishing 25th) and was a mechanic for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car at Dover.

“I learn just by doing that,” Vargas said of his role as mechanic at the track. “So when I hop into the car, I know what I want changed.”

It’s a great learning experience but drivers want to drive and Vargas is no different.

“I would be lying to you if I said that didn’t kind of sting sometimes, your friends are out there racing and doing what they want,” he said. “I’ve experienced what it’s like to have pretty much everything fall apart. I was very close to being completely done racing at the end of 2018, so I know what it’s like to sit out and not be in the car.”

Vargas credits a meeting with Mike Davis, director of brand strategy for JR Motorsports and co-host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download, with helping him push through after the 2018 season.

“His piece of advice to me, be present, have your gear and never stop working,” Vargas said of what Davis told him in their meeting.

Vargas has kept following his dream. Now he has a ride for six races thanks to social media.

4. A fan’s last ride

For nearly 20 years, Kenneth Chase took grandson Brendon Harmon to NASCAR races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

They’d travel from Chase’s home in Sebago, Maine and camp with friends and family. Sometimes the group was so large, they’d need a second camper to accommodate everyone.

The trips started when Harmon was about 5 years old. They continued when Chase, known as Pa to his grandchildren, was found to have prostrate cancer.

Kenneth Chase with grandson Brendon Harmon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014. (Photo: Brendon Harmon)

As his grandfather went through treatments in 2012, Harmon decided he wanted to take him to the Daytona 500.

Harmon worked two jobs and saved more than $3,000 so he could take his grandparents and mom to the 2013 Daytona 500. He paid for the plane tickets, race tickets and hotel.

Chase later got colon cancer. Doctors removed the tumor. The cancer returned. They did another surgery. The cancer came back and spread.

Chase died Aug. 25. He would have been 77 years old Saturday.

“He’s what I aspire to be some day,” Harmon said of Chase. “I really hope my future grandkids think of me the way I think of him.”

Harmon has found a way to honor his grandfather. The NASCAR Foundation and Martin Truex Jr. Foundation partnered for the Nominate a Cancer Hero program. The program auctions off space on a NASCAR Truck or car to put a person’s name for this weekend’s Las Vegas races. More than 40 drivers are participating. The program raised about $100,000.

Harmon found out about the auction shortly before it closed. He didn’t have enough money to provide a winning bid but asked friends for help and they rallied to provide the winning bid of about $2,800 to have Chase’s name on Alex Bowman’s car Sunday at Las Vegas.

Chase was a Dale Earnhardt fan. He switched to Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson after Earnhardt’s death. Chase remained a Hendrick fan after that, so putting his name on a Hendrick car was perfect for Harmon.

“He gets to go fast one more time,” Harmon told NBC Sports. “He gets to feel the race car one more time and hear the race car one more time.”

Harmon will gather with family Sunday and have a cookout at his house, serving deer steak and chicken on the grill. He’ll also have ice cream. Chase would eat ice cream, often chocolate, as he watched the races on TV.

Watching Sunday’s race on NBCSN and knowing his grandfather’s name will be on Bowman’s car will be special for Harmon.

“It’s going to kind of be a mixture of tears with joy,” he said.

5. Learn by example

The Xfinity playoffs begin Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

While Chase Briscoe enters after his seventh win of the season, leading regular-season champ Austin Cindric by two victories, rookie Harrison Burton looks to take the lessons he’s learned this season and turn them into a title run.

Burton told NBC Sports that one of the areas he’s improved most this season is “using my head and thinking about things.”

He notes his third-place finish at Kansas Speedway was a turning point.

“I think Kansas was probably one of the most fun races I ever lost,” he said. “I was really thinking, how can I beat Austin (Cindric, who finished second to Brandon Jones)? What can I show him to make him do something that I want him to do? (It’s) things I listen to Denny Hamlin talk about and say on his radio. Using the mental side of the game to their advantage. That has been really fun to go to the places where that is a big deal and try to make the most of it.”

The key, Burton said, is having a car that will allow a driver to think as they’re hitting their marks in each corner.

“When that becomes muscle memory, that’s when you free up your brain and you’re able to strategize in your head,” he said. “You’re able to show people lines that you know are going to hurt their tires but it’s fast. Then you run them down on a long run because they have been doing that.”

Who has taught Burton a memorable lesson in such a situation?

“Briscoe does a good job of that, of showing you a different lane and catching you with a different lane and then he has the ability to pass you in a completely different (lane),” Burton said.

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Chase Briscoe wins Sunday Xfinity race at Dover

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Chase Briscoe took a backup car from the rear of the field to the win in Sunday’s Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway.

The win is Briscoe’s sixth of the year, breaking his tie with Austin Cindric for most victories this year.

“Awesome car,” Briscoe said on the radio to his team after the race. “Way to work.”

MORE: Race results

Briscoe had to go to a backup car after he spun and hit the inside wall in Saturday’s race.

He remained confident about Sunday’s race, telling his wife that he would win.

“We haven’t won in a month and a half but it feels like five years,” Briscoe told NBCSN. “We’re kind of back where I feel we were at the beginning of the year. Truthfully, I feel like today was the most dominant car we’ve had all year long.”

Ross Chastain, who earned his first stage win and first playoff point of the season, placed second. Cindric finished third and was followed by Brandon Jones and Daniel Hemric.

Justin Allgaier, who won Saturday’s race at Dover, finished seventh

STAGE 1 WINNER: Ross Chastain

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain remains winless but scored his first playoff point with the stage victory on the way to finishing second. … Daniel Hemric’s fifth-place finish was his best result he finished fourth at Atlanta. … Brett Moffitt‘s 10th-place finish was his best result since placing 10th at Kentucky.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Vinnie Miller finished last after contact with Jeffrey Earnhardt and hit the wall, ending his race after 11 laps. … Harrison Burton finished 11th after two penalties. He was penalized for a choose rule violation and for a commitment line violation.

NOTABLE: Austin Cindric’s third-place finish snapped his streak of seven consecutive top-two finishes. That was the third longest streak in Xfinity history behind Sam Ard’s streak of eight such consecutive finishes and Kyle Busch‘s streak of nine such races.

NEXT: The series races at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 28 at Daytona on NBCSN

Sunday’s Xfinity race at Dover: Start time, TV channel, forecast

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After Justin Allgaier dominated in his Xfinity Series win Saturday, he and the rest of his competitors get another shot at the “Monster Mile” with Sunday’s Xfinity race at Dover.

The top-15 finishers from Saturday’s race have been inverted. Brett Moffitt will start first and Brandon Brown starts second.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Xfinity race at Dover:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Colonel Matt Jones, Commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base will give the command to start engines at 1:05 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1:15 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7 a.m. Drivers report to their cars at 12:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 12:56 p.m. by Anthony Giamello, Delaware National Guard’s 166th Airlift Wing Chaplain. The national anthem will be performed by Specialist Gabrielle Chuke, Delaware National Guard’s 287th Army Band at 12:57 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (200 miles) around the 1-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 20

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race at 1 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 12:30 and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the link.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for isolated thunderstorms, a high of 84 degrees and a 32% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Justin Allgaier beat Austin Cindric to win Saturday’s race.

TO THE REAR: Chase Briscoe (backup car), Daniel Hemric (driver change), Alex Labbe (unapproved adjustments), Vinnie Miller (unapproved adjustments), Jeffrey Earnhardt (unapproved adjustments)

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Cole Custer earns first career Cup win Sunday at Kentucky

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NASCAR Cup rookie Cole Custer roared from sixth place on the final restart with two laps to go to earn his first career Cup win Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Custer went to the outside coming to the white flag lap to get around Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, as well as Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney, and sailed to the checkered flag.

“I’m surprised, yes,” Custer said after the race. “We’ve done a better job putting things together. It was just putting the whole picture together. But I think we’re now at the point where we can race with these guys and go to the front.”

MORE: Click here for results and standings

He then added with a chuckle, “I started yelling (coming to the white flag and taking the lead) but I didn’t want to jinx it.”

Custer becomes the first Cup rookie of the year contender to win a race since Chris Buescher did so in a rain-shortened event at Pocono Raceway in 2016. Justin Haley scored his first career Cup win last year at Daytona but was not running for rookie of the year honors.

The California native came into Sunday’s race 25th in the Cup standings, the lowest ranked of the five full-time Cup rookies. He’s the first Cup rookie this season to be locked into the playoffs.

“We were so good, our car was so good,” Custer told FS1. “That was the best car I’ve ever driven in my life. Unbelievable car. It definitely was not the start of the year we wanted, we were off in some places.”

But Custer has scored his two best finishes of his Cup career in the last eight days. He was fifth at Indianapolis last Sunday and followed that up with Sunday’s win, which also earns him a berth in Wednesday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Everything lined up perfectly for us, we had our shot and took advantage of it,” Custer’s crew chief, Mike Shiplett, said after the race. “We put it all together today and gave it our best shot.”

Not only was it Custer’s first Cup win, it also was Shiplett’s first Cup win as a crew chief, having done so previously in both the Xfinity and Truck Series.

Truex finished second followed by Matt DiBenedetto, Harvick and Kurt Busch.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Aric Almirola (second stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski (fourth stage win of season)

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Third-place finisher Matt DiBenedetto earned his second-best showing of the season (was second earlier this year in Las Vegas). Much like Custer, DiBenedetto roared through the pack on the last lap and got past Harvick and almost caught Truex.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Jimmie Johnson tried to block Brad Keselowski on a restart with 19 laps left and Keselowski spun Johnson out of the way. Johnson finished 19th. After the race, Keselowski said of the incident: “They launched together, the inside lane Blaney and Jimmie, and they stretched and then they started to slow down and as they slowed down I just had a huge run and I made a move to the inside. I was turning down towards the grass. I might have had a foot or two, but I couldn’t go much lower, and I don’t know if he was trying to turn down to block me or if he was trying to turn down to get underneath Blaney, but he turned down and I was too far forward. There was kind of unavoidable contact at that time. I don’t know. I hate that it ruined his day. I don’t really necessarily know what to do different.”

NOTABLE: FS1 reported before the race that Zach Price, Ryan Blaney’s tire changer, suffered a fractured leg after being struck by a car on pit road last weekend at indy. Price will be sidelined indefinitely but will not require surgery, FS1 reported.

WHAT’S NEXT: NASCAR All-Star Race, Wednesday, July 15, 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1), at Bristol Motor Speedway. Will be preceded by the All-Star Open at 7 p.m. ET (FS1). The next points race is Sunday, July 19, at Texas Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN).

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Monday’s Xfinity race at Charlotte: Start time, lineup and more

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The Xfinity Series runs its second race in less than a week with tonight’s Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Ross Chastain will start on the pole after the random draw. Brandon Jones will be beside him on the front row. Chase Briscoe, who won last weekend at Darlington, starts eighth. Kyle Busch starts 18th.

Here are the details for the race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Louis “Chad” McKee, director of materials and environmental services at St. Luke’s Hospital in Columbus, NC., will give the command to start engines at 7:41 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:53 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at noon (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 5:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:33 p.m. by Major General Chuck Swannack, U.S. Army (Ret.) and Vice President, Armed Forces Affairs, Speedway Motorsports. The National Anthem will be performed at 7:34 p.m. by Blue Star and Gold Star Mother, Mrs. Cathy Mullins.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

PACE LAP:  At the direction of race control, drivers will have the opportunity to run one pace lap down pit road before the green flag for a pit road speed check. If a driver stops in the pit box for any reason, pulls over or slow down, they will start at the rear of the field.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 20

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s coverage will begin at 7 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for cloudy conditions with a high of 74 degrees and 10% chance of rain at the race’s start.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe held off Kyle Busch’s challenge in the final laps to score an emotional win at Darlington.

LAST OVAL RACE AT CHARLOTTE: Tyler Reddick led 110 of 200 laps to win last May. Justin Allgaier was second. Jeffrey Earnhardt was third.

LINEUP (set by rule book and random draw):  Click here for Charlotte Xfinity starting lineup