Standalone events provide an abundance of opportunities for Nationwide Series drivers. Men such as David Gilliland, Trevor Bayne, Jason Keller, Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and other Nationwide Series regulars in the past and present, have been able to lock up race wins during standalone events.
This weekend, the NASCAR Nationwide Series will hit the 7/8-mile track in Newton, Iowa – the Iowa Speedway. Since holding its first Nationwide Series event in 2009, the Iowa Speedway has had five different winners in eight events. Stenhouse Jr. dominated the speedway in 2011 and 2012, winning three straight races. However, there are only two drivers who have won a Nationwide Series race at Iowa that are entered in this weekend’s spectacle. Ryan Blaney and James Buescher also have won Camping World Truck Series events at Iowa, and Chase Elliott scored a K&N Pro Series East victory once at Iowa.
Elliott Sadler, coming off of his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing after joining the organization in 2013, is looking to use his momentum to the No. 11 team’s advantage. Sadler scored a victory at Iowa in 2012, and has been a contender for the win in all six events he has run at the track. He was inside of the top-five in the first two practice sessions to begin the weekend, but was eighth in the third practice and 16th in Saturday’s final practice.
Chase Elliott currently leads the Nationwide Series points standings after nine events. Elliott, 18, participated in his high school graduation ceremony on Saturday morning, causing him to miss final practice. However, he ran a total of 144 laps in the first three practices, and paced two of those three sessions. Elliott’s time of 23.236 seconds during the third practice was the fastest lap recorded throughout the weekend, and might be poised to win his third event of the year.
Brian Scott is still looking for his first career win. With an opportunity weekend, Scott might be able to lock up the victory at Iowa. Scott was quickest in second practice, yet he has finished 6th or worse in seven Iowa starts without any laps led.
Dylan Kwasniewski swapped over to the No. 42 car for Turner Scott Motorsports as Kyle Larson is in Charlotte where he ran the Sprint Showdown on Friday evening. Kwasniewski will be in the car Larson usually pilots during each of the Nationwide Series standalone events. Moreover, Kwasniewski will be paired up with Larson’s crew chief, Scott Zipadelli, rather than his usual crew chief, Pat Tryson. The pair was able to pace final practice with a time of 23.320 seconds. Kwasniewski has just one top-10 finish to start his rookie year in NASCAR’s second-tier division, and a weekend without the Cup Series regulars could lead him to a solid finish.
Sam Hornish Jr. is looking to get his first win for JGR this weekend. Hornish made his debut for the No. 54 team at Talladega, scoring the pole award in his first Nationwide Series race since Homestead at the end of the 2013 season. Hornish has been consistently inside of the top-13 throughout the weekend, and had the fastest 10 consecutive laps average in final practice at 130.371 mph.
Here are some notables for the Get to Know Newton 250 at Iowa:
- Chad Boat returns in his family-owned No. 84 car. Boat was outside of the top-15 in each of the first three practices, but was fifth in final practice.
- AustinTheriault is making his Nationwide Series debut this weekend driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. He was 18th or worse in each of the first three practices, but ended the final session in the third position.
- Ryan Ellis is driving the No. 46 car for The Motorsports Group after running the Camping World Truck Series event for FDNY Racing on Friday evening.
- Matt DiBenedetto, who usually drives the No. 46 car, has moved over to the No. 40 Chevrolet since Josh Wise is in Charlotte after making the Sprint All-Star Race due to winning the fan vote.
- Hal Martin is making his season debut for TriStar Motorsports in the No. 44 car. Martin ran the first 10 races for the team last year, but sat out all but two races after that.
- Caleb Roark is making his Nationwide Series debut for SS Green Light Racing in the No. 55 Chevrolet in conjunction with Viva Motorsports. Roark has five previous starts in the Camping World Truck Series with a best finish of 19th at Martinsville in 2011.
- Ryan Gifford is making his first of two scheduled starts for Biagi-DenBeste Racing. He has been inside of the top-20 in each of the four practice sessions as he prepares to start his second Nationwide Series event.
- Cale Conley returns to the Richard Childress Racing No. 33 Chevrolet for his fourth start of the season. Conley has two top-15 finishes this year, and has had a respectable weekend – running inside of the top-20 in each practice session.
The Get to Know Newton 250 can be seen on ESPN on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Sam Hornish Jr. made a daring move over the off-season. It was a questionable move at first, but so far, it is paying off for the former Indianapolis 500 champion, even though he has only run two races for his new team.
After getting let go from Team Penske coming off of a runner-up finish in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings, Hornish was left searching for a ride. He could have gone full-time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series once again, but he would not have been competitive. Hornish chose to race for Joe Gibbs Racing. However, the deal is just for seven events in the No. 54 Toyota which is usually piloted by Cup Series driver, Kyle Busch.
Hornish had a chance to replace Denny Hamlin at the Auto Club Speedway in March. Although it was at the last minute, Hornish capitalized on the opportunity - racing inside the top-15 during the second half of the race before finishing 17th. Prior to that event, Hornish had not even tested a car with Joe Gibbs Racing, and was not in a racecar since the season finale last year at Homestead.
"I think this is a great starting point with a great sponsor in Monster Energy and being at JGR. I feel like this year is the first time that I have my foot in the door and I will have the opportunity to go out there to race and to be in excellent equipment," Hornish said during the Bristol race weekend.
"This is probably the best opportunity as far as equipment wise that I have ever had on the stock car side. I don’t have any opportunity yet to know how it is all going to turn out, but I am looking forward to it and I think it is going to be good. You never know, but if you look at a lot of the stats from last year, I was second to Kyle in a lot of stats-as far as cars passed a lap after a restart or driver rating wise, laps led, top-three finishes and stuff like that. I feel like it should be a pretty good thing for us to work together. I am excited about it."
On Saturday's running of the Aaron's 312 at Talladega, Hornish finally had his chance to prove he is capable of contending for wins. In his first time racing a Toyota in NASCAR's second-tier division, Hornish won his sixth career Nationwide Series pole award. Even with mediocre results at Talladega in the Cup Series, the Defiance, Ohio native earned a top-five finish. He was able to stay out of trouble, and earned valuable points for the No. 54 car which will help the team contend for the owners title.
While his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Elliott Sadler, won the race - Hornish helped get him there. Sadler fell back late in the race. However, Hornish and he were working together. Hornish was ahead of Sadler, but then Hornish enabled Sadler to squeeze in front of him, and the two lost little to no track position. That bold move enabled the two to work their way back into contention, giving JGR two cars in the top-five even though their teammate, Darrell Wallace Jr., was out of contention due to a wreck.
The move might have been questionable for Hornish. Running full-time might have given him a shot at contending for top-10s on a weekly basis. However, he wants to contend for wins. Hornish did that on Saturday.
He will have six more chances to do so in the No. 54 this year. He will be in the Monster Energy Camry at Iowa in two weeks as well as Road America, Chicagoland, Mid-Ohio and Kentucky. Moreover, the biggest part of Hornish's decision was what can come out of this opportunity if he capitalizes in each event.
"I’d like to go out there, I have seven races on the schedule right now, and I’d like to go win (all) seven races. That is not really what is expected of me. What is expected of me is to maximize the amount of points on the days that we have together. If we have seven second place finishes, I’m sure we would be happy with that too. I just have to be smart about it. I think we’re going to have some good races and be successful. You never know until you go out there and do it. I feel like I have an opportunity here to be really good."
Dylan Kwasniewski is different. He is vibrant. He is courageous. He has gone through things that no teenager has gone through. However, he is still young, and the best has yet to come.
At 18-years-old, Kwasniewski is struggling in NASCAR’s second-tier division. Not too many young drivers admit when they make mistakes, yet something is different about Kwasniewski that sets him aside from his peers.
Besides taking the risk of a lifetime by advancing to the NASCAR Nationwide Series instead of racing in the K&N Pro Series East for another season, Kwasniewski made the daring move from Las Vegas to Charlotte, N.C. It is not too rare for an 18-year-old to move out of his house, but Kwasniewski is doing things a little bit different than most kids that opt to go to college or the military.
“It has been tough, and I am still not completely used to it by any means. It is what you have to do. You have to get used to it. This is where the center of racing is. This is where my team is at. This is where everyone in NASCAR is at. It has been tough, and it is definitely different. But I have to get used to it, and I do like it. It is a long process to get acclimated to everything,” Kwasniewski said in an over-the-phone interview.
When he made the move, Kwasniewski became friends with some of his peers such as Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney and his teammate, Kyle Larson. Living in the same apartment complex has certainly helped the three drivers. Not only have they helped each other adjust to life off of the track, but they give one another advice about their on track life.
It is a long, grueling journey to race to the top in NASCAR. Kwasniewski is set out to do it. He is just fortunate to be in the situation he is in right now. If it were not for his sponsor, Rockstar Energy, Kwasniewski would likely still be in the lower divisions in the sport. Last summer, during his feature “Flat Out” on AOL, Kwasniewski was seen having numerous meetings with the energy drink company while finishing up his senior year in high school – hoping they would sign on for a Camping World Truck Series or Nationwide Series slate in 2014. Ultimately, they chose the Nationwide Series after extensive negotiations with the team.
“It showed not only the NASCAR world, but the rest of the world what it is like to move up through the ranks as a young driver. It was more public spotlight and exposure. It was just great overall.”
In that show, Kwasniewski’s immature side was shown. However, since then, he has grown up plenty. However, this show helped him get noticed. It was the setting stone for him to have more meetings with Rockstar, Turner Scott Motorsports and he.
After his first eight races, Kwasniewski has recorded just one top-10 finish (Daytona). He has shown he has a habit of trying too hard. At his home track in Las Vegas, he not only wrecked in qualifying – forcing his team to go to a backup car, but he also wrecked in the race. However, amidst the struggles comes hope for Kwasniewski.
“Well, I think the biggest thing is off track stuff. Once we do get to the race track, and we do get adapted to the tracks, we do alright. I have put myself in some pretty bad spots. I haven’t been as patient as I need to be. I haven’t had the mentality that I had over the last two years with my success in the K&N Series. I just get a little too far over my head. I feel like I need to be outperforming what is expected of me,” Kwasniewski admitted as he elaborated on his struggles.
“When I go out there and don’t get the finishes that I like to, and I really do get frustrated with the car or how our day is going – I put myself in a bad spot and I don’t have the collectiveness to calm myself and make sure I just slow down a little bit. As I see that and see that I need to calm down on the track as well as off the track too, I just need to keep preparing myself for these tracks that I have never been to. I have to do everything I can to try to put myself in a good spot, so when I actually do get onto it (not overdriving), I will be able to learn the nuances of the track.”
As a contender for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, Kwasniewski is set out to have a tenacious battle with point’s leader, Chase Elliott, along with fellow rookies, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher as it stands after eight contests. If he wants to contend for this prestigious award, he will have to start improving, and fast.
Working with veteran crew chief, Pat Tryson, appears to be helping Kwasniewski. But even that might not be enough to solve a young driver’s overeager driving style. Moreover, Kwasniewski has begun to himself for the team’s struggles – something that he understands won’t help the situation.
“Obviously, for any crew chief, it is going to be tough to try to understand everything we need to try to get that communication better and start making good changes so that we can be in that good place that we need for the car. Like I said, we have been struggling a little bit in every aspect of it, but I think me and Pat have been working well. The crew guys have been making an awesome effort like they need to be. There is not a lack of dedication or a lack of hard work. Our team is working really hard to make sure that these cars are good. I just need to do my part to prove to them that we are working hard for a reason. We can go out there and win races,” said Kwasniewski about working with his new crew chief.
The hardest part about adjusting to the hectic Nationwide Series schedule for Kwasniewski has been going to new tracks. He is used to racing at short tracks. He grew up racing on short tracks – racing go-carts in Connecticut as well as Phoenix, and then Bandolero’s in the midst of Sin City. When he started dominating the K&N Pro Series West and East, Kwasniewski was only able to race on a handful of tracks which NASCAR’s top ranks compete within.
Not going to the tracks has put him behind. Sure, he has Tryson’s experience, but that is all. Kwasniewski has been smart, however, as he goes to his Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, arson, for advice. Larson, 21, is competing for the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year award, and just won that accolade last season in the Nationwide Series. However, even though he is doing well, there is not much in Larson’s arsenal to help Kwasniewski advance his setups since it is his sophomore year in NASCAR’s second-tier division.
“I think that the biggest thing is watching the in-car camera footage and footage of the races, but as well as just talking to every driver that I can from my teammate, Kyle (Larson), and really any driver that is willing to open up and bring me into their bag of tricks. I thing that is really big, watching the in-car camera because you get the lifting points, the braking points and just trying to get into the mode of how you are going to be on the race track. Tracks like Daytona are kind of straight forward because of how they are. But at these other tracks, it is good to get that in your head so you at least have an idea when you get on the race track,” Kwasniewski said as he described his struggles in attempting to learn tracks.
Even with some struggles, Kwasniewski is learning.
His struggles have led for Kwasniewski to become more mature. Entering the season, there was speculation that Kwasniewski was not mature enough for the Nationwide Series because of his different personality. Some even judged him, and still do, because he wears a different type of hat with his sponsor’s logo slammed all over it. But this adversity has made him an even stronger racer.
Recently, Kwasniewski signed a driver-development with one of NASCAR’s larger teams – Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Ganassi already has Larson driving the No. 42 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, but the team is a two-car organization with veteran racer, Jamie McMurray, in the team’s second car. Therefore, there is no need to rush Kwasniewski up to the Cup Series, and that is the least of his concerns – at least for now.
“It is a long process like anything. To do a contract like that takes a lot, but they saw potential in me just like they saw with Kyle Larson, and they are willing to take a risk on young guys. It is great. It is great for the sport. It has proven to other team owners that you can develop a driver, and stick to the roots with the young guys. I need to show the guys over there that it was worth it, and that the potential that they saw will pay off in the long run,” Kwasniewski said.
“It is hard to pinpoint what time you would want to move up to Cup. But it all depends on when I believe I am ready for it, or when Chip Ganassi believe I am ready for it. There is not really a number that you can put on it, but I have to be confident in my own ability that I am ready to move up. It will be at least two to three years, which is for sure. I want to establish myself in this series first before I move up. I definitely don’t want to move up too quick by any means.”
Not only has Kwasniewski been trying to prove he is capable of racing in these larger, more powerful automobiles, but he has been spending time at the shop as well. In this era, it is important for a young driver to show his credibility to an organization, and Kwasniewski is doing just that with CGR and TSM.
“I just get in there and show the guys that I am here for support. I go to the Turner shop and hang out there. I go to (Chip) Ganassi (Racing with Felix Sabates) and talk as much as I can over there. I just need to learn to utilize what I have and what is around me a little more, so we can be more prepared and start doing a little bit better,” Kwasniewski said.
Kwasniewski’s development contract will surely lead him to the Cup Series sooner rather than later. However, he needs to start proving he is mature enough to compete for wins. Wrecking cars and learning is one thing, but doing so while running mid-pack is another thing. When Larson was having a rough start to his Nationwide Series campaign, he was running towards the higher part of the field. However, Kwasniewski has not finished higher than 11th since Daytona, and the struggles don’t seem to be going away after another crash at Richmond.
Moving forward, Kwasniewski has a lot to prove. Not only does he have to keep his emotions together on the track, but he also needs to show he is able to live alone just like his peers in an apartment complex right near the Turner Scott Motorsports shop. Now that he has a development deal with a Cup Series stable, Kwasniewski can focus on his learning curve. He will make mistakes. He is not immortal. However, he is a teenager. He can have fun, but he needs to prove he is going to be a vital force for Chip Ganassi’s team in the years to come.
“I need to prove more of the mentality that I had the last two years. I was in the right state of mind the last two years where I had the right mentality to win two championships. Even though it was in a different series, a less competitive series with a lesser spotlight, but I was very patient. I went through a lot of stuff. A lot of adversity, and I need to take that mentality into this year. I need to be more patient, more forgiving, understand a little bit more about it and stop trying to go out there and trying to get something out of the car that I can’t. I need to be content with where I finish and be happy with it going from a race finish to the next race. I need to improve myself. I need to show them that I can compete with the best of the best with these Sprint Cup Series drivers in the Nationwide Series.”
Chase Elliott, 18, is trying to do something rather rare. Elliott, the son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Bill Elliott, currently holds the drivers points lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In doing so, Elliott has become the youngest driver to lead the points in NASCAR's second tier division.
After not being sure whether or not he would have a job come 2014, Elliott has made the most of his opportunity with JR Motorsports. Through the first seven races, the Georgia native has won back-to-back events. However, he is still in high school. Elliott is set to graduate from his private Christian high school in approximately a month, yet his priorities are straighter than most high school seniors.
Elliott spoke with Speedway Digest for an exclusive interview on Tuesday afternoon about his education, his future in racing with JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports, his early success this season and more.
Q: How do you manage school with your racing career? Has it been overwhelming for you?
A: No, it hasn’t been really overwhelming. There have been years in the past where we have done just as much racing as we are doing right now. I was still in school then too. I have been fortunate to go to a school where they work with me on this, and they allow me to go race. It has been that way for a few years now. At this point in school, there’s not a ton going on right now, so it has been a pretty good balance I feel like.
Q: What was the reaction from everyone that you know when you walked into school following your back-to-back wins over the past few weeks?
A: Honestly, it really hasn’t been any different. I don’t want it to be. I feel like I’m going to school like everybody else is, and there is nothing needed to lose sight of that.
Q: How much time have you been able to spend at the shop since you are always in school?
A: Zero percent as of right now. The (JR Motorsports) shop is located in North Carolina, and I’m located in Georgia, so we’re in two different places right now.
Q: A lot of people have said that once you graduate, you’re going to be even more focused on racing. How much of your concentration on your driving has been lost due to going to school?
A: I don’t know it has been lost honestly. I think going to school is a benefit for me. Hopefully, after school it will improve, so I will be able to put some more focus to racing. But I don’t feel like it has been a hindrance by any means. I think it has been a good balance to this point, and this is a point and time in my life which I don’t want to rush through it. It is a time you don’t get back, and I want to enjoy it while I am still here.
Q: There have been a few other drivers that attempt to race and go to college. Is that something you plan on doing on a part-time basis while having a primary focus on racing?
A: I’m honestly not sure right now. At this point, my focus right now is to finish up (high) school during the week and focusing on racing on the weekends. I’m not sure what the future holds. We will have to see.
Q: With such a hectic schedule, how do you find time to relax?
Yeah, it has been okay. I feel like obviously the weekends are busy, but I have been able to enjoy a little bit of time away from everything which I think in a way is good and bad at the same time. It kind of allows me to be away and enjoy school while it is still here, finish up school strong and try to enjoy my time. Like I said – time is something you don’t get back, and it is what you need to make the most of.
Q: What did you learn in your nine Truck Series starts last year that you have taken over to the Nationwide Series?
A: I think just laps. That was probably the biggest thing I can take from that - going to race tracks that we are going to be visiting here in the next few weeks that we ran last year in the Truck Series. It’s a completely different world from the Truck Series side. But hopefully, we can take a little bit of what we did last year and hopefully go forward to be competitive in Nationwide Series races and be a lot better there.
Q: You’ve been having a lot of early success at tracks which you have never raced at previously. What do you do to prepare to go to all of the different tracks since you can’t test?
A: We actually can’t test at all. Unless it is a test that is NASCAR sanctioned, we are not allowed to go with the team. The best that you can do is watch videos, and just learn from the guys around you. I have some great teammates in Regan (Smith), Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and Kevin (Harvick) as well. Those guys are obviously very, very knowledgeable, and they have shared that with me up to this point. I hope they continue to strive with the great support the guys at the shop give. It is not something I want to pass up.
Q: What has been the biggest key to your early success this year?
A: I think the biggest thing is just having a good group of guys, being paired with the right people and being at a great organization like JR Motorsports. Honestly, I feel like NAPA Auto Parts has given us a great opportunity to do things like they need to be done, and being able to do that at a place like JRM has been as good as it gets. Some folks really stepped up this off-season I felt like, and just from what I see coming from the outside looking in last year, those guys got really close. I think during the off-season, they made a lot of changes – hopefully for the better. It is still really early in the year, so we definitely don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, and be happy with what we have done because there is still a lot of racing left. There is definitely a plus side that you can take from these first seven weeks, but at the same time – there is still racing left. So much improving needs to get done for us to be exactly where we need to be, and compete at the level I feel like we need to be at each weekend. We just need to keep trying to get better, and hopefully we can improve a little bit this weekend at Richmond.
Q: Being the youngest driver to lead the standings in the Nationwide Series, do you feel like you can win the championship as a rookie this year?
A: Leading the points right now is like having the best batting average on opening day, so it is kind of irrelevant at this point in the season. We just need to make sure we keep taking it a week at a time, and not get caught up in that. It is too early for that, and we will focus on it when it comes time (to do so).
Q: A lot of people have discussed drivers rushing up to the Cup Series at a young age. What do you believe you need to prove in order to show that you can race for victories in Cup?
A: Like I said, I’m not in a rush to do it. I feel like I don’t need to be in a rush. I’m 18 and there is no need to do that right now. I have an opportunity right now, and if I can make the most of it now, I feel like the future will figure itself out.
Q: When do you believe you will be ready to race in the Sprint Cup Series?
A: I really don’t know. Like I said, it’s not anything I am concerned with. It is not my call. I am going to go keep doing what we are doing right now and focus on the situation that we are in, and race in the Nationwide Series. It is not something to get caught up in. We just have to focus on what we have going on right now. There is no need to think about it.
Q: How do you feel all of this attention from the media and fans has affected your personality?
A: I just want to be the same person I have always been. I want to focus on winning races. That is what I always tried to do, and I feel like you have to always do that.
Q: What is the biggest difference between working with Greg Ives compared to Lance McGrew?
A: It is tough to say. Both of those guys are great in different areas. I think both guys are really smart. I felt like Lance did a good job, and we had fun working with him, winning some races. I enjoyed that. It was great to work with him, and Lance is still a good friend of mine. I still talk to him a pretty good bit. Working with Greg has been great too. I’m still getting to know Greg. I know him for a few months now, so I feel like we have a lot of growing to do. I feel like we can still improve our communication though and make our relationship better.
Q: Growing up, did you ever imagine that you would be so successful so rapidly?
A: At the end of the season, I was going into a group that won races before, and those guys are capable of doing it. I figured it was up to me to get it done and give feedback to make the cars go faster. I need to try to give good information after the races so we can get better for next week. I feel like if I do my job for those guys, we can get better and win some more races
Q: What do you need to improve upon as a driver?
A: Anything and everything, man. There is always room for improvement in all aspects, and I feel like we need to try to do that each weekend. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend at Richmond.
Q: Do you believe that you are a better racer at the moment over your competitors which are in your age group?
A: No, I don’t think so. We’re all setting out to do the same thing, and their goal is to win the race. Obviously, you hope you do better than the next guy, but I think everybody is on such an even playing field right now with the way racing is, the setups on these cars and the tech process. These cars are very equal. At this point, I feel like everyone is on a leveled playing field, and I think all of those guys are capable of getting the job done at any given point honestly if things go their way. You hope things go your way each weekend, but I feel like all of those guys can definitely get the job done.
Q: What is it like to not only race against some of the Sprint Cup Series stars and work with them, but beating them in a division which they have dominated?
A: I think it has been good to have those guys around for sure. There is a lot that can be learned from them. I hope to continue to race with those guys on a week-to-week basis. I feel like we are capable of doing it. We just need to make sure we keep improving and taking advantage of off-weeks like this past one. It’s great to race those guys, and I hope we can race with them more throughout the year.
Q: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seen with you in victory lane during your two wins. What has he done for you that has helped you become a better racer?
A: He has been a great mentor honestly. Dale has a lot of experience and he is obviously a successful car owner as well as a driver. He has been around. He knows how to make things work. He is one of the best guys this year on the Cup Series side. I feel like having him on our side has been great. Just having his personality is good to have, and I am just glad to have him around.
Q: What advantage do you feel like JR Motorsports has given you that has helped you be such a success early in the season?
A: It is about having good people around you, and I feel like having a good atmosphere is big. They have that over there, and we just can’t be content with where we are. Our competition is always trying to get better, and we just need to make sure we are doing the same.
Q: During the off-season, you originally didn’t have a ride. Then, you signed on with JR Motorsports thanks to NAPA. Discuss how you guys were able to sign NAPA to a contract.
A: It was a little bit of a long process. We went to meet with those guys, and when we came back, they said they wanted to support our program. From there, we moved forward. That is how it really all came about.
Q: How long is your contract for?
A: As of right now, we are planning on running this year and next year in the Nationwide Series. Beyond that, we will see what happens.
Q: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
A: There are a lot of guys. Obviously, my dad has had a major role in it. He has been able to go to a lot of races, and we’ve been able to do a lot of races with him over the past five years, especially in late models. There are a lot of guys other than him that have helped a lot too. We have been fortunate to have some good folks on our side, and we are definitely fortunate to have those guys behind us. It has been fun to go racing with them.
Q: What has it been like to work with Rick Hendrick? How much of an influence has he had on your season so far in helping develop your skills?
A: Well, had it not been for him, we wouldn’t be racing this season. All of these opportunities and everything that I have done this past year has been due to him. I really owe it all to him, and had it not been for him, I wouldn’t be racing this weekend at Richmond. It is all thanks to him and what he has done for us. It means a lot to me.
Q: Does it ever cross your mind that you could possibly be Jeff Gordon’s replacement going down the road?
A: No, not really. I don’t think it is anything to be caught up in. Jeff can still get the job done on any given weekend, and he is a guy that is still in his prime. He is still in his prime in my book. Like I said before about going Cup Series racing – it is not anything to worry about, or even think about at this point.
Q: As a kid, what is one memory from your dad’s career that has stuck with you as motivation to replicate what he did?
A: I remember a little bit of the Brickyard win. That was cool to be a part of and see during the Evernham days. Those guys went out and had a lot of success in a short amount of time, so I think that’s what I look back on. It is definitely cool to have that experience in the house.
Q: What is the hardest part about jumping from division to division as you climbed through the ranks?
Well, it kind of depends on which stuff it is. All of them are tough steps. As you move up and do different things, it definitely doesn’t get any easier. You kind of have to keep that in mind, but you can’t lose track of what your goal is. I don’t care what you are racing – your goal is always pretty similar. I know I have the right mind set, and I’m not sure what the next step will be or where it is going to lead. But for me, I just need to try to focus on what we have going on and do a better job each weekend and try to get a little better.
Q: Going through all those divisions, do you feel like you rushed through the ranks since you didn’t stay in a division for more than a year?
A: I don’t think so. I think that is always a good thing to do if you can. We have had some great sponsors to do it and to run different cars. I think there are many different things you can gain on any given week, and we have been able to do that for the last several years.
Q: Last year when you won in Canada, you had a scuffle with Ty Dillon. Are you worried that people judge you based on that incident and say you are too aggressive?
A: I’m really not sure. I feel like that was definitely a race where we had a fast truck that day. It was good to get the win, but at the same time – I still have a lot of maturing to do and definitely that day. You definitely have to be mindful of the decisions you make. I felt like at the time, trying to go for the win was probably a move a lot of guys would have made, but I should’ve been a little smarter about it.
NASCAR Green has been capturing the attention of race fans for the past five years in hopes of making one of the top spectator sports in the world more sustainable. Well, it has done just that. 75 percent of NASCAR fans are aware of NASCAR Green and its initiatives to make not only the sport, but the world a better place.
Most fans have noticed a different look on the racecars for the past several race weekends - bright green colors on every single one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series vehicles where the driver's names are located on the windshield. A rather different look, it provides fans a different perspective as to why NASCAR is attempting to truly get their fans involved more than any other sport.
"In addition to having the comprehensive set of initiatives that we have, the thing that really struck us in building this platform over the past five years is how incredible over fan impact numbers have been around the NASCAR Green platform,” NASCAR Green Vice President, Dr. Michael Lynch said in an exclusive interview with Speedway Digest on Friday afternoon. “We have numbers such as 75 percent of avid NASCAR fans are aware of NASCAR Green and know that the sport cares about the environment. That’s a very recent number for us. The fact that NASCAR fans are twice as likely as non-fans to keep their households ‘green,’ and we are always looking at ways to improve the environment whether that be from getting fans more active. That’s a 70 percent difference from four to four and a half years ago."
"It actually goes back to one of the hypotheses that we had at the beginning which is – a NASCAR Green platform across the entire stakeholdership of the league had the potential to have a unique impact because of the mental framework and mental model that fans bring to this sport that is actually different from fans of other major sports like Major League Baseball, or football, the NBA, hockey or Premier League Soccer or the World Cup. The thing is – a NASCAR fan is a fan of NASCAR. On average, fans have six favorite drivers that they follow. That being the case, tackling ‘green’ from an overall sport level and having an integrated level from all of our teams and venues and all of our partners as well from broadcasters to manufacturers, really gathers fans around ‘green’ in a way that no other sport has had the opportunity to do because we are different fans from baseball and basketball and hockey because the team has the passion and the focus. In our case, the league level platform has a unique opportunity literally because of the mental framework of fans in the first place."
What NASCAR has done is incredibly rare in the sports world. With such a large fan base, the sanctioning body has turned a sport that has the potential to harm the environment, and has now made it extremely 'green.' NASCAR launched the Race to Green program in 2013 with the hopes of growing their sustainability, and that they have done. Besides joining forces with race teams, NASCAR has encouraged their partners to participate in NASCAR's Green initiative. It is bringing Fortune 500 companies together more than any other sport, and are doing so for an outstanding cause.
Here are some examples of what NASCAR's partners are doing this month:
-Toyota will be pacing the Richmond Sprint Cup Race this month with a Camry Hybrid; Ford had a Ford Fusion Hybrid to pace the Sprint Cup race in Martinsville and a Fusion EcoBoost as backup pace car for the Martinsville race weekend.
-Coca-Cola Recycling will be activating recycling efforts in Texas, Darlington, and Richmond.
-Featherlite Trailers will plant 200 trees for every Featherlite Trailers NSCS driver win during the month of April
-Freightliner will plant 400 trees for every Freightliner NSCS driver win during the Race to Green platform
- 5.11 Tactical will be producing & providing 300 NASCAR Green patches for use on Officials Uniforms during the Green Platform window.
- 3M will be supporting the 2014 Tree Planting efforts.
There are endless amounts of projects going on thanks to NASCAR Green, but the impact is greater than one might believe.
"We categorized where our initiative would really make a difference,” said Lynch, who was previously a professor at Purdue University. “Then, we also realized where we could have the most impact is where we had the initiative to make a change of the environmental impact for the fans that can literally take these things home with them and get involved. We weighed in the initiatives of recycling at tracks, the camp grounds (which is very much like curb side recycling), our emissions reductions initiative, our bio-fuels in the racecars, the renewable energy across the sport and those were all a part of the initial phase. All of that sort of set a foundation to give us the opportunity to do some call-to-action work to have direct fan engagement and participate in the initiative with us by recycling at the track – putting the bottles and cans in the recycling bins. Last year was our first year of the Race to Green initiative where we started from Earth Hour in early March to Arbor Day at the end of April with Earth Day in there as well."
"Last year was the first time we made a call-to-action. With the Arbor Day Foundation, and multiple of our corporate partners, last year it was 19 (partners) and this year it is about 30, you can donate a dollar to plant a tree in an area of natural disaster that caused devastation in the U.S. We forest that area and also, when you plant a tree that lives its full life, it stores about a metric ton of CO₂ which is the amount generated by one of our Sprint Cup cars driving a 500-mile race. We issued that call-to-action last year, and the total from the tree planting was about 189 thousand, and we are replicating that this year with the Virginia Department of Forestry to place a lot of trees each year as well. Now, in later years, for our call-to-action, we will be adding in a contribution to the renewable energy in the U.S. Bringing household products and energy products in the sport will bring energy proficiency management. We will take steps over the next few years to engage fans on what they can do to reduce the amount of environmental impact that they can do in addition to driving a more fuel efficient vehicle that our manufacturers are producing."
However, NASCAR's off the track initiative is not the only thing they are doing to make the sport sustainable. Since the launch of NASCAR Green in 2008, the importance of this campaign has grown to unbelievable levels. The most abundant gains, however, have been on the race track.
NASCAR's Sunoco E15 fuel blend has been a leader for innovation. It has brought cleaner gasoline to the sport, and has also brought more partners into NASCAR than imaginable. Over the past several seasons, Kenny Wallace, Mike Bliss, Tayler Malsam, Jeff Burton and Austin Dillon have each been sponsored by American Ethanol and other 'green' friendly companies such as G-Oil or Family Farmers. This initiative has brought great partners to the sport, and what goes into NASCAR's new fuel combination might surprise you if you do not already know.
"It is actually pretty simple,” explained Dr. Lynch, who has been a large part in launching this oil, which is the world's most visible biofuels program. “It is Sunoco Green E15. It is 85 percent high octane unleaded gasoline from Sunoco. Then, it is 15 percent of American grown, American made ethanol produced here in the U.S. from corn grown here in the U.S. Ethanol, being a high-octane bio-fuel, actually increases the octane even further because ethanol has an average octane level of over 105 to 113 which is why we end up with higher horsepower in the cars with this high performance bio-fuel. There is actually a very simple formula to it. It is high-octane, high performance racing gas that Sunoco is creating (and they are truly the world experts at race fuel production), combined with 15 percent of American grown and made ethanol that Sunoco actually produces in their plant in upstate New York.”
But why is this fuel better than using regular racing gasoline? It is actually quite compelling.
"There are a few reasons. One is that by using 15 percent renewable fuel, you end up with a life cycle green house gas reduction of about 20 percent because the ethanol is produced in a state-of-the-art process. It is ‘greener’ from a green-house initiatives standpoint. Then, the performance benefit of it is literally eight to 12 horsepower as a result of having it. The reason of that is, based on a physics and performance standpoint, is that because ethanol’s octane creates a smoother blend which makes a clean burn. There is a lesser chance of irregularity of the pistons. What you get is – a very elegant, powerful motion in addition to lesser greenhouse gas emissions. You get sort of a maximum combo of a greener fuel. It is renewable, so you can grow the 15 percent out of the ground again. And you get added horsepower which translates to the performance of the cars which is something drivers have commented on since the beginning."
With an increase in horsepower has also caused controversy. So much controversy that NASCAR is planning on taking out approximately 75-100 horsepower over the next year or two to reduce speeds. However, Lynch said that a change in horsepower has little to no effect on the environment because of what the cars are producing is still the same.
A reason that this has occurred is because of the addition of Electronic Fuel Injection, otherwise known as EFI. Introduced during the 2011 Daytona 500, EFI has had a giant impact on the sport. Not only has it modernized the Sprint Cup Series, but it has increased the sustainability of the sport. However, it is still not present in the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series or any of the developmental divisions. Instead, the lower tiers of NASCAR use carburetors. Part of the reason is because it will save the lower funded teams plenty of money, helping them survive in the sport.
"Fuel injection is one where, like a lot of new aspects of the racecars, because of the cost implications of launching something new and because of the consciousness that NASCAR has of the sport with, and on behalf of the teams in the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and the developmental series to cost effectively compete. We need to make sure these folks continue to make a profit in what they are doing. These are all family businesses and they are the life of the sport. When something new like Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) comes in that has a cost component that needs to be managed and worked through with the learning curve over time, it is something that takes a lot to get started in the Cup Series."
"Then, as the learning curve is worked through and the cost is worked through, then it can be implemented into the other series and divisions. In this particular case, there was a bit of a timing issue as well because you might recall that EFI came in not long after we launched Sunoco Green E15 in the 2011 Daytona 500. EFI, when we talk about integrating to new partners, the complexity was being best handled at the Cup Series level from the start. A lot of what EFI is about is it automatically, with fine-penciled precision, dials in an air to fuel mixture that maximizes the efficiency of the engine. That is particularly important when you are dealing with a bio-fuel blend. If you get that air to fuel mixture right, and you get it adjusted to keep it optimized, then that explains why you get more horsepower from the biofuel blend and no hiccups with excellent results. Do they get that program to where it can be implemented in the Nationwide and Truck Series teams without negatively impacting them to make a living? That was really the logic that was going on there because everyone knew it was going to be something that would have technical bumps to go through, so start with the Cup Series teams was the thinking."
Another amazing innovation which NASCAR has created is the Air Titan. Everyone knows how dreary it can be to wait in the rain at a race track. After all, we all want to see a race - that's the whole point of going to the track. After the long, drawn out process of using the jet dryers, NASCAR Green has helped create the most state-of-the-art track drying process there is.
NASCAR is different from most other forms of motorsports since the cars do not race in the rain. Well, they do every now and then, but that is extremely rare and must be at a road course. The Air Titan has shaved more than enough time to get races in on the same day, saving fans another night at a hotel, or missing a day of work and/or school. However, there is a lot more that goes into the Air Titan than one can imagine.
"Well, you can imagine that anything where precision applies, a sheet of heated air, there are a bunch of different things that you can do with that – whether it is on the racing surface or otherwise. The focus of the R&D team and the focus on the rollout of it are to get the tracks dried faster and get back to racing sooner and get races in on the same day or evening. The fans in particular make a huge investment to come out to the track to see a race. If they don’t get to see a race that same day, that is a huge impact, and NASCAR knows that. The Air Titan, the original and 2.0 versions were designed to deliver to the families and fans that come to the track to maximize the opportunity to know that they are going to go to the track and know they are going to see that race. As you may imagine, when you are leaning in with mother nature like that, that is a tough challenge. That is where our team really focuses to define how to get the tracks dry as fast as possible and refining the implementation of this system of exactly how it is used and whatever fine tuning is needed to be done to any part of it. Anything that can be done to shave five to 10 percent off of the margin of the time is a huge impact for everybody. It requires the full focus of the team. The complications of the Air Titan right now are just not as important as making sure that the actual track drying process is completely optimized with every opportunity we use it to put the cars back on the track."
Wait, but there is a lot more. There are plenty of physics and mathematical equations which the NASCAR Research and Development team must conduct in order to truly define what is needed to dry a track as quickly as possible.
"It was along the lines of practicing the best products along with a lot of R&D development. It went all the way back to the concept of this team, before the version one came along, there was an enormous amount of conceptual work done to figure it out like ‘what is a track surface?’ And it actually is a very complex surface area at a microscopic level. How does water behave on the surface? It is really hard to understand this in terms of a physics and math standpoint. How does water evaporate exactly? How do you maximize the speed of having water evaporate? Because in the end, that’s what we are trying to do. You have a complex surface area. There are millions and billions of little craters in there where water can go, or little channels that they can go down. How do you tackle all of that with a machine that can be built cost effectively, that can be used straight forwardly to be transported to 38 locations a year, will have a reasonable amount of maintenance throughout the year and that will be as ‘green’ as possible," Lynch said as he elaborated on what the Air Titan does better than the jet dryers.
"You can imagine the white board sketching that goes on. Dozens of experts were tabbed with the enormous amount of prototypes that we were testing. The versions of the development of the one we are using now made us have to go back to the beginning and ask – ‘what is the track surface? How does water behave on it? How can you tackle it?’ Then, in order to get to that point, we had to create a machine to spread water out as much as possible to let it evaporate as quickly as possible into the air. What are the ways that you can speed that up and have that optimized to run an entire solution package? It is the same kind of logic that goes into building any kind of system. 3M engineers will give you the same way that they develop products for 3M that are very much the same type of any complex equipment that any complex solution company makes something work. Getting from here to Mars creates some of the renewable energy that uses amazingly complex systems. A lot of those engineers would walk you through the same process that I just walked through here that our R&D team goes through in Concord, NC."
While NASCAR is seemingly happy with the development of the Air Titan 2.0, there is plenty more that they want to do in the future. Anything and everything that can make the Air Titan cleaner and faster is on the table. Obviously, it will not always work just like what happened at Texas, but it certainly increases the chance of getting a race in on the same day if there is inclement weather in the area.
The greatest part of this initiative is how hard everyone is working to get the job done. It does not matter if companies are competing against each other in the marketplace - they just want the world to be a better place.
“Sprint consistently is encouraging fans to recycle their used phones with recycling at the tracks. I know Mike touched on Coca-Cola recycling. Safety-Kleen recycles all of the race used oil. We have a lot of partners consistently working each race weekend with the sport," added Brad Klein, Manager of Business Communications for NASCAR.
So, how can fans help out? Well, it is quite simple. Participate at the track and at home. NASCAR Green has plenty to look forward to in the future, and you will certainly see that as time rolls on. For now, however, show support of NASCAR's partners such as Safety-Kleen with their at-the-track oil recycling, Sprint's used phone recycling, track initiatives of planting trees, the work of Toyota to help show why hybrid cars are supportive of sustainability efforts and dozens of other activities and projects which NASCAR has started.