The matte black Monster Energy Camry and 26-year-old Drew Herring, a familiar face in the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) portfolio of developmental drivers, tackled Iowa Speedway together for the second time this year and brought home a sixth-place finish. Herring, a JGR shop employee who strives to become a regular driver on the NASCAR circuit, completed driving duties at Iowa Speedway in Newton while regular team driver Kyle Busch prepared for competition at Pocono (PA) Raceway the same weekend. After Herring recorded his first career pole, the team’s sixth this season, he and the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota led 26 laps and fought hard through the race to accomplish a sixth-place finish for them in week 20 of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Herring qualified on the pole, the first of his young Nationwide Series career and took the green flag from the inside of row one. He immediately pulled away from the field, stretching a strong lead over 26 of the scheduled 250-lap event. Soon after that start, the handling of Herring’s Monster Energy Camry started to change and traffic caught up to the leader, placing the No. 54 in third place at lap 31 and sixth place at lap 53.
On lap 54 Herring found himself pinned by a lap-down car, which forced him down into the corner of turn two, and his Toyota slid sideways. Herring was able to bring his black machine back under control after NASCAR threw the yellow caution flag for the incident. “Nice save Drew,” crew chief Adam Stevens relayed to his driver. Under caution, the team pitted for the first time of the night to replenish tires, fuel and make a track bar adjustment to the car’s chassis.
The race restart on lap 59 scored Herring back in 13th-place and by lap 65 he had worked his Toyota into the 11th position, but not easily. The car still didn’t react the way the team wanted to in the middle of the track’s turns and Herring started to pick up brake ‘chatter.’ Stevens was heard, over the radio, motivating his young driver to remain focused until the team had another opportunity to visit pit road for further adjustments.
That next opportunity would present itself past the event’s halfway point when another caution period waved at lap 138. Herring visited pit road from the 11th spot and prepared his crew, “I’m loose-in, tight-center and loose-exit.” So the team proceeded to make changes to the left-rear chassis, along with giving the No. 54 fresh Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel. The field went back green on lap 145 and the Monster Energy team sat in the 14th position. A subsequent caution period and pit road visit allowed the group to service their Camry once again, with attention paid to their car’s ability to enter the turns. The No. 54 over-the-wall crew members worked fast on pit road and gained their driver three spots, placing him back into the field in 10th-place for the green-flag restart.
“There is a lot of racing to go – just be smart,” Stevens told Herring over the radio. The race’s next restart would prove challenging for the rookie, when he found himself stuck in the middle of a race pack entering turn one, which resulted in the No. 54 Camry shooting up the track and along the wall exiting turn two. The damage was a tire rub and issues with the front left fender but the team did not pit, and decided as long as Herring could drive the car still, they would remain on track and wait for the next caution period which appeared on lap 223.
A final visit to pit road and the No. 54 Camry’s crew replenished tires and took extra time to clean the front fender area around the tire, which up close showed more damage than the team had anticipated. Before the green flag waved again, Stevens radioed Herring, “those last eight to 10 laps you really picked up speed.” Herring replied, “I was driving the heck out of it. We’ll be 16th on restart and we’ll need every one of those laps left.”
When the field went back to ‘green’ on lap 226, the No. 54 pit stall crew members, and Monster Energy guests, watched in awe as their driver aggressively worked his way through the field. Herring gained six spots to 10th on lap 227, then gained spots to eighth on lap 230, to seventh on lap 232 and to sixth on lap 236. “You are the fastest car out there right now, go get ‘em,” exclaimed Stevens to his driver. The
No. 54 and Herring were on a mission, and it appeared they would break back into the top-five positions, but eventually they ran out of time and took the checkered flag in sixth-place.
“I’m very thankful for the continued opportunity that Joe Gibbs Racing, the No.54 Monster Energy team and Toyota offer me. We started off good, got my first pole but I sure would have traded that for a win. While we battled back to sixth, unfortunately the result wasn’t what we were looking for, but I feel like I learned a lot. I continue to learn, just need to get into that car more. I can’t thank Adam Stevens and the guys enough for their hard work all weekend. It’s always fun to race with those guys.”
The No. 54 Monster Energy team owned by J.D. Gibbs maintains first place in the Owner’s Point standings, now leading the No. 22 Roger Penske Ford by 33 points.
Keselowski won the event, followed by Sam Hornish Jr., Brian Vickers, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson. There were four caution periods for 21 laps of the race along with five lead changes across six drivers. Herring led one time for 26 laps.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series competes again on August 10 in the NNS 200 at the Glen, at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International Speedway, with television broadcast starting at 2:00pm ET on ABC. Kyle Busch will make his 16th start behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.
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