Before his recent win to advance in the chase at Kentucky Speedway in the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300, Elliott Sadler conducted a interview with Speedway Digest about his 2016 and the NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase:
What are your strengths and weaknesses this season?
I don’t really know if we’ve had many weaknesses. We’ve had lots of strengths. We probably excelled on the mile-and-a-halfs a little bit better than we did at other places, maybe in the speedway races. I haven’t had many weaknesses this year. I think that is why we were able to accumulate such a lead in the regular season, and have so many top-six place finishes. We’ve been pretty fortunate this year.
Do you feel as if you have momentum going into the chase?
Yeah, we definitely do. We feel like we got some momentum. Especially coming off a great run like we had in Darlington a couple weeks ago then Richmond then Chicago. Three top-fives in a row usually gets some good momentum on your side.
Who will be your biggest challenger within the next seven races?
I’d say the Gibbs cars. They’ve been extremely strong all year long. I don’t see anything else changing. they’re definitely going to be the guys you have to bet each and every round.
Does experience help going through the chase?
I don’t think so. I don’t think experience had anything to do with it. It’s not like I’m a quarterback trying to read a defense over top a freshman quarterback trying to read a defense. Its all about racing, having a fast car, and putting a race together.
Has JRM been one of your best fits in your return to Xfinity competition?
They’ve definitely been a good fit for me. Dale and Kelly have given me a great opportunity. It is definitely a lot of fun racing for this team. We want to try and go out and make the most of it, and hopefully finish the season on a high note.
What will be your strongest and weakest track over the chase?
We are not looking at it like that. We hope Homestead is going to be our strongest race. The ultimate goal is to win a championship and Homestead is where you’re really going to have to have the best run at. Hopefully the peak of our season will come with an amazing run at Homestead.
Where do you see the state of motorsports and NASCAR as a whole?
We still have a lot of great fans coming to the track every week. Our social and digital ratings are up by a lot. There is lots of great sponsors involved in our sport. Our fans are by far the most loyal. I think right now our sport as a whole is in pretty good shape and in pretty good hands.
In a race that was not good for many chase drivers, Elliott Sadler prevailed to win the VisitMyrtleBeach.Com 300 from Kentucky Speedway, his third win in 2016. Sadler will advance to the Round of Eight in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase.
“We’ve fought through a lot tonight. I’m a bit emotional right now. Ive been in the hospital the past week with mom, watching her fight through a lot of pain and suffering. She leads so much by example. These guys [the team] are my hero. We had a 10th to 15th place car, at best. We had to really take our time and work on it,” said Sadler in a post-race victory lane interview.
Daniel Suarez was the second place finisher in tonight’s race. “We missed a little bit in the middle of the race. We came back there at the end. A little bit tight. I feel like we were the fastest car out there tonight.”
The first half of the race began with Erik Jones setting sail as the rest of the field battled for position. When the leaders hit pit road during the competition caution, that flew on lap 25, Ty Dillon won the race off pit road. When the race was restarted, they only went one lap before a spin by Justin Marks. As the race went green, Dillon, Suarez, and Jones continued to stay within striking range of each other, but E. Jones was able to regain the lead and set sail on the field. The third caution flew for Matt Waltz, whose car caught fire on pit road. The field could not go two laps before an extensive caution period to clean up the oil dropped by Waltz on the racing surface. When the race returned to green, the field went four wide at the front with Ty Dillon taking the lead. However, the caution came out two laps later due to a blown motor by Timmy Hill. The field was under caution as the race reached halfway after another spin by Marks that involved Chaser Brandon Jones. Dillion, Darrell Wallace Jr., E. Jones, Suarez, and Brennan Poole were the top-five drivers at the halfway point.
The second half of the race began under caution with Dillon as the leader. However, when the green flag waved, E. Jones regained the lead, but Darrell Wallace Jr. took the lead shortly after. The caution flew for another chaser, Ryan Siege. At this point of the race, E. Jones continued to race on the left side tires he initially started on. The caution flag flew again a couple laps after the restart for another spin by Marks. The race went green two laps before Suarez spun Sam Hornish Jr. to collect chase driver, Justin Allgaier. On the restart, Matt Tifft was slapped with a restart violation. After a series of cautions, Brendan Gaughan led the field on a long green-flag run. After a 42 lap green flag run, the caution flag returned for Derrick Cope. A new track record was recorded as Josh Berry went into the wall after two laps of green flag racing. After barely one green flag lap, the caution flew again as E. Jones and Dillon made contact and hit the wall. T. Dillion and his team were unable to return to the track by NASCAR for working on the car under red conditions. The red flag was displayed for five minutes and 34 seconds. T. Dillion was not able to return to the track after jacking the car up under a red flag. The race resumed with four laps to go. Sadler took the lead from Blaney and set sail to the victory holding off a charge by Suarez.
Tonight’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 set a new track record of 12 caution flags, breaking the previous record of 10 cautions in a race set in 2010. 64 laps were run under caution. The average speed of the race was 106.751 mph. The time of race was 2 hours, 48 minutes, 37 seconds. The margin of victory was 0.246 seconds. There were 16 different lead changes among eight different drivers. E. Jones, who finished 28th, led the most laps at 100.
Sadler has advanced to the second round of the chase. Suarez holds the second position eight points behind Sadler, Brendan Gaughan is third 14 points behind, Ryan Reed is fourth 16 points behind, and Wallace Jr. rounds out the top-five in points 16 behind Sadler.
Next on the schedule for the Xfinity Series will be the Drive Sober 200 from Dover International Speedway on October 1st. Motor Racing Network and NBCSN will have all the coverage from Dover beginning at 3:00PM EST.
With Stewart-Haas Racing announcing that they will have an entry in the XFINITY Series next season, all eyes point to Cole Custer as the guy to drive the car.
Currently, Custer drives for JR Motorsports in his rookie campaign of the Camping World Truck Series with sponsorship from Haas Automation. His father, Joe Custer is the executive vice president at Stewart-Haas Racing and chief executive officer of the Haas F1 Team.
Through 12 races this season, Custer sits 11th in the point standings, five points off the Chase cutoff, held by Cameron Hayley. With a fifth-place finish at Pocono, the No. 00 truck gained 20 points on the Chase bubble.
“We’ve definitely struggled,” Custer told Speedway Digest of his 2016 season. “We thought that we were going to be better this year. I think we are getting better and I think we will have a chance to get in the Chase.”
Custer has back-to-back top-10 finishes, increasing his total to five on the season, with a best finish of second at Iowa in mid-June. Leading three laps this season, the No. 00 truck is looking to regain its momentum that it had when they didn’t compete in a full season.
At age 16 Custer became the youngest winner in Truck Series history, in a dominating performance at New Hampshire, leading 148 of 200 laps in 2014. Last year, the team was victorious at Gateway leading 19 laps.
“A little bit of everything,” Custer said of what the team needs to improve on. “It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that you’re struggling on. We just need to get the whole thing rolling.”
Competing in a handful of XFINITY Series races this season, Custer has a little bit of extra racing on his hands. In three starts this season for JR Motorsports, he has a best finish of fourth at Charlotte, leading one lap.
Like many developing drivers, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. puts his faith in the younger generation of drivers. This is the third season that the duo has worked together, making Custer look up to the 15-time Most Popular Driver as a role model.
“He’s had a really big impact on me,” Custer said of Earnhardt. “He’s a real fun guy to be around and he will help you from time-to-time. He’s been a big help to me.”
As the season progresses and Custer has four races to jump three positions in the standings, the series goes to two tracks that the team is looking forward to – Bristol and the road course of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. In two career starts at Bristol the 18-year-old has a finish of eighth.
As far as the future goes, Custer isn’t sure what it holds. With his relationship with Gene Haas and Haas Automation, it’s possible that he drives full-time in the XFINITY Series next season.
“I’m not positive yet,” Custer said of his plans for next season. “We’ll see. Hopefully in the next few weeks or in the next month or so.”
Through 13 NASCAR XFINITY Series events in 2016, Alex Bowman has competed in three races. With nine races on his schedule out of the division’s 33, the Arizona native understands he needs to run well to once again compete full-time.
It wasn’t until the 10th race of the season at Dover that Bowman got a shot to go out and drive the No. 88 car for JR Motorsports, which had won two prior races this season at Daytona and Richmond.
At Dover, Bowman started from fifth position after finishing third in the first qualifying heat, won by JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. During a long 71 lap green flag run that opened the event, the No. 88 car raced itself to the front to lead 33 laps en route to a third-place result.
“It was a way to prove that I still belong here,” Bowman told Speedway Digest of his race at Dover. “We drove pass Erik [Jones] and took the lead for a while. It showed that I can contend for wins and it just means a lot that JRM took this chance on me. It let me prove that I deserve to be here.”
Rewind to Jan. 21, the last day of the NASCAR Media Tour, when Bowman found out through Twitter he would not be returning to Tommy Baldwin Racing, replaced by former JR Motorsports driver Regan Smith.
In mid-December, TBR announced it had picked up Bowman’s option 2016 season to drive the No. 7 car in the Cup Series, with Toy State renewing its sponsorship for 13 events in 2016 and 17 in 2017. He is now in the midst of building a foundation to build a long-term relationship with JR Motorsports, with the hope of working with the team to put together a full-time deal next year.
“Dale [Earnhardt, Jr., majority owner] and I have become really close friends, but everyone at JR Motorsports is cool to work with,” Bowman elaborated. “It’s a big family. It’s probably the most fun that I’ve had with a race team. It’s just a lot of good people and a lot of good equipment, and we bring fast cars to the racetrack every week.”
In his second race – the inaugural race at Pocono Raceway for the XFINITY Series – Bowman started the event in 10th and maintained position around the back half of the top 10 all day, finishing right where he started. Since the race was cut 47 laps short due to rain, there is no telling if the No. 88 team could have improved his car to finish higher in the field.
Bowman ran the full XFINITY Series schedule in 2013, minus Homestead for RAB Racing, owned by Robby Benton. He was released of his duties due to a lack of sponsorship. Blake Koch replaced him and finished 13th after starting a career-high second.
Since then, he’s made a stop at BK Racing in 2014, competing for the Rookie of the Year award, along with the aforementioned Tommy Baldwin Racing last year.
Those two teams aren’t among NASCAR elites, with TBR going several races last year with blank cars.
“I just didn’t get chances to win races, but I think that everybody that gets to this point has pretty much won at everything that they have driven to get here,” Bowman said. “I think this year just helps me solidify on people’s minds that I deserve to be here.”
Winning the pole this past weekend in Michigan can’t hurt Bowman. In single-car qualifying trials, the No. 88 Chevrolet was atop the leaderboard. He led the first 11 laps before finishing seventh after restarting second on the final restart with 33 laps remaining.
Bowman has seen worse things than not recording a victory in his NASCAR career. When he was in the Cup Series, he was struggling to finish in the top 30 with a best average finish of 31.6 in 2015. However, his best finish in a Cup Series race, 13th came in 2014 in a rain-shortened event at Daytona in July.
“I think I learned a lot from those two years,” he said. “They were definitely not wasted. I made the most of the situations that I was given. We elevated race teams and helped those teams grow, and at the same time, I learned a lot racing against Cup guys every week for the last two years.”
Bowman’s stop at BK Racing was his first full-time gig in the Cup Series. He had no sponsorship following the 2013 for a ride in the XFINITY Series. It was the No. 23 car or nothing for the 2014 season.
“Yes, but I didn’t have a choice,” Bowman said on if he was rushed to the Cup Series. “It was either that or I was going to sit on the couch because I didn’t have anything else. When I took that first Cup deal, it was either that or sit on the couch and I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot and am able to use that experience that I gained every time that I’m on the racetrack.”
While wishing that it might have been better if he was in a competitive XFINITY Series ride the last two years, Bowman has no regrets. At BK Racing, teamed with Dave Winston as crew chief, he had an average finish of 32.6 with six DNF’s.
Now, Bowman, 23, knows that every race he is in, is a chance to up his stock. If he wants to be in a competitive ride, he feels that winning is a must.
“Anything that can win, I will get in,” Bowman said on what he will drive. “As far as full-time stuff goes, I would love to pull some things together here with JRM. We are working really hard on trying to find partnerships to try and do that. Obviously, that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to jump right back into the Cup Series. I want to stay where I can win races.”
In order to get a full-time deal, Bowman needs more days like he has experienced in his first three races behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet. Having nine races to prove himself on the track, he realizes that those could determine his racing future.
With help of Advance Auto Parts, Cessna and Vannoy Construction, it’s all about building relationships with sponsors.
“It’s really frustrating,” Bowman said of not knowing his future. “I’ve proved that I can contend for wins and I feel like I’m as good as anybody out there, but I don’t have a big sponsor to write a check. It is frustrating at times, but I’m very thankful to be where I’m at and hopefully, we will work something out.”
The No. 88 car currently sits second in the owner standings, seven points behind Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 team. Bowman’s main goal this season is to help Earnhardt and co-owners Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Rick Hendrick win the owner’s championship.
Bowman admits that JR Motorsports brings some of the fastest racecars to the track each week. But in order to win an XFINITY Series race, mistakes need to be at a minimum.
“I think we’re working really hard to try and win this owners championship,” Bowman said. “There is a little pressure to do well for that, but beyond that, I just have to plug in and do my job. I just have to keep plugging in and doing my job the way that the other drivers did when they won their two races.”
Led by second year crew chief David Elenz, the No. 88 team has 12 top-10 finishes in 2016. The only race that the car finished outside of the top 10 was at Atlanta Motor Speedway, when Kevin Harvick finished 12th.
The XFINITY Series heads to Iowa this week, and so does Bowman in his third consecutive race driving for JR Motorsports.
Following that race, Bowman doesn’t have a ride until mid-July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – at least as of now. And though he doesn’t know his future, he knows that winning a race will solve a lot of hassles he has faced throughout his career.
“With the right partnerships and everything if it works out the right way I would love to be here,” Bowman said of wanting to drive for JR Motorsports. “Everyone from JR Motorsports as well as from my side is working really hard to make it happen. I’m pretty content with where I’m at. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I just want to put something together here.”
Alex Bowman edges Erik Jones to win the pole at Michigan by one hundredth of a second. JR Motorsports takes three of the top five. This is Bowman’s third career pole, and his first pole at Michigan. Bowman edges Jones with a speed of 191.59 mph, Jones qualified second with a speed of 191.535 mph, followed by Elliott Sadler (191.342 mph), Justin Allgaier (191.210 mph), and Kyle Busch (190.779 mph).
At Michigan, Joe Gibbs Racing was going for their 11th Xfinity Series pole. At the start of the qualifying session, the air temperature at Michigan was 80 degrees and was warming rather quickly. Two rounds of single car qualifying took place for the Menards 250.
In the first round of qualifying, teams were battling a hot and slick racetrack. Alex Bowman was fastest in this round with a speed of 191.821 mph. followed by Erik Jones (191.286 mph), Elliott Sadler (191.047 mph), Kyle Busch (190.668 mph), and Blake Koch (190.653). Wind played a major factor towards the end of the qualifying session. All three Joe Gibbs Racing and JR Motorsports cars advanced to the second round. Wind played a major factor towards the end of this round. Notables drivers not advancing include Darrell Wallace Jr. (17), Brendan Gaughan (14), Ty Dillon(13). All drivers will race this afternoon.
In the second round of qualifying, track temperature was at 121 degrees with the air temperature being 84 degrees. Round two was stopped for a moment by debris, a trash bag. The top 12 teams were separated by less than a half a second.
Xfinity teams will have their cars impounded before the start of today’s race. The Menards 250 will be on Fox Sports 1 starting at 1 p.m with Raceday.