Friday, September 21, 2018

Debuts and Last Hurrahs Abound at Richmond Raceway


Alon Day
Credi: Carol D'Agostino 

by Carol D’Agostino

As the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs debuts its inaugural race at Richmond Raceway, and the NASCAR Monster Energy Series enters into race two of their playoffs, several drivers make their racing debuts while others enjoy their last hurrahs.

Two international drivers, Alon Day and Katherine Legge, may be new names to NASCAR fans, but are known entities in the European racing circuit. IMSA driver Katherine Legge from Guilford, England, will attempt to be the first female international competitor to compete in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Richmond.


The No. 15 goes into inspection
Credit: Carol D'Agostino 
She'll attempt to qualify the No. 5 JD Motorsports BUBBA Burger Chevrolet. If she makes the field, she’ll become the ninth different woman racer to compete in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Richmond Raceway, joining Diane Teel, Patty Moise, Johanna Long, Danica Patrick, Shawna Robinson, Alli Owens, Erin Crocker and Tammy Jo Kirk. This would be Legge’s third NASCAR Xfinity Series start. Her previous two Xfinity races were run at Mid-Ohio and Road America where she finished 30th and 14th, respectively.

Making his 2018 NASCAR Monster Energy Series debut will be Israeli driver Alon Day, driving the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota. The 26-year-old Tel Aviv native is the 2017 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion. Tomorrow’s race will be his first on an oval and only his second Cup Series start. Last year he finished 32nd at Sonoma, driving the same car for BK Racing. His best finish in NASCAR’s three premier series came in the 2016 Xfinity race at the Mid-Ohio road course, where he finished 13th.

When addressing the news media prior to the race, Day said he was grateful for the opportunity and wasn’t going into the race with major expectations.

“This opportunity just came together in the last couple weeks,” Day said. “I am super thankful. I’m not making particular finish expectations. I just want to survive the race, finish the race, do the best I can and bring the car home in one piece."

For 18-year-old Mason Diaz, the 2017 Southern National Motorsports Park track champion and rookie of the year in Late Model Stock Cars, this year has been all about graduating high school and getting ready for college at Old Dominion University. However, this weekend he makes his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Richmond Raceway.

The Manassas, Virginia, native gained a glimpse into NASCAR’s premier series last fall when he made his made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway. He qualified ninth and ran up front, but ended up finishing 23rd after a left rear tire went down.

Despite his relative inexperience, Diaz is focused on leveraging his seat time this weekend.

“It’s always exciting getting a chance to run a new higher series,” said Diaz. “I’m going in with tempered expectations. I’m looking to qualify solidly, run all the laps and keep the fenders on the car. If we can do that, that’ll be a good weekend for us.”

Joining the debut drivers this weekend will be two well-known drivers having their last hurrahs (well maybe): Elliott Sadler and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Richmond track president Dennis Bickmeier honors Elliott Sadler
Credit: Carol D'Agostino
Just a month ago Elliott Sadler, the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series Most Popular Driver, announced that he'd retire from full-time driving racing at the end of this season. He starts the Xfinity race at his home track third in the playoff standings, 28 points back from his JRM teammate Justin Allgaier, and only eight points ahead of ninth-place Matt Tifft, the first spot outside of the cutoff for the Round of 8.

This is Elliott’s third consecutive season making the Playoffs (2016-2018). In 2018, he’s still looking for his first win but has earned 13 top fives, 21 top 10s and an average finish of 8.6 – best among Playoff contenders. The Emporia, Virginia, native has made 30 series starts at his home track, posting six top fives, 15 top 10s and an average finish of 13.2. He finished fifth in the 2017 fall Richmond race and third at the short track earlier this season.

He addressed the media before the race, reminiscing about his career and sharing his emotions going into the race.

“I feel good now," Sadler said. “But I think tonight will be emotional. I always go into a Richmond racing really wanting to get my first win at my home track, but getting my first win at my last race would really be something,” he added.

And yes, he would have no trouble taking out his boss and fellow racer making his last hurrah tonight, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will take a final spin in the No. 88 Hellman’s Camaro to fulfill sponsorship contracts with Unilever and Hellman’s.

“I flew back from Las Vegas with Dale, and he is extremely excited about being in the car. Don’t buy into him being coy about it. He wants to win. But if I wreck him for the win, I think he’ll understand,” Elliott joked.

Tonight’s NASCAR XFinity Series playoff race will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Elliott Sadler's children will be giving the race command.

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