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Herring excels in fill-in duty, hungry for races
Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography courtesy of Joe Gibbs Racing SPARTA, Ky. -- Joe Gibbs knows how valuable a solid backup quarterback can be from his stints as the head coach for the NFL's Washington Redskins. And a solid fill-in and spot driver can be just about the same. Drew Herring was at Kentucky Speedway this weekend shaking down the No. 54 Toyota in practice and qualifying for Erik Jones ahead of Saturday night's NASCAR XFINITY Series VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Jones competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway before flying to Kentucky for the XFINITY race. Herring has played this role before in 2015. He practiced and qualified for Jones' in both Iowa events, even winning the pole in the No. 20 Toyota in May. He also practiced in the No. 54 Toyota at Chicagoland Speedway in June, helping to get the No. 54 setup for Jones' victory at the 1.5-mile track. So how does Herring prepare for his fill-in gig? "It helps that all of these guys (the JGR crew) are the best in the business and that we're driving good race cars, fast race cars and we unload close," Herring told NASCAR.com at Kentucky. "I'm not having to take our first run and really get acclimated and try and figure out what the car is doing because it's all so close. It really helps me out and then I just try to go back and watch races, talk with Erik (Jones), talk with Chris (Gayle, crew chief of the No. 54 Toyota in the XFINITY Series). "We've gone through things that happened the first race, what they looked for and what happened from practice to race. All those things just for me to download and to be as prepared as I can to give them the best read in the car and do the best job I can." On Friday, Herring showed off some speed and saving skills. He topped a rain-shortened final practice was a fast lap of 175.959 mph. He also made a great save in the latter minutes of final practice when he got loose coming off of Turn 4. "It's fun to get to drive these cars. It's not much fun getting out on race day but it's a whole lot better than sitting at home and watching." The 28-year-old North Carolina native has made 15 career XFINITY Series starts with the last start coming in the 2013 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . He has five top fives with his best result a fourth-place run at Kentucky in September of 2012. Herring remains on the lookout for an opportunity that can put him in a car on a consistent basis. "I want nothing more than to be behind the wheel of a race car every weekend as much as I can. This is what I love to do. I've been doing it since I was nine. It's a true passion of mine and I thoroughly enjoy coming to the racetrack. "We are working on it but it all comes down unfortunately to not the talent side as much it comes down to the funding and the monetary side. We are constantly on the lookout for sponsors and trying to get people to want to be involved. For me, its just trying to find someone that wants to win races and championships because I know if we can get somebody on board, we'll do that for them. It's tough. There's a lot of people that are doing the same thing I am."
Herring , Scott top practice sessions at Kentucky
RELATED: Practice 2 results SPARTA, Ky. -- Rain ended Friday's on-track activity early for the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Kentucky Speedway . Final practice was set to run from 6 p.m. to 7:25 p.m. ET, but a red flag for wet weather came out around 30 minutes in with NASCAR calling it shortly thereafter. At the time of the stoppage, Drew Herring (175.959 mph) was at the top of the speed chart. Herring is practicing and qualifying the No. 54 Toyota for Erik Jones and Joe Gibbs Racing at Kentucky. Jones will be in the No. 54 for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) Ryan Blaney (175.661 mph) and Daniel Suarez (175.593 mph) were in the top three in the final practice session. Brian Scott topped the opening practice with a speed of 178.159 mph, followed by his RCR teammates of Ty Dillon (177.439 mph) and Brandon Jones (177.194 mph). Chris Buescher enters this weekend's race with a 25-point lead on Dillon and a 28-point lead on defending series champion Chase Elliott in the driver championship standings. Brendan Gaughan is the defending race winner. The VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 is the final standalone of the 2015 XFINITY Series schedule. XFINITY Coors Light Pole Qualifying is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN/Live Extra) with the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. Brad Keselowski won the July XFINITY Series race at Kentucky in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford. That car will be driven this weekend by Ryan Blaney , who won this race in 2013 for his first career XFINITY Series win. It has been a rainy NASCAR season for the 1.5-mile oval track as much of the NASCAR tripleheader schedule in July was washed out by rain. All three national series races were run at their scheduled times, but most practice and qualifying sessions were rained out. RELATED: Practice 1 results Brian Scott topped the leaderboard during the final minutes of opening NASCAR XFINITY Series practice at Kentucky Speedway . In the series' final stand-alone event of the year, Scott had a fastest lap of 178.159 mph in his No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Scott's RCR teammate, Ty Dillon , was right behind him, wheeling his No. 3 Chevrolet around the 1.5-mile track with a fastest lap of 177.439 mph. Next was Brandon Jones , who finished with the third-fastest lap (177.194 mph) after topping the leaderboard for much of the first session. Ryan Blaney (176.840 mph) and Daniel Suarez (176.811 mph) were fourth and fifth, respectively. Defending race winner Brendan Gaughan was ninth-fastest, pulling a fastest lap of 175.279 mph.
Herring fastest during qualifying at Iowa
JGR's No. 20, No. 18 speed to top times RELATED: Full qualifying results Drew Herring did more than keep the seat hot for Erik Jones during qualifying at Iowa Speedway Saturday night. Herring was fastest in Coors Light Qualifying for the NASCAR XFINITY Series 3M 250 on Sunday (2 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). Jones will get into the seat Sunday, but will have to start at the rear of the field. Herring , in the No. 20 Toyota, turned a lap of 134.391 mph around the 0.875-mile oval track in the final round. It was an all front row for Joe Gibbs Racing on Saturday night, as Daniel Suarez qualified second (134.351 mph) in the No. 18. Brian Scott (133.906), Chris Buescher (133.803) and Brandon Jones (133.752) qualified among the top five. Defending series champion Chase Elliott will start sixth. Ty Dillon , the series points leader (330) through nine races, qualified ninth. Scott led the final practice at Iowa Speedway with a time of 133.747 mph. Ryan Blaney , the 2014 pole winner for the May race at Iowa, will start 13th. Ben Rhodes , who will make his XFNITY Series debut Sunday driving the No. 88 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, qualified 14th. Follow the XFINITY Series 3M 250 on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
JGR tabs Hamlin, Herring to fill in for Vickers
Hamlin will drive at Texas; Herring will drive at Phoenix and Homestead
Hamlin says Herring has bright future
Denny Hamlin says back feels a lot better and Drew Herring has a bright future with JGR.
Pole sitter Herring brings out first caution
Pole sitter Drew Herring spins to bring out first caution at Iowa Speedway.
Hard contact for Herring at Bristol
Drew Herring is done for the night after hard contact with the backstretch wall.
Swindell damaged after contact with Herring
Kevin Swindell crashes into the Turn 3 wall after contact with Drew Herring .
Ben Rhodes: Chasing dreams on-track and on-camera
Ask some of the people who work most closely with Ben Rhodes about him and you'll get the same sense -- that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie isn't an ordinary 19-year-old. Ask his crew chief. "I've known this kid since he was 15 years old and he was always very mature, very respectful and acts older than he is," Kevin Bellicourt says. "I mean, the way he has shown maturity in the race car and everything around that, I do forget that he is 19 years old." Ask the sports director who co-hosts Rhodes' TV show -- yes, his own TV show -- in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. "I'll look at him sometimes and I'll just be like, 'Look, stop it. Just be a kid.' But he's not," Kent Spencer says. "He's definitely wise beyond his years." The wisdom has served Rhodes well in all facets of his budding NASCAR career, which carried him to the K&N Pro Series East championship in 2014 and a stint with the NASCAR Next youth initiative that identifies the sport's up-and-coming stars. The next step is a full-season campaign this year with powerhouse ThorSport Racing in the Truck Series, which makes its next stop Friday night at Kansas Speedway . Even in casual conversation, Rhodes' composure comes through in a calm that belies his age, less than one year removed from receiving a high school diploma. It's a collected nature that helps him feel just as at home in front of a TV camera's lens as he does behind the wheel. Rhodes doesn't have to balance a racing career with schoolwork any more, but his focus is far from singular. "It's full-time racing now, and it's full-time everything that has to do with racing, not just being on the track or working on the cars, but sponsors, events, fans -- which is cool," Rhodes says. "I really like that aspect of it. You can't be on the track without that." The story of how Rhodes came to be on the track isn't unlike the tale of other youngsters with a dream and a heavy right foot. But it's the unique wrinkles of his narrative that make Rhodes' story ready for prime time. Early beginnings Around their home state, where the term "racing" is most commonly associated with Thoroughbreds, it's fitting that Rhodes' career choice was galvanized by figuratively getting back on the horse. Rhodes had barely entered grade school when the itch for speed struck him. He recalls helping his older brother, Chris, try to emulate his father's practice of removing the governor from their go-karts, much to their mother's dismay. The recreational -- and occasionally unrestricted -- karting soon led to competition. "We were having a blast around the house," Rhodes says, "but when we hit the race track, it didn't really click at first and it took awhile before I got in a wreck to figure it out." Rhodes recalls crashing his first time out -- the leader coming around to lap him, clipping one of his back wheels and landing on top of his kart. The wreck naturally made him gun-shy, but it took another altercation to set his course toward making racing a lifelong pursuit. Rhodes' family vividly recalls that incident at the Clark County, Indiana, 4-H Fairgrounds, where the 7-year-old driver was on the receiving end of an intentional wreck for the first time. His family worked to repair his kart while the youngster seethed, intent on retaliation. But as Rhodes began to furiously charge back through the pack, something changed in his demeanor. "Once I passed the other guy, I didn't even think about wanting revenge or whatever, I just started having a blast," Rhodes says. "Passing cars was a lot more fun than getting passed, and that's when it all started clicking for me. We started working on set-ups and had just an awesome time doing it. It was an awesome family experience." Into NASCAR Those first forays led to progression and an eventual place in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at age 16. After a partial first season, his first full campaign in 2014 netted a remarkable five victories and six pole positions, with Bellicourt serving as his car chief. The performance drew the interest of JR Motorsports, which fielded Rhodes in a 10-race slate in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015. After a seventh-place series debut at Iowa Speedway in May, Rhodes endured largely uneven results in the JRM No. 88, despite help from the team's fleet of Sprint Cup drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kevin Harvick , Chase Elliott and Regan Smith . "I learned so much from them, but the problem is it was hard to apply it," Rhodes says of his sporadic schedule. "You have to be in the car feeling it. I had a month between times (in the car) more than once before I could actually feel what they were talking about or actually apply it. All the momentum that you had was lost. It was just really hard for me to get adjusted to and just hard to keep the learning going, but the jump, I felt like if I ran the whole season, the jump maybe wouldn't have been that bad." An offseason to regroup also led to a new opportunity, as one of the newest faces at ThorSport Racing, a championship-caliber team with an evolving driver roster. In the offseason, Rhodes joined two-time Truck Series champ Matt Crafton , second-year driver Cameron Hayley and fellow rookie Rico Abreu under the watch of team owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson. The team's drivers have perennially lauded the resources that the Thorsons provide to compete at a high level. Rhodes found this out early on, when they sought his input to hire a crew chief for his No. 41 Toyota. He immediately thought of Bellicourt, who had just finished helping William Byron as crew chief for his K&N East championship run in 2015. In some respects, the job was a tougher sell than most, requiring Bellicourt to move from North Carolina to within reach of ThorSport's Sandusky, Ohio, shop. But it was also a commitment for his wife, his 11-month-old daughter and the baby the couple are expecting in early June. But the opportunity to move from the regional and touring level to a NASCAR national series was too good to pass up. After taking the leap, the driver-crew chief reunion went seamlessly. "The communication is back to where it was and it's like we never even left off," Rhodes says. "I remember the first time that he was up at ThorSport and I was there and we were having such a good time. None of the guys up there had seen us run before or work together, so when we came up there, they were like, 'We've got a feeling that you just brought your best friend in to work on these race cars.' That was kind of cool that we hit it off right away once again." Says Bellicourt: "We just have a good time. I understand what he's saying when he's talking about the truck, and he understands when I'm trying to make a point with him. His understanding of the race car has just come a long way since I first met him when he was 15. He understands that a lot, and all the set-up stuff. That just helps a lot, too, with the driver having that knowledge. We've just been able to roll with it so far this season." Rolling with it has meant gradual gains in the early stages of the year, but one accomplishment stands out -- winning the pole position last month at Martinsville Speedway . Though a late-race wreck saddled Rhodes with a midpack 16th-place result, the speed shown in qualifying and out front for 42 laps made a solid impression. "It felt really good to get the pole because it validates what we know that we have," Rhodes says. "We're trying to show others what my crew chief and I know. We have an awesome relationship and we know how to set up the race cars, we know how to get speed, it's just a matter of getting the experience together now. It just validates that." The fact that Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch was among the competitive field in qualifying that day didn't hurt the team's confidence, Bellicourt says. "You look at that and say there's no reason we can't run with any of these guys," Bellicourt says. "Now Ben knows it. We knew it before, but you always want to make it happen and then you just get that extra confidence. I know it, the guys know it, Ben knows it, and hopefully now everybody else sees what we're capable of. "We're looking to continue to do more of that to show that it wasn't just a flash-in-the-pan, one-time thing. We're going to try to do it at Kansas again." On the mic Rhodes has visions of keeping his racing aspirations going, climbing the ladder, chasing victories. But if his NASCAR dream somehow ended tomorrow, he has an entertaining backup plan -- in television. The 19-year-old is in his fifth season as co-host of "On Track with Ben Rhodes ," a 30-minute weekly show that chronicles his racing career and allows him to meet and interview personalities in the Louisville area. Kent Spencer -- the sports director at WHAS-11, an ABC affiliate in Louisville -- has served as the show's other co-host since its inception. "I'd met Ben before, but in kind of a different realm," Spencer says. "He was a young man trying to come up, went to a local high school, trying to make it in NASCAR, so we interviewed a few times there. This was obviously a different beast. He and I have a really good rapport together, we like to be around each other, so we kind of knew early on that this was going to work." The experience has allowed Rhodes to interact with community leaders from all walks of life. This season, Rhodes and Spencer have taken their show on the road, spending time with charitable organizations, returning to Holy Cross High School (the driver's alma mater), and paying visits to Churchill Downs, site of Saturday's 142nd Kentucky Derby. Rhodes' comfort on camera has grown not only in his hometown, but also during media sessions in the garage on race weekends. "I get to see and build new relationships with people, but it's also trained me to talk to the media and how to talk on camera," he says. "Before the show, I was really, really bad. Now that I've done the show for a couple seasons, I've done a lot better and it makes the job at the race track a lot easier for me." Even Bellicourt has noticed. "You give that kid a microphone and you're going to have to rip it out of his hand before he quits talking," he says with a laugh. "He's very outgoing and does a good job with that. He's kind of a total-package guy. He's got the marketing side, he's really good in front of the camera and obviously has performed on the race track great, so he's got an enormous amount of talent." It all circles back to the versatility and composure that extends beyond Rhodes' years. "I got that feeling from him back when he was 17," Spencer says. "You could definitely tell he's not a normal high school junior, not a normal high school senior. It's just the way he goes about things and the way he can communicate, and I think a large part of that is because the way that his mom and dad make him do a lot on his own. "If you want this dream, it's not easy. You're going to have to work for it. Every week, we get done taping the show and Ben helps tear down the set. He does a lot setting up his own schedule. He's out there and he's doing it, getting the job done, but there's a lot of times where it just blows me away." Several drivers with successful NASCAR credentials have made smooth transitions to the broadcasting booth for second careers after their driving days are done. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon added his name to the list this season, joining FOX Sports for its coverage of the sport. Rhodes says he'd love to see a similar trajectory for his career, but right now he's one-upping it -- by taking on both jobs at once. "Hopefully my racing career goes on for a long time and I can build up a great reputation and go out on TV broadcasting," he says. "I think it's really cool that drivers do that once they're done, and they're able to go up in the broadcast booth and shine new light on the subject and able to give fans kind of the inside scoop on things. As things change and progress, maybe some of the other broadcasters might not be aware of it. "New drivers like Jeff Gordon and the guys that are fresh out of the race car can show them and talk about what's changing in the sport. I think that's really cool that drivers can do that." Spoken like a kid who is wise beyond his years.
Suarez soars past Blaney for Iowa pole
Suarez, Blaney starting on front row; Kenny Wallace qualifies seventh RELATED: Full qualifying results Daniel Suarez soared past Ryan Blaney in the final 30 seconds of qualifying to earn himself the second Coors Light Pole Award of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver had a fast lap of 133.441 mph in 23.606 seconds during the qualifing session on Saturday at Iowa Speedway. Team Penske 's Blaney will join Suarez on the front row during the U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by New Holland (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, Sirius XM) after coming in second on the leaderboard with a speed of 133.373 mph (23.618 seconds). Rounding out the top three during the XFINITY Series qualifying session was veteran Brendan Gaughan in his No. 62 Chevrolet (132.861 mph). For his eighth start at Iowa Speedway, Gaughan is looking for his first win at the track. The drivers of the No. 33 Chevrolet, Brandon Jones (132.750 mph), and the No. 54, Drew Herring (132.760 mph), came in fourth and fifth, respectively. Herring was filling in for Erik Jones , who was en route from Pocono Raceway after the Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 and was unable to participate in any of the practices or the qualifying round. XFINITY Series points leader, Chris Buescher , was next on the leaderboard as he qualified sixth with a fastest lap of 132.364 mph. Kenny Wallace was right behind Buescher with a strong seventh-place starting spot. Wallace will be racing for the last time as a full-time NASCAR driver Saturday night at Iowa Speedway as he recently announced his retirement. He is looking for his 10th career win. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule