Victory Lane: James Buescher
James Buescher wins the Fan Appreciation 200 Presented by New Holland at Iowa Speedway.
Stockman: A new place, same perspective, 'We don't like to suck'
Paul Menard's new crew chief, Danny Stockman, enlightens the media on his expectations as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief and where Richard Childress Racing can grow.
Full schedule for New Hampshire
RELATED: Find NBCSN in your area " Watch live online at NBCSports.com The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series will gather for a doubleheader weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this week. Check out the full weekend schedule below. Note: All times are ET SUNDAY, JULY 17: PRE-RACE SCHEDULE 11:30:00 a.m.: NSCS Driver/Crew Chief Meeting (NXS Garage) 12:55:00 p.m.: NSCS Drivers Introductions with NASCAR Special Awards 1:23:15 p.m.: Canadian National Anthem by : Kirk Young, Tilton, NH Resident 1:25:00 p.m.: Moment of Silence 1:25:15 p.m.: Presentation of Colors by : Combined Services Color Guard 1:25:35 p.m.: Invocation by : Joshua Johnson 1:26:15 p.m.: National Anthem: Caroline Burns, NBC's The Voice Contestant 1:32:15 p.m.: "Drivers, Start Your Engines" by : New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan 1:39:45 p.m.: Start of the New Hampshire 301 (301 laps, 318.46 miles) ON TRACK -- 1:30 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 (301 laps, 318.46 miles), NBCSN ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCE ( Watch live ) -- 4:30 p.m. (approx.): Post-NSCS race DAILY ROUNDUP -- Bowman keeps missing Dale's call -- NASCAR offers review of pit-road rule -- Report: Lorenzen joins brain pledge -- Bowman gains confidence behind wheel of No. 88 -- Kenseth surges late for New Hampshire win -- Ky. Busch, Edwards sew up Chase berths -- Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota fails post-race inspection -- Stewart proves what 'Smoke will rise' means FRIDAY, JULY 15: -- 11:30 a.m.-12:55 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series first practice, NBCSN ( Results ) -- 1-1:55 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series first practice, NBCSN ( Results ) -- 3-4:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series second practice, NBCSN ( Results ) -- 4:45 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 9:30 a.m.: Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt, Sprint Cup Series No. 88 crew chief Greg Ives and driver Alex Bowman (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) -- 10:15 a.m.: Ty Dillon -- 10:30 a.m.: Ryan Newman -- 10:45 a.m.: Kyle Busch -- 1 p.m.: Carl Edwards -- 1:20 p.m.: Kyle Larson -- 1:50 p.m.: Joey Logano -- 6 p.m. (approx.): Brad Keselowski , Post-NSCS qualifying GARAGECAM ( Watch live ) -- 11 a.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- 2:30 p.m: NASCAR XFINITY Series DAILY ROUNDUP -- Dale Jr. to miss New Hampshire race, Bowman filling in -- Reaction to Junior's concussion news -- What drivers are saying about Dale Jr. missing race -- Gordon to drive No. 88 at Indy if Junior can't -- Chase clinching scenarios for New Hampshire -- See Bowman in the No. 88 Chevrolet -- Bowman looks to make most of opportunity -- Junior's health news unexpected, Hendrick official says -- Truex fastest in Friday's first practice -- At-track photos from Friday at New Hampshire SATURDAY, JULY 16: -- 10-10:55 a.m: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series second practice, CNBC ( Results ) -- 11:15 a.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, CNBC (NBCSN will pick up coverage at noon ET) ( Results ) -- 12:30-1:25 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice, NBCSN ( Results ) -- 4 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series AutoLotto 200 ( 200 laps, 211.6 miles), NBCSN ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCE ( Watch live ) -- 6 p.m. (approx.): Post-NXS race DAILY ROUNDUP -- Cain: Junior's decision to sit out is absolutely right -- Elliott, Edwards top Saturday practices -- What was the secret to Jimmie's pole-winning run? -- At-track photos from New Hampshire -- Ky. Busch wins XFINITY race at New Hampshire -- Dillon calls wreck by Bowman 'on purpose' -- Watch Busch hold off Jones in final laps &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Kyle Busch dominates New Hampshire to snag sixth win of 2016
RELATED: Results " Standings LOUDON, N.H. -- Another NASCAR XFINITY Series race, another set of milestones for Kyle Busch. Leading 190 of 200 laps in Saturday's AutoLotto 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Busch held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones in the closing laps to claim his 82nd career victory, extending his own series record. In the process, Busch raised his total of XFINITY laps led to 17,064, once again extending his own record. Busch won for the fifth time in 11 races at the Magic Mile and the sixth time in 10 starts this season. "I guess they're big numbers," said Busch, who ran the entire race on one set of left-side tires and arrived at the finish line 1.499 seconds ahead of Jones, who had taken four tires on his final pit stop under caution on Lap 178. "I really don't know what big numbers are, and records are made to be broken. "There may be somebody like me that comes along down the road that does the same thing that I've been fortunate enough to do … Running in this series is something fun for me to do, cool for me to do, and it also helps me out and gets me a little more experience." Brad Keselowski ran third but didn't have an answer for the top two JGR cars. Daniel Suarez came home fourth, followed by Austin Dillon . "We had a decent day," Keselowski said. "A little better than where we have been, which was something to be proud of, but of course we want to get to Victory Lane with the (No. 22 Team Penske) Ford. We aren't quite there, but we'll keep pushing. "That was a step in the right direction overall for sure." Busch may have been dominant up front, but there were compelling subplots behind him, the most noteworthy between Ty Dillon and Alex Bowman . Bowman, who will sub for ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, turned left into Dillon's No. 3 Chevrolet off Turn 2 on Lap 76, sending Dillon's car into the outside wall. Dillon was convinced Bowman wrecked him on purpose. Bowman asserted his car was forced wide, and the contact was unintentional. Dillon returned to action 55 laps down after repairs in the garage and twice tried to impede Bowman's progress on the track. "He tried to wreck me about four times after (the accident)," Bowman said after the race. "I don't blame him for being upset. He has every right to be upset… "He drove me way up the race track (right before the contact). He obviously got tight underneath me. I had a ton of wheel in it, and it finally caught. I barely came off the wall. You come off the wall six inches and you tag somebody in the right rear. I hate that for the 3 car, but I definitely didn't do it intentionally. He can think what he wants." Bowman was able to continue despite damage to the left front of his No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet and posted an eighth-place finish. Dillon, on the other hand, was scored 33rd and held third place in the XFINITY standings but fell to 48 points behind Suarez, who also expanded his series lead to 15 points over second-place Elliott Sadler , who ran 10th on Saturday.
GarageCam gets wicked awesome in New Hampshire
GarageCam host Matthew Dillner takes you through the NASCAR XFINITY Series garage at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as drivers gear up for the AutoLotto 200 .
A friendship motivates Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award finalist Logan Houptley
RELATED: All the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award finalists A friendship made a decade ago has endured -- and endeared, creating a heartwarming story. Logan Houptley and Mikayla Resh, children when they met, now are young adults who have a special bond that has led to the formation of a special cause. At the age of 10, Houptley met Resh in his third-grade classroom after moving to a new school district in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Resh was bravely facing the challenges presented by multiple disabilities that included brain damage, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder along with blindness and deafness. Houptley didn't see those challenges when he looked at Resh. Instead, he simply saw another child in need of compassion and kindness. Fellow classmates saw Resh in the same light. Collectively, they made sure she knew that she belonged . "I just found it so fascinating in third grade that the children who had grown up with Mikayla to that point already felt so comfortable with her and included her in the everyday life of the classroom," Houptley, 20, said. "I just took to that." That experience stuck with Houptley. How could it not? And so the friendship continued -- and continues still, along the way leading Houptley in 2010 to help found "Mikayla's Voice." The organization is dedicated to inspiring children and young adults to embrace individuals of all abilities, while championing cultural change by teaching communities about the importance of inclusion and acceptance. When Mikayla's Voice was founded, Houptley served as co-president of the Junior Board of Directors until 2015, when he became a member of the Board of Directors. Houptley, now living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is proudly representing "Mikayla's Voice" as one of four finalists for The NASCAR Foundation's 2016 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide. The award, which honors volunteers who work for children's causes in their communities, will be presented by France -- The NASCAR Foundation's Chairwoman Emeritus and founder – on Sept. 27 during The NASCAR Foundation's inaugural Honors Gala at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. The foundation will donate $100,000 to the charity represented by the award winner and $25,000 to each of the other three finalists' charities. The award winner will be determined via an online vote now underway and running through Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. (ET) at NASCAR.com/Award. Friends Mikayla Resh and Logan Houptley work on a finger painting together. Houptley always has been a strong advocate for Resh and other children facing similar challenges. As a founding member of "Mikayla's Voice," Logan has spoken at national conventions about a book written on Resh's life, promoted inclusion in sports and recreation through "Tri for Inclusion" triathlons and led a fundraising efforts for the organization. Through books, school assemblies, recreational activities, cultural initiatives, and more, "Mikayla's Voice" demonstrates vividly the importance of inclusion. Approximately 25,000 children have been impacted by the organization's school assemblies; there have been 440 participants in Tri for Inclusion triathlons which pair able-bodied athletes with physically challenged athletes; and 14,000 children have been impacted by "Wheels of Friendship," an initiative that allows children to paint with the wheels of a wheelchair and the paws of service dogs. On Sunday, Houptley will attend the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway where he'll be cheering for his favorite driver, Tony Stewart, who is making his final start at Pocono. Most importantly, Houptley will be representing Mikayla's Voice, meeting with media and other fans to talk about inclusion and acceptance – and the friendship which continues to chart his personal course. "In terms of inclusion, I think we've made a big difference with 'Mikayla's Voice,' " Houptley said, "but in terms of the big picture, yes, we've made some strides there's still a long way to go. … I'm definitely in for the long haul as far as I can tell." To learn more about this year's finalists for The NASCAR Foundation's Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide, and to cast your vote today, go to www.NASCAR.com/Award . Voting is open now until Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. ET.
Truex gets another tease of victory at New Hampshire
LOUDON, N.H. -- Martin Truex Jr. was counting the positives and trying to ignore the negatives when he climbed out of his Furniture Row Racing entry Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. For the fourth time this season, the 36-year-old led more than 100 laps and he was out front with less than 40 laps remaining in the New Hampshire 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The performance bodes well for the series' fall return, when the track hosts the second race in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But a broken shifter left him with a lame No. 78 Toyota down the stretch. Visions of victory were replaced with thoughts of merely making it to the end. He did, finishing 16th, despite numerous late restarts that left him perfect for the picking. "It's not tough, it's just that you're a sitting duck and there's nothing you can do to get going," Truex said. "Unfortunately we got passed by a lot of cars and we pitted for tires on that last stop because we were starting all the way in the back ... and we wanted to get some momentum going ... make sure we didn't destroy the race car getting in a wreck. "We passed 10 cars in the last 10 laps so we had a good race car, just nothing to show for it today." Toyotas were dominant on a mostly sunny day here at the 1.058-mile track, leading all but two of the 301 laps. And the Toyota of Truex was, for most of the day, as strong as any. He led 83 consecutive laps early (from Lap 89-171) and 37 circuits a bit later (from Lap 221-257). His team was quick and efficient on pit road. Mistake-free. "I think looking forward to the Chase and what we're trying to do with this team, this is a big relief to come here and be able to run well," said Truex, who won earlier this year with a dominant performance in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. "We knew this was one of our tough tracks and if we could come here and get through here good in September then we'll be set up to start pretty good in the Chase. "All in all, couldn't be more proud of everybody at Furniture Row Racing and everybody on this Toyota. We weren't that good yesterday ... but the guys went to work last night and we had some good ideas, we talked about it and some things stuck out to Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and the guys and things that they thought we needed to work on just based on what I felt yesterday." Truex led 141 laps earlier this year at Texas and 172 at Kansas, in addition to his Charlotte effort. All three tracks will host Chase races. Sunday's result was credited to "total team effort," he said, "and the pit crew was great today, the best they've been all year by far. "We're doing everything right, but we're taking some on the chin here, but this isn't when it counts so we'll just keep our heads up and keep working. Our race cars are fast and everyone is doing a great job. Sooner or later we'll get everything straight."
Ben-Hur's Jack Huston to drive pace car at The Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (July 29, 2016) -- Jack Huston, star of the upcoming epic action adventure "BEN-HUR" from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, will drive a 2016 Toyota Camry pace car to kick off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It™ 355 at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, August 7. This will be Huston’s first time serving as an Official Pace Car drive at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. He will also be recognized during pre-race ceremonies and will greet each NASCAR driver on stage during driver introductions. "I am excited to join NASCAR and get behind the wheel of today’s modern chariot," said Huston. "BEN-HUR" is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer in the Roman army. Stripped of his title, separated from his family and the woman he loves (Nazanin Boniadi), Judah is forced into slavery. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption. Based on Lew Wallace's timeless novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The film also stars Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black D’Elia and Morgan Freeman. Timur Bekmambetov directed the film from a screenplay by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Sean Daniel, Joni Levin, and Duncan Henderson served as producers, with Mark Burnett, Roma Downey, Keith Clarke, John Ridley, and Jason F. Brown serving as executive producers. "BEN-HUR" will be released in theaters on August 19, 2016. Huston previously starred for four seasons in HBO's hit series, Boardwalk Empire, as the sniper with the horribly disfigured face, 'Richard Harrow.' In 2013, Huston appeared in the critically acclaimed and award-winning film American Hustle, where he played mobster 'Pete Musane.' Additionally, he starred as 'Young Ira' in George Tillman Jr.'s film adaption of the Nicholas Sparks novel, The Longest Ride. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Watkins Glen International August 4-7 for the Cheez-It™ 355 race weekend, which also features the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Bully Hill Vineyards 100, and the NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at The Glen. Tickets for all of the action are available by calling 1-866-461-RACE or by logging on to www.theglen.com . Fans can also watch the Cheez-It™ 355 live on USA at 2:30 p.m. ET or listen on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Located within five (5) hours (~300 miles) of 25 percent of the US population, Watkins Glen International is the premier road racing facility in North America, voted "Best NASCAR Track" by readers of USA Today. Keep up with The Glen on Facebook and Twitter. For tickets, call 866-461-RACE or visit www.theglen.com.
Byron checks off boxes one milestone at a time
Editor's note: This story originally ran July 12, prior to Byron's fifth series win of 2016 at Pocono Raceway. William Byron had one request for his father when he attended his first-ever NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway on April 2, 2006. To see the ever-popular burnout. "My first race I went to, actually, Tony Stewart won and he climbed the fence at Martinsville," Byron told NASCAR.com at the Kyle Busch Motorsports shop in Mooresville, North Carolina earlier this month. "I told my dad when I went to my first race that we had to stay for the burnout, and now I get to do the burnouts, I get to do the cool celebrations, so that's a neat part for me." Now with four 2016 wins in just 11 career starts and an official lock in the Chase, the Camping World Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender has left his own marks on the start/finish lines of Kansas Speedway , Texas Motor Speedway , Iowa Speedway and, most recently, Kentucky Speedway on July 7. For Byron -- who confessed he didn't even know how to do a burnout after his first win in Victory Lane -- the initial wave of success has taken the 18-year-old on a strong current that has left the NASCAR community wondering: where did this kid come from? Most recently, the hallways of Charlotte Country Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina. • • • It wasn't long ago that young Byron was living the life of an ordinary high school student in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Balancing classes, homework and the everyday tasks of high schoolers, he earned his first Camping World Truck Series win at Kansas Speedway just three weeks before donning a cap and gown for high school graduation. Diploma now in hand and atop the Camping World Truck Series point standings, he hasn't let off the gas since. "The first win was nerve-wracking and kind of got that out of the way so we could focus on the Chase," Byron said. "But then we kind of realized we had to get a second win to make sure we were locked into the Chase. When we got that second one at Texas, everything just started to roll after that." His success in a short period of time has surprised and impressed many. His mother, who was also at the race shop on Monday afternoon following a team win luncheon, showed off a picture of one of her son's early wins in racing, much like any proud mother would of her star high school football player, talented musician or stellar student. Several years ago, she wouldn't have anticipated William would be racing like he is today. Neither did William. "When I was a fan , I was a big fan of Jimmie Johnson ," Byron recalled. "… I just watched the races just like any young kid out there and aspired to be in racing. Not necessarily a driver, but now I've been able to drive and it's a dream come true." Byron kick-started his career later than most budding racers, purchasing his first Legends car at the age of 14, just four years ago. "When I was 12 or 13 … I started to understand racing and how I could drive a race car," Byron said. "I started to do iRacing and I was pretty good at it, so then I said, well if I can do that, maybe I can get into a Legend car or a real car and succeed in that. "Every step was kind of a new check off the list to see if I could do it." • • • As the 2016 season rolls on, Byron continues to check boxes off his list. His win at Kentucky marked the 51st win for Kyle Busch Motorsports, the most for any Camping World Truck Series team in series history. He matched Kurt Busch 's 2000 record in the Truck Series for the most wins in one season by a rookie with four trips to Victory Lane. Only difference between a young Busch and Byron? Busch recorded his final 2000 Truck Series win at the end of the season, while Byron has 13 more races to surpass that record and pencil his own name into the history books. "That's another incentive going down the road to try and get another win to break that record," Byron said of the potential milestone. "That's a personal incentive, but I like the team incentive that we set, just like getting the 51st win was really important to my guys and just really good for our team." With a humble and friendly demeanor, Byron gives credit to his team, both his own No. 9 crew as well as teammate and Gateway winner Christopher Bell , who he'll lean on for dirt experience in the upcoming race at Eldora Speedway . Bell won the race at the dirt track last year. And of course, there's team owner Kyle Busch , who has served as a mentor for several young drivers, including reigning Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones . Busch often refers to his young pupils jokingly as students in the " Kyle Busch School of Charm" -- but that charm dissipates slightly on the race track, as "Rowdy" transitions into often his students' fiercest competitor. "Kyle's competitive, obviously; he wants to win every week," Byron said of the boss man. "But at the same time, he doesn’t compromise the race team and helping us grow as young drivers to make sure we know what we need to do on the race track. So, he's a coach, a mentor and also a competitor. But when we get out there on the race track, he’s definitely trying to win and that's the cool part about it." Byron may be passing the School of Charm with flying colors but he'll become a student in a different facet in the fall, when he attends Liberty University as a business major. He's begun taking a couple courses now, but will start attending classes on campus when the new semester commences. Tack on the start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase in September, and the 18-year-old is looking at quite a hectic autumn. "The number one focus is the race team and that's what we’re making sure to do, is that we stay focused on what I need to do around the shop or how I need to manage that," Byron said. "But Liberty does a great job of managing my school around my racing. They know my schedule is busy, they see the races on T.V. and and they make sure that they’re following me, so they're going to know in the fall that there’s a lot going on but I think they really support it and they'll be able to work around it." As for the Chase? Byron & Co. have already started their homework. "The Chase races are races that we're, as a race team, are really good at," Byron said. "The mile-and-a-half races, we've won three of those of the four this year, and a couple short tracks we've done well on too. I think we're going to be really strong in Martinsville in the Chase and I've got a win at New Hampshire in the K&N car, so hopefully we can get a win there and solidify our spot in the next round and get to Martinsville to get to Homestead. "It's a tough challenge, but I'm just hoping that we have solid finishes and get a couple wins." Win by win, the column of checked boxes on Byron’s list seems to get longer and longer. While he focuses his target on the Camping World Truck Series championship for now, he aims higher later down the road. "Hopefully I can get to the (Sprint) Cup Series in the next four, five years," Byron said. "That's ultimately the goal to race at the top level of NASCAR. "I'm just trying to build those opportunities as they come and hopefully that's what lies ahead." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Almirola reflects on career, heritage as he makes 200th start
Aric Almirola insists he was absolutely prepared to climb into his No. 43 Smithfield Ford this Sunday for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway completely focused on nothing other than scoring a victory and working toward earning a position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But his public relations team brought up an important milestone that even he conceded was definitely worth noting, if not celebrating. This Sunday's race marks the 32-year old Almirola's 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start -- a significant measure of his staying power and a testament to how far he's come. Literally. He is the son of a Cuban immigrant on his dad's side of the family and the grandson of one of Florida's most celebrated and accomplished racers -- Sam Rodriguez -- on his mom's side. That has created a unique background dynamic that gives Almirola motivation and pride. And makes this weekend a heartfelt measure of success. "I think here I am and my dad came over from Cuba and 50 years later I'm making my 200th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty," Almirola said. "It's so crazy to me, what living in this country affords you and allows you to be able to do, and my grandparents made that decision to come over here and take this chance." The sheer number of starts represents a mark of opportunity for Almirola. Making it into NASCAR's big league was always the harder path, the road less travelled. But he has made it. And that's only the beginning. "I don't think anybody dreams about running two hundred races, they dream about 'a' race," Almirola said. "So as a kid I dreamed about driving 'a' Cup car, running 'a' race. So, now the fact I've had the opportunity to do it two hundred times, when you realize that, and the marketing department brings to your attention that, 'Hey, Pocono is going to be your 200th start,' it really makes you kind of reflect on everything that's led up to this. "From being a kid racing go-karts all the way up to all the opportunities I've had. I realize by reflecting on all that stuff how fortunate and blessed I am." The thing is, Almirola could have just as easily been a star baseball player as a winning NASCAR driver. His native city of Tampa, Florida is a ballplayer's town. It produced Wade Boggs and Lou Piniella. Both Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield graduated from Almirola's Hillsborough High School. A calendar year in this part of the country has traditionally been delineated by baseball and football seasons. That just makes Almirola's success climbing the NASCAR ranks even more impressive. "I was in somewhat of a hot bed there for athletes," Almirola said smiling. "But I had a really strong passion for racing and I know that made me somewhat of an outsider at school growing up. When friends would ask, 'Hey what are you doing this weekend?' I'd say, I was going racing. "That kind of separated me from a lot of kids at school -- not in a bad way, I wasn't an outcast in a negative way, but I didn't have as close a relationship with kids at school because I didn't go parties at their house Friday night after football games. I was always working on my race cars or go-karts and racing on the weekends. "I wasn't looking for something to do on the weekend. I already had it." "I was always going to be a NASCAR guy. My grandfather raced sprint cars, so obviously the open wheel path was there, too. He'd race at East Bay every Saturday night and occasionally travel around the country going to races. But every Sunday it was normal, to get up, eat breakfast, hang around the house and then watch the Cup race. That was routine around my parents and my grandparents. We love NASCAR." The result for Almirola has been a starring role driving his sport's most iconic car -- the No. 43 -- for the sport's biggest legend, Petty. NASCAR's crown jewel, Daytona International Speedway, is also Almirola's "home track" and fittingly the venue he won his first Sprint Cup Series race in 2014, the Coke Zero 400 -- exactly 30 years after his boss Petty scored his historic 200th victory at the track. Consider this: Petty's win total would be equivalent to Almirola winning every start he's made. RELATED: Almirola's Darlington scheme honors Petty " Darlington schemes Though that remains the only Cup victory so far for Almirola, it was enough to propel him into the 2014 Chase and make him only more eager to return. His team's best finish this year is a 12th-place in the season-opening Daytona 500. He's had four top-15 showings -- three in the season's opening four races. He ranks 25th in points entering Pocono, hopeful to score a win in one of the remaining six races to set the 16-driver Chase field. "I think the reality is we have struggled this season and you can tell by watching the race and looking at our results," Almirola said. "This year has been a struggle and we can't really put our finger on what's wrong. People often ask what's wrong and it sounds like a smart-aleck answer, but if I knew, we'd fix it. "There are a couple places looking ahead that have been strong for us. Bristol comes to top of mind. We had a chance to win there a couple years ago battling with Carl Edwards. And then there's (regular season finale) Richmond. Last year we went there kinda do or die to make the Chase and finished fourth, but had a really strong car and a legitimate chance to win that race, too. Those are kind of top of mind to me where we might go in and get a win." Listening to Almirola reflect on his first 200 races, there is both a fond memory of what it took to get to this point and a distinct urgency in his voice to succeed in a way worthy of the hard work already put in. "Making my 200th start really forces me to reflect and when I do that and think about doing it for Richard Petty, who is very much an American icon. And I can't help but reflect on my family, which has done so much and sacrificed so much to get me where I'm at," Almirola said. "It really is amazing."