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TSJSports Inside Access to NASCAR Xfinity and Trucks Awards Banquet



The stars of NASCAR’s Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series took to the red carpet for Awards Banquet night 2017. The drivers traded in their firesuits for shirts and ties, to celebrate their seasons and the champions. NASCAR took over the Charlotte Convention Center for a night of commemoration and remembrance.

The teams of Kyle Busch Motorsports, Team Penske, JR Motorsports, and the Championship 4 drivers were all guests of honor. KBM won both the Driver’s and Owner’s Championship in the Truck Series, with Christopher Bell. Penske won the Xfinity Owner’s Championship, and JRM won the Driver’s title with William Byron.

For both series, the Championship 4 drivers were being heralded for outstanding efforts in 2017. Along with Bell, the Truck Series Championship 4 were Johnny Sauter, Austin Cindric, and Matt Crafton. Besides Byron, the Xfinity drivers on hand were Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, and Daniel Hemric.

2 of the most prestigious awards handed out were Most Popular Driver and Rookie of the Year. MPD honors went to Chase Briscoe in Trucks as well as to Elliott Sadler in the Xfinity Series. Rookie honors were bestowed upon Briscoe and William Byron.

TSJSports was able to secure interviews with all of the Championship 4 drivers from both series. Highlights from the interviews can be seen below.

Matt Crafton

California’s Matt Crafton had a remarkable season. In 23 starts, he earned 1 win, 5 top 5s, 16 top 10s, and 321 laps led.

His lone win of the year, Eldora, opened up a unique offseason opportunity for the veteran. “Next weekend at Duquoin Speedway I am making my USAC midgets debut, driving for Jack Irving. The chance came up in a casual conversation, and I said yeah. 2 days later he said choose which race you want to run. We thought about a race during the Truck season. But I didn’t want to do it during my schedule, so I picked something during the offseason.”

“There’s a reason I race some dirt and other stuff outside of Trucks, and that’s because I’m a racer. I want to go out and race everything and anything I possibly can. I bought my own dirt car in order to perfect dirt racing. It’s the same with the go-kart. Bell is going to be my teammate, so he and Chase Briscoe have been giving me advice and showing me in-car footage of Duquoin. My only practice in the midget will be 4 laps, then it’s the heat race, then hopefully the main event.”

Daniel Hemric

A rookie year in Xfinity competition marked by consistency and flying below-the-radar for much of the year described Daniel Hemric’s 2017. With this in mind, Hemric is looking to repeat his success in 2018. “We need to hit the ground running in Daytona. Danny Stockman will definitely be my crew chief, so that’s a positive. We need to get as many stage points as possible before the Playoffs. To know we made it to Homestead, representing RCR and our sponsors, and be leading when we had our issues, is something to be excited about.”

Austin Cindric

The first full year in stock cars for Austin Cindric ended up being Brad Keselowski Racing’s last season. It resulted in 1 win and a trip to Homestead. “I came in with no expectations, not knowing half the tracks I was going to and half the things I was going to be expected to do. I’m not sure you can expect to be one of the 4 best in the series as a rookie. So for me, coming this far in so little time is a testament to those around me. Everyone at BKR did an awesome job, we had awesome short-run speed at Homestead. We were probably a restart away from the championship. Regardless, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be feeling lucky about.”

Justin Allgaier

Like many of NASCAR’s top stars, Justin Allgaier refuses to cut his ties to grassroots-level dirt racing. In January, Allgaier will run at the Chili Bowl Nationals in Oklahoma. “If you told me I could win the Chili Bowl or the Daytona 500, there’s not a lot different to me as far as the want factor. There’s a select few races in my life that I’ve been close to winning and haven’t got them, and that’s one of them. I’ve made a few mistakes the last couple of years, to keep me from winning. I’ll try to change that this year.” Allgaier’s 2017 season was much like his 2016. He had 2 wins, 10 top 5s, 17 top 10s, 495 laps led, and a 3rd-place championship effort. He was also 1 of 3 JRM cars in the Championship 4, alongside teammates Elliott Sadler and William Byron.

Johnny Sauter

Defending Truck champion Johnny Sauter looked to repeat his 2016 feat, and he was in contention until the final laps at Homestead. “Old cats like me don’t know how many lives we got left. It’s an entirely different world of racing than when I first started, and GMS is an awesome organization. We got a lot of cool stuff there and they just continue to make it better. It’s a great atmosphere and a fun place to be. I have a great group of guys and I’m very satisfied with my current status.”

Elliott Sadler

If not for a controversial moment on-track at Homestead, Elliott Sadler may have been the 2017 champion. “I don’t need any more motivation to win, I’ve been doing this a long time and still have a lot of passion and fire in me. When I’m not motivated to win a championship I’m not going to race anymore. Homestead was very tough and hard to swallow, I felt like William and I had both earned the right to race for the championship, and others didn’t see it that way. It was frustrating how it played out, but I really felt more sorry for my guys. They put us in this position. It’s very hard to repeat, to make it to Miami and run for a championship 2 years in a row, and we did. It was very disappointing not to hand those guys a trophy.”

Christopher Bell

While the Awards Banquet night was focused on reflecting on an amazing 2017, Christopher Bell is now fully focused on 2018. The 2017 Truck Series champion will make the next step on the racing ladder in the Xfinity Series, racing for Joe Gibbs. “As we started 2017, our goals were to be competitive week in and week out, win races, be in the Final 4, and contend for a championship. We accomplished all of those goals. Thankfully for both of my years at KBM we’ve been in Homestead, and this year I got a ring out of it, which was special. It felt great to finish out a championship season.”

Elliott Sadler also predicted that Bell will be in the Final 4 next year, stating that he will be with a very fast and consistent team. “As far as next year goes, to win a championship you have to have a good night at Homestead. Obviously we want to win a championship but our goal has to be to make it to Homestead. That’s kind of what your season is based off of, if you can make the Final 4. That’s the mark of an exceptional year, so that’s going to be our goal in 2018. It’s gonna be a great learning curve, and I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but hopefully, it’ll be a smooth transition.”

I personally asked Bell whether team owner Kyle Busch helped him out at all in Homestead this year, as Bell had previously told me that Kyle spotted for him at Homestead in 2016. Bell stated “I never talked to Kyle after Phoenix. He wasn’t in the best mood that both of his trucks crashed racing for the lead. We weren’t able to communicate before Homestead because he was busy with his championship obligations. I’m glad it worked out, or else it would have been a very long talk between us.”

William Byron

Charlotte’s own William Byron has raced his way up the NASCAR developmental ladder at a lightning pace. 2015 was his first season in the K&N Pro Series East, where he captured the championship. 2016 saw him in the Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports, winning 7 times. 2017 was Byron’s Xfinity Series rookie campaign, winning 4 races and the championship.

“It’s been an awesome year, to win the races we have and the championship was really cool. The last 2 weeks have interestingly been a mix of leaving JRM, reflecting on 2017, and preparing for 2018 with Hendrick. The attention to detail at Hendrick is very immense, as well as their leadership from the top. I think that’s what makes them so successful. They also weren’t satisfied with this year, so I think we’re really excited to get going in 2018 with a lot of new stuff. They said it’s the most change they’ve had in a long time, so it’s going to be fun to be a part of that. I expect to compete and race hard, but anything is possible in terms of winning.”

While Byron will have full-time duties in the Hendrick 24 car next season, he may return to some Saturday racing as well. When I asked if he will run any Xfinity in 2018, Byron said “I’m not sure yet, they haven’t let me know. I’d like to run a few and still be somewhat involved, but my focus will stay on the task at hand in the 24.”

Like Byron, I am currently a college freshman. When I asked him how semester-ending exams are going, he said “They’re going really well. They’re almost all done. I’m really looking forward to next semester but balancing everything with racing will be interesting.”

In conclusion, the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series Awards Banquet was filled with deserving champions being honored for incredible efforts throughout 2017. All of us at TSJNASCAR want to congratulate everyone in both Xfinity and Trucks. We cannot wait until Daytona Speedweeks to bring you more racing news on this website.