TALLADEGA, Ala. — Audio and story by Race Chaser Online Northeast Correspondent Kyle Magda — Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
The Talladega ties to the McReynolds family have their winning ways.
NASCAR on FOX analyst Larry McReynolds grew up in nearby Birmingham and won a Cup race as crew chief for the late Davey Allison in May 1992. 20 years later, he was once again standing in Talladega victory lane, but this time it was another McReynolds who got the job done at the 2.66-mile track.
Son Brandon scored his first ARCA Racing Series win after passing Matt Lofton in the tri-oval on the final lap of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250. The 20-year-old driver finally tasted victory after a heartbreaking loss at the end of the ARCA season-opener at Daytona when he ran out of fuel while leading within a few hundred feet of the checkers.
Now, the younger McReynolds will have his first shot at a second Talladega victory since that 2012 score — driving for JGL Racing this weekend in the NASCAR XFINITY Series — and he says that the mammoth superspeedway still has tremendous meaning to both he and his family.
“Talladega (is) more meaningful just because that my dad’s home state,” Brandon McReynolds said. “He grew up in Birmingham, just right down the road where a lot of our family is from, so he grew up going over to Talladega and watching races as a young kid. It really meant a lot to me to go down there and win in my dad’s home state, which I somewhat consider my home as well, even though I’m from Charlotte, North Carolina.”
Saturday’s Sparks Energy 300 will be McReynolds’ first XFINITY start since 2010 and only the second of his career, and it’s an opportunity he says he is primed and ready for.
“It was really exciting,” McReynolds said about the deal. “Matt Tifft actually gave me a call … I guess it’s been a couple weeks ago now … and had (said) that he was going to be driving the No. 18 for Kyle (Busch) and getting his big opportunity over there at Joe Gibbs Racing. He talked to me, and him and James Widener, our owner over there at JGL, sat down and talked and kind of formulated a plan to let me get back to Talladega and try to mix it up with those guys with our No. 24 Toyota down there.”
McReynolds will drive the same car J.J. Yeley piloted to a fourth-place finish in last year’s event for the underfunded team.
While Yeley was still competing for JGL, McReynolds was running the K&N Pro Series West full-time for Bill McAnally Racing, the second season of a two-year run that included becoming the first driver to record a season sweep of the Iowa East-West combo events.
The status of JGR’s No. 18 Toyota for Talladega was to be determined, until the organization announced that NOS Energy Drink had stepped up its support in four additional races for the 19-year-old Tifft, including this weekend’s race at the Alabama track — allowing McReynolds to occupy the open JGL seat.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity. Opportunities like that don’t present themselves very often anymore, but I’m definitely very grateful to James and his whole entire company at JGL Racing came and obviously Matt Tifft, for really trying to help orchestrate all of this. I think it’ll be a good opportunity for us to go down there and show people what we can do.”
“It’s going to be tough, me being a rookie in the XFINITY Series. I’ve had a lot of success with other teams at the superspeedways in the ARCA division — which, it’s still hard to get the job done in ARCA — but everyone knows it’s definitely harder to compete at a higher level in the XFINITY Series. Instead of having 10 guys that know what’s going on in the draft, you got 40 guys that know what’s going on in the draft, so it’s going to be a challenge for sure.”
McReynolds has two previous ARCA starts at Talladega, that both came with the now-defunct Turner Motorsports.
Defending race winner Joey Logano gave the 24-year-old driver some advice on how the XFINITY cars run at the restrictor-plate track. McReynolds has one previous series start at Gateway International Raceway in Oct. 2010, but has no experience with the current body style.
“You always look for that No. 22 car with Logano driving,” McReynolds said. “I’m sure he’ll be at the front and hopefully we’ll be right there with him with our Toyotas. Spoke with him the other day, he gave me a few pointers, some things to look for in practice and (he told me to) pay attention to your car and how it sucks up in the draft and all that.”
Knowing that he’ll need a partner in the draft on Saturday, who will McReynolds team up with?
“I’ve known the Dillon brothers for a long time. I’m not sure if Austin’s running in the race, but you always look for guys like that have a lot of experience at places in that series that you can hook up with. At the same time, I’ve got a good teammate down there with Dakoda Armstrong and (I’ll) obviously be looking out for that No. 18 car with Matt Tifft in it too. I guess you never really know who you’ll work with until the pack plays itself out, but we hope to be right up there.”
Both McReynolds and Armstrong are Talladega ARCA winners and know how to draft at the restrictor-plate tracks. Armstrong won the pole for the July Daytona race in 2014 and is no slouch either on these types of places.
When he’s not driving, McReynolds coaches 17-year-old Noah Gragson on his K&N efforts and guides him from the spotter’s stand in his races. The two raced against each other during last year’s K&N West season, with Gragson having a legitimate chance at winning the title but being edged by McReynolds’ teammate Chris Eggleston for the championship.
“The kid has a lot of natural capability,” McReynolds said of Gragson. “At the end of the day, it’s hard to look at the kid and tell him what your opinion is from the spotter’s stand or what I think (he) should do. There was a few times that he kicked my butt last year when I was racing against him. I think the biggest thing about Noah is he’s young and trying to learn and his maturing process has been really good.”
“It’s just about learning the lingo with your guys and that’s one of the things that we’ve been working on. He’s been doing an awesome job, getting better week in-and-out, talking about his race car and trying to give good, solid feedback so his crew chief and owner, Jerry Pitts, can make it better for him.”
McReynolds also works on race cars for Ranier Racing with MDM, the team that has finished second with Kyle Benjamin (Greenville-Pickens & Bristol) and Spencer Davis (New Smyrna & Mobile) in all four K&N East races this season.
At some point in 2016, McReynolds may join them on track for a few K&N starts late in the year.
“As of right now, that’s really it — I’ve just got the one (XFINITY) race and then, me and Tommy Baldwin are building a new K&N car to run the last three K&N races I think on the East Coast. It’s just a little bit here and there, but I’m definitely trying to strive for having more opportunities and being in the car,” McReynolds said. “Just really thankful that James Widener and his whole group at JGL are helping out because I think it might be the start of something really great and try to grow that relationship.”
J.J. Yeley and Means Racing driver Joey Gase both earned top-five finishes in last year’s Talladega race for the small teams, and McReynolds has the chance to repeat history on Saturday with a strong-run in the 300-mile race.
Audio with Brandon McReynolds:
Part 1 of 2
Part 2 of 2
About the Writer
Kyle Magda is a Northeast Correspondent for Race Chaser Online and a co-host of both Motorsports Madness and the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show, airing at 7 p.m. ET on Monday and Thursday nights, respectively, on the Performance Motorsports Network. Magda broke into racing in mid-2001 as the sport’s tide was beginning to change towards the current modern-era formula, but still has an affinity for the history of NASCAR’s earlier days.
The 23-year-old is a graduate of Penn State University and can be found traveling to numerous tracks across the country, covering everything from NASCAR and the ARCA Racing Series to the UNOH All-Stars Circuit of Champions and the Super Cup Stock Car Series.
Email Kyle at: [email protected]
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