For most racers, the dream is to one day reach the pinnacle of NASCAR, the Monster Energy Cup Series. Dylan Lupton got a taste of that feeling in 2016, racing in four events.
However, entering 2017, the California native had no full-time opportunity for the third consecutive season, after spending 2013 and 2014 in the K&N Pro Series West division where the then 20-year-old showed a lot of promise. In 29 races, covering the two seasons, Lupton had two victories, posting 26 top-10 finishes.
On the initial 2017 XFINITY Series schedule, Lupton picked up seven starts with JGL Racing. With an average finish of 21.9, and having secured sponsorship, he has put together an additional seven races, three of which have already completed. Thus far he has been in the car for nine of his 14 scheduled races in JGL Racing’s “Young Guns” program.
Lupton kicked off his series of starts at Richmond Raceway, finishing ninth, a season-best. Since then, the 23-year-old has a best finish of 15th, coming at Iowa Speedway in late June.
With the mix of results, Lupton is optimistic as his final races in the No. 24 car draws near.
“It’s been up down, that’s for sure,” Lupton told Frontstretch, regarding his 2017 season. “We went to a few tracks where it was my first time there, so I was having to figure out the track and we were a little bit behind the eight ball. But we’re all working hard and I feel like we’re getting better. On paper, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, however, as a team were starting to jell and working together.”
Lupton is sharing time in the No. 24 machine with Cup Series rookie Corey LaJoie, Jeb Burton and Drew Herring, Cale Conley and Scott Lagasse Jr. Out of the six drivers, Lupton has been in the car the most, getting familiar with the race team. Burton has piloted the machine in five events and will be in it again this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Competing on a partial schedule has proven its challenges for Lupton, as well as the race team.
“We all have our own unique driving styles and it’s probably a pain for Clint [Cram, crew chief] to try and learn that,” Lupton said. “But luckily, I’ve been able to be in the seat the most out of all of us so far. We’re kind of able to work the car and the setups around me, now. It’s been a fun challenge and I’m looking forward to the rest of the races with JGL.”
Dakoda Armstong has also been a part of JGL Racing for the past two seasons. With five races remaining until the playoff cutoff, the No. 28 team is sitting ninth in the championship standings, 55 markers ahead of Ryan Sieg, the first driver outside the bubble. While Armstrong’s focus is on making a run at the series title, Lupton often leans on him for his veteran knowledge.
“He has a ton of experience and that’s something that would help me going full-time, just being in the seat every week,” Lupton said. “It would help quite a bit. I think if we’re able to get a full-time ride next year, we could be in a similar spot that he is in now. It seems like every race the equipment gets better and better and we’re learning more. I think 2018 will be even better than 2017.”
Lupton, adorned with tattoos and always wearing a flat brim hat, feels he has a lot to prove in a short period of time. However, he knows that JGL is not quite among one of the elite teams in the XFINITY Series.
There are upward of 20 teams either run by Cup Series teams or an affiliation to the top series. JGL Racing has no alliance, going with the old-school approach. For that, the team has to fight for every position on the track.
“Realistically right now we’re probably an 18th, 20th-place team,” Lupton said. “This is probably the most competitive XFINITY Series season in a long time. However, we’re catching up and we’re on the upswing. We’re learning more and more each weekend. We only have room to improve.”
Because Lupton is not filling a seat every week in any series, it’s been tough to gain track time with NASCARs testing policy. In his down time, you can find him training with UFC fighters, throwing weights around, or relaxing on a beach.
Though he indeed takes racing seriously.
“I’m always thinking about racing,” he said. “During the week, I’m working on gaining potential sponsors for next year, doing sponsor appearances for NutUp, watching film—I’m always watching the races even if I’m not at the racetrack.
“You don’t learn unless you’re at the racetrack, and I’ve come to the track a couple of times when I’m not racing just to sit on the pit box, talk with the engineer and Clint, just to learn more about these racecars. To really improve as a driver, you really need to be in the seat every weekend.”
Lupton’s next appearance behind the wheel of the No. 24 machine is at Road America. In 2013, he finished 13th, filling in for John Wes Townley.
In his nine races this season, Lupton has three top-20 finishes, with a pair of 22nd-place results. Despite some tough luck at time that has hovered and haunted the No. 24 team, the driver admits that for the most part the organization has achieved its goals. But like he said, there is room to improve.
“You don’t learn anything when you have a torn up racecar, and so far we’ve been able to run all the laps and gain a tremendous amount of experience,” Lupton said. Then, if we can run inside the top 20 every weekend, that would be great. A lot of places we have run inside the top 20 all day and something has happened at the end. That’s been a little bit frustrating. This year is kind of built on gaining experience at a bunch of different tracks that I have never been to, so when 2018 comes I’ll be ready to get rolling.”
Depending on results and of course the inevitable financial obligations, Lupton’s status for 2018 with JGL Racing looks to be positive. It’s a place where he would enjoy competing at for years to come.
“This is probably the first year that I know this is where I want to be. I want to run full-time for JGL next year,” he said. “I just have to work outside the financial side working, but if I could be in a racecar every year from now until the end of my career, I would be really happy.”
- Coming off the road course race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a trio of road ringers filled positions inside the top 10 in the second of three road races this month. James Davison, competing in just his second career NASCAR race finished fourth with Andy Lally picking up his first top-five finish in NASCAR (fifth). Defending winner Justin Marks rounded out the top 10.
- With five races to go before the second annual XFINITY playoffs begin at Kentucky Speedway, Michael Annett has been moved to the bubble after seven consecutive finishes outside the top 15. The No. 5 car has 34 points on Ryan Sieg for the final position.
- Friday evening’s races at Bristol Motor Speedway has a handful of top Cup Series regulars on the entry list. Austin Dillon won the race last season and is making his first start for Richard Childress Racing since Dover in June. Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano and eight-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch are all going for the victory. Oh, yeah, this guy named Dale Earnhardt Jr. is making his first XFINITY start of the season.