Prior to making the jump, part-time, to the XFINITY Series this season, NASCAR fans might recall Brandon Brown‘s top-five performance in the Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona to kick off the 2016 season. Maybe they remember the epic save he had at Kansas Speedway en route to a 12th-place finish. Or maybe they didn’t know about him at all.
Moving up to the penultimate series of NASCAR has its challenges, especially for a small, low-budget race organization. But it’s what you do with the opportunity, and Brown enjoys the challenge.
During Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway, Brown found himself running with the elites of both the XFINITY and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, finishing 20th. It marked his second top-20 effort of the season in just eight races. At one point he cracked the top 15 in a car, owned by Mario Gosselin, that hadn’t finished in the top 20 since Dover International Raceway at the beginning of June, when the Virginia native piloted the No. 90 car to a 17th-place effort.
Brown had a fast racecar, period. And when a hungry driver has a good rocket underneath them, who’s to say what they can do with it.
“I always like the tracks that kind of equalize the playing field because I feel that we can have a lot stronger runs compared to going to any of the mile-and-a-halves,” Brown told Frontstretch. “We don’t get the wind tunnel and aero time to know to make these adjustments that these other teams know. Getting to run tracks like Dover, Darlington and Richmond, it kind of helps us out quite a bit just because it’s more of what we have been used to with the short tracks.”
Brown, 23, has competed in just 11 career XFINITY events. In eight races this season for King Autosport, he has an average finish of 26.1, while attending college at Coastal Carolina University.
The main component that hinders the race team is the challenge it faces being underfunded, though receiving the majority of his sponsorship through his university. It makes everyone’s job that much harder.
“We’ve really been focusing on trying to get the basic fundamentals of each track down,” Brown said of his season. “When I say that, I mean, we really have to focus on everything on the car is right, so we don’t have problems throughout the day. I think Darlington is the first weekend that we didn’t run into some major problem that really hindered our team.”
The driver admits that when there is a problem on the racecar, it’s a collaborative effort to diagnose what is wrong. Unlike some of the bigger teams in the series, King Autosport has a handful of employees, and when something is wrong, they pull everyone toward that issue.
“This year has been one of those years where we’ve had to shake off a little bit of the new team problems,” he said. “We don’t know everything that there is to know about the XFINITY cars because we’re just so new to it.”
Prior to moving to the XFINITY Series, Brown competed in 21 Truck Series events, spanning from 2014 through 2016. This year, he has made one start at Martinsville Speedway, finishing 27th with Martins Motorsports.
Adjusting to the series with personal crew chief Adam Brenner has been one of the keys to the team’s rise. When Brown is in the No. 90 car, it’s essentially funded and worked on by personal at Brandonbilt Motorsports, which prior to the season announced they were going to run a partial schedule on their own. Merging with King Autosport has kept Gosselin up in the owner’s points and so that the rookie driver doesn’t have to qualify his way into the main event.
With that, Brown has seen an area of improvement since his first race with the team at Atlanta Motor Speedway in early March.
“Our biggest strength that we have improved on has been communicating,” Brown said. “A lot of working on feedback, that’s one of the things that Butch (Hylton, formerly with Red Horse Racing) and Tony Raines (spotter) have really helped me pick up a lot is giving feedback to the team of what the car might need. That’s been really helpful this season. Another big strength is everybody getting focused in on their position and really owning in on the talents they have on the team.”
While trying to prove his talents on the track, Brown also seeks advice from other star-studded drivers. He admits that current championship leader Elliott Sadler has been an advocate of his, always being an open book. He has also picked the mind of Matt DiBenedetto, who was once in a similar situation as Brown, trying to make it to the top level with little to no funding.
Unfortunately, current day NASCAR revolves around funding. And if someone else has it, it might leave another, possibly more-talented driver behind and that’s difficult to accept.
“The funding is really the brick wall that we’ve hit,” Brown elaborated. “Talking with the family, because it is a family team with mom and dad, they are the main source behind everything. They were very adamant on me getting a degree and then racing second, and it’s always been that way since I began racing go-karts. We do want to eventually have the plan set to go full-time, but that would look more like the 2019 season would be more of a possibility for it than right now.”
For now, Brown is focused on his last two races of the season that will take place over the next month. He will return home to his third visit at Richmond Raceway, his home track in an XFINITY car, making his debut last season, finishing 29th. His final race scheduled for 2017 will come at Dover on Sept. 3.
Between that pair of races, Brown has one goal in mind, besides winning, of course.
“We really look to prove that we are supposed to be here,” Brown said. “We are a team that should be recognized when we pull into the track. I hope to show that I have the driving ability to outperform a lot of the equipment that we have. I really hope to show that through the on-track experience, because it’s tough when we only get to run eight to 11 races a season.
“I would really like to show other owners and other drivers that when I’m there, we’re racing just as hard as you guys are even though we are respectful with other teams have points that they need to watch out for when we’re getting close to the playoff season. I don’t want to be the guy who takes an opportunity away from somebody else racing hard for a top 15 to top 20 position. At the same time, I’m not going to give you the spot.”
- Heading into this weekend’s race at Richmond Raceway, you can bet on Cup drivers running toward the front of the field. Six-time winner Kyle Busch is making his last XFINITY start of the season in the No. 18 Toyota. Add Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard and Ty Dillon and you have five drivers that could be triumphant.
- Justin Allgaier dominated the spring event, leading a career-high 157 laps, en route to a runner-up finish to Kyle Larson. Since the race to close out April, the No. 7 team has been up and down with five finishes of 20th or worse.
- Finishing 13th at Darlington Raceway, Brendan Gaughan now leads Dakoda Armstrong by 20 points for the coveted final playoff position. Though three other drivers are still mathematically eligible to qualify in on points with two races to go, everyone 14th and back will likely need a victory.