Spencer Gallagher would like to forget 2017.
Everything was promising as he leaped into the NASCAR XFINITY Series after spending two full-time seasons in the Camping World Truck Series, narrowly missing the playoffs in 2016. But the GMS Racing rookie was in for a rude awakening while taking the next step up the proverbial ladder of racing.
Gallagher picked up one top-10 finish through the entire season, placing 10th last April at Richmond Raceway. His 24.4 average finish ranked the No. 23 team 19th in the championship standings following the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Boy, what a difference one year makes.
Through eight races in 2018, Gallagher has four top-10 finishes, including his first career top five at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago. It was lessons from last year that he carried into 2018 helped propel him into the upper echelon of drivers in the series.
“This has been a year of leaps and bounds of improvement for GMS Racing,” Gallagher told Frontstretch. “We came out of the gate last year trying to get our feet wet, and it showed, coming to these tracks for the first time trying to figure things out.
“Now that we’re getting the opportunity to get back around to them for a second time, getting to come to the XFINITY Series with a full year under our belt as a team. All those things together are really combining to make this 2018 effort a really stellar one for us. It’s onward and upward for us.”
Gallagher admitted that now that the No. 23 team has a taste of what the top five feels like, taking small steps will help propel them to better their performance. Victory Lane may not be out of the question.
Though the No. 23 team is coming off its worst finish of 2018, a 17th-place result at Richmond, Gallagher believes this team has what it takes to keep plugging away, owing the optimistic attitude to a trying rookie season.
“We’ve got experience as a team going to all these places,” he said. “I’ve got experience as a driver, so I know a lot better of what I’m looking at and what I’m looking for coming back to these times for the second time in XFINITY. I think we’ve got experience in the crew chief department. Chad Norris – that’s a guy who has been around.”
Struggling to find a rhythm is what Gallagher thinks hurt his rookie season. In the entire 33-race season, he had six top-15 runs. In eight races this season, he has seven.
“Not that it’s never not, but it’s a real joy to be at the racetrack this year knowing that you’re going to unload and have something to race these guys with,” he said in regards to having fun at the track. “Having something and being able to go out there and make a name for yourself with, that fills you full of confidence and fills you full of happiness.”
GMS Racing is one of the lone top XFINITY Series teams in the garage without an alliance to a Cup Series team. Same in the Truck Series, but that’s something the company takes pride in, figuring it out things themselves, and not relying on another organization for its success.
“We’ve always believed in doing it ourselves, and have been big components of managing our own destiny,” he said. “We’ve always done it ourselves, and we want to continue doing it ourselves. It’s just like I told you with the trucks – I remember a time when we struggled to qualify for the Truck races. 36 months later we got a championship with Johnny Sauter. That’s a huge accomplishment, and obviously every rung you go up, that’s going to get tougher and tougher.”
Meanwhile, Gallagher sits eighth in the championship standings, 57 points above Austin Cindric, who currently sits in 13th, the first driver outside the playoffs. When looking at his results and where he sits in the championship standings, the second-year driver is surprised, though knows that working to achieve all his little goals will lead to the end goal staring him back in the face.
Since Gallagher’s competed in the XFINITY Series, it’s been under the stage format. His next goal is to figure out stage racing, as he has 13 combined stage points through the opening eight events.
“We need to do a better job of managing our stages, that’s really where our weakness is right now,” he said. “If you look where we finished in the stages to where we finished the races, there’s usually a pretty substantial difference. If anything that’s something I need to work on myself as a driver, both in how I’m driving in qualifying and how I’m managing the first part of the stages and how I’m managing the car in practice.
“As a driver, you have a lot of influence in the direction your cars go for the race based off practice. So what I need to be doing is making sure we’re set up for a good short run as well as the end of the race.”
Admittedly so, Gallagher’s primary goal is to make the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, whether it be competing in the Truck or XFINITY series. Compared to this time last year, the No. 23 team is up six points positions, with a better average finish of over 10 positions.
- The third consecutive Dash 4 Cash race will take place at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. By winning the $100,000 bonus at Richmond, Elliott Sadler was guaranteed a position in this weekend’s running. Last weekend’s race winner Christopher Bell, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric can also take home the money.
- There are 41 cars on the preliminary entry list, and due to the Dash 4 Cash rules, no Cup drivers are eligible to compete. Jennifer Jo Cobb is scheduled to make her first XFINITY start of the season in the No. 55 for JP Motorsports. She has competed in at least one race for the past nine seasons.
- Sadler and Joe Nemechek are the only former winners at Talladega that will be competing this weekend. Both drivers have won at the venue twice.