Dash 4 Cash drivers gear up for first battle for $100,000 at Bristol
Burt Reynolds’ character, the Bandit, drove from Georgia to Texarkana and back again in 28 hours with 400 cases of Coors for very specific reasons in the 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit.
And the prize money was only $80,000.
For the next four weeks, the Xfinity Series will give four different sets of drivers a chance at the money, the glory and the fun with the return of the Dash 4 Cash program.
Each week, beginning this Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, four drivers will compete for $100,000. The competition continues at Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway and Dover International Speedway.
Whoever finishes highest among the four drivers each week wins the money. That driver and the three drivers placing behind him advance to the next Dash 4 Cash round.
For these four races, Cup Series drivers are not permitted to compete.
That means the money, the glory, the fun - and the race wins - will only be enjoyed by Xfinity drivers. Through six races, Xfinity regulars have won once, in the season-opener at Daytona.
As the highest finishing Xfinity regulars last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Daniel Hemric, Christopher Bell, Ryan Preece and Cole Custer are the first set of four competing for $100,000.
Hemric, in his second full-time year with Richard Childress Racing, is the only of the four who participated in the Dash 4 Cash last year and won money. The 27-year-old driver won $100,000 at Bristol when it was the second stop among the Dash 4 Cash races.
“As young as we are we get to run for a hundred grand, there’s not a lot of people (who) can say that,” Hemric said after the Texas race. “Having the opportunity to taste that last year and experience that was really something that we definitely enjoyed and hopefully we can do that again next week.”
Hemric enters Bristol with two consecutive top fives, including placing third at Texas. His first two Xfinity starts at Bristol resulted in a top five and a top 10.
Custer, 20, is also in his second full-time season and was part of the Dash 4 Cash last year at Bristol. Custer wrecked out of that race and finished 10th in the August Bristol race.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver enters the weekend coming off his first top five of the year, placing fourth in Texas.
“I think at the start of the year we had some speed, we just had some bad luck with things going wrong and getting in wrecks,” Custer said after the race. “As it went, we’ve cleaned ourselves up a little bit and haven’t had the bad luck. We’ve had fast cars, so I think we just have to get a little bit better and I think just have a really smooth and everything go right race and I think hopefully we can put that together next week.”
The other half of the four drivers are made up of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell and Preece.
Bell is in his first full-time season in Xfinity and Preece is competing part-time after a four-race tryout last season.
Preece has two starts at Bristol that came in 2015 when he competed with JD Motorsports in his only full-time Xfinity season.
He likely wouldn’t be in the position to race for $100,00 if not for two things - gambling on himself last season and the retirement of Carl Edwards.
“I think I’m pretty grateful for just having the opportunity,” Preece said. “Did I think this (would be possible) last January in 2017? Absolutely not. I fully intended on pretty much settling and racing modifieds for the rest of my life. When Carl Edwards retired and everything kind of shifted, I was like, ‘OK, there’s an opportunity here. I need to try and take advantage of this’ and it got me to those two races and I think you’ve seen how things have kind of taken off from there.”
Preece, 27, earned one win and four top fives in all of his starts with JGR last year. That resulted in 10 more races this season for the Connecticut native.
“Every time I show up to the race track, I’m almost treating it like it’s my last, even though I know I have 10 races right now,” Preece said. “Each one of these races could determine my future. That’s pretty much how I show up and that’s how I’m going to race.”
Preece said winning the $100,000 would help him finish building a race car.
Preece is well aware of the backgrounds of his Dash 4 Cash competitors entering the first short track race of the season.
“Daniel and I, he’s from late models, I actually raced Daniel in modifieds growing up quite a while ago,” Preece said. “So we’re kind of from the same old deal on the East Coast and then you got Bell, he’s a midget driver from out west and then you got Cole who is (from the) K&N (Pro Series) and all that. We’re all from the short tracks.”
How will these kindred spirits race each other for the money, the glory and the fun without those pesky Cup drivers getting in the way?
According to Bell, who has four top fives through six races, just like they would at “any rental go-kart track.”
“We’re going to run just as hard as we would for a Cup win,” Bell said. “We’re race car drivers. It doesn’t really matter what we’re racing for, we’re going to go give it our all no matter what.”
Hemric said it’s “very humbling” knowing where his competitors come from.
“It’s just a nature of something that we’ve all been passionate about and love to do since a time we could remember,” Hemric said. “I think we all know each other’s stories pretty well. It’s pretty special to share a moment like that next week with these guys and look forward to battling to the end with them.”