In their debut season, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports earns its first career top-10 finish with Kyle Weatherman behind the wheel at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Saturday’s Crayon 200.
He already sealed the top-10 after crossing the line in the 10th position, but after two separate post-race disqualifications for Noah Gragson and Landon Cassill, Weatherman matched his NASCAR Xfinity Series career-best finish of eighth.
“It was awesome, all in all a really good day,” Weatherman shared with Kickin’ the Tires. “You’ll always have some type of adversity to battle through, and we had a couple of pit stops that probably could have been a little better. With Xfinity, normally it’s either a clean race or a chaotic race and I feel like this weekend was a little chaotic. We missed a majority of the wrecks, got a little bit of right side damage, but other than that, it was a really clean race for us on the track.”
A chaotic race, it was. Multiple crashes among the leaders and lappers, including an incident involving race winner Justin Allgaier, created late race tensions with varying pit strategies. The team backing the No. 34 Chevrolet Camaro used that to their advantage with crew chief Dan Stillman making a call for a tire strategy, giving them the edge they needed late in the race to put on a final charge through the field.
“We saved a set of tires and that was a big thing for us,” continued Weatherman. “Dan saved a set of tires there towards the end. A couple of the leaders pitted and we had one set left compared to them, and ended with 10-15 lap fresher tires than they did and obviously that prevailed. I think even without wrecks we had about a 15th place car, and then finished in tenth. But after a couple of cars disqualified, we ended up eighth.
“Amazing day. Just thankful for what Jesse, Emmett (Smith), Matt (Casto), Mike (Antonucci) and all these guys have done for me so far. It’s been fun, it’s been good and hopefully continue to keep on doing it. Also, I want to give a shoutout to Equity Prime Mortgage, Chevrolet, and Coca-Cola for being on board with us.”
But if you think the chaos was just on Saturday, it would be insensitive of the bigger result the team truly had. Three team members were unable to work at the team’s shop to prepare the car for the race. Bringing light to some old school tactics, Weatherman worked at the shop to help behind the scenes with the car he would be racing that weekend. Despite the unfortunate obstacle, it still resulted in the best career finish for everyone involved. That finish has given the entire group newfound motivation for more.
“I’m always hands on. I’m here working every week but it was definitely eventful to say the least. We had three less guys in the shop this weekend, which hurt but we all battle through and we had an absolutely amazing result for everybody on the team. Thank gosh they’re past the COVID protocols this week back to full steam. Hopefully we can kind of build off what we had this weekend.
“Looking back at it, all three Xfinity teams that I’ve driven for, I can’t beat the eighth place finish. For all three teams – Mike Harmon, DGM and now Jesse Iwuji – I’ve finished eighth which is my best finish. Hopefully we can go get a top five or even put ourselves in a position to win one of these things. I know it sounds crazy, but I think that’s where we’re all at. I really feel like we’re capable of doing it.”
Earlier this year, it was announced that three-time NFL Super Bowl champion Emmitt Smith would join forces with Iwuji for the 2022 Xfinity season. He joins a wave of other sports legends in co-owning a NASCAR team, and the shoe couldn’t fit better.
“Emmitt is an all around good guy, amazing guy to look up to and an amazing guy to drive for and just have him on your side,” Weatherman stated. “He and Jesse are both so positive and so motivated, and I think a lot of us on this team have good chemistry. You don’t see a lot of teams have success early on, but we’re doing a really good job of cleaning up a lot of early season mistakes. The results that should’ve, could’ve, would’ve happened are going to start happening so we’re excited to start building on a result like we had this weekend.”
For Iwuji, it’s been an ever-evolving dream coming true with the progress of his team. Working with Smith has helped give Iwuji, Weatherman and the entire team insight on where to grow the most. Iwuji admitted to suffering from mistakes and mishaps that put the team behind in owner’s points early on, but after getting the right people in the right places at the right time, the results are starting to turn around.
“It’s been great working with (Smith) throughout the year,” said Iwuji. “He’s been able to come to see races. Once he retired from football, he didn’t really retire from life. He still has multiple businesses, but we still talk every single week. He was super excited about (the result). He lets us run the show and try to build it, then gives his input where he feels like he can add the most value.
“I’m super proud of the team, definitely a really really big team effort from driver to our crew chief and the rest of our team. Everybody together has just worked hard all year. We’ve made a lot of changes to personnel since the beginning of the year. Our original core group – the pit stop crew, crew chief, all the way down – everything has been changed since the beginning of the year. We actually have a complete new team.
We started making those changes in late-March, early-April and then last week we made the final change. Things have been going better and better each week and we’ve been continuing to get better.”
Making just a couple changes is one thing. Shifting an entire organization is a new level of leadership skills that very few have. But the combination of Iwuji and Smith along with sports agent and entrepreneur Matt Casto, and influencer and entrepreneur Mike Antonucci have made for the perfect fit for the rookie motorsports crew. This result gives them the information and knowledge they need to know how to get the job done.
“We’ve still got half the season left. So, the goals are to continue to upgrade our cars. We don’t have the newest cars at all. I can’t remember the exact year for it but the car that ran at New Hampshire is over five, ten years old. But we’re slowly upgrading parts and pieces to all our cars so our equipment can be better to compete more consistently. I would love to compete inside the top 10 every single week. Is that possible? Yeah, it’s possible. Is it easy? No.”
For Weatherman, he heads to a familiar track where he has a best finish of 15th. He also has successful experience from the ARCA Menards Series with a pole and one top-five finish. While he wants to improve his career best Xfinity finish, he is always looking for more.
“I’ll always want to do better,” he reflected. “I’ve raced four or five times in an Xfinity car and a handful of times in the ARCA car so I feel pretty comfortable at Pocono. I’ve had some good results there, good speed before, so I know we’re going to have the speed. We’ve just got to maximize results and see what we can do to put ourselves in the right position to go see what we can do. I know we’re all capable of doing it. We’ve got to make it happen.”
Iwuji is very driven for his team’s success, but he knows that determination comes with a seed of patience.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”