NASCAR National Series News & Notes — ISM Raceway

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: TicketGuardian 500
The Place: ISM Raceway (Phoenix)
The Date: Sunday, March 11
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 312 miles (312 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on lap 312)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: DC Solar 200
The Place: ISM Raceway (Phoenix)
The Date: Saturday, March 10
The Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Stratosphere 200
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 24
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 131.5 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 70),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 140), Final Stage (Ends on lap 250)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

On the Gas

Kevin Harvick’s victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Sunday was his second in three races to start off the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. And considering his track-record eight wins at this weekend’s venue, ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz., there’s no reason to believe that Harvick or his Stewart-Haas Racing team is slowing down as they head into Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM).

In addition to his record trophy haul, statistically Harvick leads all drivers with 1,484 laps led and 782 “fastest laps” at the one-mile Phoenix oval. His driver rating of 110.2 is tops as well.

Harvick is hoping to become only the ninth driver in NASCAR history to earn nine wins or more at a track. The only other active driver to have accomplished this is seven-time Monster Energy Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who has nine wins at Martinsville Speedway and 11 wins at Dover International Speedway.

On a grander scale, a win this weekend would give Harvick the rare three-in-a-row, accomplished only 23 times in NASCAR’s modern era (1972-present).

Kyle Busch (Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis) and Joey Logano (Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega) were the last to pull off this rare and extraordinary feat in 2015.

And Busch – who actually won four of five in that summer streak – went on to win the 2015 championship. Nine of the 23 times a driver has won three straight races in a season, that driver has gone on to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Glass Half Full

With a 12th-place finish at Las Vegas last weekend, the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is now riding a career-long streak of 26 races without a trophy hoist. His last win came at Dover International Raceway on June 4 – the third of his three wins in 2017. He answered that win (his 83rd) with a third-place finish in the fall at Dover, but that was his only other top-five of the season following the summer victory.

Johnson’s Las Vegas showing is his best of the year, following finishes of 38th and 27th at Daytona and Atlanta, respectively.

The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has not led a lap in 2018 and has posted his worst average start (23.7) and average finish (25.7) in his 17-year career during this three-race span.

HOWEVER, Johnson won Cup championships in the two seasons he previously set statistical slow-start record marks in the first three races – 2007 (average start of 22.3) and 2009 (average finish of 21.3).

And Johnson’s four wins at this week’s ISM Raceway venue are second only to Harvick’s eight-trophy total.

Flying Ryan

ISM Raceway turned out to be Ryan Newman’s ticket to the 2017 playoffs. The veteran is the defending winner of the TicketGuardian 500 and it’s not an isolated triumph in the desert. This is one of his most successful tracks.

The two-time ISM Raceway winner joins Kevin Harvick and four-time winner Jimmie Johnson as the only active drivers with multiple victories at the one-mile oval. He is also the all-time leading pole winner with four – three he scored consecutively between 2002-04. In addition to his qualifying and trophy-hoisting prowess at the track, Newman is second-best among the field in fastest laps run (148) and quality passes (692) since 2005.

He won in the Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet last year after starting from 22nd-place and leading only the last six laps of the 314-lap race.

Chase-ing Victory

With seven runner-up finishes in only his third year of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition, Chase Elliott has been oh-so-close to scoring his first victory. And ISM Raceway has been a venue where Elliott has particularly impressed with near-misses like a runner-up finish to Matt Kenseth in November’s race. He has three top-seven showings in four starts and has led 140 laps in the last two races at the track.

Elliott’s driver rating (109.1) is second only to eight-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick (110.2) here and the 22-year-old boasts the series-best average running position (6.248) at ISM Raceway.

With bad luck – two crashes in the first three races of 2018 – the Hendrick Motorsports driver is ranked 21st in the standings entering Sunday’s race – an event that could certainly change the direction of his early season start.

Hometown Kid

Alex Bowman, of nearby Tucson, Arizona, couldn’t be happier to return “home” this weekend. His showing at Phoenix in 2016 while substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet is a large reason he earned the full-time job in 2018, replacing the now-retired Earnhardt.

In that race two years ago, Bowman won his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole position, led 194 of the 324 laps and finished in sixth-place – all still career highs for the 25-year-old driver in his maiden season at the championship Hendrick organization.

ISM Raceway has always been a productive venue for Bowman, who last year started fifth and finished eighth in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. Prior to that, an 18-year-old Bowman led 23 laps and finished runner-up in a 2011 NASCAR K&N Pro Series race on the track.

Phoenix First-Timers

Both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookies, Darrell Wallace Jr. and William Byron, will be making their first series start on the ISM Raceway oval.

Wallace, 24, leads the early Sunoco Rookie of the Year chase and is ranked 15th in points, thanks largely to a dramatic runner-up finish for his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Byron, 20, is still looking for his first top-10 finish driving the famous Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet and is ranked 24th in the Monster Energy Series standings.

Statistically at ISM Raceway, however, Byron holds an edge. In his last start at the track – in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last November – he started second, led 171 laps and won the race, his fourth victory en route to the 2017 Xfinity Series title. He won the pole and finished fourth last March.

Wallace hasn’t led a lap at the track, but does have a career-best sixth-place finish last year in the Xfinity Series, with another top-10 (eighth place) in 2015.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Etc.

Back-to-Back Busch Wins: The Busch brothers swept the Phoenix trophies in 2005, with younger brother Kyle earning his second ever Monster Energy Series win in the spring race and big brother Kurt taking the inaugural fall race trophy.

Sweet Memories: The late 1992 premier series champion Alan Kulwicki earned his first-ever series victory at ISM Raceway in 1988 and debuted his “Polish Victory Lap” celebration there. He and the late Bobby Hamilton are the only Cup drives to score their first win at the track

Fun Fact: A substantial 48.8% of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at ISM Raceway have been won from a starting position outside the top-10.

No. 1 looking for #1: Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jamie McMurray has competed in 29 races at Phoenix without scoring a win, the longest such winless streak among Cup drivers.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Tiebreaker: Teammates Reddick, Sadler Atop Series Standings Separated By A Win

It doesn’t get much closer than this. JR Motorsports teammates Tyler Reddick and Elliott Sadler are currently tied in points (123 points each) atop the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings, and the only thing separating the two is the tiebreaker – a win (Reddick’s season-opening victory at Daytona).

While the JR Motorsport’s driver lineup might be slightly different this season with the 2017 series champion, William Byron, moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Tyler Reddick climbing into the No. 9 car, the organization’s NASCAR Xfinity Series formula seems to bring the same results – success.

Last year, JR Motorsports finished the 2017 season with three of its four teams in the top three in the driver Playoff standings – the first organization in series history to pull off such a feat. Now, this season, the organization led by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller has three of its four teams in the top four in points and they all look poised to contend for a title this season.

Tyler Reddick, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, kicked the season off by winning at Daytona and virtually locking himself into the Playoffs. He then followed that up with an 19th-place finish at Atlanta and a solid eighth-place finish at Las Vegas last weekend. Now the series points leader heads to ISM Raceway (Saturday, March 10, 4 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) looking to improve on his series track debut performance from last season where he started 15th and finished 14th.

Veteran Elliott Sadler, by virtue of the tiebreaker, is ranked second in the series standings as he and the No. 1 JRM team head to Phoenix this weekend. Sadler has made 18 starts at ISM Raceway, posting one win (spring race of 2012), five top fives, nine top 10s and an average finish of 12.1.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Rookie Christopher Bell Is Proving He’s A Title Contender

Despite a tough season-opener at Daytona in which he only ran 11 laps, finished 39th and started off the year 31st in points, the Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Christopher Bell has bounced back quite nicely in the last two races. At Atlanta and Las Vegas, he won back-to-back poles and finished on the podium of both events.

Plus, in the process, the Norman, Oklahoma native leapfrogged the competition from 31st to third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings; just 23-points back from the series lead.

“A wise guy once told me, if you win enough they can’t ignore you,” said Bell following his runner-up finish at Las Vegas.

As the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, it should be no surprise Bell is already in the conversation of title contender as he heads into the fourth race of his NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie season. Led by veteran crew chief Jason Ratcliff, who guided Kyle Busch to his 2009 NASCAR Xfinity Series title, the 23-year old Bell has managed to post two top-five finishes in three starts this season.

Bell also is ranked second in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, 23 points behind rookie standings leader Tyler Reddick.

“My dream as a kid was to be able to drive a racecar for a living and I have been able to do that since I was 16,” said Bell.

Bell will be making his second series start at ISM Raceway this weekend in the No. 20 JGR Toyota. Bell made his series track debut at the famous 1-mile raceway last season, where he ran upfront all day – starting eighth and finishing fourth.

Stage Points Already Making A Difference In 2018

Just three races into the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, and stage points are already a factor in the hunt for the series title. A total of 13 drivers have scored stage points this season, led by JR Motorsports driver Tyler Reddick’ 36 stage points, which to put it into perspective, makes up 29.2% of his driver championships points total (123).

To score stage points a driver must finish in the top 10 at the conclusion of the first two stages of a race. The top five in stage points this season are Tyler Reddick (36 points), Christopher Bell (30), Justin Allgaier (24), Elliott Sadler (24) and Daniel Hemric (16).

Last weekend at Las Vegas, Christopher Bell became the first series title contender this season to win a stage, when he grabbed the green and white checkered flag for Stage 1. Through three races, Bell has accumulated 30 stage points; which accounts for the highest percentage (30%) of a driver’s championship points total (Bell has 100 total points) among stage points accumulators this season.

Stage points played a pivotal role in the series championship last season; the top four drivers in amassing stage points were the same drivers to make the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Championship 4 Round – Elliott Sadler (270 total stage points), Justin Allgaier (242), William Byron (179) and Daniel Hemric (161).

Third Time’s The Charm: JR Motorsports Looking For Third Straight Win At ISM Raceway

ISM Raceway was swept last season by JR Motorsports drivers, Justin Allgaier (spring race) and 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion William Byron (Playoff race), and this season the powerhouse organization returns with another strong stable of drivers to try to make it three in a row. If JR Motorsports pulls off a third consecutive win this weekend at ISM Raceway, they will become the second organization to accomplish the feat in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, joining Joe Gibbs Racing, who won four straight from the fall 2012 race to the spring 2014 race, and then won three straight from the fall 2015 race-2016 sweep.

As the defending winner of this event, Justin Allgaier leads the JR Motorsports contingent this weekend into ISM Raceway. The Riverton, Illinois, native is looking for his first win of the season, as he currently sits fourth in the series standings after posting one top five and two top 10s in the first three races of 2018. Allgaier has made 15 series starts at ISM Raceway, posting one win (2017), five top fives and 10 top 10s.
Allgaier’s teammate Elliott Sadler is also a good candidate to bring home the third-straight win for JRM this weekend. The Emporia, Virginia native has made 18 starts at ISM Raceway, posting one win (spring race of 2012), five top fives, nine top 10s and an average finish of 12.1. He finished fifth in this event last season.

Tyler Reddick and Michael Annett are both still looking for their first series ISM Raceway win this weekend. Reddick made his series track debut at ISM Raceway last season, finishing 14th. Annett has made 11 series starts at ISM Raceway, posting four top 10s. He finished ninth in this race last season.

Perfection Obtained

Since the inception of NASCAR’s Loop Data in 2005, the NASCAR Xfinity Series has seen 67 perfect driver rating (150.0) performances, posted by 20 different drivers. Kyle Busch leads the series in perfect driver rating performances with 28; followed by Carl Edwards with seven and Brad Keselowski with six. Mark Martin posted the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ very first perfect driver rating performance in 2005 at Auto Club Speedway.

A driver can obtain a perfect driver rating of 150.0 by dominating all facets of the race and winning. This season, the NASCAR Xfinity Series has witnessed two perfect driver rating performances in the first three races. Kevin Harvick posted his second series career perfect driver rating performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway two weeks ago (Feb. 24). His first series career perfect driver rating performance was back in 2014 at Richmond Raceway.

Kyle Larson is the latest addition to the list of drivers with perfect driver rating performances in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, after he dominated the Las Vegas Motor Speedway contest last weekend.

The 2010 and 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series seasons are tied for the most perfect driver rating performances in a single season with nine each. Since 2005, the only Xfinity Series season to not have at least one perfect driver rating performance is 2006.

NASCAR Xfinity Series – ISM Raceway – Perfect Driver Ratings
Rk. Track Driver Date Driver Rating
1 ISM Raceway Carl Edwards 11/13/2010 150.0
2 ISM Raceway Kyle Busch 2/26/2011 150.0
3 ISM Raceway Kyle Busch 11/9/2013 150.0
4 ISM Raceway Kyle Busch 3/1/2014 150.0
5 ISM Raceway Joey Logano 3/14/2015 150.0
6 ISM Raceway Kyle Busch 11/14/2015 150.0

ISM Raceway has been the home to six perfect driver rating performances posted by three different drivers.

If we see a third consecutive perfect driver rating performance this weekend, it will be the third time in series history drivers have posted three consecutive perfect driver rating performances – the first two times it occurred were in 2010 at Iowa (Kyle Busch), Watkins Glen (Marcos Ambrose) and Michigan (Brad Keselowski); and again in 2011 at Chicago (Brad Keselowski), Dover (Carl Edwards) and Kansas (Brad Keselowski).

NASCAR Xfinity Series Etc.

West Coast Natives In The Series: The NASCAR Xfinity Series has headed out West for the #NASCARGoesWest portion of the 2018 schedule (Las Vegas, Phoenix, California) which is a perfect time to turn the spotlight on the active drivers this season from the same area – (in alphabetical order) – Kyle Busch (Las Vegas, NV), Cole Custer (Ladera Ranch, CA), Spencer Gallagher (Las Vegas, NV), Kyle Larson (Elk Grove, CA), Dylan Lupton (Sacramento, CA), Tyler Reddick (Corning, CA), Ryan Reed (Bakersfield, CA) and JJ Yeley (Phoenix, AZ).

Jamie McMurray Returns To Xfinity: Not since the September 6, 2013 race at Richmond Raceway, approximately four and a half years ago, has Jamie McMurray competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. But all that will change this weekend, as the veteran Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver will pilot the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at ISM Raceway. McMurray’s Xfinity career has seen 187 starts, eight wins, 31 top fives and 68 top 10s; including a win at ISM Raceway in 2004.

Monster Mash: A total of four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver are entered in the DC Solar 200 this weekend – Ty Dillon (No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet), Kyle Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Team Penske Ford) and Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet).

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

And Kyle Busch Makes 12

When Kyle Busch pulled his Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota into Victory Lane at his hometown track in Las Vegas last week, be became the 12th consecutive different NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race winner at the 1.5-mile track.

The streak started with Travis Kvapil’s win in 2007 and carried on through Busch’s checkered flag last weekend.

Below is the list of different winners over the last 12 races:
2007 – Travis Kvapil
2008 – Mike Skinner
2009 – Johnny Sauter
2010 – Austin Dillon
2011 – Ron Hornaday Jr.
2012 – Nelson Piquet Jr.
2013 – Timothy Peters
2014 – Erik Jones
2015 – John Wes Townley
2016 – Tyler Reddick
2017 – Ben Rhodes
2018 – Kyle Busch

The win was also Busch’s first series victory in just two starts (2018, 2001) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He previously hoisted the Vegas trophy in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series (2016) and in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (2009).

Good Things Coming In Threes For Johnny Sauter

Johnny Sauter has been good. Really good.

The 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion has put his No. 21 Chevrolet for GMS Racing on the podium in each of the first three races this season.

His results? A win at Daytona, third-place at Atlanta and a runner-up finish last weekend in Las Vegas.

It gets better. You have to go back to Talladega of last year to find a finish outside the top-three for the veteran. He ended the season by finishing third at Martinsville, winning in Texas and Phoenix and then coming home third in Homestead-Miami.

That means the Wisconsin native has put together seven top-three results in a row.

And there’s no reason to expect that streak to end. Sauter has crossed the finish line in the top three in his last…get this…three races at the series’ next track – Martinsville (2016 – 1st, 2017 – 2nd, 2018 – 3rd).

Oh, one more thing. Sauter has three wins at The Paperclip (spring 2011, spring 2013, fall 2016).

Moffitt Making The Most Of It

When Brett Moffitt captured an emotional overtime victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the second race of the season, he said, “It’s unbelievable to even be in a race car at this point, let alone in Victory Lane.”

Well, he is going to start finding a lot of believers soon.

The 2015 Monster Energy Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year was named as the driver of the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota in early February and is making the most of it. After a crash relegated him to a 26th-place finish at the season opener in Daytona, he went on to capture his second career series victory at Atlanta and placed third in Las Vegas last weekend.

He’s led 29 laps en route to sitting second in the points standings.

Moffitt’s journey to his recent success didn’t come easy. After winning the Rookie of the Year honors in the premier series, he ran just a handful of races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series the last two seasons. One of the six races he ran in 2016 resulted in a win at Michigan – with the only lap he would lead that season proving to be the most important one, taking him to Victory Lane in the Irish Hills.

Short of an engine failure in his first race of 2016, he was solid and consistent that season, finishing every lap and posting three top-five and four top-10 finishes in the remaining five races he ran. His five-race campaign in 2017 followed a similar pattern. A crash left him in 22nd at the season opener, but he went on to complete every lap in his next four races and never finished lower than 18th while recording two top 10s.

If Moffitt’s consistency holds true through his first full-time campaign in a truck, he will be a driver to watch for as we get into the Playoffs.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Etc.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Watch: Dalton Sargeant’s sixth-place finish in Las Vegas was the best effort by a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender in the third race of the season. He currently leads the rookie standings by eight points over Myatt Snider.

Phoenix Fun Facts: Even though the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ended its early-season #NASCARGoesWest trip in Las Vegas, the series does have a history at the track where the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series are racing this weekend – ISM Raceway. The series, which will race its penultimate race of the season in the Valley of the Sun in November, has raced in Phoenix 27 times. Johnny Sauter was the most recent victor at the track, capturing his second win of the Round of 8 in the 2017 Playoffs there.

Setting the Stage: Noah Gragson has been the best stage racer thus far in the young NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. The Las Vegas native has won two stages (Stage 1 at both Atlanta and Las Vegas) to capture two Playoff points and has tallied a series-best 22 stage points. Those points have helped him land a fourth-place spot in the driver standings. Stewart Friesen’s 28 stage points and Matt Crafton’s 26 round out the top three.

Coming Up: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has two weeks off before heading to Martinsville Speedway (Saturday, March 24, 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), where the series will take the green flag for the 39th time at the track. Last fall’s winner Noah Gragson will be looking to go back-to-back at The Paperclip to capture his second career victory.