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NASCAR National Series News & Notes – ISM Raceway

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Can-Am 500
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Sunday, November 11
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 312 miles/ 500 kilometers (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: Whelen Trusted to Perform 200
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Saturday, November 10
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 3 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: Lucas Oil 150
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Friday, November 9
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 150 miles (150 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 150)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Playoff Leaderboard Shuffled Up
A major post-race penalty issued by NASCAR to Sunday’s Texas Motor Speedway winner, Kevin Harvick, on Wednesday has resulted in the loss of 40 owner and driver points and the benefits of the victory, which had given the team an automatic berth into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 in the Nov. 18 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

During routine post-race inspection at the NASCAR R & D Center outside Charlotte this week, officials penalized Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford for violations involving the spoiler.

In addition to the loss of points and the automatic Championship 4 slot, the No. 4 team’s crew chief (Rodney Childers) and car chief (Robert "Cheddar" Smith) were suspended for the next two Monster Energy Series races (Phoenix and Miami). Stewart-Haas Racing has announced that former Kurt Busch crew chief Tony Gibson will serve as the interim boss atop the box for the remainder of the season.

Instead of securing a bid in the Championship 4 at Miami, Harvick drops to fourth on the Playoff leaderboard – 25 points behind Kyle Busch, who is second only to Martinsville winner Joey Logano. And he now holds only a three-point edge on fifth-place Kurt Busch, who sits just outside the Championship 4 cutoff.

With Harvick’s penalty, three of the four Playoff finale positions still remain open and that means seven of the eight current Playoff drivers are still vying for that one-race, winner-takes-all title opportunity the four-driver championship lineup will be decided in the Can-Am 500 this Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the newly renovated ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona.

Despite the setback, Harvick can take some solace in being the winningest driver in the field at ISM Raceway with nine victories. Kyle Busch and older brother Kurt Busch split the 2005 season wins at the track and Joey Logano, the only driver to have secured a bid in this year’s championship finale, won the 2016 Playoff race. They are the only four drivers among the current Playoff field with wins in the Arizona desert.

New-Look ISM Raceway
The newly named ISM Raceway will also debut a new look this weekend. Beyond the top-shelf fan amenities as part of the $178 million renovation, the race track layout will be different. And it will be interesting to see how much of a variable that turns into for drivers in such a crucial race.

Most significantly, the start-finish line will move to the exit of what was Turn 2 of the one-mile oval. The anticipation of another new-look venue isn’t lost on the teams.

"This place has become a real show piece for the race fans,” said two-time Phoenix winner Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

"Back in March I got to tour the facility and see what all they were doing in the stands, the midway, a new pedestrian tunnel – all the renovations that will boost the overall fan experience. It’s impressive. We’ve got close to 200 people from Cat Mining who are coming from all over the world and for them to not only see us put on a good race but experience the race in a whole new way will be awesome."

Fun In Phoenix For Harvick
This week’s Texas turmoil aside, Kevin Harvick has to feel good heading into ISM Raceway where he’s the track’s all-time winningest Monster Energy Series driver.

Harvick is the only competitor to ever win four consecutive races (2013-2015) in Phoenix. He’s scored 20 top-10 finishes in 31 starts and led an all-time best 1,522 laps – nearly twice as many as the next-best laps led total in Sunday’s field (Kyle Busch has led 827 laps).

Harvick has only one finish worse than sixth-place in the last 13 races and he is the most recent race winner, taking the win this March by .774-seconds over Kyle Busch. Harvick’s 744 laps led in Playoff races is most all-time.

And….. Harvick is the last driver to win at ISM Raceway and go on to win the championship.

A Return To Miami Would Be Sweet For Kyle Busch
With a regular season championship, a solid points advantage and a good record at ISM Raceway, Kyle Busch has to be considered a favorite to move on into the Championship 4.

His 827 laps led at the track is second only to Harvick among the Playoff drivers. He finished runner-up to Harvick earlier this season, and he has five top-five finishes in the last six Phoenix races.

His overall work at the track is second only to Harvick’s 14 race win total (nine Monster Energy Series, one NASCAR Xfinity Series and four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series trophies).

Busch has 13 victories spanning all three of NASCAR’s major series including a Cup win, a record 10 – yes, T-E-N – Xfinity Series wins and two more wins in the Camping World Truck Series. Twice he won three Xfinity races consecutively (2013-14 and 2015-16).

"I’d like to think our odds are pretty good,” Busch said of ISM Raceway. "Obviously, anything can happen. Things didn’t go our way at Texas last weekend and we felt we had a good car, but things just didn’t fall our way after having the loose wheel. You still have to have some luck on your side and have everything kind of go your way.

"It’s tough to rebound, sometimes, after a difficult start to a day or, even if you have trouble later in the day, it’s really difficult to rebound and get a good finish like you need. We’d love to be able to win and automatically lock ourselves through but, if that’s not the case, then you just have to be smart and mindful of a good points day and try not to hurt yourself – just try and keep what happens to you under your own control if you can."

Handicapping The Contenders
Kurt Busch is tops among the contenders ranked in the bottom four on the Playoffs leaderboard. He won the 2005 spring race and has led 757 laps – third-most among the top-eight in the standings. He’s had top-10 finishes in six of his last eight starts at ISM Raceway, including a 10th-place effort this March.

Of the four drivers looking for their maiden win at the notoriously tough one-mile oval, Chase Elliott has led the most laps previously (140 laps) and boasts the second-best driver rating (110.3) to Harvick’s (110.9). Elliott has four top-10 finishes in five races, was runner-up in the 2017 Playoff race and finished third this March.

And Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson, who is making his 500th career Cup start this week, has three wins at Phoenix, with Kyle Busch (2005), Mark Martin (2009) and Jeff Gordon (2011).

Martin Truex Jr., who is ranked just behind Kyle Busch in points – and has a 25-point edge on fifth place Kurt Busch – won the Busch Pole position this spring and finished fifth. He was third in last year’s Playoff race en route to his and his Furniture Row Racing team’s first Monster Energy Series championship. He was the center of big news Wednesday as Joe Gibbs Racing officially announced that he and crew chief Cole Pearn will take over the No. 19 JGR Toyota currently being driven by Daniel Suarez.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer – both of whom pretty much have to win to advance to the Monster Energy Series’ Championship 4 – have had challenging pasts at the track. Almirola has yet to lead a lap in 15 starts but scored two of his three career top-10 finishes there in the last two races. He was ninth last fall and seventh this spring. Bowyer has seven top-10 finishes in 26 starts and scored his first top-10 in the last 10 races this spring – a sixth place showing.

"The pressure this time of year is intense,” said Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 SHR Ford. "In any weekend, there is always pressure but, inside these Playoffs, it increases. It’s the drivers, the teams you are competing against.

"At this time of year, you are going against the best of the best. But we all feed off that. You have to be able to eat that up and enjoy that and somehow make peace with it because it’s there. There’s no getting around the pressure side of that. You have to be able to perform at your best within that pressure."

Best Of The Rest
While the title contenders certainly have championship hopes driving them, the other racers in the field remain plenty motivated to win as well. In the last 10 years at Phoenix – among those not still title eligible – Jimmie Johnson has the most wins (four). Ryan Newman has two and Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth each have one.

Brad Keselowski is looking for his first Phoenix Monster Energy Series win but has a pair of NASCAR Xfinity Series wins including this March. Erik Jones has won twice in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. And rookie William Byron is the defending winner of the November Xfinity race. He led 15 laps in the spring Cup race here – his first-ever Cup laps out front.

Streaks On The Line
Both Jimmie Johnson – a four-time winner at ISM Raceway – and Hamlin, the 2012 spring race winner, aren’t simply looking for to add to their statistics. The veterans are hoping to extend impressive season winning streaks.

The seven-time Cup champion Johnson has wins over 16 consecutive seasons – every one of his fulltime years. In fact, he has won at least twice in each of those years. But the last time he visited Victory Lane was at the spring Dover race last season – 57 races ago.

He has three top-10 finishes in the last 10 races in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. His best showing of the season is third place at Bristol Motor Speedway in April.

It’s been a similarly frustrating year for Hamlin. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has a 12-year winning streak at stake. He has 10 top-five finishes including a season best runner-up showing at Martinsville two weeks ago. His last victory was in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway last Fall.

He was fourth at ISM Raceway earlier this season and has five top-10 finishes in the last six races there.

Sunoco Rookie Rebound
Though still not victory circle bound, Cup rookies William Byron and Bubba Wallace did show some familiar strength at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend after a rough wreck-filled fall start for both.

Byron finished 16th at Texas, his best showing since an eighth-place at Watkins Glen back on Aug. 5. Wallace finished 25th at Texas – only his second top-25 effort in the last 11 races.

Byron led the first laps of his Monster Energy Series career (25 in March) at this week’s venue, ISM Raceway, and finished 12th. He is the defending winner of the fall Xfinity Series race at the track. Wallace finished 28th in his first Cup start at the track. He has two top-10 finishes in the Xfinity race there

Should Byron win the Cup Series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors – he currently leads the standings – he would join Erik Jones as the only drivers to win rookie honors in all three NASCAR national series. Byron has also previously won the title in the NASCAR K&N East Series in addition to the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series.

"It’ll be a wild race – it’s a cutoff race and I feel like Phoenix (ISM Raceway) is just always a normal short track as far as the style of racing,” Byron said.

"You just do the things you need to do on a short track to be successful. I like racing there, it’s always been fun. The reconfiguration will create a little difference for the restarts, but other than that, I’m not expecting too much of a change. It’s the same racetrack with the same characteristics, so we’ll just try to go there and make sure we execute."

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Only Thing Certain Is Just Four Playoff Contenders Will Advance After ISM Raceway
When the checkered flag soars at the conclusion of the Whelen Trusted To Perform 200 at ISM Raceway this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), four drivers will advance to the final round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs to compete for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 17.

Following the wild finish last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer has locked himself into the Championship 4, leaving three spots up for grabs this weekend in Phoenix, Arizona.

It will be the third consecutive season ISM Raceway has hosted the lead-in event to the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Since the inception of the elimination-style Playoffs in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, ISM Raceway has produced some great action leading into the Championship 4.

In 2016, the Xfinity Series Playoff race at ISM Raceway was won by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch. The highest finishing NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver was Justin Allgaier (fourth). Allgaier entered the ISM Raceway event fifth in the Playoff standings and raced his way into the Championship 4, knocking Blake Koch from the top four in points. Daniel Suarez won the series title in 2016 and finished right behind Allgaier (fourth) at ISM Raceway in fifth. The four drivers to make the Championship 4 in 2016 were Erik Jones, Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez and Justin Allgaier.

Last season’s Xfinity Series Playoff race at ISM Raceway was won by Playoff contender and JR Motorsport’s rookie William Byron. Byron’s win guaranteed himself a spot in the Championship 4, from which he ultimately won the title that season. The second-highest finishing NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver was Daniel Hemric (fifth). Hemric entered the event at ISM Raceway seventh in the Playoff standings and his fifth-place finish was enough to move him into the fourth and final spot in the Championship 4, bumping Brennan Poole from the top four in points. Hemric went on to finish the season runner-up in the Playoff standings. The four drivers to make the Championship 4 in 2017 were William Byron, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric.

Cole Custer Becomes The First To Lock Himself Into The Championship 4
With the enormous pressure to advance in the Playoffs, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer drove a masterful last lap to steal the win from fellow NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff contender and JR Motorsports driver Tyler Reddick last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway to secure his spot in the Championship 4 and a chance at the 2018 series title.

Custer entered the Texas race last weekend seventh in the Playoff standings; 23 points behind fourth-place Christopher Bell in the final transfer spot for the Championship 4. But Custer needed a win, and he delivered. With his victory, Custer has guaranteed himself a chance at the title this season, and for the first time in his career made the Championship 4. The California kid has been stellar in the Playoffs, amassing one win, two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 10.2.

Now with the ticket to the championship finale in hand, Custer and the No. 00 SHR Ford Mustang team, led by crew chief Jeff Meendering, can turn their attention to preparing for the finale at Homestead-Miami, but first, they must get through this weekend at ISM Raceway. Custer has made three series starts at ISM Raceway, posting two top 10s.

On a macro level, Custer’s sophomore season has been an edifice of success, and has already surpassed his impressive rookie campaign last year. Through 31 races this season, Custer has collected one win (Texas-2), 13 top fives, 24 top 10s and an average finish of 9.3.

Standings Leader Tyler Reddick Looks To Make Championship 4 In His Rookie Season
JR Motorsport’s Tyler Reddick finished runner-up at Texas last weekend and sailed into the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff points standings lead as the series heads to the Round of 8 elimination race at ISM Raceway this weekend for the Whelen Trusted To Perform 200 (at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

With just one race left to make the Championship 4, Reddick has placed himself in the best possible scenario aside from winning his way into the final round. The California native is the current points standings leader with a 20-point cushion over his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier in the first spot outside the Championship 4 cutoff.

Reddick’s performance in the Playoff’s has been championship caliber, posting two top fives, four top 10s and the second-best average finish among Playoff contenders with a 7.4.

Heading to ISM Raceway this weekend, Reddick will look to continue his postseason success on the newly renovated one-mile raceway where he has accrued one top 10 and an average finish of 12.0. Reddick can clinch on points this weekend with 46 points and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Elliott Sadler or Daniel Hemric), then Reddick could clinch with 35 points. He could also clinch a Championship 4 spot with a win this weekend.
If Tyler Reddick were to make the Championship 4 this season, he would become just the fourth Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to make the final round and have a shot at the title – William Byron and Daniel Hemric accomplished the feat in 2017 and Erik Jones made the final four as a rookie in 2016. Twice a Sunoco rookie has won the series title – William Byron (2017) and Chase Elliott (2014).

Veteran Elliott Sadler Embraces Last Chance At A NASCAR Title
Since making the announcement earlier this year that he will hang up his fulltime driving gloves at season’s end, JR Motorsport’s veteran Elliott Sadler has positioned himself nicely to ride off into the sunset in Miami. The Virginia native currently holds the third transfer spot in the Playoff standings with a 13-point lead over his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier in the first spot outside the Championship 4 cutoff.

Sadler is no stranger to the Playoff’s Championship 4, as he has qualified for the final round the last two seasons. This year, while still looking for his first win of the season, he has been able to make headway in the points by staying out of trouble. In the postseason, Sadler has produced one top five and three top 10s. Plus, his average finish of 8.4 during the Playoffs has been fourth-best among Playoff challengers.

With his Playoff hopes on the line Sadler heads to ISM Raceway this weekend knowing his veteran experience will pay dividends. He has 19 series starts at the one-mile raceway amassing one win (2012), five top fives, 10 top 10s and an average finish of 11.9. Sadler could clinch on points with 54 points and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Tyler Reddick or Daniel Hemric), then he could clinch with 43 points. He could also move onto the next round with a win.

Hot Seat: RCR’s Daniel Hemric Will Try To Hold On To The Final Playoff Transfer Spot
If you just looked at the boxscore over the last five Playoff races, no one has out-performed Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric. But following a post-race penalty at Kansas and top-10 finish at Texas, the 27-year-old finds himself in the fourth and final transfer spot to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Championship 4 with just one race left to decide who is moving on.

Hemric will have his work cut out for him this weekend at ISM Raceway as the North Carolina native is only 12 points ahead of Justin Allgaier in the first spot outside the Championship 4 cutoff.

During the Playoffs this season Hemric has been lights out, as he leads all other Playoff contenders in average finish (6.4), laps led (232) and driver rating (122.9). Plus, he is the only driver to finish in the top-10 in all five of the Playoff races this season.

Don’t be surprised if Hemric makes it hard on the drivers south of the Championship 4 cutoff, as the RCR standout has made three starts at ISM Raceway posting an average finish of 6.0. Hemric could clinch on points with 55 points and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Tyler Reddick or Elliott Sadler), then he could clinch with 44 points. A win would also move Hemric on to the next round.

Outside Looking In: Allgaier, Tifft Still Within Striking Distance Of Championship 4
Two drivers just outside the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Championship 4 cutoff, JR Motorsport’s Justin Allgaier (fifth) and Richard Childress Racing’s Matt Tifft (sixth), have just one race left to breathe life back into their championship runs. Currently Allgaier is fifth in the Playoff standings, 12 points back from fourth-place Daniel Hemric and Tifft is sixth in the points, 14 markers back from Hemric.

Justin Allgaier’s Playoffs have been disastrous in comparison to his regular season. The Illinois native entered the Playoffs as the regular season champion, having put up five wins with an average finish of 8.7. But since the postseason has started (last five races) he has managed just two top fives and an average finish of 18.6 – a difference of approximately 10 positions compared to the regular season.

Allgaier has made 16 series starts at ISM Raceway, posting one win (2017), six top fives, 11 top 10s and an average finish of 7.8. Allgaier’s best bet to move on to the Championship 4 for the third consecutive season would be a win this weekend at ISM Raceway, but he could clinch on points with help.
Matt Tifft’s Playoff performance has been better than his regular season efforts, but his lack of Playoff points entering the postseason has him behind the cutoff heading into the Round of 8 elimination race at ISM Raceway. Tifft has scored four top 10s in his five Playoff starts this season and has posted an average finish of 7.8 – third-best among title contenders.

Expect Tifft to challenge for a spot in the Championship 4 this weekend as the Ohio native has made three starts at the one-mile track posting an average finish of 10.0. Tifft can guarantee his bid in the Championship 4 with a win this weekend but he could also clinch on points with some help.

Must Win Situation For Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell and Team Penske’s Cindric
It all comes down to this. No second chances. All of the hard work, blood, sweat and tears have culminated to this point and both Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric will have to put it all on the line to keep their championship hopes alive this weekend in the Whelen Trusted To Perform 200 (at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at ISM Raceway.

JGR’s Christopher Bell is currently seventh in the series Playoff standings, a whopping 34 points back from Daniel Hemric in the fourth and final Championship 4 transfer spot. While Bell is still mathematically eligible to point his way into the next round, it is highly unlikely all the drivers ahead of him in the points would have that much of a collapse in this weekend’s elimination race, making a victory the most viable option for Bell to move on.

Winning in the Playoffs this season has come easy for Bell, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate has six wins on the year and two of those came during the postseason (Richmond, Dover). The Oklahoma native has been stellar at ISM Raceway, in his two starts at the track he has collected two top fives and an average finish of 4.0.

Last, but not least, is Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, who by virtue of too few Playoff points when entering the postseason and being caught in a multiple car incident in the Round of 8 opener at Kansas, finds himself hitting rock bottom in the Playoff standings (eighth) heading into this weekend’s elimination race. With nowhere to go but up, Cindric will have to muster a win this weekend at ISM Raceway as the North Carolina native is 61 points back from fourth-place Daniel Hemric in the final Championship 4 transfer spot – mathematically ineligible to move on by points.

Cindric’s performance in the postseason hasn’t been all bad though, he has posted two top fives and three top 10s in the five Playoff races this season, including a third-place finish last weekend at Texas.

Cindric made his series track debut at ISM Raceway earlier this season, he started 13th and finished 16th.

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.
Sunoco Rookie Race Could Be Decided In Phoenix -
With the introduction of mirroring the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points system to the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship standings this season, the battle for the 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors could be decided this weekend. Currently, JR Motorsport’s driver Tyler Reddick holds the rookie standings lead by 42 points over second place Christopher Bell and 69 points ahead of third place Austin Cindric. If only one of the three advances to the Championship 4, not only will they have a shot at the series title when they get to Homestead, but they will have also locked up the rookie of the year honors for 2018. If more than one rookie or none of the rookies advance to the Championship 4, the battle will go on to Homestead-Miami.

Xfinity Owner Points Outlook With Two To Go – John Hunter Nemechek’s win at Kansas to open the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Round of 8 locked the current owner points leader, the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet team, into the season finale title shot. Then last weekend’s big win by Cole Custer at Texas also guaranteed the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team their ticket to the owner standings Championship 4, leaving just two spots up for grabs heading into this weekend’s elimination race at ISM Raceway. Currently holding those two positions are the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet team (+8 from the cutoff) and the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team (+7 from the cutoff). Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford team currently sits in the first spot outside the owner standings Championship 4.

ISM Raceway Xfinity Series Quick Facts - The series has hosted 33 races at ISM Raceway; two of which have been Playoff races. The 33 events have produced 17 different pole winners, led by Kyle Busch with nine poles and 17 different race winners also led by Kyle Busch with 10 victories. Kevin Harvick has participated in 23 of the 33 races and leads the Xfinity Series in top fives (17) and top 10s (19). Justin Allgaier leads the series in the most starts with 16 with the fewest DNFs (0) at ISM Raceway.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Another One Bites The Dust
Justin Haley’s victory in Friday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway clinched his spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It didn’t look like a Playoff driver was going to take home the victory, as Todd Gilliland was dominating the front of the pack until he ran out of gas a half a lap away from the checkered flag.

This was Haley’s third win of the season and his second in the Playoffs. The win also pushed his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes to 12-straight. He joins his GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter for a chance to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.

It wasn’t as easy of a race for the other Playoff drivers fighting for their spot in the title bout. Brett Moffitt started fourth and finished third but was unable to get enough speed to pass to the front.

Matt Crafton started 14th and made his way to ninth, while Noah Gragson started in the second position but finished 10th.

Sauter started on the pole in Texas but finished 11th and Grant Enfinger was finished right behind him in 12th.

Up until this weekend, Haley was below the Playoff cut-off line, but with his win, Enfinger has been pushed outside of the top four with one race left to decide the Championship 4.

Something About Sauter & Shear, Jr.
GMS Racing’s Johnny Sauter has been a championship contender since the inception of the elimination-style Playoff format in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In 2016, the inaugural year of the new format, Sauter took home the championship.

Sauter had a strong 2016 season with three wins, 12 top fives, 19 top 10s and one pole. He won the season-opener at Daytona with then-crew chief Marcus Richmond before Joe Shear Jr. took over atop the pit box for the seventh race of the season and since the duo have been hard to beat.

The pair went on to capture back-to-back Playoff victories at Martinsville and Texas in 2016 and then at Phoenix, they finished second to make the Championship 4. They then went on to finish third at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win their first championship together.

(Of note regarding their championship chances – the pair won at Daytona to start this season.)

Then last season, Sauter had four wins, 13 top-five finishes and 19 top 10s with Shear calling the shots on the pit box. They went on to make the Playoffs and win at Texas and ISM Raceway to lock themselves into the Championship 4 again. They ultimately finished runner-up to Kyle Busch Motorsport’s driver Christopher Bell though after finishing third at Homestead-Miami.

In total, Shear, Jr. has 239 races under his belt as crew chief with 23 wins, 87 top fives, 131 top 10s and nine poles. Twenty of those wins have come with Sauter.

The dynamic duo has already won more races this season than ever before (six) and they have their spot in the Championship 4 with the win in the first race of the Round of 6 at Martinsville.

Crew Chief Spotlight: Kevin Bellicourt
2018 marks Kevin Bellicourt’s third season as a crew chief in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He has 66 starts with three wins, 14 top-five finishes, 35 top 10s and two poles.

In 2016, he was crew chief for Ben Rhodes for the full season. In 2017, he was crew chief for Justin Haley for 20 races, Alex Bowman for one race and Scott Lagasse, Jr. for one race.

This year, it’s been a full season of Bellicourt and Haley. All of Bellicourt’s wins have come from this campaign with Haley, as well as nine of his 14 top fives and 17 of the top 10s.

Bellicourt has tallied most of his experience atop the pit box in the Truck Series but has also been involved with the ARCA Racing Series, K&N Pro Series East and West and two races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Bellicourt and Haley paired together for some of those other races. The two races in the Xfinity Series were with Haley earlier this year, as well as the one race in ARCA.

Bellicourt’s two races in the K&N Pro Series West were with William Byron in 2015. His K&N Pro Series East experience began in 2012 with Austin Hill and Harrison Rhodes and then in 2015, he was crew chief for Byron for 14 races.

Neither Haley and Bellicourt have won a championship, so if they take home the trophy at Homestead, it will be one worth celebrating for the both of them.

Veteran Vs. Youth Movement
Only two drivers are locked into the Championship 4, Johnny Sauter and Justin Haley, and they are at very different places in their careers.

Haley is 19-years-old and competing in only his second full-time season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. This weekend’s race will be his 49th start. Sauter, 40-years old, has competed in 10 full-time Truck Series seasons and his start at ISM Raceway will be his 243rd. But they’re both competing for the exact same thing – the 2018 championship.

As Haley approaches his 50th career start, he currently has three wins, 12 top fives, 30 top 10s and one pole. In Sauter’s first 50 career starts, he had two wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s and two poles.

But their careers at Homestead-Miami are very different from one another.

Haley has only been to Homestead once before and that was last season’s finale. He started ninth and finished seventh.

Sauter has run at Homestead 11 times and has one win from 2011. He has four top fives and eight top 10s at the track. Sauter finished in the top 10 the last four races in South Florida.

If the Playoff scenario were locked in right now, you’d have two other young contenders in the picture in Noah Gragson and Brett Moffitt, who are currently in the Championship 4 on points.

Veteran Matt Crafton is below the cut-off line, as well as Grant Enfinger, meaning that Sauter could be the sole veteran in the championship hunt.

A Must-Win Situation
This weekend’s Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the Playoff drivers’ last chance to lock themselves into the Championship 4, and for some of them, a win is the only guarantee.

Brett Moffitt, who is sitting in third place in the points standings, would clinch with 51 points and a new winner. If there’s a repeat winner like Sauter or Haley, or a win by Noah Gragson or any non-Playoff driver, he would secure his spot with 33 points. This will be Moffitt’s debut at ISM Raceway.

Noah Gragson would clinch with 38 points if there is a repeat winner or a win by Moffitt or any non-Playoff drivers. It is a possibility for Gragson to clinch on points with a new Playoff winner, but he would need help to do so. This will be Gragson’s third visit to the 1-mile track. Being 18-points above the cut line, and he has finished 16th and 15th, as well as led 55 laps in his most recent run at the track, even after being involved in a wreck.

Grant Enfinger can only guarantee himself a spot in the Championship 4 if he wins. He has the ability to clinch on points, but we need help depending on the winner. Enfinger will head to ISM Raceway for only the second time of his career. He was involved in a crash on lap 75 that resulted in a 24th place finish after starting ninth in his first visit.

Matt Crafton is in the same boat as Enfinger. He needs a win to solidify his spot in the Championship. Like Enfinger, if he had some help, depending on the winner of the race, he could clinch on points, but it would be very tough. This will be Crafton’s 18th start at ISM Raceway. He has never won at the one-miler but has six top fives and 11 top 10s. Despite those statistics, Crafton crashed in two of his last three races at Phoenix and has only led 15 laps in 17 starts.

First-Timers At ISM Raceway
There are 31 trucks entered to hit the track this weekend at ISM Raceway for the Lucas Oil 150 (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Of those 31 drivers set to run the 1-mile track, 13 of them have never been there before.

Sheldon Creed, Stefan Parsons, Brett Moffitt, Tyler Ankrum, Derek Kraus, Tyler Dippel, Landon Huffman, Justin Fontaine, Christian Eckes, Harrison Burton, Riley Herbst, Dawson Cram and Chase Purdy are the newcomers.

That leaves only 18 drivers with experience at Phoenix.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series News and Notes, Etc.
Derek Kraus To Make Truck Series Debut: NASCAR Next’s Derek Kraus is set to make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut this week at ISM Raceway in the Bill McAnally No. 19 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Tundra. The 17-year-old from Wisconsin just completed his second full-time season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. He finished fourth in the championship standings and topped the series with four wins and five poles. He also led the most laps and collected eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes in 14 races. Ty Joiner will serve as the crew chief in Phoenix and John Camilleri, who was the crew chief this year in the K&N West entries driven by Kraus, will be the truck chief.

Owner Standings: GMS Racing’s No. 21 truck is still in the points lead with 3,128. Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 16 truck is in second place, 20 points behind the leader. Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 13 is only three points behind second place and 23 points behind first place. GMS Racing is also in fourth place with their No. 24 truck. They have 3,104 points, one behind third place. ThorSport Racing’s No. 41 rounds out the top five with 3,089 points, 39 points behind the leader. If GMS Racing wins the Truck Owner Championship, this would be their second in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

ISM Raceway – NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Quick Facts
Track Length: 1-mile
Race Length: 150 miles (150 laps)
Grandstand Seating Capacity: 50,000
Degree of Banking in Corners: 11 degrees (1-2), 9 degrees (3-4)
Degree of Banking on Straights: 3 degrees (front), 9 degrees (back)
Length of Frontstretch: 1,179 feet
Length of Backstretch: 1,551 feet
Most Wins: 4 (Kevin Harvick)
Most Poles: 5 (Jack Sprague)
Most Top Fives: 10 (Ron Hornaday Jr.)
Most Top 10s: 13 (Ron Hornaday Jr., Jack Sprague)
Most Lead Changes: 12 (10/24/98)
Fewest Lead Changes: 1 (2/25/11)
Most Leaders: 7 (2 times, most recently 11/9/14)
Fewest Leaders: 2 (6 times, most recently 11/7/14)
Most Cautions: 13 (11/9/07)
Fewest Cautions: 3 (2 times, most recently 10/31/03)
Most Caution Laps: 49 (11/11/16)
Fewest Caution Laps: 14 (11/8/02)
Most Wins by a Manufacturer: 15 (Chevrolet)
Closest Margin of Victory: 0.022 seconds (11/18/02)
Greatest Margin of Victory: 13.186 seconds (4/20/97)