NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Pocono & Iowa

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Gander RV 400
The Place: Pocono Raceway
The Date: Sunday, July 28
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (160 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 50), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 100), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 160)
2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch 

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: U.S. Cellular 250
The Place: Iowa Speedway
The Date: Saturday, July 27
The Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 5 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 218.75 miles (250 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)
2018 Race Winner: Christopher Bell

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: Gander RV 150
The Place: Pocono Raceway
The Date: Saturday, July 27
The Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 12:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 150 miles (60 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 15), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 30), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 60)
2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Busch looking for a tricky triple of consecutive Pocono wins

NASCAR fans have likely become accustomed to Kyle Busch’s domination at short tracks such as Bristol Motor Speedway, where he has a combined 22 victories in NASCAR’s three  national series. But his recent work at the 2.5-mile Pocono (Pa.) Raceway – site of Sunday’s Gander RV 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) has been mighty impressive too.

Busch is not only the defending race winner but has won three of the last four races at the Pocono track, including the June race this season. In fact, a victory on Sunday would make him just the third driver in history to win three consecutive races at “The Tricky Triangle” – joining an esteemed list that includes NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison (1982-83) and the late Tim Richmond (1986-87).

A victory in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota would also make him only the eighth driver ever to sweep a season’s races at Pocono, joining Jimmie Johnson (2004) and Denny Hamlin (2006) as the only active drivers on that list.

But Busch’s intentions this week are more fundamental than a place in history. It’s been seven weeks since his last Victory Lane celebration – which, coincidentally, happened at Pocono – and he’d like to win again.

Busch enters the race a mere three-points behind championship leader Joey Logano with six races remaining before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Playoffs begin. With his four wins, Busch is safely in that 16-driver field, but he’d love to also earn the bonus points awarded to the regular season champion.

As it stands, Busch has led the most laps (959) of any driver this season – by a substantial margin. Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski, a three-race winner, is next on the list with 790 laps out front. In addition to Busch’s four victories, he has three runner-up finishes, the most recent runner-up showing at Kentucky two weeks ago. He has 17 top-10s through the 20 races to date.

Busch’s recent work at Pocono, in particular, has set the Monster Energy Series standard. He’s led the most laps in each of his three race wins and in 2017 won the race from the pole position. He’s finished top-10 in the last six races and led laps in the last eight. The lap total during just the last eight races (341) is 84.4 percent of his career laps led total (404) at Pocono.

“Trying to pass people is the trickiest part because it’s so finicky there after getting your car set-up to run by yourself in practice, but also getting it good for the traffic during the race and being able to out-corner guys out there,’’ Busch explained. “Having a lot of horsepower is important there, as well. Hoping we can have all of those things go right for us this week with our Skittles Toyota.’’

Hamlin’s hamlet

Four-time Pocono Raceway winner Denny Hamlin arrives in the idyllic Pocono Mountains for Sunday’s race understandably feeling on the verge of another victory. His past and present performance point to a good showing this weekend.

Not only is he the winningest active driver at the track, Hamlin has led laps in the last eight straight races coming to Pocono and finished a dramatic runner-up to Kevin Harvick last week at New Hampshire.

For this year’s Daytona 500 winner Hamlin, Pocono has been the Not-So-Tricky Triangle – a positive variation on its traditional nickname. Hamlin won the first two Cup races he competed in here – from the pole position – in 2006. Twice he’s won back-to-back races – the 2006 sweep and again in fall, 2009 and spring, 2010.

Hamlin’s 694 laps led at Pocono is second only to Jimmie Johnson’s 740 and includes a spectacular 2006 showing of this race when he led 151 of the 200 race laps. He’s finished top-10 in four of the last six Pocono races and was sixth in June. And his 7.074 average start through 28 races is second best all-time to NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson out of drivers with more than one start, who averaged a 4.667 start, but in only six races.

In the last five weeks of the 2019 schedule, Hamlin has three top-five finishes including that runner-up finish last week at New Hampshire. Six times he’s finished fifth place in a race. His 113 laps led at New Hampshire was second only to teammate Kyle Busch’s 118.

In all, Hamlin has 12 top-10 finishes including his second Daytona 500 victory to open the season and then a win at Texas in April.

The combination of his work in particular at Pocono, and in general during this season, has given the No. 11 JGR Toyota team every reason to feel optimistic about this weekend.

“I’ve been fortunate to have had success in the past at Pocono and it’s a track where I’m always hopeful I can get a win for our team,’’ Hamlin said. “Our team is currently on a streak of some solid performances and I’m looking forward to continuing that this weekend.’’

Team Penske – Consistent and strong

Pocono Raceway is a venue where all three Team Penske drivers have hoisted trophies in Victory Lane. And that feel-good may be the difference this week for the team which has five wins on the season but hasn’t won a race since June 9, when current Monster Energy Series points leader Joey Logano claimed his second victory of the year at Michigan.

Logano (two) and veteran Brad Keselowski (three) have contributed multiple wins to the Penske team’s stellar work this season, and Pocono may well be the venue their 25-year old teammate Ryan Blaney joins the 2019 trophy club.

Blaney has led 362 laps this season – the seventh most of any driver and the best output by any driver still winless at this point. He has six top-five and eight top-10 finishes in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, including four top 10s in the last six races. His best showings are third place results at both Phoenix and Sonoma. He was fourth at New Hampshire last week.

Pocono is understandably a special place for Blaney. He won his first career Cup race there in 2017 and answered that with a pole position in 2018. He has finished 12th in the last two races at the track.

His reigning series champion teammate Logano holds a slim three-point edge over Kyle Busch atop the points and has paced the standings for the last six weeks. He’s been ranked first or second for all but three weeks of the 20-race season to date.

The last five-race stretch has been a little uncharacteristic of Logano’s No. 22 team. He’s had three top 10s – including a ninth place at New Hampshire last weekend, but he’s also had a pair of finishes outside the top-20. Logano, who dominated at Pocono winning from the pole position in the 2012 early summer race, was seventh at the track this June.

Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, has three wins so far this year – but his last was May 11 at Kansas Speedway. Pocono has been a solid mark on his resume. He won the 2011 edition of this race and a pole position in 2016. He was runner-up to Kyle Busch earlier this summer – one of four runner-up finishes for the driver of the No. 2 Ford at the track. He’s led laps in the last six Pocono races and had an impressive streak of six top-five finishes snapped in this race last year when he crashed out. He’s had two top-10s in the last five races this season and is coming off a 10th-place showing at New Hampshire, where he started from pole position.

Drivers looking to make a move to the Playoffs

With six races remaining in the regular season, the championship points drama isn’t just dominating the top of the Monster Energy Cup standings, but is a very real situation for the final few drivers trying to earn one of the 16 playoff positions.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson is 13th in the points standings, only 31 points over Jimmie Johnson and Daniel Suarez, who are just outside the Playoff cutoff with 488 points each.

Larson holds only a slim three-point edge over Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones in 14th. Jones is seven points up on 15th place Ryan Newman and 11 points up on 16th place Clint Bowyer.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is 17th, tied in points with Suarez but holds a slim statistical advantage over Suarez with one more top-five.

Johnson (three) and Newman (one) are the only drivers among this group of six with a previous win at Pocono. Jones was best among the group at the first Pocono race of 2019, finishing third. Bowyer was fifth and Suarez was eighth. Newman (16th), Johnson (19th) and Larson (26th) followed.

Among the younger trio, Suarez, 27, started from pole and finished second in this race last year – his career-best effort in the Monster Energy Series. Jones, 23, has four top-10s in five starts at Pocono and Larson, 26, has five top 10s in 11 starts at the track – including a runner-up in 2018.

Among the veterans, Johnson leads with 20 top-10 finishes in 35 starts at Pocono, but he’s had only one in the last seven races – an eighth-place finish in the June race of last year. Newman has 15 top10s in 35 starts, but only one in the last nine Pocono races. He was eighth in this race last year. Bowyer has 11 top 10s in 27 starts. However, he’s finished 11th or better in three of the last four Pocono races. His career best showing is fourth in 2014.

Sunoco rookie review

As it has been the entire season, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points standings remain relatively close. Richard Childress Racing driver Daniel Hemric is ranked 25th in the Cup standings and holds a 42-point edge on JTG Daugherty Racing driver Ryan Preece, who is ranked 26th, heading into the second Pocono (Pa.) Raceway event this weekend. Front Row Motorsports driver Matt Tifft is 31st in the standings.

Hemric, 28, of Kannapolis, N.C. is actually coming off one of his toughest outings – crashing out and finishing a season-worst 37th at New Hampshire last Sunday. Preece, 28, of Berlin, Conn., meanwhile, recorded his second consecutive 21st place finish at Loudon, N.H.

There’s reason for optimism. Hemric was 13th at Pocono in June – his third-best showing through the opening 20 races. That finish in particular was good for him and the team, starting off a five-race streak of top-20 early summer finishes. Preece was 23rd at the last Pocono stop and Tifft finished 33rd.

Competition highlights

Last week’s event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway furthered a positive competition sign for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Through the first 20 races of 2019, green flag passes for the lead are up 43.2 percent over last year.

In fact, that statistic was upward in 13 of the 20 races to date and five of those races – at Las Vegas, Bristol, Tenn., Kansas, Chicago and Kentucky – saw record-setting green flag passes for the lead

Pocono Raceway, where the series races this weekend, is among the uptick. The track saw a significant increase in green flag passes for the lead (21) in June – up 91 percent over last season.

Total green flag passing in general has also increased significantly from last season – up 33 percent through the first 20 races (from 51,788 green flag passes in the opening 20 races of 2018 to 68,859 during that same time frame this season.).

Mixing it up to end the regular season

The 2019 Monster Energy Series regular season schedule wraps up with six unique venues – providing opportunities for a wide variety of drivers to win their way into the Playoffs. Below is a look at the six remaining facilities in the regular season:

Pocono Raceway – The 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” has three unique turns (Turn 1 – 14 degrees of banking, Turn 2 – eight degrees, Turn 3 – six degrees) and long straights (frontstretch – 3,740 feet, backstretch – 3,055 feet, shortstretch – 1,780 feet). Jimmie Johnson (three wins), Ryan Newman (one), Chris Buescher (one) and Ryan Blaney (one) have all won at Pocono but not, yet, anywhere this year. And Pocono recently announced the PJ1 traction compound would be added in all three of its turns, helping provide another lane option for passing opportunities.

Watkins Glen International – The Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York hosts this historic 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course. Of note – all of the active previous winners at The Glen have found Victory Lane in 2019.

Michigan International Speedway – The Irish Hills provide the backdrop for this spacious, smooth and speedy two-miler that features 18 degrees of banking in the corners. Kyle Larson’s three wins each at Michigan is the most among active winners who haven’t won in 2019. Ryan Newman has a pair of wins there, while Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer have one apiece.

Bristol Motor Speedway – Thunder Valley sets the scene for the half-mile, high-banked short track featuring variable banking (from 24 to 28 degrees) in the turns. All the active former Bristol winners are already victorious in 2019.

Darlington Raceway – “The Track Too Tough To Tame” is an egg-shaped 1.366-mile track with 25 degrees of banking in Turns 1 and 2, and 23 degrees of banking in 3 and 4. Jimmie Johnson’s three wins top the list of drivers who have bested the challenge of the unique configuration and he is the only active former winner at Darlington who has not won this season.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway – While Pocono is a triangle that modeled Turn 2 after Indianapolis, the “Brickyard” is basically a 2.5-mile flat rectangle, featuring short straights between the turns, which are all banked at nine degrees. Jimmie Johnson’s four wins at the famed track are most among active drivers and are second-most all-time (to Jeff Gordon’s five). Joining him on the list of active Brickyard winners who are searching for their first win this season are Paul Menard and Ryan Newman (one win each).

Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media rotations

Six drivers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Richard Petty Motorsports’ Bubba Wallace, Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer, Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon, Front Row Motorsports’ Matt Tifft, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Leavine Family Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Pocono Raceway in advance of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Gander RV 400 (3 p.m., ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Bubba Wallace, 25, of Mobile, Ala, is looking for his first top-10 of the 2019 season as the series heads back to the venue, Pocono Raceway, where he made his Monster Energy Cup Series debut in 2017. Wallace finished 26th in the early summer race, his first of four starts with the Richard Petty Motorsports team while the team’s fulltime driver recovered from injuries. His work helped him earn a fulltime job with RPM. After suffering a pair of DNFs in the 2018 Pocono races, Wallace recovered with a 21st place showing there this June. He is coming off a 22nd place finish at New Hampshire last weekend.

Alex Bowman, 26, of Tucson, Ariz., scored his first career victory at Chicago a month ago and that marks his last top-10 in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. On the season Bowman has six top-10 and four top-five finishes. He was 14th at Loudon, N.H. over the weekend and is ranked 10th in the Cup points entering this weekend’s race at Pocono. The “Tricky Triangle,” as Pocono is affectionately known, has been a promising venue. Bowman was third in his Hendrick debut there in 2018 – his best showing in seven starts. He was 15th in June.

Clint Bowyer, 40, Emporia, Kan., would like to right his ship, so to speak, after earning only a single top-10 (sixth place at Kentucky Speedway) in the season’s most recent six races. He was 20th at New Hampshire on Sunday in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and his best showing of the year is runner-up at Texas in April. Bowyer has 11 top-10s in 27 starts at Pocono, including a fifth place this June, when he also led two laps. His career best finish is third in 2009. He’s only finished outside the top 20 one time in his last eight Pocono starts.

Ty Dillon, 27, of Lewisville, N.C., is having a career year, statistically, even if he isn’t a sure-bet Playoff contender yet. The driver of the No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet has a best-ever two top-10 finishes already – both at Daytona (sixth in February and fourth in July). It’s the first time in his three-year fulltime career he has earned multiple top-10s. Dillon’s best finish at Pocono is 17th in 2017. He finished 27th in June.

Matt Tifft, 23, of Hinckley, Ohio, reached a rookie milestone earlier this month, earning his first career top-10 – a ninth place finish at Dayton International Speedway. He has three top 20s on the year – a pair of 20th-place finishes at Phoenix and Charlotte – in addition to his Daytona work. Tifft, who drives the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford, started 30th and finished 33rd in his Pocono Cup debut earlier this summer. He has scored a top-10 finish in both the Xfinity Series (10th in 2017) and Gander Outdoors Truck Series (eighth in 2015) previously at Pocono.

Kyle Larson, 26, of Elk Grove, Calif., is currently ranked 13th in the Cup points standings after an up-and-down spring run. He has seven top-10s and three top-five finishes but also five DNFs on the season. The five-time Cup race winner’s best showing is runner-up at Chicago. He’s finished top-10 in three of the last five races. Pocono Raceway has shown promise for the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He won the Busch Pole position in only his second Cup race there in 2014 and finished a career best runner-up at Pocono in June, 2018. He has five top-10 finishes in 11 starts and was 23rd earlier this season.

Matt DiBenedetto, 27, of Grass Valley, Calif., got an early start to celebrating his birthday – this Saturday. The driver of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota scored his second top-five of the season with a fifth place Sunday at New Hampshire. He has three top-10 finishes in the last five races and is 24th in the championship standings – his best position outside of a 20th place ranking following the season-opening Daytona 500. DiBenedetto is still working on his first top-10 at Pocono. He has four DNFs in nine starts but earned a career best 17th place there this June.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Xfinity’s Big 3 plan to shuck the competition at Iowa Speedway

All three of the formidable “Big 3” in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer – have been impressive this season; winning 13 of the first 19 races of the year – an astounding combined winning percentage of 68.4%.

What’s even more remarkable is Christopher Bell and Cole Custer have now become just the second duo of drivers in series history to win five or more races each in the first 19 events of a season – a feat the series hasn’t seen in 35 years; when Jack Ingram and Sam Ard both won seven races each in the first 19 races of the season in 1984. If either Bell or Custer wins this weekend their Xfinity Series legend status will just grow as only six drivers in series history have won six or more races in the first 20 races of the season – Tommy Ellis (six wins, 1983), Sam Ard (seven wins, 1984), Jack Ingram (eight wins, 1984), Larry Pearson (six wins, 1987), Chad Little (six wins, 1995) and Kyle Busch (six wins, 2009; eight wins, 2010; six wins, 2011; eight wins, 2013; seven wins, 2016).

Iowa Speedway is another facility on the Xfinity Series schedule the Big 3 have found success; particularly Christopher Bell, who is going for his third consecutive win at track this weekend – a feat only accomplished by one other driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011 sweep, 2012). Below is a statistical look at the Big 3 at Iowa Speedway heading into this weekend’s U.S. Cellular 250 this Saturday at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Traditional Stats
Drivers Starts Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs
Christopher Bell 4 1 2 3 3 0
Cole Custer 5 1 0 3 4 0
Tyler Reddick 5 0 0 1 2 0
Loop Data Stats
Drivers Driver Rating Avg. Start Avg Running Pos. Avg. Finish Laps Led Laps in Top 15 (%)
Christopher Bell 134.5 11.25 2.98 5.00 434 (43.1%) 977 (97.0%)
Cole Custer 111.9 7.40 5.98 8.80 169 (13.4%) 1,146 (90.9%)
Tyler Reddick 81.4 9.40 18.51 16.80 0 (0.0%) 637 (50.5%)

Earlier this season at Iowa Speedway, Bell won, Custer finished second and Reddick finished 15th.

Iowa natives Michael Annett & Joey Gase are coming home this weekend

JR Motorsports driver Michael Annett and MBM Motorsports driver Joey Gase are the two Iowan drivers in the field for this weekend’s U.S. Cellular 250 (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Annett, from Des Moines, heads to his home state eighth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings but is locked into the Playoffs this season by virtue of his season-opening win at Daytona. In 18 starts this season Annett has posted a pole, one win (Daytona-1), five top fives and 12 top 10s; including a ninth-place finish at Iowa Speedway earlier this season. Annett has been respectable at his home track posting one top five, four top 10s and an average finish of 13.7 in 13 starts at the 0.875-mile oval.

Gase, from Cedar Rapids, prepares for his home track this weekend sitting in 27th in the series driver standings. In 17 series starts this season Gase has posted one top 20 and six top-25 finishes. The 26-year-old, Gase, has made 16 series starts at Iowa Speedway posting an average finish of 25.8.

Landon Cassill, also from Cedar Rapids, competes in the NASCAR Xfinity Series on a part-time schedule this season with car owner Morgan Shepherd, but he is not entered in the race at Iowa Speedway this weekend. Instead he is competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway for StarCom Racing.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell is looking to set some individual records

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell can set some NASCAR Xfinity Series records with a win at Iowa Speedway this weekend.

For starters, Bell has tied NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip for the most wins (13) by a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver in their first 59 starts. It took Waltrip 53 Xfinity Series starts to reach 13 wins; it took Bell 59. No other drivers have reached so many wins in so few starts in the series. If Bell were to win this weekend, he would become the first driver to win 14 races in their first 60 starts in the series. Sam Ard currently holds the series record of 14 wins in his first 66 starts.

In addition, if he were to win this weekend, he would become just the second driver in series history to win three consecutive races at Iowa speedway joining Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011 sweep, 2012).

Bell has made four series starts at Iowa, posting one pole, two wins, three top fives and an average finish of 5.0. Plus, the 24-year old from Oklahoma has led 434 laps at Iowa Speedway, second-most among active drivers this weekend.

Breaking Through: Allgaier & Cindric are close

JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric sit fourth and fifth respectively in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings just behind the ‘Big 3’, and both look poised to redirect the winning spotlight on to themselves this Saturday at Iowa Speedway in the U.S. Cellular 250 (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Allgaier, 33-years old from Riverton, Illinois, is coming off a career season last year that saw him visit Victory Lane five times with his No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet team. But since his win last year at Indianapolis in September, Allgaier has been on a winless streak that has reached 26 races. But, the JRM veteran can snap right back into his winning ways this weekend at Iowa Speedway, a track that been quite fortuitous to him in the past; including a victory last season (June race). In 15 series starts on the 7/8-mile he has produced one win (2018) and leads all active drivers in top fives (four) and top 10s (11). On top of that, he has an average finish inside the top-10 (9.467) and finished third at Iowa earlier this season.

Cindric, 20-years old from Mooresville, North Carolina, has his best shot at championship this season running fulltime for Team Penske. Heading into Iowa this weekend, Cindric is just 17 points behind Allgaier in series driver standings having posted six top fives and 13 top 10s this season. Cindric will be making his 53rd series start this weekend and is still looking for his first victory. Iowa Speedway has been the home to three drivers getting their first Xfinity Series win – Ryan Preece (July 2017), William Byron (June 2017) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (May 2011). Cindric shouldn’t fret about going winless just yet though, the series record for the most starts before a driver’s first career win is held by Jeremy Clements; who went 255 series starts before winning at Road America in 2017. Cindric has made three series starts at Iowa Speedway, posting one pole, one top 10 and an average finish of 13.0.

Newton Cares Classic is in full swing

NASCAR, Iowa Speedway Cares, City of Newton and United Way of Jasper County have joined forces to tee off the inaugural Newton Cares Classic presented by Gregg Young Auto Center of Newton celebrity golf tournament on Thursday, July 25.

To be held at Westwood Golf Course in Newton, Iowa, the event will feature world-class athletes with Iowa ties and several stars of the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Golf tournaments are typically about skill and beating the competition, but this one will bring about a new purpose with giving to non-profit organizations in Jasper County and central Iowa.

“It will be great to see the support we receive for our golf outing in Newton on July 25,” said Iowa Speedway President David Hyatt. “We hope people will see the tournament as not only an opportunity to golf with some of the hottest racing talent in the country and other great athletes and celebrities but a way to have a great time and give back to the community.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series golfers include:

  • Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing)
  • Noah Gragson (JR Motorsports)
  • Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing)
  • Michael Annett (JR Motorsports)
  • Wayne Auton – Managing Director, NASCAR Xfinity Series

Celebrity golfers slated to be part of the event include former Iowa University and National Football League (NFL) star Tim Dwight, former Hawkeye and National Basketball Association (NBA) star Bobby Hansen, “Iowa Nice Guy” Scott Siepker, former Iowa State University football player RJ Sumrall, former NFL players Merv Krakau, Ernst Brun Jr. and Kahlil Carter, 2018 Knoxville Raceway champion Austin McCarl, WHO-TV Meteorologist Ed Wilson, Iowa Barnstormers’ Jeremy Gloston, former Major League Baseball (MLB) player and Des Moines Buccaneers President Nate Teut and Des Moines Buccaneers Coach and former National Hockey League (NHL) player Pete Mannino.

Sunoco Rookie Update: Noah Gragson has risen to the top

JR Motorsport’s driver Noah Gragson has been finding his groove lately. In six of the last seven NASCAR Xfinity Series races the Las Vegas native has rolled top-10 finishes. Now the 21-year old is leading the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 28 points over second place Chase Briscoe and 41 points over third place Justin Haley as the series heads to one of Gragson’s best tracks statistically this season – Iowa Speedway.

In 18 series starts this season, Noah Gragson has amassed one stage win, three top fives and 10 top 10s. As a result, he is sixth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings and seventh in Playoff outlook a comfortable 211 points ahead of the postseason cutoff.

Gragson made his Xfinity Series track debut at Iowa earlier this season with championship winning crew chief David Elenz; starting fourth and finishing sixth.

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.

Kaulig Racing calls on Alex Yontz – Following the passing of Nick Harrison last weekend, the crew chief for the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet with driver Justin Haley, the organization has tapped Alex Yontz to helm the team on the pit box this weekend. Yontz began his crew chief career earlier this season working on Kaulig Racing’s second entry to the series. Yontz has worked with Haley once before – earlier this season at Michigan; the duo finished in the top 10.

Drive for Diversity Driver Ryan Vargas to make Xfinity debut – This weekend JD Motorsports will have Driver for Diversity participant Ryan Vargas, from La Mirada, California, driving the No. 15 JD Motorsports Chevrolet with crew chief Wayne Carroll. The 18-year old has made 14 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts in his career posting six top-five finishes. Though this will be his series track debut, he has made one K&N start at the track – starting 10th and finishing seventh.

Parade Laps: Insights to the drivers participating in the media breakouts at Iowa

This Friday, July 26 at 2 p.m. (local time) four NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell,  GMS Racing’s John Hunter Nemechek, RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg and SS Green Light Racing’s Gray Gaulding will be made available for media breakouts prior to Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)

Birthdate: December 16, 1994

Driver’s Age: 24

Hometown: Norman, Oklahoma

Hobbies: Dirt track racing, iRacing, golf

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he set the rookie single season Xfinity Series wins record with seven victories; the previous record of five wins was held by three drivers – Greg Biffle (2001), Kyle Busch (2004) and Carl Edwards (2005).
  • Made the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in rookie season (2018), and advanced to the Championship 4; ultimately finishing fourth in the championship standings.
  • Recorded 13 career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins in just 59 starts; including five this season (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover, Iowa and New Hampshire).

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently second in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 56 points back from series standings leader Tyler Reddick.
  • In 18 starts this season he has posted three poles (ISM Raceway, Texas, Charlotte), five wins (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover, Iowa and New Hampshire), 11 top fives, 12 top 10s and an average finish of 9.5.
  • Has won 11 stages and accumulated 36 Playoff points.

Iowa Speedway Performance:

  • Has made four series starts posting one pole, two wins, three top fives and an average finish of 5.0.

John Hunter Nemechek (No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet)

Birthdate: June 11, 1997

Driver’s Age: 24

Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina

Hobbies: Snowboarding, surfing, mountain biking, cycling

Team: GMS Racing

Crew Chief: Chad Norris

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Has made 36 NASCAR Xfinity Series career starts posting one win, eight top fives, 21 top 10s and a pole.
  • In 2018, he won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Kansas-2 and captured his first pole award at ISM Raceway-2.
  • In 2018 he competed in 18 of 22 NASCAR Xfinity Series races for Chip Ganassi Racing.
  • Made his NASCAR Xfinity Series career debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Chip Ganassi Racing; he started third and finished fourth.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently 10th in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 281 points back from series standings leader Tyler Reddick.
  • In 18 starts this season, he has posted two top fives, 10 top 10s and an average finish of 12.4.

Iowa Speedway Performance:

  • Has made three starts at Iowa, posting one top five and two top 10s.

Ryan Sieg (No. 39 RSS Racing Chevrolet)

Birthdate: June 20, 1987

Driver’s Age: 32

Hometown: Tucker, Georgia

Team: RSS Racing

Crew Chief: Shane Wilson

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Finished a career-best ninth in the Xfinity Series championship standings in 2016.
  • Has made 187 NASCAR Xfinity Series career starts posting five top-five finishes; including a career-best finish of runner-up at Iowa Speedway in 2017.
  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2013 at ISM Raceway with Jeremy Clements Racing.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently 11th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship standings, 114 point ahead the Playoff cutoff.
  • In 18 starts this season he has posted two top fives, eight top 10s and an average finish of 12.8.

Iowa Speedway Performance:

  • Has made 11 starts at Iowa posting one top five and an average finish of 18.2.

Gray Gaulding (No. 08 SS Green Light Racing Chevrolet)

Birthdate: February 10, 1998

Driver’s Age: 21

Hometown: Colonial Heights, Virginia

Hobbies: Weightlifting, basketball, spending time on the lake, Go-Karting

Team: SS Green Light Racing

Crew Chief: Patrick Donahue

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Has made 26 NASCAR Xfinity Series career starts; posting a best finish of runner-up earlier this season at Talladega Superspeedway.
  • Made five series starts in 2017 gaining experience driving for RSS Racing.
  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2016 with Roush Fenway Racing – competed in two races in 2016 finishing 13th at both (Bristol and Richmond).

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Current 13th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship standings, the first spot outside the Playoffs, 113 points behind 12th place – the final Playoff transfer spot.
  • In 18 starts this season he has posted one top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 15.9.

Iowa Speedway Performance:

  • Made his series track debut at Iowa Speedway earlier this season; he started 18th and finished 14th.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Pocono prepares to welcome new race winner

There is one certainty as the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series heads to the Pocono Mountains this weekend for the Gander RV 150 (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – a new winner will be parking in Victory Lane after the checkered flag flies.

This weekend’s entry list is void of previous winners, a list that is led by two-time, and most recent, race winner Kyle Busch (2015, 2018). Current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Kevin Harvick (2011), Ryan Blaney (2013), Austin Dillon (2014), and William Byron (2016) also have wins in the Gander Trucks at the “Tricky Triangle.” NASCAR Xfinity Series standout Christopher Bell (2017) also has a victory at Pocono.

Of the drivers entered this weekend who don’t have a win, yet, in 2019, Matt Crafton leads the field with a pair of top-five and six top-10 finishes at Pocono. The only other winless drivers this season with top fives are Stewart Friesen and Ben Rhodes (one apiece).

In total, 12 drivers on the entry list will be making their series track debut at Pocono (Tyler Dippel, Sheldon Creed, Anthony Mrakovich, Gus Dean, Anthony Alfredo, Tyler Ankrum, Harrison Burton, Spencer Boyd, Bryant Barnhill, Mason Massey IV, Christian Eckes, and Natalie Decker).

Of note, Toyota and Chevrolet are tied with four wins apiece at Pocono – with all of Toyota’s coming in the last four races. Chevrolet won the first three races at the track starting in 2010, Ford landed their only Pocono victory in 2013 with Blaney, then Chevrolet won their fourth.

Ankrum alters Playoff picture

Although he wound up leading a race-high 40 laps en route to his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory, it looked like Tyler Ankrum was going to have to settle for second place until race leader Brett Moffitt ran out of gas on the next-to-last lap.

Moffitt’s miscalculation was to Ankrum’s benefit as he was able to charge on to a big win to lock himself into the postseason.

The win was essential to ensuring Ankrum earned a spot in the Playoffs. Following Chicagoland, Ankrum sat 15th in points – and was 205 points behind Harrison Burton, who, at the time, held the eighth and final position in the Playoffs.

So “pointing” his way to a title shot really wasn’t in the cards for Ankrum due to the difficult road he took to the Playoffs.

Ankrum missed the opening three races of the season because he was too young to race at the tracks (Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas – per NASCAR rules, drivers must be 18 to compete at those venues and Ankrum’s 18th birthday wasn’t until March 6) before he joined up with DGR-Crosley.

After struggling through some sponsorship issues that took him out of the No. 17 Toyota for a pair of races, Ankrum was able to remain Playoff-eligible by jumping in the No. 87 Chevrolet for NEMCO Motorsports at Iowa and Gateway.

Since returning to DGR-Crosley, he’s posted a 13th-place finish at Chicagoland and then the win at Kentucky.

On the year, Ankrum has a pair of top fives and four top 10s. This weekend’s visit to Pocono will be his first to the “Tricky Triangle.”

Ankrum’s team is led by crew chief Kevin Manion, who is in his fourth year in the Gander Trucks after a long career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He joined DGR-Crosley in 2018 after spending 2016 and 2017 with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Manion has been atop the pit box for 20 different drivers in the Gander Trucks between 2016 and 2019. He spent the most time with Daniel Suarez in 2016, working with him for 13 races, highlighted by a win at ISM Raceway.

Overall, he has four wins as a crew chief in the series (including a pair of victories with Kyle Busch in 2017 – Kansas and Charlotte), 15 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes.

The win at Kentucky was also the first NASCAR national series victory for his team, DGR-Crosley.

With Chastain and Ankrum in, who’s out of the Playoff picture?

After declaring for NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points leading into the June Texas race, Ross Chastain had to hit two marks – winning a race and breaking into the top 20 in points – to earn a spot in the Playoffs.

He won at Gateway. And then after a fourth-place finish at the most recent venue, Kentucky Speedway, he moved into the top 20 in points for the first time.

Chastain now sits 18th in the driver standings, 23 points ahead of the 21st-place driver (Jennifer Jo Cobb).

With three races remaining in the regular season, Chastain needs to maintain the consistency he has shown all year to stay in the top 20 in points. He has just one finish outside the top 10 – his 32nd-place finish at Iowa after his truck failed post-race inspection and he was disqualified – and has five top-five finishes.

He has only two prior starts at the next venue on the schedule – Pocono Raceway on Saturday, July 27– but they were strong finishes. In 2012 he finished 10th and in 2013 he crossed the line fifth. Eldora will be a new track for him, as he has yet to make a start on the half-mile dirt track. And his experience at Michigan, the final track of the regular season, is limited to a start in 2012 that resulted in an 18th-place finish.

To take a closer look at the entirety of the Playoff picture, five drivers have earned their way in on wins – Brett Moffit (Iowa, Chicagoland), Johnny Sauter (Dover), Austin Hill (Daytona), Chastain (World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway) and the most recent winner, Tyler Ankrum (Kentucky).

Points leader Grant Enfinger has a 34-point point advantage over Stewart Friesen and would earn a spot regardless of wins if he stays atop the board.

And as the points stand, the remaining two slots in the Playoffs would go to Friesen and Matt Crafton.

That puts Harrison Burton (ninth on the Playoff outlook, 44 points behind Crafton in the last slot that qualifies for the postseason on points), Ben Rhodes (10th on the Playoff outlook, 48 points behind the cutoff) and Todd Gilliland (11th on the Playoff outlook, 100 points out of the postseason) on the outside looking in.

Each member of the trio probably needs a win to get a shot at the championship, but only Rhodes has a career Gander Trucks victory under his belt – two, in fact, and both were at 1.5-mile tracks (Las Vegas in 2017, Kentucky in 2018).

ARCA Menards Series experience aplenty in Gander Trucks field

Twelve drivers on the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series entry list for the Gander RV 150 (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) have raced at Pocono Raceway in the ARCA Menards Series.

Of those, five (Sheldon Creed, Gus Dean, Harrison Burton, Christian Eckes, Natalie Decker) will be making their Gander Trucks debut at Pocono, therefore their previous ARCA experience should prove to be extremely valuable as it represents their only time on track at the venue known as the “Tricky Triangle.”

Todd Gilliland, Norm Benning, Johnny Sauter, Austin Wayne Self, Bryan Dauzat, Ray Ciccarelli and Grant Enfinger have time on the track in both the ARCA and the Gander Trucks series.

In the most recent ARCA race at Pocono at the end of May, Eckes led the Gander Trucks representatives with a third-place finish.

And if you’re looking to pick a driver to win this weekend – Burton should be on your list. He has scored an ARCA win at Pocono, and he did it in his first ARCA Menards Series visit to the track in 2018. His next two finishes weren’t too shabby, either – fourth in the second race in 2018 and sixth place earlier this season in the series’ first stop at Pocono.

That win would be especially valuable for Burton, as he currently sits on the outside-looking-in for the Gander Trucks Playoffs.

The other driver who has driven into ARCA Victory Lane at Pocono is Enfinger – who is still looking for his first Gander Trucks win this season. Enfinger won his last ARCA start at Pocono (in 2016) and has five top-five and seven top-10 finishes in eight ARCA starts there.

Creed has put together good ARCA results at Pocono, too. En route to winning the series title last year, he recorded a pair of runner-up finishes at the track. And his worst finish of his four starts is eighth in his series debut.

Dean has also had some good history at the track in ARCA. He started on pole in this race last year, but a crash relegated him to a 27th-place finish. He has three finishes of seventh or better.

Closing out the regular season

After a weekend off, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series hits the track the next three weekends to close out the regular season. And the series will be visiting three very different tracks as the postseason field is determined. Here’s a look at the tracks and some of the best performances at each by drivers not currently locked into the Playoffs with a win.

Pocono Raceway (Saturday, July 27, 1 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – The 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” has three unique turns (Turn 1 – 14 degrees of banking, Turn 2 – eight degrees, Turn 3 – six degrees) and long straights (frontstretch – 3,740 feet, backstretch – 3,055 feet, shortstretch – 1,780 feet). Last week, Pocono announced that they would add the PJ1 traction compound in all three of its turns, helping add another lane option for passing opportunities.

There aren’t any championship-eligible Gander Trucks drivers with a previous series win at Pocono. However, Grant Enfinger (June, 2016) and Harrison Burton (June, 2018) have recorded wins in the ARCA Menards Series at the track.

Matt Crafton has a pair of top fives at the track in the Gander Trucks, while Stewart Friesen and Ben Rhodes each have one top-five finish there.

Eldora Speedway (Thursday, August 1, 9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – The half-mile dirt track is the only non-paved venue that the NASCAR national series visit, and it always provides thrilling action. The trip to the track in rural Ohio also provides drivers and fans with a unique qualifying experience, as the field is set by a series of five qualifying races and a last chance qualifying race. This summer marks the seventh race at the track for the series.

Matt Crafton is the only championship-eligible driver with a win at the track. In fact, his victory in 2017 was the last time the two-time series title winner visited Victory Lane – and he would love to secure a Playoff berth by becoming the first two-time Eldora winner.

Crafton, Enfinger and Friesen all have two top fives apiece at Eldora. They are the only Gander Trucks championship-eligible drivers with top fives at the dirt track.

(Of note, last year’s winner Chase Briscoe is scheduled to return to defend, but he’s not eligible for Gander Trucks points.)

Michigan International Speedway (Saturday, August 10, 1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio –  The Irish Hills provide the backdrop for this spacious, smooth and speedy two-miler that features 18 degrees of banking in the corners. The Gander Trucks have raced 19 times at Michigan.

The only championship-eligible Gander Trucks drivers who have won at Michigan have already visited Victory Lane in 2019 (Brett Moffitt won in 2016 and 2018 at Michigan, while Johnny Sauter won in 2014).

Crafton has a trio of top-five finishes in 17 starts at the track. Todd Gilliland finished fifth in his first visit to the track last year. They are the only two drivers with top fives who are still trying to lock themselves into the Playoffs.

Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media breakouts  

Four drivers from the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series – GMS Racing driver Sheldon Creed, Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Todd Gilliland, ThorSport Racing driver Grant Enfinger and DGR-Crosley driver Tyler Ankrum – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Pocono Raceway. These four drivers are preparing for the Gander RV 150 on Saturday, July 27, at 1:00 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Sheldon Creed (No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado)

Birthdate: September 30, 1997

Driver’s Age: 21

Hometown: Alpine, California

Hobbies: iRacing and country music

Crew Chief: Jeff Stankiewicz

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, made five series starts, posting a best finish of fifth at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
  • In 2016, he made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut, placing 16th at Eldora.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Creed is currently ninth in the points standings.
  • He has four top-10 finishes this season –Las Vegas, Texas, Iowa and Gateway

Pocono Raceway Performance:

  • Saturday will be Creed’s Gander Trucks debut at Pocono.
  • He has four starts at the track in the ARCA Menards Series, scoring four top-10 finishes, including a pair of runner-up placements last year en route to the series title.

Grant Enfinger (No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford F-150)

Birthdate: January 22, 1985

Driver’s Age: 34

Hometown: Kannapolis, NC

Hobbies: Fishing, Outdoor activities, Working on cars

Team: ThorSport Racing

Crew Chief: Jeff Hensley

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he captured his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff berth and finished fifth in the final points standings, the best of his career thus far in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
  • In 2017, he finished 11th in the final standings in his rookie season in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
  • In 2016, he claimed his first career NASCAR national series win at Talladega Superspeedway.
  • In 2016, posted his first NASCAR national series career pole for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season opener at Daytona.
  • In 2010, he made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut at Talladega Superspeedway

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Current NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver points standings leader by 34 points over second-place Stewart Friesen.
  • In 13 starts this season he has posted six top fives and 10 top 10s.
  • He has led 233 laps this season.

Pocono Raceway Performance:

  • He has made two series starts at Pocono, posting one top-10 finish
  • In 2016, won the ARCA Menards Series race at Pocono

Todd Gilliland (No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra)

Birthdate: May 15, 2000

Driver’s Age: 19

Hometown: Sherrills Ford, NC

Hobbies: Video games, Spending time with family & friends

Team: Kyle Busch Motorsports

Crew Chief: Michael Shelton

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he competed in 19 races finishing 10th in the championship points and recorded career-highs in top fives (four) and top 10s (nine).
  • In 2017, he made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut at Dover International Speedway for Kyle Busch Motorsports. In total, made six starts, posting two top fives and three top 10s

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently eighth in NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver championship point standings
  • In 13 starts this season he has posted two top five and seven top 10s.
  • He has led 39 laps this season.

Pocono Raceway Performance:

  • He has one Gander Trucks start at Pocono, he finished seventh last year after starting second.
  • Made first ARCA Menard Series start in 2018 and finished sixth

Tyler Ankrum (No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota Tundra)

Birthdate: March 6, 2001

Driver’s Age: 18

Hometown: San Bernardino, California

Team: DGR-Crosley

Crew Chief: Kevin Manion

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • Due to age restrictions, Ankrum missed the first three races of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season before turning 18 earlier this month.
  • He plans to run the remainder of the season as a contender for Sunoco Rookie of the Year and series championship honors.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Captured his first series victory at Kentucky Speedway.
  • In 10 starts this season he has posted two top five and four top 10s.
  • Made his 2019 debut at Martinsville Speedway and finished 19th.

Pocono Raceway Performance:

  • He will make his first series start at Pocono Raceway this weekend.