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NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Michigan and Mid-Ohio

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Top spot continues to change hands

A season-long duel for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship lead took another new turn over the weekend with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch wrestling the top position away from Team Penske’s Joey Logano.

Busch reclaimed the lead by 13 points over Logano following Sunday’s action-packed afternoon on the historic Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course, where Busch finished 11th and Logano was 23rd.

So, for the first time since early June (following the first Pocono race), Busch is atop the standings. Four races remain to settle the regular season championship beginning with Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

And while Busch has certainly driven the No. 18 JGR Toyota to the top of the season rankings with four victories, a series-best 18 top-10 and 11 top-five finishes, the Michigan two-miler has remained a relatively challenging venue for the 2015 Cup champion.

Busch has one victory there, the second Michigan stop of the 2011 season. And he earned a pole position in 2008. He has 11 top-10 and seven top-five finishes in 29 career series starts. And he has a pair of NASCAR Xfinity Series wins and a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory as well.

His 17.9 average finish in Monster Energy Series races, however, is the second worst such mark for Busch among the 14 remaining season venues. Only two tracks left of the schedule have resulted in worse overall marks for Busch – the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where he is averaging a 20.3 finish and the Charlotte ROVAL (which debuted on the schedule last season), where he finished 32nd last year in the only Cup race to date.

Harvick looks to carry momentum into Michigan

After securing his first victory of the 2019 season three weeks ago in New Hampshire, Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team feel not only a giant monkey off their back, but that the result finally equaled the team’s performance and expectation.

Since the victory, Harvick has scored two more top 10s. He won the pole position at Pocono, Pa. and led an impressive 62 laps. Last week he finished seventh on the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course. In just the last six races, Harvick’s No. 4 SHR Ford has led 247 laps of his season total 544 laps out front – that’s 45 percent of his 2019 season mark.

And there’s plenty of reason to think that the positive vibe continues this week at Michigan International Speedway, where Harvick returns as defending race champion.

His career work at the two-miler is impressive. He’s won twice, had 12 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes and led 495 laps in 37 starts.

Last year, he won the August Michigan race and finished runner-up in the June version. He has six finishes of seventh or better in the last eight races at Michigan. In particular, since the 2014 champ joined Stewart-Haas Racing, he’s fared particularly well at this important venue located just outside America’s Detroit-based auto manufacturing headquarters.

In 11 starts with SHR, Harvick has the win last year and four runner-up finishes. He’s had top-five starts in five of the last six races. And Harvick has led 172 laps (34 percent of his career total) in just the last three Michigan races.

A good run this weekend is not only further confirmation that his team has this track figured out, but that the No. 4 group is in a good place for the 10-race Playoff portion of the schedule that begins in four weeks.

And with two of the sport’s auto makers headquartered nearby, this is an exclamation point race for Ford and Chevrolet. Ford has 38 victories there – the highest victory count for the company at any track the Cup series races – including the last three races.

The contenders.

Strictly looking at the championship points standings – but understanding the possibility that several drivers could score a Playoff-qualifying win at the next four venues – there is an intense battle among drivers ranked 15th to 17th in the standings. The top 16 drivers will advance to the 10-race Playoffs, which begin at Las Vegas on Sept. 15.

Following last weekend’s intense racing on the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course, seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson moved back into Playoff eligibility.

Clint Bowyer is ranked 15th, 12 points ahead of both 16th-place Johnson and 17th-place Ryan Newman. Although Johnson and Newman are tied in points, Johnson holds the playoff edge by virtue of a higher finish on the season.

All three drivers have won previously at Michigan.

Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, won a rain-shortened June, 2018 race, but it is his only top-10 finish in the last eight starts at the track. He was fifth on the starting grid in this year’s June race but finished 35th.  He does bring some momentum, however, with a sixth-place finish at Kentucky and an 11th-place finish at Pocono prior to his frustrating 20th-place showing at The Glen on Sunday.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, scored his one Michigan win in 2014. He’s led an even 700 laps at the track and has five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 35 starts. He led 13 laps in this late summer race last year and had back-to-back top-10 finishes in 2016 (sixth) and 2017 (10th). He picked up some important stage points last week at Watkins Glen, N.Y. before being spun out late in the race and settling for a 19th-place finish. He earned top fives at Chicago (fourth) and Daytona (fifth) in July but hasn’t had a top 10 in the four races since.

Newman, driver of the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford, is coming off his worst finish of the season – 25th at Watkins Glen, N.Y. He has three top-10 efforts in the last five races, however, including a best of fifth at Daytona in July. A two-time Michigan winner (2003-04), he is the only driver among this trio with a top-10 effort in the first Michigan race this season – an eighth place. He has a pair of top-10 finishes in the last four races at the track and a fourth place in this race in 2017 is his best result since his 2004 win.

Team Penske races with pride at Michigan

Following a five-win first half of the season for Team Penske, and substantial time atop the driver standings for defending series champ Joey Logano, this team is obviously regarded as a favorite for the title stretch.

Logano, the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, has been in a tight battle with Kyle Busch for the regular season championship – with a frustrating 23rd-place finish Sunday at Watkins Glen, N.Y. costing him the points lead for the first time in three months. He trails Busch by a scant 13 points heading into a favorable venue for the reigning champ.

But Logano can take solace looking forward. His win earlier this summer at this week’s Michigan International Speedway venue was one for the record books. Logano led 163 of the 203 laps to earn the victory – the most dominating effort in the sport’s long history at the track.

The work wasn’t too surprising considering Logano’s record at Michigan. He has three wins, 15 top-10s and six top-five finishes in only 21 starts. He’s earned top-10 finishes in 12 of the last 13 races there.

All three of his wins came from the pole position – an unprecedented feat.

And while Logano has spent most of the season in a high-profile challenge atop the standings, his Penske teammate Keselowski’s three-win work has been comparatively quiet yet impressive.

Keselowski is coming off a ninth-place finish at Watkins Glen last week and is ninth in the driver standings. He’s finished top-10 in three of the last six races.

Michigan, however, is an innately special venue for Keselowski, who is one of two Michigan natives in this week’s field having grown up in nearby Rochester Hills. He has an impressive 11 top-10 and six top-five finishes in 20 starts at the track – and was runner-up to Kevin Harvick in this race last year. A victory at this track would be not only important as the series prepares for the Playoff run, but especially sentimental for Keselowski and his family.

He finished sixth in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford this June and has three consecutive top-10 efforts heading into Sunday’s race.

The organization’s youngest driver, 25-year old Ryan Blaney, is coming off an eventful weekend at Watkins Glen – earning the best finish of the Penske trio, a fifth-place run.

It’s the third consecutive top 10 for Blaney, who is ranked 10th in the driver standings and looking for his first victory of the season. His best finish of the year in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford is third at both Phoenix and Sonoma. He led 158 of the 500 laps at Bristol but finished fourth and he’s led only nine laps in the 14 races since.

The fast Michigan two-miler has been a good venue for Blaney. He finished ninth earlier this season – his fourth top-10 in nine starts. His best finish is fourth in the 2016 August race. He was fifth in this race last year.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates hoping Irish Hills smile upon them

In a season stretch where all four Joe Gibbs Racing cars have shined and excelled, it will be compelling to see how the team fares this week at a track not normally considered a JGR showplace.

Michigan International Speedway has not traditionally been one of the brightest spots on a typically very bright JGR highlight reel. Toyota has won one time (Matt Kenseth in 2015) in the last 10 years and four times in the last 20 years (Denny Hamlin 2010 and 2011 and Brian Vickers, 2009).

Hamlin – a three-time race winner in 2019 – is the only member of the four-car Joe Gibbs organization with multiple Monster Energy Series wins (two) at the track. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has led laps in three of the last four races there and earned a top-10 starting position in the last eight races. The 38-year old has 12 top-10 and seven top-five finishes in 27 starts and has a pair of Xfinity Series wins at the track as well in 2007 and 2017.

Current championship leader Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota, has a single win there (in 2011) and 11 top-10 finishes in 29 starts. His average finish is 17.9 – one of his worst average finish marks on the schedule. He did finish fifth in the season’s first visit in June. As with Hamlin, Busch has earned a pair of Xfinity Series wins – in 2004 (in a Chevrolet) and again in 2015 (in a Toyota). And Busch also won the 2015 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at the track.

JGR team newcomer Martin Truex Jr. is looking for his first victory at Michigan. The 2017 series champion has 10 top-10 finishes in 27 starts, however, including an impressive seven top-three efforts highlighted by three runner-up finishes. He was third in the No. 19 JGR Toyota earlier this summer at Michigan.

For the team’s youngest driver, 23-year old Erik Jones, this is an especially important venue – it’s his home track. The Byron, Michigan, native has a single top 10 in five series starts – a third place in the 2017 August race. He finished 31st earlier this season in the No. 20 JGR Toyota. But Jones does bring a substantial amount of momentum with him this weekend. He’s coming off his fourth consecutive top-five effort – a fourth place at Watkins Glen – and is ranked 13th in the championship standings with four regular season races remaining.

A look at the numbers

Chase Elliott’s win from the pole position last week at Watkins Glen gave Hendrick Motorsports the edge over Stewart-Haas Racing in pole positions for the season. The Hendrick team has won seven poles (Elliott, 3, William Byron, 3 and Jimmie Johnson, 1). SHR is next with six. There have been 11 different pole winners on the season representing five organizations.

There have been 10 different race winners from six teams. Elliott’s Margin of Victory over second-place Martin Truex Jr. last weekend at the New York road course was .454-seconds, marking the 14th time through the opening 22 races of the season that MoV was less than a second. That is the highest number of races claiming that distinction since 1994 when 14 of that season’s first 22 races also had a MoV less than a second.

The average number of lead changes through the first 22 races of the season is 17.68 – the most since 2015 (18.09). The average number of race leaders (9.0) is also the most through 22 races since 2015 (9.05).

Five races to date have featured a record setting number of green flag passes of the lead, including Las Vegas, Bristol, Tenn., Kansas, Chicago and Kentucky.

Sunoco Rookie update

For the first time this season, Matt Tifft was the top finishing rookie in a race and the only first-year Cup driver to complete all 90 laps at the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course. Tifft, who drives the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford finished 24th.

Daniel Hemric, who leads the Cup Serie Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, finished 35th in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, followed by Ryan Preece, who was 36th in the 37-car field in the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Ford.

This week marks the second Cup start for all three drivers at the Michigan two-miler. Hemric finished 12th in his series debut there earlier this summer. Tifft was 24th and Preece was 25th.

Track countdown

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

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 – Roush-Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr., GO FAS Racing’s Corey Lajoie, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, Front Row Motorsports’ Matt Tift and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Michigan International Speedway in advance of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m., ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 31, of Olive Branch, Miss., had a solid, if unspectacular day on the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course finishing 15th and maintaining his 20th-place position in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings. His last top 10 came nine races ago – a fifth place at Charlotte, although he’s led laps in three races since, including a season high of 21 laps at Kentucky Speedway. The driver of the No. 17 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford has three top-10 finishes at this week’s Michigan International Speedway venue, including a best showing of eighth place in 2017. He started 10th and finished 19th in the first Michigan race this season.

Corey LaJoie, 27, of Concord, N.C., had a rough outing due to engine woes last week at Watkins Glen, N.Y. finishing 34th in the No. 32 GO FAS Racing Ford. He has four top-20 finishes on the season, including a best of sixth at Daytona only five races ago. LaJoie arrives in Michigan fresh off his best career finish in five starts there – a 23rd place earlier this summer.

Jimmie Johnson, 43, El Cajon, Calif., is in a tightly-contested battle for the final Playoff transfer position. Technically he holds the 16th and final berth by virtue of top season finish – although he is mathematically tied with Ryan Newman in the driver standings. Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team has a new crew chief as of last week, Cliff Daniels, who led the team to stage points and ultimately a 19th place finish at Watkins Glen, N.Y last weekend. Johnson was on pace for a higher finish but was collected by Ryan Blaney late in the race and rallied to the top-20 showing. He won at Michigan in 2014, has led 700 laps on the two-miler and earned 13 top-10s in 35 career starts. He started 19th and finished 15th earlier this summer there.

Austin Dillon, 29, of Lewisville, N.C., is looking to right his Richard Childress Racing ship. The driver of the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet has had six finishes of 30th or worse in the last 10-race stretch. Chicago was a highlight in that time frame, where he earned his third pole position of the season and finished 10th. He was 31st at Watkins Glen last weekend and is ranked 22nd in the championship, his lowest ranking of the season. Michigan, however, has been a positive on Dillon’s resume. He has four top-10s and a pair of top-five finishes there. He’s led laps the last two times the Cup series has competed on the track and earned top-10s in four of the last eight races.  He was 26th on the season’s first stop there in June. He started fifth and finished fourth in this race last year, however.

Kyle Larson, 27, of Elk Grove, Calif., has certainly rallied in the waning laps of the regular season, earning three top-10 finishes in the last four races – five top-10 finishes in the seven races. He is currently 14th in the championship and brings the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to his most celebrated venue, Michigan International Speedway. Larson earned his first career Cup victory at the track in this late summer race in 2016 and answered by sweeping the 2017 season races there. In his last Michigan win – the second stop of the 2017 season – he led a dominating 96 laps and won from pole position. He hasn’t had a top-10 in the three races since, however. He was 14th earlier this season and 17th in this late summer race last year.

Matt Tifft, 23 of Hinckley, Ohio, scored the first Monster Energy Series top 10 of his rookie season – a ninth place at Daytona International Speedway a month ago. He is coming off a 24th place finish at Watkins Glen last week in the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford. He will be making his second Cup start at this week’s Michigan venue. He started 26th and finished 24th there in June.

Denny Hamlin, 38, of Chesterfield, Va., is in the midst of one of his best season efforts. He started the year earning his second Daytona 500 victory and has answered with wins at Texas Motor Speedway and most recently Pocono (Pa.) Raceway two weeks ago. And Hamlin is in the midst of a four-race top-five finish streak, including a third place showing in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota last week on the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course. He is a two-time winner at this week’s Michigan venue – earning the victories in the 2010 and 2011 early summer races. He has 12 top-10 and seven top-five finishes in 27 starts at the big track. He’s finished 11th or better in four of the last six races and led laps in three of the last four races. He started fourth and finished 11th in the first visit earlier this summer.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Xfinity Playoff Outlook: Who’s in & who’s out

Quickly approaching is the conclusion of the regular season, and several drivers’ fates haven’t been decided. With just six races to go, six different drivers have won this season – leaving six spots still up for grabs as the series prepares for this Saturday’s B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The six drivers who have enjoyed the spoils of Victory Lane this year are Christopher Bell (five wins), Cole Custer (five wins), Tyler Reddick (three wins), Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Michael Annett (one win each). But with six races remaining there are scenarios where the drivers with only one win could still be knocked out of Playoff contention.

The remaining six drivers without wins in the Top 12 of NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings who currently have an opportunity to make the Playoffs on points are Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Sieg and Brandon Jones. Allgaier is the defending winner of last season’s Mid-Ohio race.

Brandon Jones is currently 12th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings also known as the ‘Playoff hotseat,’ although this season, with his sizable 102-point lead over the postseason cutoff, the seat is mostly lukewarm. But if a driver outside the top 12 on the Playoff outlook were to win over these next six races, Jones could find himself on the outside-looking-in for the postseason.

Below is a detailed look at who is in and who is out for the Xfinity Playoffs as the series heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car course for the second of four road courses on the 2019 schedule.

Rank Driver Points Starts Attempts Race Wins Stage Wins Playoff Points Points From Cutoff
1 Christopher Bell 857 20 20 5 13 38 In On Wins
2 Cole Custer 790 20 20 5 6 31
3 Tyler Reddick 889 20 20 3 3 18
4 Austin Cindric 698 20 20 1 1 6
5 Chase Briscoe # 663 20 20 1 0 5
6 Michael Annett 629 20 20 1 1 6
7 Justin Allgaier 742 20 20 0 4 4 310
8 Noah Gragson # 661 20 20 0 1 1 229
9 Justin Haley # 627 20 20 0 1 1 195
10 John H. Nemechek # 605 20 20 0 0 0 173
11 Ryan Sieg 538 20 20 0 1 1 106
12 Brandon Jones 534 20 20 0 1 1 102
13 Gray Gaulding 432 20 20 0 0 0 -102
14 Jeremy Clements 386 20 20 0 0 0 -148
15 Brandon Brown # 380 20 20 0 0 0 -154
16 Josh Williams 312 19 20 0 0 0 -222
17 Ray Black II 312 20 20 0 0 0 -222
18 Garrett Smithley 303 20 20 0 0 0 -231
19 Stephen Leicht 285 20 20 0 0 0 -249
20 David Starr 230 20 20 0 0 0 -304
21 Vinnie Miller 226 20 20 0 0 0 -308
22 Joey Gase 177 19 20 0 0 0 -357

Drivers want to know: Can I clinch?

With six races remaining in the regular season, the opportunity for six new drivers to win is still an option. So, while the three drivers with multiple wins – Christopher Bell (five), Cole Custer (five) and Tyler Reddick (three) – have all clinched their spots in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, the contenders with only one victory still have a chance to be ushered out of the postseason.

Possible Clinch Scenarios For Mid-Ohio:

Austin Cindric (1 win, 698 points, +459 points ahead of 21st) has already clinched a Top 20 spot in the driver standings. If he should win or if there is a repeat winner this weekend, he would clinch a Playoff spot on wins.

Cindric is coming off his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Watkins Glen International last weekend. This season has been a breakout year for Cindric as the 20-year old has put up a victory, seven top fives and 14 top 10s. The Team Penske driver’s road course prowess also has him as a favorite for this weekend at Mid-Ohio. The North Carolina native made his series track debut at Mid-Ohio last season, winning the pole and leading a race-high 59 laps and finishing second to Justin Allgaier.

Chase Briscoe (1 win, 663 points, +424 points ahead of 21st) has already clinched a Top 20 spot in the driver standings. If he should win or if there is a repeat winner this weekend, he would clinch a Playoff spot on wins.

Briscoe has stepped up with his opportunity this season to compete for a championship with Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi. The Indiana native has posted one win (Iowa-2), eight top fives and 15 top 10s; including a sixth-place finish last weekend at Watkins Glen. Last season, Briscoe made his series track debut at Mid-Ohio driving for Roush Fenway Racing – he started 18th and finished 14th.

Michael Annett (1 win, 629 points, +390 points ahead of 21st) has already clinched a Top 20 spot in the driver standings. If he should win or if there is a repeat winner this weekend, he would clinch a Playoff spot on wins.

Annett looks to be a true championship contender this season having put up a win (Daytona-1), five top fives and 14 top 10s in 20 starts; including an eighth-place finish on the Watkins Glen road course last weekend. But the Iowa native will have his work cut out for him this Saturday’s B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio, as the JR Motorsports driver has made three starts on the multi-elevational road course, posting a best finish of 18th last season.

Justin Allgaier (0 wins, 742 points, +503 points ahead of 21st) has already clinched a Top 20 spot, but even with a win he would not clinch due to the possibility of a winless regular season champ. If he can’t clinch with a win, no winless driver below him in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship standings could clinch either.

Allgaier is the defending Mid-Ohio winner heading into Saturday’s race, but what adds even more pressure is the series veteran is still looking for his first victory of 2019. As the regular season comes to a close, the pressure will just continue to mount, but the Illinois native is no stranger to it as he won five races last season and the regular season championship. Allgaier and his JR Motorsports No. 7 team have been heading in the right direction this season and just haven’t been able to close out a win, but have amassed nine top fives and 12 top 10s; including a third-place finish last weekend at Watkins Glen.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to Mid-Ohio. It’s a challenging road course, but we were able to bounce back from spinning in last year’s race to get our BRANDT Professional Agriculture Camaro to Victory Lane, so I’m confident we can go there and contend for the win again,” said Justin Allgaier. “Jason Burdett (crew chief) made great calls in the pits last weekend at Watkins Glen and we were able to come home with a solid top-three finish. Our goal is to continue that positive momentum through this road-course stretch.”

The 34-year old Allgaier has made four series starts at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course posting one win (2018), two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 11.2.

Mid-Ohio could see seventh different winner in as many races

The NASCAR Xfinity Series has been competing on the multi-elevation road course known simply as the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course since 2013, and each event since has produced a different winner, six in total. This season three of the former Mid-Ohio Xfinity Series winners, AJ Allmendinger (2013), Regan Smith (2015) and Justin Allgaier (2018), are entered in this Saturday’s (Aug. 10) B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, forcing the question – ‘Will we see a seventh different winner?’

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Active Road Course Winners
Active Road Course Winners Wins
Justin Allgaier 3
AJ Allmendinger 2
Austin Cindric 1
Chase Briscoe 1
Jeremy Clements 1
Morgan Shepherd 1
Regan Smith 1

 

The six different Xfinity winners at Mid-Ohio are A.J. Allmendinger (2013), Chris Buescher (2014), Regan Smith (2015), Justin Marks (2016), Sam Hornish Jr. (2017) and Justin Allgaier (2018).

Plus, entered this weekend are seven former Xfinity Series road course winners; led by Justin Allgaier with three Xfinity road course wins.

As noted, three former Mid-Ohio winners are entered this weekend; including road course ace AJ Allmendinger who will be making his third start of the season with Kaulig Racing. Allmendinger is hoping this third-time is the charm as the former fulltime Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver turned TV analyst’s previous two starts with Kaulig Racing have resulted in two consecutive post race disqualifications (Daytona-2 and Watkins Glen). Allmendinger can bounce back this weekend at Mid-Ohio though, as in his lone start at the track he qualified second and led a race high 73 laps en route to a victory. A win would be a welcomed result as Kaulig Racing’s owner Matt Kaulig has made it clear that bringing Allmendinger in was part of a quest to go ‘trophy hunting’.

Much like Kaulig Racing, JR Motorsports has also called on a road course extraordinaire who was a former fulltime Monster Energy Series driver now turned TV analyst in Regan Smith to pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet this weekend at Mid-Ohio. Smith, a former winner at Mid-Ohio is ecstatic about his opportunity.

“I’m thrilled to be back in the car for JR Motorsports, especially at a road course where I’ve already won,” said Smith. “My background is at road courses — I just love it. Mid-Ohio is challenging, but I know with Taylor (Moyer, crew chief) and the entire No. 8 team, we have a shot to get that Fire Alarm Services Chevy into Victory Lane.”

The New York native has made four series starts at Mid-Ohio, posting one win (2015), two top fives and an average finish of 11.5. He has also led 19 laps.

Smith’s JRM teammate Justin Allgaier is also a former Mid-Ohio winner looking to repeat and end the different winners streak this weekend. Allgaier grabbed his Mid-Ohio victory last season, one of his three road course wins in his career – most among active drivers.  Allgaier has made four series starts at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course posting one win (2018), two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 11.2.

First-Time Winners Are Common On Xfinity Road Courses

NASCAR Xfinity Series
First-Time Winners On Road Courses
First-Time Winners Track Date
Chase Briscoe Charlotte ROVAL 9/29/2019
Jeremy Clements Road America 8/27/2017
Michael McDowell Road America 8/27/2016
Justin Marks Mid-Ohio 8/13/2016
Chris Buescher Mid-Ohio 8/16/2014
Brendan Gaughan Road America 6/21/2014
AJ Allmendinger Road America 6/22/2013
Nelson Piquet Jr Road America 6/23/2012
Boris Said Montreal 8/29/2010
Marcos Ambrose Watkins Glen 8/9/2008
Juan Pablo Montoya Mexico City 3/4/2007
Denny Hamlin Mexico City 3/5/2006
Ron Fellows Watkins Glen 6/28/1998
Bill Elliott Watkins Glen 6/26/1993

Since 1982, there have been 14 total; and in the last 11 seasons, road courses in the NASCAR Xfinity Series have produced 10 first-time series winners; including Chase Briscoe’s first career win last season at the Charlotte ROVAL.

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course stakes claim to two of those 10 first-time winners – Chris Buescher (2014) and Justin Marks (2016).

In this Saturday’s (Aug. 10) B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, there are 24 drivers entered in the field are looking for their first NASCAR Xfinity Series win.

Nine entered this weekend will be making their series track debut at Mid-Ohio – Lawson Aschenbach, Brandon Brown, Patrick Gallagher, Gray Gaulding, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Matt Mills, John Hunter Nemechek, and Josh Williams.

Regular Season Wrap: Time is running short with six races to go

The diversity of the next six tracks on the schedule to round out the regular season is astounding and the ability of the NASCAR Xfinity Series competitors to navigate these different facilities at such a high level is quite impressive. This weekend the series heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – follows The Glen as the second of four road courses on the schedule this season. Though both are labeled as multi-elevational road courses, that’s where the similarities between Mid-Ohio and The Glen end. Mid-Ohio is a 2.258-mile course with 13 different turns located in Lexington, Ohio. Drivers will compete for 75 laps (169.35 miles) in the event with the first stage ending on Lap 20 and the second stage ending on Lap 40. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has hosted six NASCAR Xfinity Series races, producing four different pole winners and six different race winners. JR Motorsport’s Justin Allgaier won the Xfinity Series Mid-Ohio race last season. This year’s B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio is scheduled for Saturday, August 10 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Bristol Motor Speedway – will be the last short track the NASCAR Xfinity Series competes on in the regular season and the second time the series has visited the track this year. Nestled in Thunder Valley, Bristol Motor Speedway, is a short track that is 0.533-mile in length with variable banking of 24 to 28 degrees in the turns. Set for 300 laps (159.9 miles) total, the first stage will end on Lap 85 and the second stage will end on Lap 170. Bristol has hosted 74 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, producing 48 different pole winners and 47 different race winners. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson won last season’s Xfinity Series Bristol August race and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell won at the half-mile track earlier this season. This season’s Food City 300 is scheduled for Friday night, August 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Road America – is the last road course the NASCAR Xfinity Series will compete on in the regular season and is the third of four scheduled on the year. Known as one of the drivers’ favorite courses to race on, Road America is a multi-elevation four-mile road course with 14 different turns located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. This year’s event will be 45 laps (180 miles) with the first stage ending on Lap 10 and the second stage ending on Lap 20. Road America has hosted nine NASCAR Xfinity Series races, producing six different pole winners and nine different race winners. JR Motorsport’s Justin Allgaier won this event at Road America in 2018. This season’s CTECH Manufacturing 180 is scheduled for Saturday, August 24 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Darlington Raceway – is one of the most historic and admired tracks in NASCAR history; largely due to the unique 1.366-mile egg-shaped layout. Located in Darlington, South Carolina, with 25 degrees of banking in Turns 1-2 and 23 degrees of banking in Turns 3-4, the distinctive shaped facility offers a one-of-a-kind challenge to the competitors. The event will be 147 laps (200.8 miles) with the first stage ending on Lap 45 and the second stage ending on Lap 90. Darlington has hosted 58 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, yielding 28 different poles winners and 30 different race winners. Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski won the 2018 Xfinity Series race at Darlington.  This season’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 is scheduled for Saturday, August 31 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway – is considered one of the most prestigious and historic tracks in American racing history. The almost rectangular-shaped four corner track is 2.5-miles in length with nine degrees of banking in the turns and located in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Indiana 250 will be 100 laps (250 miles) with the first stage ending on Lap 30 and the second stage ending on Lap 60. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted seven NASCAR Xfinity Series races, putting together three different pole winners and five different race winners. JR Motorsport’s Justin Allgaier won the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis.  This season’s Indiana 250 is scheduled for Saturday, September 7 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, IMS and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway – will close out the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season not only deciding who makes Playoffs but also who is this year’s regular season champion. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile track with 20 degrees of banking in the turns located just north of Las Vegas, Nevada. The event will be 200 laps (300 miles) with the first stage ending on Lap 45 and the second stage ending on Lap 90. Las Vegas Motor Speedway has hosted 24 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, producing 17 different pole winners and 17 different race winners. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ross Chastain won last season’s regular season finale and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch won the Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas earlier this season. This season’s DC Solar 300 is scheduled for Saturday, September 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Xfinity’s Big 3 looking to regain traction

After winning 13 of the first 18 races of the 2019 season, including nine straight (Races 7 through 15) the Big 3 must be feeling a little out of place as they haven’t been to Victory Lane in the last two events. But that could all change this weekend as the powerhouse trio heads to the 2.258-mile, 13 turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Don’t get it twisted, the Xfinity ‘Big 3’ have challenged for the last two wins, they just didn’t win them. Last weekend at Watkins Glen International, the first of four road courses the series visits this season, Christopher Bell finished second, Reddick was fifth and Custer was seventh.

Turning their focus to this weekend in Ohio, Custer once again has the most experience at the track having made two series starts and posting a best finish of seventh last season. Bell and Reddick both made their series track debuts at Mid-Ohio last season, Bell finished 11th and Reddick finished 31st after being caught in an incident.

Jack Hawksworth to make NASCAR national series debut

Joe Gibbs Racing announced on Wednesday that Jack Hawksworth will be piloting the No. 18 Toyota at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend, replacing Jeffrey Earnhardt who tweeted earlier in the day that he would not be in the car.

Despite his newness to NASCAR, the 28-year-old native of Bradford, England, has a history at Mid-Ohio – and knows where Victory Lane is. Earlier this season, Hawksworth co-piloted a Lexus RV F GT3 to the win in the GTD class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge race. It was the first of two IMSA wins this year for Hawksworth, who competes fulltime in the series.

He also made a start last year at Mid-Ohio in IMSA, finishing fourth.

Over the course of three fulltime seasons in IndyCar (2014-2016), Hawksworth made three starts at the 2.4-mile road course. He recorded a best finish of eighth in 2015 while driving for the legendary AJ Foyt.

Regarding making his NASCAR debut this weekend, Hawksworth said, “It’s a fantastic opportunity in a completely different series, against completely different competition and in a different type of racing. From a personal perspective, I’m very excited to experience something new and to be challenged in a new way. It’s going to be very different, I’m sure it’s going to be difficult and there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve with it, but I’m going into it with a championship-winning organization so that gives me a lot of confidence.”

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

This weekend’s media breakout session will have four NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers participating at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course prior to B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The session is scheduled for Friday, August 9 from 3:15 – 3:30 p.m. ET. This week’s participants will include Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, JR Motorsport’s Justin Allgaier, Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley and RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg.

Austin Cindric (No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang)

Birthdate: September 2, 1998

Driver’s Age: 23

Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina

Hobbies: Mountain biking, water sports, listening to music

Team: Team Penske

Crew Chief: Brian Wilson

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Won his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International last weekend.
  • Ran a full Xfinity season in 2018, splitting time with Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske, making the Playoffs and ultimately finishing eighth in championship standings.
  • In 2017, he made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Road America driving for Team Penske; he started on the pole but finished 16th.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 191 points back from the series standings lead. Can clinch a spot in the 2019 Playoffs with a win or a repeat winner this weekend.
  • In 20 starts this season he has posted one pole, one win (Watkins Glen), seven top fives and 14 top 10s.

Mid-Ohio Performance:

  • Cindric made his series track debut at Mid-Ohio last season. He started from the pole and led a race-high 59 laps but finished second to Justin Allgaier.

Justin Allgaier (No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro)

Birthdate: June 6, 1986

Driver’s Age: 33

Hometown: Riverton, Illinois

Hobbies: R/C cars, wakeboarding, graphic design, dirt racing

Team: JR Motorsports

Crew Chief: Jason Burdett

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he won the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season championship and made the Playoffs for the third consecutive season after posting a career-high five wins on the season.
  • In 2016 and 2017, made the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
  • In 2011, 2016 and 2017, scored career-best third-place finish in NASCAR Xfinity Series standings.
  • Won first career NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2010, at Bristol in March. Currently has 10 career Xfinity wins.
  • Won 2009 NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings (highest ranked driver without a win), 147 points back from the series standings leader Tyler Reddick and 48 points back from third place Cole Custer.
  • In 20 starts this season he has posted nine top fives, 12 top 10s and an average finish of 11.2.

Mid-Ohio Performance:

  • Has made four series starts at Mid-Ohio posting one win (2018), two top fives and three top 10s.
  • Average start, 10.2 and his average finish, 11.2.

Justin Haley (No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro)

Birthdate: April 28, 1999

Driver’s Age: 20

Hometown: Winamac, Indiana

Hobbies: Muscle car restoration, sports car racing, surfing, fishing and hunting, triathlons,

mountain biking, fitness, graphics & design, anything competitive

Team: Kaulig Racing

Crew Chief: Lennie Chandler

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Signed with Kaulig Racing in the off season to run his first full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2019 – a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate.
  • Posted series career-best finish of runner-up – this season at Daytona in July.
  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series career debut last season – making three starts for GMS Racing posting a best finish of 12th at Iowa Speedway.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently ninth in the NASCAR Xfinity driver championship standings, 262 points back from the series standings leader Tyler Reddick, but only two points behind eighth place Michael Annett.
  • In 20 starts this season he has posted two top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 9.8.
  • Currently third in Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, 36 points back from Chase Briscoe in the rookie standings lead.

Mid-Ohio Performance:

  • This weekend he will be making his series track debut at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

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 189 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, 351 points behind the series standings lead and 106 points ahead the Playoff cutoff.
  • In 20 starts this season he has posted two top fives, eight top 10s and an average finish of 13.6.

Mid-Ohio Performance:

  • Has made five series starts at Mid-Ohio posting a best finish of 12th in 2017.
  • He finished 34th in last season race due to a transmission failure.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

He won, and he’s in

When the checkered flag dropped last Thursday night at Eldora Speedway, two things became clear for Stewart Friesen – he had **finally** won his first career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race and he was officially locked into the 2019 Playoffs.

The first NASCAR national series victory for the 36-year-old dirt ace came in his 63rd career Gander Trucks start. He recorded six previous runner-up finishes, including at Eldora in 2017, before breaking through for the win.

That the win came on his favorite surface, which is where he made his name coming up through ranks in the northeast, had to have been sweet. But the real icing on the cake was ensuring that his name would be included in the postseason conversation in a year in which the competition to race for the season-ending trophy is especially tight.

Friesen has now qualified for the Gander Trucks Playoffs two consecutive seasons – the only two seasons in which he has run every race in the series.

Playoff clinch scenarios 101

You won’t need a fancy calculator to figure out if your favorite driver is in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs at the end of Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

If you follow Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Johnny Sauter, Austin Hill and Tyler Ankrum – no math is needed. They are locked in with wins.

If Grant Enfinger is the one you cheer for, you can also rest easy. When he takes the green flag on Saturday, he clinches his spot. And he only needs to score nine total points in the race to secure the regular season championship.

With those seven drivers heading to the postseason, it leaves one position up for grabs this weekend.

If one of those seven above mentioned drivers wins – or he, himself, wins – Matt Crafton earns that final spot.

But for one more race, the saying, “Win and you’re in” takes on special significance for a host of other drivers chasing the Gander Trucks title.

If any other Playoff-eligible driver wins the race – for example Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, Ben Rhodes, Sheldon Creed or Tyler Dippel – they would earn that eighth coveted spot in the postseason, knocking Crafton out. And for those drivers, that is the only way they can earn their way into the Playoffs as their points deficits are too great to makeup at Michigan.

Here’s a look at the Playoff grid if the postseason were to start today:

Driver                         Current Points           Wins*              Playoff Points#

Grant Enfinger            622                              0                      19

Brett Moffitt                 564                              2                      18

Stewart Friesen         567                              1                      15

Matt Crafton               570                              0                      13

Ross Chastain          250                              2                      11

Johnny Sauter           418                              1                      9

Austin Hill                 431                              1                      7

Tyler Ankrum            322                              1                      5

                                  

Ben Rhodes              507                              0                      –

Harrison Burton         506                              0                      –

Todd Gilliland            473                              0                      –

Locked in with wins

Current regular season championship leader

Outside looking in

*   Indicates only Playoff-eligible wins

#   Playoff points include those awarded for regular season finish based on current points standings

It all comes down to Michigan

With six drivers locked in on wins and Grant Enfinger as good as locked in on points, the final venue of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series regular season is key to drivers’ Playoffs hopes and dreams.

The Irish Hills provide the backdrop for Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) at 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 with wins at Michigan have already visited Victory Lane in 2019 (Brett Moffitt won in 2016 and 2018 at Michigan, while Johnny Sauter won in 2014).

Matt Crafton may have a tentative grasp on the eighth and final Gander Trucks Playoffs spot, but his only sure way to ensure a shot at postseason glory is to win this weekend. He has a trio of top-five finishes in 17 starts at the track. His best finish was a runner-up placement in the 2014 race, en route to his second of two consecutive series titles.

And Todd Gilliland finished fifth in his first visit to the track last year. But they are the only two drivers with top fives who are still trying to lock themselves into the Playoffs.

Harrison Burton has yet to visit the Michigan oval, and has only raced twice on circuits two-miles or greater in length – the season-opener at Daytona when he finished 18th as a result of a crash and just two weeks ago at Pocono, where he recorded his seventh top-five of the season by placing third.

Ben Rhodes has three starts in the Irish Hills, posting finishes of sixth place twice (2016, 2018). In his only other race there, he finished 11th.

Moffitt is on the top in the Irish Hills

Brett Moffitt is looking to something that no other driver has done at Michigan – win three NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races.

Currently, he is tied with Greg Biffle (1999, 2000) and Travis Kvapil (2004, 2007) with two wins at the track. Moffitt got his wins in 2016 and 2018.

He’s also looking to do something that has only been done by Biffle…and that’s win two in a row at the massive oval in the Irish Hills. Biffle accomplished that feat by visiting Victory Lane in the first two series races held at the track.

And to further the comparisons between the two drivers – Biffle (2000) and Moffitt (2018) are the only two Michigan race winners who went on to win the Gander Trucks championship that year.

The only other active series driver with a win at Michigan is Johnny Sauter (2014).

Ankrum looking to lock up Sunoco Rookie title early

Heading into this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway, Harrison Burton has a 56-point lead over Sheldon Creed in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings (506 to 450). Tyler Dippel is third with 337 points while Tyler Ankrum has 322 points in fourth.

But that could all take a drastic turn this weekend, depending on the results of the Corrigan Oil 200.

As the Playoff outlook stands now, only Ankrum has qualified for the postseason – and if he remains the only rookie to qualify for the Playoffs, Ankrum would clinch the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title following Michigan. This is due to the points reset that happens at the beginning of the Playoffs, guaranteeing Ankrum would finish the season with no less than 2000 points.

— NASCAR —