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NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Bank of America Roval 400
The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course
The Date: Sunday, September 29
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 248.52 miles (109 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 109)
2018 Race Winner: Ryan Blaney 

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina
The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course
The Date: Saturday, September 28
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 155.3 miles (67 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 67)
2018 Race Winner: Chase Briscoe

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series 

Next Race: Sugarlands Shine 250
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, October 12
The Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 250.04 miles (94 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 94)
2018 Winner: Timothy Peters

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Truex looking to sweep opening round

In earning his second consecutive victory last week at Richmond Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. became the fourth driver since NASCAR implemented the Playoffs to win the first two races of the sport’s championship drive.

No one has won the first three Playoff races (Joey Logano did sweep the second round – Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega – in 2015), but there’s a good case to be made about Truex’s ability to do so in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Truex took the lead at last year’s Roval race following a 14-car incident with five laps to go. He was leading when a hard-charging Jimmie Johnson challenged him on the last corner of the final lap. The pair spun exiting the turn only yards in front of the finish line and third place Ryan Blaney blazed past to take the victory. Truex recovered to finish 14th and Johnson finished eighth.

Johnson ultimately missed advancing to the second round of the Playoffs by a mere three points. Truex did advance and ended the season runner-up to champion Joey Logano – just missing the chance to become the first back-to-back champion since Johnson won five consecutive titles from 2006-2010.

Truex returns to the Roval locked into the Round of 12 by virtue of his two wins.

Especially later in his career, Truex has proven to be one of the best road course racers in the series. He has wins at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen. In fact, his three Sonoma victories are most among active drivers and he’s won the last two races there. Truex’s lone win at The Glen came in 2017 and he’s finished runner-up the past two seasons to back-to-back Glen winner Chase Elliott.

And just for good measure, Truex has an especially noteworthy resume at Charlotte Motor Speedway – on the oval speedway course used each May. He has won three of the last six races on the speedway course and in 2016 won the Memorial Day Coca-Cola 600 classic from pole position, leading a record 392 of the 400 laps.

Blaney back to defend

For obvious reasons, many people remember Ryan Blaney’s stunning “right time, right place” victory in last year’s inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval. He was running third on the last lap when race leader Martin Truex Jr. and second place Jimmie Johnson tangled approaching the finish line, allowing Blaney to drive through the mayhem and claim his only trophy of the season.

What some don’t remember is that Blaney actually led 15 laps earlier in the race and was a frontrunner most of the afternoon. The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford would absolutely love that skill-fortune combo again this weekend. He’s ranked 10th in the championship standings with only a six-point cushion on 12th-place William Byron as the series competes in the first Playoff eliminator of the season. The top 12 of 16 Playoff drivers will advance to the next round following the outcome of Sunday afternoon’s Roval race.

Blaney has been competitive on the Cup road courses this season, finishing third at Sonoma, Calif. and fifth at Watkins Glen – both career bests for the fourth-year Cup driver.

He has a NASCAR road course win in the 2014 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Bowmanville, Ontario, and he has a Charlotte Motor Speedway oval configuration win in the Xfinity Series in 2017.

Blaney’s Monster Energy Series victory on the Roval also capped off a strong weekend for Ford. Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race a day earlier in a Ford and former Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver Kurt Busch started from pole position in the Cup race.

Harvick continuing to shine

Kevin Harvick’s rise up the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship standings has been noteworthy inside and outside the garage. He’s won three of the last nine races and dominated the regular season finale – leading 118 of the 160 laps from pole position at Indianapolis Motor Speedway three weeks ago.

He’s scored top 10s in the opening two Playoff races – runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. at the Las Vegas opener and seventh last week at Richmond. He trails Truex – whose won both Playoff races – by 21 points heading into Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL race this Sunday, but he has already clinched a spot in the Round of 12 based on points.

A victory at the Roval – where he started 19th and finished ninth in last year’s inaugural – would be his 49th Cup win and put him in a tie with his team owner and good friend Tony Stewart at 14th place on the all-time Monster Energy Series wins list.

Harvick has won at both of the current, traditional NASCAR road course venues. He won at Sonoma in 2017 and finished runner-up in 2018. Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was sixth there this summer and he’s led 65 percent (62 of 95 laps) of his total laps led at Sonoma in just the last four races.

Harvick also has a win (2006) at the historic Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course and has finished among the top 10 in the last two races there.

Because the series only races three times on a road course, drivers prepare differently than for the ovals they see more frequently. And for Harvick and his Ford teammates, the simulator is a key component in getting them up to speed.

“For me, it is just because I’m a big kind of visual person,’’ Harvick said this week. “So that repetition for me is good, just to get a visual and have the memory of curbs and direction of the track and all of the things you remember from last time stored in your memory bank as you use those simulators. So we’ve actually started to use it more this year than we have in the past.’’

Newman up to his typical Playoff tricks

For all intents and purposes, Roush Fenway Racing driver Ryan Newman has raised his game at precisely the right time. After a tight late-season battle between up to five drivers to even qualify for a Playoff berth, the veteran is now in solid position to advance to the next round.

Newman is ranked a season-high ninth in the championship standings with a 14-point edge on 13th-place Alex Bowman. The top 12 drivers among the group of 16 Playoff competitors will advance to the next round following the outcome of Sunday’s Charlotte Roval race.

Not only did Newman convincingly earn his Playoff spot with an impressive eighth-place run in the Indianapolis regular season finale, he has top-10 finishes in the two Playoff races since. He was 10th at Las Vegas and fifth last weekend at Richmond – tying his season best mark, a fifth place in the summer Daytona race.

Newman placed 11th at the ROVAL inaugural race last season. He was seventh in the No. 6 RFR Ford at the Sonoma, Calif. road course in June and 25th at Watkins Glen, N.Y. in August. Although he’s never won on a Cup Series road course, he did win the 2005 Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen. He has three top 10s in 18 starts at The Glen, but his last came back in 2006 (eighth place). He was runner-up in his series debut there in 2002.

Historically, Newman’s numbers are a bit better at Sonoma. He has eight top-10 finishes in 18 starts – three in the last five races there, including this summer. He was runner-up in 2006.

The team goes into the Charlotte weekend feeling as optimistic as it has this season, according to Newman, who said his seventh place at Richmond last weekend was the best team performance of the season “without a doubt.’’

Kyle Busch bounces back to advance to Round of 12

Regular season champion and four-time race winner Kyle Busch left little doubt that he was ready to return to his race-contending ways. He led a race-best 202 of the 400 laps at Richmond Raceway last weekend, finishing runner-up to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. It was good enough to move him up a position in the standings and he is now third, 27 points behind the leader Truex.

It was a timely turnaround for the championship favorite, who suffered rare back-to-back disappointments – a 37th-place finish (due to engine problems) in the regular season finale at Indianapolis and a 19th-place finish in the Playoff opener at Las Vegas. He had dropped to fourth in the standings, so last week’s work at Richmond wasn’t just encouraging, it was a reminder of what he’s capable of. He, Truex and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, who is second in the Playoff standings, all locked their positions into the Round of 12 which begins next week at Dover, Del.

Last year at the Roval, Busch was caught up in the 14-car late race accident and relegated to a 32nd-place finish on the day.

But his work on the two long-time Monster Energy Series road courses is much more encouraging for the 2015 series champion. He has two wins each at Sonoma and Watkins Glen – in fact sweeping the races in 2008 and winning again at The Glen in 2013 and a second time at Sonoma in 2015.

He has an impressive 12 top-10 finishes in 15 starts at The Glen. He has finished seventh or better in the last five races at Sonoma and has five top-five and seven top-10 results at the course.

“You try to go into that race (Roval), it’s a newer type of track and I don’t know that everybody has got it quite figured out yet,’’ Busch said. “With this new aero package, it’s going to be different and of course, too, with the new chicane it’s going to be different.

“We can go out there and attack it and try to get a win with our Camry, try to get some bonus points, get ourselves a bit of a cushion there.’’

On the brink of Playoff uncertainty

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff points standings are extremely close in sorting out which 12 of the 16 Playoff drivers will advance in the postseason.

Currently the four drivers ranked 13th-16th are (in order) Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones.

Bowman trails his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, 12th-place William Byron, by only two points. Bowyer is four points off Byron and Busch is 14 points behind. These three drivers all finished top-five in last year’s ROVAL inaugural event – Bowyer (third), Bowman (fourth) and Kurt Busch (fifth).

Jones is ranked 16th after his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota failed post-race technical inspection at Richmond – dropping him from a fourth-place finish to last in the field. He is now 45 points behind Byron and essentially will need a victory on Sunday to advance out of the opening round.

Of these four drivers at the bottom of the Playoff standings – only the veterans, Stewart-Haas Racing driver Bowyer and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kurt Busch – have previous wins on a Monster Energy Series road course. Busch won at Sonoma, Calif. in 2011 and Bowyer won the next year.

The standings are so close right now that 10th-place Ryan Blaney – defending winner of this Roval race – has only an eight-point buffer on 13th-place Bowman. Aric Almirola is in 11th place – only three points up on Bowman.

Best of the rest

Daniel Suarez continues to pace the drivers not in the Playoffs. He is ranked 17th with a 34-point advantage over seven-time Monster Energy Series champion Jimmie Johnson in 18th. The two have really separated themselves from the rest of the field. Johnson is 58 points up on Paul Menard in 19th.

Their outings at the ROVAL last year were famously divergent. Johnson played a critical role in the final outcome, colliding with race leader Martin Truex Jr. on the final set of turns leading to the checkered flag. Ryan Blaney got around both drivers to win, and Johnson recovered to finish eighth – ultimately three points away from moving on to the next round of the Playoffs. Suarez finished 21st.

Of the two drivers – Suarez and Johnson – Johnson is the only one with a Monster Energy Series road course victory– 2010 at Sonoma. He was 12th at the California course this year. The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is still winless at Watkins Glen. He has eight top 10s in 18 starts in upstate New York and was 19th this summer. His last top 10 at The Glen was a 10th-place result in 2015.

Suarez, driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has certainly performed well at the road courses. The third-year Monster Energy Series racer has two top-five finishes at Watkins Glen, including a best of third in 2017. He was 17th this year. He does not have any top-10 finishes at Sonoma – his best work being 15th there in 2018.

Competition update

Statistically, 2019 has been a highlight reel for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Despite Martin Truex Jr.’s rather convincing win last week at Richmond Raceway, the Margin of Victory on the season averages 1.649-seconds and in 15 of the 28 races so far, it’s been less than 1-second.

The average number of race leaders (8.89) is the most since 2014 (9.75). The lead changes per race (17.43) through the opening 28 races is the most since 2015 (17.79).

Green Flag Passes are up 38.1 percent from last year and Green Flag Passes for the Lead are up 64.3 percent (in 18 of 28 races – including all 1.5-mile tracks). In fact, new records were set at six events – at Las Vegas-1, Kansas-1, Bristol-1, Chicago, Kentucky and Indianapolis).

Five of the last six races, the mark for Green Flag Passes was better than the 10-year average.

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

Six drivers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, Hendrick Motorsport’s Chase Elliott, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson, and Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski will be participating in this week’s media rotations at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course in advance of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Bank of America ROVAL 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Clint Bowyer, 40, of Emporia, Kan., goes into the final race of the opening Playoff round ranked 14th out of the 16 drivers – but only 14 points behind 12th-place William Byron. The top 12 drivers following this weekend’s Roval event will advance to the next round of the Playoffs. Bowyer must feel optimistic about making up ground. The driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford finished in the top-10 in four of the last five races, including eighth last week at Richmond. He has 13 top-10 finishes on the season, with a best showing of runner-up at Texas in April. Four of his top-10 showings have been on upcoming Playoff tracks. He was third in the inaugural Roval race last year and has a Monster Energy Series road course victory at Sonoma in 2012.

Aric Almirola, 35, of Tampa, Fla. sits 11th in the Playoff standings – a mere three points to the good of 13th-place Alex Bowman. After a strong season start – six top-10 finishes in the opening seven races – Almirola has cooled a bit. He scored his season-best finish of fourth place at Phoenix during that opening run. But his last top 10 was 11 races ago – seventh place in the summer Daytona race. Should he advance, he has already turned in strong showings at four of the remaining eight Playoff tracks – top 10s at Phoenix, Martinsville, Texas and Talladega. He is the defending Talladega Playoff winner. This week’s Roval venue will be a test for sure. He finished 19th in last year’s race there and has only a pair of top 10s (both at Sonoma) in a combined 17 career races at the Sonoma and Watkins Glen road course venues.

Kyle Busch, 34, of Las Vegas, won the regular season championship, but scored his first top 10 in three weeks at Richmond Raceway Saturday night – a runner-up finish to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. Busch led a race-best 202 laps, however, a strong statement that he intends to contend for his second Monster Energy Series title. The outing moved him up from fourth to third in the championship, 24 points behind Truex, who has won the first two Playoff races – and allowed him to clinch a spot in the next round on points. Busch has traditionally been strong in the road course style of competition as he will see this weekend. He has a pair of wins at both of the Cup circuit’s longtime venues –  in Sonoma and Watkins Glen. He’s finished seventh or better in the last five Sonoma races and top 10 in five of the last six races at The Glen. Busch was caught up in the multi-car accident at the end of last year’s Roval race, finishing 32nd without leading a lap.

Chase Elliott, 23, of Dawsonville, Ga., is ranked a solid seventh in the Monster Energy Series Playoff standings following a 13th-place run at Richmond on Saturday night. He has five top-10 finishes in the last seven races, including a victory at the Watkins Glen road course. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet started fourth and finished sixth in the Roval debut but brings plenty of solid road course achievement to the event this weekend. He has won the last two consecutive Watkins Glen races. He won from the pole position this summer and, including last year’s work, has led 132 of the 180 laps at The Glen in the last two summers. Elliott has a pair of top 10s in four Sonoma road starts but finished a career-worst 37th there this June, his Chevrolet suffering an engine problem.

Kurt Busch, 41, of Las Vegas, will need to have a strong showing this weekend on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He is ranked 15th among the 16 Playoff drivers – 14 points behind 12th-place William Byron. Busch won at Kentucky this summer. The driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has finished top 10 in half the 2019 races (14 of 28), but he hasn’t had a top-10 finish in the last three events – from the regular season finale at Indianapolis to last weekend’s second Playoff race. He can be encouraged by a fifth-place finish in last year’s inaugural Roval race. He has a win at the Sonoma road course (2011) and 10 top 10s in 19 starts at the Watkins Glen road course, including six in the last seven races.

Kyle Larson, 27, of Elk Grove, Calif., seems to be peaking at just the right time on the schedule. He has seven top-10 finishes in the last eight races – leading laps in five of those. His best showings of the year were runner-up finishes at Chicago and Darlington.  He’s ranked eighth in the championship – the highest he’s been in the standings since March. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has become fond of road course racing. He led 47 laps at the Charlotte Roval last year but was caught up in the big late-race accident that knocked out 14 contenders and finished 25th. He’s won the pole position at the last three Sonoma races and finished a career-best 10th there this June. He has three top-10 finishes in six Watkins Glen road course races including back-to-back efforts of sixth place last year and eighth place this year.

Brad Keselowski, 35, of Rochester Hills, Mich., is another driver hitting his stride with the start of the Playoffs. He’s ranked fourth in the championship and has three victories already this season, as well as an impressive 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. He’s finished in the top five in four of the last five races. Road courses haven’t necessarily been Keselowski’s specialty, statistically speaking. He started 25th and finished 31st at the Roval last year – another contender collected in that late race collision six laps before the checkered flag. The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Forde has not won at either of the series’ other road course venues – in Sonoma, Calif. or Watkins Glen, N.Y. Three times consecutively, from 2011-13, he finished runner-up at The Glen. His best work at Sonoma is third place in 2016.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Xfinity Playoff’s Next Stop: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course

The NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs are notoriously unpredictable, and one of the biggest wild cards for the competitors is this Saturday’s 38th annual Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course.

Charlotte’s recently added road course is unlike any other track on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule and provides a unique challenge. The course spans a multi-elevational 2.32 miles with 17 turns; including a redesigned backstretch chicane.

Last season’s inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, nicknamed the “Roval,” saw four lead changes, five cautions as then part-time series driver Chase Briscoe dominated the majority of the race, leading 33 laps of the scheduled 55 laps to take his first Xfinity career win. Briscoe returns as a Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender this weekend to defend his win and attempt to make his way into the next round of the Playoffs. Briscoe is currently seventh in the series Playoff standings, 17 points ahead of the cutoff.

This weekend’s Playoff race will be 67 laps (155.3-miles / 250 kilometers) and broken up into

three stages. The first two stages will be 20 laps each and the final stage will be 27 laps (20/40/67).

A total of 35 different drivers have won at least one race on a road course in the NACAR Xfinity Series, and six of them are active this weekend, led by Justin Allgaier with three road course victories.

Charlotte is the fourth and final road course on the schedule this season. The winners of the previous three road courses this year are Austin Cindric (Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio) and Christopher Bell (Road America).

Xfinity Playoff standings heat up following postseason opener at Richmond

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell rocketed to the front of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver standings with his big win in last weekend’s postseason opener at Richmond Raceway, bringing his season total to seven checkered flags. Only eight drivers will move on to the next round, and with Bell now locked in on wins, only seven Playoff spots remain as the series heads to Charlotte for the second race in the Round of 12 – the Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Clinch Scenarios: Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Race #2)

As we all know, each of the drivers in the Playoffs can clinch a spot in the Round of 8 by winning at Charlotte.

Cole Custer (second), Tyler Reddick (third), Austin Cindric (fourth), Justin Allgaier (fifth) and Michael Annett (sixth) could also clinch a next round spot on points by being 61 points ahead of ninth place.

Chase Briscoe (seventh) could also clinch on points with a repeat winner (or a win by Custer, Reddick, Cindric, Allgaier or Annett) and help.

Noah Gragson (eighth), Brandon Jones (ninth), Ryan Sieg (10th), Justin Haley (11th) and John H. Nemechek (12th) can only clinch a spot in the next round with a win – not by points – this weekend at Charlotte.

Playoff Standing’s Top 8 Driver-By-Driver Rundown

Cole Custer currently sits second in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 60 points ahead of the cutoff. This season Custer has put up six wins, 14 top fives, 19 top 10s, six poles and has led 782 laps. Plus, last weekend he finished third in the 2019 Playoff opener at Richmond.

Last season at the Roval, he started sixth and finished seventh. Then followed it up with a runner-up finish at Dover to advance to the Round of 8.

This season Custer has the seventh-best average finish (8.3) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America).

Tyler Reddick is ranked third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 38 points ahead of the cutoff. This season Reddick has collected five wins, 20 top fives (series-most), 23 top 10s (series-most), three poles and has led 448 laps. His performance at Richmond last weekend was another solid run, garnering a 10th-place finish.

Last season at the Roval, Reddick started third and finished ninth. He then followed that up with a 14th-place finish at Dover to advance to the Round of 8.

This season he has the third-best average finish (4.0) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America).

Austin Cindric is ranked fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 34 points ahead of the cutoff. This season Cindric has proven to be a road course ace, grabbing two wins (Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio) at those types of tracks, and overall has 11 top fives, 19 top 10s, four poles and has led 97 laps. Then last weekend, he won the pole and finished runner-up to Christopher Bell in the 2019 Playoff opener at Richmond.

Last season at the Roval, Cindric started from the pole and finished third. He then backed that up with an eighth-place finish at Dover to advance to the Round of 8.

This season he has the series-best average finish (1.3) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America).

Justin Allgaier currently sits fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 21 points ahead of the cutoff. Allgaier is still looking for his first win this season, but has managed 12 top fives, 19 top 10s and has led 455 laps. Plus, last weekend he started second and finished fourth in the 2019 Playoff opener at Richmond.

Last season at the Roval, he started 12th and finished 15th. But he bounced back with a third-place finish at Dover the following weekend to advance to the Round of 8.

This season he has the fourth-best average finish (6.0) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America). He also leads all active drivers in Xfinity road course wins with three victories.

Michael Annett is ranked sixth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 18 points ahead of the cutoff. This season Annett has accumulated one win, five top fives, 16 top 10s, one pole and has led 90 laps. Last weekend he started 10th and finished ninth in the 2019 Playoff opener at Richmond.

Last season’s Round of 12 races were a challenge for Annett, even though he wasn’t in the Playoffs; he finished 14th at Richmond, 20th at the Roval and 12th at Dover.

This season he has the 10th-best average finish (11.0) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America).

Chase Briscoe heads to Charlotte ranked seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, a mere 17 points ahead of the cutoff. This season, Briscoe has gathered a win, 10 top fives, 21 top 10s and has led 44 laps. On top of all that, last weekend he started and finished fifth in the 2019 Playoff opener at Richmond.

Briscoe returns to the Roval as the defending winner with hopes of another victory to carry him to the next round of the Playoffs. A solid finish this weekend is crucial to Briscoe’s postseason title hunt as last season he struggled in the Dover Playoff race, finishing 19th.

This season he has the sixth-best average finish (6.7) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America). Plus, he is one of just six active Xfinity road course winners entered this weekend.

Noah Gragson is currently feeling the heat in the Playoff hot seat, ranked eighth (in final transfer spot) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings just 15 points ahead of the cutoff – ninth-place Brandon Jones. Gragson’s rookie campaign has yet to take him to Victory Lane this season, but he has managed seven top fives, 18 top 10s and has led 62 laps. Last weekend he started eighth and finished seventh in the 2019 Playoff opener at Richmond.

Gragson will be making his series track debut at the Roval this weekend.

Earlier this season he put up the fifth-best average finish (6.0) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America).

“I’m really looking forward to tackling the Roval this weekend,” said Noah Gragson. “The Roval is such a unique road course and I feel really confident that we can unload with the same speed that we had at the three previous road courses this year. Hopefully we can just have a smooth day on Saturday and avoid any potential trouble out there to keep building our points cushion and advance to the next round in the Playoffs.”

Playoff Bubble: Outside looking in with two races left in the Round of 12

With the close competition in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, there is only one real option that guarantees the drivers currently outside the Playoff cutoff to advance to the next round – and that’s to win. But keep in mind there is always chance they could point their way into the next round as well with a little help from those above the cut line.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones announced this week he will be returning next season to the JGR camp to once again compete for a Xfinity title. Currently the up-and-coming star is ninth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Playoff standings, 15 points back from the Round of 8’s final transfer spot (eighth-place Noah Gragson). Jones is having a career season, posting four top fives and 13 top 10s. But his Playoffs did not start like he anticipated, he qualified 11th and finished 11th at Richmond last weekend.

Turning to the Roval this weekend, Jones is looking to keep his Playoff aspirations alive, but it will be a challenge. Jones started last season’s event 22nd and finished 22nd. This season he has put up the 11th-best average finish (14.3) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America).

RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg is currently 10th in the Xfinity Playoff standings, 19 points behind eighth-place Noah Gragson in the postseason’s final transfer spot to the next round. This year, Sieg has wheeled two top fives and nine top 10s in his career-best series performance.

Looking ahead to Charlotte this Saturday, Sieg returns to the road course looking to rebound from last season when he was sidelined early in the race due to suspension issues; he ultimately finished the event 36th. This season he has the 13th-best average finish (19.0) from the three previous road course stops on the 2019 Xfinity Series schedule (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America).

Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley is holding on to 11th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 20 points behind eighth-place Noah Gragson in the final Playoff transfer spot. Haley has been navigating his rookie season quite well, amassing three top fives and 17 top 10s. But his Playoff hopes took a shot last weekend at Richmond after he qualified a respectable seventh but dropped to 17th for the finish.

Now with just two races left in the Round of 12 to advance to the Round of 8, Haley will have his work cut out for him as he will be making his series track debut at the Roval this weekend. On the bright side, though, Haley has run well on the road courses this season, posting the eighth-best average finish (9.3) on the three previous road course stops in 2019.

Last, but not least, is GMS Racing’s John Hunter Nemechek who currently sits 12th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, 21 points behind eighth-place Noah Gragson in the final transfer spot. Nemechek’s rookie season has seen four top fives and 13 top 10s. But he started 38th in the Playoff opener at Richmond and wrestled a 15th-place finish from the competition. As a result, he now faces possible elimination from the Playoffs in the next two races.

And just when Nemechek thought it couldn’t be much more difficult to keep his title hunt alive, he will have to make his series track debut at the Roval this weekend.

Keep in mind, if Haley and Nemechek do not advance to the next round, not only will their championship chances be dashed but they will also be eliminated from contention for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title.

Since 1982, road courses in the NASCAR Xfinity Series have produced 15 first-time series winners; including Chase Briscoe’s first career win last season at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and Austin Cindric’s victory at Watkins Glen earlier this season.

Road America stakes claim to the lion’s share of the Xfinity Series new winners on road courses, producing five of the 15 first-time winners – Jeremy Clements (2017), Michael McDowell (2016), Brendan Gaughan (2014), AJ Allmendinger (2013) and Nelson Piquet Jr. (2012).

In this Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, there are 26 drivers entered in the field looking for their first NASCAR Xfinity Series career win.

A total of 15 drivers entered this weekend will be making their series track debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course – AJ Allmendinger, Brandon Brown, Harrison Burton, Gray Gaulding, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Stephen Leicht, Tommy Joe Martins, BJ McLeod, John Hunter Nemechek, Joe Nemechek, Preston Pardus, Will Rodgers, Cody Ware and Josh Williams.

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.

Road Ace AJ Allmendinger returns for Roval – Aptly known for his skills on the road courses, AJ Allmendinger will return to the series to strap into the No. 10 Kaulig Racing’s Chevrolet for this weekend’s Xfinity festivities at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course. This Saturday will be his series track debut, though he is not a stranger to the newly introduced course, he competed on the 2.32-mile track last season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, where he started second and finished seventh. Allmendinger has made four Xfinity Series starts already this season posting one top-five finish (Mid-Ohio) and has led laps in the three of the four races.

Harrison Burton to pilot JGR’s No. 18 – Following the first race of the Playoffs at Richmond last weekend, the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team is ranked ninth in the owner Playoff standings, 14 points behind the eighth-place JR Motorsport’s No. 9 team that holds the final Playoff transfer position. Back in the No. 18 JGR Toyota this weekend will be Harrison Burton, who jumped into the postseason with a sixth-place run at Richmond last weekend. Burton has made just four previous starts for JGR this season, posting one top five and three top 10s. It will be Burton’s series track debut at the Roval and his first attempt at a road course in the series, period.

Ryan Truex jumps in JRM’s No. 8 – Following the first race of the Playoffs at Richmond last weekend, the JR Motorsports No. 8 team is ranked 11th in the owner Playoff standings, 18 points behind their eighth-place JR Motorsports teammates with the No. 9 – in the final Playoff transfer position. Ryan Truex has been tapped to pilot the No. 8 JRM Chevrolet this weekend at the Roval after Zane Smith kicked off the Playoffs at Richmond with an eighth-place finish last weekend. Truex has made four series starts with the No. 8 team this season, posting one top five and three top 10s.

“Road course racing is always a fun challenge and I’m really looking forward to getting back to turning left and right this weekend at the Roval,” said Truex.  “The track will be a little bit different than the race last year with the adjustments done to the chicane so I am interested to see how that will look on Friday. I’m just ready to get back behind the wheel of this No. 8 Chevrolet.”

Last season Truex drove for Kaulig Racing at the Roval and started 11th and finished 16th.

Parade Laps: Insights to the drivers participating in this week’s media breakouts

Four NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff drivers – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe, Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones – will participate in this week’s media breakout sessions at Charlotte Motor Speedway ahead of the Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. The media session will be this Friday (Sept. 27) from 4:15 – 4:30 p.m. ET in the Media Center.

Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra)

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.
  • Has recorded 15 career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins in just 68 starts; including seven this season (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover, Iowa, New Hampshire, Road America and Richmond).

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Heads to Charlotte as the NASCAR Xfinity Playoff standings leader with 2,115 points; 22 points ahead of second place Cole Custer.
  • With his win last weekend at Richmond he has clinched his spot in the Playoff’s Round of 8 on wins.
  • In 27 starts this season, he has posted four poles (ISM Raceway, Texas, Charlotte, Iowa-2), seven wins (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover, Iowa, New Hampshire, Road America and Richmond), 18 top fives, 19 top 10s and an average finish of 8.4.
  • Has won 17 stages and accumulated 62 Playoff points.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course Performance:

  • Made his series track debut last season starting 13th and finishing fifth.
  • Has led five laps at the road course.

Chase Briscoe (No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi Ford Mustang)

Birthdate: December 15, 1994

Driver’s Age: 24

Hometown: Mitchell, Indiana

Hobbies: Spending time with family, online racing, watching sports

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi

Crew Chief: Richard Boswell II

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2018 at Atlanta.
  • Ran 17 Xfinity races last season for Roush Fenway Racing (12) and Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi (five) and won the inaugural race at the Charlotte ROVAL.
  • Has made the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in his rookie season.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Heads to Charlotte ranked seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 17 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff.
  • In 27 starts this season he has posted one win (Iowa-2), 10 top fives, 21 top 10s and an average finish of 8.2.
  • Has won two stages and has accumulated 12 Playoff points.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course Performance:

  • Made his series track debut last season starting ninth and winning the race – his first career victory in the series.
  • Has led a series-high 33 laps at the road course.

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: Alex Yontz

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Made the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in his rookie season.
  • 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:

  • Heads to Charlotte ranked 11th in the NASCAR Xfinity Playoff standings, 20 points back from eighth place Noah Gragson in the final Playoff transfer spot.
  • In 27 starts this season he has posted three top fives, 17 top 10s and an average finish of 10.9.
  • Has one stage win and has accumulated three Playoff points.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course Performance:

  • Will be making his series track debut this weekend.

Brandon Jones (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra)

Birthdate: February 18, 1997

Driver’s Age: 22

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Hobbies: Woodworking, antique car restoration, metal fabrication, farming

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Crew Chief: Jeff Meendering

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Has made the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs for the third-time in his career in 2019.
  • In 2018, he tallied a career-best finish of second at Talladega and reached the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs for the second time, finishing a career-best ninth in the standings.
  • In 2017, he captured his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series pole (Daytona-1).
  • In 2016, he made the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in his rookie season; ultimately finishing a then career-best 10th in the standings.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Heads to Charlotte ranked ninth in the NASCAR Xfinity Playoff standings, just 15 points back from eighth place Noah Gragson in the final Playoff transfer position.
  • In 27 starts this season, he has produced four top fives, 13 top 10s and an average finish of 15.0.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course Performance:

  • Made his series track debut last season starting 22nd and finishing 22nd.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Track record of champs at Talladega

If you’re a championship contender and don’t have a great weekend at Talladega, don’t fret. Talladega hasn’t been the most welcoming track for title holders in recent years.

Since the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series began racing at Talladega in 2006, no champion has won at the 2.66-mile Alabama superspeedway during their title season. In fact, only two series champions have visited Talladega’s Victory Lane at some point in their career – 2006 and 2010 champion Todd Bodine won there in 2007 and 2008, 2016 title holder Johnny Sauter won the 2013 race.

Looking at active drivers who hold championships, Sauter leads them all with a win, three top-five and five top-10 finishes in 10 Talladega races. His win came in 2013, but he’s only averaged a finish of 15.8 in the races since. His most recent race in Alabama was cut short by a wreck, relegating him to a 22nd-place finish.

Matt Crafton (2013, 2014 champion) is next with 13 starts at ‘Dega – yielding only one top five (fourth in 2010) and four top 10s. His average finish is 16.8 at the track and he’s had three DNFs. In his most recent trip to Talladega, he placed ninth.

Brett Moffitt (2018 champion) has only made one visit to Talladega – he finished 17th last fall.

Breaking down the Playoff contenders at ‘Dega

During the three weeks off between NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races, we’re breaking down the superspeedway performances for two Playoff contenders each week. Last week we focused on the top two seeds going into the Round of 6 – Brett Moffitt and Austin Hill. Today we’ll add in the middle of the pack – Ross Chastain and Stewart Friesen.

Ross Chastain – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet: Chastain has twice finished third at superspeedways – including in his most recent start at one of those venues at Daytona this February – over a total of eight starts on those tracks. He made three appearances at Talladega Superspeedway – but none since 2016. In his first showing in Alabama in 2012, he was involved in a mid-race crash and finished 34th. The following year he put up his best finish at the track – placing third. Then in 2016 he was 15th. At Daytona, Chastain has made five starts, posting an average finish of 21.0 – with three of his races ending early as a result of crashes. Niece Motorsports is the fifth different team with whom Chastain has raced at a superspeedway – SS Green Light Racing (Talladega and Daytona, 2012), Brad Keselowski Racing (Talladega and Daytona, 2013), Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises (Daytona, 2014), Bolen Motorsports (Talladega, 2016 and Daytona, 2017) and Niece Motorsports (Daytona and Talladega, 2019).

Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Chevrolet: Friesen has had a modicum of success at Talladega. He’s made two appearances at the 2.66-mile behemoth – finishing sixth in his most recent visit and putting up a respectable 17th-place result in 2017. His luck hasn’t been as good at Daytona – where he’s crashed out of all three races he’s started there. However, due to the mass amount of attrition at the season-opener in Florida this year, he managed to finish 10th despite crashing late and finishing three laps down.

Previous breakdowns:

Brett Moffitt – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet: Superspeedways haven’t been Moffitt’s best friend in his limited appearances at the venues. Moffitt has only made one visit to Talladega – this race last fall. He started eighth and finished 17th there en route to his Gander Trucks title. He has three starts at NASCAR’s other superspeedway – Daytona. His best finish there was 22nd in 2017. Since then he’s had a pair of 26th-place finishes.

Austin Hill – No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota: This fall will mark Hill’s third trip to Talladega Superspeedway, he finished 10th there last fall and was 22nd when he raced in Alabama in 2015. Hill has already tamed Daytona – winning the season opener this year to clinch his Playoff berth early. In his other two races at Daytona, he placed 30th (2015) and 11th (2018).

Talladega is Timothy Peters’ playground

The defending race winner, Timothy Peters, has won 33 percent of his Gander Trucks races at Talladega. And he leads the series’ all-time wins list there with three victories at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

Peters last ran fulltime in the Gander Trucks in 2016 and was racing in just his fourth race of the season last year when he dramatically took the win after Noah Gragson crashed while attempting to block Peters. That third win in nine starts at Talladega cemented him atop the wins list.

And that marked Peters’ third win (2014, 2015, 2018) in his last four starts there (he didn’t compete at Talladega in 2017). In that fourth start – he crossed the line third.

Overall in his nine races he has the three wins, five top fives and six top 10s.

Todd Bodine (2007, 2008), Kyle Busch (2009, 2010) and Parker Kligerman (2012, 2017) join him on the list of drivers with multiple wins at Talladega.

Breaking down the Round of 6 tracks

The Gander Trucks are off until October 12 when they will take on the most unpredictable track of the Playoffs, Talladega Superspeedway, for the Sugarlands Shine 250 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Here’s a look at the three tracks that will make up the Round of 6:

Talladega Superspeedway – Saturday, October 12: Talladega is a 2.66-mile, high-banked, high-speed superspeedway. The track features 33 degrees of banking in the corners and 16.5 degrees along the front straight, while the back straight has just two degrees of banking. The front straight is 4,300 feet long and is unique in that the start/finish line is located all the way down near the entrance to Turn 1. The back straight is 4,000 feet long. The race will be 250.4 miles (94 laps) long and was won last year by Timothy Peters – his third win at the track. None of the six remaining Playoff drivers have visited Victory Lane at the track.

Martinsville Speedway – Saturday, October 26: Martinsville, affectionately known as “The Paperclip” due to its shape, is a .52-mile short track. It has 12 degrees of banking in the turns and is perfectly flat in the straights. Each straightaway is 800 feet long. The race will be 105.2 miles (200 laps) long. Johnny Sauter won this race last year while Kyle Busch won the spring race this season. Matt Crafton has two wins at Martinsville (Spring, 2014; Fall, 2015) and is the only remaining Playoff contender with a win at “The Paperclip.”

ISM Raceway – Friday, November 8: ISM Raceway, located near Phoenix, Arizona, is a one-mile track that was recently reconfigured (prior to the 2018 fall race) to move the start/finish line to the former backstretch, just before the dog leg. The banking in Turns 1 and 2 are 11 degrees while it’s nine degrees in Turns 3 and 4. The frontstretch is 1,179 feet long and banked at three degrees and the backstretch is 1,551 feet long and has nine degrees of banking. Brett Moffitt won this race last year. He is the only remaining Playoff contender with a victory at the track.

— NASCAR —