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NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Texas

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: AAA Texas 500
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, November 3
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 501 miles (334 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 85), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 170), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 334)
2018 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, November 2
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)
2018 Race Winner: Cole Custer

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: Lucas Oil 150
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Friday, November 8
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 150 miles (150 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 150)
2018 Winner: Brett Moffitt

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

High expectations for Harvick

Kevin Harvick hasn’t celebrated in Victory Lane since a dominating victory in the regular season finale at Indianapolis on Sept. 8, but he’s been close. And the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford heads into the final two races of this Playoff round a heavy favorite to hoist hardware at either this week’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBSCN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) or next week at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway.

Harvick, 43, earned all three of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories this season in a seven-race span starting with the New Hampshire mile in July and ending with the notoriously challenging Indianapolis 2.5-miler in September. Since Indianapolis, he’s had six top-10 finishes in the seven Playoff races, including a best showing of runner-up in the Las Vegas Playoff opener and a third place at the Charlotte ROVAL.

In total he’s had 12 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes and his five pole-winning efforts ties him with Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron for most on the season. His 8.96 average start is best in the series, and his 10.6 average finish is fourth-best.

Only championship leader Martin Truex Jr. has equaled Harvick’s Playoff top 10 effort. And only Truex (6.2) has a better Playoff average finish than Harvick (7.0).

But while Truex’s win last week at Martinsville Speedway secured a position in the Championship 4, Harvick rolls into Texas ranked fifth in the championship standings, 14 points behind fellow Ford driver Joey Logano in that all-important fourth position in the standings.

The encouraging news for Harvick is that he’s secured a position in the Championship 4 in four of the previous five years of this title format and actually won the first version of it in 2014.

The Californian isn’t just “good” at the upcoming tracks, his 11 combined wins is the most of any current Playoff driver at Texas (two) and Phoenix (nine) – a mark that ties seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (seven at Texas and four at Phoenix) for most among active drivers at the two venues.

Importantly, Harvick’s two wins at Texas have come at crucial times. He’s won the last two Playoff races there, securing his position to contend for the big trophy. He’s finished in the top-10 in the last 10 Texas races – with three runner-up finishes to compliment his two wins. In total at Texas he has 21 top-10 finishes in 33 starts – 64 percent of his races.

Should Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team continue on to Phoenix next week still looking for a Playoff win, he has the confidence of nine Phoenix victories, most in the field. His last Playoff win there came in 2014, the year Harvick won his series championship.

Hamlin’s championship path

Denny Hamlin’s season has been an example of sustained excellence.

After winning the season-opening Daytona 500 – his second career victory in the sport’s most famous race – he has steadily answered with victories on a wide variety of venues and turned in convincing showings even when he hasn’t hoisted a trophy. He is the most recent winner at this week’s Texas Motor Speedway, he won on the unique Pocono 2.5-miler this summer, answered that with a win from the pole position at Bristol Motor Speedway and then won a Playoff race at the Kansas two weeks ago.

His five victories mark the second-largest single-season trophy haul for the 38-year old Virginian. He won eight times in his 2010 championship runner-up season. His 18 top-five finishes this year is a personal best and his 22 top-10 efforts ties a personal high set in 2016 and 2017. He has the most top-five finishes in the series and only Kyle Busch (24) and Kevin Harvick (23) have more top 10 results.

While some of his closest competitors are enduring months of winless efforts, Hamlin has been consistent – especially on his game for the Playoffs. He has five top-five finishes through the opening seven Playoff races, winning a pair of pole positions (at Dover and Martinsville) and notching that win at Kansas – his first there since 2012. He’s led 404 laps in the seven Playoff races – 51.9 percent of his entire season total (777).

Hamlin arrives in Fort Worth tied with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the most wins (three) there among the championship-eligible Playoff drivers. He’s had three top-10 finishes in the last eight Texas races and is one of only three drivers (Jimmie Johnson – 2015 and Carl Edwards – 2008) to score a season sweep at the track (2010).

Busch & Logano are riding long droughts

Two of the season’s most competitive championship contenders, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, remain among the top four in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings heading into this week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. But both seem overdue to return to Victory Lane.

Busch, a four-race winner and the 2019 regular season champion, heads into the AAA Texas 500 ranked third in the Playoff standings, seven points behind second-place Denny Hamlin. He’s 20 points behind standings leader and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., who has already secured a spot in the Championship 4 with his win last weekend at Martinsville.

Team Penske driver Logano is a two-race winner this season and challenged Busch for the regular season title. He is currently fourth in the Playoff standings, three points behind third-place Busch and 14 points ahead of fifth-place Kevin Harvick.

But for all their early season success, neither Busch nor Logano has won a race since June – taking the checkered flag in consecutive weekends. They each have only three top-10 showings through the opening seven races of the Playoffs and neither has earned top 10s in consecutive Playoff races.

Busch was the quickest driver to reach four victories this season, earning his fourth on June 2 at Pocono. His 1,375 laps led on the season are most in the series. And his average finish of 9.5 through the first 33 races is second best in the series to his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin (9.2).

Since his victory at Pocono, however, Busch has 11 top-10 finishes in 19 races. Eight times he finished a race lower than he started on the grid, including a pair of season-low 37th-place finishes at Indianapolis and the Charlotte ROVAL. His best Playoff showing was a runner-up at Richmond Raceway – the second race of the Playoffs – where he led a race-high 202 laps but finished runner-up to Truex by more than two seconds.

Logano earned his wins in March at Las Vegas and this summer at Michigan, where he won from the pole position. His average start (10.7) this season is third best behind only Harvick (9.0) and his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski (10.1). He has 10 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes on the season.

However, in the 18 races since his Michigan win on June 10, he has only two top-five and seven top-10 showings. Eleven times in those 18 races, Logano has finished worse than he’s started. His best Playoff showing is an eighth place last week at Martinsville.

Busch and Hamlin are tied with the most Texas wins (three) among the eight Playoff drivers, his last coming in the spring of 2018. Logano has one Texas win in the spring race in 2014. Busch has a pair of top 10s – including the win – in his last five Texas starts. Logano had a string of six consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas snapped this March, when he finished 17th.

Time to Texas two-step

Of the eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff drivers competing for a position inside the Championship 4 at the Nov. 17 Homestead-Miami season finale, four of them have never won at Texas Motor Speedway or Phoenix’s ISM Raceway.

Last week’s winner Martin Truex Jr. – a seven-time race winner this season – headlines this group of four Playoff competitors vying for a first-time win at either track. Truex has a pair of runner-up finishes at Texas, including the 2017 Playoff race in the season he went on to win the Cup title. He’s led 373 laps in just the last eight Texas races – 61 percent of his career total in 28 starts.

His work at Phoenix is similar. He was runner-up there this March and earned three of his four career top-five finishes in just the last four races at the one-miler. He was 14th in last year’s Phoenix Playoff race. And best of all for Truex, his win at Martinsville guarantees his position in the Championship 4 regardless of where he finishes this week or next week.

Although he suffered a frustrating 37th-place finish at Texas in March, Ryan Blaney has a positive history at the big track with three top-10 finishes in nine starts. He won the pole position and finished runner-up in last year’s November Playoff race there, leading 40 laps. He enters the race ranked sixth among the eight Playoff drivers, 15 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano in the final cutoff position.

The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford has fared well at Phoenix too, winning the pole position and finishing third in March. The 94 laps Blaney led are the bulk of the 108 career laps led there. He also won the pole position for the 2017 Playoff race and has three top-10 finishes in seven Phoenix starts.

Kyle Larson comes to Texas Motor Speedway ranked seventh in the Playoff standings, 24 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet shows up in Fort Worth fresh off a top-10 finish at Martinsville – a track that has historically delivered heartbreak. His history at Texas has been one of extremes. He has three top-five finishes, including a runner-up showing in April 2017. He was fifth in last year’s Playoff race; however, he’s crashed out in three of the last four races at Texas – including this April.

The famous ISM Raceway one-miler would appear to be right in Larson’s wheelhouse. The short track star has five top-10 finishes in 11 starts, including a runner-up finish in spring, 2017. He was sixth this March. He seems to have his best outings during the fall Playoff stretch with third-place finishes in both the 2016 and 2018 Playoff races.

Chase Elliott finds himself essentially in a must-win situation for the final two races of this penultimate round. He sits 44 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano heading to Texas. But Elliott has celebrated in the track’s Victory Lane before – earning his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win there in 2014 en route to his first series championship. He has five top-10 finishes in seven starts, including the first four Cup races he ran there. His best showing is fourth place in the 2016 Playoffs. He finished sixth in the Texas Playoff race last year and was 13th this March.

The newly-reconstructed ISM Raceway provides similarly encouraging history for the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He has four top-10 finishes in seven starts with a best showing of runner-up in the 2017 Playoff race there. He started on the outside pole this March and finished 14th.

John Hunter Nemechek making Cup debut

Up-and-coming young driver John Hunter Nemechek has been tabbed to drive the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford for the remainder of the season while the car’s fulltime driver Matt Tifft is out of the car. Tifft required medical attention at the Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and was transported to a local hospital last Saturday afternoon and did not compete in Sunday’s race.

According to the team’s press release, Tifft will be undergoing further evaluation under the care of his medical team and Front Row Motorsports said it hopes the 23-year old Ohio native will return to the driver’s seat upon medical clearance.

“Our thoughts are still with Matt and his family,’’ Front Row Motorsports General Manager Jerry Freeze said Tuesday. “We feel that John Hunter can step up and do a great job for us as Matt heals.’’

Tifft earned his first Cup series top-10 finish – a ninth place – at Daytona International Speedway this summer and had four top-20 finishes, most recently a 13th place showing at Talladega Superspeedway. He finished top-10 in the Xfinity Series championship in 2017 and 2018 with a career-best showing of runner-up at Road America in 2018.

Nemechek, the 22-year-old son of four-time Cup race winner Joe Nemechek, will make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Currently an Xfinity Series rookie, he is ranked ninth in that series’ standings with four top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. He won a Xfinity race at Kansas in 2017 while driving part-time in the series and is a six-race winner in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

“This isn’t the way any driver wants to make their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut,’’ Nemechek said. “I am hoping that Matt feels better and can get back in his car as soon as possible. That is what is important.

“Hopefully I can learn a lot and make Matt, the Front Row Motorsports team and its partners proud.’’

Competition Update

The uptick in competition as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues into its Playoff “peak” is evident both on track and in the record books. Statistically, the series is enjoying one of its most competitive seasons with new milestones being met with each week of racing.

The Joe Gibbs Racing team turned in another record setting race weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway with Denny Hamlin earning his third pole position of the year and teammate Martin Truex Jr. claiming his series best seventh victory of the year.

Hamlin has earned all the JGR team’s pole positions this season. Veteran Kevin Harvick and second-year Cup competitor William Byron lead the series with five poles each.

Truex’s win extended the JGR team’s series best win mark to 17 victories in 33 races – or 51.5 percent of the season. In addition to Truex’s seven trophies, Hamlin has five, regular season champion Kyle Busch has four and Erik Jones has one – all four drivers qualified for the Playoffs and Truex, Hamlin and Busch continue to lead the championship standings.

There have been 13 different race winners representing six race teams. Truex’ .373-secoond victory over Byron last weekend marked the 18th time in 33 races, the Margin of Victory was less than 1-second (54.5 percent).

The average number of race leaders (9.12) is the most since 2014 (10.09). The average number of lead changes (17.55) is at a four-year high. And the Year-over-Year comparison for Green Flag Passes for the Lead is up 48.3 percent over 2018. It’s been up in 22 of the 33 races including all seven of the 1.5-mile tracks such as Texas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s race.

There is an increase in overall Green Flag Passes. It’s up 27.4 percent over last season and been higher in 19 of the 33 races so far.

In the Playoffs, that stats is even more striking. Green Flag Passes for the Lead are up 88.2 percent over last year and Green Flag Passing in general is up 31.1 percent over last year.

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

Six drivers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, Team Penske’s Joey Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsport’s Chase Elliott and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Daniel Suarez will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Texas Motor Superspeedway in advance of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m., ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

William Byron, 21, from Charlotte, N.C., equaled his career best effort in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with a runner-up finish at Martinsville on Sunday. The driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet also finished second at Daytona this summer. His Martinsville work along with a fifth-place effort at Kansas the week previously marks the first time in his two-year Cup career he’s scored back-to-back top fives. It’s been a career year for the series’ youngest competitor, whose earned a personal best five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes and qualified for his first Playoffs although he did not advance out to the Round of 8. His five pole positions ties him with veteran Kevin Harvick for most on the season. He returns to Texas where he finished sixth after starting on the outside pole. He has celebrated in Texas’ Victory Lane – winning the 2016 summer NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race there.

Joey Logano, 29, of Middletown, Conn., is eager to right his Playoff ship. The defending series champion has only three top-10 finishes in seven Playoff races – his best an eighth place at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Sunday. His last victory was 18 races ago when he won at Michigan from the pole position. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford does, however, remain ranked fourth with the top four drivers advancing to the Homestead-Miami Speedway championship round on Nov. 17. He holds a 14-point edge on fifth-place Kevin Harvick, a two-time Texas winner, and trails regular season champion Kyle Busch by three points. Logano is a former Texas winner as well, earning the spring, 2014 victory. He led a race-best 178 laps in the 2016 Texas Playoff race only to finish second. He has six top-10 finishes in the last seven races – with a 17th-place run this March. Logano was third in the Texas Playoff race last year.

Kyle Busch, 34, of Las Vegas, Nev., is coming off a 14th-place finish at Martinsville last weekend. The regular season champion has only three top-10 finishes in the seven Playoff races with a best showing of runner-up at Richmond in September after leading a race best 202 laps. A four-time winner this season, Busch’s last victory in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was at Pocono, 19 races ago. Twelve of his 14 top-10 finishes have been top-five efforts and he’s led nearly a 1,000 laps this year (930). Among the eight remaining Playoff drivers, Busch and his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin boast the best winning record at this week’s Texas Motor Speedway. They both have three victories – Busch’s last coming in the spring, 2018 race. It is one of only two top-10 finishes in the last five Texas races. He led 66 laps and finished 10th in March. He was 17th in this Playoff race last season. The 2015 Cup champion is ranked third in the standings with only a three-point advantage on fourth-place Joey Logano. He trails second-place Hamlin by seven points.

Kyle Larson, 27, of Elk Grove, Calif., has ground to make up if he hopes to advance to his first ever Championship 4. He is a Playoff winner – taking the win at Dover four weeks ago – and has four top-10 finishes in the seven Playoff races to date. His ninth-place effort at Martinsville last weekend has him ranked seventh of the eight Playoff drivers. He sits 24 points out of the fourth place transfer position currently occupied by reigning Cup champ Joey Logano. This week’s Texas Motor Speedway 1.5-mile venue has been hit or miss for the popular driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He has four top-10 and three top-five finishes – with a career best showing of runner-up in spring, 2017. He’s had tough luck of late, however, crashing out in three of the last four Texas races. He was 39th this spring after being collected in a wreck, but was his lone finish in the last four races was an encouraging fifth place in last year’s Playoff race.

Chase Elliott, 23, of Dawsonville, Ga., is essentially in a must-win situation to advance to his first ever Championship 4 round. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ reigning Most Popular Driver suffered a 36th-place finish last weekend at Martinsville, his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffering early mechanical problems. It was stark contrast to his runner-up finish at Kansas only a week earlier. He has a Playoff race win at the Charlotte ROVAL and four top 10s in the seven Playoff races, but trails fourth-place Joey Logano by a substantial 44 points. The good news for Elliott is that the series is headed to a track that has been a bright spot on his resume. He won his first Xfinity Series race there in 2014 en route to that championship and has five top-10 finishes in seven Cup starts, including a best showing of fourth place in the 2016 Playoff race. He was sixth in last year’s Playoff race and finished 13th this May after leading a career-best 35 laps.

Daniel Suarez, 27, of Monterrey, Mexico, just missed qualifying for the Playoffs, but is still well within reach of posting career best overall statistics. The third-year Cup driver has three top-five finishes, tying a career best mark. His 10 top-10 finishes are two off his best mark with three more races remaining this season. Certainly, the Playoff portion of the schedule has turned out to be rough for the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. He has only one top-10 in six races and four finishes of 30th or worse, including the last three weeks. He trails seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson by nine points to be tops among those non-Playoff drivers and this week’s Texas Motor Speedway venue has been one of his better tracks. He scored a career best third-place finish at Texas this March, leading nine laps. And he has top-five finishes there in both the Xfinity (fifth place) and Gander Outdoors Truck (fifth place) series. Suarez will be sporting a special helmet this weekend designed by Dallas-based artist, Agustin Chavez, who is also from his home state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Known locally for his mural designs, Agustin developed the “Dia de los Muertos” or “Day of the Dead” (celebrated on November 1 and 2) graphic design which was applied to Daniel’s helmet. The helmet design is inspired by the “calavera” or “sugar skull,” which is one of the most iconic and colorful items you’ll see during “Dia de los Muertos” festivities is the sugar skull, or calavera. These skulls can come in all sizes and are made of sugar and decorated with icing to be fun and colorful.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Texas Motor Speedway sets the stage for the Xfinity Playoffs

Just two races remain (Texas and ISM Raceway) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Round of 8 to decide who makes it to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Up next is Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on Saturday, November 2, at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Texas has hosted the fifth event of the seven-race NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs since its inception in 2016. Three different drivers have won the Texas Xfinity Playoff race, but only one was a Playoff contender. And in all three of the previous Texas Playoff races the eventual series champion has finished in the top 10.

2016 Playoff race recap – Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series contender Kyle Larson took the lead from Brad Keselowski on Lap 171 and led the final 30 laps to victory. Prior to the fifth and final lead change of the race by Larson, Keselowski had dominated the contest, leading 145 of the 200 scheduled laps. Just three Xfinity Playoff contenders finished in the top 10 – Erik Jones (fourth), Daniel Suarez (fifth) and Elliott Sadler (sixth). Suarez would go on to win the Xfinity title in 2016.

2017 Playoff race recap – After moving up to the Monster Energy Series to drive for Furniture Row Racing in 2017, Erik Jones would occasionally sharpen his skills driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series. Jones won the 2017 Texas Playoff race piloting the JGR No. 20 Toyota, dominating the event while leading 142 of the scheduled 200 laps. The race saw 10 lead changes among six drivers. Four Xfinity Playoff drivers finished inside the top-10 – Elliott Sadler (fourth), Cole Custer (fifth), Brennan Poole (seventh) and William Byron (ninth). Byron would go on to win the Xfinity title in 2017.

2018 Playoff race recap – Last season, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer won the Texas Motor Speedway Playoff race and guaranteed his spot in the Championship 4. Custer was first Xfinity Series Playoff contender to win the postseason race at Texas. Of the three Playoff races at Texas, the 2018 race was the most dynamic, delivering 17 lead changes among nine different leaders, and a last-lap pass by Custer over Tyler Reddick to win the race by a scant margin of 0.162 – the third-closest finish in series history at the track. Seven Playoff contenders finished in the top 10 – Custer (first), Reddick (second), Austin Cindric (third), Justin Allgaier (fifth), Matt Tifft (seventh), Elliott Sadler (eighth) and Daniel Hemric (10th). Reddick would go on to win the title last year.

Big 3 has Xfinity Playoff competition tensions running-high

With the close action on the track and heated exchanges on pit road, tensions have run high in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs this season, and though they are having an historic year, the Big 3 are no exception.

“I thought we had a shot to win. Just, a lot of things went wrong (at Kansas),” said Cole Custer. “I went up just to yell at him (Tyler Reddick). But when I put my arm on his shoulder, he went berserk. So, I guess, you don’t want to do that to Tyler.”

The two drivers (Reddick & Custer) made contact in the closing laps at Kansas and Reddick finished second while Custer fell to an 11th-place finish. Bell rebounded from an incident on Lap 185 to finish 12th.

“Not the end of the race that our guys are looking for,” said Reddick. “But I think a lot of Cole and his driving ability and a lot of that team. It’s just the heat of the moment. We’re pissed off. I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon. Maybe today, tomorrow. Who knows, maybe have a beer over it. We’ll talk about it then.”

Bell, Custer, Reddick prepare for Texas

The Big 3 – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer and Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick – are now separated by a mere 12 points in the Playoff standings with just two races left to decide who will move on to the Championship 4 in Miami.

Bell holds the Playoff standings lead with 3,106 points after Kansas; followed by Cole Custer (-11) in second and Tyler Reddick (-12) in third. Heading to Texas this weekend for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 (Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), fourth-place Justin Allgaier is in fourth, another 35 points behind Reddick.

Custer is the defending Texas Playoff race winner. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 16 laps and grabbed the checked flag last season to secure his position in the Championship 4. Texas is one of Custer’s best tracks, in five starts he has one win (2018 Playoffs), four top fives and an average finish of 9.8 (best of the Big 3).

JGR’s Bell has also found success at Texas. In four series starts he has put up two poles, two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 10.8. Bell sat on the pole for this race last season and led 35 laps but finished 32nd due to an incident. Watch for Bell to rebound this weekend as the rising star finished third at the 1.5-mile facility earlier this season.

Last season’s Texas Playoff race was a big step in Reddick’s ascension to the Championship 4 and ultimately the title; as he finished runner-up to take the standings lead heading to Phoenix. This year driving for RCR, Reddick is on pace to defend his title. In four starts at Texas he has posted two top fives and an average finish of 15.0.

Who can catch the Big 3 in the Xfinity Playoffs at Texas?

The Big 3 are currently 1-2-3 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs standings with fourth place Justin Allgaier 35 points behind third; which has many posing the question, “Who can catch them?”

Justin Allgaier (No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet)

Allgaier is currently in the fourth and final Championship 4 transfer spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings; 35 points behind third-place Tyler Reddick and only two points up on fifth-place Sunoco rookie Chase Briscoe. In 30 starts this season, Allgaier has put up 15 top fives, 22 top 10s and an average finish of 9.2. Of the Playoff contenders, Allgaier has the most experience at Texas, having made 18 starts while posting one top five, eight top 10s and an average finish of 13.1.

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

Briscoe is currently fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings – the first spot outside the Championship 4 cutoff – just two points behind fourth-place Justin Allgaier. In 30 starts this season, Briscoe has posted one win (Iowa), 12 top fives, 24 top 10s and an average finish of 7.9. Briscoe has made two starts at Texas (both spring races – 2018, 2019), posting one top five (fourth earlier this season) and an average finish of 7.5. Briscoe is one of two Sunoco rookies (Noah Gragson) left in the postseason.

Michael Annett (No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet)

Annett has settled in to the sixth position in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings following Kansas; 12 points back from his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier in fourth. In 30 starts this season, Annett has gathered one win (Daytona), six top fives, 18 top 10s and an average finish of 10.0. Among Playoff contenders, Annett has the second-most starts at Texas with 14, but has just two top-10 finishes; including his career-best finish at the track (sixth) earlier this season.

Noah Gragson (No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet)

Gragson finds himself seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings following Kansas, 17 points behind his fourth-place JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. In 30 starts this season he has collected eight top fives, 20 top 10s and an average finish of 8.8. Gragson made his series track debut at Texas earlier this season, starting 16th and finishing 13th.

Austin Cindric (No. 22 Team Penske Ford)

Cindric is currently in the eighth and final position in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Round of 8 standings following an incident at Kansas on Lap 71 that relegated him to a 25th-place finish. As a result, the Team Penske standout dropped four spots in the Playoff standings and now has a 30 point mountain to climb over the next two races to make his way into the Championship 4. In 30 starts this season, Cindric has posted two wins (Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio), 13 top fives, 21 top 10s and an average finish of 9.3. He has made three series starts at Texas posting one top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 7.7. He finished third in this race last season.

New winners are the norm in Xfinity and at Texas

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones became the latest winner in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with his victory at Kansas, and the second first-time winner of the season – joining Austin Cindric (Watkins Glen & Mid-Ohio). Every season since the series’ inception in 1982 has seen at least one new winner, totaling 160 different drivers. In fact, over the last 10 seasons (2011-2019) the series has produced 32 different new winners (list is below in chronological order from most recent):

Rank First-Time Winners Track Date Rank First-Time Winners Track Date
1 Brandon Jones Kansas 10/19/2019 17 Erik Jones Texas 4/10/2015
2 Michael Annett Daytona 2/16/2019 18 Ryan Reed Daytona 2/21/2015
3 John H. Nemechek Kansas 10/20/2018 19 Chris Buescher Mid-Ohio 8/16/2014
4 Chase Briscoe Charlotte RC 9/29/2018 20 Ty Dillon Indianapolis 7/26/2014
5 Ross Chastain Las Vegas 9/15/2018 21 Brendan Gaughan Road America 6/21/2014
6 Spencer Gallagher Talladega 4/28/2018 22 Chase Elliott Texas 4/4/2014
7 Cole Custer Homestead 11/18/2017 23 Kyle Larson Auto Club 3/22/2014
8 Christopher Bell Kansas 10/21/2017 24 Ryan Blaney Kentucky 9/21/2013
9 Alex Bowman Charlotte 10/7/2017 25 AJ Allmendinger Road America 6/22/2013
10 Tyler Reddick Kentucky 9/23/2017 26 Regan Smith Homestead 11/17/2012
11 Jeremy Clements Road America 8/27/2017 27 Austin Dillon Kentucky 6/29/2012
12 Ryan Preece Iowa 7/29/2017 28 Nelson Piquet Jr Road America 6/23/2012
13 William Byron Iowa 6/24/2017 29 James Buescher Daytona 2/25/2012
14 Michael McDowell Road America 8/27/2016 30 Sam Hornish Jr Phoenix 11/12/2011
15 Justin Marks Mid-Ohio 8/13/2016 31 Trevor Bayne Texas 11/5/2011
16 Daniel Suarez Michigan 6/11/2016 32 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Iowa 5/22/2011

Since Texas Motor Speedway joined the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule in 1997, the track has produced five first-time winners and all of them are names you’ve heard of – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998), Kurt Busch (2006), Trevor Bayne (2011), Chase Elliott (2014) and Erik Jones (2015).

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.

Achievable Milestones: RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg will attempt to become the 66th different driver in series history to make 200 or more starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Sieg began his Xfinity Series career back in 2013 and has made the Playoffs twice; including this season. … If Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell wins this weekend, he will tie former series champions Jeff Green and Joe Nemechek for 18th on the series all-time wins list with 16 victories.

Starting Up Front At Texas: Not since the spring race of 2008 has a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas been won from a starting spot outside the top 10. All three of the Playoff races have been won from starting spots inside the top five – 2016 (fifth starting spot), 2017 (pole), 2018 (third).

OEM Texas Playoff Parity: All three manufacturers have visited Victory Lane at Texas in the Playoffs – 2016 (Chevrolet), 2017 (Toyota) and 2018 (Ford).

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Playoff Update: Just two NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco rookies remain eligible for the end of the season honors as only Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe and JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson have advanced to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs. Briscoe currently holds a 37-point lead on Gragson heading into Texas.

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

Three NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers – Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer, Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones – will participate in this week’s media breakout sessions at Texas Motor Speedway.

Cole Custer (No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang)

Birthdate: January 23, 1998

Driver’s Age: 21

Hometown: Ladera Ranch, California

Hobbies: Watching sports

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Crew Chief: Mike Shiplett

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he made the Championship 4; ultimately finishing runner-up in the final driver standings while his No. 00 Ford won the owner’s title for Stewart-Haas Racing.
  • Made the Playoffs and finished fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings in his rookie year (2017).
  • Has nine career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins (Homestead-Miami, Texas, Auto Club Speedway, Richmond, Pocono, Chicago, Kentucky, Darlington, Dover); including last season’s Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway to win his way into the Championship 4 finale.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently ranked second in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver standings with 3,095 points; 38 points ahead of fifth-place Chase Briscoe.
  • In 30 starts this season he has posted six poles (Bristol, Dover, Pocono, Iowa, New Hampshire, Las Vegas), seven wins (California, Richmond, Pocono, Chicago, Kentucky, Darlington and Dover-2), 15 top fives and 21 top 10s.
  • Has won eight stages and accumulated 50 Playoff points.

Texas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Has made five series starts at Texas putting up one win (last season’s Playoff race) and four top fives.

Tyler Reddick (No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro)

Birthdate: January 11, 1996

Driver’s Age: 23

Hometown: Corning, California

Hobbies: Riding ATVs, gaming, working on cars

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Crew Chief: Randall Burnett

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Won the 2019 regular season championship.
  • Won the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
  • Also won the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors; just third driver in series history to win the title in his rookie season joining Chase Elliott (2014) and William Byron (2017).
  • In 2017, he captured his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Kentucky, while running a partial schedule. Currently has eight series career wins.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season champion.
  • Currently ranked third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver standings with 3,094 points; 37 points ahead of fifth-place Chase Briscoe.
  • In 30 starts this season, he has posted three poles (Daytona, California and Daytona-2), five wins (Talladega, Charlotte, Michigan, Bristol and Las Vegas), 21 top fives and 24 top 10s – leads the series in both top fives and top 10s this season.
  • Has won four stages and accumulated 44 Playoff points.

Texas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Has made four series starts at Texas Motor Speedway posting two top-five finishes.

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.
  • Won his first Xfinity Series career race at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago.
  • 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 Texas ranked 10th in the NASCAR Xfinity Playoff standings.
  • In 30 starts this season, he has produced one win (Kansas), five top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 15.3.
  • Has won three stages and accumulated four Playoff points this season.

Texas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Has made seven starts at Texas posting two top 10s.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

ISM Raceway to set the Championship 4

After opening with the high-speed, high-banked, 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, then taking on much shorter and flatter 0.52-mile Martinsville Speedway last weekend, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series will take this weekend off before wrapping up the Round of 6 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, Arizona.

The Lucas Oil 150 (Friday, November 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will take place on the 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 is 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 and is the only remaining Playoff contender with a victory at the track.

Spoilers prevailing in the Round of 6

Todd Gilliland became the second winner in as many Round of 6 races to capture his first NASCAR national series win and play the spoiler – preventing a Playoff driver from locking themselves into the Championship 4 by visiting Victory Lane.

A week earlier, it was Spencer Boyd who upset the field and took the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway.

Since the elimination-style postseason format was introduced in the Gander Trucks in 2016, there hasn’t been a round of three races completed without at least one Playoff driver earning a win. That would all change if one of the six remaining Playoff contenders doesn’t win at ISM Raceway next weekend.

And it’s entirely possible that a spoiler will prevail again in the desert. Brett Moffitt is the lone Playoff contender who has won at the one-mile circuit. And Johnny Sauter is the only other 2019 regular racer who has won there.

If a third straight driver captures their first career Gander Trucks win at ISM Raceway, they would be the sixth driver to do so at that track:

Mike Skinner – 1995

Jack Sprague – 1996

Kevin Harvick – 2002

Erik Jones – 2013

Daniel Suarez – 2016

Champs’ history at ISM Raceway

Last year Brett Moffitt won at ISM Raceway and then went on to win at Homestead-Miami Speedway to capture his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.

And that marked the first time since Ron Hornaday Jr. won the spring 1998 race, when the Gander Trucks last competed twice per season at the track, that the series champion won at ISM en route to the championship. In fact, it also happened in 1995 (Mike Skinner swept the races) and 1997 (Jack Sprague won the April race).

The records show – if you’re good enough to win in Phoenix at some point in your career, then you’re good enough to win the series title. Of the 17 individual drivers who have won a Gander Trucks championship, more than half (nine) have recorded at least one win at ISM Raceway in their career.

That includes three of the past four series titleholders – Moffitt (2018), Johnny Sauter (2016 champion) and Erik Jones (2015 champion).

How they got to this point in the Round of 6…and performance at ISM Raceway

With all four slots in the Miami championship showdown still up for grabs after Playoff outsiders captured the wins at Talladega and Martinsville, the heat will be on at ISM Raceway for the Lucas Oil 150 next Friday night (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Here’s a breakdown of how the six Playoff drivers have fared in this round and the past ISM Raceway performances for each, in order of points standing:

Brett Moffitt – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet: The defending series champion started this round off strong, finishing fourth at the always-unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway. But, like a good chunk of the field at Martinsville, was involved in a wreck last weekend and, as a result, was relegated to a 29th-place finish. Fortunately, he has a large stockpile of Playoff points from throughout the year that are letting him keep hold of the top spot in the points – by 10 points over second-place Stewart Friesen and by 45 points over fifth-place Matt Crafton just outside the Championship 4 cutoff.

Moffitt enters the penultimate race of the season as the lone Playoff contender who has won at ISM Raceway – and he did so in his only series start to date at the track during which he started fifth.

Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet: Friesen has been impressive in this round – finishing fifth at Talladega and sixth last week at Martinsville, keeping him in second place in the points standings. He’s only 10 points behind the leader, Moffitt, and holds a 35-point advantage over Crafton in fifth.

Friesen has gotten progressively better over each of his three starts at ISM Raceway – finishing 18th in his track debut in 2016, then sixth in 2017 and fifth last year for an average finish of 9.7. His starting position has also improved each time – 20th in 2016, 12th in 2017 and then fourth last fall.

Ross Chastain – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet: Chastain’s Round of 6 started off rough, as he wrecked from the lead late in the race and wound up with a 22nd-place finish at Talladega. But he nearly flipped that around last weekend in Martinsville, leading 68 laps before finishing second after being edged out by Todd Gilliland following an overtime restart. That Martinsville finish, coupled with a great deal of misfortune by the rest of the Playoff field (after Friesen’s fifth-place finish, the next highest finishing postseason contender was Crafton in 23rd) vaulted Chastain from sixth in the points entering the race to third coming out of it. He’s now 20 points ahead of Crafton in fifth.

It’s been six years since Chastain has raced in the Gander Trucks at ISM Raceway. He was 33rd in his track debut in 2012 after mechanical issues eliminated him early in the race. However, he started from the pole and finished second in 2013.

Austin Hill – No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota: Hill has a precarious nine-point advantage over Crafton for the fourth and final Championship 4 slot. He opened the round with a sixth-place finish at Talladega but then was one of the unfortunate drivers caught up in myriad of incidents at Martinsville that ended his day early and he left with a 26th-place result.

Hill’s going to have to improve upon his past efforts at ISM Raceway if he’s going to have a shot to contend for the title in Miami. In two starts at the track, he has a best finish of 23rd and an average finish of 26.5.

Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford: Crafton’s Round of 6 results closely mirrors those of Moffitt and Hill – a solid eighth-place result at Talladega before finishing several laps down in 23rd at Martinsville. He currently sits in fifth in the standings – one spot outside the Championship 4 – trailing fourth-place Hill by nine points.

Crafton has the largest body of work at ISM Raceway of the remaining Playoff drivers. However, in 18 starts at the one-mile circuit, he has yet to win a race – although he was the runner-up in 2014, the year of his second championship. He’s recorded six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, putting together an average finish of 10.0. However, in the most recent four trips to ISM, he’s tallied two finishes outside the top 20. He was 11th last fall.

Tyler Ankrum – No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota: Have you heard this before regarding the Round of 6 for this Playoff group? Ankrum had a solid race at Talladega, finishing seventh. But was eliminated from contention at Martinsville by a crash – placing 25th. He now sits sixth, 15 points back from Hill, who holds that fourth and final Championship 4 slot.

— NASCAR —

 

Ankrum has made one visit to ISM Raceway, placing and impressive sixth in the second of two starts he made last season.