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NASCAR Series heads to the Bluegrass State and Kentucky Speedway

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart

The Place: Kentucky Speedway

The Date: Saturday, July 13

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: NBCSN, 7:00 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 267)

2018 Race Winner: Martin Truex Jr.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Alsco 300

The Place: Kentucky Speedway

The Date: Friday, July 12

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: NBCSN, 7:00 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: Christopher Bell

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Next Race: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225

The Place: Kentucky Speedway

The Date: Thursday, July 11

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 7:00 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 225 miles (150 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 35),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 150)

2018 Race Winner: Ben Rhodes

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Kentucky’s prized thoroughbreds

If you’re looking to pick a favorite for this weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, you would be well served to go with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr., or with Brad Keselowski from the Team Penske stable.

 

The reason? These three drivers have combined to win seven of the eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races that have been run at Kentucky Speedway. (Matt Kenseth won the 2013 edition.)

 

Keselowski leads the pack with three wins (2012, 2014, 2016). Busch won the inaugural race in 2011 and then again in 2015. And Truex won the two most recent races at the 1.5-mile circuit.

 

And each of the three drivers won at Kentucky during their Monster Energy Series championship campaign (Keselowski – 2012, Busch – 2015, Truex – 2017).

 

Busch is the leader in top-five finishes with six and in top-10 finishes with seven, while Keselowski has four top fives and six top 10s. Interestingly, the only top fives Truex has put together at Kentucky are his two wins, although he has five top 10s.

 

Also of note, Keselowski is the only driver to have won in a make other than Toyota at Kentucky. His first win (2012) came behind the wheel of a Dodge while his next two came after Team Penske switched to Ford. Chevrolet has yet to visit Victory Lane in the Monster Energy Series at Kentucky Speedway.

 

Playoff bubble bouncing around

With eight races remaining in the regular season, the seven drivers (Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman) have secured a Playoff position on wins.

 

Which leaves nine spots open for new winners or for drivers to earn their way in on points.

 

If the Playoffs were to start today, those drivers would be Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. Daniel Suarez (17th) and Erik Jones (18th) are the first two drivers on the outside looking in.

 

Only 14 points separate 15th (Bowyer with 444 points) and 18th (Jones with 430 points) after Daytona. To show how much of an impact one race can have on the Playoff bubble, following Chicagoland, the rankings were Suarez, Bowyer, Jones and Newman in slots 15 through 18, in that order.

 

And to go back one more week to Sonoma, 15 through 18 consisted of Larson, Newman, Johnson and Jones – in that order.

 

Looking ahead to the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway this Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), each of the former active winners at the track have already won in 2019. And the drivers on the bubble have their work cut out for them.

 

Newman leads the bubble drivers with three top-five (and top-10) finishes at the 1.5-mile venue. Bowyer has only one top-five finish (and it’s also his only top 10) at the 1.5-mile venue. Jones has two top 10s (sixth and seventh) while Suarez has yet to crack the top 10 at Kentucky, posting finishes of 15th (last year) and 18th in his two starts.

 

A driver of note outside the top 16 who pretty much needs to win to get in to the Playoffs is Austin Dillon. He has the most Playoff appearances (three) of any driver outside the top 16 right now, and is looking to extend his Playoff appearance streak to four years, after making it to the postseason in 2016-2018. He sits 77 points back of the 16th-place cutoff spot. But he’s going to have to improve his Kentucky performance tremendously if he’s going to get in on a win in the Bluegrass State. In six starts there, he has twice posted a best finish of 16th – and has tallied an average finish of 20.3.

 

Jones (2018), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (made the Playoffs in 2017, currently 19th in points, 45 points out of 16th), Paul Menard (made the Playoffs in 2015, currently 20th in points, 53 points back) and Chris Buescher (made the Playoffs in 2016, currently 21st in points, 74 points out of Playoff contention) are the only other drivers with postseason experience who are currently out of the Playoff picture.

 

Summertime Sizzle: Hendrick heating up at opportune time

Talks of Hendrick Motorsports’ decline came a little too soon. The storied organization is beginning to hit its stride as the NASCAR season heads into the depths of summer.

 

Right now, Hendrick is led by Chase Elliott, who’s seventh in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings. The 23-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia, native claims one win this season, along with six top fives, seven top 10s and 409 laps led. He’s struggled over the last four races, failing to notch a top 10 after tallying six consecutive top fives, but heads to Kentucky where he has a high finish of third (three career starts).

 

Alex Bowman sits ninth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings and has performed well at 1.5-mile tracks recently, including his win at Chicagoland less than two weeks ago. Prior to Chicagoland, he placed seventh at Charlotte and runner-up at Kansas. Bowman has never placed higher than 31st at Kentucky (three starts).

 

William Byron sits 12th in the points standings following his runner-up finish at Daytona. The 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion is showing he belongs at the Monster Energy Cup level with four top 10s in his last six starts. Byron placed 20th in his lone Cup start at Kentucky last season and boasts a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win at the 1.5-mile track.

 

Following talks of his decline, seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson has posted finishes of third (Daytona) and fourth (Chicagoland) in his last two starts. He currently sits 13th in the points standings, 34 points above the Playoffs cutoff. In eight career starts at Kentucky, Johnson claims one top five and five top 10s with a high finish of third (2011). He’s finished eighth or better in his last four starts at 1.5-mile tracks: Chicagoland (fourth), Charlotte (eighth), Kansas (sixth), Texas (fifth).

Team Penske ready to assert itself in the Bluegrass State

The Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney looks to finish in the top 10 at Kentucky together for the second consecutive season. Last year, Blaney led the charge in second, followed by Keselowski in third and Logano in 10th.

 

All three drivers have been successful in the Bluegrass State over the course of their careers.

 

Keselowski headlines the group with three wins (tops in the series), four top fives, six top 10s and 109.6 driver rating (second).

 

Blaney claims finishes of second (2018), 10th (2017) and 35th (2016) in three Kentucky starts. Additionally, he’s won twice there in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

 

In eight starts at Kentucky, Logano owns two top fives and five tops 10s. His high finish at the 1.5-mile track is a runner-up showing in 2015.

 

Penske drivers have finished in the top 10 together three times this season (Auto Club, Michigan and Chicagoland).

 

Measuring up at the 1.5-mile tracks

As Kentucky Speedway’s Quaker State 400 (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) marks the final 1.5-mile race in the regular season, we stop to look at the top performers at this distance both overall and in 2019 as we size up the opportunity for a new driver to break into the win column this season.

 

It should come as no surprise that the career leader in wins at this distance is seven-time Monster Energy Series champion Jimmie Johnson. His 28 wins betters Jeff Gordon (16) by 12 visits to Victory Lane. Kevin Harvick is third on the all-time list, second among active drivers, with 15 wins, while Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch trail with 13 victories. Martin Truex Jr. is fifth among active drivers with 11 wins at 1.5-milers.

 

Two drivers looking for their first win of the season top the runner-up category. Johnson has 18 second-place finishes while Harvick has posted 17. They are also the top two active drivers in top fives (Johnson with 75, Harvick with 61) and top 10s (Johnson with 115, Harvick with 108).

 

Kyle Busch joins the party when it comes to laps led. Johnson’s 5,837 are the best, while Busch has recorded 4,858 laps out front and Harvick has 4,733.

 

In 2019, Keselowski has been the best in most categories at 1.5-mile tracks…and keep in mind, he’s the all-time leader in wins at Kentucky with three. He leads this season with two wins at this distance, as well as four top-five and four top-10 finishes.

 

Harvick has notched the most laps led this year with 383 at 1.5-mile tracks. Alex Bowman (the Chicagoland winner) is tied with Kyle Busch (who has yet to win at a 1.5-mile track this season) at 159 laps led. Kyle Larson, looking for his first win of the year, is fourth in laps led with 149.

 

And speaking of Harvick, he also has the second-best average finishing position at 1.5-milers this season. His 8.83 after finish is just behind Truex’ 8.5 mark.

 

Variety is the name of the game

Including last week’s trip to the 2.5-mile high-banked, high-speed superspeedway in Daytona, the 2019 Monster Energy Series regular season schedule wraps up with eight very unique tracks – providing opportunities for a wide variety of drivers to win their way into the Playoffs. Below is a look at the seven remaining facilities in the regular season:

 

Kentucky Speedway – The only 1.5-mile track remaining in the regular season. Only three active drivers (Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr.) have conquered the track in the Bluegrass State…and all already have wins in 2019.

 

New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Measuring at slightly longer than a mile, New Hampshire is a shorter, flat track with variable banking at two and seven degrees in the corners and one degree on the straights. Former Loudon winners who have yet to visit Victory Lane this season are aplenty and have combined for 14 wins there – Jimmie Johnson (three wins), Kevin Harvick (three), Kurt Busch (three) Ryan Newman (three) and Clint Bowyer (two).

 

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

 

Watkins Glen International – The Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York hosts this historic 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course. Of note – all of the active previous winners at The Glen have found Victory Lane in 2019 except for Kevin Harvick (2006 winner).

 

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

 

Bristol Motor Speedway – Thunder Valley sets the scene for the half-mile, high-banked short track featuring variable banking (from 24 to 28 degrees) in the turns. Kurt Busch is second only to his brother, Kyle, in wins at Bristol with six to Kyle’s eight. Kevin Harvick, with two wins at the track, is the only other active former winner who has yet to be victorious in 2019.

 

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

 

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

 

“By The Numbers” at the mid-point of the 2019 season

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kentucky, it marks the mid-point of the 2019 season – 18 races down, 18 to go. Here’s a “By The Numbers” to this point in the season:

 

  • Nine different Busch Pole Award winners from five organizations
    • Hendrick Motorsports – William Byron (three), Chase Elliott (two), Jimmie Johnson (one)
    • Stewart-Haas Racing – Kevin Harvick (three), Aric Almirola (one)
    • Team Penske – Joey Logano (two), Ryan Blaney (one)
    • Richard Childress Racing – Austin Dillon (three)
    • Chip Ganassi Racing – Kyle Larson (one)
  • Eight different race winners from four organizations
    • Joe Gibbs Racing – Kyle Busch (four), Martin Truex Jr. (four) and Denny Hamlin (two)
    • Team Penske – Brad Keselowski (three) and Joey Logano (two)
    • Hendrick Motorsports – Chase Elliott (one) and Alex Bowman (one)
    • Spire Motorsports – Justin Haley (one)
  • Average number of lead changes (19.22) per race through the first 18 events of the 2019 season are the most since 2015 during that same time frame.
  • Average number of leaders (9.56) per race through the first 18 races of the season are the most since 2014.
  • Average Margin of Victory over the first 18 races of the 2019 season is 1.454 seconds; with 10 of the 18 races (55.6%) this season finishing with a margin of victory of less than a second.
  • In a year-over-year comparison (2018-2019), this season has seen an increase of green flag passes for the lead of 43.5%.
  • In a year-over-year comparison (2018-2019), the Monster Energy Series has seen significant gains in green flag passes for the lead in 12 of the 18 races this season; including all six of the 1.5-mile tracks (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas,  Charlotte and Chicago).
  • Four of the 18 races this season have produced record setting green flag passes for the lead; producing more green flag passes for the lead than ever before – Las Vegas, Bristol, Kansas and Chicago.

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Etc.

New Names In Top 10 At Daytona: Some different names than usual popped up in the top 10 following the drama at Daytona last weekend. In addition to first-time race winner Justin Haley, William Byron (second), Ty Dillon (fourth), Corey Lajoie (sixth) and Matt Tifft (ninth) all posted career-best finishes. Furthermore, Ryan Newman (fifth) nabbed his first top five this season and Matt DiBenedetto (eighth) secured the second top 10 of his 2019 campaign.

 

Sunoco Rookie Watch: Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric holds a sizeable lead over Ryan Preece in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. His 293 points better Preece by 58 points. Hemric has one top-five this year, a fifth-place finish at Talladega. Preece has a pair of top 10s (eighth at the season opener in Daytona and third at Talladega). This weekend is the first visit to Kentucky for both drivers.

Parade Laps: Insights to the drivers that will participate in media breakouts

Seven drivers are on tap to visit with the media this weekend at Kentucky Speedway during the media breakout sessions. The first rotation of drivers will include Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola, Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric and Front Row Motorsports Matt Tifft. The second rotation will include GO FAS Racing’s Corey Lajoie, Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon and Front Row Motorsport’s David Ragan.

Rotation 1 (4:15-4:30 pm – Bluegrass Hall)

 

Aric Almirola, 35, from Tampa, Fla., is 10th in the Monster Energy Series driver points standings following Daytona; 188 points back from the series standings lead. Though on pace to make the Playoffs, Almirola is still looking for his first win of the season, much like his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates. In 18 starts this year he has posted one pole, one top five and 10 top 10s. This weekend could be tough Almirola, Kentucky Speedway has been an uphill climb for him in the past. In six series career starts at the 1.5-mile track he has just one top-10 finish (eighth-place last season).

 

Ryan Newman, 41, from South Bend, Ind., is currently 16th in the Monster Energy Series driver standings; the final transfer position into the Playoffs. Newman has just a three-point edge over 17th place Daniel Suarez heading into this weekend at Kentucky. In 18 starts this season, Newman has put up one top five and six top 10s. At Kentucky, the Roush Fenway Racing driver has made eight series starts posting three top fives and an average finish of 15.1.

 

Daniel Hemric, 28, from Kannapolis, N.C., is 24th in the Monster Energy Series driver standings following Daytona, 150 points behind 16th place Ryan Newman in the final Playoff transfer spot. Though, he leads the 2019 Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. The Richard Childress Racing driver has just one top-five finish in 18 series starts this season (fifth-place finish at Talladega). This weekend at Kentucky Speedway will be Hemric’s series track debut on the 1.5-mile track. But he does have some experience at Kentucky, having made three starts in the Xfinity Series, posting a runner-up finish in last season’s event.

 

Matt Tifft, 23, from Hinckley, Ohio, is 31st in the Monster Energy Series driver standings following Daytona. Tifft is also ranked third in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings this season. In 18 starts, the Front Row Motorsports driver has grabbed one top-10 (ninth at Daytona-2) and three top-20 finishes in 2019. Tifft will have lots to learn this weekend as he will be making his series track debut at Kentucky.

 

Rotation 2 (4:40-4:55 pm – Bluegrass Hall)

 

Corey Lajoie, 27, from Concord, N.C., is in his fourth year of Monster Energy Series competition and is 29th in driver standings following Daytona. Lajoie joined GO FAS Racing in the offseason and in his first 18 starts with the team has put up one top-10 and four top-20 finishes. LaJoie made his series track debut at Kentucky last season – he started 31st and finished 31st.

 

Ty Dillon, 27, Welcome, N.C., is 23rd in the Monster Energy Series driver standings, 133 points behind 16th place Ryan Newman in the final Playoff transfer spot. Dillon is having his best Cup season to date, having posted one top five and two top 10s in 18 starts – including a series career-best fourth last weekend at Daytona. Looking to this weekend Dillon hopes the momentum continues at Kentucky where he has made three starts posting an average finish of 29.0.

 

David Ragan, 33, from Unadilla, Ga., is 30th in the Monster Energy Series driver standings following Daytona, 235 points behind 16th place Ryan Newman in the final Playoff transfer spot. In 18 starts this season Ragan has amassed three top-20 finishes. In eight series starts at Kentucky he has posted one top 10 and average finish of 22.0.

 

 

NASCAR Xfinity Series

 

Kentucky has another ‘Big 3’ win written all over it

If history is any sort of indicator of the future, then there is a good chance this weekend at Kentucky Speedway one of the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ Big 3 – Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell – will take the checkered flag in the Alsco 300 on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

 

For starters, two of the Big 3 have won the last two Xfinity Series races at Kentucky Speedway – Bell (2018) and Reddick (2017). And though Custer hasn’t won at Kentucky yet, he did win the pole for last season’s race and finished fifth.

 

On top of that, the series’ Big 3 has accounted for winning 11 of the first 16 races of the season – Bell (four), Custer (four) and Reddick (three); including three of the five 1.5-mile tracks the series has already visited – Atlanta (Bell), Charlotte (Reddick) and Chicago (Custer).

 

Big 3 Kentucky Stats
Drivers Starts Poles Wins Top 5s Top 10s Avg. Start Avg. Finish Laps Led
Christopher Bell 1 0 1 1 1 12.0 1.0 17
Tyler Reddick 3 0 1 1 3 6.3 5.7 66
Cole Custer 4 1 0 2 2 5.0 13.2 63

 

Sunoco rookie standings shake up following Daytona

After the dust settled from an action-packed race at Daytona International Speedway last weekend, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings looked quite different than before the event.

 

Heading into the Sunshine State, Chase Briscoe held the rookie standings lead by three points over second place Noah Gragson and six points ahead of third place John Hunter Nemechek. Unfortunately, Briscoe was involved in an incident at Daytona, relegating him to a 35th-place finish. The result relinquished his rookie standings lead and opened the door for his fellow rookies to pounce. Briscoe dropped to fourth in the Sunoco rookie points, and now Gragson leads the rookie standings by 22 markers over second place John Hunter Nemechek and 25 points over third place Justin Haley – who finished a series career-best second at Daytona last weekend.

 

Nemechek is the only rookie this season with a previous start at Kentucky – he made his series debut at the track last season starting sixth and finishing seventh.

 

This season’s Xfinity Series Kings on the 1.5-mile tracks

NASCAR Xfinity Series Average Finishes
on 1.5-mile Tracks in 2019
Drivers Average Finish Starts
Tyler Reddick 6.20 5
Michael Annett 6.40 5
Noah Gragson 7.00 5
Justin Haley 7.40 5
Ryan Sieg 9.40 5
John H. Nemechek 10.80 5
Ross Chastain 11.20 5
Austin Cindric 11.40 5
Chase Briscoe 12.20 5
Cole Custer 14.00 5

We have all heard of ‘road course ringers’, but who are the drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season that specialize in 1.5-mile tracks?  Well you might be surprised. …

 

Five drivers have an average finish inside the top 10 on 1.5-mile tracks this season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. While most might guess the series’ Big 3 might make up most of that five-pack, but they would be wrong. Of the Big 3, only Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick has an average finish inside the top-10 on 1.5-mile tracks in 2019.

 

This season has been one of the best for the California native Reddick, who leads the series in average finish on the 1.5-mile tracks with a 6.2. Reddick has a win at Charlotte and has finished in the top-five in three of the five 1.5-mile tracks this season (series-most). Looking to Friday night under the lights, Kentucky Speedway has been good to Reddick as well, in three starts he has a win (2017) and three top 10s.

 

JR Motorsport’s Michael Annett has also been running well on 1.5-mile tracks this season posting an average finish of 6.4, second only to Reddick’s 6.2. Annett is currently locked into the Playoffs by virtue of his win at Daytona in the season-opener but adding another victory and more Playoff points are his focus heading into Kentucky this weekend. Annett has made 10 series starts at Kentucky, posting one top five, five top 10s and an average finish of 13.4.

The next three drivers with average finishes inside the top-10 on 1.5-mile tracks this season are Sunoco Rookies Noah Gragson and Justin Haley and series veteran Ryan Sieg. All three drivers are without wins this season and are currently vying for the final open spots in the Playoffs with 10 races to go in the regular season.

 

RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg is having a career-best season. He is 12th in the series driver points (final Playoff transfer spot) with a comfortable points cushion over 13th place after posting two top fives and six top 10s this season. But what has been most impressive is Sieg’s ability on 1.5-mile tracks in 2019, in five starts he has posted an average finish of 9.4 – fifth-best in the series. This weekend at Kentucky could bring more positive momentum for Sieg as the Georgia native has made nine series starts at Kentucky posting a best finish of 12th in 2015.

 

Gragson was off to a slow start to the year but has since found his footing and has excelled on 1.5-mile tracks posting an average finish of 7.0. Fellow Sunoco rookie Justin Haley scored his best finish of the season last weekend at Daytona (runner-up), but most of his success this year has come at 1.5-mile tracks as the Indiana native has posted an average finish of 7.4. Both Gragson and Haley will be making their series track debuts this weekend at Kentucky.

 

Outside Looking In: Wins are needed

With just 10 races left in the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season, time is running out for drivers outside the Playoff’s cutoff. Currently RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg is in 12th the final transfer spot for the postseason and he has a healthy points lead (92 points) over 13th place Gray Gaulding. This makes winning that much more important for the drivers outside of the Playoff cut line.

 

Kentucky Speedway has become known for giving six different drivers their first NASCAR Xfinity Series career win. Most notably was the first in 2006, when out of nowhere David Gilliland burst on the Xfinity Series scene by winning at Kentucky beating a stacked field that included Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards. Just the next season Stephen Leicht won his first Xfinity race at Kentucky (2007), and then young up-and-coming phenom Joey Logano got his first win in 2008. Former series champion Austin Dillon won his first Xfinity career race at Kentucky in 2012 and Ryan Blaney got his at Kentucky in 2013.

 

The most recent driver to get his first win at Kentucky is Tyler Reddick, who won back in 2017 while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. The win was a turning point in Reddick’s career which elevated him to a full-time ride (and the series championship) the next season.

 

A total of 11 drivers outside the top 12 are still eligible to make their way into the Playoffs. Of the 11 one is a former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion (Jeff Green), one is a 2019 Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate (Brandon Brown) and only three have won in the series before. That leaves eight still looking for their first series win this weekend at Kentucky Speedway and all 11 looking for their first win this season.

 

Rank Driver Points Starts Attempts Race Wins Pts From Cutoff
12 Ryan Sieg 435 16 16 0 92
13 Gray Gaulding 343 16 16 0 -92
14 Brandon Brown # 310 16 16 0 -125
15 Jeremy Clements 299 16 16 0 -136
16 Ray Black II 250 16 16 0 -185
17 Garrett Smithley 244 16 16 0 -191
18 Josh Williams 235 15 16 0 -200
19 Stephen Leicht 220 16 16 0 -215
20 Matt Mills 189 16 16 0 -246
21 David Starr 189 16 16 0 -246
22 Vinnie Miller 186 16 16 0 -249
23 Jeff Green 84 16 16 0 -351

 

2019 Xfinity Season Quick Stats

Below is a quick statistical look at the 2019 season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Pole Winners: Six among five organizations

  • Stewart-Haas Racing – Cole Custer (four)
  • Joe Gibbs Racing – Christopher Bell (three)
  • Richard Childress Racing – Tyler Reddick (three)
  • JR Motorsports – Michael Annett (one)
  • Team Penske – Paul Menard (one) and Joey Logano (one)

Race Winners: Six among five organizations

  • Joe Gibbs Racing – Christopher Bell (four) and Kyle Busch (three)
  • Stewart-Haas Racing – Cole Custer (four)
  • Richard Childress Racing – Tyler Reddick (three)
  • JR Motorsports – Michael Annett (one)
  • Kaulig Racing – Ross Chastain (one)

Stage Winners: 13 different drivers

Points Leaders: 3 – Current standings leader, Tyler Reddick, has held the top point position for the last 13 consecutive races.

Points Lead Changes: 2

Average No. of Leaders: 5.69

Average No. Lead Changes: 10.88

Average Margin of Victory: 1.272 second – with eight of the 16 races this season ending with a MOV of less than a second.

Green Flag Passes for the Lead: 311

Total Green Flag Passes: 23,173

Parade Laps: Insights into the drivers in the media breakouts at Kentucky

Four drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer, Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley and SS Greenlight Racing’s Gray Gaulding – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Kentucky Speedway leading into this Friday night’s Alsco 300 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

 

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

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 12 career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins in just 55 starts; including four this season (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover and Iowa).
  • He is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt for the second-most wins in a driver’s first 54 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts with 12 each; second only to NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip’s 13 wins in that same time frame.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently second in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 76 points back from series standings leader Tyler Reddick.
  • In 16 starts this season, he has posted three poles (ISM Raceway, Texas, Charlotte), four wins (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover and Iowa), nine top fives, 10 top 10s and an average finish of 10.5.

Kentucky Speedway Performance:

  • Made his series track debut at Kentucky last season; he started 12th and won the race.

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 Playoff’s 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 six career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins (Homestead-Miami, Texas, Auto Club Speedway, Richmond, Pocono and Chicago); including last season’s Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway to win his way into the Championship 4 finale.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently third in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 81 points back from the series standings leader Tyler Reddick and five points back from second place Christopher Bell.
  • In 16 starts this season he has posted four poles (Bristol, Dover, Pocono and Iowa), four wins (California, Richmond, Pocono and Chicago), nine top fives, 10 top 10s and an average finish of 10.6.

Kentucky Speedway Performance:

  • Has made four series starts at Kentucky, posting two top fives.
  • Has an average start of 5.0 and an average finish of 13.2.

 

Justin Haley (No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro)

Birthdate: April 28, 1999

Driver’s Age: 20

Hometown: Winamac, Indiana

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

mountain biking, fitness, graphics & design, anything competitive

Team: Kaulig Racing

Crew Chief: Nick Harrison

Xfinity Career Highlights:

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

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently eighth in the NASCAR Xfinity driver championship standings, 217 points back from the series standings leader Tyler Reddick, but only three points behind seventh place John Hunter Nemechek.
  • In 16 starts this season he has posted two top fives, 12 top 10s and an average finish of 9.4.
  • Currently third in Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, 25 points back from Noah Gragson in the rookie standings lead.

Kentucky Speedway Performance:

  • This weekend will be his series track debut at Kentucky Speedway.

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

Birthdate: February 10, 1998

Driver’s Age: 21

Hometown: Colonial Heights, Virginia

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

Team: SS Green Light Racing

Crew Chief: Patrick Donahue

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Has made 24 NASCAR Xfinity Series career starts; posting a best finish of runner-up earlier this season at Talladega Superspeedway.
  • Made five series starts in 2017 gaining experience driving for RSS Racing.
  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2016 with Roush Fenway Racing – competed in two races in 2016 finishing 13th at both (Bristol and Richmond).

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Current 13th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship standings, the first spot outside the Playoffs, 375 points behind the standings lead.
  • In 16 starts this season he has posted one top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 15.9.

Kentucky Speedway Performance:

  • Will be making his series track debut at Kentucky Speedway this weekend.

 

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Ben Rhodes hoping the return home leads to Victory Lane

One year ago, Louisville, Kentucky, native Ben Rhodes scored his second NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory in front of his home crowd.

 

A late gamble in the pits on a fuel-only stop gave him the track position to lead the final 24 laps and hold off Stewart Friesen for the win.

 

And he’s yearning to get in Victory Lane again. So far in 2019, the 22-year-old ThorSport Racing driver has finished runner-up three times – at Martinsville, Kansas and Iowa. He’s had two additional top-five performances for five total on the year and eight top-10 finishes in the 12 races run.

 

Rhodes sits fifth in points and currently would be the final driver in the Playoffs on points if Ross Chastain is able to work his way into the top 20 in points.

 

Brett Moffitt looking to conquer Kentucky in hopes of championship repeat

It’s certainly looking like Brett Moffitt wants to hoist a second consecutive NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship trophy over his head in Miami.

 

And it’s also certainly looking like he’ll get that chance.

 

After 12 races into the 23-race season, Moffitt has seven top-five and eight top-10 finishes – on track to meet or beat his totals from his title run a year ago (13 top fives, 13 top 10s). He’s slightly off pace in wins (two thus far in 2019 – Iowa and Chicagoland, six total in 2018), as he had three wins through 11 races last year (Atlanta, Iowa, Chicagoland).

 

Before the Gander Trucks look last weekend off, Moffitt recorded his second win of the season at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. And the series return to another 1.5-mile track this weekend at Kentucky Speedway for the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 (Thursday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

 

Kentucky is the only non-superspeedway track at which Moffitt does not have a top 10, so he’ll be looking to change that history next weekend. (He has three starts apiece at Daytona and Talladega without a top 10.) Overall, four of his nine wins have come at circuits that match Kentucky in length, and he’s also tallied nine top-five and 11 top-10 finishes at 1.5-milers.

 

The “Melon Man” is on a roll

Heading into Kentucky Speedway for this weekend’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Ross Chastain has closed the gap to the top 20 in the points standings to 10 points.

 

Prior to his seventh-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway the last time the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series raced, Chastain sat 38 points outside the top 20 – which is the mark he must meet in the standings in order to lock into the Playoffs after his postseason-qualifying win at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

 

The driver of the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet has only finished outside the top 10 once this season – following his disqualification at Iowa Speedway. In the seven races this season at 1.5-mile tracks, like Kentucky, Chastain has posted an average finish of 7.3. And that is highlighted by a win at Kansas Speedway in May – which goes in the record books, but doesn’t count towards the Playoffs because it happened before he declared for Gander Trucks points.

 

In the four races in which Chastain has collected Gander Trucks points in the standings, he has averaged 30 points per race with a high of 45 in his win at Gateway and a low of five points following the Iowa race.

 

And with four races remaining in the regular season, Chastain’s chances of jumping into the top 20 looks pretty good.

 

Picturing the Gander Trucks Playoffs

What’s clear about the Playoff picture with four races to go in the regular season is that Brett Moffitt, Austin Hill and Johnny Sauter are locked into the postseason with wins…and all three are well within the top 20 in points.

 

The fuzzy edge of the picture involves Ross Chastain. The driver of the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet waited until just before the ninth race of the season (Texas in June) to declare for NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points. Which put him in the position of having to both win a race and run consistently enough to elevate into the top 20 in points.

 

He got the postseason-qualifying win at World Wide Technology Raceway (his Kansas win was before he declared for series points, therefore doesn’t count for the Playoffs). And now he just has to overcome a 10-point gap between his current spot in the points (24th) to meet that top-20 threshold.

 

Assuming Chastain is able to overcome that deficit, that leaves four additional spots for a new winner or for drivers to get in on points.

 

Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes maintain a pretty firm grasp on those four slots in points. That would place all four ThorSport Racing trucks into the post-season and would shut Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers out of Playoff contention.

 

If Chastain is unable to climb into the top 20, assuming the points remain the same and there are no other new winners, KBM’s Harrison Burton would climb into that eighth and final Playoff spot.

 

Enfinger still on point

Twelve races into the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, the top two in the points standings – ThorSport Racing’s Grant Enfinger and Halmar Friesen Racing’s Stewart Friesen – are still searching for their first win of the season.

 

Enfinger sits 52 points ahead of Friesen and is in prime position to capture the guaranteed Playoff position awarded to the regular season champion regardless of wins – as well as the 20 Playoff points that accompany. Those extra 20 Playoff points can make the difference in advancing through the postseason.

 

Brett Moffitt is quickly catching up to Friesen due to his wins at Iowa and Chicagoland, and sits just one point back of him in third place. Prior to the win in the Windy City, Moffitt was in fifth place in the points…15 back from Friesen.

 

Friesen should have confidence returning to Kentucky Speedway this weekend, as it was the site of a runner-up finish to Ben Rhodes.

 

He has the best finish at Kentucky of the trio atop the points. Enfinger’s best result in three starts was sixth last year while Moffitt hasn’t finished better than 14th in his three visits to the 1.5-mile track.

 

Kyle Busch Motorsports continues to develop talent

So far in 2019, Kyle Busch Motorsports has rotated seven different drivers behind the wheel of their No. 51 and No. 46 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series entries.

 

One of those drivers is team owner Kyle Busch, who won all five of the races he ran. Another is 49-year-old 2000 Gander Trucks champion Greg Biffle, who ended a two-and-a-half year hiatus from the sport with his start, and win, at Texas in June.

 

But the other five drivers who have jumped into those two KBM trucks have an average age just shy of 19-years old…and have posted an average finish of 10.6 in their 11 combined starts.

 

Christian Eckes (18-years old), Riley Herbst (20), Brandon Jones (22), Raphael Lessard (17) and Chandler Smith (17) have also put together three top-five and five top-10 finishes between them – as well as a pole to start the season in Daytona by Eckes.

 

(Of note, Lessard also ran a race for DGR-Crosley at Iowa, finishing ninth.)

 

The quintet has a best finish of second by Jones in the most recent race at Chicagoland. The worst effort by the squad was a 22nd-place effort at Daytona by pole-sitter Eckes, who was caught up in a crash near the mid-point of the race.

 

With the exception of that race, none of these five drivers has a finish worse than 15th in a KBM truck this season.

 

And we can’t forget the pair of full-time drivers in KBM equipment – Harrison Burton in the No. 4 Toyota is 18-years old while Todd Gilliland in the No. 4 truck is 19-years old. Burton has five top-five finishes while Gilliland has two this year. Both have tallied seven top 10s.

 

This weekend at Kentucky, KBM is fielding the No. 51 Toyota with Jones behind the wheel. It will mark his fifth trip to the track with the Gander Trucks and his second in the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports entry. He’s finished in the top 10 in all four previous starts, including a bests finish of runner-up in 2017. Last year, with KBM, he finished fourth.

 

In the other two KBM trucks in the field this weekend, regulars Burton and Gilliland will be behind the wheel.

 

Burton will be making his maiden trip to the track. But in nine career series races at 1.5-mile tracks, he has three top-five and six top-10 finishes – including placing fourth at Chicagoland a couple weeks ago. Gilliland has one start at Kentucky, a seventh-place effort a year ago. He has 14 total starts on 1.5-milers – putting together two top fives and nine top 10s.

 

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

Three drivers from the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series – GMS Racing driver Brett Moffitt, ThorSport Racing driver Ben Rhodes and Hattori Racing’s Austin Hill – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Kentucky Speedway. These three drivers are preparing for the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 on Thursday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

 

Brett Moffitt (No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado)

Birthdate: August 7, 1992

Driver’s Age: 26

Hometown: Grimes, Iowa

Team: GMS Racing

Crew Chief: Jerry Baxter

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • Last season, Moffitt drove Hattori Racing Enterprise’s No. 16 Toyota to six wins, leading the way for the first career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship for both Moffitt and HRE.
  • Won his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race in 2016, taking home the checkers at Michigan for Red Horse Racing.
  • Made the most of his six NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts in 2016, with three top-three finishes and four top 10s.
  • In 2013, entered the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series scene with a pair of starts (Kentucky and Michigan).

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Won the NASCAR Ganders Outdoors series race at Iowa and Chicagoland.
  • Currently third in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points.
  • In 12 starts this season he has posted two victories (Iowa, Chicagoland), seven top fives and eight top 10s with an average finish of 8.4.
  • Has led 197 laps this season.

Kentucky Speedway Performance:

  • Moffitt has made three previous starts at the speedway, last season he started 13th and finished 18th

 

Austin Hill (No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota Tundra)

Birthdate: April 21, 1994

Driver’s Age: 25

Hometown: Winston, GA

Hobbies: Hunting, spending time with family and boating

Team: Hattori Racing Enterprises

Crew Chief: Scott Zipadelli

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  1. 2019 marks Hill’s second full-time season in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series.
  2. Finished 11th in 2018 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship points, his first full season.
  3. He made his Gander Trucks debut in 2014 at Martinsville, finishing 26th.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently seventh in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings.
  • Recorded his first career win at the season-opener at Daytona.
  • In 12 starts this season he has posted one win (Daytona), seven top 10s an average finish of 11.2.

Kentucky Speedway Performance:

  • Hill has made three previous starts at the speedway, last season he started 12th and finished 16th

 

Ben Rhodes (No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford F-150)

Birthdate: February 21, 1997

Driver’s Age: 22

Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky

Hobbies: Boxing, off-roading, range time/sporting clays, video games, car restoration, aviation/flying planes.

Team: ThorSport Racing

Crew Chief: Matt Noyce

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he grabbed his second-career win (Kentucky) and posted a career high three poles (Martinsville, Eldora, CTMP).
  • Won his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race (Las Vegas) and earned his second-career pole (Pocono Raceway) in 2017.
  • In 2016, he competed in his first full NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season finishing 14th in the final standings and posting his first career pole at Martinsville.
  • In 2014, he made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway for Turner Scott Motorsports

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Rhodes is currently third in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings.
  • His best finish this season is second – three times – Martinsville, Kansas and Iowa
  • In 12 starts this season he has posted five top fives, eight top 10s an average finish of 10.9.

Kentucky Speedway Performance:

  • He led 38 laps en route to victory last July.
  • Rhodes has three starts at Kentucky. He’s led 43 laps during those races and has an average start of 5.7 and average finish of 13.7.

RACE PREVIEW WRITTEN BY & COURTESY OF NASCAR COMMUNICATIONS

 

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