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NASCAR visits Las Vegas for start of The Playoffs

Las Vegas Motor Speedway from above 2011 photo By Maverick Helicopters, CC BY-SA 2.0, https commons.wikimedia.org

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: South Point 400

The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, September 15

The Time: 7 p.m. ET

TV: NBCSN, 7:30 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: Brad Keselowski

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300

The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Date: Saturday, September 14

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: NBCSN, 7 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: Ross Chastain

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Next Race: World of Westgate 200

The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Date: Friday, September 13

The Time: 9 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 8:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 201 miles (134 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 134)

2018 Winner: Grant Enfinger

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

 

2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Bios

2014-2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grids

 

Regular season champ kicks off Playoffs at home

Kyle Busch returns to his hometown track to start the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs fresh off a regular season of high achievement and higher expectation.

 

He holds the No. 1 ranking among drivers as the series begins the 10-race Playoff portion of the schedule in Sunday’s South Point 400 (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

 

The 2015 Cup champion set the competitive standard for much of the year. He was the first driver to win four races (ISM Raceway, Fontana, Bristol -1 and Pocono-1) and his 1,166 laps out front is most in the field as the 16-driver Playoff field begins the postseason. He also tops the competition in top-10 finishes (21) and he and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin are tied for most top-five finishes (13).

 

Busch couldn’t be more ready for the reset, however. By his high standards, the last month has been substandard. His last victory was all the way back on June 2 at the first Pocono race and he’s coming off his worst finish of the year – 37th – in the regular season finale last week at Indianapolis – his No. 18 JGR Toyota suffering an engine problem for the first time this season.

 

In fact, it was the first time this season that Busch didn’t finish the race. Prior to that, he had only had two races in which he didn’t run the total distance – running 268 of 271 laps at Kansas and 266 of 267 laps at Chicagoland.

 

Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a solid venue for Busch, who won there in 2009 and has a series best seven top-fives at the track. He was runner-up in 2005 and March, 2018, and has only one finish worse than seventh in the last five races at the track.

 

Earlier this year, he was third behind the Team Penske teammates, winner Joey Logano and second-place Brad Keselowski.

 

And despite the rough outings leading into the Playoffs, Busch said he remains very confident in his team. The 15 Playoff points he received for winning the regular season championship happen to be the number as the difference between Busch and his JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin in second place in the standings. He starts the Playoff run 16 points up on another teammate – Martin Truex Jr. – and all three of the drivers are four-race winners in 2019.

 

“You look at it and we won the title in our first year together,’’ Busch says of his current team members. “We have been able to back it up [with] Playoff positions each year since. Hopefully we can keep that trend going. We have certainly worked hard throughout the regular season to get this Playoff point advantage that we have right now. It would be nice not to have to rely on those points, but to be able to win some races here and close out the season strong and get to Homestead (Fla.) and race for a championship.’’

 

Team Penske back in full force

The three Penske Racing drivers – Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney – all qualified for the Monster Energy Series Playoffs for the second consecutive year. And judging by their Las Vegas resumes, this is exactly the venue to start their championship runs off in a positive way.

 

Defending Monster Energy Series champion Joey Logano boasts the best average finish (8.5) among drivers with at least 10 starts and the second best all-time (to Dale Earnhardt, who averaged 7.7 in three races). The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford has five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 12 races at the 1.5-mile desert circuit and earned his first Vegas trophy just this March.

 

He put up a valiant fight with Kyle Busch for the regular season championship, but, although he missed out on that, will start the 10-race Playoff push ranked fifth with a pair of wins (at Las Vegas and Michigan-1), 10 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes through the opening 26 races.

 

Keselowski, the 2012 Monster Energy Series champion, is the defending winner of this Las Vegas Playoff opener – last year’s win was the third consecutive on the 2018 season for him. He has three Vegas wins in the last seven years – only four-time Vegas winner Jimmie Johnson has more. In all, he has six top-five and eight top-10s at the track.

 

On the season, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford has three victories (at Atlanta, Martinsville and Kansas), nine top-five finishes and 14 top-10 finishes and is ranked sixth in the standings entering the Playoff stretch. His 966 laps led is second only to Cup championship leader Kyle Busch (1,166 laps led).

 

The youngest member of the powerful Penske trio, fourth-year Cup driver Ryan Blaney is holding his own statistically, even if he is still vying for his first win of the 2019 season. And Las Vegas has proven to be a good showplace for him. He has a pair of top fives, four top 10s, and won a pole position (March, 2018) in just six previous starts at the track. His average finish of 10.7 is second best in the field only to his teammate Logano’s 8.5 average finish.

 

Blaney has earned seven top-five and 12 top-10 finishes on the season and his 384 laps led is more than nine of the 16 Playoff drivers, including second-seeded Denny Hamlin, who is a four-race winner.

 

Harvick keeps the happy momentum going

If momentum translates to a championship push, then Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick must be feeling plenty of good vibes as he arrives in Las Vegas to begin the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

 

Last weekend he won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis from the Busch Pole position, leading a race best 118 of the race’s 160 laps. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has earned all three of his victories (at New Hampshire, Michigan-2 and Indy) in the last seven races of the season. He also has nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes on the year.

 

His five pole positions is most in the series and his 712 laps led on the year is third-best – behind only regular season champion Kyle Busch (1,166 laps led) and fellow three-race winner Brad Keselowski (966 laps led).

 

The first of Harvick’s five pole positions this year came at the first trip to Las Vegas, a track where he has two wins in the last six races. His 540 laps out front at the 1.5-miler is second only to four-time Vegas winner Jimmie Johnson’s 595 laps led. He’s led laps in six of the last seven races there. And in his March, 2018 victory led a dominating 214 of the race’s 267 laps – the most laps ever led at the track in a Cup race.

 

Harvick has qualified for the Championship 4 every year – hoisting the first Cup trophy in the current elimination style of the Playoffs in 2014. Last year that title opportunity came despite a rough Vegas playoff opener, where Harvick was involved in a mid-race crash and finished 39th out of 40 cars.

 

“I think we’ve definitely made some strides in getting where – closer to where we want to be,’’ Harvick said of his recent success on the season. “I think we still have some things that we have to work on at certain styles of race tracks. But this is survive and advance and you don’t necessarily have to have the fastest car.

 

“We had the fastest car (at Indy), maybe not the best handling car, but we survived and really a day like today is a lot like how you’re going to have to approach every race in the playoffs.’’

 

High rollers

As has their regular season champion teammate Kyle Busch – two other Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have celebrated four times each in victory lane this season. And both – Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. – have stellar resumes at upcoming Playoff tracks.

 

Hamlin, the driver of the No. 11 JGR Toyota, is still looking for his first Monster Energy Series championship despite years of putting together title-worthy efforts. This season may be one of his best. His second Daytona 500 victory set the season off immediately on the right course. He also has won at Texas, Pocono-2 and Bristol-2, as well.

 

He has maintained a strong showing all season long, winning at the beginning and also twice in just the last six races heading into the Playoffs to earn the No. 2 seed.

 

Las Vegas has proven to be a challenge for the 38-year old, however. He’s still looking for his first victory there and has only a pair of top-five finishes in 15 starts. He has seven top-10 showings, however, including a 10th place just this March.

 

Looking ahead must make this team optimistic. Hamlin has earned 16 of his 35 career wins at upcoming Playoff tracks – 45.7 percent of his victory total.

 

Truex, 39, is a former Vegas winner, earning his only trip to Victory Lane there in 2017 on the way to the even bigger Monster Energy Series championship trophy. As with Kyle Busch and Hamlin, he has bested the field with four wins in 2019 – earning them at Richmond, Dover, Charlotte and Sonoma all within an eight-week time frame during May-June.

 

The good news is that two of those are Playoff tracks – Richmond and Dover. He has earned 11 of his 23 career wins at Playoff venues, although all of his Charlotte race wins were on the oval configuration, not the Roval road course used in the Playoffs.

 

Truex could use a little of that magic now. His last top-10 was four races ago – a fourth place at Michigan. Vegas has been good to him with four previous top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 15 starts. He has four top-five finishes – including that win – in the last six races and hasn’t finished worse than 11th in that time frame. He was eighth at Las Vegas in March and finished third in the 2018 Playoff race there.

 

“Generation Next” at Las Vegas

Nearly half of this year’s 16-driver Playoff field – six drivers – is made up of drivers aged 27 or younger. Five of the six – Chase Elliott, 23, Alex Bowman, 26, Erik Jones, 23, Ryan Blaney, 25, and William Byron, 21 – have four years of fulltime Cup experience or less. Kyle Larson, 27, is in his sixth fulltime year in the Monster Energy Series. This is the first Playoff berth for Hendrick Motorsports driver Byron – the youngest competitor on the starting grid.

 

Seventh-ranked Elliott, a two-race winner (at Talladega and Watkins Glen), ninth-ranked Bowman (Chicago) and 10th ranked Jones (Darlington) secured their position with race wins. 11th-ranked Kyle Larson, 12th-ranked Ryan Blaney and 13th-ranked William Byron “pointed” their way in.

 

Among these fast six, 27-year old Kyle Larson and Blaney have already proven themselves at Las Vegas. Larson has three top-five and four top-10 finishes in seven starts at the track, including a pair of runner-up finishes. He finished second in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in 2017 and again in last year’s Playoff opener. He’s looking for his first win since the 2017 Playoff opener at Richmond.

 

Blaney has two top-five and four top-10 finishes and won the pole position for the 2018 March Las Vegas race – his first season driving the No. 12 Team Penske Ford.  He was fifth in both 2018 races and finished 22nd in March of this year.

 

Erik Jones, 23, who announced last week that he has secured a one-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing, has one top-10 in four starts at Vegas. He won the pole position for this Playoff opener last year, only to finish 40th – last place – after being a crash midway through the race. He was 13th in March at Vegas.

 

On the other side of the Vegas luck, Elliott has two top-10 finishes and three DNFs in five starts. Neither Bowman nor Byron have earned a top-10 at the track.

 

Crafty vets

Not to be left out on the Playoff hype are a pair of veterans – one a former Monster Energy Series champion, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch, and the other the fifth-place driver in the final 2018 points standings, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola.

 

Las Vegas Motor Speedway hasn’t been a particular star on Busch’s resume despite his fondness for his home track. The 2004 series champion has yet to win at the venue and has only a pair of top-five and five top-10 finishes in 19 starts there. He was 21st in the 2018 Playoff opener but scored one of his best career finishes – fifth place – at the track this March in his Vegas race driving the No. 1 CGR Chevrolet.

 

On the season, Busch has five top-five and 14 top-10 finishes – including three top-10s in the last five races leading into the Playoffs. He punched his Playoff ticket with a victory at Kentucky this summer and also has runner-up finishes at Bristol-1 and Michigan-1.

 

Almirola, 35, of Tampa, Fla., was absolutely one of the brightest stories of last year’s Playoff run and he’d love to duplicate the effort or better yet, one-up it.

 

Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a challenge for the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver. He has three top-10 finishes and no top-five results in 12 starts at the track. However, his top-10s have all come in his most recent three races – perhaps not coincidentally coinciding with his move to the Stewart-Haas team last year. He was sixth in the 2018 Playoff race at Vegas and finished seventh this March.

 

A strong showing would be well-timed for Almirola, who started the 2019 season with an impressive opening of races – scoring top-10 finishes in six of the first seven races. However, he hasn’t earned a top-10 since the summer Daytona race (seventh place) in the first week of July.

 

Last year, Almirola certainly rose to the Playoff challenge, scoring top-10 finishes in seven of the 10 races, including his second career Cup victory, coming at Talladega Superspeedway in October and earning a career best fifth place in the final championship points.

 

Moving on

Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman had to race their way into a 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff berth – with their championship fate ultimately decided with their work in the regular season finale at Indianapolis.

 

Going forward, however, the two veterans have shown some of their best career work at Playoff venues.

 

Bowyer, the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, goes into the Playoffs ranked 15th. And this week’s Las Vegas 1.5-miler hasn’t been a particular star on his resume with only one top five and four top 10s in 15 career starts at the track. His career best finish was runner-up in 2009, but he’s had only one top-10 (10th in 2017) in the last eight races at the track. He was 23rd in last year’s Playoff opener there and 14th this spring.

 

However, things look good for Bowyer historically-speaking, should he continue to advance in the Playoffs. Five of his 10 career wins have come at Playoff tracks including a pair of wins at Richmond and Martinsville. If you count his Charlotte win on the oval configuration – which is a ROVAL road course style event in the 10-race Playoffs – he has six wins in upcoming locales. He won the 2012 fall race on the traditional 1.5-miler at Charlotte.

 

On the season, Bowyer has six top-five finishes and 12 top-10s, including three straight top-10s in the races leading into the Playoffs. He was fifth at Indy last week and his best work of the season came in a runner-up finish at Texas, which is also a Playoff track

 

Newman, 41, probably feels more confident about his Vegas chances. He has four top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 20 races at the track. He’s started from the front row twice, including the pole position in 2005. His career-best finish is third in 2015. He was ninth in last year’s Playoff opener there and 24th in this March’s visit. He’s led a very respectable 112 laps at the track.

 

As with Bowyer, Newman has turned in a good record at the Playoff lineup of facilities. He has earned wins at nine of the 10 upcoming venues, including Texas (one win), Dover (three wins), Richmond (one win), Kansas (one win), Martinsville (one win) and Phoenix (two wins). That accounts for half of his 18 career wins.

 

As with Bowyer, Newman had to step up his game to earn that final Playoff position. In his first season driving the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford he has one top-five (fifth at Daytona-2) and nine top-10s including an eighth place at Indianapolis last weekend to secure his championship opportunity. He has finished 12th or better in six of the last nine races.

 

Possible upset special

Jimmie Johnson missed making the Monster Energy Series Playoff field for the first time in his seven-championship, 16-year career after being collected in an accident midway through last week’s regular season finale.

 

However, as Johnson immediately assured his faithful fans, he is far from being out of the trophy mix. He’s won at nine of the upcoming 10 Playoff tracks (although he’s won at the Charlotte oval, he hasn’t won on the Roval road course configuration) and happens to be the all-time winningest driver at Las Vegas with four victories.

 

He won an unprecedented three straight races from 2005-07 and four races in a span of six years from 2005-2010. He was runner-up to Tony Stewart in 2012 and finished third in 2016. His 595 laps led is most among all active drivers.

 

He was 22nd in last year’s Vegas Playoff race and 19th at the track earlier this spring.

 

The NASCAR Hall of Fame-bound driver said after the race, “I’m sleeping easier. I can’t wait to have the results start showing up. Months ago, it was tough because we couldn’t really get anything going our way. Now we have the optimism of strong qualifying sessions, strong race cars and races. We just need to get to the finish line.’’

 

And he proclaimed on social media Monday morning after the Indy disappointment, “Well how about that. … the sun still came up. 10 races to go and we are as determined as ever. #DoItRight”

 

 

NASCAR Xfinity Series

 

Rolling The Dice: Las Vegas is last chance to make the Playoffs

It has all come down to this weekend and when the dust settles at Las Vegas Motor Speedway following the Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300 (Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) the 12-driver NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff field will have been decided.

 

Heading into this weekend, the 12 drivers currently holding postseason spots are clinched on points and can only be knocked out by a driver outside of that group by the “win and you’re in” scenario. And with one race left, the 12th position – the final Playoff transfer position in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings – is currently held by RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg. If a driver outside the current Playoff 12 points were to win at Las Vegas, Sieg would be replaced with the Las Vegas winner.

 

Drivers currently clinched to make the Playoffs heading into Las Vegas are Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer, Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe and JR Motorsports teammates Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson.

 

Drivers still looking to lock themselves into the Playoffs and their clinch scenarios based on points (all are currently locked into the top 20 in the standings regardless of finish this weekend):

 

ü  Brandon Jones (0 Wins, 716 Points, +433 Points Ahead of 21st) – Would clinch on points with 16 Points and a new winner.  If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek or Ryan Sieg), they would clinch on points, regardless of finish.

ü  John Hunter Nemechek (0 Wins, 688 Points, +405 Points Ahead of 21st) – Would clinch on points with 43 Points and a new winner.  If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Brandon Jones or Ryan Sieg), they would clinch on points, regardless of finish.

ü  Ryan Sieg (0 Wins, 676 Points, +393 Points Ahead of 21st) – If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Brandon Jones or John Hunter Nemechek), they would clinch on points, regardless of finish. Could clinch on points with a new winner and help.

 

The rest of the drivers listed below Sieg in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings would have to win to make the postseason.

 

RCR’s Tyler Reddick looking to capture the regular season championship

Tyler Reddick has recorded four race wins this season, but there’s another major trophy he’s looking to leave Las Vegas with – the regular season championship hardware.

 

The Richard Childress Racing driver needs just 11 points to clinch the regular season championship, which he could conceivably collect by putting together solid performances in the first two stages of the race (a driver can collect a maximum of 10 points per each of the first two stages for a total of 20).

 

If Reddick were to have issues early in the race, Christopher Bell is the only other driver who could catch him. Bell is currently 50 points behind Reddick in the standings. If the two were to tie in points, Bell would hold the tiebreaker in wins (six wins to Reddick’s four).

 

Reddick has made three starts at the 1.5-mile circuit located near Nellis Air Force Base, recording one top 10 (an eighth-place finish in his track debut in the spring of 2018).

 

Stage Is Set: Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the next show

Las Vegas Motor Speedway will close out the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season, not only deciding who makes Playoffs but also who wins this year’s Xfinity Series regular season championship.

 

Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile track with 20 degrees of banking in the turns, located just north of Las Vegas, Nevada. Las Vegas has hosted 24 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, yielding 17 different pole winners and 17 different race winners. Ross Chastain won last season’s regular season finale while racing for Chip Ganassi Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch won the Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas earlier this season.

 

This season’s Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300 is scheduled for Saturday, September 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The event will be 200 laps (300 miles) with the first stage ending on Lap 45 and the second stage ending on Lap 90.

 

Breaking down the outsiders

The beauty of the “win and you’re in” format is that you’re always saying, “There’s a chance!”

 

Drivers such as Gray Gaulding, Jeremy Clements and Brandon Brown who sit outside of the current Playoff 12 know they won’t get a shot at the postseason based on points. But they do know that a win will get them in.

 

Is it a longshot for them? Yes. But it’s still a shot.

 

Here’s a look at those trio of outsiders:

 

Gray Gaulding (No. 08 SS Green Light Racing Chevrolet) is 13th in points. He’s posted one top-five and three top-10 finishes this season. His best result was second at Talladega, but he’s been running better as of late, finishing in the top 15 in six of the last seven races. He finished 12th at Las Vegas earlier this season, his lone start at the track.

 

Jeremy Clements (No. 51 Jeremy Clements Racing Chevrolet) sits 14th in the standings. Clements also has one top five and three top 10s this season, with his best finish of fourth coming at Bristol just four races ago. He has also put together some solid finishes recently, running 12th or better in the last six races, including two of his top-10 results. He has raced at Las Vegas nine times, and his best two finishes were his most recent two races – 13th last fall and 15th this spring.

 

Brandon Brown (No. 86 Brandonbilt Motorsports Chevrolet) is 15th in the points. He has one top 10 this season – a sixth-place result from the July Daytona race. He finished 17th earlier this season at Las Vegas in his only start at the 1.5-mile venue.

 

Truex, Herbst and Sadler aiming to play spoiler

While many of the NASCAR Xfinity Series fulltime championship contenders will be vying for their spot in the Playoffs this Saturday, September 14, in the Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), many needing a win to do so, three part-time drivers – Ryan Truex, Elliott Sadler and Riley Herbst – will be looking to play spoiler and steal the win at Las Vegas and possibly someone’s postseason hopes.

 

Truex will be in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend with crew chief Taylor Moyer calling the shots from the pit box. Truex has been solid in his first three starts with the No. 8 JRM team, posting one top five and three top 10s; including a runner-up finish at ISM Raceway. Truex has made three previous Xfinity career starts at Las Vegas, putting up one top-10 finish – an eighth-place result in this race last season while driving for Kaulig Racing.

 

Sadler returns to saddle up in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet this weekend at Las Vegas; his second start of the season for the team. Sadler’s season debut was back at Richmond in April, where he started 27th and raced his way up to a 12th-place finish. Las Vegas is one of Sadler’s better tracks, in his last eight series starts at the 1.5-mile facility he has posted four top fives and six top 10s.

 

Herbst jumps into the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota this weekend at Las Vegas with crew chief Ben Beshore on the pit box. Herbst has made seven series starts this season, posting two top 10s. This Saturday will be Herbst’s series track debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

 

Bell, Custer could reach double digit wins this season

The NASCAR Xfinity Series has only seen two drivers in its history reach double digit wins in a single season – Sam Ard and Kyle Busch. This season, NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contenders Christopher Bell (six wins) and Cole Custer (six wins) could become next drivers to accomplish the historically difficult feat of winning 10 or more races in a season.

 

Sam Ard was the first to do it back in 1983 when he muscled 10 wins from the competition en route to his first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series titles (1983-1984).

 

While Ard might have been the first, Kyle Busch became the master of double digit win seasons, putting together four such years in his career. The Las Vegas native first produced a 10-win season in 2008, but then backed that up with a NASCAR Xfinity Series record 13 wins for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2010. He has since then posted a 12-win season in 2013 and another 10-win season in 2016.

 

Bell broke the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year single season wins record last season when he hoisted seven trophies, surpassing the previous record of five victories held by Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. Now this season the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has already visited Victory Lane six times…and this weekend at Las Vegas could be his seventh.

 

In three starts at Las Vegas, Bell has posted a pole, two top fives and an average finish of 6.3. He finished 13th earlier this season at Vegas after being caught in a multi-car incident late in the race. He finished runner-up in his series debut at the track and three of 14 career Xfinity wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks (Kansas, Kentucky and Atlanta), so don’t be surprised if Bell is in Victory Lane this weekend.

 

Custer is having a career breakout season this year and has every bit of a chance to reach double digit wins by season’s end. The California kid who drives for Stewart-Haas Racing is in his third full-time season in the series and only produced one win in each of his first two years.

 

But this season he has had six Victory Lane celebrations, bringing his Xfinity Series career wins total to eight. Heading to Las Vegas, Custer has made four series starts at the 1.5-mile track, posting two poles, one top five and three top 10s. Plus, four of Custer’s eight Xfinity career wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks.

Parade Laps: Insights to the drivers participating in media breakouts (NEED UPDATED)

Four drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson, Kaulig Racing’s Elliott Sadler and RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Las Vegas Motor Speedway leading into the Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300 on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

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

Birthdate: December 16, 1994

Driver’s Age: 24

Hometown: Norman, Oklahoma

Hobbies: Dirt track racing, iRacing, golf

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he set the rookie single season Xfinity Series wins record with seven victories; the previous record of five wins was held by three drivers – Greg Biffle (2001), Kyle Busch (2004) and Carl Edwards (2005).
  • Made the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in rookie season (2018), and advanced to the Championship 4; ultimately finishing fourth in the championship standings.
  • Recorded 14 career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins in just 64 starts tying Sam Ard for the series record of most wins in first 64 starts; including six this season (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover, Iowa, New Hampshire and Road America).

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently second in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 50 points back from series standings leader Tyler Reddick.
  • In 25 starts this season, he has posted four poles (ISM Raceway, Texas, Charlotte, Iowa-2), six wins (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover, Iowa, New Hampshire, Road America), 16 top fives, 17 top 10s and an average finish of 9.0.
  • Has won 13 stages and accumulated 43 Playoff points.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Has made three starts at Las Vegas, including two top fives (second place in the spring of 2018, fourth of the fall of 2018). Finished 13th earlier this season.

Noah Gragson (No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro)

Birthdate: July 15, 1998

Driver’s Age: 21

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Hobbies: Downhill mountain biking

Team: JR Motorsports

Crew Chief: David Elenz

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018 at Richmond Raceway; starting 11th and finishing runner-up.
  • In total he made three Xfinity Series starts last season posting two top fives and three top 10s; all while competing fulltime in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series where he finished runner-up in the championship standings.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings and has clinched a spot in the Playoffs.
  • In 25 starts this season, he has posted seven top fives and 16 top 10s.
  • Currently second in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, 21 points behind Chase Briscoe.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Has one start at Las Vegas, starting fourth and finishing third earlier this year.

 

Elliott Sadler (No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet)

Birthdate: April 30, 1975

Driver’s Age: 44

Hometown: Emporia, Virginia

Hobbies: Deer hunting, basketball, softball

Team: Kaulig Racing

Crew Chief: Lennie Chandler

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2016 and 2017, made the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
  • Finished runner-up in the NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers’ championship four times (2011, ’12, ’16, ’17).
  • Has made 396 starts in the Xfinity Series, recording 13 wins.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Las Vegas will be Sadler’s second start of the season.
  • Raced at his home track of Richmond Raceway earlier this season, finishing 12th.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Sadler has made 13 starts at Las Vegas, posting four top-five and seven top-10 finishes.

 

Ryan Sieg (No. 39 RSS Racing Chevolet)

Birthdate: June 20, 1987

Driver’s Age: 32

Hometown: Tucker, Georgia

Team: RSS Racing

Crew Chief: Shane Wilson

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2017 Sieg finished 15th in the Xfinity Series standings, and then posted two top 10s and finished 16th in the series championship standings in 2018.
  • In 2016, he finished a career-best ninth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings and earned a spot in the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
  • Sieg competed in his first full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2014.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Sieg has recorded two top-five and nine top-10 finishes this season.
  • His best finish was fourth at the season-opener in Daytona.
  • Sieg is currently in Playoff contention, 124 points ahead of 13th place.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Sieg has made eight starts at Las Vegas, posting one top 10, which came earlier this season (sixth place).

 

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

 

Where they stand

By the end of the night on Friday, six drivers will continue on in the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs and two will see their title dreams end.

 

Only Brett Moffitt has locked his way into the next round by virtue of winning the opening two races of the Playoffs at Bristol and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

 

It gets very interesting after that.

 

The next closest driver to ensuring his Playoff dreams stay alive is Ross Chastain. He sits in second in the standings and has the largest points cushion of the drivers currently in the top six – but even he isn’t really close to safe. He still needs 27 points to clinch if there is a new winner. If Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Matt Crafton, Austin Hill or Grant Enfinger win (the other five drivers currently above the cut line), he only needs 24 points.

 

After Chastain, the next closest is Freisen, who needs 49 points if there is a new winner or 47 is one of the above mentioned drivers wins.

 

Johnny Sauter (-2 points from sixth place) and Tyler Ankrum (-14 from sixth place) are the two drivers on the outside looking in.

 

What does this mean?

 

It means there isn’t a way for a driver to clinch a Round of 6 berth by virtue of the points available in the first two stages (maximum available is 10 per stage) alone. We won’t know the additional five drivers moving on until the checkered flag flies.

 

Breaking down the 1.5-mile tracks for the Playoff contenders

Back after two weekends off, the opening round of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs will conclude with the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday night at 9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

 

And the field will face one more track of this length in the Playoffs – the championship-deciding venue of Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 

Here’s a look at the performances of the eight Playoff contenders at 1.5-mile tracks – organized by points standings:

 

Brett Moffitt – Moffitt has already won his way into the second round after winning the opening two races of the Playoffs at Bristol and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. And if his history at 1.5-mile tracks counts for anything, he has a solid shot of the sweep of the Round of 8 races. Moffitt has four wins on intermediate tracks, all within the past two seasons. His first came at Atlanta in 2018. Overall in 23 races at venues of this length, he has nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.

 

Ross Chastain – On the surface, it doesn’t look like Chastain’s 1.5-mile statistics are that impressive. He has one win, two top fives and 13 top 10s in 34 races at venues of that size. But it’s when those stats occurred in his career that matter now. His one win came earlier this year at Kansas, before he had declared for points in the Gander Trucks. Both of his top fives were this year (Kansas and Kentucky) and eight of the top 10s have been in 2019. (Also, of note for Chastain, 15 of his 30 total career top-10 finishes have happened during the opening 18 races of this season. He has 77 total series starts.)

 

Stewart Friesen – Friesen is looking for his first win on a 1.5-mile track (his lone series win came earlier this season at Eldora). In 28 starts at this distance he has 10 top-five and 14 top-10 results. Five of those top fives and top 10s have come this season. Of those, he has a pair of runner-up results (Texas-1 and Kentucky) and two third-place finishes (Charlotte and Chicago) at this distance.

 

Matt Crafton – Once the king of the 1.5-mile tracks in the Gander Trucks, Crafton has faded as of late. In 162 starts on those tracks (53 more than the next closest in the Playoff field – Johnny Sauter), Crafton has nine wins (second to Sauter’s 10), 54 top fives, and 103 top 10s. All impressive numbers. But he hasn’t won at a 1.5-mile circuit since Charlotte in May of 2016…and in fact, hasn’t won a race since Eldora in July of 2017. His performance has been steady and solid this year – both at this distance and overall, just lacking a Victory Lane visit. He hasn’t had a finish worse than 14th (Atlanta in the second race of the year) and crossed the line second at Texas in June. His average finish at 1.5-mile tracks this season is 7.0.

 

Austin Hill – Hill is another driver whose numbers at 1.5-mile venues may not be impressive on the surface, but if you look at his recent performances, you’ll be more impressed. Overall in 28 starts at that distance, he has three top fives and nine top 10s. Two of those top fives (Kansas, Chicago) came this year, as did five of the top 10s. He also started on the pole at Chicago this season – his first time leading the field to green in the Gander Trucks.

 

Grant Enfinger – Enfinger has one win in 33 starts at 1.5-mile circuits – but it’s particularly relevant because that victory came at Las Vegas last fall. It’s one of two series wins that he has (Talladega, 2016). Overall he has 10 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes at this distance in the series. He has three top fives this season, including at both Texas races and at Atlanta. His best finish at a 1.5-miler this year was third at Atlanta.

 

Tyler Ankrum – Ankrum’s experience is limited at 1.5-mile tracks because he just turned 18 in March, so he hasn’t even had a chance to race on the upcoming Las Vegas Motor Speedway track. But he’s made his mark at that distance. In six starts this season on 1.5-mile circuits he has one win (Kentucky), two top fives (also finished third at Texas in June) and three top 10s.

 

Johnny Sauter – Sauter is in a tough spot in the Playoff standings, as he sits in eighth out of eight drivers with only six moving on to the next round after Las Vegas. In 109 starts at 1.5-mile tracks, Sauter has 10 wins (one more than fellow Playoff contender Crafton), 41 top fives and 66 top 10s. Only two of those top fives have come this season – in the second race in Atlanta and then in the fifth race of the year at Texas. In regards to recent history, five of his wins at this distance have come since the introduction of the elimination-style Playoff format in 2016, with the most recent being at the June Texas race last year.

 

Brett Moffitt looking to sweep opening round of Playoffs

Since the introduction of the elimination Playoff format in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2016, no driver has swept a round’s worth of races.

 

Prior to this season, twice has one driver won two races in a round – Johnny Sauter in the Round of 6 in 2016 (Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway) and 2017 (Texas, ISM Raceway).

 

Brett Moffitt is now hoping to achieve that feat after winning the opening two races of the 2019 Gander Trucks Playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

 

The Gander Trucks have two weeks off before returning to the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 13 for the final race in the opening round of the Playoffs. And Moffitt’s track record in the Nevada sun shows that he may be the truck to bet on for the hat trick.

 

Moffitt has a trio of starts at the 1.5-mile track, including a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch this spring. He was third in his first start at the beginning of 2018 and then was 11th last fall.

 

And the driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado would just be building on what is quickly becoming his second straight career season. In 2018, Moffitt tallied six wins, 13 top fives and 13 top 10s en route to the Gander Trucks title.

 

So far, through 18 races in 2019, Moffitt has four wins, 11 top fives and 13 top 10s. And he’s bettered his 2018 season in another statistical column – he has three pole awards this year compared to none last year.

The “Melon Man” may be one to bet on at Vegas

Ross Chastain’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series statistics at Las Vegas Motor Speedway may not lead you to think he should be your pick to win this Friday’s World of Westgate 200 (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

 

He made his first two starts at the track back in 2012 and 2013, finishing 25th and 14th, respectively. In the past 12 months he does have a pair of top-10s, placing seventh last fall and 10th during the first trip to the desert this year.

 

But he has visited Victory Lane at Vegas in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Chastain outlasted the field through a trip of restarts in the final 20 laps to capture his first NASCAR national series win last fall.

 

And that has to give him confidence as the Gander Trucks enter the final race of the opening round of the Playoffs – from which only six of eight drivers will continue on in the postseason.

Playoff contenders’ history at Vegas

Only two of the eight NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff drivers have made their way to Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

 

Johnny Sauter took the win in his first trip to the track in 2009. Second place in that race? His current ThorSport Racing teammate and Playoffs competitor Matt Crafton.

 

And Grant Enfinger comes to Las Vegas without a win this season, despite taking the regular season championship trophy home. However, he is the defending winner of this fall race at Las Vegas. Second place in that race? Sauter.

 

Current Playoff drivers finished first (Enfinger), second (Sauter), fifth (Crafton), seventh (Chastain), 11th (Brett Moffitt), 17th (Stewart Friesen) and 23rd (Austin Hill) in last year’s fall race.

 

The upcoming race will mark Tyler Ankrum’s first race at the 1.5-mile oval – he just turned 18-years old on March 6, a week after the first trip to the desert this spring.

 

Overall, Sauter has a win, six top fives and nine top 10s in 12 starts at Las Vegas. His ThorSport teammates Crafton (eight top fives, 12 top 10s in 20 starts) and Enfinger (one win, two top fives and four top 10s in six starts) have also been consistently near the top of the finishing order.

 

Friesen has the next most starts in the Playoff grid, posting a pair of top-five and top-10 finishes in five starts. Chastain has two top 10s in four starts, while Moffitt as a pair of top-five and top-10 results in three appearances.

What a difference a year makes

One year ago, heading into the cutoff race for the first round of the Playoffs, Johnny Sauter held the lead in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings and had no doubt he would be advancing the Round of 6.

 

But this year, Sauter is in danger of “going home” following the upcoming Round of 8 cutoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Friday, September 13 at 9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Currently, Sauter sits in seventh on the Playoff grid – two points and one spot behind his ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger, who currently holds the final position that would transfer to the Round of 6.

 

Sauter has never been eliminated from Gander Trucks title contention before the final race of the season during the era of the elimination Playoffs format (since 2016).

 

He doesn’t find himself on the outside looking in because of a particularly bad performance in either of the opening races of the Playoffs – he was 11th at Bristol and sixth at Canadian Tire. Instead, all of the 2019 Gander Trucks postseason contenders are proving they belong in the title talk and are also posting strong finishes – which gives Sauter little to no room to rise up in the standings.

 

Here is where each of the eight Playoff drivers finished in the first two races:

 

Drivers Bristol           Canadian Tire            Avg. Finish

Brett Moffitt                 1                      1                                  1

Ross Chastain            3                      8                                  5.5

Stewart Friesen          4                      7                                  5.5

Grant Enfinger            5                      13                                9

Matt Crafton                7                      11                                9

Austin Hill                   10                    5                                  7.5

Johnny Sauter            11                    6                                  8.5

Tyler Ankrum              20                    9                                  14.5

 

Sauter hasn’t won a race since Dover at the beginning of May – a streak of 12 races without visiting Victory Lane. That’s a bit of an unusual drought for the driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet – but it might not be a bad sign for his Playoff hopes. This season, in a way, looks a bit similar to his 2016 campaign – a campaign that ended with the championship trophy hoisted above his head in Miami.

 

In 2016, he started off the season with a win at the opener in Daytona. He then went winless for 18 races – but excelled when it counted by winning at Martinsville and Texas in the second round of Playoffs. Those were his only three wins that season.

 

Sauter will need to turn it up at Las Vegas, a track he has one win at – in his first race there in 2009 – in order to have a shot at repeating the magic of 2016. He’s recorded six top fives and nine top 10s in 12 starts at the track. And of those, four are runner-up finishes, including both races in 2018.

 

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Etc.

Hometown driver to make LVMS debut: Justin Johnson will probably have a lot of support in the stands on Friday night as he makes his debut at his hometown track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And although this is the first time he’s raced on the 1.5-mile circuit, he made a name for himself on the Speedway grounds long ago as he’s a four-time track champion at the Bullring located just across the street from the main grandstands. Johnson has four Gander Trucks starts to his credit, all in 2011, with a best finish of eighth at ISM Raceway.

 

Owner’s title battle: The numbers on the sides of the trucks competing for the driver’s title are nearly identical to those racing for the owner’s championship – just swap out the 88 from ThorSport Racing that Matt Crafton is piloting in the postseason for the 51 from Kyle Busch Motorsports, which has had a bevy of different drivers behind the wheel this season. The 51 currently sits in third place, following the No. 24 – which clinched a Round of 6 spot with two wins and the No. 45 from Niece Motorsports. The No. 13 (ThorSport Racing) and No. 17 (DGR-Crosley) are the two trucks currently on the outside.

 

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

Three drivers from the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series – Niece Motorsports’ Ross Chastain, ThorSport Racing’s Grant Enfinger, and GMS Racing’s Brett Moffitt – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Las Vegas Motor Speedway leading into the World of Westgate 200 on Friday night at 9:00 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Gander Trucks media rotations are scheduled for Friday, September 13, from 11:15- 11:30 p.m. ET in Media Center Deadline Room.

Ross Chastain (No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado)

Birthdate: December 4, 1992

Driver’s Age: 26

Hometown: Alva, Florida

Hobbies: Farming watermelons

Crew Chief: Phil Gould

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • Chastain has raced part-time over nine seasons competing in 75 series races, recording three wins (Kansas, Gateway, Pocono – all in 2019), eight top-five and 22 top-10 finishes.
  • In 2012, he ran his only full-time season in the Gander Trucks prior to 2019. He tallied a top five and four top 10s.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • This is Chastain’s first career Gander Trucks Playoff appearance.
  • Through 18 races this season, Chastain has posted three wins (Kansas, Gateway, Pocono), seven top fives, 15 top 10s and a pole (Michigan).
  • Has led 392 of 2,598 laps completed
  • 2019 average starting position, 11.0 and average finishing position, 8.8.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Has made four series starts at LVMS, posting two top-10 finishes.
  • Has an average start of 18.5 and average finish of 14.0.

 

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

Birthdate: January 22, 1985

Driver’s Age: 34

Hometown: Kannapolis, NC

Hobbies: Fishing, Outdoor activities, Working on cars

Crew Chief: Jeff Hensley

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

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

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Won the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series regular season championship.
  • This is his second career Gander Trucks Playoff appearance.
  • Through 18 races this season, Enfinger has posted eight top fives, 14 top 10s and two poles (Texas, Kentucky).
  • Has led 293 of 2,590 laps completed
  • 2019 average starting position, 7.6 and average finishing position, 7.7.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Captured his second career Gander Trucks victory at Las Vegas in 2018
  • He has made six series starts at LVMS posting an average start of 7.7 and average finish of 7.8.

Brett Moffitt (No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado)

Birthdate: August 7, 1992

Driver’s Age: 27

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 Truck Series races at Iowa, Chicagoland, Bristol and CTMP
  • Currently leads the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series standings over Ross Chastain
  • In 18 starts this season he has posted four victories, 11 top fives and 13 top 10s with an average starting position of 4.1 and finish of 8.2.
  • Has led 350 laps this season.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Performance:

  • Moffitt has made three previous starts at Las Vegas, posting an average finish of 5.3.
  • Finished second at Las Vegas earlier this season

 

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