NASCAR National Series News & Notes -- Sonoma & Gateway
NASCAR Wire Service
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
We're Going Racing! NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Returns After Off Weekend
After having the weekend off, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads west to Sonoma Raceway for its first road-course race of the season - Sunday's Toyota / Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1).
Kyle Busch is the defending winner of the event that has had 10 different drivers visit Victory Lane the last 11 years it's been held: Kyle Busch (2015), Carl Edwards (2014), Martin Truex Jr. (2013), Clint Bowyer (2012), Kurt Busch (2011), Jimmie Johnson (2010), Kasey Kahne (2009), Kyle Busch (2008), Juan Pablo Montoya (2007), Jeff Gordon (2006) and Tony Stewart (2005).
This season, 10 different drivers have taken the checkered flag through 15 races. All are virtually locked into to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The Chase Grid shapes up as follows: 1. Kyle Busch, 2. Brad Keselowski, 3. Carl Edwards, 4. Jimmie Johnson, 5. Kevin Harvick, 6. Kurt Busch, 7. Joey Logano, 8. Martin Truex Jr., 9. Matt Kenseth, 10. Denny Hamlin, 11. Chase Elliott (100 points above the cutoff), 12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (+30), 13. Austin Dillon (+28), 14. Jamie McMurray (+21), 15. Ryan Newman (+16), 16. Ryan Blaney (+11).
Busch Returns To Site Where Dream Run Started
In Homestead's Victory Lane, when Kyle Busch took his first sip of championship champagne, you could almost hear him say, "It's so good. Once it hits your lips, it's so good."
That championship march began at Sonoma.
A mere four months after breaking his right leg and fracturing his left foot last season, Kyle Busch visited Victory Lane at Sonoma Raceway to jumpstart his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship run.
Busch returns to the Northern California road course Sunday in much better shape. He leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with three victories, which give him a potential nine bonus points for the Round of 16 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Struggling lately, Busch has failed to finish better than 30th in his last four starts since winning at Kansas. Despite his rut, he still leads the series with nine top-five showings.
In 11 starts at Sonoma, Busch claims two wins, two top fives and three top 10s.
Road-Couse Wunderkind Allmendinger Attempts To Crash Chase With Sonoma Victory
AJ Allmendinger has a pretty nice, little Saturday planned. Now, he needs a good Sunday.
Last year, Allmendinger won the Coors Light Pole the Saturday before the Sonoma race. Unfortunately for the road-course ace, he finished 37th on Sunday.
The No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing driver is arguably the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' top road-course racer.
In 2014, Allmendinger crashed the Chase with his victory at Watkins Glen. He'll attempt to do the same on Sunday.
Allmendinger won the Coors Light Pole Awards at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen last season, but suffered tough-luck finishes of 37th and 24th, respectively.
From nearby San Jose California, Allmendinger currently sits 19th on the Chase Grid, 27 points behind 16th-place Ryan Blaney.
Old School At Sonoma: Stewart Shoots For Third NorCal Victory, Chase Berth
Tony Stewart will try for his third career Sonoma win and first of the season as he continues his quest for a Chase berth in Sunday's Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
In addition to his two victories, NASCAR's elder statesman owns five top fives and nine top 10s in 17 career starts at Sonoma. Stewart also ranks third in average running position (11.9) and driver rating (98.1) at the 1.99-mile track.
Stewart is the active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader in road-course wins with seven.
After missing the first eight races, Stewart must win a race and end NASCAR's regular season in the top 30 in points to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Right now, Stewart sits 35th in points, 45 markers behind 30th-place Brian Scott.
You're My Boy Blue (Deuce)
Oh, that's the Blue Deuce, a fabled car that Brad Keselowski piloted to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles. Don't worry. Again this year, it's legit.
Keselowski, still the driver of the No. 2 Ford, continues to perform at a high level for Team Penske in its 50th anniversary season. And now, he looks to capture a milestone victory. Penske's next win will be the organization's 100th.
Through 15 races, he ranks second on the Chase Grid on the strength of his two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s.
Right now, Keselowski rides a streak of six consecutive top 10s - tied with Chase Elliott for the second longest current string in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The Michigan native's run of three straight top fives leads the series.
Keselowski has just one top-10 finish in six starts at Sonoma (2011). He has been better at NASCAR's other road course, Watkins Glen, where he claims three runner-ups and four top 10s in six starts. Overall, Keselowski owns three top fives and five top 10s in 12 starts at road courses.
Elliott Off To Banner Rookie Start
If you told someone at the beginning of the 2016 season that Chase Elliott would have a better rookie year than both Jimmie Johnson AND Dale Earnhardt, this would likely be the reply: "You're crazy, man. I like you. But you're crazy."
Life's good for 20-year-old Chase Elliott.
He's produced a Sunoco Rookie season on par so far with a NASCAR immortal and one of its living legends. Elliott boasts 11 top 10s and six top fives through the first 15 races of his Sunoco Rookie season. In comparison, Johnson had 10 top 10s (2002) and Earnhardt (1979) possessed five top fives through the first 15 races of their Sunoco Rookie seasons.
The Dawsonville, Georgia native nearly registered his first win in each of his last two races, placing second at Michigan after leading 35 laps and finishing fourth at Pocono after pacing the field for 51 go-arounds.
Elliott leads Ryan Blaney in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 49 points.
The good vibes continue to pour in for Elliott. On Tuesday, he was named by SportsPro as one of the world's 50 most marketable athletes for the second consecutive year. The criteria for the rankings includes earnings, age, home market, charisma, willingness to be marketed and crossover appeal.
Elliott will tune up for Sunday's Toyota / Save Mart 350 by running in the Chevy's Fresh Mex 200 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma on Saturday.
Home Cooking: Larson Looks To Stir Up Winning Recipe At Home Track
Kyle Larson looks due for his first career victory.
The No. 42 Chevrolet driver placed third in his last start at Michigan and second two starts before at Dover. Sprinkled between those results were a win in the third segment of the Sprint Showdown exhibition and a strong run in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
A native of Elk Grove, California, Larson will try to get his first win next at Sonoma Raceway - located 81 miles from his hometown.
Larson has qualified well at Sonoma in his first two appearances there with starts of third and fourth, but has not finished strongly, placing 28th in his track debut (2014) and 15th last season.
Earmuffs Jr. Fans
Earmuffs Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans.
If the No. 88 Chevrolet driver runs into bad luck like he did at Michigan, he might land on the Chase bubble.
At the moment, Earnhardt is the only driver who won a race last year, who has yet to visit Victory Lane this season.
Earnhardt looks like a safe bet to make the Chase right now, positioned 12th on the Grid, 30 points ahead of Kasey Kahne on the cutoff line. Still, another tough-luck finish like his 39th-place showing at Michigan, coupled with some surprise winners, could doom him.
Earnhardt has won at five of the 11 tracks leading into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup: Daytona, Pocono, Bristol, Michigan and Richmond. He is tied with Tony Stewart for the active wins lead at Daytona (4), the track that could be his ticket to NASCAR's playoffs.
That's How You Do It, That's How You Race
Through 15 races, winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have averaged a 1.028 margin of victory - the fourth-closest margin of victory through this point in the season since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993.
The current lower downforce rules package has helped generate close racing in 2016. Three races set track records for green flag passes for the lead (Atlanta, Auto Club, Bristol), while two races featured the seventh-closest margin of victory in series history (Daytona and Phoenix).
California? The Golden State? Gorgeous! - 9 Drivers Hail From The Sunny State
In recent years, California has served as developmental gold mine for NASCAR.
Nine drivers have been panned by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series out of the Golden State for Sunday's Toyota / Save Mart 350: Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield), Casey Mears (Bakersfield), Josh Wise (Riverside), Kyle Larson (Elk Grove), AJ Allmendinger (San Jose), Jimmie Johnson (El Cajon), Matt DiBenedetto (Grass Valley), Dylan Lupton (Wilton) and Cole Whitt (Alpine).
Of the California drivers, Johnson boasts six series championships, while Harvick claims one. Johnson leads them in wins with 77, followed by Harvick with 32. Allmendinger and Mears each have one win.
Lupton, a NASCAR Next alumnus, will attempt to make his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 93 BK Racing Toyota on Sunday.
Bubblicious: Drivers Without Wins Hope Chase Aspirations Don't Pop
With just six open Chase berths and 11 races remaining until NASCAR's playoffs, drivers with a "0" in the wins column have to play the risky game of going all out for victory or maintaining a strong points position.
The winless drivers who would make the Chase on points today are Chase Elliott (100 points above the cutoff), Dale Earnhardt Jr (+30), Austin Dillon (+28), Jamie McMurray (+21), Ryan Newman (+16) and Ryan Blaney (+11).
Elliott and Blaney would become the second and third Sunoco Rookies to ever make NASCAR's playoffs. Denny Hamlin earned a Chase berth in his first full-time season (2006). Third-year competitor Austin Dillon would also take the wheel for his first Chase.
The first driver on the outside of the Chase bubble looking in is Kasey Kahne, who lurks 11 points behind Ryan Blaney. Kahne is followed by Trevor Bayne (18th on the Chase Grid, 19 points below Blaney), AJ Allmendinger (19th, -27) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (20th, -27).
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, etc.
The Godfather To Grace Fans At Sonoma
Actor Luke Wilson will serve as the official pace car driver for the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. Best known for his comedic roles in "Old School," "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and "Legally Blonde," the Texan currently stars in Showtime's new series "Roadies," premiering on June 26. .
Patrick Nominated For 2016 Teen Choice Awards Choice Female Athlete
Danica Patrick has been nominated for Choice Female Athlete in the 2016 Teen Choice Awards. Fans can vote at teenchoice.com, using the FOX Now app, or by tweeting #ChoiceFemaleAthlete and @DanicaPatrick. Winners will be announced July 31 at 8 p.m. ET live on FOX. .
Carpentier Set To Make First NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Start Since 2011
Patrick Carpentier of Ville LaSalle, Quebec, Canada will make his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start since 2011 in the No. 32 GO FAS Racing Ford. A five-time winner in the CART Series, Carpentier's last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start came at Kansas where he finished 30th. His top career finish was an 11th-place showing at Sonoma in 2009. Carpentier won the Coors Light Pole at New Hampshire in 2008.
Stewart, Irvan To Be Inducted Into Sonoma Raceway Wall Of Fame
Tony Stewart and Ernie Irvan will join Sonoma Raceway's Wall of Fame this weekend, joining fellow NASCAR figures, Rusty Wallace (2005), Mark Martin (2005), Jeff Gordon (2006), Ricky Rudd (2007) and Rick Hendrick (2010). Stewart and Irvan each won twice at Sonoma. Stewart will go for his third victory in his final race at the 1.99-mile track on Sunday. .
Save Mart Celebrates 25 Years With Sonoma Raceway
Save Mart Supermarkets celebrates its 25th year of sponsorship with Sonoma Raceway this weekend.
"Our partnership with the Sonoma Raceway has become part of Save Mart's culture. Save Mart, Lucky and FoodMaxx stores celebrate the Toyota / Save Mart 350 in the weeks leading up to the race, building a palpable momentum among our employees and in the communities we serve," said Nicole Pesco, co-president and chief strategy and branding officer. "What a great legacy this partnership has built."
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES
Chase Outlook: The Skinny On Where The Winners Shake Out
A little down time due to the off-weekend provides the perfect setting to take a look ahead at the three drivers who have raced their way into the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase with wins - Erik Jones, Daniel Suárez and Elliott Sadler.
If the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase were to start today, Joe Gibbs Racing's Erik Jones would be seeded in the No. 1 position. Jones is currently seventh in the standings but has two wins (Bristol and Dover) this season, giving him six bonus points once the Chase begins. JGR's Sunoco Rookie candidate, Jones, has been quite impressive this season, posting five poles and a series leading eight top fives. NASCAR Season-To-Date Loop Data also paints a more detailed picture of Jones' success this season. He ranks second in driver rating (106.7), fourth in average running position (9.477) and third in fastest laps run (204 laps, 9.1%).
Jones' JGR teammate and Drive for Diversity graduate, Suárez, currently would be seeded second in the Chase due to his lead in the series standings and his win two weeks ago at Michigan. The Monterrey, Mexico, native is having a top-notch season, posting one pole, six top fives and 12 top 10s to accompany his win. Suárez's victory not only secures him a spot in the Chase, he also receives three bonus points once the Chase starts. NASCAR Season-To-Date Loop Data further boasts Suárez's ascension to a title contender. He leads the series in driver rating (106.9) and average running positon (7.199), is ranked second in laps in the top 15 (1,990 laps; 88.4%) and sits third in fastest laps run (160 laps; 8.7%).
Veteran Elliott Sadler is carrying the JR Motorsports torch this season as he currently is second in the series standings and secured himself a spot in the Chase with a win at Talladega in April. Sadler's point standings position and his win have him currently seeded third in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase; though he will have the same three Chase bonus points as Suárez seeded in second. Sadler's season has hinged on his consistency. In 14 starts this season, he has five top fives, 12 top 10s and an average finish of 7.9. Sadler also rests just behind Jones and Suárez in NASCAR Season-To-Date Loop Data categories as well. He ranks fifth in driver rating (98.0) and average running position (9.701). He also is fourth in laps run inside the top 15 (1,937 laps; 86.0%).
Win And You're In: Who's Next?
Theoretically making the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase is simple - win and you're in.
What many of the NASCAR XFINITY drivers are finding is that winning in one of the most competitive series in the world doesn't come easy, and by no means, is simple.
Ten different drivers have won this season, led by Kyle Busch with four victories. Three of the 10 winners this season have been series regulars - Erik Jones (two wins), Daniel Suárez and Elliott Sadler (one each). With the weekend off, let's take a look at the series drivers who could potentially reach Victory Lane next and click their ticket to the Chase.
First up is Richard Childress Racing's Ty Dillon, who currently sits third in the series standings, just 35 points back from Daniel Suárez in the standings lead. Dillon has come close to winning this season but has yet to close the deal. In 14 starts, he has posted five top fives and nine top 10s, including two runner-up finishes (Richmond and Iowa). Next week, the series heads to Daytona for the last restrictor-plate race of the season. Anticipate Dillon to contend next week as he sat on the pole and led a few laps at DIS back in February.
Another driver closing in on a win this season is JR Motorsports' Justin Allgaier. The Riverton, Illinois native is having a solid 2016 season as he has perched himself at fourth in the standings after posting five top fives and 11 top 10s. Expect Allgaier to be a challenger next weekend at Daytona, because not only did he finish second at Talladega earlier this season, but both his JR Motorsports teammates have won the previous two restrictor-plate races (Chase Elliott, Daytona and Elliott Sadler, Talladega).
Hornish Extends Owner Points Lead For Gibbs With Win At Iowa
Joe Gibbs sure knows how to pick solid talent to drive his cars, especially after tapping Sam Hornish Jr. to wrestle the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry to a win last weekend at Iowa. The victory was the ninth for a JGR car this season and sixth for the No 18 team. As a result of all the winning this season, Gibbs has extended his owner standings lead to 16 points over the JR Motorsports No. 88 team.
Gibbs is in search of his fifth owner's title in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. If he were to accomplish the feat, he would break the series-leading tie with Richard Childress (four titles) to become the sole leader in NASCAR XFINITY Series owner championships.
The man behind the scenes pulling all the strings for the No. 18 team this season is crew chief Chris Gayle, who has worked with five different drivers in 2016 - Kyle Busch (four wins this season), Matt Tifft, Sam Hornish Jr. (one win), Denny Hamlin (one win) and Bobby Labonte.
In 14 starts this season, the No. 18 team has logged six wins (Atlanta, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Iowa, Phoenix and Texas), 10 top fives, 12 top 10s and an average finish of 6.3.
First-Time Winners: By The Numbers
With his victory at Michigan a few weeks back, Daniel Suárez became the NASCAR XFINITY Series' 145th different winner and the first first-time winner of 2016. With that in mind, let's take a gander at some of the first-time winner stats in the NASCAR XFINITY Series:
A total of 145 different drivers have posted at least one win in the NASCAR XFINITY Series dating back to the inaugural season in 1982.
Drivers from 31 different states have posted at least one win in the NASCAR XFINITY Series; led by the state of North Carolina with 23 different series winners calling it their home state.
Kyle Busch leads the series in wins with 80 victories; he posted his first series win at Richmond (spring race) in 2004.
Of the 145 series winners, six were foreign-born drivers: Daniel Suárez, Mexico (2016 Michigan); Nelson Piquet Jr., Brazil (2012 Road America); Marcos Ambrose, Australia (2008 Watkins Glen); Juan Pablo Montoya, Colombia (2007 Mexico City); Ron Fellows, Canada (1998 Watkins Glen) and Larry Pollard, Canada (1987 Hampton, VA).
The inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series season (1982) saw 14 different first-time series winners - the most of any single season. Excluding the 1982 inaugural season, the most first time winners in a single season is six, and it happened seven times (1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 2002, 2004 and 2006).
Since 2010, 19 different drivers have posted their first NASCAR XFINITY Series career win; with five of those coming from the 2014 season.
Three drivers in the 2016 top 10 of the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings are looking for their first career series win - Darrell Wallace Jr. and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates Brandon Jones and Brennan Poole.
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
Burnin' Hot: Byron Blazes To Third Victory
William Byron has been racing for less than four years, yet is dominating the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Byron, 19, blazed to his series-leading third win of the season at Iowa and has visited Victory Lane in the series' last two races. The 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East frontrunner made only one start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series prior to this season.
Now, he looks to tie a record. If Byron or teammates Christopher Bell or Erik Jones can earn a victory, Kyle Busch Motorsports would tie Roush Fenway Racing for the most owner wins in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history with 50.
Byron ranks second in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in average running position (7.5), driver rating (109.5), fastest laps run (149) and laps led (240). He leads the circuit in green flag speed (4.6 avg. rank) and is fastest on restarts (4.3 avg. rank).
Byron, a NASCAR Next alumnus, makes his track debut at Gateway Motorsports Park in Saturday's Drivin' for Linemen 200 brought to you by Altec (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).
NASCAR Next Shines At Iowa
NASCAR Next is performing like "NASCAR Now."
The industry initiative spotlighting young drivers to help them with their careers has had quite the run in recent weeks. Daniel Suárez picked up his first NASCAR XFINITY Series win at Michigan, while Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson knock on the door of their first victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Current member Noah Gragson captured the checkered flag at Stafford Motor Speedway in the NASCAR K&N Series East race.
The success of NASCAR Next drivers extends to the Camping World Truck Series where all four of the top-four finishers and six of the top seven were program alumni: William Byron (first), Cole Custer (second), Cameron Hayley (third), Ben Rhodes (fourth), Daniel Suárez (sixth) and Ben Kennedy (eighth). In addition, none of the top-seven finishers were older than 24 (Tyler Reddick, 20, placed fifth).
The NASCAR Next alumni who have visited Victory Lane in the Camping World Truck Series this season are William Byron (three times) and John Hunter Nemechek.
Custer Eyes Gateway Repeat
Cole Custer nearly pulled off the third win of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career, and first of the season, at Iowa Speedway last Saturday.
Ranked 11th on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase Grid, Custer sits 14 points below Ben Kennedy on the cutoff line. Nevertheless, a victory can get the Californian into the series' playoffs. That victory may come Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park where Custer is the defending race winner.
Gateway has treated Custer well in his career. In addition to his win last season (started second), he finished sixth in 2014 after becoming the youngest 21 Means 21 Pole winner in NASCAR national series history.
8 To Go: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase Outlook
Eight down, eight to go.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is halfway to its inaugural Chase, beginning Saturday, Sept. 24 at New Hampshire. Matt Crafton, William Byron, Johnny Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek have locked up spots via wins, but four spots remain up for grabs.
If the regular season ended today, the four winless drivers who would make the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase are Timothy Peters (33 points above ninth-place Spencer Gallagher), Daniel Hemric (+21), Tyler Reddick (+17) and Ben Kennedy (+3).
A cluster of five drivers stands within 20 points of Kennedy's pace for the final spot: Spencer Gallagher (-3), Cameron Hayley (-10), Cole Custer (-14), Christopher Bell (-19) and Ben Rhodes (-19).
Remember, a win gets a driver into the Chase and can bump a potential points-qualifying driver. Christopher Bell, Parker Kligerman, John Wes Townley and Travis Kvapil are all competitors on the outside looking in who have won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race before.
The seven-race NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase features two elimination rounds, with four drivers competing in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Reddick Readies To Rev Engine Near Site Of His Developmental Years
Dubbed "The California Kid" because he's from Corning, California, many do not know that Tyler Reddick spent six of his teenage years in Du Quoin, Illinois.
Du Quoin is located a mere 85 miles from Madison, Illinois, home of Gateway Motorsports Park. It's no surprise Reddick will have many friends in attendance from the area where he raced dirt cars before moving to Charlotte to pursue a NASCAR career.
The No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing driver has hit top gear in the last couple months. He scored his third consecutive top five with a fifth-place showing at Iowa Speedway last Saturday. Over the past five races, he has gained 11 positions in the points standings (moving up to fifth), while registering an average finish of 6.8.
In two Gateway starts, Reddick has finished 13th (2014) and eighth (2015).
"Gateway means a lot to me and my family," Reddick said. "I have a lot of friends who are coming to that race, so I definitely want to run well in the Cooper Standard Ford F-150. I spent a lot of time growing up in Du Quoin and I know that area better than I know where I live now in Charlotte.
"There are a lot of good, hardcore race fans in that area that love all forms of racing. We were really close to winning it last year, but came up a little short. I'm going the extra mile to make sure that we have a good race and put ourselves in a position to win like we did last time."
Nemechek Hopes To Round Back Further Into Form At Gateway
John Hunter Nemechek has had one top-10 finish - a seventh-place showing at Texas - since producing a win at Atlanta and runner-up at Martinsville in the second and third races of the season.
Last Saturday at Iowa, the NASCAR Next alumnus finished 12th, but tied his career-high of 53 laps led (set at Gateway in 2014).
Nemechek heads back to Gateway - one of his self-proclaimed favorite tracks - looking to round back into form before the start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase.
Nemecheck has made two starts on the 1.25-mile oval, finishing 15th (2014) and fourth (2015).