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Bobby Santos Adds Musket 250 To His Winning Resume

LOUDON, N.H. — Bobby Santos III is no stranger to parking his car in Victory Lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Saturday, the Franklin, Massachusetts driver did it for the sixth time — but this one was the biggest of them all. Santos earned the win in the second annual Musket 250 presented by Whelen, taking car owner Dave Sapienza to Victory Lane for the first time.

It was the fifth championship points win for Santos at NHMS, who also has a victory in the Whelen All-Star Shootout. It was also the 18th career Whelen Modified Tour win for the former series champion.

In a wild 250 laps around the ‘Magic Mile’, countless drivers had the opportunity to lead the way. But when it mattered most, it was a battle between three modified veterans for the crown.

Santos, five-time series champion Doug Coby, and Jon McKennedy, who led a race-high 93 laps, were the three drivers at the front when the field crossed for the white flag. Off turn two, Coby would draw even with Santos for the lead — edging out as they approached the entrance to turn three.

However, Santos would drive deep into turn three, slide up, and hold off Coby and McKennedy across the line, while the two battled side-by-side for second. McKennedy would beat Coby to the line, but was .129 seconds behind Santos.

“It was a good run,” McKennedy said. “Tommy (Baldwin) and the guys gave me a great car. We led a lot of laps. Just one position short. As far as I’m concerned, Bobby is one of the best short-track drivers in the country.”

Before a crash racing for the lead, Ron Silk and Justin Bonsignore were dominating the late stages. The two drivers combined to lead laps 133-222, but when Silk and Eric Goodale split a lapped car, they made contact — ending both of their races early with damage.

Chuck Hossfeld, subbing for Jimmy Blewett, was fourth, while Bonsignore completed the top five. Matt Swanson was sixth, followed by Rob Summers, Chris Pasteryak, Gary Putnam and Craig Lutz.

Coby leads Bonsignore by 21 points with two championship points races remaining. Coby is looking for his sixth title, while Bonsignore is seeking his second straight.

The Musket 250 will air on NBCSN on Thursday, September 26, and 6 p.m.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to the track for the annual NAPA Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway, on Sunday, September 29.

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Ty Gibbs Earns First Career K&N Pro Series Victory at New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H. — After four runner-up finishes, Ty Gibbs finally did one better at New Hampshire.

The DGR-Crosley driver led a race-high 112 laps in Saturday’s Apple Barrel 125 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway en route to his first career K&N Pro Series East victory, coming in his sixth start overall and first at NHMS.

“It’s really cool, man,” Gibbs said post-race. “I came here, and it’s a hard track, a fun track too. Just a little tight there but once we worked on it, we got better. Super cool to win here.”

Gibbs earned three straight second-place finishes this season to begin his career. Add in a fourth-place run at Watkins Glen as well as another runner-up at Bristol, he was poised to earn his first checkered flag.

It was a matter of when, not if.

“You work so hard for this stuff and finishing second the last four times I’ve raced, it sucks,” he admitted. “It’s heartbreaking. But once you get that win, it feels so good. I feel so good right now. Plus to have two (won last weekend in the ARCA Menards Series at Salem Speedway), it’s just a great deal.”

Gibbs has earned two wins (Salem and Gateway) in the ARCA Menards Series this season, garnering seven top fives as well.

His teammate Tanner Gray came home in second, earning his best finish since winning at South Boston in May and his first top five since the first Loudon race.

Josh Berry, making his third career series start and first with Visconti Motorsports, came home third, with Gateway winner Spencer Davis and championship points leader Sam Mayer rounding out the top five.

Chase Cabre led 13 laps from the pole, but fell back on the restart following the second scheduled break due to what he and the team called a “bad set of tires.” His Rev Racing teammates Ruben Garcia Jr. and Nick Sanchez finished seventh and eighth, with Justin Carroll and Robert Pawlowski completing the top 10.

Max McLaughlin, running a tribute paint scheme to the late Mike Stefanik, finished 13 laps down in 12th after experiencing electrical issues late.

Mayer’s maintained his 30-point championship points lead over Chase Cabre heading into the final race of the season, and has virtually wrapped up his first NASCAR championship. He must finish 27th or better at Dover to clinch the title.

The Apple Barrell 125 is scheduled to be broadcast on NBCSN on Wednesday, September 25 at 6 p.m.

The final K&N Pro Series East event of the season will take place at Dover International Speedway on Saturday, October 4.

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Truex leads JGR 1-2-3 sweep with playoff win at Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. – On a night of “firsts” for Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Martin Truex Jr. continued to assert his mastery over the first round of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Rallying from a spin off the bumper of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford and passing teammate Kyle Busch for the lead with 25 laps left, Truex led an apparent 1-2-3-4 finish for JGR in Saturday night’s Federated Auto parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.

The victory was a milestone for Truex, too. The winner of last week’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Truex had never before won back-to-back races. Now, the driver of the No. 19 Toyota has six wins this season, a season sweep at Richmond and 25 victories in his Cup career.

Never before had the organization swept the top four spots in a race in NASCAR’s premier series — but that sentiment was short-lived.

Busch came home second, 2.630 seconds behind his teammate. Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Erik Jones, who completed the Gibbs sweep with a pass of pole winner Brad Keselowski for fourth place on Lap 378 of 400. Jones’ No. 20 Toyota failed post-race inspection, however, and was ultimately disqualified and scored last.

Truex’s win was no cakewalk. On Lap 315, Stenhouse, who had just pitted for new tires, drove hard into Turn 3 beneath the No. 19 Camry. Stenhouse lost the nose of his No. 17 Ford, slid up into Truex’s car and sent him spinning, handing the lead to Busch.

Restarting third after the fifth and final caution, Truex chased his teammate for the next 50 laps, finally clearing him on Lap 375.

“Luckily I didn’t hit anything,” Truex said of his spin. “I just tried to keep it off the fence, tried to get spun around and get going, and we ended up—because we were pretty far up front, we got going in a pretty good spot and left pit road in a good position and then good adjustments at the end again by (crew chief) Cole (Pearn) and (engineer) James (Small) and the guys.

“This is just freaking unbelievable. So we came here to get bonus points and damn sure we did that. … Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny all night long, really, and we just kept plugging away at it, kept plugging away at it, as we always do. We just keep digging and we never quit.  Next thing you know, catching the 18 (Busch) for the lead, I’m like, ‘Cool, all right, here we go.’ Man, to sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, as much as we’ve led here coming into this year, and just thanks to everybody. It’s pretty amazing.”

Though Busch led a race-high 202 laps to Truex’s 109, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota conceded his car wasn’t quite up to the task of challenging his teammate.

“I don’t think we were as good as him all night long,” Busch said. “Martin, the car, the combination thereof, us, the combination of, just lacked a little bit. You know, like the 11 (Hamlin) lacked a little bit more than us. Just weird, I don’t know.

“We led a lot of laps. We were up front a lot. But when I was out front, he could keep the closest distance to me. That kind of worried me for a finish like that in the long run.”

Keselowski, the only other driver to lead laps, ended up finishing fourth after the Jones disqualification, followed by fellow playoff drivers Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer in order.

With what looked to be a fourth-place run, Jones made up 20 points of the 23 point deficit he brought to Richmond from Las Vegas, where a stuck throttle sent him hurtling into the outside wall and cost him a 36th-place finish. Jones was set to head to the Sept. 29 elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval three points behind 12th-place William Byron (24th Saturday) for the final berth in the Round of 12 but instead will need to win the race in order to advance.

Alex Bowman (23rd), Jones, Bowyer and Kurt Busch (18th) enter the final race of the Round of 16 below the cutline. Jones faces the largest deficit—45 points.

 

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Christopher Bell makes emphatic statement with Richmond Xfinity win

RICHMOND, Va. – Eager to add a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship to his resume in perhaps his final season in the series, Christopher Bell made an emphatic statement in Friday night’s Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway.

Bell swept the first two stages of the series Playoff opener—bringing his total of stage wins to 17—and led a career-best 238 laps in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, winning for the seventh time this season, the third time in five starts at the .75-mile short track and the 15th time in his career.

“That one was pretty special,” said Bell, who passed pole winner Austin Cindric for the lead on Lap 86 and never trailed after that. “Going 92 laps straight there (on the final green-flag run) was really difficult. We were sliding all around.

“I felt like, if I could get through traffic, I would be in good shape because my car could really move around good. I could run up (the track) and I could run down. The No. 00 (eventual third-place finisher Cole Custer) was keeping pressure on us pretty good, but this Supra was too good.”

Bell finished 1.700 seconds ahead of Cindric, who passed Custer on Lap 239 of 250 to secure the runner-up position. Bell’s car was so dominant that he opened a lead of 7.743 seconds over Cindric before Vinnie Miller hit the Turn 2 wall to bring out the second caution on Lap 51.

The only pressure Bell felt during his cruise to the checkers came from Custer, who passed Cindric for second on Lap 87 and shadowed the race winner early in the final stage, drawing within three car lengths at one point before Bell widened his advantage in traffic.

“The 00 could kind of close a little on us in the middle part of the run, but I was just trying to keep hitting my marks, keeping the rear tires underneath me and running on that yellow line (at the apron). When the 00 was closing, I was getting nervous, because I was pretty much running as hard as I could without slipping the tires), and he was gaining on me a little at a time there.

“It seemed like my car could move around maybe a little bit better than his, and lapped traffic helped me get a little bit of a gap.”

Custer faded to 4.432 seconds back at the finish.

“We were just kind of loose to start the run,” Custer said. “It kind of got worse, and I was using too much break and got to tight center (in the center of the corners). We were really close there for a second, but I just didn’t have the long-run speed.”

Cindric posted his second straight runner-up finish at Richmond, after running second to Custer in the spring. He’s fourth in the standings with a comfortable margin heading to the Charlotte Roval.

“This is the only double-digit buffer I think I’ve ever had in anything in NASCAR, so I’ll take it,” Cindric said. “Obviously, a really good night for the MoneyLion Ford Mustang, keeping the Fords up front. Two runner-up finishes here at Richmond is good, but you want to win races, so I’ve got to keep working and keep figuring out how to catch that guy in the 20 (Bell). But overall, a great day.”

Justin Allgaier finished fourth after qualifying second and dropping to the rear of the field for the start because of a pre-race tire change. Chase Briscoe ran fifth, followed by Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson, Zane Smith, Michael Annett and Tyler Reddick.

With an automatic berth in the Round of 12, Bell leads the Playoff standings by 18 points over Custer and Reddick. Brandon Jones (11th Friday), Ryan Sieg (12th), Justin Haley (17th) and John Hunter Nemechek (15th) fell below the cut line for the next round, with an elimination race looming two weeks hence at Dover.

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Austin Hill passes Ross Chastain late to win at Las Vegas, advance to NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Round of 6

LAS VEGAS – Austin Hill earned his third NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win of the 2019 season Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – perhaps his most important victory as it advances him to the second round of the Playoffs with big momentum and raised expectations.

Hill’s No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota finished an impressive 2.116 seconds ahead of fellow Playoff competitor Ross Chastain, whose No. 45 Chevrolet led a race-best 88-of-134 laps. Polesitter Christian Eckes finished third in the Kyle Bush Motorsports Toyota.

“This means the world to me,’’ said Hill, 25, who passed Chastain for the lead with 11 laps remaining and pulled away to the substantial victory margin.

“When I saw the 45 (Chastain) in my sights, we were running close lap times. I changed my line a little bit. And that was a big statement win.’’

Much of the drama and heartbreak in the race happened to the drivers vying for the six positions that advanced to the next round of the Playoffs. Joining Hill in the Round of 6 are Chastain, defending series champion Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Tyler Ankrum and Matt Crafton.

Moffit faced the least pressure all day because he already transferred to the Round of 6 by winning the Playoffs opener at Bristol.

Chastain wrapped up his transfer spot via points after winning Stage 2.

Friesen carefully nursed his No. 52 Chevrolet to the race finish, posting a 19th-place showing after driving a truck that was down a cylinder and spending substantial stretches of the race on pit road.

Ankrum, an 18-year-old who wasn’t old enough by NASCAR rules to compete in the March Las Vegas race, held on to finish 11th and earn the final Playoff position – by a mere two-point margin over two-time series champion Johnny Sauter.

Sauter’s teammate Matt Crafton suffered a 30th-place finish, but he had enough of a points cushion coming to Las Vegas that he will advance in the Playoffs as well.

Heading into the Round of 8 finale, Sauter, Crafton and their ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger were seemingly “sure-bets” to advance in the Playoffs. But before the halfway point of the race, they had their fates decided in unfortunate and unpredictable manners.

Grant Enfinger

It was an especially gut-wrenching early end to Enfinger’s championship hopes. Crowned the series’ regular season champion three races ago, the past Las Vegas winner retired after only seven laps when his No. 98 Ford suffered an engine failure. He took the green flag with two points to the good on making the Round of 6 and only minutes later had his championship hopes deflated with the turn of events.

“It’s just frustrating,’’ Enfinger said. “These guys work their tails off all year. We had a good truck, just wasn’t meant to be.”

Only 33 laps later, Sauter and Crafton suffered their simultaneous race-ending problems. Crafton’s No. 88 Ford had to pull off track and he climbed out as the safety crew arrived.

Sauter was able to drive his truck back to pit road where crew members had to extinguish flames under the hood. The team took it to the garage and although he tried to return to the race for the final stage, his truck’s engine gave out on the first lap of the restart.

Crafton, meanwhile, had to pull his No. 88 ThorSport truck off the track immediately for the safety crew to work on.

“The 13 (Sauter), I saw him hit something and whatever it was it hit our truck too,’’ Crafton said. “I said the 13’s on fire and they told me I was on fire.’’

“I really thought we had something tonight, but we’ll rebound.’’

The next race is set for Oct. 12 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

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Erik Jones claims Southern 500 win, but Playoff spots are still up for grabs

DARLINGTON, S.C. – As the clock ticked toward 2 a.m. on Monday, in a race delayed by rain for nearly four hours, Erik Jones claimed the most important victory of his career in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

With his contract status at Joe Gibbs Racing a source of speculation throughout much of the current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Jones made an emphatic statement, holding off teammate Kyle Busch and charging Kyle Larson after taking the lead from Larson on Lap 283.

“It was a lot of pressure,” said Jones, who claimed his first victory of the season and the second of his career. “Kyle (Busch) is a great race car driver. I’ve raced him a lot, and obviously you want to beat him to win, right? I was just locked in, man. I stayed focused. I really thought it was our night when we got out front.

“It’s amazing for me to be able to hold off Kyle. It’s really cool, just for the history we have with Kyle giving me my first opportunity in the Truck Series (at Kyle Busch Motorsports). To race him for the win in such a big race, that’s pretty cool and something I’m never going to forget.”

Busch, in fact, got within a car-length of Jones in the closing laps but a late brush with the outside wall ended his chances.

“I killed it,” Busch radioed to his team. Having cut a tire with the contact, Busch hugged the outside wall for the final lap and a half and still managed to finish third after Larson charged past into the runner-up spot.

“When he started to inch out a little bit,” Busch said after the race, “I was trying to save my right front, because I knew my right front wasn’t going to make it the whole rest of the way without me knocking the wall down, and I was right.

“I hit the wall with about four to go and then I hit it again with three to go, and it killed it that time. Luckily, we were able to salvage a third, just dragging the fence for the last two laps.”

Larson had the lead for a restart on Lap 282, after a massive pileup in Turn 4 on lap 275 ruined strong runs by Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin. But Jones grabbed the lead one circuit after the restart and held the top spot after a cycle of green-flag pit stops with 40 laps left.

“Erik did a good job on that last restart to get by me, and I was better than him all throughout that run,” Larson said. “It’s just I couldn’t ever do anything with him, just because the dirty air was really bad. Wore out surface and the groove is already narrow, and it was just extra difficult. I felt like both 18 (Kyle Busch) and I were a little bit better than he was at the end, but couldn’t do nothing with him.”

Kurt Busch was the dominant driver in Stage 1, leading at the competition caution after Lap 35 and posting a convincing win in the first 100-lap stage, but Jimmie Johnson was arguably just as big a winner–temporarily.

Desperate to make the Playoffs, the seven-time series champion finished second to Busch in the stage and scored nine points, doubly significant because none of the three drivers Johnson was chasing for a berth in the postseason—Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez–finished in the top 10.

Excellent work in the pits, however, vastly improved Bowyer’s track position in Stage 2, and though he lost spots in traffic late in the run, he held sixth in the stage and edged Johnson by one spot. Suarez and Newman, on the other hand, tangled on Lap 140, with Suarez turning Newman off Turn 2 to cause the fourth caution of the night.

Neither Suarez nor Newman scored points in the stage, won by Kyle Busch, who was first off pit road after caution for Corey LaJoie’s spin on Lap 157. Brother Kurt was second in the stage after chasing Bowyer for 30 laps and finally grabbing the second position on lap 187.

But both Kurt Busch and Johnson were innocent victims of the multicar crash on Lap 275, and Johnson surrendered most of the margin he had gained over the other “bubble drivers” in the first two stages. Johnson ended the night 18 points out of the final Playoff-eligible position, with Newman (23rd in the Southern 500) and Suarez (11th) tied for the last berth.

Bowyer finished sixth and moved up to 15th in the standings, eight points to the good over Newman and Suarez. With one race left to decide the Playoff grid, Ryan Blaney, Larson, William Byron and Aric Almirola are now locked into the postseason, as is Jones with the victory.

“What a car—just bad luck,” Johnson radioed to his team on the cool-down lap. “Let’s go to Indy (next Sunday’s race) and kick some butt.”

Johnson likely will need a victory to advance to the postseason for the 16th straight season.

Jones, on the other hand, already has the win he needed.

“Is there anything more to say?” Jones asked rhetorically. “There’s been a lot of doubt and speculation. I’ve put my heart and soul into this race team. This is my living and how I want to make a career and what I want to do.

“It doesn’t get any better than this. On my list, this race is really high, and it’s going to look damn good to see my face on that trophy.”

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Justin Bonsignore Tightens Points Battle With Oswego Win

OSWEGO, N.Y. — Justin Bonsignore knew it was going to take a few checkered flags if he wanted to climb his way back into the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship battle.

With five races to go, Bonsignore proved on Saturday that he isn’t out of it yet. He scored his fourth victory of the season in the Toyota Mod Classic 150 presented by McDonald’s at Oswego Speedway, earning the victory as part of the track’s annual Classic Weekend.

It was the 24th career win in Whelen Modified Tour competition for Bonsignore and his first at the ‘Steel Palace’ of Oswego.

“It’s unbelievable. There is a lot of history at this track,” he said. “I’ve wanted to win here every time we have come here.”

Bonsignore might not have posted the fastest lap times all day, but, when it mattered, his car shined. For the first 64 laps, he chased the back bumper of Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole winner Rob Summers in the race for the lead. He passed Summers at lap 65, and led through until a caution at lap 99, when Tyler Rypkema spun.

Then, his Phoenix Communications crew went to work. They got him out at the front of the cars that pitted and took fresh tires, but, he had to restart third, behind Patrick Emerling and Tommy Catalano.

It didn’t take him long to get back to the top spot. Before the field exited turn two, he was the leader once again.

Bonsignore had to hold off defending race winner Matt Hirschman on a final dash to the finish, but was able to accomplish the task. While the No. 51 Phoenix Communications Chevrolet struggled to turn through the center of the corners, Bonsignore was able to make it work.

He beat Hirschman to the line by .146 seconds. Following Hirschman, former Whelen Modified Tour champion Ron Silk was third, with Craig Lutz and Bobby Santos III completing the top five.

Doug Coby was sixth, followed by Eric Goodale, Timmy Solomito, Chase Dowling and Tommy Catalano.

Coby leads Bonsignore by 37 points, with Silk 44 back with four races remaining in the championship points schedule.

The Toyota Mod Classic 150 presented by McDonald’s will air on NBCSN on Thursday, September 5, at 6 p.m.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to the track for the second appearance at New York’s Riverhead Raceway on Saturday, September 7.

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Christian Eckes Closes in on ARCA Menards Series Championship Lead with Third Victory of 2019 in Southern Illinois 100 at DuQuoin

Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio/Illinois Truck & Equipment Toyota) scored his third ARCA Menards Series victory of the season with a dominant performance in the Southern Illinois 100 on the Magic Mile at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

Eckes started outside General Tire Pole Award winner Ken Schrader (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota), and slipped past third-place started Kelly Kovski (No. 16 Schluckebier Farms/RaceTires.com Chevrolet) on lap 10 to take the lead and led the rest of the way to take his second career ARCA Menard Series win on dirt. He also won at Springfield in 2018.

“I don’t know if you can call me a dirt track expert just yet,” Eckes laughed in victory lane. “I tried to drive Springfield and DuQuoin like dirt tracks last year and burned everything off the car I could. We tried some new things here tonight and I drove the track more like a pavement track and it really paid off.”

Eckes finished in 0.443 seconds in front of his Venturini Motorsports teammate, and defending race winner, Logan Seavey (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota). Seavey started tenth and methodically worked his way towards the front of the field. He utilized lap traffic to work past his other Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) to take over second with 28 laps to go. From there Seavey was able to stay within sight of Eckes but he couldn’t close in enough to seriously challenge.

“It stinks coming back here and finishing second,” Seavey said. “We worked our way to the front and caught a good break in traffic to get past Michael but we didn’t quite have enough to close in on Christian.”

Corey Heim (No. 22 Speedway Children’s Charities Ford) finished third. He rebounded from a disappointing seventh-place result at Springfield after restarting second with two laps to go.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Heim said. “We should have finished no lower than third at Springfield but ended up seventh. We had a great night here today but I would have liked to have started a little closer to the front. If we qualified a little better we wouldn’t have had to have worked so hard to get to the front and might have had a shot at running Christian down for the win.”

Self finished fourth and gave up 35 points to Eckes in the hunt for the ARCA Menards Series championship.

“The lapped cars were tough tonight,” Self said. “I get you want to race hard and stay on the lead lap but you also need to respect the leaders of the race. They didn’t give a lot of room out there for sure. We lost a position late in the race to lapped car. Maybe I could have been a little more aggressive, I don’t know.”

Illinoisan Kelly Kovski (No. 16 Schluckebier Farms/RaceTires.com Chevrolet) finished fifth.

“We’re happy with a top five but we want to come out here and win,” Kovski said. “I only get a couple of chances a year to do this. It means a lot to me to come out and run well but I want to win for my guys and Grant (Enfinger). I know our days of having Grant come and crew chief for us are probably numbered so we want to take advantage of it while we can.”

The race was only slowed twice by cautions, each time for debris. That allowed Eckes to set a record speed on his way to the victory, 105.798 miles per hour. With the victory, Eckes unofficially closes to within 70 points of series championship leader Self in the race for the ARCA Menards Series championship with three races remaining.

The ARCA Menards Series returns to action on Saturday September 14 in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 at Salem Speedway. Practice is set for 2:30 pm ET with General Tire Pole Qualifying to follow at 4 pm ET. The 200-lap main event will close the night at 7:15 pm ET. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can follow live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com; new users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For ticket information, please visit SalemSpeedway.com.

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Cole Custer wins Darlington Xfinity race after Denny Hamlin DQ’d

DARLINGTON, S.C. – It looked like more of the same at Darlington Raceway for driver Denny Hamlin—until post-race inspection happened.

A five-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner at the 1.366-mile track, Hamlin was first across the finish line in Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200, but the disqualification of Hamlin’s No. 18 Toyota for a ride-height violation made a winner of Cole Custer, who trailed Hamlin by .602 seconds at the finish line.

“It’s a really strange feeling, honestly—obviously,” Custer said after being notified he was the winner. “You don’t want that way, but it is what it is. We all play by the same rules. Was that the deciding factor? No.

“But it is what it is. We get the points. We get the money. We get the trophy, I guess. It’s a way to win.”

The victory was the first for Custer at the Track Too Tough to Tame and his sixth of the season, tying him with fourth-place finisher Christopher Bell for most in the series this year. Custer now has eighth career Xfinity wins.

The disqualification ruined a strong effort from Hamlin, who started 37th in a backup car after slapping the outside wall early in Friday’s opening practice. Hamlin took the lead on Lap 121 of 147 and held it the rest of the way.

And though Hamlin efforts became moot with the disqualification, he overcame issues with the handling of the backup No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota through the first two 45-lap stages of the event and was able to withstand a determined closing run by Custer.

“We did not have the best car by any means, but luckily, the techniques I’ve learned over so many years kind of (helped) us there,” Hamlin said before learning of the disqualification. “They guys did a great job getting this car ready.”

Abandoning the NBC Sports broadcast booth for his only race of the year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran fifth as the highest finishing JR Motorsports entry.

Custer hounded Hamlin after a restart with 10 laps left ran the bottom through Turns 1 and 2 to gain ground. On several occasions over the final five laps, he pulled within a car-length of Hamlin’s bumper but couldn’t quite get to the winner.

“I thought I had him,” Custer said after climbing from his car. “I really wanted it—finishing second here really sucks. You really want to win at one of the marquee places… I couldn’t get a run off of (Turn) 4. I don’t know—it was so close.”

As it turned out, it was close enough.

Series leader Tyler Reddick ran second after leading a race-high 70 laps. Pole winner Ryan Blaney, the only other driver to hold the lead, was third after spending 50 laps at the point. Bell, Earnhardt, Chase Briscoe, Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier and Austin Cindric completed the top 10.

Earnhardt was pleased with his performance in the one-off start.

“I love this place,” said Earnhardt, whose No. 8 Chevrolet was sporting a paint scheme commemorating his father’s first start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Charlotte in 1975. “We love Darlington… You never know how good you are till you come back and try it.

“All these guys are elite. All these guys do this every single week, and they’re very, very talented. To think you can take a year off and come back and be good… you just never know. But we did all right!”

With two races left before the cutoff for the Xfinity Playoffs at Las Vegas, Reddick holds a 51-point lead over Bell in the race for the regular-season title. Custer is 136 points back in third place.

The disqualification was the fifth this year under the enforcement policy NASCAR adopted this year, all in either the Xfinity or Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Hamlin was the second race winner to suffer a disqualification, the other being Ross Chastain in a Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway.

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Brett Moffitt dominates at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Past NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races on the historical and scenic Canadian Tire Motorsport Park road course have ended in hot tempers and dramatic last lap passes.

By comparison, Brett Moffitt’s 5.160-second victory in Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 looked like a drive in the Park. The current series championship leader earned his second playoff win in as many 2019 playoff races with the largest Margin of Victory in the race’s seven-year history over one of the very best road course racers in the world – Canadian Alex Tagliani.

Ben Rhodes finished third followed by Sheldon Creed. Austin Hill and Johnny Sauter got around another Canadian, fellow truck series playoff driver Stewart Friesen, on the last lap to round out the top-six. Friesen still had a solid day, an impressive rally from last place on the starting grid to seventh at the checkered flag – forced to conserve fuel down the homestretch.

Four of the first six series races at the track were decided on the final lap. This year for Moffitt’s strong No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet team, it was instead a matter of making a strong statement – earning a convincing win and extending his playoff win streak to two with the final race of this opening playoff round set for Sept. 13 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Going back to the 2018 season – the defending series champion Moffitt has won four consecutive playoff races.

“As far as the team goes, I just feel like everyone at GMS all the way back from the fab shop on up has been doing a better job,’’ Moffitt said. “Our team personally has been communicating a lot better and just knowing what my words mean and what I need to find in the truck, I’d say we’re hitting our stride at the right time.

“It took a while to get here but before it was like we were missing a little bit everywhere and now we’re hitting on all cylinders.’’ Moffitt led 45 of the 64 laps.

Playoff driver Ross Chastain finished eighth and his nine laps led was the most by any driver other than Moffitt. Among the other playoff drivers – Tyler Ankrum finished ninth, Matt Crafton was 11th and regular season champion Grant Enfinger was 13th.

There were only three caution flags on the afternoon – two for stage endings.

As has often been the case in this seven-year old event, again the action intensified in the final laps. This year it was behind the leader.

Harrison Burton lost a motor while running in the top-five with two laps remaining, but was able to get off the track without bringing out a caution flag. The driver racing him hardest at the time, Friesen had to back off himself to conserve fuel on the final lap.

“It was a battle for sure,’’ Friesen said. “I screwed up in practice and wrecked the primary [truck]. But we were able to battle up through there and almost had a top-five but started running out of fuel at the end.

“We gave up a couple positions at the end but still got out of here with some points.’’

Two of the eight drivers will be eliminated from championship contention following the final playoff race of this round at Las Vegas in two weeks. With his two victories, Moffitt has an automatic berth in the next round. Chastain is second in the championship points standings, with a 22-point advantage on third-place Friesen.

Crafton is fourth in the championship standings, followed by Hill and Enfinger. Only four points separate Friesen, Crafton, Hill and Enfinger, however.

Two-time series champion Johnny Sauter sits a mere two-points behind his ThorSport Racing teammate Enfinger just outside the playoff bubble and 18-year old Ankrum is 14 points below the cutoff.

“You go into Vegas with a must-win mentality, that’s what I know I’ll do.’’ Sauter said.