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Martin Truex Jr. advances to Championship 4 with dominant Martinsville win

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – It took a post-race fracas on pit road to distract from the dominance of Martin Truex Jr., who led a career-best 464 laps in winning Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway and punched his ticket for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 race.

The 2017 Cup Series champion took the lead from pole winner Denny Hamlin off pit road on Lap 30 under the first of 11 cautions and held it the rest of the way, save for a six-lap stint where Kyle Larson stayed out on old tires near the end of the second 130-lap stage.

Denied victory by Joey Logano’s bump-and-run in last year’s Playoff race at the .526-mile track, Truex won for the first time at the venerable short track, for the seventh time this season and the 26th time in this career.

Byron chased Truex all the way to the checkered flag but couldn’t get close enough to make a move in the final laps.

“I can’t believe we just won Martinsville, man,” said Truex, who finished .489 seconds ahead of William Byron after a restart with 24 laps left. “Miami (site of the season finale) is awesome, but we’ve wanted to win here for a long time.”

As strong as his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was, Truex didn’t expect the level of domination he showed on Sunday.

“I don’t think anyone expected that,” said Truex, who opened a 20-point lead over second-place Hamlin in the Playoff standings. “This racetrack, in general, you don’t see that. Hats off to my guys. Pit crew was stellar today, and we didn’t make many adjustments. We adjusted on early and it came to life, and that was a lot of fun.

“I don’t know, maybe now I’ve got this place figured out. Who knows? But just really proud of everybody, and after last year, we talked earlier, everybody wants to keep talking about last year, and I’m like, ‘We’ve got work to do.’ I’m just proud of everybody for giving me a race car like that and being able to put it all together today when it counted.”

A post-race discussion between Hamlin and Logano started with civility and ended in a wrestling match between the drivers and their crews. The point of contention was an incident on Lap 458 when Hamlin’s Toyota and Logano’s Ford made side-to-side contact off Turn 4 and Logano car’s banged into the outside wall.

Logano spun in Turn 1 to bring out the 10th caution, and he recovered to finish seventh, but he wanted answers from Hamlin after the race.

“We were having a discussion,” Hamlin said. “Everything was civil, and then, like Joey does, he does a little push and then runs away. So that’s Joey. Scared. He said, ‘Do you want to go?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m here.’ But then he runs away.”

“I just wanted to see what his thoughts were, and it wasn’t quite the answer I was looking for,” said Logano, who initiated the physicality with a light push to Hamlin’s right shoulder.

Seeking his first win in NASCAR’s top series, Byron ran consistently in the top 10 all afternoon but was no match for Truex.

“He was really strong,” said Byron, who had not finished on the lead lap in three previous starts at Martinsville. “I could work my brake bias a little bit in the car and gain a little bit, and then I’d get to him and I’d heat up a lot and then kind of fall back. I don’t really know. He was super strong. Our car bounced a little bit on the short run, which was tough to kind of get around. But overall, it was a really good day.

“This isn’t a place that I’ve loved coming to, and it just clicked this weekend, the things we did with the car going into qualifying and then obviously our race. Super excited, but second is not super fun, either. We’ll try to get one spot better next time.”

Brad Keselowski ran third, followed by Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch. Kevin Harvick, Logano, Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman completed the top 10.

With Truex locked into the Championship 4—winning a Round of 8 race for the first time—Hamlin, 14th-place finisher Kyle Busch and Logano remain above the cut line for the season finale, with the Playoff field to be cut from eight drivers to four, two races hence at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

Harvick is fifth in the standings, 1 point behind Logano in fourth. Blaney is one point behind Harvick with Larson another nine back. Chase Elliott finished 36th on Sunday, 55 laps down after his rear axle broke on Lap 180, and is 44 points below the cut line—likely needing a victory in one of the next two races to make the Championship 4.

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Dramatic pass in wild race gives Todd Gilliland first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – In an extraordinarily wild NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race that saw four of six Playoff drivers have major issues, 19-year-old Todd Gilliland muscled his way past Ross Chastain on Lap 191 and held on to win for the first time in 46 career starts.

Just as extraordinarily, a series of wild wrecks that produced 12 cautions for 80 laps did little to affect the Playoff standings, with the Championship 4 drivers still to be settled two weekends hence at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

After the 11th caution, Gilliland drove underneath Chastain on the restart lap, with Gilliland’s No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota clearing Chastain’s No. 45 Chevrolet for the top spot. Gilliland led the final 11 laps, though the final caution and into an overtime that took the race one circuit past its scheduled distance of 200 laps.

Before reveling in the win, Gilliland had a bittersweet moment because the expected victory in KBM equipment had been such a long time coming.

“I wish we had won two years ago, just like everyone else thought we would,” Gilliland said. “I thought we would, too. We went through some growing pains. (Marcus) Richmond was my crew chief, and we got rid of him, and then he came back and was helping us again. He’s really great here at Martinsville.

“I’m just so proud of these guys. Man, this is a long time coming. Hopefully, this will get some momentum rolling and open up some doors for next year.”

In his post-race press conference, Gilliland acknowledged he had no plans set for the 2020 season.

Chastain, who trailed Gilliland at the finish by .879 seconds, leaves the .526-mile short track third in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series standings, 20 points ahead of fifth-place Matt Crafton, who ran 23rd after stalling out and having to change a battery and computer system 81 laps into the race.

On the final two restart, Chastain had to deal with both Gilliland and his KBM teammate Harrison Burton, who spun on the final lap and finished 18th.

“If I can go head-to-head with that team, I can fight them one at a time, but I can’t take two of them,” Chastain said. “They took turns beating my back bumper off, which is fine. I’m good with it.”

Johnny Sauter ran third, followed by Grant Enfinger and Timmy Hill, who scored his first top five in any of NASCAR’s top three series. Playoff driver Stewart Friesen ran sixth after recovering from a spin off Sauter’s nose on Lap 148.

Series leader and defending champion Brett Moffitt wasn’t as fortunate. His No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet suffered damage in a four-car incident on Lap 115 and retired from the race in 29th place after completing 122 laps.

“We’ll just go on and try to win at Phoenix and Homestead,” said Moffitt, who retained the series lead and holds a 445-point margin over Crafton, with the Playoff field to be trimmed to four drivers at Phoenix.

A nine-truck wreck on Lap 123 KO’d Playoff drivers Tyler Ankrum and Austin Hill, who finished 25th and 26th, respectively. Ankrum goes to Phoenix in sixth place, 15 points below the current cut line for the Championship 4. Hill is fourth in the standings, nine points ahead of Crafton, a two-time series champion.

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Hamlin wins at Kansas as Elliott is last driver into Round of 8

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – As Denny Hamlin was finishing off a dominating day in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Chase Elliott stole perhaps an even bigger prize — a spot in the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Hamlin, who led 153 of 277 laps, crossed the finish line .128 seconds ahead of Elliott in a second overtime to secure his fifth victory of the season, his second at Kansas and the 36th of his career.

But the real suspense in the second overtime featured a three-way battle among Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano for the final two spots in the Round of 8. Logano restarted 20th in a damaged No. 22 Ford and finished 17th to secure one of the playoff positions.

Keselowski, who entered the race with a 20-point margin over Elliott, was bottled up on the final restart, fell from 13th to 19th in the running order and lost the final playoff berth to Elliott by three points.

Fittingly, there were two celebrations on pit road — one for the winner and one for the runner-up.

“This is a great feeling,” said Hamlin, who led Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch (third) and Martin Truex Jr. (sixth) into the penultimate round of the playoffs. “That car was awesome to dominate that whole second half.

“I have to thank everybody who pushed me on the restarts, Kyle (Busch), the 9 (Elliott) at the end. Good to see him make it by points anyway. But, hey, I’m just really happy for this whole FedEx team. It’s been great. Been running really good. Cannot wait to get to Martinsville Speedway (next Sunday’s Round of 8 opener).”

Elliott is the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to transfer into the Round of 8. Teammate William Byron was fifth Sunday but missed the next round by 16 points. Alex Bowman suffered early damage and rallied to run 11th, but he finished the race 20 points behind Elliott for the last spot.

Clint Bowyer came home eighth and was eliminated from the playoffs in 12th place, 21 points below the cutline.

“The good news was the bottom lane rolled good enough on the last restart to at least get back to second,” Elliott said. “So I appreciate the effort. We were really struggling there at one point in the race. You have to stay fighting in these things, especially with these late-race restarts.

“Just proud of the effort today. Just excited we get to fight another race. Back up against the wall, to come out here and battle for a win, that’s what you have to do when you’re in the position that we were in.

“If you ever get to (the Championship 4 race), you’re going to have to fight for a win down there. Proud of the effort. Learned a lot. To be able to come out here and, like I said, in our minds have to win, come and fight for one, to finish second, I think is a step in the right direction for us. So excited to move on.”

Logano won the first 80-lap stage and added four points with a seventh-place finish in the second stage to give himself the buffer he needed at the end, after spinning through the infield grass on the next-to-last lap in the first overtime, the result of a collision with the Chevrolet of Ty Dillon.

Logano, the defending series champion, finished the Round of 12 nine points ahead of Keselowski, his Team Penske teammate.

An effective charge toward the end of the race netted Kurt Busch a fourth-place finish. Truex, Erik Jones, Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10 in order.

Despite an off day, Harvick cruised into the next round of the playoffs. Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney already were locked into the Round of 8, thanks to their respective victories at Dover International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

 
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Brandon Jones wins at Kansas Speedway, as Xfinity Playoff drivers battle on and off-track

KANSAS CITY, Kan: After Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 took a sharp turn with 16 laps left, Brandon Jones sped away on two straight restarts to collect his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in a race that ended with Playoff drivers Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick brawling on pit road.

Jones stretched his advantage after a restart on Lap 196 of 200, with first Chase Briscoe and then Reddick giving chase. Jones held off both pursuers and crossed the finish line .272 seconds ahead of Reddick, with Briscoe .623 seconds behind the leader

“My foot was literally shaking on the accelerator on that last lap,” Jones said in Victory Lane. “I’m not even sure if I was wide open at the time that I was doing it. There was a lot of nerves and a lot of emotion going through my mind, but I saw it coming, and I was pretty pumped.”

Contact from Reddick’s Chevrolet forced Custer into the outside wall after the final restart, and Custer dropped to 11th at the finish. After both drivers exited their cars on pit road, Custer approached Reddick to voice his displeasure, placing a hand on Reddick’s shoulder.

Reddick responded with both hands to the collar of Custer’s firesuit, and the drivers fell to the pavement while grappling, only to be separated by crew members.

“I put my hand on him, and he just went berserk,” said Custer, who led a race-high 85 laps and won the second stage. “I thought we had a good car. I thought we had a chance to win.”

“If he puts a hand on me, I’m going to put a hand on him back,” Reddick said. “That’s just how it’s going to be if we’re having a conversation that way… It was just the heat of the moment—we’re pissed off. I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon, maybe today, tomorrow.

“I obviously didn’t want to get into his quarter panel, but if I lift, I get passed. I hate that it happened to him, but we’ll try to move forward.”

Briscoe was leading, with pole winner and series leader Christopher Bell right behind when the two drivers closed fast on the No. 0 of Garrett Smithley on Lap 184. Smithley steered toward the top of the track and pinched Briscoe’s Ford into the outside wall.

With no room to maneuver, Bell plowed into Briscoe’s car, sending Bell’s No. 20 Supra sliding across the infield grass with major damage to the right front. Briscoe recovered to run third, after his crew replaced the rear bumper cover on his No. 98 Mustang, but Bell had to settle for a 12th-place finish.

Bell, however, retained the series lead by 11 points over Custer and 12 over third-place Reddick, as the “Big Three” remained comfortably above the cut line for the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Justin Allgaier ran fifth and is fourth in the standings, two points ahead of Briscoe.

Austin Cindric’s championship hopes took a severe blow when the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford tangled with the No. 18 Toyota of Harrison Burton on Lap 70. After an intense exchange of positions moments before, Cindric tagged the right rear of Burton’s car, turning it sideways.

But Burton remained in Cindric’s path, and both cars sustained damage when they collided in the middle of the track. Burton retired with a broken right front suspension. Ultimately, with a succession of unscheduled pit stops, Cindric finished 25th, six laps down, and dropped to eighth in the Playoff standings, 30 points below the cutoff for the Championship 4.

Jeremy Clements, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Sieg and Ross Chastain finished sixth through 10th, respectively.

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Rookie Daniel Hemric bags first Busch Pole Award in Kansas qualifying

Daniel Hemric may be out of the playoffs and out of his ride at Richard Childress Racing next year, but that didn’t stop the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet from winning the pole position for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In Saturday’s time trials for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 elimination race, Hemric covered the 1.5-mile distance in 30.329 seconds (178.047 mph) to earn the top starting spot, not to mention his first career Busch Pole Award, by .035 seconds over second-place David Ragan (177.842 mph).

“Yeah, it’s pretty special,” acknowledged Hemric, who recently learned he would not be retained by RCR next year. “I kind of just feel crazy. I got out of the car, and I thought I’d be maybe fifth to eighth but, man, these guys on this Caterpillar Camaro ZL1 have done a great job all year of no matter what’s thrown at us, kind of just rising to the occasion and showing back up at the race track every week ready to work.

“And with all that going on, there’s so much going on around us, that you can get lost in the distraction of things. But to know these guys have continued to have my back through all that stuff has meant the world to me. So congratulations to ECR (Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines) and RCR. They’ve been doing a great job for us all year. It’s cool to be the guy to steer it around the line there and get the quick time.”

Ryan Blaney, who qualified third at 177.754 mph was the top playoff driver on the grid. Blaney is already locked into the Round of 8 by virtue of last Monday’s victory at Talladega. Brad Keselowski (177.667 mph) will start fourth beside his Team Penske teammate.

Dover winner Kyle Larson earned the fifth starting spot in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Blaney, Keselowski and Larson are the only three playoff drivers to earn top-10 spots on the grid. Two-time Kansas winner and playoff contender Martin Truex Jr. will start 11th in the top-qualifying Toyota.

Other playoff contenders qualified as follows: Chase Elliott 14th, Alex Bowman 16th, Kyle Busch 18th, Clint Bowyer 21st, Denny Hamlin 23rd, William Byron 25th, Joey Logano 29th and Kevin Harvick 40th. After three inspection failures, Harvick was not allowed to make a qualifying run, and car chief Robert Smith was ejected from the track.

“I have to pass a lot of cars,” Harvick said. “It is what it is at this point. You just go out and try to strategize and plan what you can and try to pass as many cars when you can at the beginning and go from there.”

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Ryan Blaney advances in Playoffs with razor-thin win at Talladega Superspeedway

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Two factors threw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs into chaos on Monday afternoon—Talladega and Ryan Blaney.

By .007 seconds—the sixth closest finish in series history—Blaney edged Ryan Newman to win Monday’s rain-delayed 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, which took a big bite out of most other Playoff contenders and set up a scramble for the six remaining spots in the Round of 8 next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

With his first victory of the season, his first at Talladega and the third of his career, Blaney secured his berth in the next round, joining Dover winner Kyle Larson, who crashed out of Monday’s race in 39th place.

“Yeah, it was an amazing effort the last two days, to be honest with you,” said Blaney, who spun coming to pit road during Stage 1, which was completed on Sunday just before the rain arrived and forced the rest of the race to be run on Monday.

“We spun out early yesterday and missed some big ones today. We were able to weave our way through. I can’t thank Aric Almirola enough for helping me out there at the end.”

Blaney led the field to green with two laps left, after a caution for an 11-car pileup on the backstretch caused the eighth caution of the afternoon. On the final lap, Blaney surrendered the lead to Newman, who got a strong push to the front from eventual third-place finisher Denny Hamlin.

Coming to the checkered flag, Blaney side-drafted Hamlin and uncoupled the two cars, and with help from fellow Ford driver Aric Almirola, he beat Newman to the finish line by roughly one foot.

“That big push that Newman and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) got, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to block it. They were coming so fast and they wanted to split me. I wanted to stay to the bottom and kind of pulled the 11 off the 6 and then had a big enough run to get to the 6.

“We kind of hit above the line (at the apron) and that pushed me below the line. That is a big judgment call. You never know. I definitely wasn’t going to go below the line before we made contact (because of the possibility of a penalty). I can’t say enough about this Dent Wizard team. It has been super fun the last couple of days. We’re moving on! This is super cool.”

Getting separated from Hamlin in the last quarter-mile likely cost Newman a chance for his first victory with Roush Fenway Racing.

“We just came up that little bit short,” Newman said. “I don’t know what else to say. I could have pinched him some more. I probably could have taken the air. You can go back and bench-race that three weeks from now. It was good racing to the end.”

None of the 12 Playoff drivers escaped the race without incident. The massive wreck on the backstretch on Lap 182 of 188 destroyed the winning chances of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

Kurt Busch was pushing his brother Kyle in the middle of a three-wide pack when the Ford of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved up the track toward Kyle Busch’s Toyota. Almost simultaneously, Kyle’s No. 18 Camry turned sideways off the nose of Kurt’s Chevrolet and slammed into the No. 62 Chevrolet of Brendan Gaughan, who was leading the outside lane.

Playoff driver Alex Bowman was gone on Lap 107, when his attempted block of Joey Logano went awry and ignited a 10-car incident that crippled the No. 19 Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. and damaged the cars of Harvick, Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.

Pole winner William Byron saw his Playoff hopes take a hit when he turned to the right off Kurt Busch’s front bumper and drove Logano’s No. 22 Ford into the wall on lap 162. That occurred after a blown tire, and a spin onto the apron waylaid Clint Bowyer on Lap 153.

Elliott recovered to finish eighth, and Logano secured an 11th-place result, but when the smoke cleared from the multicar accidents, Bowman, Elliott, Bowyer and Byron found themselves facing probable must-win scenarios at Kansas.

Almirola ran fourth, followed by Michael McDowell, Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ty Dillon.

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Rain halts Talladega race after William Byron wins Stage 1

TALLADEGA, Ala – In a helter-skelter finish at the end of Lap 55, William Byron held the lead to win Stage 1 of Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway to advance his cause in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The winner of Stage 2 and the race, however, won’t be decided until Monday. Rain arrived during the first stage break and sent fans in the frontstretch grandstands scurrying for cover. A subsequent break in the rain wasn’t long enough to dry the 2.66-mile track and get the race restarted.

With 57-of-188 laps complete, the race will resume at 2 p.m. ET Monday, broadcast on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The stage win left Byron temporarily in eighth place in the Playoff standings, six points ahead of ninth-place Joey Logano, who was second in Stage 1. The Playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers after next Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Alex Bowman, Byron’s teammate finished third in the opening stage, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

The Fords of Keselowski and Clint Bowyer hooked up in a tandem draft, with Bowyer pushing the No. 2 Mustang to the lead on Lap 44. The cars had such a strong run together that they separated from the rest of the pack and were soon swallowed by the pursuing draft.

At the end of the race, however, tandem runs may well be crucial in deciding the winner.

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Chase Elliott leads Hendrick Motorsports sweep of Talladega qualifying

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Led by pole winner Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports reasserted its domination of superspeedway qualifying on Saturday at Talladega.

The winner at Talladega in April, Elliott toured the 2.66-mile track in 46.692 seconds (192.707 mph) to win his second Busch Pole Award at Talladega, his fourth of the season and the eighth of his career. Hendrick Motorsports swept the top four starting spots for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Alex Bowman qualified second at 192.552 mph, .040 seconds behind his teammate. William Byron (192.258 mph) earned the third starting spot, followed by Jimmie Johnson (191.566 mph).

Saturday’s session was the second time this year Hendrick cars have swept the top four qualifying positions. Hendrick drivers were 1-2-3-4 in qualifying for the Daytona 500, though they didn’t start the race that way because of subsequent Duel qualifying races.

Once before, in the spring Talladega race in 2011, Hendrick put all four of its cars on the front two rows with Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the pole, followed by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin.

“We had a really fast NAPA Night Vision Camaro there,” said Elliott, who got a boost from qualifying after an early engine failure at Dover dropped him seven points below the current cut line for Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. “It was really faster than I was expecting it to be today, which is nice. And (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and our team do such a good job at these places.

“Really, Hendrick, as a whole, and our body shop and our engine shop doing the job that they do coming to these places and have fast race cars and really, it’s kind of on them. So, I’m really proud of the effort. It was a tough week last week, obviously, so it’s just nice to come back and get a pole. Obviously, it’s a long race and anything can happen. So we’ve got to take advantage of a good pit pick and we’ll go to work from there and see what happens.”

Elliott, Bowman and Byron all are fighting for spots in the Round of 8, but the Hendrick contingent won’t have much help within the Chevrolet camp at the start of the race. The three rows behind the four Hendrick cars are occupied by Fords, with Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano qualifying sixth through 10th, respectively.

Keselowski, Bowyer, Blaney and Logano all are still alive in the Playoffs.

“We’ve had some good runs here, for sure,” said Logano, a three-time winner at Talladega. “We’ve had some really good race cars, and things have gone our way a lot, but I’ve said this all week that superspeedway racing evolves all the time. It never really stays the same for more than two or three races before our competition figures out a new way to beat you, and then you’ve got to come up with something new again.

“We’ve got to stay open to doing what our competition is doing and trying to do what they do better than them. That’s what we’ve got to try to do, but it seems like now more than ever the teamwork aspect has really come into play more than it’s ever been. I say teamwork, not just Penske – we’re talking about all the Fords or all the Chevys or Toyotas. Everyone really seems to be committed to each other and it’s really changed the game a lot.”

Erik Jones qualified 11th in the fastest Toyota. The remaining five Playoff drivers qualified as follows: Kyle Larson 12th, Kevin Harvick 15th, Martin Truex Jr. 18th, Kyle Busch 26th and Denny Hamlin 40th. Hamlin didn’t complete his lap before his engine failed.

“I blew up down the back coming to the checkered flag,” Hamlin said. “I was super fortunate that it happened when it did. I told them that I’ve seen some amazing, crazy things happen in my Playoff career, but blowing up on Lap 1 would have set a new precedent for me.

“I’m just super fortunate that it happened when it did. We were 15 seconds away from shutting her down and not knowing until the race started. It was crazy it all ended up the way it did. This was definitely more fortunate than unfortunate.”

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Penalty to Johnny Sauter makes a Talladega winner of Spencer Boyd

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Johnny Sauter did a celebratory burnout. He collected the checkered flag from the flag stand at Talladega Superspeedway.

But Sauter didn’t win Saturday’s Sugarland Shine 250 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff race at the 2.66-mile track. A penalty for blocking Riley Herbst below the yellow line in the final 200 yards of the event cost Sauter the victory and made an unlikely winner of Spencer Boyd.

“It’s Talladega,” the driver of the No. 20 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet exulted in Victory Lane. “Man, I don’t drink beer, but it may happen tonight.”

Boyd, whose previous best finish in the series was a fourth in the 2019 season opener at Daytona, crossed the finish line .132 seconds behind Sauter, who started his celebration. But NASCAR informed the teams that the finish was under review and subsequently awarded the victory to Boyd.

“I was sitting there, and I’m like, man, second is amazing for us,” Boyd said. “We’re happy. We finished fourth at Daytona in this truck, and then one of my crew guys was like, ‘You just won!’ I can’t believe this. Two weeks ago I wasn’t running this race.

“We put this together late with Alabama Roofing Professionals… You dream of winning a NASCAR race. Four years ago, I was selling cars with my dad at Hendrick Automotive Group. A lot of people believed in me to get me to this point.”

Gus Dean’s hard crash into the inside wall off Turn 2 sent the race to overtime, and Sauter led the field to green on Lap 97. Sauter lost and regained the top spot in traffic and moved below the yellow line approaching the checkered flag as Herbst made a move to the inside.

After the review, NASCAR placed Sauter 14th at the finish as the last driver on the lead lap.

“I went down to put a little block on him,” Sauter said, “but then when I did, I got hooked sideways, but that’s just plate racing. You know, I didn’t block his advance or anything like that… I just hate it for my guys. They deserve better than that.”

Todd Gilliland finished second, with Herbst coming home third. Brett Moffitt in fourth and Stewart Friesen in fifth were the highest finishing Playoff drivers in the first race of the Round of 6. Fellow Playoff drivers Austin Hill, Tyler Ankrum and Matt Crafton (the pole winner) followed in sixth, seventh, and eighth, respectively.

Playoff driver Ross Chastain was leading with six laps left, but a late attempt to block Sheldon Creed ignited a 10-car crash that ended with Chastain out of the race and in the infield care center. Chastain dropped to sixth in the Playoff standings, 46 points behind Moffitt, the series leader, but only two behind Crafton in fourth place.

The Playoff field will be cut from six drivers to four after the Nov. 8 event at ISM Raceway at Phoenix.

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Kyle Larson wins Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway

Kyle Larson celebrated his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in two years Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, taking the checkered flag in the Drydene 400 by a convincing 1.578-seconds over Martin Truex Jr. and securing himself and his Chip Ganassi Racing team their first-ever berth in the upcoming Playoff Round of 8.

Larson’s friend and polesitter Denny Hamlin finished fifth after leading a race-best 218 laps. But perhaps the two golf buddies would agree, on this Sunday, Larson’s long game was just a bit better.

Larson, who started alongside Hamlin on the front row, took the race lead on a fast pit stop by his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet team during the Stage 2 break, and pulled out to a five, then six-second advantage on the field – first on Hamlin then on Truex, a contender all afternoon. Truex won Stage 2 and led 15 laps but a slight pit stop miscue put the 2017 Cup champion out of the pits sixth on that stage stop instead of with the lead.

“After the first stage I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like I made the car better at the same time and it really benefitted our long runs,’’ said Larson, who led 154 laps en route to his sixth career – and first Playoff victory. “That’s as good as I’ve ever been around cutting the bottom here. Just a great combination here. Good to be fast in practice and then be good again in the race and get the win.

“This is unbelievable,’’ he continued, motioning toward the track’s front grandstands in gratitude.

“I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a Golden Monster (trophy) is going to be pretty sweet.’’

Larson and Truex’s fellow playoff contenders Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick and Hamlin rounded out the Top-5 on Sunday. Regular-season champion Kyle Busch, who started 18th – lowest on the grid of the 12 Playoff drivers rallied from an early-race pit road penalty to finish sixth.

Heading to the second race of the Playoffs’ three-race Round 2, Larson’s victory puts him atop the standings with a 500-mile race at the historic Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway next week. Truex’s runner-up finish puts him atop the points – 15 points ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin. Busch’s rally puts the regular-season champ fourth in the points standings – tied with Hamlin.

“We were catching him at the end, got closed, just unfortunate there,’’ Truex said. “We win and lose as a team and the guys will clean it up for sure.”

He added, “Every week is about getting most points you can, so a positive day for us.’’

Positive would be an understatement for Larson, who celebrated in victory lane for the first time in 75 races hoisting Dover’s special Golden trophy – specially designed to commemorate the track’s 100th Cup Series race. Larson has been consistently good at Dover throughout his six-year Cup career, the 27-year old Californian earning a pair of runner-up finishes previously. He was third there in this Spring’s race – a race won by Truex.

Hamlin, who won the pole position by a mere .003-seconds over Larson, looked strong early but radioed to his team with 130 laps remaining that he was worried about his car’s engine. At the time, however, he was running fastest among the field and maintaining a nearly 2-second advantage over third place. With about 60 laps to go, Truex got around Hamlin.

Plenty of lapped traffic put Truex in position to perhaps make a move toward Larson. Twice the traffic cut Larson’s leads from more than 5-seconds to under 2-seconds.

Among the other Playoff-eligible drivers, Clint Bowyer rallied to a 10th place finish, one position ahead of 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who was the only driver to score Top-5 finishes in all three opening round races. William Byron was 13th.

It was a tough day for several other Playoff drivers. Ryan Blaney, who ran Top-10 much of the afternoon, pit on Lap 298 complaining of a brake issue. The Team Penske crew took his No. 12 Ford to the garage for repairs and he finished 35th.

It was nothing short of a monstrous beginning for two other Playoff competitors. Reigning Cup champion Joey Logano didn’t even take the green flag with the field. Instead his No. 22 Team Penske Ford was in the garage where the team was furiously working to repair an axle problem. He returned to the track 24 laps down and finished 34th.

Defending Dover race winner and last week’s Charlotte ROVAL winner Chase Elliott only lasted eight laps on Sunday – his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffering an early engine failure. He was officially scored last – 38th – and like Logano and Blaney, will need to have big points days at both Talladega and Kansas tracks. Elliott won at Talladega in May and is the defending Kansas Playoff winner.

Matt DiBenedetto finished seventh-best among the non-Playoff drivers. Jimmie Johnson, whose 11 Dover wins makes him the track’s winningest driver, scored points in both Stage 1 and Stage 2, took over the points lead among drivers who didn’t qualify for the Playoffs. He now leads Daniel Suarez by 10-points.