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XFINITY

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300

It was a long afternoon for the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Bristol Motor Speedway that included two red flags, one for rain and the other for a crash. When it finally came to a close, it was Erik Jones standing in victory lane for the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300. 

The VHT Effect

After an experiment last year with limited impact, the speedway was more aggressive this time around with the use of VHT, a substance that was applied to the lower groove in hopes of re-creating the racing of old at Bristol, including the bump and run.

Initially, the impact of VHT, which was designed to give more grip to the bottom lane, seemed to be inadequate. Starting second on the outside line, Austin Dillon passed pole sitter Kyle Larson in the first corner, despite Larson having the VHT to his advantage. However, as the race progressed, the low groove showed some promise, with much of the field running right against the apron.

It may not have been exactly like it used to be, but there were times it seemed close. The highlight of this was in the closing laps, when Jones put the bumper to Ryan Blaney to take the lead and ultimately the win.

Short of another reconfiguration, the old Bristol may never return back to its true form. However, while the Cup race on Sunday will be the best indicator, Saturday seemed to be an effective step. Track officials deserve credit for making bold moves in an attempt to enhance the racing.

Dash 4 Cash and Cup Drivers

Saturday was the second of four Dash 4 Cash races this season, where $100,000 was on the line for XFINITY Series regulars. For each of these events, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers with more than five years of experience are not allowed to compete. This time, it was Daniel Hemric taking home the money after a fifth place finish.

However, Bristol was unable to live up to the high bar set by Phoenix, the first Dash 4 Cash race of the year, which was won by series regular Justin Allgaier and was one of the best events of 2017 thus far. In Bristol, Cup drivers with less than five years of experience, who are still able to compete, dominated the race. XFINITY drivers were rarely worthy of a mention, hiding in the shadows of those from the top series.

The new entry rules for the division are a start. A win by Jones is a bit more tolerable than a win by Kyle Busch simply because Jones has less experience and is a fresh face to the sport. However, more steps should be taken, with the next logical one being limiting any driver competing full time in Cup.

Daniel Suarez Has Strong Run

Cup drivers racing in the XFINITY Series may not be best for the sport, but the added track time is still good for Daniel Suarez. After being thrown into a Cup car after Carl Edwards’ sudden departure, Suarez was given a difficult challenge this year.

As Joey Logano showed when he moved to NASCAR’s top series, starting too early can hurt you, so any advantage Suarez can find is a major plus for the Mexican driver.

Running near the front, competing for the lead and ultimately finishing third Saturday was a bright spot in a season that has been rocky at times. Bristol is not easy to master, especially with the speedway trying to alter the track throughout the weekend, but Suarez handled it well. Sunday’s race will be an entirely different test, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver may be setting himself up for a strong run on the big stage.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: Alpha Energy Solutions 250

After nearly a month-long absence, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action at Martinsville Speedway. As expected, there was plenty of hard racing, with Chase Elliott scoring the win.

The GMS Show

GMS Racing dominated the Alpha Energy Solutions 250, with Chase Elliott and Johnny Sauter

leading 161 laps. They each won a stage 1 and 2, settling the win between them. With a block on the late-race restart, No. 23 edging out the No. 21.

After their first championship with Sauter last year, there has been no sign of slowing down. They have won inning two of the three races run, as well as four of the six stages.

Top-Five for Gragson

After being involved in Lap 1 accidents at Daytona and Atlanta, rookie Noah Gragson needed a solid run The Nevada native was strong at Martinsville, battling for the win in route to his first top-five.

The finish didn’t come easy, though, he spun on Lap 100 due to contact with Chase Briscoe. After falling back, the 18-year-old used strategy to be on Elliott’s bumper for second with 50 to go.

While it wasn’t a win, his fourth-place finish will serve as moral boost for his team.

Traffic Jam

While GMS Racing dominated, Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Christopher Bell had the upper hand late in the event.

After pitting late in stage two, Bell stayed out during the break to take over the top spot. The 22-year-old had held off Elliott for 89 laps until he caught the tail end of the field.

Going into turn one, Austin Cindric fought to remain on the lead lap, blocking Bell’s No. 4 Toyota Tundra. The pair made contact, causing Cindric to spin with Bell falling back to third.

With a beat up truck, Bell settled for a third-place finish.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

EYE IN THE SKY: Observations From Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — It looked like a driver named Kyle would win the race. Then it looked like Brad Keselowski’s Team Penske No. 22 was the car to beat. But in the end, it was Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, who took the checkered flag in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kyle vs. Kyle

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson battled for the lead throughout all of Stage 1. In the closing laps of the segment, Larson was in a door-to-door fight for the lead with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, but the JGR No. 18 led every lap and won the opening stage by six-hundredths of a second margin.

Larson finished second after leading 33 laps, and Busch finished seventh after winning the pole and leading 48 laps.

Allgaier rebounds

After a pair of 30th-place results at Daytona and Atlanta, Justin Allgaier earned his first top five of the season with a fourth-place finish. He finished fifth in Stage 1 and 3rd in Stage 2, marking the first time he earned stage points in NASCAR’s new format.

His one hiccup of the day was when he overshot his pit stall by about two feet during a cycle of green-flag stops with 53 to go, but a couple of late-race cautions helped the JR Motorsports driver climb back into contention for the win.

Trouble for the Vegas native

Thirteen laps into Stage 2, Brendan Gaughan’s No. 62 fell off the pace, and his team reported a plug wire issue. Gaughan was forced to take his Richard Childress Racing machine behind the wall, and the crew changed the carburetor. Since it was a mechanical problem, he was allowed to return to the race. With NASCAR’s new rule about damaged racecars, had he crashed, his day would have ended as soon as he entered the garage.

But with 11 laps remaining in Stage 2, Gaughan got into the Turn 2 wall and spun out onto the backstretch apron, bringing out the fourth caution of the day. He ended up 35th and 11 laps down.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Rinnai 250 at Atlanta

This weekend, the NASCAR XFINITY Series raced at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, and in his first race back in the series, Kyle Busch ended his day in victory lane.

Cup Series Dominance

Last week at Daytona, the XFINITY Series regulars held their own against the Cup Series drivers doing double duty, winning all of the stages and leading over half the laps. Unfortunately for them, that would not be the case in Atlanta.

The Cup Series veterans showed their dominance Saturday, as they occupied the top-four at the end of the race, with Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, and Kevin Harvick being the class of the field. In addition to that, they would win all of the stages and led all 163 laps.

Rookies Impress

While it might have been a race controlled by stars of the sport, that wouldn’t stop the rising stars of the series from having impressive runs. William Byron and Daniel Hemric finished seventh and ninth, respectively.

Another rookie who finished inside the top-10 was Cole Custer, who came home 10th, after battling back from a late-race penalty for too many men over the wall.

An important note with all three of these drivers’ days is they didn’t just show up in the top-10 at the end. They ran well all day, as each were in the top-10 at the end of both Stage 1 and 2, which will result in even more points for them.

Bubba Bounce Back

At the end of Stage 1, Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr was outside the top-20 and nearly put a lap down. The rough start to his day would ignite the spark to an impressive comeback.

As the race carried on, the 23-year-old slowly worked his way to the front, managing to get himself to 13th by the end of Stage 2. But really, it was in Stage 3 where he and his team showed their strength, as they would get into the top-10. At the end of the day, the No. 6 Leidos Ford finished sixth.

With fellow Roush Fenway driver, Ryan Reed winning last week, and Wallace’s good finish, it is safe to say RFR is starting off the season on a high note.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: Powershares QQQ 300 at Daytona

The XFINITY Series season started off on a wild note after multiple wrecks forced drivers to compete with damaged rides. The race ended with Ryan Reed and Roush-Fenway returning to victory lane for the first time since 2015.

The Big One(s) End Stage 1

As is common at Daytona and Talladega, the “Big One” struck. This time twice during the opening of Saturday’s Powershares QQQ 300.

The first accident occurred on Lap 23, after a bump on the backstretch from Scott Lagasse Jr sent Tyler Reddick’s No. 42 sideways into Spencer Gallagher, with several other accidents occurring as competitors tried to avoid trouble.

In total 18 cars were involved including the likes of Cole Custer, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, and eventual race-winner, Reed.

Then, just as NASCAR got everything cleaned up, another big wreck occurred. This time it’d take place as the leaders were entering turn three after Daniel Hemric got loose and made contact with Justin Allgaier resulting an another big pile up and a violent collision with the outside wall for Allgaier. This accident included nine cars and took Erik Jones, Darrell Wallace Jr, Daniel Suarez, among others, out of contention.

The two accidents finished off Stage 1, and in total, only 13 cars entered the second stage without any damage.

Stages Matter

For the first half of the race, Elliott Sadler was the class of the field. Staying out of trouble and winning Stage 1, and then doing the same in Stage 2. For a while it seemed like no one was going to stop the 41-year-old but, in the blink of an eye, his impressive day turned sour.

With 16 laps to go, Sadler’s car turned sideways after a bump from Austin Dillon, and as a result, his fast No. 1 Chevrolet was torn up and his day was over.

Now, a year ago, his strong performance would be ventured useless. But, with NASCAR’s new points package, there is a silver lining.

By winning the first two stages, Sadler earned 20 points and two playoff points, on top of the points for his 24th place finish.

Damaged Goods

Before getting to victory and capturing his first win in two seasons, as noted above, Reed was involved in the race’s first crash and collected damage in the process. Even with NASCAR’s new damage policy, Reed was able to make repairs and get himself in a position to get another win at Daytona.

He wasn’t the only one to remain in the race despite being involved in an accident.

Austin Dillon was able to get back in the race and even with damage to the rear of his car, led laps and came to close to starting his season with a victory.

What does this all mean?

If you can repair your damages and get back on track before the five-minute clock expires, you still have a shot at ending up in victory lane.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona

The Camping World Truck Series kicked off its season in Daytona on Friday night, and just as expected with racing at restrictor plate track, it produced another wild race with Kaz Grala coming home with his first win.

Big One to Start

It didn’t take for the first big wreck of the season, as contact between rookies Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson on Lap 2 sent Gragson’s No. 18 into the wall, sliding back down the banking into the pack.

The incident involved 17 trucks, including the likes of Austin Cindric, Ryan Truex, Ross Chastain, and Scott Lagasse Jr, and put NASCAR’s new damage policy to the test.

Some drivers, like Lagasse, were able to make repairs under the five-minute period and return to competition, while others were unable to complete theirs in time. In total, eight drivers found themselves in the garage after two laps.

The Birth of Stages

The race also served as the first with stages, with the lengths at 20, 20, and 60 laps a piece, with points being disturbed to the top-10, with the ten regular season points, as well as a playoff point given to the winner of each of the first two stages.

The new format created some exciting racing at the end of each stage.

Coming to the green checkered flag at the end of Stage 1, Christopher Bell and Brett Moffitt were battling for the lead when both got sideways with Bell’s truck lifted off the ground and Moffitt’s slamming the wall. With the leaders out of the way, Johnny Sauter slid into first to end Stage 1.

In Stage 2, it seemed as if the drivers took note of what happens when being aggressive, as it resulted in a much calmer, single-file ending, with Sauter again finishing first.

The points for Sauter turned out valuable as despite finishing 15th, he leaves Daytona sitting second in points.

Big One to End

As is common at tracks like Daytona and Talladega, when you have several drivers in a small pack battling for the win, it will usually end with the winner coasting to victory and the rest of the pack caught up in the “Big One.”

That was again the case at the end of the NextEra Energy Resources 250, as Ben Rhodes spun at the front of the pack, resulting in a massive crash with several trucks involved. As Matt Crafton’s truck went airborne, Grala slipped past the mayhem and got the win.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: GALAXY 200 at PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY

The Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway was a fitting precursor to next week’s season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway.

While Kyle Busch won the event, the final eight battled for their shot at the playoffs. From the beginning of the race, each proved to be competitive – many driving against each other in the top-10. However, a few were met with heartbreak, and their championship hopes faded away. Nevertheless, four drivers have advanced and will have the opportunity to race for the title next week at Homestead.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday night.

Allgaier Fights Back

Justin Allgaier came into Saturday night’s event one point outside of the Final Four cutoff. With many strong competitors in the running, it would be a formidable challenge to advance into Homestead. When the green flag waved, the driver proved his resilience and slowly climbed the leaderboard. At one point, he claimed second, behind Busch.

In the end, the driver was the highest placing Chase competitor – fourth. He joins Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez, and Erik Jones as the Final Four to fight for the title at Homestead.

Wallace Jr’s Emotional Night

Darrell Wallace Jr. already had a tough week losing his grandmother unexpectedly. Racing with a heavy heart, the driver battled for the fourth and final Chase seat. However, his night was cut short when Blake Koch unknowingly drove down in front of Wallace, causing him to hit the wall. The damage resulted in a DNF for the No. 6 team, and the end of their 2016 title hopes.

The Mobile, AL native was emotional after the race but kept the night in perspective.

“My grandmother was giving me the ride of my life,” he told NBCSN. “It was the most fun I’ve had all year. Just circumstances took us out… going to Homestead and let her ride again.”

Out But Not Down

The playoff journey of Blake Koch and Kaulig Racing has been a popular story in the series, but Saturday night it met its conclusion. Facing off against his Chase competitors, the driver began in the fourth position, but was shuffled back and finished eighth – tying his best career finish in the series.

“We did the best we could all night,” Koch told NBCSN. “It was probably our best night of the year.” While the driver’s title run has come to an end, he and his team still have plenty to smile about. The 2016 season has been their most competitive year to date, which leaves promise for the future.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: Lucas Oil 150

The Camping World Truck Series traveled to Phoenix for the penultimate race of the season. With Phoenix also being the final race of the second round of the inaugural Chase for the trucks, it meant the elimination of two drivers, leaving four to go to Homestead to decide the championship.

While William Byron dominated, a late-race mechanical problem cost him the race, opening the door for Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Daniel Suarez to pick up his first win in the series.

 

Final Four Decided

With wins at Martinsville and Texas, Johnny Sauter was already locked in to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend. Coming into Phoenix, the question was who else would join him? Sauter’s consecutive victories meant that, even if a Chase driver won, two others got in on points.

While Byron dominated the race, the biggest question mark seemed like it would be “Who will point themselves into a chance at the Championship?” Matt Crafton came into the race with a slim one-point lead over Timothy Peters for the final spot. Crafton managed to stretch that to four points early on but it was soon a three-way battle between him, Peters and Christopher Bell.  Every lap and every pass would drastically change the Chase picture.

With Byron out of the title picture with a handful of laps to go, it gave all three drivers a bit of breathing room.  Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Timothy Peters and Christopher Bell will head to Homestead with one emerging as the 2016 series champion. Meanwhile, Byron and Ben Kennedy found themselves on the outside looking in when the night was over. 

 

It Was Byron’s Race to Win

After never running any lower than second until the last ten laps, William Byron seemed poised to easily win the race and head to Homestead as perhaps the favorite to win the 2016 Camping World Truck Series championship. 

He had been quickest in all three rounds of qualifying en route to winning the pole. Although he had surrendered the point to Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick for a few laps, Byron had otherwise remained fixed at the front.

But just as the telecast went to break with a dozen laps to go, the commentators pointed out a flashing light that might indicate an overheating issue. By the time viewers rejoined the race, Byron’s engine was up in smoke. That finished his evening and, despite six wins, his chance at a championship.

 

Johnny Sauter Was Not Coasting

Two weeks ago, Johnny Sauter picked up an important win at Martinsville, which was enough to earn him a spot in the Final Four at Homestead. Many drivers might have taken advantage of the situation and coasted through the next two races. Instead, Sauter backed up his Martinsville win with another at Texas. Coming into the race, Sauter had been sixth overall in combined practice speeds and qualified fourth.

Sauter spent the early part of the night in third. After a pit stop had shuffled him out of the top five, Sauter continued to battle his way towards the front. By the white flag, he was in second and while he was unable to chase down winner Suarez, Sauter was still the leading Chase driver and should have the momentum he needs going into the final race of the season.

 

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: Striping Technology 350 at Texas

With three races left in the season, the action ramped up at the Texas Motor Speedway. From non-chasers dominating early to a familiar face ending the night in victory lane, the Striping Technology 350 provided a lot to talk about.

 

Sauter Doubles Down in Texas

One week following his big win at Martinsville, Johnny Sauter decided one win would not be enough in the Round of 6, as he went back-to-back in Texas. It marks his third win of the season as well as keeps anyone from locking into the Championship Round with him early.

For Sauter it was a relatively quiet night; he positioned himself in the top-five for the majority of the race but seemingly couldn’t find a way to the lead.

That changed during the last round of pit stops, as the No. 21 team won the race off pit road. Despite falling back on the restart, Sauter fought back and passed Matt Crafton with three laps to go to come home with the checkered flag.

 

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Following an altercation with Ben Rhodes last weekend at Martinsville, Ben Kennedy desperately needed a good day in Texas.

Unfortunately, that would not be the case for the 24-year-old.

Early on in the event, he began to report motor issues under the hood of his No. 33 Chevrolet, forcing the team to assess the situation and lose several spots in the process. Fortunately for Kennedy, he would be able to continue the race, on the lead lap, and capture a 13th place finish.

Well it may not have been the night he had hoped for, Kennedy will walk out of Texas just 13 points out of the cutoff, allowing him a chance to get in at Phoenix possibly.

 

 

Out of the Chase, Not out of the Game

They may no longer be in the hunt for a championship, but that didn’t stop Daniel Hemric and Spencer Gallagher from having a great night in Fort Worth.

Despite not coming home with the win, the two showed they shouldn’t be written off just yet, leading a combined 126 of the 147 lap race. Gallagher set a career-high in laps led at 88 laps led, but fell short of winning due to a slow pit stop late; he finished seventh. Meanwhile, Hemric tied his best at 38 en route to finishing third.

They may not be in the title picture, but they made themselves the focus in the Lone Star State.

 

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: fred’s 250 at Talladega

The final race in the Round of 8 provided plenty of drama for the Camping World Truck Series as they took to the track at Talladega Superspeedway.

Grant Enfinger came home with his first win, while,  John Hunter Nemechek and Daniel Hemric were eliminated from the Chase.

 

GMS Success

When you head to a track as unpredictable as Talladega with a multi-truck team, you have to worry at least one of your drivers will get involved in an accident. That was far from the case for GMS Racing.

Not only did all four of their trucks finish, but all inside the top-seven, with the No. 24 coming home with the checkered flag.

Also, GMS’ Ben Kennedy and Johnny Sauter both advanced to the second round of the Chase with solid runs on Saturday.

 

No Quit for Daniel Hemric

Yes, Daniel Hemric was one of the two drivers eliminated from the Chase following the race at Talladega.

But, the 25-year-old wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Despite being involved in two multi-car incidents and spinning out late, he and his team not only made enough repairs finish the race but would also be able to keep in a position where he could either stay on the lead lap or capture the free pass to remain on the lead lap.

After all was said and done, Hemric finished 11th, on the lead lap, just 13 points short of the cutoff.

 

The Big One Strikes Again

As to be expected with this type of racing, a big multi-truck crash took out several competitors during Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

This time, the accident was caused by contact between Timothy Peters, and Ben Rhodes at the head of the pack, sending Rhodes into the wall and eventually spinning into the oncoming traffic.

In total, 14 of the 32 trucks entered in the race were involved in the massive pileup.

 

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66