NASCAR National Series News & Notes — ISM Raceway

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: TicketGuardian 500
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Sunday, March 10
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 312 miles (312 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 312)
2018 Winner: Kevin Harvick

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: NASCAR Xfinity Series Race at ISM Raceway
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Saturday, March 9
The Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance:  200 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)
2018 Winner: Brad Keselowski

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series 250
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 23
TV: FS1, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 131.5 miles (250 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 70),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 140), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)
2018 Winner: John Hunter Nemechek

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

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Team Penske Has Strong Start To 2019

Joey Logano’s victory last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, along with teammate Brad Keselowski’s win at Atlanta Motor Speedway the week before, officially makes Team Penske the class of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series field heading to Phoenix, Arizona for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Logano’s showing gives him a slim two-point edge atop the driver points standings over Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick heading to Phoenix – a one-mile oval that Harvick has dominated in recent times with nine Cup trophies to show.

Keselowski in particular has been good at ISM Raceway, scoring a pole position in 2014 and tallying nine top-10 finishes in 19 starts. Plus, he was runner-up in last season’s Playoff race. Logano has a win at ISM Raceway in the fall of 2016 but has crashed out of two of the last four races there – including last fall.

With two of its three drivers already Playoff-qualified, Team Penske is eager to get its newest member Ryan Blaney on track after an uncharacteristically frustrating start to his season. While Logano and Keselowski are ranked first and fifth in the standings, Blaney is still looking for his first top-10 finish of the year.

Blaney won the pole position at ISM Raceway in the fall of 2017 and has two top-10 finishes in six races on the one-mile track. He’s finished 16th or worse in the last four races, however.

Harvick could join elite club with win at Phoenix

Last year, Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick carried back-to-back wins (at Atlanta and Las Vegas) into Phoenix, where he triumphed again and completed an early season trifecta, scoring a .773-second win over Kyle Busch. This weekend, if Harvick were to win, he would join an elite group, becoming just the sixth driver in series history to win 10 or more Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at a single track; joining Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Jimmie Johnson, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt.

Drivers with 10 or More Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins at a single track

Race Winners

No. of Tracks

Tracks With 10 or More Wins

Richard Petty

5

Martinsville (15), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11) Daytona (10)

Darrell Waltrip

3

Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10)

Jimmie Johnson

1

Dover (11)

David Pearson

1

Darlington (10)

Dale Earnhardt

1

Talladega (10)

Harvick is still looking for his first victory of 2019 – rebounding from a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500 with back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Atlanta and Vegas. He trails points leader Joey Logano by only two points heading into Sunday’s race.

While Kevin Harvick dominated the Phoenix headlines for a decade, there have been seven different race winners in as many races of late. Harvick defends his spring win at Phoenix coming off strong showings the previous two weeks. His 88 laps out front at Las Vegas on Sunday was more than the race winner Logano (86).

Although his Stewart-Haas Racing team boasted four drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs last year, Harvick is the only driver on the team currently ranked among the top 10 – Harvick (second), Aric Almirola (11th), Clint Bowyer (13th) and Daniel Suarez (18th).

Kyle Busch came so close

Kyle Busch came one victory away from a three-race winner’s sweep last weekend at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He won the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series races, but finished third – behind Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski – in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race there. Busch is now the only driver in the series with top 10s in all three season-opening races, however.

Busch is still buoyed by collecting NASCAR national series victories 196 and 197 at Vegas and shows up at ISM Raceway with an enviable track record there of late. He will compete in both the Monster Energy Series and Xfinity Series this weekend.

In the Cup ranks, Busch is a three-time pole winner (2006, 2012, 2016) and holds an interesting record among current drivers for longest time between race wins at the track – 13 years.  Busch won in November of 2005 in his second start on the oval and then again last fall in his 27th start at the track.

In three of the last four Phoenix races, the 2015 Monster Energy Series champion has led 359 laps, including 117 in his win during last year’s November Playoff run – the first under the new configuration of the track.

“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes,’’ said Busch, who drives the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. “You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of Turn 2 and go fast down the backstretch.”

“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave. The track has worn in with racing and the sun, so it’s getting back to a fun place again. It was interesting to see how the place raced last fall with the change in where the start-finish line is and how that changed the racing.

“For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you’ve always had two distinctly different corners at Phoenix, which makes it fun and challenging all at the same time.”

Reboot: ISM Raceway might be coming at right time for Hendrick Motorsports

The ISM Raceway 1-mile oval may be exactly the venue the championship Hendrick Motorsports team looks to regain form. Not only does team veteran Jimmie Johnson have four wins at the track – including three consecutively from 2007-2008 – Chase Elliott has quickly proven to be strong at the venue.

Elliott boasts four top-10 finishes in six starts at ISM Raceway, including a third-place showing in this race last year and a runner-up finish in the fall of 2017. He led 117 laps in this spring race in 2017, finishing 12th.

Nearby Tucson is home to teammate Alex Bowman, giving the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 particular motivation. He won the pole, led a race-best 194 laps and finished a career-best sixth at Phoenix in the fall of 2016, his first time at ISM Raceway in a Hendrick car.

Robust Start: Chip Ganassi Racing duo hot early

Chip Ganassi Racing has extended a team-high mark with both its drivers Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch being ranked among the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ top-10 for the third-straight week. The distinction marks the first time the team has had both of its drivers in the top 10 of the championship standings – Larson (sixth) and Busch (10th)..

Larson is ranked sixth in the driver points standings, 31 points behind Joey Logano, and he leads the series in laps led with 142 (17.7%). The western swing of the Monster Energy Series schedule has proven to be a positive for the 25-year-old Californian. He has three top-three finishes at ISM Raceway, including a third-place last fall and a runner-up in the spring race in 2017. He’s led laps in three of the last four visits to ISM Raceway.

The veteran and 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch has made his transition from Stewart-Haas Racing to the Chip Ganassi Racing group look easy. He’s coming off back-to-back top-five finishes at Atlanta (third) and his home track in Las Vegas (fifth).

Busch has 18 top-10 finishes in 32 starts on the ISM Raceway, with a win in the spring of 2005 after leading a dominating 219 of 312 laps. Busch has certainly put himself in contention in recent years at Phoenix – leading laps in both races last year – but has only one top-10 finish in the last four races. He led 52 laps last fall but was involved in a crash only 40 laps from the checkered flag.

House Party: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. having best start of career

Roush Fenway Racing’s driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is having the best Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season start of his seven-year fulltime career. He’s ranked seventh in the driver championship coming to Phoenix  – ahead of former champions such as Martin Truex Jr. (eighth) and Kurt Busch (10th). His previous best three-race start to a season resulted in an 11th place ranking (in 2013 and 2016). And he’s led laps (22 total) in the opening three races of 2019.

ISM Raceway may well be a challenge for the former Xfinity Series champion. He’s never led a lap there and has one top-five finish (fourth in 2017) in 12 starts. He finished 23rd in this race last year and crashed out in the Fall, finishing 33rd.

Stenhouse remarked on his strong start last week, noting a solid relationship with veteran crew chief Brian Pattie has made a big difference in his Monster Energy Series performance.

“Brian brings me a lot of confidence,’’ Stenhouse said. “We believe in each other on this team.’’

Pattie reciprocated the optimism and praised his driver for his aggressive style that has undeniably resulted in the strongest start of Stenhouse’s career.

“He’s confident,’’ Pattie said. “I want someone that’s eager and greedy. We’re going to continue to work hard, get aggressive and see where it shakes out.’’

His Roush-Fenway teammate Ryan Newman has an opposing story. He’s still looking for his first top 10 of 2019 since moving from the Richard Childress Racing team this season and is ranked 19th in the standings. But he has a good history at ISM Raceway, including a record four pole positions and a pair of spring wins in 2010 and 2017.

Reality Check: Logano swipes points lead from Hamlin

Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin slipped from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver points lead following his 10th-place showing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend and now trails Joey Logano by six markers heading to ISM Raceway. It’s certainly a track in his wheelhouse. Hamlin has shown himself to be one of the better racers on the series’ shorter tracks.

Hamlin won the pole position in his very first Monster Energy Series start at Phoenix in 2005 and earned another in the fall of 2014. His only win there came in the spring of 2012. He has five top-10 finishes in the last seven races – three in the last three spring races. Twice he’s led 190 laps or more and did not win (2010 and 2017). But there’s plenty to be encouraged by when his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota Camry team arrives in Phoenix. Hamlin has 11 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 27 starts at the one-miler.

“We had a couple tough pit stops last weekend in Las Vegas that set us back, and we just needed a little more speed to get those spots back,’’ Hamlin said. “We will have to be at our best from start to finish in Phoenix, and the entire team is working hard and will be ready for the challenge that awaits us.”

Seamless Transition: Truex quickly up to speed with Joe Gibbs Racing

Martin Truex Jr. has certainly put himself in contention since moving to the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota Camry this year from the Furniture Row Racing team with whom he won the 2017 championship. He’s ranked seventh in the series driver points standings, tied with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones, 35-points behind the standings leader Joey Logano.

And for all of Truex’ great reputation on the 1.5-mile intermediate tracks, he’s certainly proven himself skilled on the challenging Phoenix mile of late. He won the pole position there last spring and led three laps and finished fifth. He has two top fives in the last three races (including a third-place finish in the 2017 Playoff race). He also has nine top 10s in 26 total starts.

“We are looking forward to getting to Phoenix this weekend,’’ said Truex, who concedes his team is still finding its groove in the early season which features four different styles of track in the opening five weeks.

“Regardless of what aero package we run there, you’re always looking for the same things from the car. You’ve got to turn in the center and be able to have really good drive off.

“We’ve had some good runs there the past few years – obviously winning the pole last year and being up front leading laps. It will be fun to get to our first sort of short track of the year and see where we’re at there after a couple of 1.5-mile tracks.”

Rookie Progress: 2019 Class has jumped right in

YTD Rookie Standings

Rookie

Points

Ryan Preece

44

Daniel Hemric

34

Matt Tifft

13

Cody Ware

7

JTG Daugherty Racing’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Ryan Preece, continues to impress in his first full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He finished a solid 25th in his Las Vegas series track debut with the team to retain the top ranking among the four-driver 2019 Sunoco Rookie of the Year class. He now holds a 10-point lead in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings over Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric in second place.

Hemric showed the strongest finish at Las Vegas among the rookie foursome with a 23rd. Hemric is now ranked 29th in the driver championship standings, still looking for his first top-15. He has good history at Phoenix, finishing runner-up in the Xfinity Series race there during the Playoffs last November.

Front Row Motorsport’s Matt Tifft is looking for his first top-20 finish in his Monster Energy Series season debut. He was 34th at Las Vegas and is ranked 33rd in the driver championship standings. He has good history at the ISM Raceway one-miler, finishing seventh (spring) and third (fall) in the two Xfinity races last season.

Last but not least, Rick Ware Racing’s driver, Cody Ware, was 35th last week and is ranked 34th in the driver championship standings – last among the four rookies. He has a previous Monster Energy Series start at Phoenix, finishing 28th there last November.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Cactus Country: Xfinity Series’ fourth stop on the schedule is ISM Raceway

After a spectacular event in Las Vegas last weekend, the NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to Phoenix, Arizona for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at ISM Raceway this Saturday, March 9 at 4 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio for the fourth race of the 2019 season.

Through three races the series has seen three different winners – Michael Annett (Daytona), Christopher Bell (Atlanta) and Kyle Busch (Las Vegas). Which is appropriate because the NASCAR Xfinity Series is on a different winner streak at ISM Raceway as well, which has reached five different winners – Kyle Busch (Playoff race 2016), Justin Allgaier (Spring 2017), William Byron (Playoff race 2017), Brad Keselowski (Spring 2018) and Christopher Bell (Playoff race 2018). Allgaier, Bell and Busch are all entered this weekend and are the only former winners in the field.

Kyle Busch currently leads the series in wins at ISM Raceway with 10 victories (Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, 2013 sweep, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, 2016 sweep). If Kyle Busch were to win this weekend at ISM Raceway, he would tie NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin for the NASCAR Xfinity Series wins record at a single track. Martin currently holds the record for the most wins at single track with 11 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at Rockingham Speedway (Spring 1988, Fall 1992, 1993 sweep, Fall 1994, 1996 sweep, 1997 sweep, Fall 1999 and Spring 2000).

ISM Raceway has hosted 34 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, dating back to inaugural event on  November 6, 1999. The race was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon in his own No. 24 Chevrolet. Heading to ISM Raceway this weekend, the NASCAR Xfinity Series has produced 18 different poles winners and 18 different race winners at the track.

Lots of competitive action through three Xfinity races this season

With three different winners in the first three races of the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, the on-track competition looks to be in full force. Which has been the norm in this series as 27 of the 37 Xfinity seasons (since 1982) have started with three different winners in the first three races.

Another stat advocating for this season’s action as standing out is the average Margin of Victory through the first three races has been 0.166 seconds – the closest average MOV through the first three races of the season since 1998. That’s two decades! All three races this season have had an MOV of less than a second – it’s just the sixth time that’s happened since the series started measuring the margin of victory electronically in 1996.

Additionally, through the first three races of the 2019 season, the series has seen 13 different drivers lead laps with an average of 7 different leaders and 12 lead changes per race. Christopher Bell has currently led the most laps this season with 149 (30.04%).

Every Race Counts: Playoff outlook following Las Vegas

Just three races into the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season and the Playoff picture is starting to take shape. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell (Atlanta) and JR Motorsport’s Michael Annett (Daytona) have already secured their spots in the 2019 Playoffs with early wins, leaving 10 spots still up for grabs as the series heads to Phoenix, Arizona, for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at ISM Raceway this Saturday, March 9 at 4 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Below is the 2019 Playoff outlook following Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Rank

Driver

Starts

Points

Race Wins

Stage Wins

Playoff Pts

Pts. From Cutoff

1

Christopher Bell

3

139

1

2

7

In on Wins

2

Michael Annett

3

111

1

0

5

3

Cole Custer

3

121

0

1

1

40

4

Tyler Reddick

3

121

0

1

1

40

5

Brandon Jones

3

117

0

0

0

36

6

John H. Nemechek

3

107

0

0

0

26

7

Justin Allgaier

3

96

0

0

0

15

8

Ryan Sieg

3

96

0

0

0

15

9

Ross Chastain

3

96

0

1

1

15

10

Noah Gragson

3

94

0

0

0

13

11

Austin Cindric

3

94

0

0

0

13

12

Justin Haley

3

89

0

1

1

8

13

Chase Briscoe

3

81

0

0

0

-8

14

Brandon Brown

3

63

0

0

0

-26

15

Josh Williams

3

52

0

0

0

-37

16

Garrett Smithley

3

52

0

0

0

-37

17

Gray Gaulding

3

49

0

0

0

-40

Fast Start: Joe Gibbs Racing is a Xfinity Series powerhouse

Off to a hot start this season, winning two of the first three races of the NASCAR Xfinity Series 2019 season, has the spotlight turned squarely on Joe Gibbs Racing. And when talking about which organization is the clear-cut powerhouse in the NASCAR Xfinity Series over the last decade or so (2009-2019), Joe Gibbs Racing is at the top of most lists. And rightfully so.

Since 2009, the season Kyle Busch brought Joe Gibbs Racing its first Xfinity Series driver championship, the team has won 127 of 338 races run – that’s an astounding winning percentage of 37.5% (2009-present). To put that into perspective, during that time JGR won more than double (68 more wins) the next highest organization – Team Penske with 59 victories. And to boot, JGR’s winning percentage is also more than double that of their next highest competitor as well.

Organizations

Xfinity Wins (2009-Present)

Winning %

Joe Gibbs Racing

127

37.6%

Team Penske

59

17.5%

JR Motorsports

42

12.4%

Roush Fenway Racing

39

11.5%

Richard Childress Racing

31

9.2%

What might be most impressive of the recent dominance is how pivotal a role Kyle Busch played in the organization’s success. Of 338 races run from 2009-present, Kyle Busch ran 208 races and won 71 of them, making his winning percentage 34.1%.

Joe Gibbs Racing leads the series in wins at ISM Raceway with 11 victories – 10 from Kyle Busch and one from Christopher Bell in the Playoff race last fall.

In total, Joe Gibbs Racing has accumulated 154 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins since first competing in the series back in 1997 with driver Bobby Labonte. Joe Gibbs Racing has been able to win so many Xfinity races they now hold the series record for the most wins at 16 of 25 different tracks the series competes on actively – here is the list of tracks and number of Xfinity wins by JGR:

Auto Club Speedway (eight), Bristol Motor Speedway (12), Chicagoland Speedway (six), Dover International Speedway (12), Homestead-Miami Speedway (four), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (three), Iowa Speedway (six), ISM Raceway (11), Kansas Speedway (eight), Kentucky Speedway (six), Michigan International Speedway (five; tied with Roush Fenway Racing for lead), New Hampshire Motor Speedway (nine), Pocono Raceway (three-way tie for the lead with Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske; each have one), Richmond Raceway (nine; tied with Roush Fenway Racing for lead), Talladega Superspeedway (five) and Texas Motor Speedway (11).

GMS Racing’s John Hunter Nemechek, a rookie and a rising talent to contend with

YTD Rookie Standings

Rookies

Points

John H. Nemechek

107

Noah Gragson

94

Justin Haley

89

Chase Briscoe

81

Brandon Brown

63

One thing John Hunter Nemechek has been good at is getting up to speed quickly, and this season is no different. The 2019 Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate and GMS Racing rising star is currently sixth in the series driver points standings heading to ISM Raceway. Nemechek’s recent success had moved him up six spots in the standings this past weekend following his runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Thick in the Xfinity Series Playoff conversation and atop the series Sunoco Rookie standings, Nemechek has the wind at his back heading to Phoenix this weekend. The North Carolina native has made just one start at ISM Raceway, last season, where he won the pole and finished in the top-10 (ninth).

Nemechek is currently in the Xfinity Series rookie standings lead following Las Vegas by 13 points over second-place Noah Gragson and 18 points ahead of third-place Justin Haley.

Championship Focus: Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick tied for second in points

Two California kids looking like they are poised to make it back to the Championship 4 in 2019, are 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick and 2018 driver championship runner-up Cole Custer, as both are now tied for second in the NASCAR Xfinity Series point standings following Las Vegas – just 18 markers back from series standings leader Christopher Bell.

Tyler Reddick made the jump from JR Motorsports to Richard Childress Racing this season and hasn’t stumbled once. The returning champ has been quite impressive this season, posting one top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 9.3.

Custer, on the other hand, continues to validate the investment Stewart-Haas Racing has made in him. Through three races, Custer has been neck-n-neck with Reddick as he, too, has posted one top five and two top 10s. But Custer slightly bests Reddick (9.3) in average finish this season with an 8.3.

ISM Raceway has been good to Custer. In four starts he has amassed three top 10s and an average finish of 11.0. Reddick has also fared well at ISM Raceway, putting up two top-10 finishes in three starts; including an average finish of 10.0.

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.:

Milestone for Morgan – NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, Morgan Shepherd, will attempt to break the tie for sixth on the NASCAR national series combined starts lists with NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte this weekend at ISM Raceway. Both drivers currently have 1,117 national series starts. If Shepherd makes the race, he will move solely into sixth on the NASCAR national series combined starts list with 1,118 national series starts. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty holds the record for the most NASCAR national series starts with 1,182. Shepherd already holds the record for the oldest driver to make a start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the age of 77. He has made two starts this season with an average finish of 34th.

Ole’ Reliable Ryan (Sieg) – Through three races this season, only five drivers have finished on the lead lap of every race and completed 100% of their laps attempted and RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg is one of them. Sieg is currently eighth in the driver championship standings following his three consistent finishes – the best start to a season in his Xfinity career. The four other drivers that have completed 100% of the laps this season are Cole Custer, Michael Annett, Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson.

Double The Action, Double The Fun – Make sure to catch all the action this weekend as several drivers will be pulling double duty at ISM Raceway participating in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday, March 9 at 4 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and then again Sunday, March 10 in the TicketGuardian 500 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. The drivers attempting to pull off such a feat are Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain and BJ McLeod.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Kyle Busch continues on record march

One week after breaking his tie with NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. to become the all-time winningest driver in NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series history, Kyle Busch again added to his win total by collecting victory No. 53 at his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The win was the first of two on the weekend for Busch, who also won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday, but fell short of the weekend sweep with a third-place finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday.

Busch has made 147 starts en route to his 53 career wins in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series – a winning percentage of 36.1%. He has also posted 95 top-five and 116 top-10 finishes. Plus, he’s led 6,608 laps and has an average finish of 7.0.

The speed at which Busch has accumulated these stats is pretty impressive.

To compare, Hornaday reached his 51st win in his 296th career start. He tallied 158 top-five and 234 top-10 finishes in the 360 total series starts he made.

And on the track in 2019, active Gander Outdoors Truck Series champs and ThorSport Racing teammates Matt Crafton (433 starts, 14 wins, 111 top fives, 257 top 10s) and Johnny Sauter (247 starts, 23 wins, 103 top fives, 159 top 10s) have impressive numbers – but still pale in comparison to the all-time leader.

Predicting the champ?

An interesting trend has been developing in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. In five of the last six years, the eventual series champion won his first race of the season within the opening four contests.

The lone exception was in 2015, when Erik Jones first reached Victory Lane at Iowa in the ninth race.

Brett Moffitt won in the second race (Atlanta) last year, as did Christopher Bell in 2017.

Johnny Sauter took home the checkered in the season opener at Daytona in 2016. Matt Crafton won the second race (Martinsville) in 2014 after scoring a victory in the fourth race (Kansas) to win his first championship in 2013.

And James Buescher also won the fourth race of the season at Kansas in 2012.

When the trucks return from a two-week break at Martinsville, we’ll hit the fourth race of the season. Right now, only Daytona winner Austin Hill is in position to contend for the championship, as Monster Energy Series regular Kyle Busch won the other two races.

Looking at Martinsville, there are only two potential championship contenders with previous wins at the half-mile track: Johnny Sauter (Fall 2018, Fall 2016, Spring 2013, Spring 2011) and Matt Crafton (Fall 2015, Spring 2014).

Enfinger looks to maintain his lead

Grant Enfinger, driver of the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford F-150, maintains a hold on the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points lead following an 11th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend.

In his third full-time season in the series, Enfinger has posted top-five finishes in the opening two races of the season and captured the points lead for the first time in his career following the Atlanta race.

At the series’ next track, Martinsville, Enfinger has an average finish of 13.4 in five starts – but has a fourth-place finish in the Spring race last year. Tossing out his 20th-place finish in a 2011 appearance, his average finish over the past two seasons moves up to 11.75.

Enfinger will need to continue with that level of consistency to stay on top in the points, where he currently holds a six-point advantage over Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Harrison Burton.

To compare at the track, Burton has also made five Martinsville starts, finishing second last year in the Fall race. He has an average finish of 11.0 with one top-five and three top-10 finishes.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders impressive early

Harrison Burton, driver of the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra, not only leads the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, but he trails overall points leader Grant Enfinger by just six points in the series driver championship standings.

Burton finished fifth at Las Vegas last week, just ahead of fellow rookie and sixth-place finisher Sheldon Creed. Creed sits second in the rookie standings but is 10th overall in the driver championship points.

Natalie Decker has put up solid qualifying efforts each week but hasn’t seen the results in the races she has been looking for to start the season. A blown tire ending her day on the opening lap of the Daytona race (32nd-place) and then finishing three-laps down in 24th at Atlanta.

But she rebounded nicely at Las Vegas, driving her No. 54 DGR-Crosley Toyota Tundra to a career-best 13th-place finish.

Tyler Dippel also struggled in the season-opener, finishing 29th after being caught up in an early crash, but he’s finished 11th (Atlanta) and 17th (Las Vegas) to get his rookie season back on track in the No. 02 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado.

Of the four Sunoco rookies mentioned above, all but Decker have experience at the upcoming Martinsville half-mile track. Burton’s five starts have yielded an average finish of 11.0 while finishing second last Fall. Dippel has taken to the track once, placing 17th in the Fall last year. In that same race, Creed placed 19th.

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