NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Martinsville Speedway

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: STP 500
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 24
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 12:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 263 miles (500 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 130),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 260), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 500)
2018 Winner: Clint Bowyer

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: My Bariatric Solutions 300
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 30
The Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)
2018 Winner: Ryan Blaney

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series 250
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 23
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 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 power

The championship three-car Team Penske organization already owns two wins through the opening five races of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and has quite a strong recent history at this week’s stop, Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway. Already, Brad Keselowski has a victory at Atlanta and Joey Logano at Las Vegas. Their young teammate, 25-year old Ryan Blaney, posted his best effort of the season two weeks ago – third place – at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway and answered with another top-10 on Sunday in California.

The reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Logano is ranked second in the points standings – 15 points behind two-race winner Kyle Busch – heading into Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Keselowski is fifth in the standings and Blaney is 10th.

Logano, who drives the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang, has four top 10s in five races this season – including the Vegas win and a runner-up to Busch last weekend in California. Keselowski, the 2012 series champion and driver of the famed No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang, has three top-three showings including his win at Atlanta, a runner-up at Las Vegas and a third-place finish last weekend in California.

Blaney, who drives the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang, is coming off back-to-back top-five finishes at Phoenix and California. His recent work at Martinsville has been similar. He has two top-10 finishes in the last three races at the track, including a third place in this race last year after leading 145 laps.

Logano has been especially good at Martinsville, picking up his bid to the Championship 4 round of the Playoffs last October in a thrilling last lap victory at the half-miler – memorable for an especially aggressive run to the finish with 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.

And overall, Logano has won three times at Martinsville and has four poles – earning three straight poles from 2015-16. He’s finished in the top-10 in four of the last five races and led laps in four of the last five races as well. His 309 laps out front last October were the most laps led since Kyle Busch paced the field for 352 laps in March, 2016.

Keselowski also has a victory at Martinsville (Spring 2017) and boasts a current string of six consecutive top 10s – five top-fives – in the last six races there. He’s led 266 laps at the track in just the last four races.

Busch goes for national series win No. 201

With the 200th NASCAR national series combined victory now checked off the milestone list, Sunday’s Auto Club Speedway winner Kyle Busch shows no obvious signs of slowing down in his quest to add to that big number. The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion already has two Cup wins, two Xfinity Series wins and two Gander Outdoors Truck Series victories through 11 total starts among all three national series this season.

In all, Busch, who drives the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has finished top-three in four of the five Monster Energy Series races. He is the only driver in the series to have top-10 finishes in every race and his combined 361 laps out front tops all competitors as well.

Martinsville could well be the venue to put him past the historic 200 national series win mark. He has two previous Cup victories at the track – both coming in the last three years. He has two wins, two runner-up showings and led 937 laps (66 percent of his career total at Martinsville) in the last seven races held at the track.

His 352 laps led in the 2016 race at Martinsville is the most laps led by anyone in the past 10 races there.

Busch’s most recent victories in the last two weeks of the season have been not only historic, but strong statements about his and his team’s competitiveness. He beat Logano by 2.35-seconds for the win in California last weekend and he beat his new teammate Martin Truex Jr. by a 1.2-seconds for the win at Phoenix two weeks ago.

He justifiably feels optimistic about this week’s short track challenge too.

“We’ve run well there, the last two years especially at Martinsville and we’re definitely pumped about getting back there,’’ Busch said. “I’m hoping we can have a really good car there again this time around, like we did the last several years.

Bowyer returns to defend his win

The defending winner of Sunday’s STP 500, Clint Bowyer, could use a dose of that positive vibe again this weekend. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has vacillated between great promise and disappointment in 2019. He has three top-15 finishes and two DNFs through the season’s opening five races. His best effort is a fifth at Atlanta four weeks ago. He suffered one of his DNFs this past Sunday in California when his No. 14 Ford had an overheating issue.

Last year’s Martinsville showing gives him reason to be optimistic this week. He led a race-high 215 laps en route to a solid 1.14-second win over Kyle Busch – Bowyer’s first victory since joining the SHR team in 2017. The win was especially satisfying considering how competitive the race was – three drivers (also Ryan Blaney, 145 laps and Denny Hamlin, 111 laps) led at least 100 laps on the afternoon.

Bowyer has 15 top-10 finishes in 26 starts at the track, including three in the last four years.

Jimmie Johnson has set the bar high

As is the case at so many NASCAR tracks, seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and 83-race winner Jimmie Johnson holds the distinction for winning the most races (nine) at Martinsville Speedway among active drivers.

And history shows that once he gets on a hot streak at the historic half-miler, he has plenty of reason to celebrate thereafter. Johnson won three straight races here in the 2006-07 seasons and twice won back-to-back races (2008-09 and 2012-13). He won five out of six races between 2006-09 with Denny Hamlin winning the one race (Spring, 2008) he did not hoist a trophy in that time.

Johnson has 19 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes in 34 starts and he’s led at least 100 laps in 13 different Martinsville races. He’s led 200 laps four times and twice led at least 300 laps – in 2008 he led 339 laps and in 2013 he led 346 laps (both times from the pole position).

Johnson’s 2,862 total laps led at Martinsville is most in the field this weekend – 1,000 laps more than Hamlin’s second-most laps led at 1,536. If Johnson were to lead 138 laps or more at Martinsville Speedway this weekend, he would become just the fifth driver in series history to lead 3,000 or more laps at multiple tracks; joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarbrough (five tracks with 3,000 or more laps led), Richard Petty (four tracks), Rusty Wallace (three tracks) and Darrell Waltrip (two tracks).

Below are the seven drivers in series history to lead 3,000 or more laps at a single track:

Driver

Tracks With 3,000 Or More Laps Led

Cale Yarborough

Bristol (4,305), Martinsville (3,851), Rockingham (3,732), Nashville Fgds (3,632), Atlanta (3,283)

Richard Petty

North Wilkesboro (5,308), Richmond (5,136), Nashville Fgds (3,957), Rockingham (3,130)

Rusty Wallace

Bristol (3,743), Martinsville (3,632), Richmond (3,024)

Darrell Waltrip

Martinsville (3,617), Bristol (3,436)

Jeff Gordon

Martinsville (3,779)

Dale Earnhardt

Bristol (3,751)

Jimmie Johnson

Dover (3,105)

In comparison to the high standard Johnson has set, the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has struggled some at the track in recent years – leading laps in only two of the last nine races and scoring only two top-10s during that time; albeit one of those was the 2016 victory en route to his record-tying seventh title.

If Johnson were to win this weekend at Martinsville, he would become just the third driver in series history to record 10 or more wins at more than one track; joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip. Johnson currently has nine series wins at Martinsville.

Below is a list of the five drivers with 10 or more wins at a single track in the Monster Energy Series:

Driver

Tracks With 10 Or More Wins

Richard Petty

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

Darrell Waltrip

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

Jimmie Johnson

Dover (11)

David Pearson

Darlington (10)

Dale Earnhardt

Talladega (10)

This year Johnson is 14th in the championship standings – looking to end a winless streak that dates back to the summer of 2017. He’s scored a pair of top-10 finishes in 2019 (at Daytona and at Phoenix) and his 14th place in the rankings is the highest he’s been since seventh place following the season-opening Daytona 500.

Hamlin welcomes the short tracks

Martinsville Speedway has certainly been among this year’s Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin’s “go-to” venues. His five wins – including three-straight from 2009-2010 seasons – are eclipsed by only nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson among active drivers.

Last year Hamlin certainly made a strong go at victory in this race, leading 111 laps but finishing 12th.

In 26 starts at his home state of Virginia’s half-miler, he has 19 top-10 finishes and 13 top-fives and an impressive 9.8 average finish. He’s led laps in 17 of the last 19 Martinsville races – highlighted by a performance in 2009 unequalled in recent history. That season he led 502 laps in the two races – 296 laps in this spring race and 206 laps in the fall. He’s led 1,536 laps total – second to Johnson’s 2,862 laps led.

Outside of winning the sport’s most celebrated race, the season-opening Daytona 500, Hamlin’s impressive work has been largely low profile. He has four top-10s through five races and the fifth finish was 11th at Atlanta. He’s led laps in three of the five races and is ranked fourth in the championship standings, 32-points behind his teammate Kyle Busch.

Interestingly, for all the success he’s enjoyed at Martinsville, Hamlin insisted he doesn’t prepare any differently or feel any extra emotions at the venue where he has been so good.

“I treat every race the same and I know our team is always working hard to give the FedEx Toyota the best chance to take the checkered flag,’’ Hamlin said “I’m proud of my accomplishments at Martinsville, but every race is different and we need to be fully focused and be at our best if we are going to have a shot at winning this weekend.’’

Tough and Tumble: Truex is ready for Martinsville

There will likely be two drivers, in particular, eyeing one another – and being eyed by everyone else – following a dramatic last lap dust-up in the 2018 Playoff race at Martinsville Speedway.

Eventual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano and 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr. battled door-to-door coming to the finish line with some aggressive beating-and-banging that resulted in Logano earning the victory.

Truex has top-five finishes in the last three Martinsville races and has won the pole position twice at the venue. Right now, his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team has finished top-10 in the last four races of the 2019 season.

Not only does Truex have a strong record at Martinsville, he smiles and reminds he has a good memory about racing the track, too – for the good and the bad. He had worked his way all the up through the field from a 33rd-place starting position and led 18 laps before getting passed by Logano on the last lap in November.

“We’ve certainly got some unfinished business going into Martinsville this weekend,’’ Truex said. “It’s a place that wasn’t one of my favorites early in my career, but the last few years, I feel like I’ve really started to get a handle on it.”

“A lot of that can be attributed to having a really good crew chief and driving fast cars. It would mean a lot to win there especially after how the last race there ended up. I’m confident that we’ll have a fast SiriusXM Toyota Camry this weekend and be right there to have a shot at the end of the race.”

Harvick still looking for first win of the season

By the time Kevin Harvick arrived in Virginia for the 2018 season’s first short track race at Martinsville Speedway, he had already won three times. This season, he’s still looking for his first victory of 2019, but his fifth-place finish at Martinsville last March sparked a seven-race string of finishing seventh or better – including back-to-back victories at Dover and Kansas.

His last – and only – Cup victory at Martinsville came in 2011, although he has won in the Xfinity Series (2006) and three times in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series (2009, 2010, 2012) at the track.

Harvick’s 2019 has certainly been encouraging, if not trophy-hoisting. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has finished in fourth place three times in the opening five races and won the Busch Pole position at Las Vegas. He is currently third in the Monster Energy Series points standings – 24 points behind standings leader Kyle Busch.

“Some guys just have a knack for Martinsville,’’ Harvick said. “There are some weekends when I show up and I feel good about where I’m at and some weekends I just feel like I’ve never been there before. You look at this little bitty racetrack and you think it would be so simple, and you go out there and it becomes so hard.

Martinsville Speedway streaks

For as challenging as Martinsville Speedway’s iconic paper-clip half-miler has been in the course of NASCAR history, it has produced a trend – particularly in the early years of its existence. Once a driver figured out the track, he really had success.

Seven drivers have won at least three consecutive races at Martinsville. And Fred Lorenzen holds the record for winning four straight from 1963-64.

Richard Petty – the track’s all-time winningest driver (15 victories) – won three straight from 1968-69. Cale Yarborough matched the three-race streak in 1976-77, 11-time Martinsville winner Darrell Waltrip did so in 1988-89, Rusty Wallace in 1994-95, Jimmie Johnson in 2006-07 and Denny Hamlin in 2009-10.

Johnson and Hamlin are the only two active drivers to have pulled off the impressive feat of streaks and they are also the only two drivers on this impressive list of superiority not to already be (yet) in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Sunoco Rookie watch 2019

A 23rd-place effort by JTG Daugherty Racing driver Ryan Preece last weekend at Auto Club Speedway was good enough to put the 28-year old back on top of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. In addition, he moved up three spots in the series driver points standings but is still looking for his first top-20 finish since an eighth-place run in the season-opening Daytona 500. This will be his first start at Martinsville in any of NASCAR’s three top series.

Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric, 28, dropped back into second position in the rookie standings following a 33rd-place finish in California last weekend. He is still looking for his first top 20 of 2019 in the Monster Energy Series. He does have a previous top-10 effort at Martinsville – a ninth-place finish in the 2016 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race there.

Front Row Motorsport’s Matt Tifft, 22, arrives at Martinsville feeling optimistic about his chances at the challenging venue and after posting his best two Cup finishes to date – a season-best 20th at ISM Raceway answered with a 26th-place run at Auto Club Speedway last weekend. Tifft scored back-to-back top-10 finishes at Martinsville in the Truck Series – finishing eighth and ninth in the two truck races there in 2015.

Rick Ware Racing’s Cody Ware, 23, was 32nd at Auto Club Speedway. His only previous start at Martinsville was a 27th-place finish in the Truck Series in 2015.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Tyler Reddick continues to remind the series why he’s the champ

Atop the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship standings following the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway last weekend, sits the 2018 Xfinity champion, Tyler Reddick, with a seven-point lead over second-place Cole Custer. For the second straight week the Richard Childress Racing driver holds the coveted first position in the points, reminding everyone his title last season wasn’t a fluke.

Through the first five races of this season, Reddick has put up two poles, three top fives, four top 10s and an average finish of 7.0 – second only to Custer’s 6.0 average finish this season. Plus, Reddick has spent more time out front this season (85 laps led) than compared to the first five races of his championship-winning season (20 laps led) last year.

Reddick will have an extra week to relish in his early success as the series takes its first break of the season, but the Californian will be back at it next week in Texas as the series prepares for the My Bariatric Solutions 300 on Saturday, March 30, at 1 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).

Cole Custer’s big win has him Playoff bound

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer put on a display of talent this past weekend at Auto Club Speedway that not only delayed Kyle Busch’s 200th NASCAR national series win to the next day, but secured the checkered flag and locked himself into the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs for third consecutive season of his career.

It was a big win indeed, and the third victory of his Xfinity Series career (2017 Homestead-Miami, 2018 Fall Texas and now Auto Club). Now Custer heads into the off-week in second, just seven points back from series standings leader Tyler Reddick and seven points ahead of third-place Christopher Bell.

Custer has been lights out this season. In five starts he has a win, three top fives, four top 10s and a series-leading average finish of 6.0.

Next week at Texas will be particularly special for Custer as he will look to build off of his Playoff win there last season, where he captured the victory at the 1.5-mile track on his way to the Championship 4.

Christopher Bell back to form, holding tight in third

After being caught in an incident at ISM Raceway two weeks back, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell rebounded nicely this past weekend at Auto Club Speedway to finish third. Now the Oklahoma native sits third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings, 14 points behind standings leader Tyler Reddick.

Bell had already secured his spot in the Playoffs this season with his victory at Atlanta back in February. Through five races, Bell looks to be poised to contend for the title this season, amassing one pole, one win, two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish this season, despite a DNF at Phoenix, is still a solid 10.6.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff outlook following Auto Club Speedway

Below is the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs outlook following the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway. Three title contenders have won this season locking themselves into the postseason – Michael Annett (Daytona), Christopher Bell (Las Vegas) and Cole Custer (Auto Club Speedway) – leaving nine spots still up for grabs. Justin Haley currently holds the final Playoff transfer position just eight points ahead of Ross Chastain in 13th – the first position outside the cutoff.

Below is the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff outlook following Auto Club Speedway:

Rank

Driver

Points

Pts From Cutoff

Starts

Race Wins

Stage Wins

Playoff Pts

1

Cole Custer

213

In On Wins

5

1

1

6

2

Christopher Bell

206

5

1

3

8

3

Michael Annett

178

5

1

0

5

4

Tyler Reddick

220

85

5

0

1

1

5

Brandon Jones

183

48

5

0

0

0

6

Austin Cindric

179

44

5

0

1

1

7

Justin Allgaier

171

36

5

0

0

0

8

Noah Gragson

161

26

5

0

0

0

9

Ryan Sieg

153

18

5

0

0

0

10

John Hunter Nemechek

149

14

5

0

0

0

11

Chase Briscoe

145

10

5

0

0

0

12

Justin Haley

143

8

5

0

1

1

13

Ross Chastain

135

-8

5

0

1

1

14

Brandon Brown

107

-36

5

0

0

0

15

Gray Gaulding

91

-52

5

0

0

0

16

Jeremy Clements

89

-54

5

0

0

0

17

Ray Black II

86

-57

5

0

0

0

18

Garrett Smithley

85

-58

5

0

0

0

19

David Starr

71

-72

5

0

0

0

20

BJ McLeod

69

-74

5

0

0

0

21

Josh Williams

64

-79

5

0

0

0

22

Vinnie Miller

54

-89

5

0

0

0

23

Joey Gase

53

-90

5

0

0

0

24

Matt Mills

49

-94

5

0

0

0

25

Stephen Leicht

44

-99

5

0

0

0

26

Jeff Green

41

-102

5

0

0

0

27

Josh Bilicki

37

-106

5

0

0

0

28

Mike Harmon

36

-107

5

0

0

0

Class of 2019: Sunoco Rookie update

YTD Rookie Standings

Rookie

Points

Noah Gragson

161

John H. Nemechek

149

Chase Briscoe

145

Justin Haley

143

Brandon Brown

107

There are some big changes in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings following the fifth race of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season at Auto Club Speedway.

First, Noah Gragson capitalized on John Hunter Nemechek’s misfortunes at Auto Club Speedway (28th-place finish), to take the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings lead by 12 points over Nemechek, who is in second with his 12th-place finish last weekend. Gragson now has one top-five and two top-10 finishes this season and an average finish of 9.2 through five races.

Next, Chase Briscoe won the Sunoco Rookie of the Race award for the second consecutive week and, as a result, accumulated enough points to move up a spot to third in the rookie standings – two points ahead of fourth-place Justin Haley. Briscoe finished fifth at Auto Club Speedway driving the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi Ford Mustang. Through five races, Briscoe has accumulated one top five, three top 10s and an average finish of 9.2.

Crew Chief Spotlight: Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ben Beshore

Joe Gibbs Racing made a focused move when they tapped Ben Beshore to be the next crew chief of the organization’s flagship No. 18 Toyota Camry team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Beshore, who had previously been serving as car chief on the No 18 JGR team in the Monster Energy Series, has already directed aspiring part-time driver Jeffrey Earnhardt to lead laps at Daytona and worked with veteran Kyle Busch to add wins 197 and 198 to his 200 NASCAR national series win total.

Beshore has some big shoes to fill as several well-known, winning crew chiefs have come before him atop the No. 18’s pit box, such as Eric Phillips, Chris Gayle, Adam Stevens and Jason Ratcliff, to name a few. Phillips was the most recent crew chief for the No. 18 and led the team to eight series wins among four drivers (Kyle Busch, Ryan Preece, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell). This season, Phillips made the move to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to be the car chief on the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry alongside crew chief Chris Gabehart and driver Denny Hamlin.

This season, through five races, Beshore has the No. 18 Toyota team headed in the right direction; posting two wins (Las Vegas and ISM Raceway), three top fives, four top 10s and an average finish of 7.0. The No. 18 Toyota Camry team is also currently leading the NASCAR Xfinity Series owner standings, 16 points ahead of second-place Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro team.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Etc.:

Racing This Weekend – NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Ross Chastain and DJ Kennington will be competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Chastain will be driving the No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet and Kennington will be in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet. … Xfinity Series drivers Ross Chastain and Timmy Hill will also be competing in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race on Saturday. Chastain will pilot the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet and Hill will be in his own truck, the No. 56 Hill Motorsports Chevrolet.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Can Martinsville help predict series 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.

This weekend at Martinsville marks 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 hoping to buck history and take early points lead to title town

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 two weeks ago.

But Enfinger will be looking to do what no driver since his ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton did in 2014 – and that’s take a series points lead after three races all the way to the championship.

Here’s a look at who was leading after the first three races over the past 10 seasons:

2018 – Johnny Sauter

2017 – Johnny Sauter

2016 – John Hunter Nemechek

2015 – Matt Crafton

2014 – Matt Crafton (won championship)

2013 – Johnny Sauter

2012 – Timothy Peters

2011 – Matt Crafton

2010 – Timothy Peters

2009 – Kyle Busch

An interesting note about that list – all of those drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race this season.

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 this weekend’s 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.

New names to watch this weekend

There will be a few names on the entry list this weekend that might be new to some race fans – but make sure to remember them because they are already starting to make their mark in several different developmental series.

NASCAR Next driver Derek Kraus, a 17-year-old from Stratford, Wisconsin, already has one NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win under his belt this season (New Smyrna) and a total of seven career wins across the K&N Series East and West schedules.

This weekend, his K&N Pro Series team, Bill McAnally Racing, will be fielding a Toyota for him as he attempts to make his second career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series start. His first was last fall at Phoenix, where he finished an impressive eighth.

Another 17-year-old will be looking to make his series debut this weekend as Canadian Raphael Lessard, a native of Quebec, will be piloting a truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Lessard moves up to the Gander Outdoors Truck Series with KBM after success in the same team’s Super Late Model program, winning a pair of races in 2018. He was the 2016 CARS Super Late Model Tour champion after tallying four wins on the season.

He also impressed just two weeks ago in the ARCA Menards Series race at 5 Flags Speedway, leading several laps before finishing eighth.

Also looking to make his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut this weekend is Juan Manuel Gonzalez for Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing. Gonzalez hails from Mexico City, Mexico, and placed fifth in the NASCAR FedEx Challenge Series in 2017 as an 18-year-old.

Most recently, he tallied 10 starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2018, recording a top-10 at South Boston.

Sauter striving for five at “The Paperclip”

2016 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Series champion Johnny Sauter certainly knows his way around the half-mile track at Martinsville Speedway. Four of his 23 series victories have come there.

He won the most recent race at the track affectionately known as “The Paperclip,” and three times previous to that (fall 2016; spring 2013, spring 2011).

In 22 starts at Martinsville, Sauter has nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes, with an average start of 9.1 and an average finish of 12.0. And he has remarkable staying power at the track that lends itself to beating and banging – he only has one DNF to his name.

In fact, he’s completed 97% of the laps run in races he’s entered – and has run the complete distance in all but five starts. (And…in two of those, he was only one lap down at the finish.)

The only track at which Sauter has more wins than Martinsville is Texas – where he has reached Victory Lane five times…including in the spring last year.

Two-time Martinsville winner Bubba Wallace returns to Trucks

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace returns to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series at the track where he got his first NASCAR national series win – Martinsville Speedway.

Wallace’s first visit to Victory Lane came in the fall race at the half-mile track in 2013. He then followed that up with an especially meaningful win, driving a truck with a special tribute paint scheme honoring 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Wendell Scott, a year later in the 2014 fall race.

Overall, Wallace has two wins in four starts at Martinsville, and tallied top-five finishes in each race. His “worst” finish was a fifth-place effort in his first visit to the track in the spring of 2013.

Wallace will be driving the No. 22 AM Racing Chevrolet Silverado entry.

Keeping an eye on the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders

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 two weeks ago, 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, who is not entered in this weekend’s race at Martinsville, 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 answered his early misfortune with finishes of 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 who are entered this weekend, all have experience at this weekend’s 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.

Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media breakouts

Four drivers from the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series – Young’s Motorsports driver Spencer Boyd, Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader Harrison Burton from Kyle Busch Motorsports, and ThorSport Racing teammates Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Martinsville Speedway. These four drivers are preparing for NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series 250 this Saturday, March 23, at 2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Spencer Boyd (No. 20 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet)

Birthdate: June 26, 1995

Driver’s Age: 23

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

2019 marks Boyd’s first full-time season in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series after running full-time for SS Green Light Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2018.
He ran three Truck Series races in 2017 and again in 2018.
2019 Season Highlights:

Currently 13th in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings.
Recorded his first career top-five finish in the series by placing fourth at the season-opener at Daytona.
Martinsville Speedway Performance:

Boyd made one start at the half-mile track in 2016, starting 27th and finishing 28th.

Harrison Burton (No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota)

Birthdate: October 9, 2000

Driver’s Age: 18

Hometown: Huntersville, North Carolina

Hobbies: Playing lacrosse, hunting, fishing, avid Duke, Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets fan

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

2019 marks Burton’s first full-time season in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series.
In 2018, he competed in eight races for Kyle Busch Motorsports and recorded his first pole award at Iowa and tallied a total of three top-five and six top-10 finishes overall.
He raced in six races for KBM in 2017, recording one top-five and one top-10 finish.
He made his Truck Series debut in 2016 at Martinsville, finishing 22nd.
2019 Season Highlights:

Burton is currently second in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings and leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.
After crashing out of the season-opening race at Daytona, he has finished eighth (Atlanta) and fifth (Las Vegas) in his last two starts.
Martinsville Speedway Performance:

Burton actually has five starts at Martinsville despite his rookie status. He’s completed all but one of the laps run during those races and has an average start of 9.6 and average finish of 11.0 at the half-mile track. He has one top five and three top 10s there.

Johnny Sauter (No. 13 ThorSport Racing Ford)

Birthdate: May 1, 1978

Driver’s Age: 40

Hometown: Necedah, Wisconsin

Hobbies: Late-model racing, family activities, hockey

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

Sauter is the 2016 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion.
In 2018, Sauter made the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship 4 for the third consecutive season and posted a career-high six wins on the season.
Sauter has finished in the top five in championship points in six consecutive seasons (2013-2018).
In 2009, he won the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award
2019 Season Highlights:

Sauter is currently sixth in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings.
He finished runner-up at Atlanta and was eighth at the most recent race at Las Vegas.
Martinsville Speedway Performance:

Sauter is the most recent race winner at Martinsville, winning last fall to advance to the Championship 4 race in the Playoffs.
He has four wins in 22 starts at Martinsville, recording nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes along the way. He has an average start of 9.1 and an average finish of 12.0 – and only has one DNF (Spring, 2016) at the track.

Matt Crafton (No. 88 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet)

Birthdate: July 11, 1976

Driver’s Age: 42

Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina

Hobbies: Riding Glamis dunes in sand rails, karting

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

Crafton is the 2013 and 2014 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion – the only champion to win back-to-back titles in series history.
He is the series’ “Iron Man” – currently at 433 consecutive starts, the most in series history.
In 2016, he won a career-high six races.
2019 Season Highlights:

Currently seventh in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings.
Crafton finished fifth in the season opener at Daytona, 14th at Atlanta and was third in the most recent race at Las Vegas.

Martinsville Speedway Performance:

Crafton has a pair of wins in 34 starts at Martinsville, his most recent coming in the fall of 2015. He has nine top-five and 19 top-10 finishes at the track for an average finish of 10.7. He has just two DNFs at Martinsville, and not since the fall race in 2006.

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