Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Bluegreen Vacations 500
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Sunday, November 10
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 2 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 Race Winner: Kyle Busch
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Saturday, November 9
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 3 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 Race Winner: Christopher Bell
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: Lucas Oil 150
The Place: ISM Raceway
The Date: Friday, November 8
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 150 miles (150 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 150)
2018 Winner: Brett Moffitt
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Valley of the Sun could shine on Kyle Busch’s Playoff hopes
Kyle Busch must feel buoyed by his record at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix, where he is the only driver to win in the two races since the facility completed a major renovation and re-configuration last year.
A victory in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) would be a huge boost to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season champion – securing his position in the Championship 4 to compete for a season title and giving him all kinds of momentum to do so.
Busch has three career victories at Phoenix and is the only one of the current eight championship-eligible drivers with multiple wins at all three of the tracks – Martinsville, Va., Texas and Phoenix – that comprised this championship set-up Playoff round.
Only nine-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick has more top-10 finishes (22) at ISM Raceway than Busch (20) among the eight drivers still contending for a championship berth. And with both wins on the new-look facility, there’s plenty of reason for Busch to feel optimistic about his chances Sunday. He has hoisted four trophies this season but doing so Sunday would be the first time since a June 2 victory at Pocono.
Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick have secured two of the four positions for next weekend’s title chase. The 2015 series champion Busch is ranked third in the standings with a two-point advantage on defending series champion Joey Logano. He holds a 22-point edge on Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in fifth place and a 25-point edge over Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. Chase Elliott is 80 points behind Busch and 78 points out of fourth – mathematically, he can only get into the Championship 4 with a win at ISM Raceway.
Should a non-Playoff driver win on Sunday then both the third and fourth place positions in the points standings would earn a position in the Championship 4.
“We all know one guy is going to move through on points and we have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,’’ said Busch, who drives the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“If we can obviously go to Phoenix and have a strong run and be able to go out there and win that will put us through, as well. We’re two points up on the 22 (Logano), so it’s going to be a race between the 18 and 22. Imagine that. We’ll look forward to the challenge and hope we have a strong run in order to make it through to Homestead.’’
Go time for Logano
Joey Logano nearly won the regular season championship, racing hard and keeping Kyle Busch honest for the first 26 races of the year. Busch ended up with the regular season title but Logano is still vying to become the first back-to-back champion since Jimmie Johnson won five consecutive Monster Energy Series titles from 2006-2010.
Logano is in fourth place in the standings heading to Phoenix’s ISM Raceway – two points behind third-place Busch and with a 20-point edge on fifth-place Denny Hamlin.
The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford will need an improved outing this fall at the newly reconfigured Phoenix one-miler. Last year Logano finished 37th at Phoenix – but held a position in the Championship 4 because of a win at Martinsville earlier in the round.
Logano bounced back with a 10th-place run at Phoenix this March but it’s his only top 10 in the last five races at the track. His previous top 10 was his only victory there in 2016. Since then he’s had a pair of DNFs. In 21 starts, Logano has four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes at Phoenix.
“It’s going to be a good battle for sure,’’ Logano said. “We are racing for that last spot just in case someone behind us outside of the Top-4 wins. It will be a good time.
“Obviously, the No. 18 team is good and Kyle (Busch) is a good driver, but I think we are a great team and they are beatable just like everybody else.’’
“Happy Harvick” not content
Kevin Harvick secured his position in the Championship 4 for the fifth time in the six-year history of the format with a win at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday – his third consecutive Playoff victory on the Texas circuit.
And with the pressure off to qualify for championship eligibility, Harvick heads to his best track – ISM Raceway in Phoenix. The 2014 Monster Energy Series champ has a series-best nine victories there. His 16 top-five finishes are most all time as are his 1,595 laps led.
Between November 2012, and March 2016, Harvick won six races, including a record four consecutively from November 2013-March 2015. He is on a streak of 12 consecutive top-10 finishes – 10 of them top fives. In just six races between 2013-2016 he led 1,064 laps – 66.7 percent of his career total. Three times he’s led more than 200 laps en route to route a victory (2014 sweep, 2015 spring race).
A win this weekend at ISM Raceway would be Harvick’s 50th career Monster Energy Series win – breaking a tie he holds with his team owner, three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020.
“I’m surprised [by the Texas win] but I’m not because of the character of the team,’’ Harvick said. “I love the way it’s evolved and the battle we’ve had to get there and really tried to achieve something that wasn’t really achievable when we first started the season this year. We’ve grounded out all year.’’
Harvick, who now has four wins this season, acknowledged the gap before his first win of the year, which didn’t come until the 20th race of the season (at New Hampshire). He’s won three more times in the 14 races since. Last year he won three of the first four races and had five wins by the season’s midpoint. This year’s first win took the longest for him since 2012 when he didn’t win until the next to last race of the year – at Phoenix.
“It’s been a strange year, and here you are lingering around and end up in Victory Lane with two races to go and now you go race for a championship,’’ Harvick said.
Fighting to get in
Denny Hamlin is the only previous Phoenix winner among the four drivers who sit on the outside of the Championship 4 and must and earn a position in the Nov. 17 championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His win came back in the spring of 2012.
Ranked fifth heading into Sunday’s race, Hamlin is averaging a 13.6 finish in the five Cup Playoff races at ISM Raceway since 2014. His best fall finish is runner-up in 2012. He led a race-best 193 laps in the 2017 Playoff race only to fall out of the race – while leading – after contact from Chase Elliott.
Hamlin’s 678 career laps led at Phoenix is more than the combined career totals of Joey Logano (296), Kyle Larson (69), Ryan Blaney (108) and Elliott (156).
Larson’s best Playoff showing is third place in 2016 and 2018. He has an average finish of 16.0 in the last five Playoff events at the track. Ryan Blaney, who is tied with Larson, 23 points behind fourth-place Logano, is averaging a 19.7 finish in the three Playoff races he’s competed in at Phoenix – the lowest average Playoff finish among the four drivers needing to race their way into the Championship 4.
Eighth-place driver Elliott, who is 78 points behind fourth-place Logano, has an average finish of 11.3 in the three Playoff races he’s competed in. His best showing in seven career starts at ISM Raceway is runner-up in the 2017 Playoff race.
Kevin Harvick is the only driver in the “Playoff era” who went into the ISM Raceway race not already ranked among the top four in the standings and earned a position contending for the championship in the finale. He was ranked eighth going into the Phoenix race in 2014, earning a Championship 4 berth with his win and going on to earn his first Cup championship the following week with a victory at Homestead.
Any of the six drivers would advance with a victory (Truex Jr. and Harvick have already clinched). And the highest standing driver in the points standings earns the fourth and final Playoff position. If a driver other than the eight Championship-eligible wins, then the top two positions in points would advance. Should there be a tie in points, the advantage goes to the driver who scored the highest finish in this three-race round (at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix).
Kyle Busch (4,113 points) – Would clinch with 53 points earned and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Joey Logano) he would clinch a position having earned 34 points.
Joey Logano (4,111 points) – Would clinch with 55 points earned and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner or a Kyle Busch victory, he would need to earn only 36 points.
Denny Hamlin (4,091 points) – Would clinch with a win. Could clinch on points, with help.
Ryan Blaney (4,088 points) – Would clinch with a win. Could clinch on points, with help.
Kyle Larson (4,088 points) – Would clinch with a win. Could clinch on points, with help.
Chase Elliott (4,033 points) – Must win to earn a Championship 4 position.
Four of the eight championship drivers have never won a Monster Energy Series race at Phoenix. And, technically, only Kyle Busch has won on the newly remodeled ISM Raceway – earning trophies in the first two races on the new configuration.
Current points leader Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott are still looking to celebrate in the desert. Among these four, 2017 series champion Truex is the only one who has previously advanced to the Homestead-Miami Speedway championship finale.
Truex scored his best-ever Phoenix finish just this March – finishing runner-up to Busch. He has three top-five finishes in the last four races at the one-mile track and was 14th in the 2018 Playoff race there.
Blaney won the pole position and finished third this March – just behind Busch and Truex – leading a personal best 94 laps. The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford has two pole positions and three top-10 finishes in seven Phoenix starts. His worst outing (34th) came in last year’s Playoff race.
Larson and Elliott have both scored runner-up finishes. Larson finished second in 2017 spring race. He has three top-five and five top-10 finishes in 11 starts in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, including third place showings in both the 2016 and 2018 Playoff races at Phoenix.
Elliott, who sits eighth – 78 points behind Joey Logano in fourth place – must win at Phoenix to advance to his first career Championship 4. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has four top-10 finishes in seven Phoenix starts, earning his runner-up showing in the 2017 Playoff race there. He started on the outside pole this March but finished 14th.
Kevin Harvick’s win from the Busch Pole position last week at Texas Motor Speedway marked several competitive milestones. The pole gave Harvick a series-best six on the year. It was the second time this season (also at Indianapolis) that he’s won from pole. And the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford is the first driver to win the same Playoff race for three consecutive years.
Hendrick Motorsports still maintains the overall edge in pole positions on the season with 10 – one more than Stewart-Haas Racing.
There have been 13 different race winners with the Joe Gibbs Racing organization owning a series best 17 wins in the opening 34 races. JGR’s Martin Truex Jr. leads all drivers with seven victories, his teammates Denny Hamlin (five) and Kyle Busch (four) are among four drivers with at least four wins. Harvick (four) is the other.
The average margin of victory through the opening 34 races this season is 1.549 seconds. In 18 of the 34 races (52.9 percent), the margin of victory was less than one second.
There have been 1,086 green flag passes for the lead – up 51 percent from last season. The number has increased in 23 of the 34 races including at all seven of the 1.5-mile tracks. Last week’s Texas race doubled that statistic from 2018 – with 57 green flag passes for the lead. Green flag passes across the board, are up 28 percent over 2018.
The Playoffs have seen a 33.4 percent increase in green flag passing as well.
Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media rotations
Six drivers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series –Front Row Motorsports’ John Hunter Nemechek, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. will be participating in this week’s media rotations at ISM Raceway in advance of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Bluegreen Vacations 500 (2:30 p.m., ET on NBC, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
John Hunter Nemechek, 22, of Mooresville, N.C., is coming off his first career Monster Energy Series start – finishing 21st after starting 29th at Texas Motor Speedway in the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford – filling in for Matt Tifft who is on medical leave. Nemechek has had good success in Phoenix, earning a pair of runner-up finishes in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2015 and 2017 and a pair of ninth place finishes in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and 2019. Nemechek and his father, Cup veteran Joe Nemechek are entered in all three national series races at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway this weekend. Last weekend at Texas, the duo became the first father-son pairing in a Cup race since the late Bobby Hamilton raced his son, Bobby Hamilton Jr., at Atlanta in 2005.
Kyle Busch, 34, of Las Vegas, is the defending ISM Raceway Playoff winner and won again there this March. He has three Cup wins all-time at the track and 11 Xfinity Series wins there – an all-time high mark. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota enters the race ranked third in the points standings – two points up on reigning Monster Energy Series champion Joey Logano. His seventh-place effort at Texas last weekend included 18 laps led. Busch has four wins on the season, but the last came June 2 at Pocono, Pa. This week’s one-miler has been a bright spot on his resume, however, with 20 top-10 finishes in 28 career starts. He’s finished seventh or better in the last eight races – six of those top-five efforts. In the last three races he’s earned a pair of wins and a runner-up finish (Spring, 2018).
Kyle Larson, 27, of Elk Grove, Calif., arrives at ISM Raceway still fighting for a Championship 4 berth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finale next week. He is ranked seventh – 23 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano. Larson is coming off a 12th-place run at Texas and has four top-10 finishes in the eight Playoff races to date including a victory at Dover last month. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was sixth at Phoenix this March and third in the 2018 Phoenix Playoff race on the facility’s reconfigured track debut. His best finish at the one-mile track is runner-up in the 2017 spring race. He has three top-five and five top-10 finishes in 11 starts there and an average finish of 13.5.
Ryan Blaney, 25, of High Point, N.C., finished eighth last weekend in Texas – his third top-10 result in the last four races, including a Playoff victory at Talladega. Blaney has three top-10 finishes in seven ISM Raceway starts and posted his best effort result this March, starting on the pole position, leading 94 laps and finishing third in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. He suffered his only DNF at the track in the 2018 Playoff race, finishing 34th with a radiator problem. He is sixth in the standings – 23 points behind Joey Logano in the fourth and final Championship transfer position.
Denny Hamlin, 38, of Chesterfield, Va., looked like a sure-bet to qualify for the Championship 4 during the opening Playoff races, but a tough-luck 28th-place finish at Texas on Sunday dropped him to fifth place in the standings, 20 points behind Joey Logano. Hamlin had four consecutive top-five finishes before Sunday’s Texas race and has five top-five finishes in six of the eight Playoff races, including a win at Kansas Speedway three weeks ago. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was fifth at ISM Raceway in March and 13th in his 2018 Playoff run on the newly-reconfigured track. He scored his only Phoenix win in 2012 but has six top-10 finishes in the last eight races. He’s finished eighth or better in three of the last five Playoff races there.
Martin Truex Jr., 39, of Mayetta, N.J., is the year’s winningest driver with seven trophies – including three wins (at Las Vegas, Richmond, and Martinsville) in the first eight Playoff races. He was the first driver to secure a Championship 4 berth with his Martinsville victory two weeks ago. He is still looking for a first career win at ISM Raceway. The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has three top-five finishes in the last four Phoenix races, including a career best result of runner-up this March. He was 14th in the track’s reconfiguration-debut last November and has four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 27 career starts at the track.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Locked In: Christopher Bell is the first to secure his Championship 4 spot
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell became the first of the eight NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff drivers to secure his spot in the Championship 4 with his victory at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. It was his eighth victory on the season and 16th of his Xfinity Series career. This is the second consecutive season Bell has made the Championship 4; he ultimately finished fourth in the final standings last season.
The Playoff standings leader heads to ISM Raceway to pad his stats. The Oklahoma native has made four series starts at the one-mile track posting one pole, one win (Playoff race, 2018), three top fives and an average finish of 9.8. He dominated this race last season, leading 94 of 200 laps and winning his way into the final round at Miami.
Cole Custer is looking for his second chance at title
He just barely missed it in his rookie season in 2017, but Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer made the Championship 4 Round last season by winning at Texas and ultimately finishing runner-up in the final standings. Now the California wheelman heads to ISM Raceway second in the Playoff standings, 52 points up on the cutline and a chance at making the Championship 4 for the second consecutive season.
Out in the desert, Custer has made five series starts at ISM Raceway, posting one top five and four top 10s. His average finish is 9.6 and he finished eighth in this race last season.
Defending champion Tyler Reddick is close to an opportunity to repeat
Tyler Reddick became just the third Sunoco rookie in NASCAR Xfinity Series history to win the title last season, joining Chase Elliott (2014) and William Byron (2017). Now the rising star from California is close to the opportunity to become the seventh driver in series history to win back-to-back championships joining Sam Ard (1983-84), Larry Pearson (1986-87), Randy Lajoie (1996-97), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998-99), Martin Truex Jr. (2004-05) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011-12). All he needs to do is secure his spot in the Championship 4 this weekend at ISM Raceway.
Currently third in the Playoff standings, Reddick is 36 points ahead of fifth-place Chase Briscoe – in the first spot outside the Championship 4. The RCR driver has made four series starts at Phoenix posting one top five, three top 10s and an average finish of 8.2.
Justin Allgaier looks to make Championship 4 Round for first time since 2017
After the heartbreak Justin Allgaier suffered last season, from winning a career-best five races and taking the regular season championship to ultimately falling short of making the Championship 4 in the Playoffs, the Illinois native and JR Motorsports driver returns to the “Valley of the Sun” for redemption.
Allgaier is currently fourth in the Playoff standings – the final transfer spot to the Championship 4 – 18 points ahead of fifth place Chase Briscoe.
“There is a lot on the line this weekend at Phoenix,” said Allgaier. “Right now, we’re in a good position sitting fourth in points, but I know there are a lot of guys behind us that are battling for that same spot. Hopefully at the end of it all, we’ll be one of the four heading to Homestead battling for the championship.”
Allgaier has made 18 series starts (most among Playoff drivers) at ISM Raceway, posting one pole, one win (Spring 2017), six top fives, 11 top 10s and an average finish of 9.1. In last season’s Playoff race he led 69 laps and won the first two stages but finished the race 24th one lap down. He finished 14th at ISM Raceway earlier this season.
Briscoe, Gragson on verge of joining elite list of rookies to make the Championship 4
Since the inception of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in 2016, just five Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders have made it to the Championship 4 Round and this weekend at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe and JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson have an opportunity to add their names to the elite list of rookies to accomplish the feat.
Sunoco Rookies that made the Championship 4 and their finish in the final standings:
2016 – Erik Jones (fourth)
2017 – William Byron (champion), Daniel Hemric (fourth)
2018 – Tyler Reddick (champion), Christopher Bell (fourth)
Briscoe is fifth in the Playoff standings heading to ISM Raceway, 18 points behind Justin Allgaier in the final Championship 4 transfer spot. Briscoe made his series track debut at Phoenix earlier this season; he started 12th and raced his way up to a sixth-place finish.
Gragson is currently eighth in the Playoff standings, 47 points back from the Championship 4 cutoff. Much like Briscoe, Gragson made his series track debut at ISM Raceway earlier this season; he started sixth and finished 11th.
Veteran Michael Annett rides career-best season to chance at Championship 4
The whole season to this point comes down to this weekend at ISM Raceway and veteran Michael Annett is riding his best season statistically to a chance at the Championship 4. Annett resides in sixth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, 28 points behind his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier in the final transfer spot.
“We know what we have to do to make it to Homestead for the Championship 4,” said Michael Annett. “Travis (Mack, crew chief) has done a fantastic job on strategy to get us to this point, and it is up to us to get to Miami with a chance to race for the championship. We’re going to give it everything we have.”
Annett has made 14 series starts at ISM Raceway posting five top 10s. His average finish is 15.2. He finished 16th in this Playoff race last season and eighth in the spring race earlier this year.
Breakout season for Team Penske’s Austin Cindric has him in title hunt
His first full season with Team Penske (after splitting last season’s Playoff campaign between Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing) has been a breakout one for North Carolina’s Austin Cindric, who is currently seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 31 points back from the cutoff and still in the hunt for a title.
Heading to Phoenix this weekend, Cindric is looking forward to the challenge of making the Championship 4. In three starts on the one-mile track he has put up two top fives and an average finish of 8.3. He finished fourth in this Playoff race last season and fifth in the spring race earlier this year.
ISM Raceway: Xfinity’s stage for the penultimate race of 2019
Located just outside Phoenix, Arizona, ISM Raceway is a uniquely-shaped one-mile track that will play host to this weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series penultimate Playoff race, the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200 (Saturday, Nov. 9, at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
ISM Raceway has been the sixth race in the seven-race NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff since its inception in 2016. Interestingly, the mile circuit has produced three different winners in the three previous Xfinity Playoff races.
In 2016, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch played spoiler, winning the first Xfinity Playoff race at the facility. He controlled the event from start to finish, leading 190 of the scheduled 200 laps. Five of the eight Playoff drivers finished inside the top-10 that evening – Justin Allgaier (fourth), eventual champion Daniel Suarez (fifth), Ryan Reed (sixth), Blake Koch (eighth), Erik Jones (10th).
In 2017, JR Motorsports rookie William Byron took the lead with just 17 laps to go and grabbed the checkered flag at ISM Raceway to secure his spot in the Championship 4. Byron would go on to win the series title that season. Four Xfinity Playoff drivers finished inside the top-10 – Byron (first), Daniel Hemric (fifth), Cole Custer (seventh) and Justin Allgaier (10th).
In 2018, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell won his seventh race of the season at ISM Raceway, securing his spot in Championship 4 as a rookie. He put on an impressive show en route to his victory leading 94 of the scheduled 200 laps. But Bell would go on to finish fourth in the series’ final standings in Miami.