So far the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR cup Series season has been dominated by two organizations – Team Penske, which picked up its third win of the year last weekend with Brad Keselowski’s convincing victory at Martinsville Speedway and Joe Gibbs Racing which also has three victories.
Last week marked the second win of the year for Keselowski, who also visited Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway in February. His Team Penske teammate, reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano, won at Las Vegas.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch upped his personal mark of national series wins scoring victory 199 and 200 at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway and California’s Auto Club Speedway. His teammate Denny Hamlin earned his second Daytona 500 win in the season-opener giving the Joe Gibbs Racing group their trio of trophies.
Busch arrives for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) as defending race winner and feeling very good about his and his JGR team’s chances.
“I think everybody is doing a fantastic job,” Busch said, tongue-in-cheek. “I don’t know that anybody needs to get any better.”
“The fields are pretty competitive each and every week,” he continued. “You never know who’s going to qualify where. You’ve got the RCR (Richard Childress Racing) guys up front and in the race things kind of happen that way too so, I’m ok (laughs).
“I would expect everybody to continue to put improvements in their car and get better. It’s just the amount, the size of improvements and what they gain out of what they’re able to change and how much improvement they get and whether or not you kind of jump ahead or whether you just get back equal. And then the guys who are fast get another upgrade and then they’re back ahead a little bit.”
“You play this see-saw moment all life-long in this sport. We even see it on the engine side as well. They’re like, ‘Oh man, we made some gains on them and then they go and stretch it back out’ and you’re like, ‘Oh that just kind of defeats everything that you just worked for.’ But you’ve got to keep working.”
Busch’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. wouldn’t mind keeping this winning trend going for the team. The 2017 series champion is still looking for his first victory since joining the Joe Gibbs Racing organization this year. He’s had top-10 finishes in five of six races – every one since suffering a 35th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500.
He’s finished runner-up twice – at Atlanta and Phoenix – and when it comes to 1.5-mile venues such as Texas Motor Speedway, Truex has proven to be among the best never to have won. He’s earned the pole position twice at Texas (2007, 2012) and has seven top-10 finishes in the last eight races there, including a runner-up in the 2017 Playoff race. He has another runner-up in the 2013 Spring race and scored half of his four career top-five finishes at Texas in the last four races.
“We’re looking forward to getting to Texas this week,” the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry said. “I feel pretty good about how we’ve run at the other 1.5-mile tracks this year. We definitely want to qualify better than we have, to put ourselves up front early in the race and to have a better pit selection. Our teammates have also been really fast at these track so far, so I expect us to all be strong and have an opportunity on Sunday.”
DASH 4 CASH IS BACK IN THE XFINITY SERIES
After a two-week break, the series returns to action in Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (at 1 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Monster Energy Series regular Ryan Blaney is the defending winner of this spring race, however, perennial championship contender Cole Custer is the most recent winner – taking the checkered flag last November. In fact, Custer has quite the enviable record on the Fort Worth high banks.
He’s finished top-five in all four of his NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, including a fourth-place finish in this race last year capping the effort with a Playoff win in the Fall. His average finish is a highly impressive 3.75. And he’s never started worse than 10th.
Custer currently trails reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, current points leader Tyler Reddick by only seven points heading into Texas. Christopher Bell is ranked third, 14 points behind Reddick – those drivers making up three/fourths of last year’s championship field at the Homestead-Miami season finale.
Beyond the tight championship situation, the Texas race is the opening qualifier for the 2019 Dash 4 Cash program. The top four finishing Xfinity Series championship contenders in Saturday’s race will be qualified for the first Dash 4 Cash event April 6 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The highest finishing of those four drivers at Bristol will earn a $100,000 bonus.
The $100,000 Dash 4 Cash continues April 12 at Richmond, Va., April 27 at Talladega, Ala. and May 4 at Dover, Del. with the top four Xfinity regulars eligible the following week. Last year, Ryan Preece (at Bristol), Elliott Sadler (at Richmond and Talladega) and Justin Allgaier (Dover) won the big money from Xfinity.
TIME FOR SOME TEXAS TRUCKIN’
Kyle Busch may be looking to score his fourth-straight NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win of the season in Friday’s Vankor 350 at Texas Motor Speedway (at 9 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) but history indicates he will have a substantial challenge in two-time series champ Johnny Sauter.
Sauter has won three of the last five Gander Truck races at the Texas high-banks and is defending winner of Friday night’s race. His five career victories are most among active drivers at the track and only Todd Bodine has ever scored more (six). Twice Sauter has won back-to-back races (swept 2012, 2017-18).
The driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Ford F-150, Sauter has scored top-10s in the previous three races of the 2019 season, including a runner-up finish at Atlanta. He sits fourth in the championship standings – nine points behind leader Stewart Friesen, who took the points lead for the first time in his three-year career following last week’s Martinsville race.
The Canadian Stewart Friesen holds a slim four-point edge over previous championship leader Grant Enfinger and is five points up on defending series champ Brett Moffitt. Only 11 points separate the top-six drivers in the standings.
Sauter and Matt Crafton (2014) are the only two drivers ranked among the top-10 in the championship with previous wins at Texas.
Harrison Burton is ranked fifth (nine points behind Friesen) and continues to lead the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. The 18-year old has three finishes of 11th or better in the opening four races. The Texas track has been important and historic in his family. It’s where his father Jeff Burton scored his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in April, 1997.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
Defending Race Winner: Kyle Busch
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 31
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 501 miles (334 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 85),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 170), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 334)
What to Watch For: Kyle Busch’s three wins rank him second to seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson among active winners at Texas. Johnson’s seven trophies are most all-time. … Only four active drivers have multiple wins at Texas – Johnson (7), Kyle Busch (3), Kevin Harvick (2) and Denny Hamlin (2). … Three times the pole winner has won the race – Kasey Kahne (2006), Jimmie Johnson (2012) and Kyle Busch (2013). … The most laps led by a winner is 278 by Tony Stewart in Fall, 2006. … The fewest laps led by a winner is one, done by Jeff Burton in 2007. … Kurt Busch has won the most pole positions (three) in track history. Martin Truex Jr. (2) and Ryan Newman (2) are the only other active drivers with multiple pole awards. … Newman is the only driver to earn back-to-back poles – sweeping the 2005 season. …. Newman also holds the record for winning in the fewest number of starts. He won in his second appearance at TMS in 2003. … Martin Truex Jr. currently holds the record for most Texas starts without a win. This weekend marks his 28th start. …. The farthest back a winner has started is 31st on the grid. Matt Kenseth won the 2002 race starting from there. …. The largest margin of victory came in the Fall of 2009 when Kurt Busch won by 25.6 seconds over Denny Hamlin. … The closest finish came in April, 2004 when Elliott Sadler beat his Evernham Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne by .028-seconds. …. The most lead changes in a race is 33, set in Fall, 2010. …. Brad Keselowski is the only driver in the field who made his first Monster Energy Series start at Texas. …. Truex (Nov., 2007) and David Ragan (April, 2011) won their first career pole positions at Texas. … Hendrick Motorsports’ Chad Knaus is the winningest crew chief at Texas with seven trophies (all with Johnson). …. Johnson not only has the most wins (7) of any driver but he also holds the record for most runner-up finishes (5). Harvick is next among active drivers with three. … Johnson has been in three of the five closest race finishes in TMS history – his loss to Harvick by .152-seconds in 2010, his loss to Stewart by .272-seconds in 2006 are second and third closest. Johnson beat Kyle Larson by .340-seconds in 2017 for the fifth closest finish. … Johnson has finished first or second in four of the six races at Texas that went into overtime. …Third place on the starting grid has produced the most race winners (8). ….Twice a driver starting 30th has won. … Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing are tied for the most race wins at Texas with nine each. Joe Gibbs Racing is next on the list with seven. … Ford holds a slim 14-13 race victory edge over Chevrolet all-time. Toyota has six wins.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: My Bariatric Solutions 300
Defending Race Winner: Ryan Blaney
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 30
The Time: 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), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)
What to Watch For: Monster Energy Series driver Ryan Blaney beat 2018 Xfinity championship contender Christopher Bell by 2.327-seconds to win his first race at Texas Motor Speedway last Spring. …. This race has seen six different winners in the last seven years. Only Erik Jones has won twice in that timeframe. … Four times a driver has won back-to-back at TMS – NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin (1999-2000), Carl Edwards (2010-11) and Erik Jones (swept 2017). Kyle Busch won a record five straight from 2008-2010. … Busch holds the all-time record for series wins at Texas with eight. Kevin Harvick is next with five. … The polesitter has won this race four times. Kyle Busch did it twice in 2009 and 2016. Edwards won it from pole in 2011 and Erik Jones in 2015. … Jeff Green’s qualifying record still holds at 193.493 mph set in 2002. … The closest Margin of Victory is .128-seconds when Matt Kenseth edged Denny Hamlin in Spring, 2007. … The largest martin of victory came in Fall of 2007 when Harvick beat Kyle Busch by 3.486-seconds. … Kyle Busch holds the record for deepest in the starting field (31st) to win this race. He also holds the mark for most laps led in a race – 179 in Fall, 2009. …The fewest laps led by a winner is six laps and it’s happened three times. Dale Earnhardt Jr. did it in 1998, Jeff Purvis in 2002 and Trevor Bayne in 2011. ….Chase Elliott is the youngest Xfinity race winner at Texas, winning at the age of 18 years, 4 months, 7 days in Spring, 2014. … The most lead changes in a race is 22 (Spring, 2013). … Mark Martin won the very first Xfinity race at Texas in 1997. …. In the last 10 races at Texas, Toyota drives have won five, Ford has three wins and Chevrolet two.
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: Vankor 350
Defending Race Winner: Johnny Sauter
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Friday, March 29
The Time: 9 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 220.5 miles (147 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 35),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 70), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 147)
What to Watch For: Two-time NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter is the defending winner of the race this weekend. His five victories at Texas Motor Speedway is most among active drivers and second all-time to Todd Bodine’s six wins. … The late Kenny Irwin won the very first Gander Truck race at Texas in June, 1997. … The closest margin of victory is .116-seconds when Todd Bodine defeated Mike Skinner (Spring, 2006). …. The largest margin of victory is 13.302-seconds when two-time series champ Matt Crafton beat Justin Lofton by 13.302-seconds (Spring, 2014). …The farthest back a Texas winner has started is 22nd on the grid. Todd Bodine won from that position on the grid in Fall, 2002. … NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. holds the record for most laps led in a race at Texas (140 in Spring, 2008). … Hornaday is also the oldest winner at TMS, earning the trophy in Spring, 2011 at the age of 52 years, 11 months, 21 days. …. The youngest TMS winner was William Byron, who won in Spring, 2016 at the age of 18 years, six months, 13 days. … Noah Gragson holds the series qualifying record at the track – 185.134 mph set in Spring, 2017. … Five times a drive has won back-to-back races at Texas. Johnny Sauter is the only driver to do it twice (2012 season sweep and again 2017-18). Brendan Gaughan holds the record with four-straight Texas wins, sweeping the 2002 and 2003 seasons. … Jeb Burton scored his only NASCAR national series victory in this race in 2013. … The Sauter brothers – Jay and Johnny – are the only brothers with wins in the Gander Trucks at Texas. Jay won in 1994. Johnny has five wins. They also both have past wins at Martinsville Speedway. … Eight drivers have accounted for 27 of 42 race wins at TMS – more than half. Kyle Busch (3), Johnny Sauter (5) and Matt Crafton (2) are the only multi-time winners currently racing in the series. … Chevrolet has won four of the last five races and has a total of 17 victories, tying Toyota’s 17 wins for most all-time at the track. Ford has three wins – the last coming in 2000 by Greg Biffle.