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NASCAR National Series News & Notes - Sonoma & Gateway

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Toyota / SaveMart 350
The Place: Sonoma Raceway
The Date: Sunday, June 24
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 218.9 miles (110 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 110)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Overton's 300
The Place: Chicagoland Speedway
The Date: Saturday, June 30
The Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV: NBCSN, 3 p.m.
Radio: MRN, 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)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200 presented by CK Power
The Place: Gateway Motorsports Park
The Date: Saturday, June 23
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 miles (160 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 35),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 160)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Five For Busch?

Only one driver in the last decade has won multiple races at the scenic Sonoma Raceway road course nestled in the hills of California wine country. And Kyle Busch absolutely earned that impressive distinction winning his first race there 10 years ago as a 23-year old and answering that win with an incredible victory three years ago - his first of the 2015 season after missing 11 races with a leg injury suffered at Daytona during the season-opening Speedweeks.

The Sonoma win was the first of five Busch would score en route to the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

And Busch's inaugural Sonoma win in 2008 was the most dominant showing of the last decade. He led 78 of the 112 laps.

A victory this Sunday in the Toyota/Save-Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) would give the current championship leader and Joe Gibbs Racing driver five wins on the 2018 season. His biggest competition of the year - five-time winner Kevin Harvick - is the defending winner at Sonoma - capturing his first victory at the track and second road course trophy (he won at Watkins Glen in 2006) of his career.

Class of the Field

Not only have Harvick, Kyle Busch and two-time race winners Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer established themselves the class of the 2018 season so far, interestingly, they are also the four most recent winners among active drivers at the Sonoma Raceway road course.

Harvick won last year, Busch won in 2015, Truex won in 2013 and Bowyer in 2012. Retired drivers Tony Stewart (2016) and Carl Edwards (2014) are the only other winners in that span.

Sonoma Lap Leaders

Among the last 10 Sonoma Raceway winners, Kurt Busch holds the distinction of leading the most laps over the course of his career. The 2011 race winner has led 197 laps in 17 starts at the road course. Since his victory, he has only one finish outside the top-10, 12th-place in 2014. He has four top fives in the last seven races.

Californian Jimmie Johnson, the 2010 Sonoma winner, has led 143 laps at Sonoma and boasted a healthy string of seven top-10s from 2009-2015. Kyle Busch has the next best total of 110 laps led with two victories, followed by 2013 winner Martin Truex Jr. who has 92 laps out front. He led the most laps last year (25) but did not win. He led 51 laps in his 2013 victory.
Of the last six race winners, Kevin Harvick has led the fewest number of career total laps at Sonoma (60).

Three times since 2008, the race winner has led at least 70 of the 112 scheduled laps. Kyle Busch led 78 in his 2008 win. Kurt Busch led 76 laps in his 2011 win and Bowyer led 71 laps in his 2012 victory.

Youthful Enthusiasm

One of the primary storylines in Northern California this week will undoubtedly be whether NASCAR's young talent breaks out to earn a toast in Sonoma's storied Victory Lane. There is a good cause to believe in the possibility.

Both Chevrolet drivers Chase Elliott, 22, and Kyle Larson, 25, have won on the Sonoma course (the 2016 and 2014 K&N Pro Series races, respectively). And Elliott won his first-ever NASCAR national series race on a road course, the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

Erik Jones, 22, has already taken a Sonoma 'tutorial,' the Joe Gibbs Racing driver revealed last week, spending a full day on the course last month making laps under the guidance of a driving school coach. He was 25th in his Sonoma debut last year, but scored a 10th-place finish at Watkins Glen later in the summer.

He won the Bowmanville, Ontario, Camping World Truck Series race in 2015 but did not have a road course top-five in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition.

Rookies William Byron, 19, and Bubba Wallace, 24, bring some strong reference material as well. Byron, who is ranked 20th in the Monster Energy Series standings, scored a pair of top-10 finishes at the Watkins Glen (10th) and Road America (sixth) road course venues last year in the Xfinity Series and had a 10th-place showing at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016.

Wallace, who is ranked 24th and trails Byron by 30 points in the standings, has four previous road course top-10s as well - three in the Xfinity Series. He was eighth at Mid-Ohio, fifth at Road America in 2015 and ninth in 2016. He also finished fourth in the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park truck race in 2013.

'Dinger the Ringer

For much of his NASCAR career A.J. Allmendinger has been considered the top shelf of road course racing because of his background in IndyCar and sports car racing prior to his fulltime move to stock cars.

And although Allmendinger has a win at the Monster Energy Series' road course, in Watkins Glen, N.Y., he is still looking for one in his native California. An absolute favorite every time he shows up in Sonoma, Allmendinger has won a pole position (2015) but struggled come race time. He has only two top-10 finishes in nine starts with a best of finish of seventh in 2009. He has finished 35th or worse in three of the last four Sonoma races in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet but led laps in all those outings.

Compare that to the Watkins Glen road course, where Allmendinger has a win (2015), a pole position (2015) and three top-10 finishes in the last four races there.

California Dreamin'

There are five California natives competing this weekend, including Kevin Harvick (of Bakersfield), Jimmie Johnson (of El Cajon), AJ Allmendinger (of Los Gatos), Kyle Larson (of Elk Grove) and Matt DiBenedetto (of Grass Valley).

Of those, only Harvick and Johnson have a win at Sonoma in the Monster Energy Series. Larson won the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West there, leading every one of the 66 laps. He won the pole position in last year's Cup race and led nine laps, but is still looking for his first top-10 finish in four career starts.

His Time

Denny Hamlin may be winless at Sonoma, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver provided one of the most memorable finishes in history at the track. His closing laps duel with eventual winner Tony Stewart in 2016 produced one of the sport's most dramatic checkered flags.

But Hamlin, who has led an impressive 92 laps in his career at Sonoma, is still looking for that maiden win. He is 0-for-12 despite his time out front, but has back-to-back top-five finishes in the last two races with a fourth-place last year to follow-up his career-best runner-up finish to Stewart in 2016.

He answered that 2016 Sonoma near-miss with a victory at the series' other road course, Watkins Glen, later that summer and was fourth at The Glen last year - his two best showings at the track.

Movement in the Standings

Five positions changed among the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' top-10 points standings following the Michigan race. Four-time race winner Kyle Busch still remains on top - his fourth-place finish at Michigan helping him hold a steady and hefty 75-point edge over five-time race winner Kevin Harvick.

But Michigan winner Clint Bowyer moved up a position into fifth place in the standings and trails another "mover" Brad Keselowski in fourth place, by only four points. Martin Truex Jr., who won at Pocono two weeks ago, finished a frustrating 18th-place at Michigan. It dropped him from fourth to sixth place in the championship points standings, but he trails Bowyer by only four points.

Ryan Blaney's eighth-place run in the Irish Hills, coupled with Larson's 28th-place finish, meant the two young drivers swapped positions in the standings. Blaney is now in ninth with a 14-point edge over Larson in 10th.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Garage Spotlight: Making The Most Of Their Xfinity Debuts

In total nine drivers have made their NASCAR Xfinity Series career debuts through 14 races this season. What's been impressive is of the nine fresh faces this season, four have really taken advantage of the opportunity and displayed their talents by pulling off a rare feat and finishing in the top-10.

To put the rare accomplishment into perspective, consider this, in total 1,212 drivers have made at least one start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Only 115 of 1,212 drivers (9.4%) have finished in the top-10 in their series debut. That's less than 10% of all drivers to race in the series.

This season's four drivers to pull off the feat are Kaz Grala (fourth-place finish, Daytona), John Hunter Nemechek (fourth-place finish, Atlanta), Noah Gragson (second-place finish, Richmond) and Riley Herbst (sixth-place finish, Iowa).

Of the four, Noah Gragson's runner-up finish at Richmond was the most notable. Gragson became just the 12th driver in series history to finish runner-up or better in their NASCAR Xfinity Series career debut. Of the 1,212 drivers to compete in the NASCAR Xfinity Series only 12 have finished second or better - that means that less than 1% (0.009%) of Xfinity drivers have accomplished the feat.

On average over the last five years in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, 20 drivers have made their series career debuts and not since 2015 have four drivers finished in the top-10 in their series debut.

Since the series inception in 1982 only five drivers have won in their series debut - Joe Ruttman (Dover, 1982), Dale Earnhardt (Daytona, 1982), Ricky Rudd (Dover, 1983), Terry Labonte (Charlotte, 1985) and Kurt Busch (Texas, 2006).

Sweet Redemption: Allgaier Is Playoff Bound Following His Win At Iowa

Few things are sweeter than redemption. Just ask driver Justin Allgaier, crew chief Jason Burdett and the No. 7 JR Motorsports team after winning at Iowa Speedway last Sunday.

Earlier this season, Allgaier and the No. 7 team won at Dover International Speedway only to find out the following week the victory was marred with a post-race penalty that resulted in them losing the automatic bid to the Playoffs and the additional five Playoff points that accompany a NASCAR Xfinity Series win. The penalty was costly for sure, but instead of folding up and letting their season take a turn for the worst; Allgaier, Burdett and the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet team dug deep and then redeemed themselves with another victory this past weekend at Iowa Speedway. This time the victory came with all the spoils and Allgaier is now all but locked into the series postseason.

In 14 series starts this year, Allgaier has posted two wins, seven top fives, nine top 10s and an average finish of 12.7. He is currently sixth in the points; 51 markers behind his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler in the standings lead.

This week the NASCAR Xfinity Series is off, but the action will return June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway for the Overton's 300 at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Allgaier hails from Illinois and considers Chicagoland Speedway his home track. Plus, he is the defending winner of the upcoming race at the famed 1.5-mile facility.

Sadler's Standings Lead Over Custer and Hemric Dwindles

After starting the season off with 12 straight top-10 finishes, the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings leader Elliott Sadler has gone back-to-back weeks with finishes outside the top-25, virtually eliminating the mountain of points between himself and second-place Cole Custer (-4 points) and third-place Daniel Hemric (-7) in the regular season championship standings.

Sadler's points lead over second had grown to 62 points following Pocono, but the wheels to his championship run fell off in the Irish Hills. Sadler finished 30th at Michigan and Custer and Hemric both posted top fives, cutting 20 points out of Sadler's lead. Then last weekend, Sadler finished 28th at Iowa and again Custer and Hemric finished in the top-five; this time knocking nearly 35 points off the standings lead. Now both Custer and Hemric are within 10 points of Sadler.

When the series returns next week at Chicagoland Speedway for the Overton's 300 (at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Sadler and the No. 1 JR Motorsports team will be working extra hard to turn their recent skid around, but it will be tough as Cole Custer and Daniel Hemric are red hot right now. Custer (seventh) and Hemric (fourth) both made their series track debuts at Chicago last season, finishing in the top-10. But Sadler's experience might give him the upper hand as he has made 15 starts at Chicago, posting one win (2012) and an average finish of 12.1.

Sunoco Rookie Update: Bell's Runner-Up At Iowa Crushes Reddick's Rookie Points Lead

Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell cut Tyler Reddick's Sunoco Rookie of the Year points standings lead down to just two points after he posted his third runner-up finish of the season last weekend at Iowa Speedway.

Bell and Reddick set themselves apart from the rest of the 2018 Sunoco Rookie class as the clear favorites to win the honors this season. Both drivers have held the Sunoco Rookie standings lead this season and both have won this season.

JR Motorsport's Tyler Reddick continues to hold the rookie standings lead on the merits of one win (Daytona), two top fives, 10 top 10s and an average finish of 10.4 this season.

Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell has also been impressive in his rookie campaign this season posting three poles, one win (Richmond), eight top fives and an average finish of 12.1.
Both Sunoco rookies, Bell and Reddick, will be making their series track debuts next week at Chicagoland Speedway.

Future Is Bright: Herbst Relished His Xfinity Series Debut

Riley Herbst shined in his NASCAR Xfinity Series career debut finishing sixth in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota at Iowa Speedway in the Iowa 250 presented by Enogen last weekend.

The 19-year-old from Las Vegas, Herbst, is taking part in the NASCAR Next program, showcasing the sport's top upcoming drivers.

Over the past three years Herbst has participated in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, making 20 combined starts and posting eight top fives and 16 top 10s. He also ran part-time in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, making 27 series starts while posting a win at Pocono Raceway last season.

Herbst heads to Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois for his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut with Kyle Busch Motorsports this weekend.

King Of the Pit Boxes: Team Penske's Brian Wilson

This season the crew chief standing out above the rest is Team Penske's Brian Wilson. Through 14 races in 2018, the Wilson-led No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang team has won four times (Auto Club, Charlotte, Phoenix and Texas) - the series-most.

Wilson began his crew chief career with No. 22 team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2016, and since then he has worked with six different drivers (Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Sam Hornish Jr., Paul Menard, and Austin Cindric) posting seven wins, 22 top fives, 34 top 10s and four poles including last weekend at Iowa.

Wilson has been making great calls this season that have helped the team win and run strong. In 14 starts this year the No. 22 team has an average starting position of 4.7 and an average finishing position of 8.9.

Team Penske's No. 22 Ford team is currently second in the NASCAR Xfinity Series owner standings just 14-points back from Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 team.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Iowa Native Becomes an Iowa Winner

It was hot and humid on Saturday at Iowa Speedway but that didn't stop Brett Moffitt, an Iowa native, from fighting for his spot in Victory Lane at the M&M's 200 sponsored by Casey's General Store.

Moffitt, who led the final 76 laps, had to fight to hold off Noah Gragson after a competitive last-lap attempt to pass him failed and sent him into the wall. Moffitt flew under the checkered flag and claimed his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win of his career.

Harrison Burton, who started at the pole for the first-time in his career in only his 10th career start in the series, finished with a career-best third-place result.

The race was completely up for grabs when a crash on Lap 135 took out four top contenders. Matt Crafton's left front tire went flat and caused him to slide up the track into John Hunter Nemechek. Nemechek won at Iowa last year and had just claimed Stage 1 of the race. Ben Rhodes had big damage to his truck in the wreck as well.

Stewart Friesen got caught up in the mess but came out of it with only a few minor issues.

That incident allowed Moffitt, who started 16th, to take over and win his second race of the 2018 season. Moffitt, third in the standings, also gained points and shortened the gap between him and second-place Gragson to only 14 points.

Johnny Sauter remains the points leader with 419 points followed by Gragson and Moffitt. Friesen and Grant Enfinger close out the top five.

Off To Gateway They Go

This weekend, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racing returns to Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday, June 23 (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) for the Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200 presented by CK Power.

Last year, John Hunter Nemechek won at Gateway, making it his fourth career-win. The track has seen a lot of young rising stars in their Victory Lane. Before Nemechek, Christopher Bell was the winner in 2016, Cole Custer in 2015 and Bubba Wallace in 2014. Nemechek already has one win under his belt so far this year, could Gateway be where he gets his second?

Ted Musgrave is the only driver in history to win two times at Gateway Motorsports Park and 2006 and 2007 are the only years that a manufacturer won back-to-back.

First Timers At Gateway Motorsports Park

As the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to the 10th race of the season, there have been a lot of firsts for drivers along the way.

This weekend is no different.

Of the 34 drivers entered, so far, 11 of them have never raced at Gateway before.

They are - Myatt Snider, Bobby Reuse, Brett Moffitt, Dalton Sargeant, Justin Fontaine, Christian Eckes, Riley Herbst, Chad Finley, Stewart Friesen, Zane Smith and Jesse Little.

Snider, Sargeant and Fontaine are all rookies - Todd Gilliland, another NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver in his rookie year, is the only one who has raced at Gateway before. It was his second career race in 2017 where he started fourth and finished 21st because of a transmission issue. This weekend will be his second visit to Gateway Motorsports Park.

Harrison Burton Posts Career Bests At Iowa

Harrison Burton started from the pole position for the first time in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career and ended the race with his career-best third-place finish in the series.

The pole position was the first in 10 series starts for Burton, who led the first 30 laps of the race. Those 30 laps were his first out front in the series. However, he finished Stage 1 in third-place.

Burton experienced a throttle issue under a caution after Lap 60 brought him down pit road while it was closed. This resulted in a penalty for Burton and forced him to start at the tail end of the field. By the end of Stage 2, Burton made his way up to sixth-place, which put him in the front with eventual race winner Brett Moffitt and teammate Noah Gragson, who finished second.

This third-place finish was Burton's second top five of the year and third top 10 in as many starts. We won't see Burton behind the wheel of a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck again until the series heads to Bristol on August 16.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

NASCAR Next Driver To Make Truck Series Debut: Huntington Beach, Calif. native Zane Smith, a member of NASCAR Next, will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park. He will pilot the No. 54 Crosley Brands/LaPaz Margarita Mix Toyota Tundra. The 19-year-old is currently competing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series where he's had a career-best season. He gathered his first win this year at Nashville followed by two more wins at Talladega and Toledo. So far in his ARCA career, Smith has three wins under his belt along with 14 top fives, 19 top 10s and two poles. He has led 500 laps in his career.

Can Crafton Get a Win at Gateway?: Matt Crafton has visited Gateway Motorsports Park 14 times in his career, the most of any driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Although he has not won at Gateway before, he has posted two top fives and eight top 10s. Last year, Crafton tallied his best finish at the track in fourth. The three years prior to 2017, Crafton crashed in each race and was unable to finish. In 2015, he crashed with nine laps to go after leading 49 laps at Gateway. The veteran is still looking for his first win this season.

Tyler Young Enters Second 2018 Race: Tyler Young is entered in the Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200 presented by CK Power; his second race of the season. He competed at Texas Motor Speedway, where he made a good run starting 20th and finishing seventh. The 27-year-old has yet to post a win or a top-five in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series but is making progress toward one. He has six career top 10s under his belt.

Chad Finley Is Back: Chad Finley has raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck series twice and both times were in 2015. This weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park, Finley will race for the first time since then and for the first time at the track. In his career, he has been to Michigan International Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. He finished 21st at both tracks. He's entered to drive the No. 42 Auto Value Certified Service Center Chevrolet with crew chief Bruce Cook.

Riley Herbst Making Two Debuts In Two Weeks: Riley Herbst will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut this weekend at Gateway in the No. 51 Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet of Kyle Busch Motorsports. Herbst has had a very important two weeks, as he raced in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway, where he clinched a top-10 finish.

Gateway Motorsports Park By The Numbers
As the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Gateway Motorsports Park this weekend for the Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200 presented by CK Power on Saturday, June 23 (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for a showdown under the lights, here are some quick facts you should know about the track.

0.222 - Second was the closest margin of victory (07/18/03)
1 - Three races winners started in the No. 1 position
1.25 - Miles track length
2 - Most wins at Gateway Motorsports Park (Ted Musgrave)
3 - Fewest cautions (4 times, most recently 06/17/17)
5 - Five races were won from the No. 2 position
6 - Most top fives at Gateway (Johnny Sauter)
8 - Most top 10s (Rick Crawford, Matt Crafton)
9 - Most leaders (07/17/04)
10.428 - Seconds was the greatest margin of victory (05/06/01)
11 - Pole winners at Gateway Motorsports Park
13 - Fewest caution laps (05/06/01)
14 - Winning truck owners at Gateway Motorsports Park
15 - Most lead changes (07/17/04)
16 - Different race winners at Gateway Motorsports Park
50 - Most caution laps (04/29/06)
200 - Mile race (160 laps)
1,922 - Feet is the length of the frontstretch
1,976 - Feet is the length of the backstretch

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