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NASCAR National Series News & Notes -- Kentucky

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts
The Place: Kentucky Speedway
The Date: Saturday, July 8
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)

NASCAR XFINITY Series
Next Race: Alsco 300
The Place: Kentucky Speedway
The Date: Friday, July 7
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 7:30 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)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225
The Place: Kentucky Speedway
The Date: Thursday, July 6
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 225 miles (150 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 35),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Stenhouse Surges To Second Victory

NASCAR might have a new restrictor-plate ace. Nearly two months after visiting Victory Lane at Talladega, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. surged past David Ragan in overtime of Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway to win his second career race.
Stenhouse joins Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers with multiple victories this season. The Roush Fenway Racing driver is having a career year. He’s tied his career best with four top fives and already claims a career-high seven top 10s.
The No. 17 Ford driver will attempt to continue his momentum in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He has a high finish of 11th in four starts at the 1.5-mile track.

Kentucky Fried King: Keselowski Goes For Record Fourth Win In The Bluegrass State

Kentucky Speedway has hosted six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. Brad Keselowski has won a track-record three of them, including last year’s race.

Keselowski will go for a fourth career win at Kentucky in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts. In addition to his four victories, the No. 2 Team Penske driver claims three top fives, five top 10s and an 8.2 average finish. He’s led a track record 483 laps.
Keselowski currently ranks fifth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, 132 points behind leader Kyle Larson. He is tied with Larson for third in playoff points with 13 (via his two wins and three stage wins).

Busch Hopes To Grab First Win Of Season At Kentucky

Kyle Busch sits third in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings, 108 points behind leader Kyle Larson, but he still hasn’t won a race this season. He’ll try to change that this weekend at Kentucky Speedway where he’s visited Victory Lane twice (2011, 2015).

In addition to his two Kentucky wins, Busch boasts four top fives, five top 10s and a 5.2 average finish in six starts there. He has never finished lower than 12th.

Busch’s streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes was snapped last weekend at Daytona after finishing 20th. He has four stage wins, four playoff points, six top fives, nine top 10s and a 13.1 average finish this season.

Larson Looks To Extend Points Lead

Kyle Larson continues to prove the future is now for NASCAR’s young stars. Seventeen races into the season, the 24-year-old Californian leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings by 18 points over Martin Truex Jr.

Larson’s 10.2 average finish is tops in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He ranks second in average running position (8.9) and driver rating (105.8). The No. 42 Chevrolet driver is third in laps led (721, 14.6%).

Larson has struggled at Kentucky throughout his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. In three starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has never finished higher than 19th.

Playoff Watch: Nine Races Left For Drivers To Earn Postseason Berths

Nine races remain for drivers to earn berths in NASCAR’s playoffs.

The following drivers would get in if the season ended today: Jimmie Johnson (three wins, 16 playoff points), Kyle Larson (two, 13), Martin Truex Jr. (two, 21), Brad Keselowski (two, 13), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (two, 10), Kevin Harvick (one, eight), Ryan Blaney (one, eight), Kurt Busch (one, five), Ryan Newman (one, five), Austin Dillon (one, five), Kyle Busch (117 points above Joey Logano on the cutoff line, four playoff points), Chase Elliott (+82, two), Jamie McMurray (+62), Denny Hamlin (+56, 2), Clint Bowyer (+27), Matt Kenseth (+3, two).

The first four out would be: Logano (three points below Matt Kenseth on the cutoff line), Erik Jones (-56), Daniel Suarez (-88) and Trevor Bayne (-91).

Remember, a win gets a driver into the playoffs. Below is a list of winless drivers who have visited Victory Lane at upcoming tracks:

Kentucky: Ky. Busch, Kenseth
New Hampshire: Ky. Busch, Kenseth, Bowyer, Hamlin, Kasey Kahne
Indianapolis: Ky. Busch, McMurray, Paul Menard
Pocono: Hamlin, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kahne, Chris Buescher
Watkins Glen: Hamlin, Ky. Busch, AJ Allmendinger
Michigan: Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth, Kahne
Bristol: Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Kahne
Darlington: Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth
Richmond: Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth, Bowyer, Earnhardt Jr., Kahne

NASCAR XFINITY Series

Friday Night Under The Kentucky Lights: A Playoff Preview

Performing well is especially important this weekend at Kentucky Speedway in the Alsco 300 on Friday, July 7 (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), because not only is the 1.5-mile track nestled in the ‘Bluegrass State’ hosting some great racing action this weekend, but it will also host the first event in the opening round of 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs. Friday night competitors will get their chance at not only going for the win to lock themselves into the playoffs, but also preparing for the post-season itself.

Getting off to a good start in the playoffs is key, as the first two rounds are just three races each. The Round of 12, which opens the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series post-season, includes Kentucky Speedway, Dover International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Then comes the Round of 8, which has Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, and leads into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last season’s mid-summer Kentucky event proved to be quite the preview to what happened in the playoffs later that season. While Kyle Busch won last July’s race, Daniel Suárez (third) and Elliott Sadler (sixth) were the some of the highest finishing championship contenders. Later that season in the playoff opener at Kentucky, Sadler won and Suárez finished runner-up. Both went on to make it to the Championship 4, with Suárez edging Sadler out for the title.

Playoff Picture: Top Five Drivers In The Points Needing A Win

Kentucky Speedway offers a great opportunity for NASCAR XFINITY Series championship contending drivers to get a win and lock themselves into the 2017 post-season. Five such drivers ranked high in points need a win to solidify their bid for the playoffs this season.

Elliott Sadler - No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro - currently leads the series standings and is a comfortable 276 points ahead of 13th in standings, but has yet to win and lock himself into the playoffs. Though Sadler hasn’t won since the playoff Kentucky race last season (21 races ago), he has had an impressive 2017 season, posting the series-most top fives (seven) and top 10s (13). Expect Sadler be strong this weekend, in 11 starts at Kentucky Speedway, he has posted one win (2016), five top fives, eight top 10s and an average finish of 7.4.

Brennan Poole - No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro - is the second-highest ranked driver in the series standings without a win, but he is 101 points ahead of 13th position. Poole made the playoffs as a rookie last year and is looking to follow it up in his sophomore season. Though he has posted five top 10s in 2017, he is still looking for his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series win. Kentucky is a track well-suited for Poole to score his first win. In four series starts at the famed 1.5-mile speedway, he has posted two top 10s.

Daniel Hemric - No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro - is currently fifth is the series standings and is 91 points ahead of 13th-place, the first position outside the playoffs. Hemric is proving to be an emerging star as the Richard Childress Racing driver has posted a pole, two top fives and five top 10s this season. This will be Hemric’s series track debut at Kentucky this weekend, but he does have two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at the 1.5-mile facility, posting a best finish of third last season.

Cole Custer - No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang - is a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender with all the talent in the world, but has been wrestling through a roller-coaster of a season. He currently is seventh in the championship standings, after posting three DNFs in the first seven races, but the youngster has fought through the adversity, and now is 60 points ahead of 13th-place in the standings. Custer has posted two top fives and six top 10s this season. This will be his second career start at Kentucky this weekend, he made his track debut last season - starting eighth but finishing 32nd.

Matt Tifft - No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry - has stepped into the car (No. 19 Toyota team) that won the title last season as a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender and has handled the opportunity quite well. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is eighth in the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings, 57 points ahead of the playoff’s cutoff (13th). Tifft’s 2017 season has seen four top 10 finishes. Count on Tifft to do well this weekend, he has made two series starts at Kentucky and has finished in the top-10 in both, posting an average finish of 7.5.

Sunoco Rookie Spotlight: JR Motorsport’s William Byron Looks To Take Three In A Row

No NASCAR XFINITY Series driver is hotter right now than JR Motorsport’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender William Byron. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native is coming off back-to-back wins at Iowa and Daytona, and now heads to Kentucky Speedway for the Alsco 300 on Friday, July 7 (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to become the first rookie in series history to win three races in a row and the eighth driver all-time to accomplish the milestone.

If Byron achieves the feat of winning three consecutive NXS races or more he will join Sam Ard (the only driver to win four straight in 1983, three straight in 1984), Kyle Busch (2008, 2013, and won three straight twice in 2016), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1999), Harry Gant (1991), Mark Martin (1997), Ryan Newman (2005) and Larry Pearson (1987).

This weekend will be Byron’s first series start at Kentucky Speedway, but the 19-year-old made one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at the 1.5-mile track last season and won.

Busch Is Back To Win: Only Two Checkered Flags Away From 175 NASCAR National Series Victories

Since Richard Petty has earned the nickname ‘The King’ it is only fitting then Kyle Busch be called ‘The Prince’ as he is second only to Petty (200) on the NASCAR national series wins list with 173 checkered flags, and this weekend the winningest driver in NASCAR XFINITY Series history (87 wins) returns to defend his victory at Kentucky Speedway and add another notch closer to the King’s total.

Kyle Busch has 38 Monster Energy wins, 87 XFINITY wins and 48 Camping World Truck wins, totaling a cool 173, just two wins away from 175 NASCAR national series wins.

Busch has made nine series starts at Kentucky Speedway posting two wins (2004, 2016), seven top fives and an average finish of 6.8. He won last season’s race from the pole and dominated the event, leading 185 of 201 laps.

Busch will not be the only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver to compete in the Alsco 300 this weekend. Paul Menard, Ty Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick will also be making an attempt at the win this Friday night.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Magic Number 8: John Hunter Nemechek Eyes His Third Consecutive Win

John Hunter Nemechek is doing more with less, and has made it look effortless, especially in the last two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races (Gateway and Iowa), where he snatched the lead late and parked his No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet in Victory Lane. Now the ascending star has banked two wins and rolls to Kentucky Speedway this weekend for the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 on Thursday, July 6 (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) looking to become the eighth driver in series history to win three consecutive races or more.

If Nemechek pulls off the win this weekend, he is looking to join some of the best to ever compete in the series like Ron Hornaday Jr. (who holds series record for most consecutive wins with five in 2009, he also won three straight in 1997), Johnny Benson (2008), Greg Biffle (2000), Todd Bodine (2005), Kyle Busch (2011 and 2014), Kevin Harvick (2011) and Mike Skinner (1996 and 2007) as a three-consecutive race winner.

Nemechek has a solid chance of joining that list this weekend. In two career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Kentucky, he has posted an average finish of 6.5; including finishing runner-up last season.

Stage Left: Sauter, Bell and Briscoe Racking Up Mid-Race Points

It shouldn’t be too surprising the top three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship points, GMS Racing’s Johnny Sauter (points leader), Kyle Busch Motorsport’s Christopher Bell (second) and Brad Keselowski Racing’s Chase Briscoe (third) are the same three drivers that lead the series in the accumulation of stage points this season.

Johnny Sauter has held the series championship standings lead since Martinsville back in April, and has since opened the gap between second to 42 points following Iowa. A big key to Sauter’s success this season is his ability to gather stage points, having amassed 134 - the series-most. Sauter’s 134 stage points account for 30.9% of his driver standings total of 433 points. Sauter’s 2017 season has been a strong one. In nine starts this season he has posted one win (Dover), and the series-most seven top fives. His average finish this season is 4.2 (series-best).

Watch for Sauter to be upfront again this weekend as he has made 10 starts at Kentucky, posting two top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 11.2.

Christopher Bell is currently second (-42) in the series championship standings after posting three poles, two wins (Atlanta and Texas), six top fives (second-most) and eight top 10s (tied with Johnny Sauter for the series-most). Bell has also been one of the best at accumulating stage points this season with 106 (second-most) through nine races. His stage points total accounts for 27.1% of his total driver standings 391 points.

One can expect Bell to continue his assault on the stage points this weekend as he has made two series starts at Kentucky Speedway, posting one top five and an average finish of 10.5 - he finished fourth in this event last season.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Briscoe is currently third in the series championship standings, 76 points back from the standings leader Johnny Sauter. Briscoe is having an outstanding rookie campaign, having posted two poles, four top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 8.7 (fourth-best) in nine starts. Briscoe has also excelled in accruing stage points, as he now has 102 (third-most) this season. Briscoe’s 102 stage points account for 28.5% of his driver standings total of 357 points. This weekend at Kentucky will be his series track debut, but don’t count him out just yet. Briscoe has an average finish of 10.8 on 1.5-mile tracks this season, including a runner-up finish at Texas.

Kyle Busch Goes For The Triple Header

Sweeping a triple header has only been done once in NASCAR national series history and that record belongs to Kyle Busch, when he won all three races at Bristol Motor Speedway during the August 2010 events. This weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Busch will again try to match his record and compete in all three NASCAR national series including this Thursday’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). This weekend’s race will be Kyle Busch’s fourth start of the season, in his previous three starts he has posted two wins (Kansas and Charlotte) and an average finish of 9.3.

Busch has made six series starts at Kentucky Speedway posting two wins (2011 and 2014), three top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 8.0. In last season’s race, he finished 30th after being caught in an accident.

Playoff Bubble: Seven Races Left For Drivers To Seal The Deal

Only seven races remain until the cutoff for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs, meaning time is of the essence for drivers without wins to click their ticket to the post-season. Four drivers (Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Johnny Sauter and Kaz Grala) are already locked in on wins, leaving four playoff spots up for grabs.

Chase Briscoe (+65) and Matt Crafton (+46) currently are the two winless drivers that have the largest points cushion ahead of Ryan Truex in ninth, the first spot outside of the playoffs. Briscoe will be making his series track debut at Kentucky this weekend. Crafton, on the other hand, will be making his 19th series start at Kentucky. In his previous 18 series starts on the 1.5-mile track he has posted one win (2015), five top fives, 13 top 10s and an average finish of 10.4.

Next is Ben Rhodes (+18), currently in seventh in the playoff outlook and then Grant Enfinger is eighth with the last and final playoff spot - just eight points ahead of ninth-place Ryan Truex. Both Rhodes and Enfinger needs wins as soon as possible, because all it will take is a bad run and they could be on the outside of the playoff cutoff line looking in.

Rhodes has had a career season thus far, having posted three top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 10.9. Rhodes made his series track debut at Kentucky last season, starting ninth and finishing 13th.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Grant Enfinger currently sits in the final playoff spot (eighth) just eight points ahead of ninth-place Ryan Truex. Enfinger will have his work cut out for him to hold on the final playoff spot but he has been consistent this season having posted four top fives, six top 10s and an average finish of 8.2 (third-best) in nine starts. He made lone series start at Kentucky last season, starting 17th and finishing 12th.

One thing going for Rhodes and Enfinger is this will be Ryan Truex’s series track debut this weekend at Kentucky.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Etc.

Moonlighting Drivers: Tommy Regan, Ross Chastain, JJ Yeley and Brandon Jones are joining Kyle Busch as drivers who don’t content for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points and are also on the entry list.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Points Update: Following the ninth race of the season at Iowa, Grant Enfinger (122 points) is the series rookie standings leader; followed by Chase Briscoe (-5), Noah Gragson (-24), Kaz Grala (-30), Austin Cindric (-53), Justin Haley (-60), Cody Coughlin (-62), Wendell Chavous (-78) and Stewart Friesen (-92).