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NASCAR National Series News & Notes -- Indianapolis

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard
The Place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, September 9
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (160 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 50),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 100), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 160)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Lilly Diabetes 250
The Place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, September 8
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 250 miles (100 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 100)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: World of Westgate 200
The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The Date: Friday, September 14
The Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 201 miles (134 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 134)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Team Penske Is Hitting On All Cylinders

Team Penske's 1-2 finish Sunday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway was not only historic in the big picture, but course-corrective in the near future. The team shows up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Sunday's Brickyard 400 (at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) feeling as confident as ever at team owner Roger Penske's most decorated venue.

Penske has 17 Indianapolis 500 wins - including one this May - but is still looking for his first victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' crown jewel event at the track - now the sport's regular season finale.

Of the three Team Penske drivers, Joey Logano boasts the best Indianapolis record with six top-10 finishes in nine starts in the No. 22 Ford, including three top-five finishes in the last four years.

Sunday's Darlington winner Brad Keselowski has four top-10 finishes in eight Indianapolis starts. The driver of the No. 2 Ford turned in his best Indianapolis Motor Speedway finish last year, finishing runner-up. His 99 laps led - over six races - is the most time out front for the Penske trio.

Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, has been the victim of some tough Indianapolis luck. He has DNFs in two of his three starts - including the past two years. However, Blaney led his first laps at the track last year and finished third in both the first and second stages before being eliminated in a crash in overtime.

Keselowski and Logano (Talladega) both have wins heading into the 10-race Playoffs, which begin next week in Las Vegas, while Blaney has secured his Playoff berth with a 12th-place season ranking.

7-Time Go-Time

Seven-time Monster Energy Series champion Jimmie Johnson heads into Indianapolis already in possession of four race-winning trophies (2006, 2008-09, 2012). But this season, he suits up at the historic track eager to snap a season-long winless streak at the venue where he's won more than any of the other active competitors - and double that of any driver entered this weekend.

Johnson has six top-three finishes in 16 starts, including a runner-up in 2013 to add to his four-trophy haul. But the veteran is looking to lead his first lap at the track since that runner-up finish. He finished 27th in 2017 after being caught up in a crash while racing for the lead - part of a tough streak of three DNFs (at Kentucky, Indy and Pocono) in a span of four races.

But Johnson has proven himself to be a master of the "Big Races," the "Crown Jewels" of the sport - winning the Daytona 500, Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 a combined total of 12 times. He is one of only four drivers to have won all four of those races.

The Big 3 In Indy

It's a been two races since one of the Monster Energy Series' "Big 3" last hoisted a trophy - the longest streak of the season between victories for championship leader and six-time winner Kyle Busch, seven-time winner Kevin Harvick and four-time winner Martin Truex Jr.

But the trio arrives in Indianapolis with plenty of reason to feel optimistic about righting their dominating ship. Busch has won two of the last three Brickyard 400s - sweeping the Xfinity Series and Monster Energy Series races in both 2015 and 2016. He has 10 top-10 finishes in 15 Indy starts. He won the first two stages last year but crashed with Truex late in the race.

Harvick won the 2003 Brickyard 400 from the pole position. He has 11 top-10 finishes in 17 starts including the past four years. His best finish in that span was a third place in 2015.

Truex is the only member of the "Big 3" still looking for that first Indianapolis Motor Speedway victory. In fact, the tough 2.5-oval has been a challenging venue for the reigning Monster Energy Series champion. He has three top-10 finishes in 13 starts and has led only 11 laps total. His only top five - a fourth-place in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota - came in 2015. He and Busch crashed out together last year.

Don't Count Out Menard, Newman and Kahne

Three times since 2010, the Brickyard 400 winner hoisted his only trophy of the season at Indianapolis. And for those three drivers - Paul Menard, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne - a win Sunday would be a game-changer, vaulting them into the Playoffs after a sub-16th place ranking for the regular season.

Menard won his first - and, so far, only - Monster Energy Series race at Indianapolis in 2011. It is the only top-five in the race for the driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. He has two career top 10s, a 10th-place in 2016 in addition to his stunning victory.

Newman's 2013 triumph - from the pole position - was a day of much glory for the Indiana native. It was his only win of the season and qualified him for the Playoffs in his last season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing.

And Kahne's win last year in his final season with the Hendrick Motorsports team was as dramatic and heartfelt as they come. Only 19 of the 40 cars were running at the end of the race, which concluded in near-darkness. It was a trophy with great meaning for Kahne, who won two Night Before the 500 USAC races coming up the ranks and was runner-up in the 2005 Brickyard race.

Larson Is So Close

At only 26-years old and a strong weekly contender, Kyle Larson has proven himself full of talent and this season...also full of resiliency. The popular Chip Ganassi Racing driver led a dominating 284 of Sunday's 367 laps at Darlington only to finish third behind Team Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano.

It's the third time this season the Californian has led at least 100 laps in a race and not won. In fact, for all his effort - 14 top-10s and eight top-fives in 25 starts - Larson is still looking for his first trophy of 2018. For one of the sport's most diverse racers, Indianapolis certainly would be a prime place to score that first win of the year.

Larson has three top-10s in four starts at IMS. He leads all drivers in percentage of laps run among the top-15 (88.9 percent) and boasts the best average running position (9.8) among those drivers with more than one start.

His team owner Chip Ganassi has five Indianapolis 500 wins and won the 2010 Brickyard 400 with Larson's teammate Jamie McMurray.

Sunoco Rookie Promise

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco rookie William Byron is the only driver entered in the Brickyard 400 that can boast a perfect record at the notoriously tough Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Byron won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the track last year in his only start at the famed facility. He led the last 16 laps and took a .108-second victory over former Brickyard 400 winner Paul Menard and perennial Cup championship favorite Joey Logano.

Byron could use a little of that positive juju. He finished 35th last week at Darlington Raceway, retiring his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with engine problems. After back-to-back top-10 finishes at Watkins Glen, N.Y. (sixth) and Pocono, Pa. (eighth) a month ago, he has three finishes of 23rd or worse since; two of them 30th or worse. He's still 22nd in the points standings, despite the recent troubles and leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year race over Bubba Wallace.

Wallace, meanwhile, has also suffered through a tough summer stretch. He is looking for his first top-20 since a 14th-place finish at Daytona in July. He's crashed out in two of the last five races and is coming off a 26th-place finish at Darlington last week. He has finishes of 23rd (2015) and 14th (2016) in two Xfinity starts at Indy.

RACE REWIND

Last year's Brickyard 400 was the second-longest one in the event's 24-year history - going 418 miles instead of the scheduled 400. Kasey Kahne won under caution, beating Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth. Sixteen cars were on the lead lap.

Kahne's win in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet came from the 19th starting position and was the farthest back a winner has come since Tony Stewart won the race in 2005 after starting 22nd.

It was the first win for Chevrolet since Jeff Gordon's victory for the same Hendrick Motorsports organization in 2014. Chevrolet is the all-time winning make in the race with 17 wins in 24 races, including 12 consecutive victories between 2003-2014.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Xfinity Regular Season Championship Still Up For Grabs With Two To Go

Only two races remain in the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season and the top three drivers in the championship standings are nose-to-tail with just 17 points separating them as the series heads to the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Lilly Diabetes 250 on Saturday, September 8 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, IMS and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Series standings leader Justin Allgaier holds a 16-point lead over second-place Elliott Sadler and a 17-point lead over third-place Cole Custer as the three will vie for the regular season title this Saturday.

With the standings lead heading into the weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, JR Motorsport's Justin Allgaier can clinch the regular season championship if he finishes the Lilly Diabetes 250 with a 61-point lead over second place (if that driver is Christopher Bell, 60 points if it's anybody else). Allgaier has made four series starts at Indianapolis, posting one top five and an average finish of 21.2.

Allgaier's JR Motorsport's teammate, Sadler, won the Xfinity Series regular season championship last year and is looking to go-back-to-back as he has announced it is his last season of fulltime competition. But this weekend, Sadler might have the upper-hand on his teammate as he has outperformed him on the 2.5-mile track, in six starts at IMS he has notched two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 9.6 in the stat books.

"With only two more races before the Playoffs, we've got to use this momentum and regain the points lead," Sadler said. "I know this OneMain Financial team is capable of that. To get a win here this weekend, at such a historic track, would be huge for this team and a great way as I end my racing career."

Just one point behind Sadler in second is Stewart-Haas Racing's Custer in third. The rising star from California has played his cards right to this point. Now on the cusp of making the Playoffs for the second-straight season, Custer has the opportunity to snatch the regular season title from the JR Motorsports teammates ahead of him. Custer made his series track debut at Indianapolis last season starting sixth and finishing fifth.

The regular season championship not only awards the driver with a newly designed trophy for their shelf, it also guarantees them a spot in the 2018 Playoffs and awards the winner an additional 15 Playoff points to take into the postseason. Presently Allgaier has 19 Playoff points, Sadler has four and Custer has one.

Playoff Picture: Who Needs What At Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Eight spots in the 12-driver NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff field have been locked up following Darlington, leaving just three spots left for those that haven't clinched their postseason bid. With two races left, time is of the essence for drivers to punch their ticket to the Playoffs.

The eight drivers locked in are Justin Allgaier (four wins), Christopher Bell (four wins), Tyler Reddick (one win), Elliott Sadler, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Matt Tifft and Ryan Truex. All eight will be looking to pad their Playoff points as the regular season comes to a close. Interestingly, none of the eight have won at Indianapolis.

The average finish of the eight clinched Playoff drivers at Indianapolis: Cole Custer (5.0), Daniel Hemric (8.0), Brandon Jones (9.5), Elliott Sadler (9.6), Matt Tifft (11.0), Justin Allgaier (21.2) and Tyler Reddick (37.0). Christopher Bell will be making his series track debut at Indianapolis this weekend.

"I'm really looking forward to making my first-career series start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday," said the Sunoco rookie Christopher Bell. "I can remember watching the races at Indy with my grandpa growing up and thinking how cool it would be to race there one day."

Possible to Clinch On Points This Weekend:

Roush Fenway Racing's Ryan Reed can clinch a Playoff spot with a win this weekend, and he could also clinch on points with a new winner and help. Reed has made four series starts at Indianapolis, posting one top 10 and an average finish of 14.8.

Reed's RFR teammate, Austin Cindric, can clinch a Playoff spot with a win this weekend as well. He could also clinch on points with a repeat winner (or a win by Elliott Sadler, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Matt Tifft, Ryan Truex or Ryan Reed) and help. This weekend will be Cindric's series track debut at Indianapolis.

Needs A Win To Clinch This Weekend:

Ross Chastain can only clinch a Playoff spot with a win this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He came close to capturing his first-career win last weekend at Darlington after leading 90 laps of the race, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, but tangled with Kevin Harvick in the closing laps, losing his chances at the win. Now Chastain has two races left to either win his way into the Playoffs or try and hold onto the final spot on points. The problem is trying to get in on points offers up the opportunity for him to get bumped out by a new winner in these last two races.

Chastain has made three series starts at IMS, posting a best finish of 16th last season.

Outside Looking In:

Michael Annett, Jeremy Clements and Ryan Sieg are currently outside the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff cutoff, but all three could still clinch a spot in the postseason with a win this weekend.

JR Motorsport's Michael Annett is currently 13th in the standings, 54 points behind Ross Chastain in the 12th and final Playoff spot. Annett has made three series starts at Indianapolis posting two top 10s and an average finish of 13.3 - sixth-best among active drivers.

"After a good run at Darlington, we need to be even better this weekend at Indy," said Annett. "I really feel like we're hitting our stride here, and we need every point and some help to make the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs for the second year in a row."

Clements Racing's Jeremy Clements sits 14th in the series standings heading into this weekend. Clements has made six series starts at Indianapolis posting one top 10 and an average finish of 22.3.

RSS Racing's Ryan Sieg is currently 15th in the series standings following Darlington. Sieg has made five series starts at IMS posting an average finish of 17.2.

Kaulig Racing Expanding To Two Teams, Austin Dillon To Drive No. 10

Kaulig Racing burst on the NASCAR Xfinity Series scene in 2016 and now, almost three seasons later, the organization based out of Lexington, North Carolina and owned by Matt Kaulig has decided to expand to a two-car team this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Kaulig Racing flagship car, the No. 11 Chevrolet, will still be piloted by recently clinched Xfinity Playoff driver Ryan Truex, and driving the newest addition, the No. 10 Chevrolet, will be 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon.

Truex joined the team at the beginning of the season and has made a splash with the organization, posting one top five and nine top 10s working with crew chief Chris Rice.

Truex's new teammate, Dillon, will be paired with crew chief Alex Yontz as the duo will look to make the Lilly Diabetes 250 this weekend in Indianapolis. Dillon has made two starts at IMS posting an average finish of 8.5. This Saturday will be Alex Yontz's debut as a crew chief in the series.

Austin Dillon is one of four Monster Energy Series drivers entered this weekend in the Lilly Diabetes 250 at IMS, he will also be joined by his brother Ty Dillon in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Ryan Blaney in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford and Chase Elliott in the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet. Austin's brother, Ty Dillon, is the only former Indianapolis Motor Speedway winner entered in this weekend's race.

Ryan Preece to Finish Out Season In No. 18, Help JGR Pursue Owner Title

Starting this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ryan Preece will run the remainder of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season with the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team and crew chief Eric Philips.

"Competing in every race for the remainder of the season will be huge for me since this will be the first time that I will have the opportunity to run more than three races in a row with JGR. The goal is to get the No. 18 team an owner's championship at the end of the season and I appreciate that they chose me to try and get them there."

Preece has already made six starts in the No. 18 Toyota this season, accruing one win (Bristol-1), four top fives, five top 10s and a pole (Daytona-2). His average finish this season has been a 10.2.

He has made just one series start at Indianapolis back in 2016 driving for JD Motorsports. Ihe Berlin, Connecticut, native started 27th and finished 25th.

The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota team is third in the regular season owner points following Darlington; 68 points behind Team Penske's No. 22 Ford team in the owner standings lead and just 12-points behind JR Motorsport's No. 7 Chevrolet team in second.

Last Two Venues In The Regular Season

The last two tracks to decide the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season are starkly different and provide drivers with great opportunities to showcase their different driving skills as the regular season is coming to a close.

Up next is the infamous Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the series returns to the 2.5-mile track located in heart of Indiana. It will be the seventh time the series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when the field takes the green flag on Saturday, August 8 for the Lilly Diabetes 250 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, IMS and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Last season's Xfinity champion William Byron put his name on everyone's radar when he raced his way to Victory Lane in his first series start at the historic facility. The six previous series races at IMS have produced four different winners, led by Kyle Busch with three victories (2012, 2015, 2016). Ty Dillon (2014) is the only former winner entered this weekend.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series will also be running the restrictor-plate package this weekend it debuted last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Last year at Indianapolis with the new package, it definitely put on a good race for the fans, but it also changed the way that you attacked the track," said NASCAR Xfinity Series standings leader Justin Allgaier. "I'm looking forward to getting back there now that we know what to expect and have raced this package a few more times."

Then wrapping up the regular season will be none other than Las Vegas Motor Speedway, located just north of the famous Vegas strip in Nevada. Las Vegas Motor Speedway will not only be the site of the season finale, the DC Solar 300 on Saturday, August 15 at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, but also the location where the series crowns its regular season champion and solidifies the seedings for the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. This event will also mark the first time the series has competed at Las Vegas more than once in a season. Kyle Larson took the checkered flag in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at LVMS earlier this season.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

1.5-Mile Stars Hope for Another Win

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series have one more week off before they head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the World of Westgate 200 on Friday, September 14 (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

This track is interesting for the Truck Series for a couple reasons. First, they've gotten to race at the track once this season already, so they have an idea of what to expect. Second, they're coming off a two-week hiatus to a 1.5-mile track that seems to be one of the strengthes among the Playoff drivers.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at quite a few 1.5-mile tracks during the season and this year, a Playoff driver has won at every one so far.

Brett Moffit won at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Chicagoland. Johnny Sauter won at Charlotte and Texas Motor Speedway. Noah Gragson won at Kansas Speedway and Ben Rhodes won at Kentucky Speedway.

And Matt Crafton has won at every 1.5-mile track on the schedule throughout his career except for Chicagoland and Las Vegas, so racing at one for the second race of the Playoffs should bring Crafton and his team a sense of confidence.

Sauter has won have every 1.5-mile track except for Atlanta Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.

Both NASCAR Camping World Truck Series veterans could potentially secure their spot in the Round of 6 with a win at Las Vegas, as their strongest tracks seem to be the 1.5-milers.

Rhodes has two wins at 1.5-mile tracks, one at Kentucky Speedway earlier this year and the other at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2017, the only two of his career. His previous experience and win at the track could put him ahead of the other drivers.

Moffitt also has two 1.5-mile track wins, and both came this season (Atlanta and Chicagoland), so his momentum should be strong heading into the next race.

Manufacturers' Championship In Sight

Looking ahead to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, a Toyota has won for the past five years (2013-2017). Chevrolet was the winner in 2011 and 2012, but before that, it was another five years of Toyota dominance (2006-2010). If a Toyota wins again this year, they will break the record for the most championships won by a manufacturer in a row with six. A Ford hasn't won the championship since 2000. That year, along with 1999, were the only time a Ford won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship trophy.

Brett Moffitt and Noah Gragson are the only two Toyota drivers in the Playoffs and the only two that could break the record.

Johnny Sauter, Justin Haley and Stewart Friesen are all members of the Chevrolet family that are hopeful to stop Toyota from winning for another year.

And, Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger are the three Ford drivers in the Playoffs that have the power to win for the first time in 18 years.

Who will it be? Right now, Haley in the No. 24 Chevrolet is the only driver to have clinched their spot in the Round of 6 with a win.

Veteran vs. Youth Movement

The eight NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff drivers all vary in age and have created a very diverse playing field. Although, that's what one very special thing about the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, in general. The entry list is always diverse.

Justin Haley is the youngest driver in the Playoffs at 19-years old and the only driver who has secured his spot in the Round of 6 with a win. Noah Gragson is 20-years old and Ben Rhodes is 21.

Brett Moffit, the 26-year-old, caps off the "younger" generation of drivers. Grant Enfinger is 33-years old and Stewart Friesen is 35.

Johnny Sauter is 40 and Matt Crafton is the oldest Playoff driver at 42-years old.

Haley, Gragson, Moffitt, Friesen and Enfinger are competing in the Playoffs for the first time of their career, while Sauter, Crafton and Rhodes have competed for a Championship before.

Of note - when Erik Jones won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2015, he became the youngest champ in Truck Series history at 19. Haley would be about a month shy of that record if he were to take the title this season.

Ted Musgrave was 50 when he won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2005. He is the oldest driver to have won in the series.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

Manufacturers at Vegas, Talladega: Toyota has won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the last two races (2017, 2018). In 2016, a Ford won for the first time in nine years.

Although Chevrolet seems to be the strongest manufacturer at Las Vegas with nine wins out of 22 races, they haven't clinched a win since 2015. Toyota has seven wins total at the track.

A Ford has not won at Talladega since the series opener in 2006. Since then, Toyota has dominated with nine wins out of only 12 races. Matt Crafton, Rhodes and Enfinger are the only Ford drivers in the Playoffs, so pulling off a win there would not only get them into the Round of 6 in the Playoffs but would also be a bright light for Ford at the superspeedway. Chevrolet only has two wins at Talladega.

Second is the Best: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway are the only tracks that the trucks will go back to for a second time in the Playoffs.
The Camping World Truck Series visited Las Vegas and Martinsville in March for the third and fourth races of the season and they were in Texas for a standalone in June. The Trucks have also never visited Las Vegas Motor Speedway twice in one season until this year.

This means that the drivers have a little bit more knowledge heading into the Playoff race.

Some Thrilling Finishes: Martinsville, Iowa, Eldora, Michigan and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park have to be in contention for some of the best finishes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2018 - and the series is hoping to continue the recent excitement in Las Vegas. From last lap passes to last lap wrecks, these tracks have provided some of the most exciting...and closest...finishes of the year.

In Martinsville, John Hunter Nemechek crossed the checkered flag .106-seconds before Kyle Benjamin. In Iowa, Brett Moffitt beat Noah Gragson to the finish line after Gragson hit the wall, with a margin of victory of .333-seconds. At the Eldora Dirt Derby, Chase Briscoe held off Grant Enfinger by .038-seconds. And, in Michigan, Moffitt passed Johnny Sauter at the very last second for the victory. The margin of victory was .025-seconds.

--- NASCAR ---