Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: AAA Texas 500
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, November 4
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2 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), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 334)
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: O'Reilly Auto Parts 300
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, November 3
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 4 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: JAG Metals 350
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Friday, November 2
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 220.5 miles (147 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 35),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 147)
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Logano's Domino Effect
Joey Logano's victory Sunday in the Playoff's Round of 8 opener at Kansas was impactful not just for him - but for the majority of the eight drivers still in contention for a title.
With the win, Logano earned an automatic bid to be one of the drivers among the Championship 4 competing for the title. That makes the next two races - including Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) - especially impactful considering the way Logano's win affected the championship points standings.
Regular season champion Kyle Busch still leads the standings, now by a healthy 21-points over both Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., who are tied for the first time this season.
Kurt Busch, who had a solid sixth-place run at Martinsville, surpassed two-time Playoff winner Chase Elliott in the standings. Busch is in fifth, 25-points behind Harvick and Truex. And Elliott, who finished seventh on Sunday, is now 31-points back. Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola are 42 and 50-points out of fourth place, respectively.
The last two race winners at Texas? Kyle Busch scored his third win at the track this spring and Harvick earned his first win there in this race last year.
Kyle Busch Feeling Strong
Kyle Busch arrives in Texas probably feeling very good about his chances to advance to the Championship 4 - a healthy 46-points separates him from the field and he won in the first trip to the track earlier this season. Only seven-time Texas winner Jimmie Johnson has more victories than Busch's three.
In the Playoffs, the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion has top-10 finishes in six of seven races, including a fourth-place last week at Martinsville. He is the only driver among the season-long "Big 3" - also including Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. - to win during the Playoffs (at Richmond).
And Texas in particular has been a winning venue. In addition to this three Monster Energy Series wins, he has a record eight NASCAR Xfinity Series wins - including an unprecedented five consecutive from 2008-2010. And he has three Camping World Truck Series victories on the high banks as well, giving him an unmatched 14 wins total in NASCAR's three national series at Texas.
The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is absolutely in prime position for another title run after claiming the 2015 Cup championship, finishing third in 2016 and runner-up last year.
"I believe every year is a new year, but you certainly can't forget what you've done and what's gotten you to that point of being in the Championship 4,'' Busch said of his Playoff streak. "I do feel like the experience we've had and the times that we've been there, we can lean on some of that and some of those bullet points that have given us that success to be able to get to the final four and rely on that information over again.''
Pair Of "Big 3" Drivers Tied
For the first time this season, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. find themselves tied in the points standings. They trail Kyle Busch by 21-points and hold a reasonably healthy 25-point edge on fifth place Kurt Busch in the first spot outside the cutoff to advance.
Texas has been a "good" track for both drivers, if not a particularly "fantastic" venue for either. Harvick is the defending winner of this Playoff race - his only victory in 31 starts at the track. He was runner-up to Busch this spring, however, maintaining a streak of eight top-10 finishes. He has six top-five finishes in that span, including his victory and three runner-up showings.
Truex has not won at Texas previously, but the defending Monster Energy Series champion has been strong there of late. He held a six-race streak of top-five finishes until being collected in a wreck this spring. He was runner-up to Harvick in last year's Playoff race - his best ever showing at the track.
He is coming off a difficult runner-up finish to Joey Logano at Martinsville last weekend. The two raced hard for the win in the closing laps before Logano pushed Truex' No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota aside on the last lap to score the win. It was the second time in the Playoffs the 2017 champion's victory was derailed on the closing lap of a race (he also tangled with Jimmie Johnson in the final turns at the Charlotte Road Course).
"We have faced plenty of adversity in the Playoffs so far but we're still in it," Truex said. "We should have been in Victory Lane at both Charlotte and Martinsville and have a secured transfer spot for the championship round at Homestead.
"Our guys at the track and at the shop are giving everything they have. They all want that championship as bad as I do. None of us are quitting because the team is shutting down at the end of the season. We all have one mission and that's to successfully defend our championship."
Kurt Busch Looking To Make His Move
While much of the Playoff attention has understandably focused on the season's Big 3 - Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. - along with two-time Playoff winner Chase Elliott, there's another former Monster Energy Series champion making a solid title run as well.
Kurt Busch is now fifth on the Playoff leaderboard, 25-points behind third-place Harvick and fourth place Truex. And Busch is one of only four Playoff drivers with wins at both of this round's remaining tracks - Texas and Phoenix.
A victory at either place would ensure Busch a position in the Championship 4 with a shot to race for the big trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A sixth-place finish at Martinsville last week marked his third top-10 finish in the last five races and moved him ahead of Chase Elliott on the leaderboard.
Busch has won the pole position at the last two Texas races, including a record-setting qualifying lap last year of 200.915 mph in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. He has five top-10 finishes there in the last six races. His win came in 2009.
In fact, in recognition all his good work there, Texas Motor Speedway is distributing 30,000 Kurt Busch bobbleheads to fans on Sunday morning.
"Texas is a good track for us and a good market,'' Busch said. "I always enjoy coming out to Texas. Hopefully, the weather will look perfect for this weekend. It's a great track and a big weekend for us as we have State Water Heaters on our car. They are a great partner. And Eddie Gossage (president of Texas Motor Speedway) and State Water Heaters have worked together to give out 30,000 bobbleheads of me, as well. It's going to be a fun weekend."
Streaks On The Line
Two of this year's Playoff drivers - Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin - have fallen out of championship contention. But they both have some major motivation to end this season with a trip to Victory Lane.
Johnson has won at least two races in every one of his previous 16 fulltime seasons. He is, however, on a career-long winless streak - scoring his last victory at Dover in the summer of 2017. He has plenty of reason to be hopeful that his first victory of 2018 comes this week at Texas Motor Speedway, however.
The seven-time Cup champion is the all-time winningest driver at the Fort Worth track with seven trophies - and that includes an unprecedented streak of three straight wins during the 2014-15 seasons. He won five of seven Texas races from 2012-15. His TMS victory total is more than double that of any other driver.
The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was 27th in this race last fall and was 35th in the spring - caught up in a seven-car crash midway through the race that also collected Hamlin.
This will be the 600th race for Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, who will be moving to the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year.
"Focusing on Texas, it's always been a good track for us but we have struggled the last two times,'' Johnson said. "I really want to get to 84 wins with (No. 48 team crew chief) Chad (Knaus) on top of the box. We have so much history over these 600 starts together and before the season ends, so we are really trying hard. Texas is a perfect place to get it done."
Similar to Johnson, Hamlin has also won at least one race in his previous 12 fulltime Monster Energy Series seasons and is looking to extend the streak with a victory in one of the remaining three races on the schedule.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is also a multi-time Texas winner. He swept both races in the 2010 season and has finished top-10 in nearly half (12) of his career starts (25) there. It's been a tough go of late, however. Hamlin has only two top-10 finishes in the No. 11 Toyota in the last seven races at the Fort Worth track. He was third in the 2017 Playoff race, but 34th after crashing out in this spring's race.
Erik Jones Comfortable In The Heart Of Texas
If there's any one young driver that has shown a propensity for getting around Texas Motor Speedway's high banks, it is second-year Monster Energy Series driver Erik Jones. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is coming off a career-best Cup finish (fourth place) at the track this spring. He has three Xfinity Series wins in five starts and a Camping World Truck Series victory too.
Jones has two top-10 finishes in four Monster Energy Series starts at the track and has led 64 laps. He had a Playoff streak of three straight top-10 finishes snapped last week at Martinsville where he finished 26th. He scored his first career Cup victory at Daytona this summer and won the Busch Pole position for the Las Vegas Playoff opener in September. He's currently ranked 15th in points after being eliminated from Championship contention after the opening round.
"Texas is a good place and I've always been a pretty big fan of the race track and the area,'' said Jones, who drives the No. 20 JGR Toyota.
"I always look forward to getting back there. We've had a lot of success at Texas in Truck and Xfinity, and in Cup as well we've ran really well. Hopefully we can have a good rebound from Martinsville and chase down a win. It would be nice to close out our year with one or two more wins here."
Sunoco Rookie Race Winding Down
It's been a tough late season run for both of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders. Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron has fallen to a season low 24th place in the standings following a DNF at Martinsville on Sunday. And Richard Petty Motorsports driver Bubba Wallace is ranked 28th in points, with only one top-20 finish in the seven Playoff races so far.
Byron has had engine problems or crashed out in five of the last nine races, including back-to-back bad days at Kansas (38th after engine problem) and Martinsville (39th after crash).
Wallace had a similarly tough run of four DNFs in a six-race stretch between the second Pocono race and the Charlotte Road Course Playoff race.
However, Texas Motor Speedway is a bright spot for both young drivers. It marked the first venue where both Byron and Wallace finished among the top-10. Wallace was eighth and Byron was 10th.
Byron could clinch the Monster Energy Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors this weekend- he needs to leave Texas with a 121-point lead over Wallace and currently holds a 107-point advantage.
This would be his fourth consecutive rookie title in as many years. He won it in the NASCAR K&N East Series, Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series previously.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Two Stepping: Playoff Drivers Have Two Races Left To Make The Championship 4
In the wake of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff's Round of 8 opener at Kansas Speedway that left four of the eight championship contenders with DNFs, and non-Playoff driver John Hunter Nemechek with the checkered flag, there is much to do with only two races left to decide the Championship 4.
Up next on the Xfinity schedule is the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), a 1.5-mile track with 20 degrees of banking in Turns 1 and 2, 24 degrees of banking in Turns 3 and 4. This weekend marks the third consecutive season (2016-2018) Texas has hosted the fifth race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
In 2016, the Xfinity Series Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway was won by Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson. The highest finishing NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver was Erik Jones (fourth). The top-five finish helped Jones move on to the Championship 4; where he ultimately finished fourth in points and won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. Daniel Suarez won the series title in 2016 and finished right behind Jones at Texas in fifth.
Last season's Xfinity Series Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway was won by Joe Gibbs Racing's Erik Jones. The highest-finishing NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver was Elliott Sadler (fourth). Sadler's top five elevated him to the Championship 4; where he ultimately finished second in the points. William Byron won the series title in 2017 and finished ninth in last season's Texas Playoff race.
Following Texas is the Whelen Trusted To Perform 200 at the newly renovated ISM Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) a one-mile facility with nine to 11 degrees of banking in the turns. Just like Texas, this is ISM Raceway's third consecutive season hosting the sixth race of the Playoffs, which is also the elimination race of the Round of 8.
In 2016, the Xfinity Series Playoff race at ISM Raceway was won by Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch. The highest-finishing NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver was Justin Allgaier (fourth). Allgaier entered the ISM Raceway event in fifth in the Playoff standings and raced his way into the Championship 4, knocking Blake Koch from the top four in points. Daniel Suarez won the series title in 2016 and finished right behind Allgaier at ISM Raceway in fifth. The four drivers to make the Championship 4 in 2016 were Erik Jones, Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez and Justin Allgaier.
Last season's Xfinity Series Playoff race at ISM Raceway was won by Playoff contender and Joe Gibbs Racing's rookie William Byron. Byron's win guaranteed himself a spot in the Championship 4 and he ultimately won the title that season. The second-highest finishing NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver was Daniel Hemric (fifth). Hemric entered the event at ISM Raceway seventh in the Playoff standings and his fifth-place finish was enough to move him into the fourth and final spot in the Championship 4, knocking Brennan Poole from the top four in points. Hemric went on to finish the season runner-up in the Playoff standings. The four drivers to make the Championship 4 in 2017 were William Byron, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric.
Deep Dive: Eight Drivers Remain With Only Four Spots Left
Below is a look at each NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff contenders as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Who's In Right Now:
Elliott Sadler (No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro) is currently the series standings leader with 3,058 points, a total of 14 points ahead of fifth-place Matt Tifft - the first spot outside the Championship 4 cutoff. This postseason, Sadler has put up one top five and two top 10s in the first four races; including his third-place finish two weeks ago at Kansas. This weekend heading into Texas, expect Sadler to contend for the win as the veteran from Virginia has made 21 series starts at the 1.5-mile track posting four top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 11.1; including a fourth-place finish in this event last season. He finished eighth at Texas back in the Spring.
Daniel Hemric (No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro) is currently second in the series standings with 3,057 points, just one back from standings leader Elliott Sadler and 13 points ahead of fifth-place Matt Tifft. Hemric is looking to make the Championship 4 for the second consecutive season before he makes his transition to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2019. Hemric's 2018 Playoff campaign has been impressive, collecting four-straight top-10 finishes and two poles; including a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway - his third on the season. This weekend at Texas, Hemric will look to build on his recent success at the facility, as the North Carolina native has progressively improved his finishes on the 1.5-mile track each time he competes there. Hemric made his series track debut in last season's spring race, finishing 32nd, then he finished 14th in the Playoff race later that year. He moved up to finish third at Texas earlier this season.
Tyler Reddick (No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro) is currently third in the series standings with 3,055 points, just three back series standings leader Elliott Sadler and 11 points ahead of fifth-place Matt Tifft. This postseason, it has been Reddick's steadiness on the track that has him posting three top 10s in the first four races. Now heading to Texas, the California native will need some of that consistency to carryover if he wants to hold on to his top four position as the 1.5-mile track located in Fort Worth hasn't been kind to Reddick in the past. He has made two series starts at Texas, posting an average finish of 28.0.
Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry) is currently fourth in the series standings with 3,045 points, 13 points back from standings leader Elliott Sadler and just one point ahead of Matt Tifft outside the cutoff. Going into the Xfinity Playoff's Round of 8 prior to Kansas, the top two drivers in the championship standings were series points leader Christopher Bell, who had just won two races in the opening round of the Playoffs (Richmond and Dover), and second-place Justin Allgaier, the regular season champion. Both had hefty point gaps on the rest of the Playoff challengers, but all that changed when a multi-car incident on Lap 1 at Kansas collected four Playoff drivers - Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer and Austin Cindric - the result, Bell plummets to the fourth position in points and Allgaier dropped out of the top four. Looking to rebound in the Playoff standings this weekend, Bell heads to Texas, having made two starts at the famed facility posting one top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 4.0.
Who's Out Right Now:
Matt Tifft (No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro) is currently in fifth in the series standings with 3,044 points, just one point back from fourth-place Christopher Bell - the final transfer spot in the Championship 4. Heading into Kansas a few weeks ago, Tifft was back in seventh, a massive 41 points behind the series standings lead and nowhere near the Championship 4 cutoff. But the RCR standout managed to put together a solid run at Kansas, finishing sixth, and as a result jumped two spots to fifth in the points, just outside the Championship 4 cutoff heading into this weekend at Texas.
Tifft has a good chance to make the Championship 4 this season if he continues to run well in these next two races. Over the past two seasons in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, drivers have raced their way into the Championship 4. In 2016, JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier was fifth in the standings one point behind fourth place Blake Koch heading into ISM Raceway and raced his way into the Championship 4. Then last season, Daniel Hemric was seventh in the standings, 18 points back from the cutoff heading into the final race of the Round of 8 (ISM Raceway) and raced his way into the Championship 4, knocking Brennan Poole out.
Tifft's postseason has been solid thus far, posting three top 10s in the first four races. Tifft has made five series starts at Texas Motor Speedway, collecting four top-five finishes and an average finish of 10.4.
Justin Allgaier (No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro) is currently sixth in the series standings with 3,040 points, just five points back from the final transfer spot in the Championship 4. The Playoff's Round of 8 couldn't have started off any worse for Allgaier. The Illinois native entered the Round of 8 second in the Playoff standings, but was caught in the incident on Lap 1 at Kansas, relegating him to a 38th-place finish and dropping him to sixth in the standings. Allgaier has had a tumultuous Playoffs thus far, he finished 32nd at Richmond, 15th at Charlotte, third at Dover and 38th at Kansas. Heading into Texas this weekend, Allgaier will be looking to get back into title contention, as the veteran has made 16 series starts at the 1.5-mile track, posting seven top 10s an average finish of 13.7.
Cole Custer (No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang) is currently in seventh in the series standings with 3,022 points, 23 points back from fourth place. Custer's postseason had started strong, posting a 15th at Richmond, a seventh at Charlotte and was runner-up at Dover, But his Playoff run hit a speed bump in the Round of 8 opener at Kansas when he was caught in the incident on Lap 1 relegating him to a 26th-place finish. Now the California native has an uphill climb to get back into the Championship 4, but thankfully Texas is next on the schedule - one of his best tracks. In three starts at Texas, he has amassed three top fives and an average finish of 4.7.
Austin Cindric (No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang) is currently in eighth in the series standings with 3,002 points, 43 points back from fourth place Christopher Bell in the final transfer spot in the Championship 4. Unfortunately for Cindric, at this point he will most likely need to win to move on to the Championship 4. Cindric's Playoff run was looking bright up until Kansas. The North Carolina native had posted a 13th at Richmond, a third at Charlotte, was eighth at Dover and then was caught in the Lap 1 incident at Kansas, finishing 39th. Cindric still has two chances to race his way into the Championship 4. This weekend will be Cindric's second career series start at Texas. He made his series debut at the track earlier this season finishing ninth.
NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.
Sunoco Rookie Of The Year Update: Reddick Takes Standings Lead - For most of the season, Christopher Bell has run away with the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings lead, but the early race incident at Kansas that collected Bell and three other Playoff contenders two weeks ago has vaulted JR Motorsport's Tyler Reddick to the rookie points lead. With just three races left in the season the two exceptional rookies are just 10 points apart as they vie for the season-ending honors.
Tyler Reddick's rookie season has seen one win (Daytona), five top fives and 17 top 10s. He has also produced an average finish of 13.9 and finished in the top 10 in three of his first four Playoff races this season.
Chip Ganassi Racing Grabs Owner Standings Lead - A total of 30 races into the season and the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet team currently sits in the NASCAR Xfinity Series owner standings lead, 50 points ahead of the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet team in second place and 51 points ahead of the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team. Ganassi took the lead following the No. 42 team's sixth win of the season, thanks to the leadership of crew chief Mike Shiplett. Three drivers have won in the No. 42 this season and two of them for the first-time in the series - Kyle Larson (four wins), Ross Chastain (one win) and John Hunter Nemechek (one win). John Hunter Nemechek will be back in the No. 42 this weekend at Texas, making his series track debut.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Sauter Secures His Spot In Championship 4
In the opening race of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs Round of 6, Johnny Sauter came out on top with a victory and secured his place in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Sauter dominated at Martinsville Speedway, winning both stages and leading 148 laps after starting eighth.
Brett Moffitt finished second after starting in 17th. He spent a majority of the race trying to fight his way to the top. Justin Haley finished in sixth-place followed by Noah Gragson in seventh.
Matt Crafton finished 13th and Grant Enfinger finished 14th.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the third to last race of the 2018 season. The JAG Metals 350 will be on Friday night (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The Truck Series competed at Texas earlier this season for a June race, where the eventual Round of 6 Playoff drivers dominated the top 10. Sauter, Haley, Enfinger, Crafton and Gragson all finished in the top 10, with Sauter winning the race. Moffitt was the only Playoff driver who finished on the outside (18th).
The Road To The Championship Goes Through Texas
Recent history has shown that if you want to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, you better win in the Lone Star State.
The most recent four seasons, each of the drivers who eventually won the series title found their way to Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway that year. Matt Crafton won the June race in 2014, Erik Jones the fall race in 2015, Johnny Sauter also won in the fall in 2016, and Christopher Bell won last June.
And Sauter is hoping to keep that pattern going. He won during the Truck Series' first visit earlier this year and has already locked himself into the Championship 4 at Miami by virtue of his win at Martinsville last weekend.
Sauter (five wins) and Crafton (two) are the only current Playoff drivers who have won at the 1.5-mile track outside of Dallas. In fact - they are the only drivers on the entry list this weekend who have a win at TMS.
An additional note - if you look back a few more years, Todd Bodine (June, 2010 and 2006), Jack Sprague (June, 2001) and Greg Biffle (June, 2000) all notched Texas victories en route to the championship.
Sauter Looking to Double Up
Now that he's officially clinched a spot in the Championship 4 in Miami after winning at Martinsville, it's fair to ask if Johnny Sauter stands a chance to win his second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title and become the fifth driver to hold multiple championships in the series.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. (1996, 1999, 2007, 2009), Jack Sprague (1997, 1999, 2001), Todd Bodine (2006, 2010) and Matt Crafton (2013, 2014) are the only drivers who have multiple championship trophies on their mantle. And of those, only Crafton has won titles in consecutive years - a feat that can't be matched this year as 2017 champ Christopher Bell moved on to the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.
Sauter is primed for success and has been a clear championship favorite all season. His six wins not only leads the series in 2018 but also eclipses his previous best career mark of four wins last year. He has tied his career best in top fives with 14 and could tie his career best mark in top 10s - he currently has 16 and would need to finish in the top 10 in the final three races to tie his previous best of 19.
And he's been no slouch at Homestead-Miami Speedway as of late. He finished third the past two years, was seventh in 2015 and won the race in 2011. He finished 33rd and 20th in his first two starts at the track (2003 and 2005, respectively) - but has only had one finish outside the top 10 in the nine races since...a 16th-place finish in 2013.
Crew Chiefs Who Have Been There Before
Half of the crew chiefs sitting atop the pit boxes for the remaining Playoff contenders have tasted the championship campaign in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series - and each of them in quite different fashion.
Ryan "Rudy" Fugle, who guides the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota piloted by Noah Gragson, won titles in 2015 and 2017 - making him one of just five crew chiefs with multiple championships in the series. And he did it with two different drivers - Erik Jones in 2015 and Christopher Bell last year. It's obvious he has found a niche of working with young rising talent and bringing them to the top of their game in just a matter of races.
Fugle should have some confidence at the final two tracks that will set the Championship 4 - he's won three times at Texas and recorded seven top 10s in 10 races while he's won once with three top 10s in five races at Phoenix. His driver has three top 10s and a pole in just three starts at Texas and finished 16th (2016) and 15th (2017) at Phoenix.
Carl Joiner, the captain of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford, also has two series championships - the 2013 and 2014 campaigns with Matt Crafton, who is still behind the wheel of the No. 88.
Joiner and Crafton have been on the brink of Playoff elimination from the start - narrowly making the field on points and then using the same tactic to advance to the Round of 6. But both are hungry - not only for the title, but also a win. They haven't visited Victory Lane since Eldora in 2017 for their only win that season.
Texas may be the best bet for the pair - Joiner was on the box for both of Crafton's victories at the 1.5-mile track (2014, 2015 - both in the June race). Neither has recorded a win at Phoenix, although Crafton has 11 top 10s there in 17 starts (Joiner has three top 10s in six races).
Joe Shear Jr., crew chiefing the No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet, won the title with Johnny Sauter in that same truck in 2016 - taking over for Marcus Richmond in the seventh race of the season and never looking back.
The duo is putting on a show this season. With six visits to Victory Lane this year, they've both set a new career mark for wins as they look to add a second title to their resumes.
And the best part for the pair is that they don't have to worry about Texas or Phoenix - they know they're going to get a shot at the title in Miami.
Shear wants to join that exclusive club that Fugle and Joiner already hold a membership card for - the multi-champ club. Meanwhile, Fugle and Joiner want to up their game and tie Dennis Connor, who won three championships with Jack Sprague (1997, 1999, 2001), atop the career list.
Mike Hillman Jr. (with Todd Bodine, 2006 and 2010) and Rick Ren (with Ron Hornaday Jr., 2007 and 2009) are the other crew chiefs with more than one Truck Series title.
Quick Glance: Playoff Performances at Texas
Below is a quick look at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff drivers as the series readies for its next Playoff stop at Texas Motor Speedway.
Johnny Sauter has 20 starts at Texas Motor Speedway with five wins, 10 top fives, 16 top 10s and three poles. He has the most wins of any other active driver at the track and is looking to tie Todd Bodine's all-time mark of six wins in Texas. Sauter has led 360 laps at the 1.5-mile track.
Noah Gragson has three starts at Texas Motor Speedway. He has never started outside of the top-five and has never finished outside of the top 10 there. In his first start at the track in 2017, Gragson started from the pole. He has led a total of 41 laps in Texas.
Brett Moffitt will head to Texas for only the second time of his career. He started seventh earlier this season and finished 18th.
Grant Enfinger has three starts at Texas Motor Speedway. Earlier this season, he finished in fourth place after starting eighth. He has led a total of eight laps and completed all 481 laps run.
Justin Haley has three starts under his belt at Texas, as well. He has two top-five finishes and three top-10s. He won the pole in his second start in 2017. His best finish came earlier this season when he started 10th and finished third.
Matt Crafton has the most starts of any driver all-time at Texas with 35. He has two wins, 14 top fives, 24 top 10s and three poles. He has led 429 laps and has an average finish of 9.1. He has not finished outside of the top 10 in 15 races (2011).
Looking Ahead At The Venues: Three To Go
There are only three races left in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs before a champion is crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, and each event will pose its own special challenges for the competitors.
Texas Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile asphalt oval with 20-degrees of banking in Turns 1 and 2, and 24-degrees of banking in Turns 3 and 4.
ISM Raceway, the second-to-last track the series will visit, is a 1-mile dogleg oval in Avondale, Arizona. ISM also marks the last cutoff race and has been recently renovated with the start-finish line moved in between Turns 1 and 2.
And lastly, Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5-mile, four-turn oval with 18-20-degrees of progressive banking in the corners. The series will hold its season finale at the famous Miami facility with the highest finisher of the Championship 4 Playoff drivers to be named the 2018 champion.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Newbies at Texas: As the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the second time this season, there are drivers making their first start at the track, too. They are: Cory Roper, Reid Wilson, Codie Rohrbaugh, Tanner Thorson, Brennan Poole and Harrison Burton. It's also interesting to note that Playoff driver Brett Moffitt will head to Texas for only the second time of his Truck Series career. This will be Noah Gragson, Justin Haley and Grant Enfinger's fourth start.
JJL Motorsports Returns: Jesse Little will return to the track for the first time since the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This time, he'll return with a new sponsor, as well. He will compete in the final three races beginning this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Skuttle Tight, a manufacturer that offers two insulated attic access systems that are easy to install, will support the team until the season finale. Friday night's truck will also have Grindstaff Rub Co. aboard again for their final two races this season. In addition, Little's No. 97 Ford F-150 will have support from Ford Performance and Performance Friction Corporation Brakes.
Texas Manufacturer Success: There have been 41 races at Texas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Fifteen of those races have been won by a Chevrolet, 17 by Toyota, three by Ford and five by Dodge. In the last five races, Chevrolet won three times and Toyota won two. Johnny Sauter won the last two races in a row at Texas in a Chevrolet. If Sauter makes it three in a row, he will join Brendan Gaughan on the list of drivers with three consecutive wins at the 1.5-mile race track. From 2014 to 2016, Toyota won five consecutive times.
Texas Motor Speedway Quick Facts:
Take a look at some quick facts about Texas Motor Speedway as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to the 1.5-mile track for some Playoff racing.
Most Wins: 6 (Todd Bodine)
Most Poles: 5 (Mike Skinner)
Most Top Fives: 14 (Matt Crafton)
Most Top 10s: 23 (Matt Crafton)
Most Lead Changes: 19 (2 times, most recently 6/5/15)
Fewest Lead Changes: 1 (6/6/97)
Most Leaders: 11 (6/10/11)
Fewest Leaders: 2 (2 times, most recently 11/3/06)
Most Cautions: 10 (2 times, most recently 6/9/17)
Fewest Cautions: 1 (11/6/15)
Most Caution Laps: 46 (2 times, most recently 6/9/17)
Fewest Caution Laps: 5 (11/6/15)
Most Finishers on Lead Lap: 24 (11/4/05)
Fewest Finishers on Lead Lap: 6 (3 times, most recently 6/8/07)
Most Running at Finish: 31 (2 times, most recently 6/9/06)
Fewest Running at Finish: 15 (6/9/17)
Most Wins by a Manufacturer: 17 (Toyota)
Closest Margin of Victory: 0.116 seconds (6/9/06)
Greatest Margin of Victory: 13.302 seconds (6/6/14)
--- NASCAR ---