The X-FINITY Series heads off to Kentucky Speedway, where twelve title hopefuls begin their post-season journey in Saturday night’s Visit Myrtle Beach-dot com 300. There’s also a rookie holding the top seed in the X-FINITY Series Chase … Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones, who paced the regular season with four wins. He’s joined in the “playoffs” by Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Darrell Wallace Junior, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Sieg (Seeg), Ryan Reed, Blake Koch, and rookies Brennan Poole and Brandon Jones. The twelve-man title field will be trimmed to eight following the October 7th race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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THE NASCAR X-FINITY SERIES … also competes in “Thunder Valley” with tonight’s Food City 300. Daniel Suarez set the pace in Thursday’s opening practice and the second session was rained out … There was news off the track as Hendrick Motorsports announced that it has signed Camping World Truck Series points leader William Byron to a multi-year agreement. He’ll race full-time in the 2017 X-FINITY Series for Hendrick affiliate Junior Motorsports. Byron is now competing for Kyle Busch Motorsports and leads the Truck Series with five wins heading into the final ten races of the season.
Justin Marks got the best of his thirty-nine X-FINITY Series rivals on Saturday by mastering a soggy circuit and driving to victory at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Marks, widely known as a road racing specialist but making just his twenty-fifth career series start, led a race-high forty-three laps in his Number-42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – including the final ten, beating pole sitter Sam Hornish Junior to the checkered flag by more than three-and-a-half seconds. Ryan Blaney took third place with Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier completing the top five. It was a banner day for Chevrolet as the manufacturer grabbed four of the five top finishing positions. Marks started sixteenth in the forty-car field but charged forward at the drop of the green flag. He took his first lead just eleven laps into the race as rain soaked the two-point-two-mile natural road course. It did subside and the track began to dry at the mid-point of the race. But the skies opened up again in the second half, which opened the door for Marks to claim his first career win. Darrell Wallace Junior had the lead on the day’s final restart fourteen laps from the finish but went off the course in the wet conditions, surrendering the top spot to Dillon with Marks in hot pursuit. Dillon slid off the track himself a short time later, giving Marks the opening he needed to reclaim the lead and drive on to victory … Series leader Elliott Sadler started fourth and finished ninth, which was enough for him to stretch his advantage to twenty-five points over second-place Daniel Suarez, who labored to a twenty-third-place finish … Erik Jones was the highest-finishing rookie, coming home in sixth place.
With the 2016 season now well into its second half, X-FINITY Series drivers are heading into their first road-course weekend of the season as they set their sights on Saturday’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International. This year marks the first time the elimination-style “Chase” format that’s been used by the Sprint Cup Series the past two seasons will also be implemented in the X-FINITY Series. Twelve drivers will qualify and if the post-season began today, the field would consist of rookies Erik Jones, Brandon Jones and Brennan Poole … Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Brendan Gaughan, Darrell Wallace Junior, Ryan Reed, Ryan Sieg and Blake Koch … who leads Ross Chastain and Jeremy Clements by twenty-four points in the fight for the final “playoff” spot with seven races remaining in the regular season. The post-season Chase will begin September 24th in Sparta, Kentucky … Erik Jones leads all series regulars with three wins while Sadler currently sits atop the regular-season standings, fourteen points ahead of second-place Suarez.
Forty drivers started Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, but it was just a two-horse race with rookie Erik Jones and Ty Dillon combining to lead all but thirteen of the laps run. When the dust settled, it was Jones parked in Victory Lane with his Number-20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He passed Dillon for his final lead of the night sixteen laps from the finish and stayed there the rest of the way, notching his third victory of the season and giving J-G-R a sweep of the two 2016 races run on the Newton oval. Sam Hornish Junior won the front half of the Midwestern twin bill last month. Jones’ margin of victory over Dillon was three-and-a-half seconds with Elliott Sadler, rookie Brennan Poole and Dakoda Armstrong completing the top five. Jones started second, jumped past pole sitter Daniel Suarez at the drop of the green flag and led a race-high 154 laps. Suarez failed to lead a lap and retired with engine failure in the second half of the race, finishing thirtieth. As a result, he slipped to second in the regular-season standings and is now fourteen points behind Sadler.
The 2016 season marks the first time the elimination-style “Chase” format that’s been used by the Sprint Cup Series the past two seasons will also be implemented in the NASCAR X-FINITY Series. Twelve drivers will qualify and if the post-season began today, the field would consist of rookies Erik Jones, Brandon Jones (no relation) and Brennan Poole … Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Brendan Gaughan, Darrell Wallace Junior, Ryan Reed, Ryan Sieg and Blake Koch … who leads Ross Chastain by nineteen points in the fight for the final “playoff” spot with eight races remaining in the regular season. The post-season Chase will begin September 24th in Sparta, Kentucky … Next stop for the X-FINITY Series will be Saturday night’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway. Suarez leads the standings by fourteen points over second-place Sadler with Dillon, Allgaier and Erik Jones completing the top five … Ryan Blaney won last year’s race in Iowa but is not entered this time around. Brad Keselowski is scheduled to drive the Number-22 Team Penske Ford.
Last Year’s Race: On paper, it looked like Denny Hamlin had an easy time of it in winning at New Hampshire – leading 145 of the two hundred laps to post his second X-FINITY Series win of the season. But on the track, it was quite a different story. Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch leaned hard on each other twice during the course of the afternoon while racing for position. In one instance, contact early in the race sent Hamlin – the pole sitter – spinning and forced him to restart at the rear of the field. But the Number-20 Toyota was strong, Hamlin charged back toward the front and took the lead at Lap-43. With less than thirty laps to go, Austin Dillon jumped past Hamlin on the day’s final restart and led briefly. But Hamlin pulled alongside Dillon a short time later and nudged him out of the way to reclaim the lead and drive off to his thirteenth career victory. Dillon was critical of Hamlin’s bump-and-run tactic after the race as he had to settle for second place. Brad Keselowski finished third and Busch was fourth, giving Sprint Cup Series drivers the top four finishing positions. Rookie Daniel Suarez was fifth, the highest-placed X-FINITY Series regular.
Friday’s Practice Schedule: From 1 to 1:55 p.m. and 3 to 4:25 p.m. (ET) … Qualifying: Saturday at 11:15 a.m. (ET).
Recap of Last Year’s Race: Brad Keselowski darted past race lead Erik Jones nine laps from the finish and kept the Number-22 Team Penske Ford in front the rest of the way, beating Jones to the checkered flag by a quarter-second with Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler completing the top five. J-J Yeley, who had been awarded the pole position based on practice speeds after qualifying was rained out, failed to lead a single lap and finished eighteenth – two laps down to Keselowski. Brendan Gaughan rode home in ninth place on a day he celebrated his fortieth birthday.
Busch led a race-high eighty-eight laps, including one stretch of twenty-six midway through the second half of the race before the final caution sent drivers to pit road.
Keselowski and Jones opted for two tires while Busch took four, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver never regained the lead … Points leader Chris Buescher finished eleventh but still managed to stretch his advantage to thirty- six points over Chase Elliott, who finished thirteenth in the race.
Track Position at Kentucky: All but three of the nineteen X-FINITY Series races run have been won from a starting position of sixth or better. The exceptions are 2001 winner Kevin Harvick, who qualified eleventh; Keselowski in 2013, nineteenth; and Harvick again in 2014, who started seventh … Winning From the Pole in Kentucky: Six of nineteen X-FINITY Series races have been won from the pole position, most recently by Austin Dillon in 2012 …
Track Qualifying Record: Carl Edwards (Ford) … 181.287 miles per hour … 29.787 seconds … June 2005 …
Track Record, Race Speed: Keselowski (Ford) … 131.162 mph … 1 hour, 56 minutes, 39 seconds … June 2013 …
Next stop Iowa Speedway for an X-FINITY/Camping World Truck Series doubleheader. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is idle this weekend and will return to action June 26 th in Sonoma, California … so the spotlight will shine brightly this weekend on the seven-eighths- mile Newton oval. First up is Saturday night’s Speediatrics 200 Benefitting the NASCAR Foundation as the Truck Series hits the halfway mark of its regular season. This year marks the first time the elimination-style “Chase” format that’s been used by the Sprint Cup Series the past two seasons will also be implemented in the Truck Series. Eight drivers will qualify and if the post-season began today, the field would consist of rookie William Byron, two-time champion Matt Crafton, JohnHunter Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Timothy Peters, Daniel Hemric, Tyler Reddick and Spencer Gallagher –who leads Ben Kennedy by just three points in the battle for the final “playoff” spot. The Chase will openSeptember 24th in New Hampshire.
The X-FINITY Series will also stage its first post-season “playoffs” in 2016. Sunday afternoon’s American Ethanol E-15 250 Presented by Enogen opens the second half of the regular season. There are currently sixteen drivers in the mix for twelve spots on the Chase Grid – led by points leader Daniel Suarez, who’s coming off his first career win last weekend at Michigan International Speedway. Ryan Sieg leads Ross Chastain by sixteen points in the battle for the final provisional post-season spot … The X-FINITY Series Chase will open September 24th at Kentucky Speedway.
“Mother Nature” kept her word on Saturday and Kyle Larson was in the right place at the right time to capitalize at Pocono Raceway. He had his Number-42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at the front of the field when the race was stopped by rain three laps past the halfway point of the track’s inaugural X-FINITY Series race. A wet weekend was forecast heading into Saturday’s race, in which Larson led twenty-seven laps including the last nineteen trips around “The Tricky Triangle.”
Rookie pole sitter Erik Jones finished second with Ty Dillon, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano completing the top five. Elliott Sadler grabbed sixth place and cut three points off Daniel Suarez’s lead in the standings. Suarez finished ninth on Saturday and will carry an eleven-point advantage into the next race next weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
With Larson’s victory, Sprint Cup Series drivers have now won nine of the first twelve X-FINITY Series races run this season. Jones and Sadler are the only series regulars to taste victory. Larson started fourth in the forty-car field and had his first lead of the day at Lap-24 … The race included six lead changes among five drivers, four of which are Sprint Cup regulars: Busch, Logano, Larson and Aric Almirola.
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