Johnny Sauter starts new chapter with Daytona win for new Truck team

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Veteran driver Johnny Sauter kicked off the new chapter of his racing career with his new team, GMS Racing, by capturing Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

Sauter, who joined GMS during the offseason, won his 11th career Truck Series race and second at Daytona, albeit under caution after a multi-truck wreck on the last lap.

“Man, I’m so pumped up,” Sauter told Fox Sports 1 in victory lane. “It all worked out. It’s unbelievable. I just had this feeling that our truck was so good yesterday that if we didn’t make any mistakes, we would have a shot at this.”

With the Truck series adopting a Chase format this season, Sauter’s win all but puts him in the championship race later this year.

Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Christopher Bell, who helped push Sauter to the win, was involved in the last-lap wreck and flipped 8.5 times according to NASCAR. He climbed out of his truck under his own power. Bell was taken to the infield care center and then transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Ryan Truex, who hadn’t been in a Truck since 2014, finished second, followed by NBC NASCAR analyst Parker Kligerman, Brandon Brown and Tyler Young.

“It feels good to be back,” Truex told Fox Sports 1. “Second sucks, but I’ll take it.”

Sixth through 10th were Travis Kvapil, Daniel Hemric, Ben Rhodes, Scott Lagasse Jr. and Matt Crafton.

The last-lap crash was preceded eight laps earlier by a wreck that involved 18 trucks, more than half of the 32-truck starting field.

HOW SAUTER WON: Sauter led just 12 laps, but none more important than the final one. When the race had previously been stopped eight laps from the finish due to an 18-truck wreck, Sauter said he plotted his strategy and it played out almost exactly how he anticipated. He got a big push near the end of the race from Christopher Bell, who then was involved in the last-lap wreck, turning a likely second- or third-place finish into a 16th-place finish.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Truex, who was hired less than two weeks ago by Hattori Racing, had an outstanding run in his first Truck race in nearly two years. Truex deftly worked the draft through the latter part of the race, led 14 laps and wound up with a career-best finish in a Truck. … Austin Theriault led a race-high 31 laps, until he was involved in the big wreck with eight laps left. … French driver Michel Disdier avoided the two big wrecks in the closing laps and came away with an 11th-place finish, his best effort in two career Truck races at Daytona.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Tommy Joe Martins barely got started before suffering a setback. Martins appeared to lose a tire just five laps into the race, smacked the wall hard with the right side of his truck, sustaining significant damage. His team repaired the damage and got him back on-track, only to wreck again on Lap 11, ending his day. Martins finished last in the 32-truck field. … Rico Abreu, making his first start for ThorSport Racing and only his third in the series was involved in the big wreck and finished 29th.

NOTABLE: After nearly 10 laps of tight racing without incident, the biggest wreck of the night occurred in Turn 3 on Lap 92 (of the scheduled 100 laps) involving 18 trucks and bringing out a red flag. Drivers involved: Rico Abreu, John Wes Townley, polesitter Grant Enfinger, Cameron Hayley, Daniel Suarez, John Hunter Nemechek, Scott Lagasse Jr., Matt Crafton, Tyler Reddick, Ben Kennedy, Austin Theriault, Timothy Peters, Chris Fontaine, Brandon Brown, Austin Wayne Self, Daniel Hemric, Ben Rhodes and Cole Custer. … The red flag lasted 27 minutes and 54 seconds.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “It was hard racing. I guess we just caught bumpers the wrong way. Peters got into the back of me. It’s just tight racing. It’s so hard there at the end, everyone’s bumping into each other and trying to hold a pretty wheel. I guess that’s Daytona, but it sucks for my guys because they worked so hard.” – Cameron Hayley, one of the 17 drivers involved in the late-race wreck.

WHAT’S NEXT: The series races Feb. 27, at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024

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Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.

 

 

Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway

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After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.

FRONTRUNNERS

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.

Winners and losers at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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A look at winners and losers from Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Ryan Blaney — Blaney stopped his winless streak at 59 races and gave team owner Roger Penske his second major race victory in two days. Blaney had the best car but had to fight through restarts late in the race to win.

William Byron — Byron, the winningest driver this season, barely missed getting victory No. 4. He finished second and scored his fifth straight top 10.

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex logged his third top five of the season.

23XI RacingBubba Wallace was fourth and Tyler Reddick fifth, giving 23XI Racing a pair of top-five finishes for the first time in a points race.

LOSERS

Jimmie Johnson — The seven-time champion admitted having problems adjusting to the Next Gen car on a 1.5-mile track. He crashed early and finished last.

Legacy Motor Club — It was a bad night for Jimmie Johnson and his team’s drivers. Johnson finished last in the 37-car field. Noah Gragson was 36th. Erik Jones placed 32nd.

Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin — Two drivers who had strong cars didn’t make it to the finish after crashing near the halfway point. Hamlin said Elliott “shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”