(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Quick success has surprised Truck rookie William Byron

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No one is more surprised by William Byron‘s first two wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series than William Byron.

The 18-year-old rookie, who started racing at 15, has earned two wins in four races this season. The first came at Kansas Speedway in May in his fifth start and his most recent came last week at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I’m a little bit surprised – I was surprised with the first win, how quickly it came and then I was pretty surprised last week with being able to move up the race track and try different lines,” Byron said Friday at Iowa Speedway. The series races there Saturday night.

Byron had chased down two-time champion Matt Crafton – who had older tires – in the final laps at Texas. Then with three laps to go, he fended off Rico Abreu using the high line, which has become Abreu’s trademark.

“That’s something that I don’t have a background doing that like some of these guys with Rico and Christopher (Bell) that are used to searching around on the dirt track,” Byron said. “It’s enabled our race team to try some new things.”

Now Byron is one of two drivers – the other being Crafton – who has two wins this season through seven races. The native of Charlotte, North Carolina, sits in third in the point standing behind Crafton and Timothy Peters, but is all but insured a spot in Chase at the end of the season.

Byron wasn’t comfortable thinking about the playoffs even after his Kansas win.

“I haven’t really thought about the Chase honestly before we got that second win because I didn’t want to think about the potential that there would be eight different winners or more,” Byron said. “It’s good to have that win and be able to focus on what we can do to try and win more races. I think our race team is always looked at as just trying to do the best we can each week, and as a rookie that’s your goal, is just to try and get the best finish you can each time.”

The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver is doing all this with crew chief Ryan Fugle, who is fresh off winning the Truck series title with Erik Jones. That duo won three races in 2015, but the first didn’t come until the series visited Iowa Speedway, where it returns this weekend.

While Jones didn’t win until Iowa, he had four top-five finishes in the first eight races of last season. While Byron has two wins, he has only one other top five entering Iowa.

“Going into it, obviously they won the championship last year, you would think, ‘Well, he has these expectations of oh, this kid is a rookie and what’s it going to be like?’” Byron said. “He’s really had an open mind approach to it like we are a rookie team and he’s taken me under his wing and been able to coach me each week. We have high expectations but I don’t think those expectations are a burden for me and I never look at it that way.”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to No. 1 after Talladega

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The chaos of Talladega has come and gone and with the dust settling the NBC Sports Power Rankings have a familiar face at the No. 1 spot.

Denny Hamlin is back at the top of the mountain after his third-place finish in a battered No. 11 Toyota.

Hamlin returns to the top spot after previously having a five-week reign there, which ended in September.

This week’s rankings have two different ties, including a three-way tie for seventh.

Here are the power rankings ahead of this weekend’s playoff elimination race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).

1. Denny Hamlin (37 points): Third-place finish gives him three top fives in the last four races. He’s surging just like he did on the last lap before Ryan Blaney broke his momentum.

2. Ryan Blaney, (34 points): Followed in Kyle Larson‘s wake as a playoff driver earning his first win of the season in the playoffs. Has three tops 10s in the playoffs

3. Chase Elliott (26 points): Like Hamlin, bounced back from a wreck to finish in the top 10, but he’s still outside a transfer spot to the next round. Likely needs to win at Kansas to stay alive in these playoffs. He won there last fall.

(tie) 4. Joey Lognao (21 points): The 18 stage points he scored at Talladega created the gap he has over those outside a playoff spot. Kudos to his team for the repairs so he could finish the race.

(tie) 4. Kyle Larson (21 points): Despite a 39th-place finish at Talladega he has eight top 10s in the last 11 races and he’s already set for the next round.

6. Kevin Harvick (20 points): Even with a 17th-place finish at Talladega, he has 10 top 10s in the last 12 races. Don’t overlook him.

(tie) 7. Martin Truex Jr. (12 points): Steak of four straight top 10s ended at Talladega. Kansas provides a chance to start a new streak for this team, which has won two of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks.

(tie) 7. Ryan Newman (12 points): Still showing some fight despite being eliminated from playoffs. Has three top fives (none in 2018) and 12 top 10s (nine in 2018).

(tie) 7. Kyle Busch (12 points): Has had a less than stellar playoff run so far, but a strong regular season has him in position to advance to the next round.

10. Brad Keselowski (9 points): His 25th-place finish was the first time in the last five races he’s placed worse than 11th.

Others receiving votes: Aric Almirola (5 points), William Byron (4 points), Alex Bowman (3 points), Michael McDowell (3 points) and Clint Bowyer (1 point)

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Bump and Run: Should NASCAR ditch the yellow line rule?

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Does NASCAR need to keep the yellow line rule at Daytona and Talladega? Or would a solution be to have the rule until the final lap of a race and just let anything be in play?

Nate Ryan: The only out of bounds lines at oval racetracks should be the walls. The point of the rule was to reduce the crashes that were resulting from cars that disjointedly shot from the apron back up the banking. As Sunday proved yet again, races at Daytona and Talladega always will feature large pileups. Trying to micromanage driving to reduce those risks is an exercise in futility.

Dustin Long: NASCAR needs to keep the rule for every lap but if the series officials want that line to be considered like a wall than change the rule: Any time anyone for whatever reason goes below the yellow line they will be penalized. And any time anyone forces someone below the yellow line they will be penalized. Put teeth into the rule.

Daniel McFadin: I think the rule needs to be kept in place. It’s there in an effort to keep the racing on superspeedways from getting out of hand. Making a rule apply to all but the final lap doesn’t make sense.

Jerry Bonkowski: The yellow line rule was implemented — at least in part — for safety reasons. So yes, the rule needs to be kept in place as it is. Taking it away for the final lap is a guarantee for chaos and greatly heightened unsafe conditions for drivers and fans.

 

The bottom four — Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and William Byron — each likely need to win to advance in the playoffs. Which one of those four do you give the best chance of winning this weekend at Kansas?

Nate Ryan: Alex Bowman; he should have won there in May.

Dustin Long: Chase Elliott.

Daniel McFadin: I give the edge to Alex Bowman, he’s been the most consistent in the playoffs and was running well Monday before his wreck. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Any of the four can win at Kansas, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Clint Bowyer. Kansas is his home track but he’s had a mediocre record there. It’s time for the odds to turn around in his favor.

 

What’s your take on the manufacturer involvement that has become even more prevalent in Cup at Talladega and Daytona?

Nate Ryan: It’s fine and perfectly understandable … provided it doesn’t reach the point of in-race meetings to chastise drivers about racing three wide for the lead. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that it reached that point Sunday because it caused NASCAR and its fan base to air some righteous grievances about the diminishment of driver autonomy in Cup and why that’s bad.

Dustin Long: I understand why the manufacturers do it, but I don’t like it, particularly when it reaches the levels it did this past weekend at Talladega. Those in the garage noted to me that some drivers seemed to make curious moves at times if only to remain in good graces with their manufacturers. That’s not racing. That’s a puppet show.

Daniel McFadin: I get the that manufacturers want to work together to ensure their best chance at winning a race, especially Chevy since they haven’t had a car in the Championship 4 in the last two years. But dictating how drivers should race and possibly threatening consequences if they don’t fall in line feels wrong on multiple levels. The drivers are the ones in control of the car on the track, not manufacturer executives. Only the drivers know what’s best for them at any given moment.

Jerry Bonkowski: The manufacturers play such a key and pivotal part in the sport that if they want their respective teams and drivers to work together more at Talladega and Daytona, that should be their prerogative. It would be very difficult for NASCAR to try and rule against manufacturers in this instance, as it could severely damage relationships between the sanctioning body and manufacturers. Frankly, this appears to be a no-win situation where there is no answer or way to police against it.

Ross Chastain to race full-time for Kaulig Racing next season

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Kaulig Racing announced Tuesday that Ross Chastain will return to the team to run a full-time Xfinity Series schedule in 2020.

Chastain, 26, will drive the No. 10 Chevrolet. He will be sponsored by Nutrien Ag Solutions for 23 races. Joining Justin Haley in the No. 11 Chevrolet, it will mark the first season Kaulig Racing has fielded two full-time cars.

The crew chief for Chastain’s team and the 23 selected Nutrien Ag Solutions events will be announced at a later date.

Four of Chastain’s 17 Xfinity starts this year have been with Kaulig Racing, including July’s race at Daytona where he earned his second career Xfinity win and gave the team its first ever victory. He is set for his fifth start with Kaulig Racing Saturday at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Two of the most important things in my life are agriculture and racing,” Chastain said in a press release. “Nutrien Ag Solutions is the best sponsor I could have ever asked for as it pertains to my family’s long history of farming. (Team owner_ Matt (Kaulig), (president) Chris (Rice) and all of Kaulig Racing gave me the opportunity to race this year when I really wasn’t sure I would ever get another winning opportunity in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. And, we won. Now, next year, we get to try to win more races and also compete for the championship.”
Said Matt Kaulig: “Ross Chastain has it all – he’s competitive, he’s marketable, he’s all-around a great, blue-collar guy. As a team, we couldn’t be more honored to land a driver like Ross. In just four races already this season, he’s not only helped advance our program, but he brought home this team’s very first win. Having him at Kaulig Racing next season, driving full-time, is a great gain for our organization.”

Kaulig Racing made the Xfinity playoffs this year with Justin Haley, who was eliminated after the first round.

Chastain’s news comes a little over 11 months after the last time he had a full-time Xfinity Series ride announced. After he made three Xfinity starts and earned one win for Chip Ganassi Racing last year, Chastain was tapped in November to take over its No. 42 car full-time in 2019.

But that fell apart in the wake of the December raids by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service on the headquarters of CGR primary sponsor DC Solar and the home of its CEO. In January, CGR shut down its Xfinity operation due to a lack of sponsorship.

As a result, this year has seen Chastain make 67 starts across all three national series, including all 20 Truck Series races with Niece Motorsports. After a wreck in Saturday’s Talladega Truck race, Chastain is last in the playoff standings with two races left in the Round of 6. He is two points back from the cutoff spot held by Matt Crafton.

As for NASCAR national series races outside of Xfinity next year, Chastain said in a Tuesday teleconference he plans to compete in “as many as I can” but didn’t provide any details.

“I want to race anything and everything,” Chastain said. “There’s an Xfinity off-week next year and I’m talking about going to run a front-wheel drive four-cylinder race with some buddies. I don’t know. … Anybody that drives a race car, works in racing, none of us have to do this. We all are in racing and motorsports because we love it for one reason or another. That’s truly my reasoning. It’s not just what I tell people. That’s the real reason. It’s not for the glamorous lights or the paycheck, because I’m not there still. I will race anything that I can get my hands on.”

In June, Chastain switched his points declaration from Xfinity to the Gander Outdoor Truck Series after eight races had already been run in the Truck Series, including a race won by Chastain at Kansas Speedway.

But with the points switch, Chastain started from zero points and had eight races to qualify for the playoffs. To do so he had to win again and then be in the top 20 in points by the end of the regular season. He won two of those eight races (had a third stripped due to an inspection failure) and finished in the top 10 five times, ensuring a playoff spot.

Jeb Burton to compete in Truck Series race at Martinsville with Niece Motorsports

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Jeb Burton will compete for Niece Motorsports in the Oct. 26 Gander Outdoors Trucks Series playoff race at Martinsville Speedway, the team announced Tuesday.

He will drive the No. 44 Chevrolet.

It will be Burton’s second start of the year for the team after he competed at Kentucky Speedway on July 11. He finished ninth.

The son of former Cup driver Ward Burton, it will be his 55th career start in the Truck Series. Martinsville is the home track for the Virginia-native.

“I’m excited to get back behind the wheel of one of these Niece Motorsports Chevrolets again,” Burton said in a press release.  “Martinsville is certainly a very special track to me, and a place that I have a lot of experience, so I’m confident that we can turn that into a strong result.”

Burton has made eight national series starts this year, including five with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. His best finish was fourth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September.