JGR juggernaut’s toughest challenges could come from within

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Car owner Joe Gibbs says it gets easier for his team now.

Really.

All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars advanced to the Round of 8 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Never has an organization held half the remaining eight spots in the Chase since the elimination-style format debuted in 2014.

“I think from here on out, it’s pretty easy,’’ Gibbs said of managing four teams as they race for a title. “Everybody is geared up and is going for a win. That’s the game plan.’’

In others words, it should be just like what it has been all season.

Of course, with more at stake, more than fenders can be bruised among teammates — just look at Kevin Harvick confronting teammate Kurt Busch after Sunday’s race on pit road.

Remember, Carl Edwards bumped Kyle Busch out of the way on the last lap to win at Richmond in the spring. If it can happen then, what’s not to say it couldn’t happen now?

“We compete hard,’’ Edwards said of racing teammates in the upcoming round. “We work hard beforehand to help each other prepare. We battle hard on the racetrack. If we can keep it at the level we’ve had all year, it’s going to be great. There’s no reason all four of these cars can’t be in the race at Homestead.’’

But can four teams truly survive each other to make it to Miami in less than a month?

“You hope that the racing doesn’t change,’’ Matt Kenseth said. “I think it’s just business as usual.’’

Just as challenging could be what this means for the other four teams vying for the championship. Joe Gibbs Racing’s four teams have combined to win 11 of 32 races this season. JGR cars already have won this season at the next two tracks — Busch won at Martinsville and Texas in the spring.

Left to compete against the JGR cars for the title are Harvick and Kurt Busch for Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson and Team Penske’s Joey Logano. They have combined for 10 wins this season.

Logano’s car owner, Roger Penske, isn’t worried about facing all four Gibbs cars with just one car left in the Chase.

“They’re going to be fighting each other, which is important,’’ Penske told NBC Sports. “Quite honestly, how do you keep all four of those guys under the roof, where we have all of our efforts on Joey and certainly Brad (Keselowski) will do everything he can to help him.

“We’ve raced these guys all year long. They’ve been tough. Jimmie Johnson, don’t count him out. Kurt Busch … we know is a heck of a driver, and Harvick is probably one of the best.’’

Johnson, Harvick and Logano each won in the last round. A Joe Gibbs Racing driver hasn’t won in the first six races of the Chase. The team’s last victory was by Hamlin at Richmond, the final race before the playoffs began.

Even so, Busch and Kenseth both were the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the first five Chase races. That streak ended Sunday when they joined Edwards in riding at the back all day at Talladega. Kenseth was 28th, Edwards 29th and Busch 30th.

That’s all they needed to do to advance. Now, it will take much more, and they could be racing teammates for the final transfer spot.

Race results, Truck Series point standings after Gateway

Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images
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Justin Haley survived two late-race restarts to win his first career Camping World Truck Series race in the Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park.

His victory was aided by a push into turn one by rookie Todd Gilliland, who finished second.

Johnny Sauter finished third to score his 10th top-five finish in 10 races.

Myatt Snider and Zane Smith rounded out the top five. Smith was making his first career Truck start.

Click here for complete results.

Johnny Sauter maintained his points lead with a third-place finish, extending the advantage to 73 points over Noah Gragson, who finished 10th.

Brett Moffitt is third in the standings and has two wins to his credit.

Grant Enfinger and Stewart Friesen round out the top five

Hayley climbed from eighth to sixth in the standings with his win, but more importantly that victory gets him a berth into the playoffs.

Click here for the complete points standings.

 

Justin Haley wins first Truck race at Gateway

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Justin Haley won his first career Camping World Truck Series in a three-lap shootout at the end of the Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park.

With seven laps remaining, then-leader Noah Gragson took the bottom line on a restart. That lined Todd Gilliland up behind Haley and proved to be the difference for both drivers on the front row. Gilliland pushed Haley hard into turn one, but contact between Gragson and Gilliland allowed Haley to gain the advantage.

A quick caution for debris forced Haley to survive one more restart – this time with Johnny Sauter lined up beside him. In a three-lap shootout to the end, Haley held onto the top spot.

Gilliland got around Sauter for second. Sauter finished third.

Myatt Snider finished fourth with Zane Smith rounding out the top five in his first career Truck start.

The race was red flagged on lap 119 to clean up fluid from John Hunter Nemechek. He ran over a piece of debris that punctured an oil line. Justin Fontaine spun in the oil with Tate Fogleman sliding in as well.

The incident had lasting ramifications. On lap 132, Brett Moffitt and Ben Rhodes were battling for fifth. Neither driver wanted to go high into turn one because of the speedy dry. Rhodes crowded Moffitt and both made contact with the wall. Rhodes stayed on track. Moffitt pitted, but was able to climb back into contention for a top 10.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christian Eckes

HOW JUSTIN HALEY WON: Haley lined up in the outside groove with seven laps to go and got a bump from Todd Gilliland that pushed him to the lead. From there, it was simply a matter of surviving one more restart with the veteran Johnny Sauter lined up to his inside as Haley led the final laps.

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: In his Truck debut, Riley Herbst scored a top-10 finish in eighth. … Jesse Little finished seventh, which was his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. … In just his third Truck start and first since 2015, Chad Finley managed to stay out of trouble and finished a career-best sixth.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Dalton Sargeant cut a left front tire and pounded the wall with two laps remaining in stage one after contact from Todd Gilliland. … Matt Crafton developed an alternator issue at the end of stage two; they changed a battery and resumed racing, four laps off the pace. … On lap 76, Stewart Friesen got loose underneath Christian Eckes and spun him into the wall. … Battling for sixth on lap 98, Friesen and Johnny Sauter made contact on exiting turn two and Friesen spun into the inside wall. … Grant Enfinger started on the pole, led every lap of the first stage, but cut a tire in the closing laps and finished seven laps off the pace in 21st.

NOTABLE: It was a difficult night for Young Guns. In his second career Truck start, 17-year-old Eckes was wrecked during segment two after contact with Friesen. Making his first start in the Tuck series, 18-year-old Fogleman was collected in an accident triggered by Nemechek’s blown engine.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “We had to change the battery. The alternator’s done. I don’t know; they’re still trying to science it out I guess. You know, it’s a big cost for something we spend a lot of money on – and there’s just no excuse for it. Our day is pretty much over. We’ll use it as a test, go to Chicago and try to kick their ass there.” – Matt Crafton’s crew chief Junior Joiner after an electrical problem plagued them at the end of stage two.

WHAT’S NEXT: Overton’s 225 at Chicagoland Speedway at 9 p.m. ET on June 29 on FS1.

NASCAR broadcaster struck by car while jogging, suffers skull fracture

Photo: Performance Racing Network
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Performance Racing Network broadcaster Wendy Venturini is recovering in a hospital after she was struck by a car while jogging Saturday morning in Novato, California.

Venturini suffered a skull fracture and a concussion, Doug Rice, president and general manager of PRN, told NBC Sports on Saturday night.

Rice told NBC Sports that Venturini’s prognosis “is very good. I was there (at Marin General Hospital) and heard the doctor tell her that.”

Rice also said: “She’s completely coherent and conversational, and I have talked to her on two occasions today. They told her she would have a really good headache for a couple of days.”

Rice said that Venturini is expected to be hospitalized for a day or two.

Venturini became the first female to serve as a co-anchor for a NASCAR Cup race in September 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. She was in California to be a pit reporter for PRN’s radio broadcast of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway. She also has served as a booth analyst for PRN broadcasts this season.

Venturini became the first female broadcaster to call an entire race on a national level during the July 2007 Cup race at Sonoma Raceway for DirecTV. She also has reported on NASCAR for Speed Channel and Fox Sports 1.

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images
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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.