Martin Truex Jr. still hottest in Who’s Hot, Who’s Not heading into Kansas

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With so many of the remaining 12 playoff drivers finding trouble at Talladega this past Sunday, several find themselves in further trouble heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas.

Once the checkered flag falls, four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will be eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8 that begins next Sunday at Martinsville, followed by Texas and Phoenix.

Here are the drivers that are hot coming into Kansas, as well as those that are not:

Who’s Hot:

 No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Won at Charlotte, sixth win this season (most of all drivers and personal best), finished 23rd at Talladega.
  • Finished in the top 10 21 times this season, a series-best.
  • Won 19 stages this season, series-best.
  • Sixty-four playoff points this season, series-best.
  • Led a series-high 1,977 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races.
  • Won at Kansas in May.
  • Average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season is third.
  • Won five of the eight 1.5-mile races this season.

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Hot, Good at Kansas lately)

  • Finished third at Charlotte after winning the first two stages and 20th at Talladega.
  • Five fewer top fives and top 10s this year compared to last year (three less wins).
  • Fourth in the standings, +22 to the cut line.
  • Two Kansas wins, both coming in the playoffs.
  • Finished top three at Kansas the last three years including a win in this race last year.

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot)

  • Finished fourth at Charlotte, sixth at Talladega.
  • Finished top six in six of the last eighth races.
  • Fifth in the standings, +21 to cut line.
  • One Kansas win, Spring 2012.
  • Finished 15th or worse in four of the last five Kansas races including 23rd in May.

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Finished 29th at Charlotte, hit the wall while running second. Finished 27th at Talladega after crash.
  • Ninth in the standings, -7 to the cut line.
  • Four wins this season, all in the last 11 races.
  • Led laps in the last 14 races this season, career-best
  • One Kansas win, Spring 2016.
  • Finished top five in his last five races at Kansas, tied for longest streak ever at Kansas.

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (sneaky good, pretty good at Kansas)

  • Finished 11th at Charlotte, 14th at Talladega.
  • Worst finish in the playoffs is 14th.
  • Tenth in the standings, -8 to the cut line.
  • Two Kansas wins, last coming in 2013.
  • Worst finish at Kansas in the last 14 races is 14th.
  • Won the pole, led over 100 laps in this race last year, finished ninth. Finished 12th in May.

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Good)

  • Finished 15th at Charlotte, won at Talladega after having radio issues.
  • Advances to the Round of 8
  • One Kansas win, fuel mileage in 2011.
  • Top-10 finishes in four of the five races at Kansas including runner-up in May.

No. 24 Chase Elliott

  • Finished second at Charlotte, sixth career runner-up finish. Finished 16th at Talladega.
  • Finished second in three of the last five races this season.
  • Sixth in the standings, +20 to the cut line
  • Worst finish in the last seven races is 16th.
  • Best Kansas finish in three starts is ninth in Spring 2016.
  • Finished 29th at Kansas in the Spring.

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Not great at Kansas)

  • Finished 10th at Charlotte, 13th at Talladega after crash.
  • Third in the standings, +29 to the cut line.
  • Eight runner-up finishes this season.
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2014, only finish better than 15th since is sixth in May.

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson

  • Finished seventh at Charlotte, 24th at Talladega after accident
  • Top-10 finishes in four of the last six races.
  • Eighth in the standings, +7
  • Four top-five finishes this season, three were wins.
  • Three time Kansas winner (tied for the most), last was Spring 2015.
  • Only two finishes outside the top 10 in his first 16 starts at Kansas, three in the last six including 24th in May.
  • Only three top 10 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this season

No. 77 Erik Jones

  • Top-10 finishes in seven of the last 11 races this season.
  • Two Kansas starts including the first of his career driving the No. 18.
  • Finished 22nd at Kansas in May, multiple spins

Who’s Not Hot:

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Not)

  • Finished 13th at Charlotte, 26th at Talladega
  • 11th in the standings, -22 to the cut line
  • Best finish since his win at Daytona in July is 13th
  • Best Kansas finish is 11th, twice including in May

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Decent)

  • Finished fifth at Charlotte and 37th at Talladega after crash.
  • Twelfth in standings, -29 to cut line.
  • Sixteen top-10 finishes this season, six more than this point last year.
  • Best Kansas finish is seventh, twice in 21 starts.
  • Finished eighth in May at Kansas.

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Just OK)

  • Finished eighth at Charlotte, 18th at Talladega after accident after leading 27 laps.
  • Currently seventh in the standings, +9 to the cut line.
  • Last top-five finish was his win at Pocono in June.
  • Eleven top-10 finishes this season but none have come in back-to-back races.
  • Top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts at Kansas.
  • Won the pole, finished fourth in May, led 83 laps, won Stage 2.

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Not hot)

  • Finished 29th Talladega.
  • Only two top-15 finishes in the last 12 races.
  • Finished 14th in the first round
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 12 at this point last year.
  • Finished top 10 in two of the last three races at Kansas.

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not hot)

  • Finished eighth at Talladega, first back-to-back top-10 finishes since the first two races of the season.
  • Only three top-10 finishes in the last 21 races.
  • Finished 15th in the first round
  • Six DNFs this season.
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak.
  • He has finished on the lead lap in 54 percent of the races this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second, twice.
  • Worst finish in the last four races at Kansas is 16th.

No. 31 Ryan Newman

  • Finished second at Kansas, broke a four race streak of finishing outside the top 10.
  • Finished round one 13th in the standings
  • One Kansas win, 2003.
  • Only three Kansas top fives, all came in the first three races at Kansas.
  • Finished last at Kansas in May.

No. 41 Kurt Busch

  • Finished 25th at Talladega
  • Finished 19th or worse in the last five races.
  • Finished 16th in the first round, 25 points below the cut line.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2013.
  • Finished 19th in May at Kansas.

No. 14 Clint Bowyer

  • Finished 35th at Talladega.
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017.
  • Twelve top 10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2007.

No. 22 Joey Logano

  • Finished fourth at Talladega, only his fourth top-five finish since his Richmond win.
  • Eleven finishes outside the top 20 in the last 22 races.
  • Won at Richmond but was encumbered.
  • First time he has missed the playoffs with Team Penske.
  • Two-time Kansas winner.
  • Finished top five in six of the last eight races at Kansas.

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

  • Finished seventh at Talladega
  • Finished top 12 in the last three races, best streak this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2011
  • Finished 15th or worse in three of his last four Kansas starts.

Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”

 

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”