Xfinity’s Big 3 get spotlight at Iowa Speedway

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What a difference a year makes.

When the Xfinity Series made the first of two visits to Iowa Speedway last year, its 14th race of the season, only four Xfinity Series regulars had claimed race wins.

Those drivers – Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Spencer Gallagher –  had one win apiece (part-time driver Ryan Preece also had one win).

With the series set to return this weekend to the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa, the balance of power in the Xfinity garage couldn’t look more different than 12 months ago.

Entering Sunday’s CircuitCity.com 250, the series again sees just four regulars with race wins. But only one of those drivers, Michael Annett, is stuck on a single victory.

Reddick, Bell and Cole Custer are miles ahead of the competition with three wins each and are vastly improved over their 2018 selves.

Tyler Reddick claimed his third win of the season at Michigan. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tyler Reddick

Agreed upon by NBC Sports’ writers as the most impressive national series driver this year, Reddick’s performance in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet is a complete 180 from this point last year.

After winning the 2018 season opener at Daytona, the then JR Motorsports driver fell off a cliff. He earned just one more top five before the first Iowa race and wouldn’t get another until race No. 24 at Darlington, which began his championship surge.

Now Reddick is enjoying the best stretch of racing in his career and making history in the process.

His win Saturday at Michigan was his 10th consecutive top five, the longest streak by a non-Cup competitor since Sam Ard had 11 straight in 1984 (Ard had 15 straight from 1983-84).

Through 13 races, Reddick is tied for the most top fives all-time at this point (11) and has the second best average finish (3.9).

And if not for a pass by Custer on the last turn at Pocono, Reddick would have four wins.

While all six of Reddick’s Xfinity wins to date have come at different tracks, none have been on a track shorter than 1.5-miles.

He’ll try to change that at Iowa, where he has one top five in four starts (third in 2017).

“This year we’ll be headed into Iowa Speedway with some unknowns since we have a new tire,” Reddick said in a media release. “We had a tire test there about a month ago that we participated in (and involved Bell and Custer) and it looks like they’re going in a direction with a harder tire that won’t have as much fall-off. I think they’re hoping with a harder tire there will be some more interesting strategy calls in the race, so that we may see some teams take two or no tires in order to gain track position.

“We’ll see what happens with that. The tire we used to have there was really fast and didn’t really have any fall-off, so I would go to the top groove right away. This time the bottom lane will be open for everybody, but I don’t think it will be quite as fast.”

Christopher Bell has two more wins than he had after 13 races in 2018. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Christopher Bell

Bell is staying just ahead of his pace last year that made him the championship favorite before Reddick’s surprising surge.

While Bell won a rookie record seven races in 2018, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn’t turn on the afterburners until after the July Daytona race. By race No. 14 last year, Bell had one win (Richmond), with seven top fives with no finishes between sixth to 10th.

A year later, Bell again has seven top fives and one finish between sixth and 10th after 13 races. He also has one less DNF than he had in 2018 (three).

Bell’s wins this year have come at Atlanta (1.5-mile track), Bristol (half-mile) and Dover (1-mile).

Now Bell will look to continue a hot streak at Iowa. With three starts there he finished in the top two in both races last year, including a win in the July race.

“We should have a good shot at it; short track racing seems to be our strong suit right now,” Bell said in a media release. “I enjoy 1.5-mile tracks and intermediate style racing better, but for whatever reason, we seem to run better on the short tracks. Iowa is like a short track with intermediate track speeds; it’s in its own unique category. It’s a fun racetrack; you get to go there and typically you can pass, move around and find different lanes.”

Cole Custer is well ahead of the pace he set in his first two Xfinity seasons. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Cole Custer

While Reddick is arguably the most improved driver from last year, don’t let it overshadow what Custer has accomplished.

In his third full-time season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Custer has hit his sweet spot. He has three wins after earning only one each in 2017 and ’18. Both wins came in the final three races of those seasons.

Thus far this season, the No. 00 Ford has seven top fives including its three wins. Custer had four top fives at this point in 2018.

One downside is that Custer has two fewer top 10s heading to Iowa than he did last year (10). He is tied with Bell with eight.

Custer took pride earlier this year in finally earning a win on a short track (Richmond). He’ll attempt to back it up in Iowa, where he has two top fives in four starts. He led 104 laps there last July before finishing ninth after he made late-race contact with the wall.

“It’s the best track we go to,” Custer said of Iowa on NASCAR.com. “It’s so fun, you’re able to run from the top to the bottom, throw slide jobs. It’s probably the biggest track we throw slide jobs at. … It’s every driver’s dream I would say.”

Preliminary entry lists for Cup at Sonoma, Trucks at Gateway

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After a week off, the NASCAR Cup Series is back in action this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, just north of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the Gander Outdoors Truck Series will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis.

The Xfinity Series enjoys this weekend off before it returns at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for this weekend’s Cup and Truck races:

Cup – Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1)

There are 38 cars entered for the race around the twisting road course in Napa Valley’s wine country.

JJ Yeley will make his second Cup start of the season, driving the No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Ford.

Cody Ware will be back in the No. 52 Ford for Rick Ware Racing.

Justin Haley will make his second career Cup start, piloting the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports.

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman will make his seventh start of the Cup season in the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

 

Trucks – Gateway 200 (10 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

A total of 31 trucks are entered in this race.

There is no driver listed yet for the No. 0 Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing Chevrolet.

Camden Murphy makes his second start of the season, driving the No. 8 Nemco Motorsports Chevrolet.

Daniel Sasnett makes his second start of the season, piloting the No. 32 Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet.

Bryant Barnhill makes his first start of the season and second of his Truck career in the No. 34 Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet.

Kyle Benjamin makes his third start of the season, driving the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet.

Following his Truck Series debut at Iowa, Chandler Smith will drive the No. 46 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

Christian Eckes makes his second Truck start of the season, piloting the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

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Five Cup or Xfinity drivers to compete in Saturday’s K&N West race at Sonoma

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Drivers in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will have some extra company in Saturday’s Procore 200 race (4:30 p.m. ET) at Sonoma Raceway.

Five drivers from either the Cup or Xfinity series will take part in the event:

* Driving for road course powerhouse Jefferson Pitts Racing, Austin Dillon will make his 20th career K&N Pro Series start, his third at Sonoma (first since 2015). In prior races at the road course, he’s finished 22nd and sixth.

* Also driving for JPR will be current Cup rookie Ryan Preece, who will be making his first career K&N West start and first race start at Sonoma.

* Daniel Hemric will make his first K&N West start and fourth overall series start (first since 2015 at Watkins Glen). He has also never raced at Sonoma.

* Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer will be making third series start at Sonoma (previous finishes were ninth and 12th).

* Lastly, Noah Gragson will be teammates with Dillon and Preece at JPR and will be making his third appearance at Sonoma, finishing second in 2016 and seventh in 2015.

The K&N Series has long had a history of having Cup or Xfinity drivers take part at Sonoma. Over the last five seasons, that has included Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.

Appeal hearing for Niece Motorsports set for Wednesday morning

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NASCAR announced that the appeal for Niece Motorsports will be heard at 9 a.m. ET Wednesday.

The Gander Outdoors Truck Series team took the checkered flag first with driver Ross Chastain on Sunday at Iowa Speedway only to have the victory taken away when the truck failed inspection after the race.

Brad Moran, managing director of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series said after the race: “We have a procedures and rules in place, trucks are restricted on their ride heights at the front and rear of the vehicles. Unfortunately, the 44 (Chastain’s truck) was low on the front, extremely low.

“We have a process of what happens at that point. They do get an opportunity to roll around. They put fuel in the vehicle, they air the tires. Give them at least five to 10 minutes. Check them a second time. Unfortunately, the 44 did not rise on the front at all.”

The team stated it would appeal and blamed “minor damage during the event” for the truck being too low.

When NASCAR announced before this season that winning vehicles that didn’t pass inspection would have the win taken away, series officials also announced an expedited appeals process.

That will allow the appeal to be completed this week before the Truck Series races this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Unlike other appeals, where a team or individual can appeal a penalty and then appeal again if they lose the first appeal, there is just one appeal hearing in an expedited matter.

Ross Chastain stands by team ‘100%’ as they appeal Iowa penalty

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Despite losing his win, a $50,000 bonus and almost all of the points he accumulated Sunday at Iowa Speedway, Ross Chastain is still “proud” of the dominating performance by Niece Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race.

But that performance was taken out of the record books after the front his No. 44 Chevrolet was found to be “extremely low,” violating the ride-height rules. Chastain’s wins now belongs to Brett Moffitt.

“We stomped everybody’s tails out in Iowa and I’m proud of that and our Niece Motorsports team is proud of that,” Chastain said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway. “A little technical hiccup there after the race isn’t going to take away the fact that we start started 19th, won both stages. We were able to drive past trucks. We never got passed once all day.” 

Chastain is credited with a last-place finish and only five points earned instead of 60, a major hit for his hopes of making the Truck Series playoffs after switching his points declaration from Xfinity after eight races in the season.

In the next six races Chastain must win once and be inside the top 20 in the standings to qualifying for the playoffs. Chastain has 43 points. He’s 69 points behind Josh Reaume, who is 20th in the season standings.

“It was a pretty incredible day and something I will never forget and I will not let anything take it away from us,” Chastain said. “No old rule that still is in effect that isn’t applicable anymore, but the rules are the rules, we understand that. But we still kicked their butts and I’m proud of it.”

Chastain affirmed that “I stand by my guys” after the penalty, which the team is appealing.

“I stand by everything we do,” Chastain said. “We have something pretty incredible, something I’ve never been a part of in the Truck Series, where you have a group of guys that pushes as hard as this group does and makes as much speed.

“At the end of the day everybody can talk about their guys working their tails off and all that but we have speed. That’s so hard to find. A lot of times you don’t know why you have it, but I know we have it and we’re only getting better and we’re only going to be stronger as we move forward. We’ve got more trucks coming. We’re building better pieces and putting them together better. So no, I don’t know what the deal is with the truck, but I’m behind them 100%.”

Chastain admitted he looked at reaction on social media, which included accusations that the violation was committed on purpose.

“I’ve got to say, man, in my opinion, I really don’t agree with it, thinking that we did something during the race, cars can be modified tremendously and illegally, I don’t agree with that and I hate that that stuff gets talked about because it’s just not the case,” Chastain said. “Anybody in the sport … knows that tech ride height is not indicative of how low the race car is on the sport. I wish that was explained a little better. I hate that the sport is in a point that people don’t understand the difference between tech height and dynamic height on the race track.”