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Friday 5: What Cup teams with new drivers are better off?

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Some moves were made by teams. Others were made by drivers looking for better opportunities. Whatever the reason, there were a number of driver changes after last year.

Four races into this season, one can get a glimpse of how those changes are working out. In some cases, the comparisons may look unkindly on who was in the car last year — think about Chevrolet teams and the struggles many had early with the Camaro last year or how a team has switched manufacturers since last year — but here is a look at how some of the moves have gone.

Five of the eight full-time teams that had driver changes for this season are showing an uptick in performance in the first four races of this season compared to the same time last year.

No surprise that former champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn have raised the level of the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex has two runner-up finishes this season and has scored 140 points — 73 points more than Daniel Suarez had with that ride in the first four races last year.

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The No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing also has seen a 73-point gain in the first four races this season with Kurt Busch compared to the same time with Jamie McMurray last year. Busch has three finishes of seventh or better in his Chevrolet Camaro to score 126 points.

Also making gains this year are the No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing with Ryan Newman. He has three finishes of 14th or better this season and has scored 25 more points than Trevor Bayne had in that car at this time last year.

Corey LaJoie and Matt DiBenedetto also have helped their teams to more points than last year at this time. DiBenedetto took over Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 — which also changed to Toyota and aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing after last year — and has scored five more points than Kasey Kahne had in the first four races last year when that team was with Chevrolet.

LaJoie replaced DiBenedetto in the No. 32 at Go Fas Racing and has a top finish of 18th. LaJoie has scored five more points than DiBenedetto had in the first four races last year with that team.

The teams that have not seen an increase of points so far compared to last year include two teams with rookies. Rookie Daniel Hemric replaced Newman at Richard Childress Racing and has scored 48 fewer points in the first four races than Newman did for that group last year. Rookie Ryan Preece has scored 12 fewer points in the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing than AJ Allmendinger had at this time last year.

The other driver move was Suarez taking over the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and replacing Busch. Suarez has one top 10 so far but Busch had two top 10s at this time last year. Suarez has scored 40 fewer points than Busch did at this time last year.

2. Kyle Busch’s race to 200

A few numbers to digest in Kyle Busch’s quest for 200 NASCAR wins and more. He comes into this weekend with 199 and is entered in both the Xfinity and Cup races.

— Busch has 199 NASCAR wins in 996 starts (a 20 percent winning percentage)

— Busch has 494 top-five finishes in those 996 starts, scoring a top five in 49.6 percent of his starts.

— Busch’s 199 career NASCAR wins have come on 28 different tracks. Among the tracks he’s won at that are no longer on the NASCAR circuit are Lucas Oil Raceway (three wins), Nashville Superspeedway (three) and Mexico City (one).

— The most victories Busch has had in one season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks was 24 in 2010.

— Busch has won a NASCAR race in 21 different states and Mexico. The most victories Busch has had in any one state is Tennessee. He’s won 24 races there.

3. So far so good on inspection

This year marks the first time in the past three seasons that a Cup car was not penalized for an inspection violation after the race.

NASCAR announced before the season that any car that failed inspection would be dropped to last in the order. Any winning car that fails inspection will have that victory taken away.

So far, no team has been given such a penalty in Cup, Xfinity or the Truck series.

That’s quite an accomplishment in Cup. Each of the past two years saw at least one team penalized for a violation discovered after the race in the first four events of the season.

In March 2018, NASCAR fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended car chief Robert Smith two Cup races, docked Kevin Harvick 20 points and the team 20 owner points for a violation with the rear window brace that was discovered after Harvick’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick also lost all seven playoff points he earned — five for winning the race and two for each stage victory.

In March 2017, NASCAR suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined him $65,000 when Brad Keselowski’s car failed inspection after the race at ISM Raceway. NASCAR also docked Keselowski 35 points and the team 35 owner points. NASCAR penalized the team for failing the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station.

NASCAR also penalized Harvick’s team after that same race for an unapproved track bar slider assembly. NASCAR suspended Childers one race and fined him $25,000. Harvick was docked 10 points and the team lost 10 owner points.

4. One or the other

Since NASCAR created the West Coast swing in 2016, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. have managed to win at least once in those three races.

They’ll need to win this weekend at Auto Club Speedway to keep that streak going. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas to begin this year’s swing. Kyle Busch won last weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

5. Extra work

ThorSport Racing drivers Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Myatt Snider will be racing this weekend even though the Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off.

They’ll compete for Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports in Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Sebring International Raceway. Crafton and Enfinger will be paired on the No. 22 team, while Snider and Rhodes will drive the No. 15 entry. Their race lasts two hours.

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NASCAR Truck practice report from Las Vegas

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Matt Crafton posted the fastest lap in Thursday’s final practice session for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Crafton ran a lap of 179.922 mph.

He was followed by Johnny Sauter (179.718 mph), Brett Moffitt (179.689), Sheldon Creed (179.110) and Kyle Busch (178.359).

Creed had the fastest average over 10 consecutive laps at 177.181 mph. Moffitt was next at 176.471 mph.

Click here for final practice report

The Truck series races at 9 p.m. ET Friday.

First practice

Johnny Sauter was fastest in the first of two practices Thursday.

Sauter was one of only three drivers over 178 mph, leading the way with a speed of 178.696 mph.

Ben Rhodes was second, hitting 178.577 mph in the final minute of the session, followed by Sheldon Creed (178.083 mph). Harrison Burton was fourth (177.924), followed by Grant Enfinger (177.789).

Click here for the full results of the first practice.

Kyle Busch becomes winningest Truck Series driver with Atlanta victory

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HAMPTON, Ga. — Kyle Busch overcame a loose wheel to win Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and become the series’ all-time winningest driver.

Busch held off Johnny Sauter on a restart with five laps to go to win. Sauter finished second and was followed by Grant Enfinger, Brett Moffitt and Ben Rhodes. The victory is Busch’s fifth in the Truck Series at Atlanta.

Busch’s 52nd career series win moved him past NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. on the all-time list. Busch earned the victory in his 146th career Truck start.

“It’s a great accomplishment, but, my aspirations aren’t to go out there and set records,” Busch said. “My aspirations are to go out there and win every single race. I’ve started (990 Cup, Xfinity and Truck) races and I’ve only won 190-something of them. So there have been way more disappointments than thrills of victory. This one is certainly good. It’s big and will be way bigger years down the road once I”m all set and done and maybe the record will hold, who knows?”

Click here for race results

Click here for points report

The victory is the 195th of Busch’s NASCAR career. He has 92 Xfinity victories, 52 Truck wins and 51 Cup victories.

Busch gave up the lead on Lap 54 to pit because of a vibration that the team believed was from a loose lug nut. He restarted 23rd and made his way through the field. Busch reclaimed the lead on Lap 78 and controlled it from that point.

Stage 1 winner: Kyle Busch

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Next: The series will race at 9 p.m. ET on March 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

All-time Truck Series wins

52 – Kyle Busch

51 – Ron Hornaday Jr.

28 – Jack Sprague

28 – Mike Skinner

23 – Johnny Sauter

Johnny Sauter back in Truck with ThorSport Racing

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Who says you can’t go home again? Johnny Sauter is proof you can.

Just over a month after unexpectedly losing his Gander Outdoors Truck Series ride with GMS Racing, Sauter has returned to ThorSport Racing, just in time for Friday’s NextEra Energy 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

Sauter announced that he has rejoined ThorSport on Tuesday’s edition of RaceHub on Fox Sports 1.

I’m returning home,” Sauter said. “I couldn’t be more proud of going back there and running for a championship.” 

ThorSport expands to four full-time Truck entries with Sauter returning. He’ll be teammates with Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Myatt Snider and Grant Enfinger. Snider will drive in select races for the team.

Sauter also will have longtime crew chief Joe Shear Jr. back with him for the 2019 season.

“He’s like an old pair of shoes for me,” Sauter smiled, alluding to how comfortable he is with Shear. “I think we’ll pick up right where we left off, racing for wins.”

Sauter raced for ThorSport from 2009-15, scoring 10 wins. He moved to GMS Racing for 2016-18 before he found himself out of a ride on January 9.

“It was just a business decision,” Sauter said. “The guy that took my place (defending Truck Series champ Brett Moffitt) probably works a little cheaper. Just kidding.

“You can let it bother you or you just move on. I’ve never raced a Ford, so I’m looking forward to working with their engineers and people.”

Sauter flew into Daytona Tuesday and is ready to go for Friday night’s race.

“Daytona is a crapshoot,” he said. “I’ve been wrecked there on Lap 1 and I’ve won there. You have to manage your expectations going into that race, have to put your best effort forward and be patient all night long.”

Sauter, a native of Necedah, Wisconsin, won his lone Truck Series championship in his first season with GMS in 2016, was second in 2017 and fourth last season.

Sauter has 244 career starts in a Truck, with 23 wins. He also has 85 Cup races without a win and 207 Xfinity starts with three wins.

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NASCAR Truck practice report at Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Harrison Burton posted the fastest lap in the final Camping World Truck Series practice Friday at ISM Raceway, sweeping both practices.

Burton posted a lap of 136.121 mph. He was followed by Noah Gragson (135.542 mph), Justin Haley (135.338), Ben Rhodes (134.958) and Derek Kraus (134.534). Kraus, a K&N Pro Series West driver is making his series debut.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for final Truck practice report

Opening practice 

Harrison Burton posted the fastest lap in the opening Camping World Truck Series practice Friday at ISM Raceway.

Burton went 135.425 mph. He was followed by Noah Gragson (135.354 mph), Ben Rhodes (134.842), Matt Crafton (134.731) and Johnny Sauter (134.348).

Truck teams will have a second practice before qualifying and racing Friday.

Click here for opening practice report