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Martin Truex Jr. has ‘unfinished business’ at Martinsville Speedway

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Something’s gotta give for Martin Truex Jr.

Truex enters this weekend’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway on a quiet hot streak. In the four races since the Daytona 500, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has alternated runner-up finishes at Atlanta and Phoenix, along with eighth-place finishes at Las Vegas and Fontana this past Sunday.

Dating back to the 2018 season finale in Miami Truex has three runner-up finishes in the last six races.

Truex has also placed in the top five nine times since he last won in July at Kentucky Speedway (22 races).

But there’s a good chance Truex can improve his fortunes this weekend with the return to the half-mile track in Martinsville, Virginia.

Truex has top-five finishes in his previous three visits to Martinsville. You may remember the most recent one in October.

Truex started 33rd after his car failed inspection and slowly climbed his way to the front, eventually leading 18 laps. It ended in a riveting duel with Joey Logano over the last few laps and Logano executing a bump-and-run on Truex in the final turn on the last lap.

Truex finished third.

“We’ve certainly got some unfinished business going into Martinsville this weekend,” Truex said in a press release. “It’s a place that wasn’t one of my favorites early in my career, but the last few years, I feel like I’ve really started to get a handle on it.”

Somehow, some way Truex is seeking not only his first Martinsville victory, but his first short-track win in 79 attempts in the Cup Series.

Martinsville has been the short track Truex has come closest to getting a win at. He’s crashed out of the last two races at Bristol and in his last 10 starts there he’s led in just one.

He’s had winning cars at Richmond, but a combination of wrecks and issues on pit road have prevented him from winning after leading more than 675 laps in four of his last five starts there.

So with Truex seeking redemption on multiple fronts with a win – which would be his first for JGR – maybe Martinsville arrived just in time.

“It would mean a lot to win (at Martinsville), especially after how the last race there ended up,” Truex said. “I’m confident that we’ll have a fast SiriusXM Camry this weekend and be right there to have a shot at the end of the race.”

Today’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway: Start time, lineup and more

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Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske are the only teams to win in the first four races of the season. Will that change today at Auto Club Speedway as the NASCAR Cup Series completes its West Coast swing?

The season’s first four winners have been Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing) at Daytona, Brad Keselowski (Team Penske) at Atlanta, Joey Logano (Team Penske) at Las Vegas and Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) at ISM Raceway.

Here’s all the information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) and Douglas Booth will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 3:48 p.m.

PRERACE CEREMONIES: Driver introductions begin at 3 p.m. The invocation will be given by Motor Racing Outreach chaplain Billy Mauldin at 3:30 p.m. Adrienne Houghton, actress, singer and Emmy-award winning co-host of “The Real” will perform the National Anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (400 miles) around the 2-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for sunny skies with a high of 75 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led 125 of 200 laps and won last March’s race by 11.6 seconds. Kyle Larson placed second. Kyle Busch was third.   

TO THE REAR: Matt Tifft (engine change), Michael McDowell (car failed inspection twice before race, team engineer also ejected).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup

iK9 will back Hailie Deegan in six ARCA starts

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Hailie Deegan has landed iK9 as a supporter for her six scheduled starts in the ARCA Menards Series this season.

Deegan will make her series debut at Toledo Speedway on May 19.

The canine security services and training company will be a primary sponsor of Deegan in the May 31 race at Pocono Raceway and an associate sponsor in the remaining five races.

After Toledo and Pocono, Deegan will compete at Madison International Speedway (June 14), Elko Speedway in New Market, Minnesota (July 13), Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Indiana (Oct. 5) and Kansas Speedway (Oct. 18).

iK9 will make its debut with Deegan ahead of the ARCA races as her primary sponsor in the April 6 K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to build my NASCAR career and I’m extremely proud to represent iK9 along with Toyota, TRD, Monster Energy and Craftsman,” Deegan said in a press release. “Partnerships are key to earning these kinds of opportunities, and iK9’s mission appeals to who I want to be as a racer and also as a person.”

Deegan competes full-time in the K&N Pro Series West. She won the season-opener in Las Vegas on a last-lap pass to earn her second career victory.

The next K&N West race is March 30 at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, California.

iK9 has been aggressive in its sponsorship in NASCAR so far this season. It serves as a primary sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota in the Xfinity Series and sponsored last weekend’s Xfinity race at ISM Raceway.

 

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.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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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Bump & Run: Who will finish with more career Cup wins? Kyle or Jimmie?

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Kyle Busch has 52 Cup wins. Jimmie Johnson has 83 Cup wins. Busch is a decade younger than Johnson. Who will finish their career with more Cup wins?

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch is a generational talent and still has many Cup wins ahead of him. It’s easy to look at what he’s done since 2015 and project that type of pace (23 wins in the last 137 races for a 16.8 percent winning percentage), but I think Jimmie Johnson has multiple wins left before his career ends and Johnson finishes ahead.

Daniel McFadin: If I were to base my answer just on how Busch has performed in the first four races following a season where he won eight times, I’d say him. Johnson is running on limited time and he hasn’t won since 2017. Busch looks like he can only be slowed by penalties and mechanical failures. Johnson looks like he needs some help just to finish in the top 10, which he was able to do in Phoenix.

Jerry Bonkowski: One thing that has been overlooked about Busch is that he has earned more than half (28) of his 52 Cup wins since 2013. He’s definitely getting better as he gets older and it would not be a reach to say he’s in the prime of his career. I think he’s motivated to reach 100 Cup wins. He’d have to average five wins per season for each of the next 10 years to do so by the time he’s 44. Unless he decides to retire, I think he can overtake Johnson – or will continue racing until he does so.

Nate Ryan: Kyle Busch will finish with more than Johnson and very possibly more than David Pearson’s 105.

In the last six Cup races, dating back to November’s playoff race at ISM Raceway, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing each have won three times. Which organization is the best?

Dustin Long: Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR has two wins and three runner-up finishes to Team Penske’s two wins and one runner-up finish this season.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll give it to Penske because they’ve shown to be more consistent with their three cars than Joe Gibbs with four. For JGR, Busch has been the only car that’s been a consistent threat up front in all four races. If not for a cut tire and a pit penalty, we could be talking about him having three wins. Truex has shown closing speed and Hamlin resurfaced in Phoenix after a two-race disappearance. Penske has shown they can be fast anywhere.

Jerry Bonkowski: They’re both on the same level in my opinion. If I had to pick one, I’d give the edge to Team Penske because Joey Logano won the championship last season, and JGR hasn’t won a title since 2015 (Kyle Busch). I think there’s a lot of similarity between JGR and Team Penske, and as such, they feed off each other both on and off the race track.

Nate Ryan: It’s close to a virtual tie, but because of Joey Logano’s 2018 championship and the recent three-week run of two victories and a pole position, I’ll give the nod to Team Penske.

Kyle Busch won Sunday, Martin Truex Jr. has two runner-up finishes in the past three races, and Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500. Who has been Joe Gibbs Racing’s best Cup driver this season?

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch with his win and two runner-up finishes tops Martin Truex Jr., who has no wins and two runner-up results this year.

Daniel McFadin: Busch. He’s the only Cup driver to finish in the top 10 in every race and he leads the series with three tops fives. Pretty simple.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d give the edge to Busch, who has a win, three top-five finishes and has not finished lower than sixth. Plus he’s been no lower than fourth in the points (he’s No. 1 this week after the Phoenix win).

Nate Ryan: This is also a very tough call, but in addition to his win Sunday, Busch has the second at Daytona and a third at Las Vegas (where he probably could have won without a penalty).

Restarts are as wild as ever, but yet there haven’t been any multicar accidents listed in the past three box scores since the Daytona 500. Are restarts somehow wilder than ever but drivers also better than ever at keeping their cars beneath them?

Dustin Long: The added downforce has helped drivers when cars got out of shape. What might have turned into a crash before is now a nice save.

Daniel McFadin: I think drivers are able to control their cars to a remarkable degree, but I also think the increased levels of downforce make the cars less likely to spin out of control. We’ve seen plenty of cars make contact in the last three races without anything bad happen. Most of the incidents Sunday came from parts and tire failures.

Jerry Bonkowski: While restarts may look as wild as ever, drivers are being more cautious to not make over-the-top moves, in my opinion. They saw how much Daytona and all the wrecks impacted them and put so many teams off on the wrong foot to start the season, as a result. They realize how important stage points and good finishes are and may look like they’re driving as wild as ever, but I believe they’re being more selective in picking their spots to be aggressive and when not to be.

Nate Ryan: This might be heresy, but I think restarts have been wild since the introduction of double file nearly 10 years ago. The only difference is that this year’s lower horsepower has allowed cars to run three and four abreast to a slightly greater degree and duration. It is surprising that multicar crashes have yet to be more prevalent, though.