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Austin Hill wins Truck race at Vegas; Johnny Sauter, Grant Enfinger exit playoffs

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Austin Hill roared to the lead late and held on to win for the third time this season in Friday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoff race. While Hill celebrated, two ThorSport Racing teams were eliminated from title contention.

ThorSport Racing lost three trucksdue to mechanical failures. As a result, Enfinger, the regular-season champion and Johnny Sauter were eliminated. Teammate Matt Crafton also had mechanical failure but advanced.

The second round begins next month at Talladega. Joining Hill in the second round will be: Brett Moffitt, Ross Chastain, Stewart Friesen, Crafton and Tyler Ankrum.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Reseeded standings for second playoff round

Enfinger said to FS1 of his mechanical issue: “It’s just a shame our season hopes come down to quality control on a spec part that we had nothing to do with. I definitely share our owner’s frustration with the parts.”

Sauter’s team tried to repair the issue and got him back on track, but he didn’t complete a full lap before more issues, ending his night.

“Just inferior engines, I guess, I’m not sure,” Sauter told FS1. “It’s just disappointing that our season comes down to that. This is a fresh engine, obviously something’s wrong with it. … It’s just a shame … but if something happens and it’s out of your control, what are you going to do?”

Finishing second through fifth were Ross Chastain, pole sitter Christian Eckes, Sheldon Creed and Todd Gilliland.

Sixth through 10th were Brennan Poole, Brett Moffitt, Ben Rhodes, Harrison Burton and Dylan Lupton.

Stage 1 winner: Ross Chastain.

Stage 2 winner: Ross Chastain (has now won five of the last eight stages in the last four races).

Who had a good race: Ross Chastain, who finished second and won both stages. … Third-place finisher Christian Eckes, just 18 years old, had another outstanding run in his sixth start this season for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Who had a bad race: In addition to Sauter, Crafton and Enfinger, John Hunter Nemechek had the worst showing as he was unable to start the truck and never took the green flag.

Next: The Truck Series is now off for the next month, returning for its fourth of seven playoff races on October 12 at Talladega Superspeedway.

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Christian Eckes earns Truck pole at Las Vegas

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Behind the wheel of the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra, 18-year-old Christian Eckes grabbed the pole for tonight’s third race of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The Middletown, New York native covered the 1.5-mile oval with a best speed of 178.077 mph. It’s the second pole of the season for Eckes in just six Truck Series races in 2019 (he also was No. 1 at in the season opener at Daytona). Eckes also started from the pole via owner’s points earlier this season at Gateway due to weather cancelling qualifying.

“It’s awesome to be on the pole again,” Eckes told FS1. “The big thing is just to keep our Tundra under control. There have been a couple races this year where I thought we had a shot at winning but just haven’t been able to capitalize on it. I how we do that tonight and bring home a win.”

Click here for the Truck Series qualifying results.

Ross Chastain (178.012 mph) qualified second, followed by Todd Gilliland (177.907 mph), Brett Moffitt (177.585 mph) and Matt Crafton (177.375 mph).

Sixth through 10th were Sheldon Creed (177.305 mph), Austin Hill (177.165 mph), Grant Enfinger (177.125), Harrison Burton (176.939) and Johnny Sauter (176.916).

Tonight’s race (9 p.m. ET, FS1) will see the lowest-scoring two of the eight playoff contenders eliminated.

Three drivers failed to qualify: Cory Roper, Justin Johnson and Tyler Hill, who wrecked during his qualifying attempt, his truck suffering front end damage when it bottomed out in the infield grass.

Click here for the row-by-row starting lineup for tonight’s race.

There was one spectacular wreck during the session: Jesse Iwuji hit the inside wall coming off Turn 4 extremely hard, destroying the front end and left side. The 32-year-old Iwuji climbed out of his truck and walked to the ambulance to be taken to the infield care center to be checked out medically.

“I’m fine, just with the track being super hot and super slick, coming out of Turn 4 it just got away from me,” Iwuji told FS1. “I was trying to see if I could loop it back on the infield, but it wouldn’t come around to the right and we went into the inside pit wall.”

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Truck practice report at Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS – Stewart Friesen posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final practice session for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Friesen, who was penalized 30 minutes of practice for inspection issues, posted a lap of 179.634 mph. He was followed by Brett Moffitt (179.569 mph), Grant Enfinger (179.086), Sheldon Creed (178.997) and Matt Crafton (178.766).

Click here for practice results

Ben Rhodes ran the most laps in the session with 68. Moffitt had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 176.238 mph. He was followed by John Hunter Nemechek (176.042 mph) and Todd Gilliland (175.893).

Qualifying will take place at 5:35 p.m. ET. The Truck race is at 9 p.m. ET today.

 

 

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Best playoff hopefuls in Xfinity, Trucks

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With the Cup Series having this past weekend off, it was yet another opportunity for drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series to show their skills.

It also was an opportunity for NASCAR Talk to gauge the best drivers in the two series, particularly with this season’s playoffs either already underway or soon to be. The Truck Series is already two races into its seven-race playoffs, while the Xfinity Series begins its seven-race playoff Sept. 20 at Richmond Raceway.

With that said, here’s how we envision how they’ll perform heading into the season-ending Ford Championship Weekend in Miami in mid-November:

1. Christopher Bell (40 points): A unanimous selection from the NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers, Bell is the odds-on favorite to win the Xfinity Series championship.

2. Tyler Reddick (36 points): Has failed to finish in the top five in just five of 23 Xfinity races. He’s really good and likely Bell’s toughest challenger in the upcoming playoffs.

3. Cole Custer (31 points): A legitimate contender to overtake Bell and Reddick for the Xfinity championship if he gets hot in the playoffs. Even though he’s been in a slump of late, there’s still plenty of time to turn things back in the right direction.

4. Brett Moffitt (28 points): Mr. Playoffs in the Truck Series. The reigning series champ has won the past four Truck playoff races, dating back to last year. Has a great shot at making it two titles in a row, especially having started this year’s playoffs strong with two straight wins and has 34 playoff points. He’s a safe bet.

5. Austin Cindric (23 points): Has had an August to remember with two wins and four top fives. But what happens when the Xfinity Series gets back on speedways?

6. Ross Chastain (20 points): Nearly 60 starts over three series in 2019 and no signs of slowing down. Will race any car (or Truck) anywhere and any time. He’s second in the Truck points standings heading into the final playoff race in the opening round. Bona-fide champion material.

7. Chase Briscoe (18 points): Has finished seventh or better in the last seven Xfinity races, performing well on road courses, short tracks and big tracks. With everyone focused on Bell, Reddick and Custer, Briscoe could be a dark horse for the championship.

8. Justin Allgaier (11 points): His photo should be next to the word “resilient” in the dictionary. Not much has gone in Allgaier’s favor this year, yet he’s still fourth in the Xfinity standings. If he gets hot in the playoffs, look out.

(tie) 9. Justin Haley (4 points): A sleeper pick for the Xfinity championship round because of consistency.

(tie) 9. Austin Hill (4 points): Proving worthy of defending Hattori Racing Enterprise’s truck championship last year.

Others receiving votes: Stewart Friesen (3 points), Matt Crafton (1 point), Michael Annett (1 point).

Friday 5: Kyle Larson showing strength as Cup playoffs near

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While many of his competitors relax far away from a track, Kyle Larson is using the final off weekend of the season for Cup to go racing.

Why not keep going when things are good?

Larson enters this break having finished in the top 10 in each of the last four Cup races. While Joe Gibbs Racing drivers rank 1-2-3 in points scored during that stretch, Larson is the best of the rest. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has scored 146 points to rank fourth among all drivers during the last month.

That run has helped Larson go from being in danger of falling out of a playoff spot to having a comfortable margin with two races left in the regular season. Larson will head to Darlington Raceway next weekend for the Southern 500 trailing Alex Bowman by 10 points for 10th in the standings.

The recent run of success comes as Larson and his team avoided problems.

“I feel like our race cars have gotten little bit better and any time that happens, it makes your job a little bit easier and you can be less aggressive and still get good finishes,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I would just point to our cars getting a little bit better.

“I’ve crashed enough stuff early in the year and really still recently, but I’m trying to race a little bit smarter and make moves a little bit smarter and not try to run fifth with a 10th-place car and take my 10th or even if I fall back to 11th or 12th. Just being a little  bit smarter about things.”

Larson might have had a streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes but he placed 33rd at New Hampshire in July. Larson was ninth on a restart about 80 laps from the finish when he went low to try to pass Bowman entering Turn 1. Larson was on the bottom in a three-wide situation and spun, sliding up the track and backing into the wall. His woes were compounded when he had a right rear tire go down about 40 laps later and he crashed.

Larson knows he needs to make better decisions in the car.

“I should have just stayed in line and not push the issue,” he said of that restart against Bowman. “I had a fast car.”

That’s not the only time he’s had an issue. He looks to the Pocono race in June. On the final restart, he made contact with Clint Bowyer’s car and that forced Larson’s car into the wall. Larson finished 26th after having won both stages.

“I tried to clear myself up in front of Clint and not be quite enough clear and put myself in the fence with a few laps to go,” Larson said. “I cost myself there (Pocono and New Hampshire) a combined at least 40 points. That could put us inside the top 10 in points. Those are just two deals. I’ve had other races that I’ve been overly aggressive because you have to be.”

Even so, he’ll be in a good place when the Cup series resumes at Darlington Raceway. Larson finished third in last year’s Southern 500, the second time in the last three years he’s placed third there.

“I just think our team and myself just have a good feel for worn out surfaces at intermediate tracks,” Larson said. “You look at Atlanta, we were really fast. Chicago, we were really, really fast. Homestead, we’re always good. Darlington, we’re always good. So I think we’ve got a good package for that. It just fits my driving style.”

2. Chasing the right away around Road America

While the focus this weekend at Road America (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) will be on if Austin Cindric can win his third consecutive Xfinity Series road course event, Chase Briscoe will be looking to extend his streak of top-10 finishes at a track he’s never raced.

Briscoe has scored six top-10 finishes in a row, tying Tyler Reddick and Justin Allgaier for the longest active streak in the series. 

Unlike those two, Briscoe’s only experience at the track is on a simulator.

“Road America is going to be a challenge,” said Briscoe, who won last year’s inaugural race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. “I feel like Watkins Glen is one of the easier road courses just to go to the first time. It’s not really that technical, it’s pretty easy. Then Mid-Ohio … I ran an IMSA race there and an Xfinity race there. I felt like that was the one track I would have the opportunity to run good. But the Road America deal is going to be a struggle I feel like.”

Briscoe spent time on a simulator for the 14-turn, 4.048-mile track on Aug. 14. 

“I feel like at a track that big, it’s really hard to get into a rhythm,” he said. “At Watkins Glen, there are seven corners. You go through that same corner it seems like pretty quickly. At Road America, it’s going to be another two and a half minutes it seems like until you get back around there. It’s going to be a challenge. I feel like I kind of struggle on how to pass guys on the road course. It’s just a different style of passing and setting guys up.”

How so?

“Just seems like on the oval, you can catch a slower guy and it’s so easy to go to the other groove and pass them,” Briscoe said. “On these road courses, it’s typically one groove and you catch one slow guy and you might be stuck behind him for eight corners before you get to a passing zone to pass. I don’t know if Road America is going to be bad. For example, at Mid-Ohio, once you get to Turn 5, you can’t pass until really I think Turn 10 or 11, so you’re just kind of stuck. It’s hard to kind of have patience and ride behind people and know you can’t push it in those areas.”

3. Woe is the No. 3

This was not the season Richard Childress Racing imagined for its 50th anniversary.

Heading into next weekend’s Southern 500, Austin Dillon is 23rd in points, two spots ahead of rookie teammate Daniel Hemric.

Dillon’s 34th-place finish last weekend at Bristol marked his fifth finish of 30th or worse in the last seven races.

“We’ve got to do a better job in our group of controlling our entire weekend from the time we unload off the trailer, it’s been a little bit inconsistent,” Dillon said before last weekend’s Bristol race. “But in that sense, motors are good, feel like our bodies are good. The core stuff is there, but we’re beating ourselves. That’s what’s frustrating about this year. I feel like we’ve had more speed than we had in the past but haven’t been able to execute.”

Dillon won stage 2 at Daytona in July before he and Clint Bowyer triggered an 18-car crash battling for the lead. Dillon finished 33rd. A transmission and alternator issue led to a 35th-place finish for Dillon at Kentucky. He was 32nd at New Hampshire after a right front tire went down and he hit the wall. Dillon placed 31st at Watkins Glen after struggling most of the weekend on the road course. Dillon’s Bristol finish was hampered by a tire that went down and sent him into the wall and Jimmie Johnson into the back of Dillon’s car.

Dillon admits this has been his most frustrating year in the series.

“It’s been really trying mentally,” he said. “Just beats you down because every week you have to come back to it, what’s next? What’s going to happen next?”

Most weeks, at least recently, the answer to that question has not been good for Dillon and his team.

“I just want to do so much for RCR in their 50th year, for the No. 3 and for myself,” he said. “I hate running bad. It sucks. You want to get those finishes and you see bad finishes piling up and it gets you down.”

4. Feeling comfortable

As William Byron nears his first playoff appearance, the Hendrick Motorsports driver says he feels more comfortable in his role with the team in his second season in Cup.

“This is the first time I can walk into the shop and I don’t feel like I’m on pins and needles with the guys, in terms of them just trusting me and me feeling comfortable with them to tell them what is exactly on my mind,” Byron said. “It’s the first time I can walk into the shop and feel like I can say what’s on my mind; if I’m not content or I’m not happy with something or even when things go great.”

Byron is growing into his role with guidance from crew chief Chad Knaus, who joined the team after last season. Knaus has Byron 12th in the standings with races left at Darlington and Indianapolis before the Cup playoffs begin.

“I would say Chad and I are both kind of, the two pillars of the team,” Byron said. “Chad’s job is to encourage those guys, give them the resources they need, make sure they’re staying on task and make sure they’re focused. My job is to kind of I guess cheerlead a little bit in terms of motivation but also to be honest with them and say, hey this was good, this wasn’t good, this worked well, this didn’t.”

5. Back again

While the Gander Outdoors Truck Series makes its annual visit to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park for Sunday’s playoff race, it won’t be the first time this year for ThorSport’s drivers.

Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes, Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter competed in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at the road course, driving Ford Mustang GT4s. Rhodes and Enfinger shared driving duties and finished 13th. Crafton and Sauter shared driver duties and placed 14th.

With Sunday’s race the second in the three-race opening round, Enfinger, Crafton and Sauter will be looking to win to advance. Reigning series champ Brett Moffitt won last week’s race at Bristol to move on to the second round.