NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter Tackle Texas & GT Challenge Faces Major Change

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Keselowski Effort Still Not Enough at Texas – After failing to win the “must-win” race at Martinsville last weekend, Brad Keselowski watched his playoff hopes almost go flat today as his tire went down on the first lap of the AAA Texas 500.

The puncture could have put his chances at a second championship in serious jeopardy. Luckily, the team caught some early breaks, made a few questionable calls and managed to get themselves back on the lead lap. Keselowski kept pushing and pushing to gain as much ground as he possibly could and put his name in the hat for the overall race victory.

Keselowski was one of the only drivers to manage to gain his laps back in the race while fellow playoff contender Jimmie Johnson continued to dig a hole. Keselowski filled in the hole and got back onto solid ground, but he could never find the track position nor speed to make it to the front and contend for the lead. Regardless, Keselowski still managed to earn his 15th top-five finish of 2017.

Kevin Harvick Passes Martin Truex Jr. Late to Punch His Ticket to Homestead

The only problem with that strong finish was it wasn’t enough to push Keselowski to Homestead-Miami Speedway. With Kevin Harvick locking up a spot and Martin Truex Jr. also clinching his, it’s going to be a challenge at Phoenix International Raceway and he’s going to have to battle with the other five drivers in order to continue his run for a second championship.  Luckily, he’ll enter desert with a 19-point advantage over his nearest adversaries. – Christian Koelle

XFINITY Series: Erik Jones Making Texas his Personal Playground – When Erik Jones‘ name was on the entry list for Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, the rest of the field was in trouble. He proved that to be true by winning the pole for the second race to the Round of 8.

Jones went on to lead the entire 45 lap opening stage, en route to the green and white checkered flag in Stage 2. Overcoming multiple different pit strategies during the sprint to the finish, the No. 20 team went onto the victory, leading a race-high 142 laps.

XFINITY Breakdown: Erik Jones Sweeps the Night & Season at Texas

It’s Jones’ third career victory at Texas in six career starts. During those events, he has an average finish of 2.2, with a worst finish of fourth. In the spring, the young star led 112 laps after starting on the front row. For any driver in XFINITY Series history, Jones ranks third with the average finish in the Lone Star State with a minimum of five starts.

Heading into the penultimate race of the season, the JR Motorsports trio of Elliott Sadler, William Byron and Justin Allgaier are in good shape of making it to Homestead. Brennan Poole currently holds the coveted fourth position, five points above Matt Tifft.

After an eventful race in Texas, Cole Custer heads to Phoenix 13 points behind Poole. Daniel Hemric is 18 points below the cut line, while Ryan Reed is in a must-win scenario, sitting 33 points off the pace. – Dustin Albino 

Camping World Truck Series: Johnny Sauter Becomes 1st to Lock Into Championship 4 – The race at Texas Motor Speedway marked the second in the Round of 6 in the Camping World Truck Series. After Noah Gragson played spoiler last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, no one entered the 1.5-mile track able to breathe easy.

But when the checkered flag flew, it was Johnny Sauter who went to Victory Lane for the second straight season in the Lone Star State, locking the No. 21 team into the Championship 4, and securing his spot to attempt to defend his title.

Others weren’t so fortunate, though. John Hunter Nemechek, who needed a solid run to even have a shot to point his way in after an early wreck at Martinsville, gambled on fuel and lost. He’s now 39 markers below the cut line after a 19th-place finish and will need a win at Phoenix to keep NEMCO Motorsports in the championship hunt. Phoenix has been kind to the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet, and though he hasn’t won there yet, he’s finished no worse than seventh in the last three races there.

Meanwhile, Ben Rhodes, who suffered through a slow green flag stop and had to make an additional visit to pit road for a lugnut issue, ended the race 18th and dropped to five points below the cutoff line. Austin Cindric capitalized on Rhodes’ misfortune and a runner-up finish to move to fourth in the standings.

Christopher Bell, who has been the driver to beat for much of the season, holds a 50-point advantage over Cindric, while Matt Crafton sits 19 markers ahead of him. Bell will likely lock himself in by the end of the first stage at Phoenix, barring a major disaster, and Crafton could do much of the same. Where it gets interesting is the battle between Cindric and Rhodes for the fourth and final spot, assuming neither driver below the cut line finds his way to Victory Lane next weekend.

With just one race remaining to decide who will run for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a couple weeks, keep an eye on the cut line drivers, who will do whatever it takes to guarantee their shot. – Beth Lunkenheimer

Sports Cars: The Intercontinental GT Challenge Quartet of Events is Now a Trio of Races – When the Intercontinental GT Challenge was announced for 2017, it was billed as a four-race super championship for GT3 cars, combined with a number of other classes.  The schedule consisted of existing races and a new event, the California 8 Hours.

The fourth race of the IGTC was supposed to be the Sepang 12 Hours at Sepang Circuit in Malaysia.  Not anymore.  On Friday, the SRO canceled the Sepang 12 Hours, which was scheduled to be held on Dec. 10.  The reasoning for the cancellation was a lack of entries.

The race was already a lame duck event as the Asian round of the IGTC in 2018 will be a new 10 hour race at Suzuka Circuit in Japan.  As a result, there was a decrease in interest from Japanese teams.  In the past, the Sepang 12 Hours has been open to teams from SuperGT’s GT300 class.  SuperGT’s GT300 class, first popularized in the United States via the Gran Turismo video game series, sees a combination of GT3 equipment and cars exclusive to SuperGT.  With the lame duck status and the low car count at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, entries dropped to just over a dozen.  That makes the event less than viable.

As a result of the cancellation, the IGTC season is now over.  Audi won the manufacturers’ championship on the strength of overall victories in the Total 24 Hours of Spa and the California 8 Hours.  Markus Winkelhock, who also claimed overall wins at Spa and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, claimed the drivers’ championship.  – Phil Allaway

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