Home / Beth Lunkenheimer / Pace Laps: 2018 NASCAR Championship Down To Three Men?
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Pace Laps: 2018 NASCAR Championship Down To Three Men?

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Martin Truex Jr. Punches Back Against Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch

Reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t had it easy this season. At one point, he wrecked three times in four races during a stretch from Texas to Talladega.

“Last year, I felt like we couldn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “This year, we’ve really had to work a lot harder for it.”

But that effort, the camaraderie of this one-car Furniture Row Racing team from Colorado is paying off. Truex had made some gains this past month, never all that far off last year’s championship pace. Sunday (June 3) he finally got over the hump after two straight runner-up finishes.

It wasn’t pretty at Pocono; a poor pit stop where the jack fell down left Truex 14th just moments after taking stage one. It took nearly 90 laps to get the lead back.

But for once this year, Lady Luck gave Truex a break. Crew chief Cole Pearn made the right call when leader Kyle Busch took tires on a lap 140 caution, staying out and in doing so gift-wrapping the win for the No. 78. Track position and clean air, as it often does, proved crucial on a day in which Busch, Truex and Kevin Harvick were about equal.

“Thought our best odds were to do something different,” Pearn said after the race. “Obviously, it worked out.”

It also launched Truex back into the championship conversation. He joins the Busch/Harvick juggernaut as the only drivers with multiple wins through 14 races. Combined, this trio has won 19 of the past 24 events dating back to the start of last year’s NASCAR playoff. The other two have spent their time on the summit this season but Truex still climbs with them on a mountain all their own.

“I feel really good, honestly,” he said about the 2018 season. “Every single weekend this year, I’ve felt like we can show up and win.”

It’s the rest of the field that should be feeling bad considering the stats Truex is piling up. Add in the Nos. 18 and 4 and it feels more than ever three of the four title spots at Homestead are spoken for. Remember, the new stage format allows playoff points to carry over; these three will retain their edge, giving them greater margin for error.

Some fans may be tiring of this triumvirate but they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. –Tom Bowles

POCONO 400 UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

XFINITY Series: Kyle Busch Dominates, Experimental Plate Package Lackluster

When NASCAR announced its XFINITY Series would run restrictor plates at Pocono and Michigan International Speedway, there were mixed reactions. Sure, its debut at Indianapolis was strong but would the changes work at other tracks?

Saturday’s Pocono Green 250 showed us why the critics were concerned.

Kyle Busch dominated the event, leading 64 of 100 laps. He did so coming from the back to the front following the conclusion of stage one due to a speeding penalty. The No. 18 team grabbed the lead during a lap 60 restart and never looked back.

Lead changes? What lead changes? Busch won the opening stage by more than seven seconds. According to multiple drivers on Friday, if a driver could get ahead of a group of cars, single-car speeds were quicker than a draft. It’s surprising considering the racing that happens at Daytona and Talladega.

But the difference is here, drivers still had to lift; you can’t run the cars wide open. Add in one of the best drivers in NASCAR out front, slow the speeds and a giant wrench was thrown at the package.

During the final stage, Busch crossed the finish line with a 2.8-second lead to pick up his 92nd career XFINITY victory. However, despite this win the Cup regular was far from convinced this package is the answer.

“It’s boring as shit,” Busch said at the end of his press conference. And while watching stage one, most observers agreed. The end of stage two, providing a battle between Paul Menard, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Austin Cindric was the lone bright spot while Busch battled back. It showed that the package, while in need of tweaking, still could show some potential long-term. But tweaks are most certainly needed here.

Next week, the series heads to Michigan, where the racing with this package will be much different than Pocono. Expect a more enjoyable race that plays out similar to Daytona, a pick-me-up after this weekend didn’t live up to expectations. – Dustin Albino 

ALBINO: FULL POCONO POST-RACE ANALYSIS

BOWLES: PLATE PACKAGE DRAWS MIXED REVIEWS FROM DRIVERS

CATANZARETI: CHASE ELLIOTT HAS SOLID RUNNER-UP FINISH

BOWLES: KYLE BUSCH ON CRUISE CONTROL IN XFINITY

Camping World Truck Series: Back on Track in Texas

After a couple weekends off, NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series returns to action this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. The race will be the first of four in a row before the series takes its next off weekend.

Last time the series raced at Charlotte, Johnny Sauter scored his third win in seven races. That expanded his points lead over Noah Gragson to a comfortable 59. Brett Moffitt sits 14 points out of second while Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger round out the top five.

Last season, Christopher Bell and Johnny Sauter won the series’ two visits to this mile-and-a-half oval. Sauter also has a series-leading four wins at Texas, including the last two Fall races. It’s likely he’ll end up as the driver to beat Friday night, especially given how strong of a season he’s put together thus far. – Beth Lunkenheimer

IndyCar Series: Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay Victorious in Dual in Detroit

Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay became the fifth and sixth different winners through eight races this season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The pair scored victories on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, in the Belle Isle Dual in Detroit.

During Saturday’s race, Dixon made the pass for the lead on pit road. He took an early advantage over Marco Andretti and never looked back, leading a race-high 39 laps. Dixon’s 42nd career victory, this time over Hunter-Reay, tied him with Michael Andretti for third on the all-time wins list.

Alexander Rossi finished third, taking the point lead from Will Power, who had a subpar run. Andretti and Takuma Sato rounded out the top-five finishers.

Sunday’s Dual at Detroit began rather strangely. The start ended up delayed after the pace car driver wrecked while leading the field around the track.

Once the green flag flew, Rossi started on the pole and led a race-high 46 laps. But a late mistake going into turn 3 with less than 10 laps remaining saw Rossi slide off the track. That handed the top spot to Hunter-Reay, who had tracked the former leader down after a round of pit stops.

Holding a nearly 16-second lead over Power as the laps ticked off, Hunter-Reay simply had to coast to victory from there. Finally, his 42-race winless streak was snapped, a drought which dated back to Pocono in 2015.

Ed Jones and Saturday’s winner Dixon finished third and fourth, respectively while Graham Rahal rounded out the top five. Rossi, who made an unscheduled pit stop once his left front tire failed after locking up the brakes, wound up 12th.

The doubleheader leaves this year’s INDYCAR race for the championship rather tight. Power leaves Michigan with a five-point lead over Dixon, while Rossi sits six markers back in third. Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden round out the top five.

Next, it’s back to the ovals. The series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next Saturday night for the DXC Technology 600. – Christian Koelle

KOELLE: LATE-RACE ISSUE COSTS ROSSI POINTS LEAD

KOELLE: ED JONES LEADS YOUNG GUN CHARGE

DUAL RESULTS #1   DUAL RESULTS #2

KOELLE: ANDRETTI POSTS BEST FINISH SINCE TORONTO IN 2017

KOELLE: RAHAL STRUGGLES IN SATURDAY DETROIT RACE, DEAD LAST

Sports Cars: Meyer Shank Racing Snags 1-2 Finish at Belle Isle Park

For Meyer Shank Racing (MSR), Saturday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear was a first for the veteran sports car team.  The Pataskala, Oh.-based team claimed their first-ever one-two finish.  However, that was not the original plan for the weekend.

Heading into Detroit, Meyer Shank Racing was to simply field its full-time No. 93 Acura for Lawson Aschenbach and Justin Marks at Belle Isle Park.  At the last minute, car dealership chain AutoNation, which sponsors Jack Harvey in the Verizon IndyCar Series, stepped up its support of the team, allowing MSR to field its part-time No. 86 with Katherine Legge back at the wheel.  She was joined by Mario Farnbacher, who co-drove the No. 93 at Daytona.

Legge qualified the No. 86 in second and put the pressure on GT Daytona pole sitter Bryan Sellers.  Behind Legge, Marks was able to keep pace back in third.

Just like last year, it was pit strategy that won the race for MSR.  On the team’s only pit stop on lap 23 of 68, both Acuras took left side tires only in addition to fuel and a driver change.  The No. 93 with Aschenbach at the wheel was able to beat Madison Snow out of the pits.

A lap later, Legge pitted the No. 86 Acura and vacated the seat in favor of Farnbacher.  Quick pit work from the MSR pit crew got Farnbacher out with the class lead over Aschenbach and Snow.

From there, Farnbacher buckled down and pounded out a series of fast laps to increase his gap over the rest of the class.  A clean and green run to the finish saw Farnbacher take the checkers 9.646 seconds ahead of Aschenbach.  For Legge, it’s her second consecutive win at Belle Isle (she co-drove the winning No. 93 Acura with Andy Lally last year).

The one-two finish could help MSR find the additional funding necessary to run the No. 86 in more races.  As of now, the team is only confirmed for Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta. – Phil Allaway

NHRA: Get Your Kicks on Route 66

The JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals from Chicago is in the books and in Pro Stock, it was Jeg Coughlin Jr. bringing home the win in the event sponsored by his family business. Sunday marked Coughlin’s first win since 2014.

Upping the ante for Coughlin to win his namesake race was the fact it was Summit-sponsored Greg Anderson lining up in the other lane in a battle of the mail-order parts companies. Anderson turned on the red light, handing the automatic win to Coughlin, who made a run of 6.574 seconds at 210.67 mph to earn the victory.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to visit the winner’s circle quite a bit over the years and today is one of those days I won’t forget,” Coughlin said. “We’ve got an unbelievable team with Elite Motorsports and this year, we’ve come onto a great stretch. I was aggressive and stayed consistent, my team gave me a great car and we were low E.T. four rounds in a row. I think we did it in grand style to break that ice.”

Coughlin also beat Alex Laughlin, Matt Hartford and Tanner Gray in earlier round competition.

Clay Millican made it two in a row in Top Fuel, running 3.894 seconds at 289.32 mph to best Leah Pritchett’s 4.501 seconds at 192.08 mph. Millican also beat Pat Dakin, Scott Palmer and Doug Kalitta en route to the finals. Those back-to-back wins leave Millican within 25 points of the lead in the Top Fuel standings.

“It took me 19 years to get that first (win), then less than a year to that second one and less than two weeks to get the third,” said Millican. “I like this trend. This place is really special and my team gave me such a good car. It wasn’t necessarily my best weekend but it was certainly pretty cool to have the team pull together and just keep turning those win lights on.”

Funny Car came down to a battle between the last two class champions, Robert Hight and Ron Capps. Give this one to Hight, who put down a run of 4.073 seconds at 310.63 mph to beat Capps. Capps ran 4.310 seconds at just 230.21 mph. Hight also had to get by Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force and Bob Tasca III in earlier rounds.

While his team brought home yet another win to John Force Racing, team patriarch John Force ended up playing hurt, nursing a sore shoulder after hard contact with the wall during Saturday qualifying.

Hector Arana Jr., the first Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to break the 200 mph barrier earlier this year, made another run at the milestone Sunday. But that still wasn’t enough to carry him to the finals as he bowed out in the semis to LE Tonglet. Tonglet moved on to face Matt Smith, who earned his first win since 2016, running 6.816 seconds at 195.87 mph to beat Tonglet’s 6.862 seconds at 193.24 mph. Smith also beat Steve Johnson, Jim Underdahl and Andrew Hines on his way to the final matchup. – Toni Montgomery

About Frontstretch Staff

Frontstretch Staff
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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