Sunday, Oct 02
Brett Winningham

Brett Winningham

Brett has been following the sport of NASCAR since the beginning of the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Since Brett was 13, he has had a passion of chasing a job in sports that not many get the opportunity of doing. He has been in the NASCAR media since the middle of the 2010 season. Since then, he has been a part of many racing podcast shows to improve his talents. You can find him on twitter @NASCAR_Brett.

Johnny Sauter conquered the monster on Friday afternoon at Dover International Speedway to score his 19th career Camping World Truck Series win. The series veteran, who turned 40 years old in the week leading up to the event, led 137 of the 210 laps.

The win did not come easy for Sauter as the race was extended into NASCAR Overtime after he and Noah Gragson made contact coming to the white flag. Sauter continued without incident but that wasn’t the case for Noah Gragson. Gragson will leave the one-mile oval with a DNF and a 20th-place finish as a result.

Gragson started on the pole and led the field for 60 circuits. The young driver will go into Kansas Speedway holding two top five and two top 10 finishes.

Sauter finished stage one, won by Noah Gragson, sitting fourth on the leaderboard. The driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet would go on to win stage two of the race.

Matt Crafton finished second behind former teammate Johnny Sauter in the No. 88 Menards Ford. Crafton, finishing seventh in stage one and third in stage two, came into the day not very happy with their machine in practice the day prior.

After having a clean day and making necessary changes, Crafton and the No. 88 team posted the 10th fastest time in the final round of qualifying. While he didn’t lead any of the laps, Crafton stayed upfront all day to take the runner-up spot.

The California native now has two top five and top 10 finishes through five races in 2018.

Justin Haley will leave the Jegs 200 with a third-place finish. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet started the long afternoon in fourth and finished inside the top 10 in both stages.

David Gilliland and Harrison Burton rounded out the top-five finishers on Friday.

Stewart Friesen had one of the most frustrating days of any driver at Dover. Friesen started seventh on the leaderboard in the No. 52 Chevrolet and was one of the underdog favorites going into the race.

On the first lap, Friesen and Brett Moffitt tangled on the frontstretch to bring out the caution flag. Both of the drivers involved continued with their days following the incident on the opening lap.

A little later Friesen worked his way back into the top 10 before more problems occured on the No. 52 machine. A tire went down as it rubbed with some sheetmetal and forced the team back down pit road for repairs. They would have more problems later on regarding this issue.

On lap 155 Friesen had more issues that sent the Chevrolet to the garage for the day. The No. 52 truck finished the afternoon sitting 23rd on the leaderboard.

The next race for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be at Kansas Speedway on May 11. Coverage of the Kansas 250 will begin at 8:30 p.m. ET. on FOX Sports 1 and MRN.

NASCAR announced that driver Spencer Gallagher has been indefinitely suspended for violating the substance abuse policy. The penalty comes just days after Gallagher scored his first career NASCAR National Series win at Talladega Superspeedway last Saturday.

Gallagher and GMS Racing later released a statement after NASCAR announced sanctions regarding the issue:

“GMS Racing was notified that driver Spencer Gallagher gave a positive result from a NASCAR drug screen. GMS fully supports NASCAR’s policy on substance abuse and we do not condone this type of behavior. First and foremost, our entire organization wants to apologize to NASCAR, our sponsors, teammates and fans due to this policy violation. Spencer has agreed to participate in NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. A substitute driver will be announced at a later date.” – Mike Beam, President of GMS Racing

“I recently have had a positive result in a NASCAR drug screen which has violated NASCAR’s substance abuse policy. I want to assure everyone in the NASCAR community this one time error in judgement will never happen again. I am taking the steps to enroll in the Road to Recovery program supported by NASCAR. I would like to say that I am sorry to all of the GMS organization for my actions, especially my team and team owner, who have worked so hard this year and have put faith in me. I also want to apologize to NASCAR, Chevrolet and my fans for letting them down. I have not upheld the behavior that is expected of me. I promise you all here and know, I will do whatever it takes to make this right.” – Spencer Gallagher, Driver No. 23

Ryan Sieg, the fifth driver eligible in the Dash4Cash category at Talladega, will be eligible for the $100,000 bonus at Dover International Speedway on Saturday with a sixth-place finish on Saturday.

NASCAR will also not grant Spencer Gallagher a playoff waiver and therefore cannot use the win at Talladega Superspeedway to get into the playoffs. The substance or substances Gallagher tested positive for was not released.

A substitute driver for the No. 23 Allegiant Chevrolet has not yet been announced.

Spencer Gallagher came out as the surprise race winner at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday in his first ever NASCAR National Series victory. Gallagher, passing Tyler Reddick for the lead on a NASCAR Overtime restart, led only one lap of the race enroute to victory lane. It was also the first time that Gallagher has ever led the field in the series.

“The only thing that was going through my mind was I hope to hell this works. Gosh I’m so happy right now,” said Gallagher in victory lane. “GMS Racing brought such an incredible car here. To qualify this thing third, and race like we did all day, I knew we had the speed.”

Gallagher, from Las Vegas, scored his second top-five and fifth top 10 finish of the year. Before today, Gallagher’s best finish of the season through eight races came at Bristol Motor Speedway with a fifth-place run.

“It didn’t seem real for awhile there as that whole last lap was kind of a dream,” added Gallagher. “You hear your spotter talking to you in the background but all you’re really doing is looking at your mirror. It’s always wild on the last lap at Talladega.”

Finishing 0.152 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher Brandon Jones, Gallagher finished stage one sitting 11th and runner up behind Elliott Sadler in stage two.

After being passed for the lead, Reddick, who won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in February, took home an eighth-place finish at the 2.66-mile oval.

Brandon Jones will leave Talladega with his best career NASCAR XFINITY Series finish of second. Jones, driving the No. 19 XYO Networks Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, started 15th on the starting grid.

The young racer finished fourth in stage one and sat 14th at the conclusion of stage two. Jones will go into Dover next weekend with one top five and five top 10 finishes in 2018.

Justin Allgaier will take home the third spot following struggles with running out of fuel in the closing laps while leading the field. The series veteran held around a 15-second lead by using pit strategy. With around nine laps remaining while leading, Daniel Hemric brought out the caution on the frontstretch for a blown tire. While circling under yellow after electing to stay out, Allgaier ran out of fuel and eventually stalled on the track.

After getting pushed back to pit road by a tow truck, Allgaier was able to remain on the lead lap. Despite all these issues late in the running, Allgaier will take home a third-place finish after leading 35 of the 115 circuits.

Noah Gragson and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top five finishers.

It was a calm event at Talladega Superspeedway as two of the five cautions involved multiple cars. On lap 32, seven cars tangled on the backstretch and involved a number of potential race winners like Shane Lee, Ryan Truex, Kaz Grala, Dylan Lupton, Chad Finchum, Ty Majeski and Spencer Boyd.

Lupton, Majeski, Truex, Finchum and Boyd were all done for the day as a result.

On lap 63, seven green-flag laps into stage two, the second caution flag was displayed for a wreck involving multiple cars in turn two. Among the four involved was Ross Chastain, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and Timmy Hill. All of the drivers involved continued racing despite the scuffle.

The next race for the NASCAR XFINITY Series will be Saturday, May 5. Live coverage of the OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway will begin on FOX Sports 1 and MRN at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Kyle Busch survived NASCAR Overtime on Saturday at Richmond Raceway to score his 46th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. Busch, driving the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, started 32nd on the leaderboard and quickly drove his way to the front of the field. The 32-year old credited the No. 18 pit crew for their fast pit stops all night long that put the M&Ms Toyota in position for the win.

“All these guys – everybody on this whole M&M Camry, they do a great job for me. I can’t say enough about Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys and the pit crew tonight,” said Busch after the race. “They won this race for us. They got us off pit road first those last two times that we came down for tires and got us where we needed to be. I can’t say enough about this Toyota Camry. It was just awesome today. Out front all day long. This is really cool for as good as the crowd was tonight. Really cool out here in Richmond, really chilly but otherwise it was a fantastic evening so hopefully everybody enjoyed that.”

The driver from Las Vegas now has 187 career victories across all three of NASCAR’s National Series following this win at Richmond. The series veteran has three wins, seven top five and eight top 10 finishes through nine completed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races in 2018.

With the win on Saturday, Busch has won three NASCAR premier series races in a row and will look to score his fourth consecutive win at Talladega Superspeedway next Sunday. Talladega, a track where Busch won at back in 2008, is a track that is highly unpredictable and can produce a surprise race winner.

“It’s definitely cool we’ve won three in a row. We did it a couple years ago and now I don’t know if you can shoot for four in a row,” Busch continued after the race in victory lane. “It’s hard to go to Talladega with that much of a winning streak and think that you can go to victory lane, but we’re going to go there anyway and give it a shot. We’ll see what we can do. Our guys are amazing. They’re awesome every week and I love racing with these guys and Joe Gibbs Racing.”

Chase Elliott posted a runner-up finish in the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet and will leave the 0.75-mile oval with his second top-five finish of the season. The Georgia native started second on the leaderboard and finished seventh in stage one. At the end of stage two, Elliott sat 15th.

“Yeah, I mean I think it’s been a steady work in progress,” said Elliott after the race. “We certainly have work to do and we know that. The results tonight, I don’t feel like… I think if we looked at the results we would feel okay about it, but I think in reality we shouldn’t feel okay about it. We need to go back and really focus on getting better.”

Still looking to score his first career win, Elliott goes into Talladega next weekend with an average finish of 16.3 this season.

Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-three finishers at Richmond and came into the night as one of the favorites. The driver from Virginia led six circuits of the race and scored his fifth top 10 finish of the year.

Drivers Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five finishers on Saturday. Both Logano and Harvick led a combined total of 100 laps in their Ford machines.

Other than the two stage breaks at lap 100 and 200, there were no yellow flags for an on-track incident until 47 laps remaining. The first yellow flag was displayed on lap 353 for a three car incident involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cole Whitt and Ryan Blaney. Each of these drivers involved were able to continue with their night.

Fluid brought out the yellow on lap 367 and an on-track incident involving David Ragan brought out the next one on lap 389. The final caution came out on lap 395 for an incident involving Ryan Newman dropping fluid on the track and sending the race into NASCAR Overtime. Newman went to the garage and finished 37th on the leaderboard.

The next race will be at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 29. The Geico 500 will air live on FOX and MRN at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Martin Truex Jr. will start on the pole at Richmond Raceway on Saturday in the No. 78 5-hour Energy / Bass Pro Shops Toyota. Truex, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, will start on the pole for the third time of the season in the premier series after posting a 21.799, 123.859 mph. in the final round.

Truex led round one and sat fourth in round two. The series veteran enters the weekend with five top five and five top 10 finishes through eight races this year.

Chase Elliott will start second on the race leaderboard after a 21.841, 123.621 mph. in the final round of knockout qualifying. The driver of the No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet comes into Richmond Raceway looking to score his first career win in the premier series and sat 0.042 seconds behind pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. The young racer has one top five and three top 10 finishes this season.

Joey Logano will round out the top three starters on Saturday in the No. 22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford. Logano posted a 21.848, 123.581 mph. in the the final round to take the third starting spot. The driver from Connecticut sat sixth in round one and third in round two.

Round two leader Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson will round out the top five starters.

Several big name drivers failed to make the second round of qualifying and will start 25th on back. Some of these drivers included Aric Almirola (25th), Daniel Suarez (26th), Brad Keselowski (28th), Kasey Kahne (29th), Kyle Busch (32nd) and AJ Allmendinger (33rd).

Daniel Hemric will be making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut and will start 22nd on Saturday. Hemric finished round one sitting 23rd in the No. 8 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

There were no DNQ’s as 38 drivers appeared on the weekend entry list.

Ryan Preece went to victory lane on Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway driving the No. 18 Rheem Toyota. Preece, from Connecticut, led the field for 39 circuits to score his second career NASCAR XFINITY Series win.

“Words can’t even describe. My mom’s super happy, my dad’s super happy – I’m 27 years old and I’m not getting any younger,” said Preece after the win in victory lane. “I’m looking for opportunities. We did it last year at Iowa and now we did it here at Bristol. I hope I don’t get labeled as a short track racer, I want to win on mile-and-a-halves soon. Nothing beats winning. That’s what I told somebody earlier today. They asked me what was the most exciting thing and I said winning – I hate losing more than winning. Today we did it.”

The young driver also took home the $100,000 cash bonus as a result of the win. Preece says he will probably use the money for his family and team for all of their hard work and dedication given to him.

“You know what, probably do something for my parents, my brothers, my wife and my team,” said Preece regarding the bonus prize money. “We’re going to go get something to drink later. Man, I can’t thank Eric Phillip (crew chief) enough. I know he works his butt off, he doesn’t just sit behind a desk, he’s out there in the shop working hard and I have a lot of respect for him. It was a good run for us, good run for my teammate Brandon (Jones). If that caution hadn’t come out, he had it in the bag. He’ll be up there soon enough.”

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Brandon Jones and Matt Tifft traded the lead four times within the final 115 laps of the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300. With 10 laps remaining, Tifft passed Jones for the top spot before parking his No 18 Toyota in victory lane. As for Jones, piloting the No. 19 Toyota, he’ll leave with a sixth-place finish.

Justin Allgaier nearly took the lead away from Tifft in the closing laps after a restart with around 10 laps remaining. However, as the run went on, Allgaier couldn’t gain any more momentum on the race leader and settled for the second spot. The driver from Illinois will leave the 0.533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway with his fourth top five finish of the year through seven races.

Daniel Hemric will round out the top three finishers on Saturday at Bristol. The young racer spent 61 laps of the race at the front of the field and was one of the drivers to watch coming into the event.

With seven events completed this season, Hemric, from North Carolina, has three top five and five top 10 finishes so far in 2018.

Elliott Sadler and Spencer Gallagher will round out the top-five finishers on Saturday.

Numerous drivers throughout the day were involved in caution flags as a result of hard racing. The first one of the day involved nine cars on the frontstretch six laps into the event that involved heavy hitters Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell and Ty Majeski.

Another incident on the backstretch on lap 59 impacted big names. The four-car incident included John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier, Matt Tifft and Elliott Sadler. Each driver was able to continue with their respective days – at least for now.

Tifft’s day continued to worsen as the No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing drew the yellow flag on lap 67. With all of the struggles early on, Tifft and the No. 2 team went to the garage area and finished with a 35th-place finish.

Another yellow flag on lap 102 involved a number of potential race winners including Justin Allgaier on the backstretch. It also included Brandon Jones, Ty Majeski, John Hunter Nemechek and others. All these drivers continued with their days.

A yellow on lap 142 involved three cars in turn three. Among those involved included Christopher Bell, Vinnie Miller and Cody Ware and resulted in a seven minute and one second red flag period. Bell, one of the expected championship contenders this season, finished 29th on the leaderboard as a result of a DNF. Miller and Ware went on to finish 33rd and 30th.

The next race for the series will be on Friday, April 20 at Richmond Raceway. The ToyotaCare 250 will air live on FS1 and MRN Radio at 7:00 p.m. ET.

NASCAR announced penalties following its weekend of racing at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday morning. The penalties included a number of indefinite suspensions and one violation discovered during post-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series inspection.

NASCAR members Mason Mitchell, not ARCA Racing Series driver and owner, Charles Moles and Jeremy Murphy, have all been suspended indefinitely for violating NASCAR’s Substance Abuse Policy.

The penalty in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage was for the No. 9 Chevrolet of Chase Elliott. Crew chief Alan Gustafson will be suspended for the next two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races and fined $50,000. Team will also lose 20 driver and owner points as a result for violating section (Rear Window Support and Structure Note: Rear Window Support Braces must keep the rear window glass rigid in all direction at all times.)

Hendrick Motorsports later issued the following statement:

“Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty announced today by NASCAR stemming from an unintentional support bracket failure at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kenny Francis, 48, has been named interim crew chief of the No. 9 NASCAR Cup Series team with driver Chase Elliott for the April 15 event at Bristol Motor Speedway and the April 21 event at Richmond Raceway. The Jacksonville, Florida, native, who was Elliott’s crew chief for five points races in 2015 and one in 2017, currently serves as Hendrick Motorsports’ vehicle technical director and has 17 wins, 75 top-five finishes and 149 top-10s as a Cup Series crew chief.”

There were no penalties found in the NASCAR XFINITY Series garage.

Kyle Busch lassoed the field on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway to capture his 44th career victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Busch, a native of Las Vegas, led the field for 116 circuits on Sunday to score his third win at the 1.5-mile oval after starting eighth on the grid.

“They were probably just a tick faster overall, but I just had to make sure to do everything I could to hit all my marks and everything to focus on making sure that I did the right things to block his air a little bit,” said Busch in victory lane after the race. “This Interstate Batteries Camry was really awesome today. Really want to thank Interstate. It’s their hometown. This has been a trying couple of months I guess. You know after Daytona, we’ve just been on a roll of finishing really good and getting really pumped and excited about that and the momentum we were able to carry, but frustrated at the same time trying to get to Victory Lane.”

The series veteran will leave Texas with a win, five top five and six top 10 finishes through seven races in 2018. Going into Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend, a track where Busch has gone to victory lane at six times in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Busch holds an average finish of 6.0 in 2018.

Kevin Harvick came into the day as one of the favorites to win. However, despite leading the field for 87 circuits after a runner-up start, Harvick and the No. 4 team experienced pit road issues that later determined a second-place finish for the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

“Kyle’s car was good enough to where he could get out there and run pretty good in clean air,” said Harvick after the race. “It took us the whole run to be able to get everything back together and do everything we needed to do to make up a position. We weren’t as good behind him as we were in front of him. His car would run fast enough. There is only so much you can make up.”

On lap 237, Harvick was hit with a tire violation that sent him to the tail of the field. Harvick also described issues with the pit guns that he felt prevented them from going to victory lane.

“We did overcome a lot. That was unfortunate. We had a pathetic day on pit road, two days on pit road because of pit guns,” Harvick added. “When you have a pit gun problem like we have multiple times and been able to overcome it and then today we couldn’t overcome it. Time after time you can’t get the lug nuts tight because the pit guns don’t work.”  

Jamie McMurray rounded out the top three finishers on Sunday at Texas. McMurray, from Joplin, Missouri, captured his first top five and top 10 finish of the new season after starting the afternoon in 24th.

“We just had a really good car and were able to miss some of those accidents,” said McMurray after posting the third-place finish. “The off-weekend couldn’t have come at a better time for us.  We had such a horrible season going and it’s awesome to run as good as we did today at a 1.5-mile. We have so many of these and I feel like we have been a little bit behind on the 1.5-miles but had a really good run today.”

Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five finishers.

Numerous heavy hitters going into the weekend found trouble all throughout the 500-mile event. That included Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman with blown right-front tires. Other drivers being involved in accidents included Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne. Each of these drivers were able to walk away uninjured.

Truex and Larson described their separate incidents that resulted in a right-front tire failure.

“Well, just blew a right-front tire out of nowhere. Not sure what happened there - if we run something over or what,” said Truex after the heavy impact with the outside wall. “I think the first set of tires that came off the car looked great. We were just making our way towards the front. I think we were second when we blew a tire there. Would’ve been nice to have at least finished that first stage before it happened, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

“Yeah, I’m okay thankfully. Thanks to NASCAR and their safety because that was a huge hit,” said Larson after falling out of the race on lap 128. “Just hate that I blew a right-front (tire) there.  I was pretty tight but didn’t really expect to blow a right-front. Restarted up front there and was just really tight for a few laps and then actually got going pretty good. Just needed to get by Joey (Logano) there and I felt like I was one of the faster cars out there.  So, felt like we could have had a shot at the end of the race, but it was cut short.”

The fifth caution flag of the day involved a number of drivers that took out numerous contenders and drew a 11-minute and five-second red flag period. That wreck in turn four involved Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, David Ragan and Jimmie Johnson.

Because of the accident on lap 179, Almirola’s streak of six top 15 finishes since the beginning of 2018 came to an end at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. The No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford left the 1.5-mile oval with a 32nd-place finish.

“We just come to these repaves and we are going really fast and all fighting for the bottom lane and the second lane isn’t as good and the third lane is really not as good,” Almirola said describing the incident. “So we got down to turn three and I was trying to be smart and be patient and we still have a long way to go in the race. I backed out of it to let the 18 have the second lane and the 11 just got loose under me. It was a frustrating end of the day for us. Our Smithfield Ford Fusion was fast and I hate that we didn’t convert today into a top-10 if not better than that. We definitely had a car capable of a really good result today and unfortunately have nothing to show for it.”

Keselowski offered his view of what happened in front of his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.

“Somebody got loose and the next thing I knew there was a big mess in front of me and it was either pick left or pick right and I made a quick decision to pick right and it was the wrong decision,” said Keselowski. “Tough break. I hate it for everybody on the team. We were sludging along with the Miller Lite Ford, right in that fifth to 10th range every day and we just didn’t make it through.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. brought home an eighth-place finish at Texas to score his second top 10 finish of the season. Wallace, who finished runner-up in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, started 15th on the leaderboard in his No. 43 Chevrolet and was running inside the top three late into the running. However, following the restart with 23 laps to go, Wallace slipped down the leaderboard to the eighth position.

“Absolutely.  Hell yeah, we needed that.  That was a good week off for us to re-group.  The guys did a hell of a job all weekend long,” said Wallace after the long Sunday afternoon. “I thought we had pretty decent speed and a lot of people in the garage were like ‘your car is pretty good, so just don’t mess it up.’  I had a couple of opportunities there, especially the first stop coming down, but our Click N’ Close Chevrolet was pretty decent all day for us. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) did a great job doing some pit strategy on that last call to get us out there to fourth.  I don’t know if we were on the splitter on that last run, but she just wouldn’t turn going down into the corners and gave up a couple of spots. I will beat myself up over that one, but still walking away with my first top 10 in the Cup Series is pretty good.”

The series will now head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500. Coverage will begin at 2:00 p.m. ET. on FOX and PRN Radio.

NASCAR cut Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying short on Friday as late afternoon storms containing lightning popped up around the area of Texas Motor Speedway. The qualifying session, consisting of only one of three rounds, was led by Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kurt Busch.

Busch earned his first pole of the season in the No. 41 Ford after posting a 27.360, 197.368 mph. in the one and only round. The series veteran goes into the 1.5-mile oval in Texas looking to capture his first top five and third top 10 finish of the season.

The next two starting spots are held by Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. The two drivers in second and third enter the weekend with momentum after scoring wins in four of the six completed events.

Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola will start 12th on the leaderboard on Sunday. Almirola is one of the drivers to watch as the No. 10 Ford has driven to top 15 finishes in all six MENCS races so far this year. The driver from Florida posted a 27.693, 194.995 mph. in the one round.

Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. will round out the top five starters.

There were no DNQs as 37 drivers are on the weekend entry list.

Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team continues to show improvement with five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races completed in 2018. Almirola left Richard Petty Motorsports in the offseason to join Stewart-Haas Racing with the departure of Danica Patrick. With five events completed, the driver of the No. 10 Ford has two top 10 finishes.

The Florida native nearly went to victory lane in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in the Daytona 500. However, while leading on the last lap going into turn three, Almirola and driver Austin Dillon made contact – sending Almirola into the wall and leaving the 2.5-mile oval with an 11th place finish. As for Dillion, he went on to win the 60th annual event.

Since joining the Stewart-Haas Racing stable, a four-car Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series operation, Almirola has the most resources than ever before in the series. The series veteran with a victory at Daytona in July of 2014 says it’s been incredible and noted how Stewart-Haas Racing conforms around each of their drivers driving style.

“They’ve got fast race cars and they’ve got really smart people and they’ll be able to conform and work around my style and that I don’t have to adapt and drive like anybody else.  That’s been the most eye-opening thing for me is that all of those guys are always fast and they always run up front and they qualify up front and they race up front and they all do something different, they all require something different setup-wise, they all do something different on their driver data, so that’s giving me a lot of confidence to just be me, to just go over there and drive the race car like I know how, give them feedback on what I want the race car to do different and they’ll work around it, and we have a group of people and smart people and really fast race cars to be able to adapt.”

With the exception of Phoenix, Almirola hasn’t done statistically well at Daytona, Atlanta, Las Vegas or Fontana. Since the start of the season in 2018, the driver has brought home five consecutive top-15 finishes all on those tracks. Almirola talked about how his confidence is building back up now after joining the new environment and finding success early on at those tracks.

“There was a day and time when I showed up at the race track in other series and I had loads of confidence and knew that I was gonna run good no matter what, and I have been beat down for sure racing at this level over the last several years just not producing the results. That’s hard to swallow. When you grow up and you win races and win state championships and national championships and racing go-karts and racing late models and you’re successful and you work your way up through the ranks and then you get all the way here to the elite and 20th is a good day, that’s hard to adjust to that mentality and it does take a toll on your confidence.  So it is gonna take a while to build my confidence back up and get to where I need to be to.”

Almirola says it’s everything behind the scenes at the shop that is contributing to their performance and building confidence. People, resources, wind tunnel time, engineering and attention to every part and piece on the car. All of the things needed to be successful in the sport of NASCAR both from a team and driver standpoint

“You just walk in the shop and it’s everything.  It’s people.  It’s resources.  It’s wind tunnel time.  It’s engineering.  It’s the attention to detail to every part and piece on the race car and in order to do that you have to have manpower capable of doing that.  You can’t take a group of 30 people and make them focus on the thousands of parts and pieces that are on the race car, but you can take 400 people and do that, so increased manpower, increased resources and engineering and technology I think pretty much sums it up.”

The series will re-visit Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas later in 2018. Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway will not return to the series schedule until 2019. As for this weekend at Martinsville, a track that has been good to the driver in the past, it could result in their first top five of the season if all things go right.

In October of 2012, while racing under the Richard Petty Motorsports banner, Almirola took the No. 43 Ford to a fourth place finish. In April of that year, the driver posted an eighth on the leaderboard.

Holding an average finish of 22.4 at the 0.526-mile oval, Almirola finished 18th in both races at Martinsville Speedway last season. Overall, in 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts there, the driver has one top five and three top 10 finishes.

“I really look forward to going to Martinsville. Every time we go there, it’s just fun racing. It’s a love-hate relationship with Martinsville Speedway because it’s tight quarters and it’s easy to get frustrated. You kind of beat and bang with all of your competitors but it’s so cool. It’s one of the coolest places to watch a race, as well.”

This weekend will also serve as a milestone start for the driver. Almirola, since making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2007, will be making his 250th career start in the premier series.

“I wanted to be dirty and work on racecars. I didn’t care if I made $200 a week, or $200,000 a week. It honestly made no difference to me, I didn’t care. I just wanted to make a living, to be able to wake up in the morning and be a racer. To be able to do it at this level, and to have stayed in the Cup Series for this amount of time and have this opportunity in front of me, it’s incredible to think about my 250th start. I now realize when I look in the mirror and I see the gray hair in my sideburns and in my beard, it all makes sense.”

Since his debut in 2007, Almirola holds one victory, 11 top five, 34 top 10s and one career pole.


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