With Kyle Busch’s victory last weekend at Kansas Speedway, the list of Sprint Cup Series winners this season is holding steady at six. If there are eleven new names in Victory Lane over the final fifteen regular-season races, then there’ll be one driver with a race win to his credit that will not get a spot on the 2016 Chase Grid – which will include only the sixteen top eligible drivers based primarily on race wins. The list of drivers who won last season but are still without a victory in 2016 includes Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Junior, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Junior … Of those five drivers, Logano is the only one who’s not yet tasted victory in a Cup Series race at “The Monster Mile,” though he’s won four X-FINITY Series races there.
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Kyle Busch passed Tony Stewart for his final lead of the night thirty-seven laps from the finish and kept the Number-18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in front the rest of the way Saturday at Kansas Speedway, notching his third victory of the season. Busch started sixth, took his first lead just twenty-six laps into the race and beat runner-up Kevin Harvick to the checkered flag by one-point- one seconds. It’s Busch’s thirty- seventh career Cup Series victory but his first in seventeen starts on the Kansas City oval. Kurt Busch finished third with Matt Kenseth – one of Kyle Busch’s J-G- R teammates – grabbing fourth place.
Rookie Ryan Blaney completed the top five. Pole sitter Martin Truex Junior led a race-high 172 laps and seemed headed for his first victory of the season. But with less than sixty laps remaining, Truex was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel on his Number-78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota. After returning to the track, Truex could do no better than fourteenth in the final running order.
Harvick’s second-place finish was enough to keep him atop the regular-season standings, though his lead over Busch has shrunk to four points … Through the first eleven races of the season, there have been six race winners: Busch, with a series-leading three victories … Harvick, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin … There were three drivers in the field who consider Kansas Speedway their “home track” and none cracked the top ten Saturday night. Edwards (Columbia, Missouri) finished eleventh, Clint Bowyer (Emporia, Kansas) ran nineteenth and Jamie McMurray (Joplin, Missouri) placed twenty-first.
Next stop Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Food City 500, eighth race of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series and the second of six short-track races on the schedule. Matt Kenseth is the defending winner. Last year, Kenseth started from the pole and also went to Victory Lane – becoming the first driver to win the track’s spring race from the Number-1 starting spot since Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace in 1999 … The burning question this weekend? Can anyone cool off a red-hot Kyle Busch? The reigning Sprint Cup champion has back-to-back weekend sweeps – winning the last two Cup Series races, a Camping World Truck Series event at Martinsville Speedway and last weekend’s X-FINITY Series race in Texas. Busch has seventeen Bristol wins across NASCAR’s three national series: five Sprint Cup victories, eight in the X-FINITY Series and four Truck Series wins.
Next stop Martinsville Speedway for Sunday’s S-T-P 500, sixth race of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series and the first of the season on a short track. Martinsville was the venue for one of the most dramatic moments of 2015 as Matt Kenseth put the brakes on Joey Logano’s three-race post-season winning streak.
Kenseth drove into the back of race leader Logano less than fifty laps from the finish of the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 on November 1st – sending Logano into the wall and to the garage for repairs as the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began. Kenseth’s car was crippled from earlier contact with Brad Keselowski and he was running many laps down to Logano when they made contact, a retaliatory move on Kenseth’s part after the two had also gotten together two weeks earlier at Kansas Speedway.
Logano started from the pole and led 207 of the 454 laps that were run before Kenseth sent him into the wall and to the bottom of the Chase standings. Kenseth drew a two-race suspension for his actions. Logano had been one of the hottest drivers in the post-season but never recovered, failing to qualify for The Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and finishing sixth in the final standings.
The NASCAR X-Finity Series also visits Auto Club Speedway this weekend for Saturday’s Treat My Clot-dot-com 300. Kevin Harvick is the defending winner and returns seeking back-to-back victories driving the Number-88 Junior Motorsports Chevrolet. If successful, he would become just the fourth driver to double up there since Auto Club Speedway first hosted the X-FINITY Series in 1997: joining Matt Kenseth, who went back-to-back in 1999 and 2000.
Greg Biffle, who swept both races in 2004 … and Kyle Busch in 2008 and 2009, and again in 2010 and 2011 … Toyota has won nine of the last eleven X-FINITY Series races contested on the two-mile Southern California oval with six of those wins courtesy of Busch – who also has three poles at A-C-S. Each time he’s started an X-FINITY Series race from the Number-1 spot, that’s also where he’s finished the race.
Next up, Auto Club Speeday for Sunday’s Auto Club 400, fifth race of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series and the last stop of a three-week tour of the western United States. Brad Keselowski was victorious in Las Vegas and Kevin Harvick won last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Sunday’s race will be contested on a wide, fast two-mile superspeedway – where Keselowski will be seeking his second straight victory. In winning last year’s race, the Team Penske driver gave Ford its first Fontana victory in the Sprint Cup Series since Matt Kenseth drove a Jack Roush-owned entry into the Winner’s Circle in 2009.
Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with five wins at A-C-S and Rick Hendrick is Number-1 among team owners with nine victories … Kyle Busch continues to show early-season muscle in defense of his 2015 championship, posting four straight top-five finishes. He enters the weekend tied with Harvick for first place in the standings. They’re fourteen points ahead of third-place Johnson. Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards round out the top five. Edwards’ total of three top-five finishes through the first four races of the season is second only to Kyle Busch, who owns the Sprint Cup Series qualifying record at Auto Club Speedway. His quick lap of 188.245 miles per hour from 2005 still stands – eleven years later.
Next Stop… Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 the third race of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series and the second weekend for NASCAR’s new low-downforce rules package. Teams had a pair of practice sessions on Thursday with Jimmie Johnson posting the fastest overall speed of 192.981 miles per hour. Aric Almirola, Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Matt Kenseth completed the top five. Joey Logano had the fastest average speed over ten consecutive laps, 187.604 miles per hour.
Kevin Harvick, the defending race winner, failed to crack the top ten in either of Thursday’s two sessions. In last year’sKobalt 400, Harvick started eighteenth and finished first. Jeff Gordon started first and finished eighteenth.
Hamlin hit the wall during Thursday afternoon’s test session. His Number-11 Joe Gibbs Racing team will use a back-up Toyota this weekend. Teams will get ninety more minutes of practice today before qualifying late this afternoon. Kasey Kahne has the track record for poles with three, one ahead of Kyle Busch – who’s the only Cup Series driver to win a race in Vegas after starting from the pole position. That victory came in 2009.
Johnson leads all drivers with four wins at L-V-M-S, including a run of three straight from 2005 through 2007.
He’s coming off his seventy-sixth career win last weekend in Atlanta, which tied the late Dale Earnhardt for seventh place on NASCAR’s all-time list. The last driver with back-to-back wins in the Sprint Cup Series is Logano, who put three victories in a row together during last year’s post-season Chase.
Matt Kenseth’s two-race suspension was upheld Thursday after NASCAR heard both appeals that were available to Joe Gibbs Racing. Bryan Moss, the national motor sports final appeals officer, did shorten Kenseth’s probation period from six months to two. He was suspended after intentionally wrecking race leader Joey Logano in the late stages of last weekend’s Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Erik Jones, currently leading the Camping World Truck Series standings, will drive Kenseth’s Number-20 Toyota in Sunday’s Triple-A Texas 500.
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