In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Talladega

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Photo by: Chris Graythen

The second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs took place in Talladega, Alabama, where the winner was decided in overtime.

Two teammates are featured in this week’s Top 5, along with three drivers who earned or matched their best finish of the season.

No. 1 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola finally visited Victory Lane on Sunday, snapping a four year, 149-race winless streak.

Almirola led the final lap in overtime to earn him his second career victory, passing teammate Kurt Busch for the win after his fellow teammate ran out of fuel on the final restart.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 and Stage 2, with a fourth place finish in each segment.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earns a place into the next round of the MENCS Playoffs with his victory. He is fifth in the standings, 41 points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer earned his first top-five in eight races at Talladega Super Speedway, finishing second.

Bowyer ran alongside his teammates in a near perfect strategy that dominated the field throughout 500 miles at the 2.66-mile track.

Bowyer earned stage points with second place finishes in Stage 1 and Stage 2. Bowyer held a fourth place average position on Sunday.

Bowyer is sixth in the standings, 42 points behind Harvick and one point behind Almirola.

No. 3 Regan Smith – Regan Smith earned his first top 10 since earning third at Pocono Raceway in August of 2016.

Smith, who will be finishing the year in the No. 95 for the sidelined Kasey Kahne, ran as high as sixth.

How will Smith perform next week at Kansas? He has one top-10 finish at the 1.5-mile track, a seventh place result in 2012 racing for Furniture Row Racing.

No. 4 Brendan Gaughan – Brendan Gaughan tied his best finish in four starts this season, finishing 12th at Talladega.

Gaughan led one lap on Sunday on Lap 139. His average at the super speedway was 24th.

The finish is Gaughan’s best since earning a top five more than a decade ago.

No. 5 Trevor Bayne – Trevor Bayne earned his fifth top-15 finish of the season on Sunday, finishing the event in 13th place.

Bayne gained 25 positions from his 38th finish at the track in the spring. He ran as high as 10th during the 1000Bulbs.com 500.

Bayne will be back in the No. 6 Ford for his 20th race this season at Kansas Speedway. In seven starts, he has one top 10.

Notable: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned his third top-five finish of the year, and first since finishing fifth at Talladega in the spring. He finished third on Sunday. His other top five came at Bristol in the spring.

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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Dover

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Photo by: Chris Trotman 

The first race in the Round of 12 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs went into overtime on Sunday to determine a winner.

Five playoff contenders were involved in a wreck with two laps remaining in the Gander Outdoors 400, one of them made this week’s Top 5.

No. 1 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch earned his 24th top 10 of the season on Sunday at Dover International Speedway, finishing eighth.

Busch earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (seventh). He led three times for a total of 21 laps.

Busch is second in the playoff standings, five points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch earned his sixth top-five finish of the season on Sunday, finishing in fifth.

Busch earned stage points in Stage 1 (eighth) and Stage 2 (sixth).

Busch is sixth in the standings, tied with Brad Keselowski, 47 points behind Harvick and two points behind race winner Chase Elliott in fifth.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola continues to dominate in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, with misfortunes keeping him from snapping a 149-race winless streak.

Almirola was involved in a five-car crash on Lap 398 of 400, which resulted in the Stewart-Haas Racing driver finishing in 13th place.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (fifth), with an average position of sixth place.

Almirola is tied for ninth in the standings with teammate Clint Bowyer, 68 points behind Harvick and 10 points from Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney.

No. 4 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his seventh top-five finish of the season at the Monster Mile, finishing in the fourth position.

Jones failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as third during the Gander Outdoors 400. He gained 14 positions from five months ago, when he finished 18th.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is 16th is the standings, 15 points behind teammate Denny Hamlin.

No. 5 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon earned his sixth top-10 finish of 2018, finishing in seventh place.

Dillon failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but ran as high as fifth and was 12th mid-way through the event.

Dillon is 13th in the standings, 1,000 points behind Harvick.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Charlotte Roval

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Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

The inaugural Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway did not disappoint on Sunday, providing excitement and drama down to the final lap during the first elimination race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The remaining positions to the Round of 12 were constantly changing and came down to a last lap move for the win that took out the top contenders.

Five different organizations are featured in this week’s Top 5, including two drivers are in the search of a new ride in 2019.

No. 1 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman earned his third top-five finish during the Bank of America Roval 400, finishing in the fourth position.

Bowman earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (eighth).

Bowman advances to the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. He is 12th in the points, 55 points behind leader Kyle Busch.

No. 2 AJ Allmendinger – AJ Allmendinger earned his fourth top 10 of the season, finishing seventh.

Allmendinger earned stage points in Stage 1 (eighth). He held a 15th place average throughout the event.

How will he do at Dover? He holds three top-five finishes in 21 starts.

No. 3 Ryan Blaney – Ryan Blaney earned his first win of 2018 on Sunday, leading 16 laps toward the victory.

Blaney was running third when Jimmie Johnson spun at the frontstretch chicane, collecting the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr. in the process.

That put the win right in the hands of Blaney, who didn’t make a mistake and joined Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano as winners of the season.

With his second career victory, Blaney advances to the Round of 12 in the MENCS Playoffs. He is eighth in the points, 42 points behind Busch and one point behind Logano and Kurt Busch, who are tied for seventh.

No. 4 Jamie McMurray – Jamie McMurray earned his second top-five finish of the 2018 season, finishing in the runner-up position to winner Ryan Blaney.

McMurray failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but was fifth midway through the event and held a 10th place average through 109 laps.

McMurray currently does not have a ride for next year. Will he be able to improve his results to land him a ride?

No. 5 Regan Smith – Regan Smith earned his second top-15 in just four starts with Leavine Family Racing, finishing 15th.

Smith failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as 15th on Sunday.

Notable: Jimmie Johnson failed to advance into the Round of 12 because of his last lap spin. The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished in the eighth position, while Truex finished 14th.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Richmond

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Photo by: Robert Laberge  

The second race in the Round of 16 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs was dominated by the Big 3, with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch taking the victory.

The Big 3 of Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. finished 1-2-3, combining for 295 laps led.

Two of Harvick’s teammates make this week’s Top 5, as well as a former three-time winner at Richmond Raceway.

No. 1 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer struggled throughout the beginning of Saturday night’s race, finishing outside the top 10 in Stage 1 and Stage 2.

Bowyer earned a 10th place finish despite his struggles, gaining 14 positions from one year ago.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver sits 13th in the playoff standings heading into the elimination road course race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He is four points behind Ryan Blaney, who is in the cutoff position.

No. 2 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola earned his second top-5 finish of the season, finishing in the fifth position.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (third).

Almirola is sixth in the playoff standings, two points from Joey Logano in fifth and 62 points behind leader Martin Truex Jr.

No. 3 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson earned his ninth top-10 of 2018 on Saturday, finishing eighth.

Johnson, a three time winner at Richmond Raceway, failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but finished Stage 2 in the eighth position.

Johnson is one of four drivers below the cutoff heading in Sunday’s elimination event. He sits 14th, six points behind Blaney.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon finished in the sixth position on Saturday, earning him his fifth top 10 of the season.

Dillon failed to earn stage points in Stage 1 and Stage 2, but gained 15 positions from his finish at the .75-mile track one year ago.

The Richard Childress Racing driver is tied with Chase Elliott in the playoff standings for ninth, 75 points behind Truex.

No. 5 Martin Truex Jr. – Martin Truex Jr. dominated at Richmond Raceway once again, leading 163 of 400 laps.

Truex earned stage points by winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2, before bringing his No. 78 Auto-Owner’s Insurance Toyota home to a third place finish.

Truex remains the points leader by 16 points over race winner Kyle Busch and 28 points over Harvick.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Las Vegas

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Photo by: Chris Graythen  

The first race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs was a wild and exciting start to the post-season. Several playoff contenders were taken out during the South Point 400, ranging from be a victim of someone else’s misfortune to blown tires.

Four of the five drivers in this week’s Top 5 earned best finishes, including Saturday’s Xfinity Series winner in the DC Solar 300.

No. 1 Regan Smith – Regan Smith finished in the 12th position on Sunday in just his second race of the season, subbing for the sidelined Kasey Kahne.

Smith led 10 laps during the South Point 400. The 34-year-old has at least three more races in the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing, including the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

It’ll be interesting to see what Smith does with his time in the car from here. His best finish was 17th at Dover in 2012.

No. 2 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez earned his seventh top-10 finish of the season, finishing eighth.

Suarez failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but ran as high as fourth. He gained 18 positions from his finish at the 1.5-mile track earlier this year.

The finish is the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s best since finishing fourth at Watkins Glen in one month ago.

No. 3 Ross Chastain – Ross Chastain may not want to leave Vegas after a thrilling weekend in Sin City.

Chastain freshly came off his first career win in Saturday’s Xfinity event to race on Sunday, where he finished 20th.

Chastain ran as high as 13th on Sunday throughout 400 miles. The finish is his best since finishing 18th at Texas in April.

No. 4 Corey LaJoie– Corey LaJoie’s 16th place finish is the driver’s second-best finish of his career, and best since finishing 11th at Daytona last summer.

LaJoie held a 29th place average position throughout the race, but ran as high as fifth on Sunday.

How will LaJoie fair at Richmond and will the momentum carry over into Richmond?

No. 5 Trevor Bayne – Trevor Bayne earned a top-15 finish at Las Vegas on Sunday, finishing in the 13th position.

Bayne has finished in the top 15 two weeks in a row, and ran as high as third on Sunday.

Can Bayne earn his first top-10 finish of the season next weekend at Richmond?

Notable: Brad Keselowski’s win on Sunday in Las Vegas was the driver’s third consecutive win of the season. It also marked the 500th victory for team owner Roger Penske.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Watkins Glen

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Photo by: Robert Laberge 

The Go Bowling at the Glen produced a first time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday in New York.

A youngster dominated and held off defending champion Martin Truex Jr. to earn his first victory in the series at Watkins Glen International.

Three young guns, including Sunday’s winner, a former MENCS champion, and a veteran make up this week’s Top 5.

No. 1 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski’s finish on Sunday wasn’t stellar to his standards, however it was an improvement compared to last week.

Keselowski gained 21 positions from his finish at Pocono. He earned stage points in Stage 1 with a fifth place finish. He ran as high as fourth before finishing in 17th.

The Team Penske driver is 10th in the playoff standings with four races to go in the regular season, 264 points behind leader Kyle Busch.

No. 2 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson earned his 12th top-10 finish of the season on Sunday, finishing in sixth place.

Larson failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but earned them in Stage 2 with an eighth place finish.

Larson’s finish at the Glen is the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s best finish since his debut in 2014, when he finished fourth at the 2.450-mile road course.

Larson is 11th in the playoff standings, 274 points behind Busch and 10 points from Keselowski.

No. 3 Jamie McMurray – Jamie McMurray earned his fourth top 10 of 2018, finishing seventh.

McMurray failed to earn stage points in Stage 1 on Sunday, but earned them in Stage 2 with sixth place.

McMurray earned his first top-10 finish in seven races, his last coming at Michigan in June when he finished in 10th place.

McMurray is 22nd in the points standings, 524 points behind Busch and 51 points from the cutoff position.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is going to need a win to advance into the playoffs. Can he get it done at Michigan this weekend? He has two top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes at the two-mile track.

No. 4 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott earned his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Watkins Glen.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver dominated in his 99th series start, leading 52 of 90 laps.

Elliott finished outside the top 10 in Stage 1, but captured his third stage win of the season during Stage 2.

Elliott secured his place into the playoffs with the win. He sits sixth in the playoff standings, 315 points behind Busch and 72 points from Joey Logano in fifth.

No. 5 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman hasn’t raced at Watkins Glen in three years, but that didn’t stop the 25-year-old from earning his best finish there.

Bowman earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh), before finishing 14th on Sunday.

The HMS driver is in the cutoff position in the playoff standings by 62 points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Pocono

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Photo by: Jared C. Tilton 

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returned to Pocono Raceway, where the “Big 3” continued their dominance, with Kyle Busch taking the checkers and earning his sixth victory of the season.

Ironically, none of the Big 3 make this week’s Top 5, but two of Busch’s teammates do.

Two Hendrick Motorsports drivers along with a Richard Childress Racing driver are featured below.

No. 1 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez earned his second top five of 2018, finishing in the runner-up position after leading 29 laps in the Gander Outdoors 400.

Suarez earned stage points in Stage 1 with fifth and gained 22 positions from his finish at the 2.5-mile track in early June.

Suarez is 20th in the point standings, 491 points behind leader Kyle Busch and 40 points from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard, who are tied in the cutoff position in 16th place.

No. 2 William Byron – William Byron led 10 laps on Sunday before finishing in the sixth position, earning him his first top 10 since finishing 10th at Texas Motor Speedway in April.

Byron earned stage points in Stage 2 with a 10th place finish. The Hendrick Motorsports driver held an average position of 14th throughout 400 miles.

Byron is 21st in the point standings, 501 points behind Busch and 50 points from Stenhouse and Menard.

No. 3 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman earned his second top-five finish of the season, finishing third.

Bowman earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (fourth). He had an average position of ninth and was 13th midway through the event.

Bowman sits 15th in the point standings, 395 points behind Busch and 116 points behind Ryan Blaney in 10th.

No. 4 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin earned his 11th top-10 finish of the year, finishing in 10th place.

Hamlin earned stage points with a third-place finish in Stage 1. He also led five laps on Sunday.

Hamlin is ninth in the point standings, 273 points behind his teammate and 59 points away from fifth.

No. 5 Ryan Newman – Ryan Newman finished eighth on Sunday, earning him his sixth top 10 of the season.

Newman failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as seventh with an average position of 15th.

Newman is 18th in the point standings, 483 points behind Busch and 32 points from the cutoff position.

Notables: Bubba Wallace finished in 33rd place after crashing out on Lap 154. Wallace went sliding through the grass at the end of the frontstretch before slamming his No. 43 Chevrolet into the outside wall.

Wallace did not lower his window net down immediately, but finally climbed from his car and sat on the asphalt before climbing into an ambulance.

7-time MENCS champion Jimmie Johnson made his 600th career start on Sunday, finishing 17th.