In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Texas

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff event at Texas Motor Speedway held no limits for the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford of Kevin Harvick.

Harvick swept both stages on Sunday before claiming his eighth victory of 2018 and 45th series win of his career.

Harvick earned his ticket to race for the second title of his career, but one of this week’s Top 5 is on the outside looking in. Plus, which drivers outside the playoffs are still not letting running for a championship get the best of them.

No. 1 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson earned his 11th top-five finish of the season on Sunday in No Limits Texas, finishing in the fifth position.

Larson failed to earn stage points at the 1.5-mile track, but gained 32 positions from his finish one year ago, when a late crash took him out of contention.

Larson is 12th in the point standings, nine points behind Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin.

No. 2 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola earned his 15th top-10 finish of 2018 on Sunday during the AAA Texas 500, finishing eighth.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (10th) and Stage 2 (sixth), despite battling from the back of the field due to an unapproved adjustment.

Almirola is in a must-win situation to advance in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He is seventh in the point standings, 75 points behind leader Kevin Harvick and 51 points from the fourth place cutoff.

No. 3 Paul Menard – Paul Menard has continuously made gains in his first season with the Wood Brothers driving the No. 21 Ford.

Menard gained stage points in Stage 1, finishing eighth, before finishing in the 13th position.

Menard gained 10 positions from his finish one year ago. He sits 19th in the point standings.

No. 4 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski led 50 laps on Sunday before bringing his No. 2 Wurth Ford home in the 12th position.

Keselowski failed to earn stage points during Stage 1, but earned them with a fourth place finish at the end of Stage 2.

Keselowski is 10th in the point standings.

No. 5 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson was mistakenly penalized and sent to the rear on Sunday, due to NASCAR saying his No. 48 Low’s Chevrolet failed tech inspection three times, instead of the actual two.

Johnson was involved in a wreck on Lap 97 after making contact with Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron.

Johnson led twice for a total of 11 laps before finishing in the 15th position.

He sits 14th in the point standings.

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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Kansas

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan 

The second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series came to an end at Kansas Speedway, with the elimination race cutting the playoff field from 12 drivers to eight drivers.

One playoff driver made this week’s Top 5. Is he the underdog for the title?

No. 1 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson earned his 10th top five of the season with his third place finish at Kansas Speedway.

Larson failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but finished sixth in Stage 2.

Larson gained 36 positions from his finish one year ago, despite failing to make the next round of MENCS Playoffs. He sits 11th in the standings, 16 points behind Brad Keselowski in 10th.

No. 2 Erik Jones – Erik Jones finished in the fourth position on Sunday, earning him his eighth top-five finish of 2018, and third straight top 10.

Jones earned stage points in Stage 1 (eighth) and Stage 2 (seventh), and held a 10th place average throughout the race.

Jones is tied with 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson for 14th in the standings.

No. 3 Joey Logano – Joey Logano led 100 laps on Sunday, before bringing his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford home in the eighth position.

Logano won Stage 1 of the Hollywood Casino 400 and finished Stage 2 in third.

Logano advances to the Round of 8 in the playoffs. He is in a three-way tie for fifth with Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch, 40 points behind leader Kyle Busch.

No. 4 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman has not let being eliminated from the MENCS Playoffs get the best of him.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver was the second best finisher for the organization on Sunday, finishing in the ninth position. It is Bowman’s 11th top 10 of the season.

Bowman failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but earned them in Stage 2 with a ninth place finish at stage end.

Bowman is 16th in the standings, four points behind teammate Jimmie Johnson.

No. 5 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon finished just outside the top-10 on Sunday, finishing 11th.

Dillon failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but ran as high as ninth.

The Richard Childress Racing driver is 13th in the standings, 44 points from Keselowski.

Notable: Ryan Blaney was eliminated from the MENCS Playoffs despite a good day at Kansas. The stage points he gained throughout the day were diminished on Lap 204 of 267, when the Team Penske driver smacked the wall. He recovered to finish seventh.

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.

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.