In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Charlotte

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Photo by: Brian Lawdermilk

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series spent Memorial Day weekend in NASCAR’s backyard at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Three drivers were faced with various challenges during the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

Two former champions are featured in this week’s top 5, one who continues to face an uphill climb as we approach the summer.

No. 1 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski’s fourth place finish on Sunday was the first top-5 finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Team Penske driver since May of 2016, where he finished fifth in the Coca-Cola 600.

Keselowski failed to earn stage points in the first two stages of the event, but finished third at the end of Stage 3.

Keselowski, who was the top Penske finisher, gained 35 positions from his finish one year ago. He avoided tire trouble as well as being caught up in a wreck for his third top 5 of the season.

Keselowski is fourth in the points standings, 136 points behind leader Kyle Busch. He is seven points ahead of defending champion Martin Truex Jr.

No. 2 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson overcame adversity at Charlotte before earning his eighth top 10 of the season.

Larson was running fourth when his No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet got away from him, causing Larson to spin in Turn 1. Larson impressively avoided hitting the wall and kept the damage to a minimum.

Larson failed to earn stage points in Stage 3 after bringing out the ninth caution of the night, but he did secure points in Stage 1 and Stage 2 with third.

Larson finished seventh and gained two positions in the points standings. He sits ninth, 191 points behind Busch.

No. 3 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott was a quiet competitor despite running inside the top 15 for majority of the night.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished seventh during Stage 2 and had an 12th place average throughout 600 miles. Elliott gained 27 spots from his position in last year’s event, where an early two-car accident took him out of contention.

Elliott brought his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet home in 11th place. He holds the 15th position in the points standings, tied with Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 277 points behind Busch and 80 points from Aric Almirola in 10th.

No. 4 Jimmie Johnson – Like Larson, Jimmie Johnson was faced with challenges on Sunday night.

Johnson was involved in a four-car accident on Lap 121 after slight contact sent the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet spinning. Johnson avoided hitting the wall and contact with other competitors.

Despite restarting outside of the top 25, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was inside the top 5 within 40 laps and crossed the line eighth at the end of Stage 2.

An issue on pit road early in Stage 3 was the cause of Johnson battling from behind again, but Johnson prevailed to finish in the 11th position at stage end.

Johnson settled inside the top 10 with less than 100 laps to go, before finishing fifth and earning his second top-5 finish of 2018.

Johnson sits 12th in the points standings, 246 points behind Busch and 49 points behind Almirola.

No. 5 Erik Jones – Erik Jones did not improve his position from last year’s Coca-Cola 600, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver did secure stage points in the three stages, matching results in both Charlotte events in 2017.

Jones’ 19th place finish was the result of three pit road issues, two of which involved the No. 95 of Kasey Kahne, and being involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 121.

The first pit road problem occurred in the early laps of Stage 1 under caution. Jones was pinned behind Kahne on pit road, forcing the 21-year-old to back up before exiting his stall. Later, Kahne ran over a hose that resulted in Jones’ front tire-changer losing his pit gun.

Jones finished 10th in Stage 1 and Stage 2. He earned a second-place finish at the end of Stage 3.

Jones was hit with his third pit road problem during his final stop, which was an uncontrolled tire violation.

Jones was unable to recover and finished in the 19th position. He is 13th in the points standings, 259 points behind Busch. He is 62 points from 10th.

Notables: Busch became the first driver in NASCAR history to earn a win at every active track on the MENCS schedule. Busch led 377 of 400 laps on Sunday before earning his 47th Cup victory.

Busch extending his points lead to 67 points over Joey Logano and 88 points ahead of Kevin Harvick, who finished last on Sunday.

William Byron currently leads the Rookie of the Year battle over Darrell Wallace Jr. despite crashing out on Lap 116. Byron finished 39th, while Wallace finished in the 16th position.

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