In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Darlington

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returned from their last off weekend of the season to Darlington Raceway, where they were forced to wait out a four hour rain delay for the annual Southern 500.

Three potential championship contenders are featured in this week’s Top 5. Which one will earn their way into the Top 16 to compete in this year’s playoffs?

No. 1 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer earned his 11th top-10 finish of the season at Darlington, finishing sixth.

Bowyer failed to earn stage points during Stage 1, but earned them in Stage 2 with sixth.

Bowyer is 15th in the point standings, 358 points behind leader Kyle Busch and 85 points away from 10th, which is held by Ryan Blaney.

No. 2 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson finished 16th during the Bojangles’ Southern 500, but earned needed stage points ahead of the September 8th regular season finale.

Johnson earned stage points in Stage 1 (second) and Stage 2 (seventh).

Johnson was involved in a multi-car crash on Lap 276. Green flag pit stops came into play later in the event, which resulted in the Hendrick Motorsports finishing in the 16th position.

Johnson is in a near must win situation heading into Sunday’s Brickyard 400, where he holds four wins, six top-five finishes, and seven top 10s.

No. 3 Matt DiBenedetto – Matt DiBenedetto earned his sixth top 10 of 2019, finishing in the eighth position.

DiBenedetto failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but ran as high as second. He also held a 14th place average position.

The Leavine Family Racing driver is 22nd in the point standings, 516 points behind Busch and 64 points away from Chris Buescher, who is 20th.

No. 4 Paul Menard – Paul Menard earned his third top-10 finish of the season on Sunday, finishing ninth.

Menard failed to earn stage points at the 1.366-mile track, but ran as high as eighth.

Menard is 19th in the point standings, 435 points behind Busch and 77 points behind Bowyer in 15th.

No. 5 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez barely missed bringing home another top 10, finishing 11th.

Suarez failed to earn stage points at Darlington, but held a 13th place average position throughout the event.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is tied for the last playoff position, in 16th, with Ryan Newman.

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