2018 NASCAR Season

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.

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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.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after New Hampshire

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Photo by: Robert Laberge

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event in Loudon, New Hampshire got off to a slow start on Sunday, thanks to rain showers in the area that delayed the start of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 by three hours.

It was a dominating performance by “the Big 3” once again, with the winner landing in this week’s Top 5 for the gains from the last race at the track nine months ago.

Two of Harvick’s teammates join him, while Hendrick Motorsports may be on the rise at just the right time.

No. 1 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick earned his sixth victory of the season on Sunday, leading 12 laps toward the win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Harvick battled with Kyle Busch in the closing laps, even making contact with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to take the lead for his third career win at the 1.058-mile track.

The 2014 MENCS Champion earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh) and Stage 2 (fourth), as well as gaining 35 positions from last September.

Harvick is second in the points standings, 53 points behind Busch.

No. 2 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola has made significant gains in his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing, and Sunday was no different for the driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford.

Almirola led twice for a total of 42 laps, before earning his first top-5 finish of the year, earning third.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (10th) and Stage 2 (fifth). He is 11th in the points standings, 269 points behind the leader and just eight points behind Denny Hamlin, who is in the 10th position.

No. 3 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott and his No. 9 Chevrolet showed their growing potential on Sunday, leading 23 laps before finishing fifth. The finish is Elliott’s first top-5 and top-10 at the track with five starts to his credit.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished second to Martin Truex Jr during Stage 1, before earning his first stage win of the season at the end of Stage 2.

Elliott sits in the 13th position in the points standings, 324 points behind Busch and 63 points from 10th place.

Can Elliott earn his first MENCS victory on Sunday at Pocono Raceway? The 22-year-old has one top 5 and four top 10s at the 2.5-mile track.

No. 4 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch matched his finish from one year ago, earning his 11th top 10 of the season in 20 races.

Busch earned stage points in Stage 1 (fourth) and Stage 2 (second). He led 94 laps on Sunday, before finishing eighth.

Busch is fifth in the points standings and eighth in the playoff standings, 198 points behind his brother. He is the first driver in the playoff standings without a win.

Can Busch earn his first win of the season next weekend at Pocono? The driver of the No. 41 Ford has 3 wins, 14 top 5s, and 19 top-10 finishes there, with a 14.3 average finish.

No. 5 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team may be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, with six races remaining in the regular season.

Johnson earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (eighth), before bringing his Lowe’s Chevrolet home in 10th place.

Despite it being Johnson’s seventh top-10 of the season, it is the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s first in seven races, when he finished eighth at Pocono in early June.

Johnson sits 12th in the points standings, 322 points behind Busch and 61 points behind Hamlin.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Daytona

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Photo by: Sarah Crabill

The third superspeedway event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule was a wild one in Daytona, Florida – where a young star earned his first series victory in overtime.

This week’s Top 5 features some fresh faces that we don’t normally see, some for the first time this season.

Several drivers scored their best finishes of the year, one earning the first top-10 finish of his career.

No. 1 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his first career Cup win on Saturday night after passing the defending series champion on the last lap in overtime.

Jones went a lap down after being involved in a multicar wreck on Lap 65. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver failed to earn stage points, but secured his place into the 2018 playoffs with his victory.

Jones sits in the 13th position in the points standings, 301 points behind teammate Kyle Busch and 55 points from Aric Almirola, who is in 10th place.

No. 2 Kasey Kahne – Kasey Kahne earned his first top-5 finish of the year and with new team Leavine Family Racing, finishing fourth.

Kahne led 17 laps and earned stage points in Stage 2 (fourth). He was 1 of 26 cars involved in a crash on Lap 54 when Brad Keselowski was turned after bumper contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Kahne’s finish is his first top 5 since winning last year’s Brickyard 400 in July. He sits 26th in the points standings, 480 points behind the leader and 138 points from Stenhouse in the 16th place cutoff.

No. 3 Matt DiBenedetto – Matt DiBenedetto earned his first top 10 of the 2018 season on Saturday, finishing seventh.

DiBenedetto failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as third throughout 400 miles.

The Go Fas Racing driver is 30th in the points standings, 535 points behind Busch and 104 points from 20th place.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon followed his Daytona 500 win up with a ninth-place finish in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Dillon earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (eighth). He ran as high as second and held a 12th place average.

Dillon is 18th in the points standings, 402 points behind Busch and 60 away from 16th place.

No. 5 Ty Dillon – Ty Dillon’s top-10 finish at Daytona wasn’t just the first of the year for the Germain Racing driver, it was the first of his MENCS career.

Dillon finished sixth on Saturday, earning him his first top-10 in a career that spans five years, three of which are full-time.

Dillon failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but led three laps and finished fifth in Stage 2.

Dillon is 29th in the points standings, 505 points behind the leader.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Chicagoland

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Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Chicagoland Speedway for the 2018 Overton’s 400 came down to a dramatic finish between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

Busch and Larson bumped fenders and made the most noise, while the three veterans and one young gun quietly held their own.

No. 1 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his seventh top 10 of the season at Chicagoland, finishing sixth.

Jones started in the ninth position and earned stage points in Stage 1 at the 1.5-mile track with 10th place.

He is 14th in the points standings, 328 points behind Kyle Busch and 87 points from Ryan Blaney, who is in 10th place.

No. 2 Jamie McMurray – Jamie McMurray’s failed oil pump at Sonoma one week ago, didn’t keep the Chip Ganassi Racing driver from making a quick recovery.

McMurray failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but gained 25 positions from last weekend to finish in 12th place. He also held an average position of 15th on Sunday.

McMurray sits in 20th place in the points standings, 427 points behind Busch and 58 points from the cutoff position of 16th with 10 races to go before the playoffs begin.

No. 3 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch continued his growing rivalry with Kyle Larson on Sunday when he and the 25-year-old traded paint on the last lap of the Overton’s 400.

Larson held the momentum in Turn 1 and Turn 2, eventually reaching Busch and tapping the left rear of the No. 18 Skittles Red White & Blue Toyota. Busch returned the favor in Turn 3 when Larson was unable to clear him.

A bump to the rear sent Larson spinning, giving Busch his fifth MENCS win of the season.

The win is Busch’s 48th of his Cup career. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is one win away from tying three-time champion Tony Stewart.

Busch remains the points leader by 62 points over Kevin Harvick.

No. 4 Joey Logano – Joey Logano earned his 13th top-10 finish of 2018 on Sunday, with an eighth place average throughout 400 miles.

Logano earned stage points in Stage 1 (eighth) and Stage 2 (10th), before scoring his fifth straight top 10 in Joliet, Illinois since finishing 37th in 2013.

Logano finished 11 places better than last week at Sonoma. He is third in the points standings, 119 points behind Busch.

No. 5 Michael McDowell – Michael McDowell gained 11 positions from his 30th place finish at Chicagoland one year ago. He finished just outside the top 20 in 21st place.

McDowell’s highest position was fourth on Sunday. He earned his only top 10 in the season opener at Daytona in February. Can the Front Row Motorsports driver better his finish?

Notable : Aric Almirola earned the first stage win of his career on Sunday. He led 27 laps before earning the stage win. He led a total of 80 laps, before finishing in 25th place.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Sonoma

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Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series return from an off weekend and head West to the first road course of the season at Sonoma Raceway in California.

The Toyota/Save Mart 350 quickly became a strategic race, with a trick play eventually becoming the winning move of the race.

Three young guns and two veterans had impressive runs at Sonoma. Here’s how they stack up.

No. 1 Martin Truex Jr. – Martin Truex Jr. earned his third win of the season at Sonoma Raceway in one of the most unusual strategic plays not only of this season, but the last five.

Truex opted to pit on Lap 73 of 110, but plans changed last minute at the order of crew chief Cole Pearn. That wasn’t the only thing that put Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team ahead, because Kevin Harvick pitted despite the No. 78 Chevrolet diverting from the plan.

The move became a race winning one that included only one pit stop, on Lap 81, that eventually gave him more than a 20-second lead over Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott.

The win is Truex’s second at the 1.99-mile road course and the 18th of his career. He sits fifth in the points standings, 150 points behind leader Kyle Busch.

No. 2 Erik Jones – Erik Jones was a quiet contender on Sunday. He failed to earn stage points, but held a 14th place average and was inside the top 10 at the halfway point.

Jones earned his sixth top-10 finish of the year, finishing seventh. He gained 18 positions from a year ago, when he finished 25th in his first start at the track.

Jones is 14th in the points standings, 320 points behind Busch and 95 points from Almirola in 10th place.

No. 3 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott’s experience on road courses may be low compared to his teammate Jimmie Johnson, but Elliott is consistently showing improvements.

Elliott earned stage points in Stage 1 (fourth) and Stage 2 (second) on Sunday, before scoring his fourth top-5 finish of the season.

Elliott finished fourth for his first top 5 since placing third at Talladega in April. He sits 13th in the points, 285 points behind Busch and 60 behind Almirola.

Elliott holds one Xfinity win at Chicagoland. Can he earn his first MENCS win next weekend?

No. 4 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola’s eighth place finish was an impressive trek considering the Stewart-Haas Racing driver hasn’t raced on the road course since 2016.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh) and Stage 2 (sixth), and had an average position of 15th throughout the event.

The finish is Almirola’s first top 10 at Sonoma.

Almirola is 10th in the points standings heading into Chicagoland. He is 225 points behind Busch and 34 points from Denny Hamlin, who is eighth.

No. 5 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman rebounded from the less than stellar performances at Pocono and Michigan, and matched his finish at Charlotte four weeks ago.

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

He went on to finish ninth for his fifth top-10 finish of the year. He sits 15th in the standings, 333 points behind Busch.