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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Dover

Photo by: Chris Trotman

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Dover International Speedway for the Gander RV 400, which was held on Monday, May 6th due to a washout on Sunday.

No. 1 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson earned his first top-five finish of the season on Monday, finishing third.

Larson, who’s last top 10 came at Phoenix in March, has finished 18th or worse in five of the last six races.

Larson earned stage points in Stage 1 (fourth) and Stage 2 (sixth), and held an average position of fifth throughout 400 miles.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is 15th in the standings, 193 points behind leader Kyle Busch and 52 points behind Clint Bowyer, who is 10th.

No. 2 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman finished second on Monday after leading 16 laps.

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

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has finished in the runner-up position two weeks in a row.

Bowman is 13th in the standings, 173 points behind Busch.

Can Bowman earn his first MENCS victory at Kansas? He has two top-10 finishes in the last three races, finishing 7th in 2016 and 9th in October 2018.

No. 3 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his fourth top-10 finish of the season at Dover, finishing sixth.

Jones earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (10th). The Joe Gibbs Racing driver gained 12 positions from his finish one year ago, when he finished 18th.

Jones is 16th in the standings, 196 points behind Busch.

No. 4 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch finished 10th at the Monster Mile on Monday, earning him his 11th top-10 finish of the season.

Busch failed to earn stage points during the first stage of the race, but earned them in Stage 2 with an eighth place finish.

Busch is the points leader heading into Kansas, five points over Joey Logano and 63 ahead of Kevin Harvick.

No. 5 William Byron – William Byron earned his second top 10 of the season, finishing eighth at the one-mile track.

Byron earned stage points in Stage 1 with sixth. He led five laps and held a 12th place average throughout 400 miles.

Byron is 19th in the standings, 200 points behind Busch and seven points from Larson in 15th.

Notables: Denny Hamlin finished 21st after spinning on Lap 269 of 400. Hamlin was tended to on pit road for carbon monoxide poisoning after damaging the right rear crush panel of his No.11 FedEx Toyota.

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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Richmond

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Richmond Raceway for their first night race of the season, where a former champion earned his first victory with a new team.

No. 1 Martin Truex Jr. – Martin Truex Jr. earned his first short track victory of his career on Saturday, April 13th.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 186 of 400 laps. He earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (second).

Truex held off Team Penske’s Joey Logano by .178 seconds.

Will this victory give Truex the momentum going into Talladega? He has an average finish of 21.3 at the super speedway, holding two top-five finishes and eight top 10s.

No. 2 Paul Menard – Paul Menard earned his second top-10 finish of the season on Saturday, finishing in the 10th position.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (10th). He ran as high as fourth with an average position of ninth.

Menard is 16th in the point standings, 187 points behind leader Kyle Busch and 54 points behind Chase Elliott, who is in the 10th position.

No. 3 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski earned his fifth top-10 finish of 2019, finishing seventh.

Keselowski led twice for 31 laps. The Team Penske driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (fourth).

Keselowski sits fifth in the points standings, 87 points behind Busch and 36 points behind fourth place.

No. 4 Ryan Newman – Ryan Newman earned his second top 10 of 2019, finishing in the ninth position.

Newman’s finish gives the Roush Fenway driver back-to-back top-10 finishes.

He failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as sixth.

Newman is tied with Austin Dillon for 14th in the point standings. He sits 184 points behind the leader and 51 behind Elliott.

No. 5 Chris Buescher – Chris Buescher finished outside the top 20 on Saturday night, but that does not take away from another impressive performance by the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver.

Buescher ran as high as fourth with a 13th place average position throughout 300 miles.

Buescher earned stage points in Stage 1 (eighth) and Stage 2 (ninth), before fading in the second half of the race to finish 22nd.

Notables: Kyle Larson has failed to earn a top-10 finish in the last fives races, with finishes of 12th, 18th, 39th, 19th, and 37th.

Can Larson and the No. 42 team avoid the “Big One” at Talladega and earn their first victory since the fall race at Richmond in 2017?

Clemson defeat Alabama for National Championship

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Photo by: David Rosenblum

Clemson outlasted Alabama for the National Championship in Tampa, Florida. Clemson survived the first half after scoring only one touchdown, and returned to take the game into the final second to determine the championship.

After Wayne Gallman ran 1-yard for a Clemson touchdown that gave them the lead within the fourth quarter, Alabama answered with one of their own. True freshman Jalen Hurts rushed 30-yards for a touchdown that momentarily gave them the advantage.

But the aggression and will of the Clemson offense would not be denied. Clemson took advantage of Alabama’s mistake. On the winning play Deshaun Watson connected with Hunter Renfrow in the endzone for a 2-yard pass.

Swinney went for an onside kick and Clemson recovered for –1 yards at their own 45.

Clemson won by a four-point margin with a score of 35-31, beating Alabama for the first time since 1905 and gaining their first national championship since 1981.

Jimmie Johnson avoids trouble at Charlotte

Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

In a race in which the Chase drivers were inflicted by numerous setbacks throughout the Bank of America 500, Jimmie Johnson avoided disaster to earn his third win of the 2016 season at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson showed that his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet remain a contender in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, leading 155 laps toward the 78th victory of his career and the eight at this racetrack.

“We’re a brotherhood on this No. 48 team, and just so thankful for the friendship and the hard work. Same thing for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We’re really going to enjoy this.”

The hard work has landed them a Chase berth inside the Round of 8 for the first time since the playoff system was put in place in 2014.

“That is massive,” Johnson said, “I’m so happy about that. So happy to be in Victory Lane with (crew chief, Chad Knaus) this guy.”

Johnson’s win gives him a chance to continue to compete for a record-tying seventh career championship, one that did not seem within reach throughout the summer.

“We can’t sit back and celebrate too much on this,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to buckle down and get to work and keep advancing our race cars. But this does buy us a couple weeks of freedom.”

Johnson and his team may have found their breakthrough, but many teams weren’t so lucky. Five of the Chase contenders finished 30th or worse in the opening race of the second round in the Chase.

Joey Logano finished 36th after heavy damage from wall contact sent him to the garage for repairs, while Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin encountered engine trouble halted their race for good finishes.

Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon were caught up in a 12-car pile-up after the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr tapped the No. 3 Chevrolet, who gained track position after taking two tires, on the restart.

Elliott tried to make it through, but unavoidable contact with Kyle Busch resulted in him being turned into the outside wall.

Dillon and Elliott finished 32nd and 33rd, respectively.

Catch Elliott as he searches for redemption, and his first Sprint Cup victory, on October 16th at Kansas Speedway at 2:15 PM/ET on NBC.

Martin Truex Jr. tames the Monster Mile

Photo by: Sean Gardner

Martin Truex Jr. continued his dominance with his victory in the Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway. Truex led the most laps of six drivers Sunday with 187 laps, scoring his third win within the last five races.

“I guess right now it’s just our time,” Truex said. “Throughout the summer, we led so many laps and had so many great race cars and so many great weekends that things would happen [and we’d lose].”

“Sometimes it was just rotten luck, sometimes it was mistakes or just circumstances that didn’t play out. But I think that the biggest thing is we just kept our heads in the game. We stayed focused on the things that truly matter, and when all that bad luck went away, here we are. I mean, it’s just been amazing.”

But right now that rotten luck has vanished for the time being, shifting to Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson. The Lowe’s Chevrolet team continues to stumble on mistakes that could have been prevented.

The No. 48 was hit with a penalty after a crewman went over the pit wall too early during a stop, forcing Johnson to return to pit road under green. Johnson battled back for a seventh place finish, but did not get the chance to contend for the win after leading 90 laps.

Johnson held a significant cushion to advance into the Round of 12. Those not as fortunate were Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, and Chris Buescher.

Both Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson failed to advance after being hit with their own misfortunes. McMurray suffered through a blown engine on Lap 193 after complaining of a vibration. Larson, who held the last advancing spot coming into Dover, finished 25th after hitting the wall.

Austin Dillon took advantage of the day, finishing eighth and advancing into the next round of the Chase. The driver remained focused during the race without worrying about where he stood in the Chase.

“I knew what we had to do.” He said.

The Round of 12 drivers head into Charlotte with a clean slate as the points reset to 3,000 each for the championship contenders. While there may be clear favorites, everyone is fair game and looking to lock themselves in early.

Tennessee victorious with Hail Mary

ATHENS, GA – 2016.10.01 Football Tennessee vs. GeorigaPhoto by: Craig Bisacre

Call ‘em the comeback kids.

Tennessee fought throughout an entire 60 minutes at Sanford Stadium and came out on top with a 34-31 victory against the No. 25 ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

In an ending that resembled Georgia was set for victory, with ten seconds remaining on the play clock after Georgia’s Riley Ridley went 47-yards for a touchdown, Tennessee pulled an upset with a Hail Mary.

Joshua Dobbs threw for a 43-yard touchdown after Evan Berry went 20-yards on the return. The Tennessee Volunteers charged into the second half of the game to take control of their own fate, scoring over half of their points just within the fourth quarter.

Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone set up the play that would set the tone for the second half of the game. Kamara almost broke free, but settled for a 13-yard gain. Malone’s first down eventually led to Jalen Hurd’s 19-yard touchdown and the first, and only, of the third quarter.

It was the fumble by Georgia quarterback’s Jacob Eason that added to Tennessee’s momentum that led to their victory. Corey Vereen recovered Eason’s fumble in the end zone.

The touchdown earned Tennessee a 28-24 lead with 2:56 remaining on the clock.

Georgia answered with an unbelievable 47-yard touchdown of their own, however a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty put the game back in their opponent’s hands.

Berry returned 20-yards before the team called for a timeout with only four seconds remaining.

In the last play Dobbs threw 43-yards toward Jauan Jennings, who was surrounded by multiple Georgia players. Jennings’ remarkable catch resulted in a 34-31 Tennessee victory. It is the fourth time this season The Volunteers have came from behind and won.

Jalen Hurts leads No. 1 Alabama to 52-6 victory over USC

Photo by: Tony Gutierrez

The Alabama Crimson Tide conquered USC with a smashing score of 52-6, however it did not come easy in the early half of the game. The Tide’s offense struggled to move the ball and capitalize on USC’s inability to reach the end zone.
Alabama’s starter, Blake Barnett, did not quite have the start that everyone anticipated, throwing an incomplete pass and getting sacked before he was replaced by freshman Jalen Hurts.

Hurts’ first drive wasn’t a highlight moment either. The quarterback fumbled and USC recovered, but Hurts settled in and proved why he is deserving of the starting position. Hurts rushed for two touchdowns of his own as well as throwing incredible passes to ArDarius Stewart, one of which he was wide open in the end zone to receive.

That play was the start to a dominating performance by the No. 1 team in the country.

In the second quarter under a USC 2nd & 8, Marlon Humphrey returned an 18-yard interception for an Alabama touchdown.

After rushing 6-yards for another touchdown, with a significant cushion, Nick Saban replaced Hurts to give Barnett more playing time. Barnett seemed much more confident within the quarterback position the second time. He completed a 40-yard pass to O.J. Howard that lead to a touchdown scored by Bo Scarbrough.

Later, Barnett also threw 45-yards for a final score of 52-6.

Saban, who has never started a freshman quarterback, has two incredible players capable of caring the team to another title. Whether it is Hurts or Barnett is yet to be determined, but Alabama started right where they left off and do not seem to be slowing down.