Alex Bowman

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Las Vegas

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Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs kicked off on Sunday, September 15th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where one championship contender earned his fifth win of 2019.

Three organizations are featured in this week’s Top 5, with all five drivers being Playoff contenders.

No. 1 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick earned his 10th top-five finish of the season at Las Vegas, finishing second.

Harvick earned stage points in Stage 1 (second) and Stage 2 (fourth). He also led 47 laps on Sunday.

Harvick is second in the points standings, three points behind leader Martin Truex Jr.

No. 2 William Byron – William Byron earned his 10th top 10 on Sunday, finishing in the seventh position.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh) and Stage 2 (sixth).

Byron is ninth in the points standings, 42 points behind Truex and 18 points behind Keselowski in fifth.

No. 3 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott earned his ninth top-five finish of 2019, finishing fourth during the South Point 400.

Elliott failed to earn stage points during Stage 1, but earned them in Stage 2 with a fifth place finish.

Elliott is sixth in the points standings, 25 points behind Truex and one point behind Keselowski.

No. 4 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman earned his eighth top-10 finish of the season on Sunday, finishing sixth.

Bowman failed to earn stage points during Stage 1, but earned them in Stage 2 with a 10th place finish.

Bowman is 11th in the points standings, 45 points behind Truex and two points behind Ryan Blaney in 10th.

No. 5 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin struggled with the handling of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry on Sunday, resulting in a 15th place finish.

Hamlin earned stage points in Stage 2 (seventh), in addition he gained 17 positions from his finish one year ago at the 1.5-mile track.

Hamlin is seventh in the points standings, 26 points behind Truex and two points away from Keselowski.

Notable: Joey Logano finished ninth at Las Vegas after leading a race-high 105 laps. He is third in the points standings, seven points behind Truex.

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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.

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 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 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 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.