Austin Dillon

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.

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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Dover

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Photo by: Chris Trotman 

The first race in the Round of 12 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs went into overtime on Sunday to determine a winner.

Five playoff contenders were involved in a wreck with two laps remaining in the Gander Outdoors 400, one of them made this week’s Top 5.

No. 1 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch earned his 24th top 10 of the season on Sunday at Dover International Speedway, finishing eighth.

Busch earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (seventh). He led three times for a total of 21 laps.

Busch is second in the playoff standings, five points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch earned his sixth top-five finish of the season on Sunday, finishing in fifth.

Busch earned stage points in Stage 1 (eighth) and Stage 2 (sixth).

Busch is sixth in the standings, tied with Brad Keselowski, 47 points behind Harvick and two points behind race winner Chase Elliott in fifth.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola continues to dominate in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, with misfortunes keeping him from snapping a 149-race winless streak.

Almirola was involved in a five-car crash on Lap 398 of 400, which resulted in the Stewart-Haas Racing driver finishing in 13th place.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (fifth), with an average position of sixth place.

Almirola is tied for ninth in the standings with teammate Clint Bowyer, 68 points behind Harvick and 10 points from Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney.

No. 4 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his seventh top-five finish of the season at the Monster Mile, finishing in the fourth position.

Jones failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as third during the Gander Outdoors 400. He gained 14 positions from five months ago, when he finished 18th.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is 16th is the standings, 15 points behind teammate Denny Hamlin.

No. 5 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon earned his sixth top-10 finish of 2018, finishing in seventh place.

Dillon failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but ran as high as fifth and was 12th mid-way through the event.

Dillon is 13th in the standings, 1,000 points behind Harvick.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Richmond

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Photo by: Robert Laberge  

The second race in the Round of 16 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs was dominated by the Big 3, with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch taking the victory.

The Big 3 of Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. finished 1-2-3, combining for 295 laps led.

Two of Harvick’s teammates make this week’s Top 5, as well as a former three-time winner at Richmond Raceway.

No. 1 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer struggled throughout the beginning of Saturday night’s race, finishing outside the top 10 in Stage 1 and Stage 2.

Bowyer earned a 10th place finish despite his struggles, gaining 14 positions from one year ago.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver sits 13th in the playoff standings heading into the elimination road course race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He is four points behind Ryan Blaney, who is in the cutoff position.

No. 2 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola earned his second top-5 finish of the season, finishing in the fifth position.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (third).

Almirola is sixth in the playoff standings, two points from Joey Logano in fifth and 62 points behind leader Martin Truex Jr.

No. 3 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson earned his ninth top-10 of 2018 on Saturday, finishing eighth.

Johnson, a three time winner at Richmond Raceway, failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but finished Stage 2 in the eighth position.

Johnson is one of four drivers below the cutoff heading in Sunday’s elimination event. He sits 14th, six points behind Blaney.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon finished in the sixth position on Saturday, earning him his fifth top 10 of the season.

Dillon failed to earn stage points in Stage 1 and Stage 2, but gained 15 positions from his finish at the .75-mile track one year ago.

The Richard Childress Racing driver is tied with Chase Elliott in the playoff standings for ninth, 75 points behind Truex.

No. 5 Martin Truex Jr. – Martin Truex Jr. dominated at Richmond Raceway once again, leading 163 of 400 laps.

Truex earned stage points by winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2, before bringing his No. 78 Auto-Owner’s Insurance Toyota home to a third place finish.

Truex remains the points leader by 16 points over race winner Kyle Busch and 28 points over Harvick.

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 Atlanta

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Photo by: Kevin C. Cox

The weather at Atlanta Motor Speedway hindered the start of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, causing a two-hour rain delay before taking the green on Sunday afternoon.

A veteran overcame pit road issues to score his second victory at the track in an astonishing time gap since his first, all while paying tribute to the late driver he replaced.

This week’s Top 5 were steady contenders, one driver used a different strategy from the rest to advance his chances at an early season victory, while others were consistent in earning stage points.

No. 1 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin went from the bottom of the grid to the top of it, jumping 34 spots from a year ago when a broken rear-end ended his day in the 2017 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

This year the Joe Gibbs Racing driver used a two-pit-stop strategy during the final stage in an attempt to earn him a win at the 1.5-mile track. Hamlin’s first win at Atlanta came in 2012, and he has a 22.8 average finish since the victory.

No. 2 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick’s recent dominance at Atlanta has proven that it was only a matter of time before the Stewart-Haas Racing driver returned to victory lane there.

Almost two decades separate the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s two wins at the track. Harvick won in just his fourth start in 2001 for Richard Childress Racing driving the No. 29. Harvick returned to victory lane in the No. 4 saluting Earnhardt just as he did 17 years ago.

Harvick was one of several drivers that dealt with pit-gun problems while being serviced on pit road. Harvick overcame the trouble to earn the 38th MENCS victory of his career.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola has not wasted any time showcasing his talent and deservingness with the No. 10 Smithfield Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Almirola started 11th and finished in the 13th position, but was a top contender throughout the event. Almirola earned stage points in two of the three stages, finishing fifth in Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2. He sits ninth in the points standings, tied with Paul Menard with 66 points.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon had a quiet, but effective day – earning a 14th place finish. Dillon ran as high as sixth, with a 15th average position throughout 500 miles.

Dillon has failed to earn a top-5 or top-10 at the oval since becoming a full-time driver in 2014, but he has made some gains. Dillon improved his finish by 18 positions from one year ago.

The Richard Childress Racing driver sits sixth in the standings, 19 points behind new points leader Joey Logano.

No.5 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer earned his first top-5 finish at Atlanta after finishing third on Sunday. Bowyer was the runner-up after Stage 1 and finished ninth in Stage 2, before earning his first top-5 of the season.

Bowyer jumped eight spots in the standings, from 13th to fifth. Three points separate him from Hamlin in third, and 15 from Logano.

Can Bowyer break a 187-race winless streak to score his first win in almost five years at Las Vegas?

Notables: Daniel Suarez excelled at Atlanta before falling back to a 15th place finish, the lowest position for the 26-year-old throughout the day. He was as high as third and earned a 10th place finish at the end of Stage 2.

Several drivers, including defending MENCS champion Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, and Harvick, had problems with the new mandatory pit guns. Truex’s team went through three guns because they failed to work properly.  Will the problems be consistent or will they be resolved early in the season?

In the Fast Lane: Most Improved after Daytona

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Photo by: Robert Laberge

The 2018 NASCAR season kicked off to an incredibly start in the 60th running of The Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway.

An iconic number returned to Victory Lane after being pushed by another, while rookies and veterans alike were the victim of the Big One.

This week’s Top 5 most improved drivers earned their place by making impressive moves, improving their positions from a year ago, and leading laps and earning stage points.

No. 1 Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. – The Richard Petty Motorsports driver finished a career high second in his first start in the Daytona 500. Wallace, who started seventh, remained up front throughout the event and became the highest finishing African American in the event. Wendell Scott held the previous record for his 13th place finish in the 1966 Daytona 500.

Wallace pushed Austin Dillon to the win Sunday evening and avoided the Big One, despite contact with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin in overtime.

The RPM driver can take the momentum and confidence gained and apply it next weekend at Atlanta. Wallace has three Xfinity starts at the 1.5-mile track, his best finish is sixth from one year ago.

No. 2 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon stated he doesn’t remember much about the 1998 Daytona 500, in which he stood in Victory Lane next to the late Dale Earnhardt.

The 27-year-old will have a reason to remember this year’s event in twenty years.

Dillon restarted fourth in an overtime finish, but gained the lead after making contact with Aric Almirola, which sent the Stewart-Haas Racing driver spinning.

The win is Dillon’s second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Dillon now holds victories in two of the four “Crown Jewel” events. Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2017.

Dillon has proven to excel under pressure of the famous No. 3 in recent years, earning eight top-5s and 18 top-10 finishes since 2016.

No. 3 Ryan Blaney – Ryan Blaney dominated by leading 118 laps and winning Stage 2. The newest driver of Team Penske came back to earn a seventh place finish despite sustaining damage in two multi-car wrecks.

Blaney heads into Atlanta, where he has an average finish of 21.5, as the points leader. Can he improve his results, and will it be enough to keep the points lead over teammate Joey Logano?

No. 4 Michael McDowell – Michael McDowell found a new home at Front Row Motorsports after losing his ride to Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing, but he picked up right where he left off with another stellar performance at a restrictor plate track.

McDowell finished ninth in his 250th start. It is his second straight top-10 at Daytona and sixth top-10 of his career.

McDowell wasn’t in contention for the win at the end, but remained mid-pack for majority of the race. He was as high as fifth and secured stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (fifth).

No. 5 Chris Buescher – Chris Buescher last scored a top-5 in August of 2016, when he finished fifth at Bristol. The JTG-Daugherty Racing driver quietly climbed inside the top-5 Sunday to earn his best finish at the 2.5-mile track.

Buescher scored a top-10 during the 2017 Coca Zero 400. He sits ninth in the points standings, 25 points behind the points leader.

Notables: Justin Marks earned his best career finish at Daytona with 12th place, one lap down from the leaders. Marks has four MENCS starts and led his first lap in the series on Sunday.

William Byron finished 23rd after spinning on Lap 190. Byron was also involved in a 9-car incident on Lap 60 that ended the day for Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, and two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson.

Danica Patrick was the victim of a multi-car wreck on Lap 102 and finished in the 35th position. The race was Patrick’s last NASCAR event. She is scheduled to participate in the Indy 500 to bring her racing career to an end.

Austin Dillon wins 60th Daytona 500

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Photo by: Robert Laberge 

Austin Dillon went from fourth to first during an overtime finish that resulted in the Richard Childress Racing driver celebrating his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Daytona International Speedway.

Dillon acquired the lead after making contact with the bumper of the No. 10 of Aric Almirola, who attempted to hold his position by moving in front of the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet.

“I did what I had to do there at the end,” Dillon said. “I hate it for the No. 10 (Almirola’s) guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona.”

“This is so awesome to take the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane. This one is for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those (Dale) Sr. fans. I love you guys.”

Dillon’s win comes in the same number the late Dale Earnhardt won the prestigious event 20 years ago.

“I said (after) my first win I couldn’t beat it, but this does. My grandfather has done everything for me. Everybody knows it. There is a lot of pressure on me to perform, because I’ve had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure. The same with the No. 3. There is a lot of pressure behind that.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second in his Daytona 500 debut racing for Richard Petty Motorsports. Wallace is the first African American driver to race full time in the Cup series in 47 years.

“I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do, and my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it,” Wallace said. “But I just want to make them proud. Second is horrible, but it’s still a good day.”

Former Daytona 500 winners Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano finished third and fourth, respectively, while Chris Buescher rounded out the top-5.

Ryan Blaney finished seventh after a dominate performance. The Team Penske driver led 118 laps before being involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 199. His teammate Brad Keselowski finished in the 32nd position after being involved in a seven-car crash on Lap 102.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Atlanta on Sunday, February 25, 2018. Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Larson one year ago.

Who will win this year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500? Tune into FOX next Sunday at 2 p.m. ET to find out.