Daniel Suarez

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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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Pocono

Photo by: Chris Trotman

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Pocono Raceway for the Pocono 400, where 2015 Champion Kyle Busch earned his 55th series victory.

All five drivers in this week’s Top 5 earned either a top-five finish or top 10, including two of Busch’s teammates.

No. 1 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin earned his ninth top-10 finish of the season on Sunday, June 2nd at Pocono Raceway, finishing sixth.

Hamlin failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as first with an average position of eighth.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver gained 29 positions from one year ago, when he finished 35th.

Hamlin is sixth in the standings, 103 points behind his teammate Kyle Busch and 35 points behind fifth place, Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski earned his sixth top-five finish of 2019, finishing in the runner-up position.

Keselowski earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (fourth), in addition to leading four laps of the Pocono 400.

The Team Penske driver is fourth in the standings, 59 points behind leader Busch and two points behind Chase Elliott in third.

No. 3 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez earned his fifth top 10 of the season, finishing in the eighth position.

Suarez led nine laps on Sunday. He earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh) and Stage 2 (10th).

Suarez is 13th in the standings, an even 200 points behind Busch and 34 behind 10th, which is held by teammate Clint Bowyer.

No. 4 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his fourth top five of 2019, finishing in the third position.

Jones failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but held an average position of eighth throughout 400 miles at the 2.5-mile track.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is 15th in the standings, 225 points behind Busch and 59 points behind Bowyer.

No. 5 William Byron – William Byron earned his fourth top 10 on Sunday, finishing ninth.

Byron earned stage points in Stage 1 (second) and Stage 2 (third). He led twice for a total of 25 laps.

Byron sits 14th in the standings, 207 points behind Busch and 41 points away from Bowyer.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Kansas

Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Kansas Speedway on Saturday, May 11th ahead of Mother’s Day.

Five different organizations are featured in this week’s Top 5, including a rookie and a former MENCS champion.

No. 1 Tyler Reddick – Tyler Reddick earned the first top 10 of his Cup career on Saturday, finishing in the ninth position.

Reddick, who is the defending Xfinity Series champion, failed to earn stage points on Saturday, but ran as high as third and held an average position of 16th.

No. 2 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. barely missed scoring a top-10 finish during the Digital Ally 400, finishing 11th.

The Roush Fenway driver earned stage points during Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (fifth).

Stenhouse is tied with Paul Menard for 20th in the standings, 211 points behind leader Joey Logano and 37 points away from 15th.

No. 3 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson earned his fifth top-10 finish of the season at Kansas, finishing sixth.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as fourth throughout 400.5 miles.

Johnson sits 16th in the standings, 186 points behind Logano and 48 points behind 10th place, held by Ryan Blaney.

No. 4 Chris Buescher – Chris Buescher earned his second top-10 finish of 2019 on Saturday, finishing 10th.

Buescher earned stage points in Stage 1 and Stage 2 with sixth place finishes, respectively.

Buescher is 23rd in the standings, 253 points behind Logano and 42 away from 20th.

No. 5 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez finished 14th on Saturday, gaining 14 positions from his finish one year ago.

Suarez failed to earn stage points at the 1.5-mile track, but ran as high as second and was seventh by the middle of the race.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is 13th in the standings, 163 points behind Logano and 25 points behind Blaney.

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.

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 Talladega

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Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey

The Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway wasn’t the usual wild and chaotic event that you would expect at the 2.66-mile track, instead it was unusually tame and somewhat uneventful.

The tenth, and second restrictor-plate, race of the season included only two cautions for multi-car wrecks. The others being for debris and end of stages.

Another Ford appeared in Victory Lane on Sunday. The win ended a 36-race winless drought for a veteran who’s last win was an encumbered finish.

No. 1 Joey Logano – Joey Logano looked like his old self at Talladega. The Team Penske driver led 70 laps before earning his first win since the spring Richmond race last year.

Logano took the lead for the first time on Lap 75 and led for an additional three times. Logano earned stage points with second place finishes in Stage 1 and Stage 2.

Logano remains second in the points standings, but gained 26 points on leader Kyle Busch after his win on Sunday.

The momentum gained at Talladega is beneficial for the No. 22 team, but they still have work to do heading to Dover International Speedway.

Logano has a 14.2 average finish at Dover despite having three top-5 finishes. He has finished 15th or worse in three of the last four events.

No. 2 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott earned his third top five of the season at Talladega, but not without having to overcome some obstacles. Elliott qualified in the fifth position, but was forced to start at the rear of the field because of an unapproved adjustment to the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet.

Elliott cracked the top five on Lap 32 and finished just outside the top 10 at the end of Stage 1.

Elliott was hit with a pit road violation during Stage 2 and later had to make an additional stop for missing his pit stall, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver charged to the front to finish third.

Elliott sits 18th in the points standings, 238 points behind Busch. He is eight points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 15th place and 71 points behind Kyle Larson, who is 10th.

No. 3 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman earned his first career top 10 at a restrictor-plate track on Sunday, finishing eighth.

Bowman led 26 laps before he was caught speeding on pit road mid-way through the race, but was back inside the top 10 by Lap 152.

Bowman was up to the fifth position before a late caution halted his momentum. He restarted fourth on Lap 172, but faded to eighth before taking the checkers.

Bowman is 12th in the points standings, 209 points behind Busch and 42 points from Larson.

No. 4 David Ragan – David Ragan’s restrictor-plate track consistency continued on Sunday when he earned a sixth place finish.

Ragan earned stage points with a sixth place finish at the end of Stage 2. He ran as high as third throughout 500 miles.

Ragan earned his fourth top-10 finish in the last six super speedway races. He is one of five drivers to score four top-10s within that span.

No. 5 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez’s season may be on the up-rise. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has earned three top-11 finishes since finishing 29th in Fort Worth, Texas.

Suarez avoided being caught up in the “Big One” at Talladega and even led one lap before finishing in the tenth position.

Can Suarez add another good finish this weekend at Dover? The 26-year-old finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in his rookie season.

Notable: Timothy Peters made his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start on Sunday. He finished 23rd.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after ISM Raceway

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Photo by: Christian Petersen

The West Coast Swing continued in Avondale, Arizona at ISM Raceway on Sunday, March 11th for the TicketGuardian 500, where a familiar face earned his 40th career victory.

A rookie scored his best finish, while his teammate scored the first top-5 of the season for the organization.

Two organizations put all four of their teams inside the top-10, one for the first time in the organization’s history.

No. 1 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott earned a third-place finish after running inside the top-10 majority of the day.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver scored the first top-5 in 2018 for the organization. The team has failed to find speed to compete with the Fords that have dominated and competed for the top positions so far this season.

Elliott, who finished second one year ago, earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (ninth). Elliott is tied with Alex Bowman in the points standings for 16th, 77 points behind points leader Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez finished eighth at ISM Raceway, his best finish of 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver ran as high as fifth throughout 312 laps. He gained ten positions from his 18th place finish one year ago.

Suarez sits 22nd in the points standings, ahead of veterans Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, and Kasey Kahne.

No. 3 William Byron – William Byron earned his best finish to date after previous finishes of 23rd (Daytona), 18th (Atlanta), and 27th (Las Vegas).

Byron led his first laps in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series before finishing in 12th place. Byron led for 15 laps, Laps 195 through 209.

Byron sits 21st in the point standings, 100 points back.

Can the rookie better his finish on the third and final stint in the West Coast Swing? Byron has one top-5 finish at Fontana, a fifth place finish in the Xfinity Series in 2017.

No. 4 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch earned his second top-10 of the season with a tenth place finish at ISM. Busch led six laps in addition to earning the Stage 2 victory on Sunday.

Busch, who has one career victory at the one-mile track, improved his finish by 11 places from 2017.

Busch gained two spots in the standings. He now sits 11th, six points behind Aric Almirola in tenth, and -51 from Harvick.

No. 5 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin rebounded from a 17th place finish one week ago to earn his third top-5 of the season.

Hamlin earned stage points in Stage 1 when he finished fourth, while his teammate Kyle Busch took home the stage victory.

Hamlin led 33 laps in the final stage of the event before bringing his FedEx Freight Toyota home to a fourth place finish.

Hamlin is the highest ranked driver in the points of this week’s Top 5. He sits sixth in the standings, 31 points behind.

Notables: The teams of Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing both had all four teams earn top-10 finishes. It is SHR’s first time in history at the feature.

Matt DiBenedetto finished in the 25th position after taking to social media earlier in the week for sponsorship. DiBenedetto had Zynga Poker sign on as a primary, while Hamlin, Harvick, and Darrell Waltrip were secondary sponsors.