Jimmie Johnson

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.

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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Charlotte

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Photo by: Brian Lawdermilk

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series spent Memorial Day weekend in NASCAR’s backyard at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Three drivers were faced with various challenges during the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

Two former champions are featured in this week’s top 5, one who continues to face an uphill climb as we approach the summer.

No. 1 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski’s fourth place finish on Sunday was the first top-5 finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Team Penske driver since May of 2016, where he finished fifth in the Coca-Cola 600.

Keselowski failed to earn stage points in the first two stages of the event, but finished third at the end of Stage 3.

Keselowski, who was the top Penske finisher, gained 35 positions from his finish one year ago. He avoided tire trouble as well as being caught up in a wreck for his third top 5 of the season.

Keselowski is fourth in the points standings, 136 points behind leader Kyle Busch. He is seven points ahead of defending champion Martin Truex Jr.

No. 2 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson overcame adversity at Charlotte before earning his eighth top 10 of the season.

Larson was running fourth when his No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet got away from him, causing Larson to spin in Turn 1. Larson impressively avoided hitting the wall and kept the damage to a minimum.

Larson failed to earn stage points in Stage 3 after bringing out the ninth caution of the night, but he did secure points in Stage 1 and Stage 2 with third.

Larson finished seventh and gained two positions in the points standings. He sits ninth, 191 points behind Busch.

No. 3 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott was a quiet competitor despite running inside the top 15 for majority of the night.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished seventh during Stage 2 and had an 12th place average throughout 600 miles. Elliott gained 27 spots from his position in last year’s event, where an early two-car accident took him out of contention.

Elliott brought his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet home in 11th place. He holds the 15th position in the points standings, tied with Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 277 points behind Busch and 80 points from Aric Almirola in 10th.

No. 4 Jimmie Johnson – Like Larson, Jimmie Johnson was faced with challenges on Sunday night.

Johnson was involved in a four-car accident on Lap 121 after slight contact sent the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet spinning. Johnson avoided hitting the wall and contact with other competitors.

Despite restarting outside of the top 25, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was inside the top 5 within 40 laps and crossed the line eighth at the end of Stage 2.

An issue on pit road early in Stage 3 was the cause of Johnson battling from behind again, but Johnson prevailed to finish in the 11th position at stage end.

Johnson settled inside the top 10 with less than 100 laps to go, before finishing fifth and earning his second top-5 finish of 2018.

Johnson sits 12th in the points standings, 246 points behind Busch and 49 points behind Almirola.

No. 5 Erik Jones – Erik Jones did not improve his position from last year’s Coca-Cola 600, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver did secure stage points in the three stages, matching results in both Charlotte events in 2017.

Jones’ 19th place finish was the result of three pit road issues, two of which involved the No. 95 of Kasey Kahne, and being involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 121.

The first pit road problem occurred in the early laps of Stage 1 under caution. Jones was pinned behind Kahne on pit road, forcing the 21-year-old to back up before exiting his stall. Later, Kahne ran over a hose that resulted in Jones’ front tire-changer losing his pit gun.

Jones finished 10th in Stage 1 and Stage 2. He earned a second-place finish at the end of Stage 3.

Jones was hit with his third pit road problem during his final stop, which was an uncontrolled tire violation.

Jones was unable to recover and finished in the 19th position. He is 13th in the points standings, 259 points behind Busch. He is 62 points from 10th.

Notables: Busch became the first driver in NASCAR history to earn a win at every active track on the MENCS schedule. Busch led 377 of 400 laps on Sunday before earning his 47th Cup victory.

Busch extending his points lead to 67 points over Joey Logano and 88 points ahead of Kevin Harvick, who finished last on Sunday.

William Byron currently leads the Rookie of the Year battle over Darrell Wallace Jr. despite crashing out on Lap 116. Byron finished 39th, while Wallace finished in the 16th position.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Bristol

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway saw a lot of stop-and-go thanks to rain that caused Sunday’s event to be postponed to Monday, but not before the event was red flagged three times for weather.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stars went 204 laps before the remainder of the event got pushed to Monday, when a former champion and 11-year veteran scored their best finishes of the year.

Five different organizations are featured in this week’s top-5 for the first time this season.

No. 1 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson may have won this event one year ago, but immediately was put at a disadvantage when an unapproved tire change after qualifying forced the team to give up their starting position.

Johnson recovered to finish third at Bristol, giving the Hendrick Motorsports driver his first top-5 of the season. Johnson had not earned a top-5 since October of 2017 when he finished third at Dover.

Johnson sits 17th in the points standings, 196 points behind leader Kyle Busch. He is one point behind Paul Menard in the 16th position and 72 points from 10th place.

When will Johnson find victory lane? Can Richmond be that place? The 7-time champion has three wins at the three-quarter mile track.

No. 2 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson may have been looking for redemption after an early crash at Texas took him out of contention, but it didn’t run as smoothly as the Chip Ganassi Racing driver hoped for.

Larson was leading when he spun on Lap 324 after receiving a bump from behind from Ryan Newman, but the 25-year-old recovered and re-took the lead on Lap 439. Larson battled with Busch for the remainder of the event, before falling to second in the closing laps.

Larson received stage points in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 after crossing the finish line in the fifth position. He sits ninth in the points standings, 116 points behind Busch.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola gained 16 positions from his finish at the half-mile track one year ago.

Almirola avoided trouble to earn a seventh place finish at Stage 1 end, but drifted to the back at midrace. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver ran as high as third before finishing sixth, earning his third top-10 of the season.

Almirola sits 11th in the points standings, 154 points behind Busch and 30 points behind teammate Kurt Busch, who is in the 10th position.

No. 4 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr quietly and consistently ran up front at Bristol, while earning his first top-5 of the season.

Stenhouse earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (sixth) during the event.

Stenhouse, who finished fourth, gained four spots in the points standings. He’s now in 18th place, 203 points behind the leader.

No. 5 David Ragan – David Ragan earned his best finish of the season at Bristol when he finished in 12th place.

Ragan failed to earn stage points, but was as high as seventh with an average position of 20th place.

This is Ragan’s best finish since finishing 10th at Talladega in the fall.

The momentum gained from this finish can help Ragan at Richmond before heading to Talladega, where the Front Row Motorsports driver has one win, four top-5s, and nine top-10 finishes.

Notables: Busch’s win at Bristol marked the first time in thirty-one years that a driver won at the half-mile track while leading the points standings. The feature was last accomplished by Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1987.

Darrell Wallace Jr. became the first African American driver since 1963 to lead a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event. Wallace led for six laps, before his No. 43 STP Chevrolet began to lose the handling that allowed the rookie contender to battle with two former champions. Wallace salvaged for a 16th place finish.

Daniel Suarez earned an 11th place finish despite suffering a broken finger last weekend at Texas. Suarez also led for five laps on Monday’s rain postponed event.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Las Vegas

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan

The start of NASCAR’s three race stint, known as the “West Coast Swing,” began with a quick start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Last week’s winner Kevin Harvick picked up where he left off, while another champion struggled before the green flag even dropped.

This week’s Top 5 dominated, rebounded, and maintained consistency for finishes of 12th or better.

No. 1 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford team did a complete 180 from one year ago, when a crash was the result of finishing 38th out of 39 cars.

Harvick continued his dominance in Las Vegas to earn his second win this season, leading a stellar 214 of 267 laps – the most by any driver at the 1.5-mile track.

Harvick took the lead from polesitter Ryan Blaney on Lap 2 of the Pennzoil 400, and soon began to lap the field. Harvick put half the field at least one lap down before the end of Stage 1.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned his 100th career victory through NASCAR’s three national series, crossing the finish line 2.906 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch and 13 seconds ahead of third place finisher Kyle Larson.

No. 2 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson started in the back on Sunday after failing pre-race inspection three times. The Hendrick Motorsports driver remained focused and determined, gaining nine spots in the first stage while fighting with handling issues.

After putting fresh tires on before the start of Stage 2, Johnson continued toward the front. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished in the 20th position at the end of the second stage, two laps behind leader Harvick.

Johnson rebounded to earn a 12th place finish, his first top-15 of the season after crashes at Daytona and Atlanta resulted in finishes of 27th or worse.

Johnson sits 29th in the standings after three races. Will more improvements continue for Johnson? A top-10 at ISM Raceway would be just what he needs going forward, a top-5 could put Johnson on a steady pace back into familiar territory.

No. 3 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch finds himself among the most improved after a second-place finish, a gain of 20 positions from last season.

Busch’s day in Sin City was much quieter than in 2017, when he confronted Team Penske’s Joey Logano on pit road post-race.

Busch led twice for a total of ten laps. He sits fifth in the standings, along with Kyle Larson, 31 points behind Harvick, who is the new points leader.

No. 4 Paul Menard – Paul Menard earned his second top-10 of the season at Las Vegas, finishing in the ninth position.

Menard’s stats through three races have steadily improved from years past.

The last time the Wood Brothers Racing driver scored two top 10s within the first three races was in 2012, when he finished sixth in the Daytona 500, and seventh two week’s later in Vegas.

Menard sits ninth in the standings as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues on the West Coast Swing to ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Sunday, March 11th.

No. 5 Erik Jones – Erik Jones has a lot that he could be happy about heading into this weekend. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is coming off his first top-10 of the season, after finishing 11th at Atlanta and in the 36th position at Daytona.

The 21-year-old has made consistent improvements since the season opener and is headed to the very same track where his No. 20 Toyota sat in Victory Lane last November with Matt Kenseth.

Can Jones earn his first MENCS victory and secure his way into the playoffs with an early victory? If the JGR driver builds on his performance, we could see the young star in victory lane sooner rather than later.

 

Jimmie Johnson captures Texas Victory

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Photo by: Sarah Crabill

If there were any doubts about Jimmie Johnson’s winning ways before the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, they were put to rest at Texas Motor Speedway.

Johnson earned his first win of the 2017 season after starting from the back. A spin in qualifying caused the Lowe’s Chevrolet team to change tires before making his 550th career start.

“I guess I remembered how to drive, and I guess this team remembered how to do it,” Johnson said. “I’m just real proud of this team. What a tough track and tough conditions. We were really in our wheelhouse and we were just able to execute all day.”

Johnson led twice for a total of 18 laps toward the 81st victory of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. Johnson retook the lead on Lap 318 after a debris caution allowed for the No. 22 of Joey Logano to gamble.

Sunday’s race at Texas was the first since the repavement and reconfiguration that lowered the banking of the 1.5-mile track by four degrees.

Ryan Blaney finished 12th after a dominating performance that scored him two stage wins, but a mistake by the Wood Brothers Racing driver on pit road sent him rallying for positions.

“Not a bad day for us,” Blaney said, “It’s nice to win a couple segments, but I want to lead the last lap. That’s the lap I care about, but I thought we made a big gain today as a team.”

Blaney led a career-high of 148 laps before sliding through his pit box on Lap 301.

Kyle Larson extended the standings lead after a second place finish. Logano and Harvick finished third and fourth, respectively, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first top-5 finish of the year.

NASCAR returns to Bristol on April 23rd on FOX.

 

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.