Joe Gibbs Racing

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.

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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 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 Texas

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returned from the holiday off weekend to frigid temperatures in Fort Worth, Texas.

One veteran avoided multiple wrecks and came from behind to earn his best finish since May of 2017, while another found Victory Lane.

Another young gun scored his best finish of the season, while the Rookie of the Year battle remains a close one.

No. 1 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch’s run of top 5 finishes without a win came to an end in No Limits Texas, where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver held off Kevin Harvick for his first win of the season.

Busch, who is now tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott on the all-time win list, led the most laps and secured the Stage 2 win before earning the 44thvictory of his MENCS career.

With the Texas victory, the 2015 NASCAR Cup champion extended his points lead to 38 points over Joey Logano and 51 points ahead of Ryan Blaney.

Will the momentum from this win carry into Bristol? Busch has six wins, nine top-5s, and 14 top-10 finishes at the half-mile track.

No. 2 Jamie McMurray – Jamie McMurray came from being one lap behind to finish third in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

McMurray was only a couple car lengths ahead of multi-car wrecks during Sunday’s event. Avoiding trouble with the first caution on Lap 2 and again on Lap 179.

McMurray regained his lap on Lap 305, when the No. 31 of Ryan Newman brought out the eighth and final caution of the evening.

From there the Chip Ganassi Racing driver surged to the front, earning his best finish since placing second at Talladega last year.

No. 3 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his first top-5 of the season at Texas Motor Speedway, finishing fourth after leading 64 of 334 laps.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (10th) and Stage 2 (fourth).

Jones gained one position in the point standings. He now sits in 11th place, 123 points behind leader Busch. He is nine points behind Kyle Larson in tenth.

No. 4 Darrell Wallace Jr. – Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. looked like a new man on Sunday, coming from his 15th starting position to earn his first top-10 since finishing second in the season-opener at Daytona.

Wallace’s team used an off sequence pitting strategy to get the rookie of the year contender in contention. Wallace stayed out during the final caution that put the Richard Petty Motorsports driver restarting in the fourth position.

Wallace remained strong to earn an eighth place finish. He sits 19th in the point standings, nine points behind Rookie of the Year competitor William Byron and three points ahead of A.J. Allmendinger.

No. 5 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer carried the momentum from his Martinsville win two weeks ago into Texas for a quiet but strong run at the 1.5-mile track.

Bowyer started in the third position and had an average position of seventh on Sunday. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned a sixth-place finish during Stage 1 and fifth at Stage 2.

Bowyer sits sixth in the standings after finishing ninth. He is 67 points behind Busch and one point behind defending champion Martin Truex Jr, who is in fifth.

Notables: In addition to McMurray and Jones, there were multiple drivers who scored their best finishes of the season at Texas.

Byron earned his first top-10 of the season with 10th place. He led one lap on Lap 234.

Trevor Bayne recovered from a late-race crash to finish in the 12th position. His best since finishing 13th during the Daytona 500.

Ty Dillon, Michael McDowell, Matt DiBenedetto, Kasey Kahne, and Ross Chastain all earned best season results.

Pit guns remain a hot topic after issues with the No. 4 team forced Harvick to pit multiple times for loose wheels. Harvick, his crew chief Rodney Childers, and JGR owner Joe Gibbs all expressed their displeasure with the NASCAR mandated pit guns following the race.

Daniel Suarez injured his left hand after being involved in a crash on Lap 2 with Austin Dillon, Paul Menard, and Alex Bowman. Suarez finished 29th, 44 laps down

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.

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.

 

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?