Kurt Busch

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Homestead

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crowned a champion on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season finale.

The Big 3 were the favorites heading into the championship weekend, but it was Team Penske’s Joey Logano that earned his first career series title.

Three former champions and two young guns are featured in this week’s Top 5.

No. 1 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has not earned a top-10 finish since earning third at Talladega, but that does not mean that the Roush Fenway Racing driver hasn’t been making gains.

Stenhouse finished in the 16th position on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his second-best finish in the last five races.

Stenhouse failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as eighth at the 1.5-mile track and held a 14th place average throughout 400.5 miles.

Stenhouse finished 18th in the point standings.

No. 2 Matt Kenseth – Matt Kenseth earned his second top 10 of the 2018 season at Homestead-Miami during the Ford EcoBoost 400, finishing in the sixth position.

Kenseth failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as second on Sunday.

Kenseth finished 32nd in the point standings. The veteran driver ran a partial schedule for Roush Fenway Racing after five seasons racing for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kenseth currently has no plans for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing in 2019.

No. 3 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch earned his 22nd top-10 finish of the season on Sunday, finishing 10th.

Busch gained stage points in Stage 1 (10th) and Stage 2 (seventh). He ran as high as fourth and held a ninth-place finishing average.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s finish is his first top-10 at Homestead since 2015.

No. 4 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson’s last race with longtime partner Lowe’s was a throwback to the seven-time champion’s rookie season.

Johnson finished in the 14th position on Sunday.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but finished ninth at the end of Stage 2.

Johnson finished 14th in the point standings, the lowest he has ever finished under the new playoff format.

No. 5 Ryan Blaney – Ryan Blaney matched his best finish at Homestead on Sunday, finishing in the 17th position.

Blaney failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but gained 12 positions from his finish at the track one year ago.

The 24-year old’s first season with Team Penske earned him one win, eight top-five finishes, and 16 top 10s.

Blaney finished 10th in the point standings.

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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 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.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Dover

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Photo by: Jerry Markland 

The 11th race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware saw a former champion earning his fourth win of the season.

One young gun overcame obstacles to tie a career best, while another veteran earned his best finish at Dover in three years.

Only two organizations are featured in this week’s top 5, but all improved their positions from one year ago by more than 10 positions.

No. 1 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer was in a good position on Sunday to earn his second victory of the season, but a rain delay halted the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s momentum that ultimately ended in his runner-up finish.

Bowyer was leading on Lap 320 when NASCAR red-flagged the AAA 400 because of rain, but when the race resumed it took teammate Kevin Harvick just eight laps to get around Bowyer.

Bowyer finished second to earn his third top-5 finish of 2018. He led 40 laps and earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh) and Stage 2 (fifth).

Bowyer sits fourth in the points standings, 86 points behind leader Kyle Busch.

No. 2 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch was relatively quiet at Dover despite his fifth place finish.

Busch finished Stage 1 in fifth and failed to finish inside the top 10 during Stage 2 of the event, but had an average position of ninth throughout 400 miles at the one mile track.

Busch sits sixth in the standings, 108 points behind his brother. He is only seven points behind Brad Keselowski in fifth.

No. 3 Ryan Blaney – Ryan Blaney earned his sixth top 10 of the season despite battling issues.

Blaney started in the 14th position and worked his way into the top 10 before the end of Stage 1, all while saving fuel. Blaney fought a tight car throughout Stage 2, but finished in the eight position.

The Team Penske driver tied a Dover career best finish by earning an eight-place finish on Sunday.

Blaney now sits seventh in the point standings after 11 races, 120 behind leader Busch and 119 from fifth.

No. 4 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola gained 14 positions from the fall event in 2017, finishing 11th on Sunday for his best finish at the track since finishing fifth in 2015.

Almirola, who did not race at Dover’s spring race last year because of a back injury sustained at Kansas two weeks earlier, ran as high as fifth on Sunday.

Almirola was 13th by mid-race and had a 15th place average. Almirola sits 11th in the point standings, 162 points behind the leader and three points behind Kyle Larson, who sits in the 10th position.

No. 5 Joey Logano – Joey Logano gained 12 positions from one year ago, when he finished 25th.

Logano started in the 18th position on Sunday and was just outside the top 10 by Lap 22 of 400.

Logano earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (10th). After many adjustments to the Shell-Pennzoil Ford, Logano made his top 5 appearance at Lap 274.

Logano pitted after the red flag for rain was lifted, but was forced to pit again with loose lugnuts. He finished in 13th place. The finish marked the second time this season in which the No. 22 has finished outside the top-10.

Notable: Kyle Busch finished in the 35th position after the drive shaft on the No. 18 Toyota broke on Lap 272. Busch previously reported a problem on Lap 3. He still retains the points lead by 22 points over Logano and 40 points over race winner Harvick.

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.

Kurt Busch wins Daytona 500

59th Annual DAYTONA 500
Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey

2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch can now add Daytona 500 champion to his resume. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver acquired the lead on the last lap of The Great American Race, and despite reports that he would be short on fuel, made it to the end .228 seconds ahead of the No. 21 of Ryan Blaney.

Busch led only one lap Sunday afternoon, but it was by far the most important one. Busch, who is sponsored by the new series title sponsor, persevered with a damaged car and a missing rear view mirror in the final stage of the historic event.

“There is nothing predictable about this race any more, and the more years that have gone by that I didn’t win I kept trying to go back to patterns that I had seen in the past,” Busch said. “My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go and I couldn’t even see out the back. And I thought that was an omen. Throw caution to the wind.”

And he did. Busch gained the momentum that his fellow drivers while running out of fuel. Pole sitter Chase Elliott finished 14th after falling short of fuel on the final lap.

“It just got crazy and wild, and I am so proud of all the drivers at the end. We put on a show for a full fuel run, and nobody took each other out and it was one of the smartest chess games I have seen out there. All the hard work that Ford and SHR put into this — this Ford Fusion is in Daytona’s Victory Lane!”

Busch’s brother, Kyle Busch, won the first 60-lap stage but spun on Lap 105 because of a punctured tire. He collected teammate Matt Kenseth and NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was racing for the first time since July after missing the second half of the 2016 season due to a concussion. Earnhardt took his Nationwide Chevrolet to the garage and finished in the 37th position.

Stage 2 winner Kevin Harvick was involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 128 when Jamie McMurray made it four wide, causing the defending champion Jimmie Johnson to spin. The incident was the cause of the eventual race winner’s damage that also destroyed the No. 14 of Clint Bowyer.

The newlywed driver, who married his wife Ashley in the offseason, brought Stewart-Haas Racing it’s first Ford victory since making the manufacturer switch. The win is the 29th of Busch’s career and the first for co-owner Tony Stewart since retirement.

“If I had known all I had to do was retire, I would have retired 17 years ago, if I knew it was what it took to win the race … I ran this damn race for 18 years and didn’t win it.”