Kyle Larson

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after ISM Raceway

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs continued during the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway for the last race before a champion is crowned for the 2018 season.

2015 champion Kyle Busch earned his ticket into the Championship 4 next weekend at Homestead with his victory on Sunday. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 117 of 312 laps before earning his eighth victory of the season.

While the battle for the championship brought several heated battles for the final chance to advance, several drivers outside of the playoffs earned their best finishes.

Three veteran drivers are featured in this week’s Top 5, including a former champion who returned to competition on a part-time basis this season.

No. 1 Bubba Wallace – Bubba Wallace earned his third top-10 finish of the season at ISM Raceway, finishing 10th.

The finish is Wallace’s first top 10 since finishing eighth at Texas Motor Speedway in the spring.

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver ran as high as ninth throughout 312 miles on the one-mile track.

Wallace sits 28th in the point standings.

Can Wallace close out his rookie campaign with another strong finish? The 25-year old has two Xfinity and two Camping World Truck Series starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, winning at the track in the CWTS in 2014.

No. 2 Matt Kenseth – Matt Kenseth earned his first top 10 of the year on Sunday since joining Roush Fenway Racing and splitting the famed No. 6 with Trevor Bayne for the season.

Kenseth failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as fourth. The veteran driver’s previous best finish of the season was 12th at Indianapolis.

He sits 32nd in the point standings.

How will Kenseth fair at Homestead in what may potentially be his last Cup start? In 18 starts at the 1.5-mile track, Kenseth has one win, four top-five finishes, and 10 top-10 finishes.

No. 3 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson earned his 12th top five of the year at ISM Raceway, finishing in the third position.

Larson earned stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (fifth). The Chip-Ganassi Racing driver ran as high as second.

Larson is 10th in the standings, 22 points behind Ryan Blaney.

No. 4 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski earned his 11th top-five finish on Sunday, finishing in the runner-up position to race winner Kyle Busch.

Keselowski earned stage points in Stage 1 (fifth) and Stage 2 (second). The Team Penske driver led twice for a total of 32 laps.

Keselowski is eighth in the point standings, 11 points behind Chase Elliott, who is fifth.

No. 5 AJ Allmendinger – AJ Allmendinger earned his best finish since Talladega on Sunday, finishing in the 12th position.

Allmendinger failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as fifth while averaging an 18th place position on Sunday.

Allmendinger will be making his final start for JTG-Daugherty Racing next weekend at Homestead. In nine starts at the track, Allmendinger has one top five and three top-10 finishes.

Notables: William Byron clinched the Rookie of the Year Award after finishing ninth at ISM Raceway. It is Byron’s fourth straight win of the award, previously winning it in the K&N Pro Series East Series in 2015, Camping World Truck Series in 2016, and the Xfinity Series one year ago in which he won the series title.

Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Joey Logano will join Busch next Sunday, November 18th to battle for the MENCS title. Logano is looking to earn his first series championship.

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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Texas

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff event at Texas Motor Speedway held no limits for the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford of Kevin Harvick.

Harvick swept both stages on Sunday before claiming his eighth victory of 2018 and 45th series win of his career.

Harvick earned his ticket to race for the second title of his career, but one of this week’s Top 5 is on the outside looking in. Plus, which drivers outside the playoffs are still not letting running for a championship get the best of them.

No. 1 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson earned his 11th top-five finish of the season on Sunday in No Limits Texas, finishing in the fifth position.

Larson failed to earn stage points at the 1.5-mile track, but gained 32 positions from his finish one year ago, when a late crash took him out of contention.

Larson is 12th in the point standings, nine points behind Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin.

No. 2 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola earned his 15th top-10 finish of 2018 on Sunday during the AAA Texas 500, finishing eighth.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (10th) and Stage 2 (sixth), despite battling from the back of the field due to an unapproved adjustment.

Almirola is in a must-win situation to advance in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He is seventh in the point standings, 75 points behind leader Kevin Harvick and 51 points from the fourth place cutoff.

No. 3 Paul Menard – Paul Menard has continuously made gains in his first season with the Wood Brothers driving the No. 21 Ford.

Menard gained stage points in Stage 1, finishing eighth, before finishing in the 13th position.

Menard gained 10 positions from his finish one year ago. He sits 19th in the point standings.

No. 4 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski led 50 laps on Sunday before bringing his No. 2 Wurth Ford home in the 12th position.

Keselowski failed to earn stage points during Stage 1, but earned them with a fourth place finish at the end of Stage 2.

Keselowski is 10th in the point standings.

No. 5 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson was mistakenly penalized and sent to the rear on Sunday, due to NASCAR saying his No. 48 Low’s Chevrolet failed tech inspection three times, instead of the actual two.

Johnson was involved in a wreck on Lap 97 after making contact with Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron.

Johnson led twice for a total of 11 laps before finishing in the 15th position.

He sits 14th in the point standings.

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.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Watkins Glen

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Photo by: Robert Laberge 

The Go Bowling at the Glen produced a first time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday in New York.

A youngster dominated and held off defending champion Martin Truex Jr. to earn his first victory in the series at Watkins Glen International.

Three young guns, including Sunday’s winner, a former MENCS champion, and a veteran make up this week’s Top 5.

No. 1 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski’s finish on Sunday wasn’t stellar to his standards, however it was an improvement compared to last week.

Keselowski gained 21 positions from his finish at Pocono. He earned stage points in Stage 1 with a fifth place finish. He ran as high as fourth before finishing in 17th.

The Team Penske driver is 10th in the playoff standings with four races to go in the regular season, 264 points behind leader Kyle Busch.

No. 2 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson earned his 12th top-10 finish of the season on Sunday, finishing in sixth place.

Larson failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but earned them in Stage 2 with an eighth place finish.

Larson’s finish at the Glen is the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s best finish since his debut in 2014, when he finished fourth at the 2.450-mile road course.

Larson is 11th in the playoff standings, 274 points behind Busch and 10 points from Keselowski.

No. 3 Jamie McMurray – Jamie McMurray earned his fourth top 10 of 2018, finishing seventh.

McMurray failed to earn stage points in Stage 1 on Sunday, but earned them in Stage 2 with sixth place.

McMurray earned his first top-10 finish in seven races, his last coming at Michigan in June when he finished in 10th place.

McMurray is 22nd in the points standings, 524 points behind Busch and 51 points from the cutoff position.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is going to need a win to advance into the playoffs. Can he get it done at Michigan this weekend? He has two top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes at the two-mile track.

No. 4 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott earned his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Watkins Glen.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver dominated in his 99th series start, leading 52 of 90 laps.

Elliott finished outside the top 10 in Stage 1, but captured his third stage win of the season during Stage 2.

Elliott secured his place into the playoffs with the win. He sits sixth in the playoff standings, 315 points behind Busch and 72 points from Joey Logano in fifth.

No. 5 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman hasn’t raced at Watkins Glen in three years, but that didn’t stop the 25-year-old from earning his best finish there.

Bowman earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh), before finishing 14th on Sunday.

The HMS driver is in the cutoff position in the playoff standings by 62 points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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.

Kyle Larson Wins at Richmond, Playoff field is set

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Photo by: Sarah Crabill

Kyle Larson earned his fourth win of the season Saturday night at Richmond Raceway in overtime, after the No. 15 of Derrick Cope scraped the wall to bring out the seventh caution of the night.

Larson won the race off pit road and took the lead on Lap 403 during the Federated Auto Parts 400, but contact between the No. 11 and No. 78 Toyota’s sent Truex into the Turn 1 wall.

“I’ve got the greatest team out here and definitely the best pit crew,” Larson said. “That showed tonight. I can’t thank those guys enough. They were money all night long to gain spots. This win is a huge congrats to them. The Target Chevy was pretty good all night. The No. 78 (Truex) was definitely the best, but I thought I was second best for most of the runs.

“It came down to the last restart there, and I got a good start. I spun my tires pretty bad, and I was a little nervous, but we cleared him (Truex) into (Turn) 1, and I was pretty excited about that. I’m really pumped for the playoffs. We’ve got a great shot at the championship, I feel like, this year. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Truex, the regular-season champion, finished 20th, while Hamlin earned a top-5 finish.

Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth all earned their way into the 2017 Playoffs based off points, but it was the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who experienced the most pressure.

Kenseth’s day concluded after suffering damage in the most intense way.

An ambulance stopped on the apron before the pit road entrance and drivers scrambled to avoid the vehicle, but Kenseth was not that fortunate. Kenseth plunged into the back of the No. 14 Ford of Clint Bowyer.

Joey Logano, who’s win in April was deemed encumbered, was in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. The Team Penske driver came up one position short of the victory.

“Yeah, it stings a little bit,” Logano said. “Last time we were sitting here after a race, it was after a win, and this time it’s after a second, which overall if you look at our Richmond (record) for a season with the two races, you’d say, that’s pretty good, a first and a second.”

“But just overall, obviously it stings to come up one spot short and not be able to get into the playoffs. It is what it is. It’s reality, and we will move on.”

Ryan Newman finished third, while Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 5.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Chicagoland Speedway on September 17 to kickoff the start of the playoffs. Truex won the event a year ago, while Elliott finished third after leading 75 laps.

Can Elliott earn his first career MENCS victory and punch his ticket into the next round? Find out on September 17, 2017 at 3 p.m ET on NBC Sports.