Matt DiBenedetto

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Dover

Photo by: Chris Trotman

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kicked off the second round of the playoffs at Dover International Speedway, where one driver secured his place into the next round by earning his first win of 2019.

Four organizations are featured in this week’s Top 5, including two drivers who are tied in the standings

No. 1 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson snapped a 75 race winless streak on Sunday, leading 154 of 400 laps.

Larson earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (second).

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is fifth in the playoff standings, 32 points behind leader Martin Truex Jr.

No. 2 Matt DiBenedetto – Matt DiBenedetto earned his seventh top-10 finish during the Drydene 400, finish seventh.

The Leavine Family Racing driver failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as third with an average position of 12th.

DiBenedetto is 21st in the point standings, 14 points behind Chris Buescher in 20th.

No. 3 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson earned his 11th top 10 of the season, finish in eighth place.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh) and Stage 2 (fifth).

Johnson is 17th in the points standings, 10 points ahead of Daniel Suarez.

No. 4 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch earned his 23rd top-10 finish of the season on Sunday, finishing sixth.

Busch earned stage points during Stage 1 with an eighth place finish, and ran as high as 4th throughout 400 miles.

Busch is tied with teammate Denny Hamlin for second in the playoff standings, 15 points behind Truex.

No. 5 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin earned his 15th top-five finish of 2019, finishing fifth.

Hamlin won the first stage of the race and added to his playoff points total with a third place finish in Stage 2.

Hamlin is tied with Busch in the playoff standings, 15 points behind Truex.

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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.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Watkins Glen

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited a road course for the second time this season on Sunday at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York.

There are five different organizations featured in this week’s Top 5, with two drivers being former series champions.

No. 1 Matt DiBenedetto – Matt DiBenedetto earned his fourth top-10 finish of the season at Watkins Glen.

The Leavine Family Racing driver finished sixth. He held a 12th place average throughout 220.5 miles, running as high as sixth.

DiBenedetto is 23rd in the point standings, 471 points behind leader Kyle Busch and 86 points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who is 20th.

No. 2 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin earned 11th top five on Sunday, finishing in the third position.

Hamlin earned stage points in Stage 1 (second) and Stage 2 (fifth). He ran as high as second with an average position of fifth.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is fourth in the point standings, 80 points behind teammate Busch.

No. 3 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson finished 19th on Sunday, but gained 11 positions from his finish at the 2.45-mile road course one year ago.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (10th).

Johnson is tied with Ryan Newman for 16th in the point standings, 307 behind Busch and 12 points from 15th.

No. 4 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola finished 12th on Sunday, gaining 10 positions from one year ago when he finished 22nd.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (10th).

Almirola is ninth in the point standings, 211 points behind Busch and 113 points behind Martin Truex Jr. in fifth.

No. 5 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski earned his 12th top-10 finish of the year on Sunday, finishing in the ninth position.

Keselowski failed to earn stage points during Stage 1 of the Go Bowling at the Glen, but earned them in Stage 2 with sixth.

The Team Penske driver is sixth in the standings, 123 points behind Busch and 25 points behind Truex.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after the Daytona 500

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Photo by: Sean Gardner 

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kicked off their season on Sunday, February 17th at Daytona International Speedway.

A veteran became a 2-time champion of the Great American Race, while a team who switched manufacturers led the most laps.

No. 1 Matt DiBenedetto – Matt DiBenedetto may have finished outside the top 10 at the end of the Daytona 500, but that doesn’t take away from the performance he gave during it.

DiBenedetto earned stage points during Stage 2 with a sixth place finish.

He led twice for a total of 49 laps, the most laps by a driver throughout the event. The No. 95 team switched from Chevrolet to Toyota for the 2019 season and have a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Can DiBenedetto continue the success at Atlanta? His best finish at the 1.5-mile track is 28th.

No. 2 Ryan Preece – Ryan Preece earned his first top-10 finish in just his sixth MENCS start on Sunday, finishing in the eighth position.

Preece failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as third on Sunday.

Preece holds on start at Atlanta. He earned a 22nd place finish in the Xfinity Series four years ago.

No. 3 Ross Chastain – Ross Chastain’s incredible Daytona Speedweeks came to an end on Sunday, where he earned a 10th place finish.
Chastain failed to earn stage points throughout 500 miles, but ran as high as ninth on Sunday.

Chastain gave his team, Premium Motorsports, their second top-10 in 231 starts.

Chastain will drive the No. 4 Chevrolet next Saturday in the Xfinity Series, before returning to the No. 15 on Sunday at Atlanta.

No. 4 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson’s day at Daytona might have the most eventful of the 40-car field. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was involved in three accidents, all in the final stage at the 2.5-mile track.

Larson spun on Lap 181 in Turn 3 and miraculously avoided making contact with other drivers. Larson was involved in a multi-car pileup ten laps later.

On Lap 195 Larson was involved in a seven-car accident with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, Ty Dillon, and Brad Keselowski.

Larson battled back to finish seventh.

No. 5 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his first top-five finish of the 2019 season on Sunday, finishing third.

Jones earned finished 10th at the end of Stage 1, but failed to earn stage points during Stage 2.

Jones was a victim of the “Big One” on Lap 192, but overcame his struggles to give JGR a 1-2-3 finish – the first since Hendrick Motorsports in 1997.

Notables: Michael McDowell earned his second straight top-10 finish in the Daytona 500, finishing in the fifth position on Sunday.

McDowell has three top 10s in the last four starts at Daytona, he finished fourth during the summer race in 2017

Denny Hamlin won his second Daytona 500 in four years, making him the 12th driver in history to have multiple wins in the prestigious event.

The victory was the JGR driver’s 32nd of his Cup career, tying him with Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett on the all-time most wins list.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Daytona

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Photo by: Sarah Crabill

The third superspeedway event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule was a wild one in Daytona, Florida – where a young star earned his first series victory in overtime.

This week’s Top 5 features some fresh faces that we don’t normally see, some for the first time this season.

Several drivers scored their best finishes of the year, one earning the first top-10 finish of his career.

No. 1 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his first career Cup win on Saturday night after passing the defending series champion on the last lap in overtime.

Jones went a lap down after being involved in a multicar wreck on Lap 65. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver failed to earn stage points, but secured his place into the 2018 playoffs with his victory.

Jones sits in the 13th position in the points standings, 301 points behind teammate Kyle Busch and 55 points from Aric Almirola, who is in 10th place.

No. 2 Kasey Kahne – Kasey Kahne earned his first top-5 finish of the year and with new team Leavine Family Racing, finishing fourth.

Kahne led 17 laps and earned stage points in Stage 2 (fourth). He was 1 of 26 cars involved in a crash on Lap 54 when Brad Keselowski was turned after bumper contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Kahne’s finish is his first top 5 since winning last year’s Brickyard 400 in July. He sits 26th in the points standings, 480 points behind the leader and 138 points from Stenhouse in the 16th place cutoff.

No. 3 Matt DiBenedetto – Matt DiBenedetto earned his first top 10 of the 2018 season on Saturday, finishing seventh.

DiBenedetto failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as third throughout 400 miles.

The Go Fas Racing driver is 30th in the points standings, 535 points behind Busch and 104 points from 20th place.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon followed his Daytona 500 win up with a ninth-place finish in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Dillon earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (eighth). He ran as high as second and held a 12th place average.

Dillon is 18th in the points standings, 402 points behind Busch and 60 away from 16th place.

No. 5 Ty Dillon – Ty Dillon’s top-10 finish at Daytona wasn’t just the first of the year for the Germain Racing driver, it was the first of his MENCS career.

Dillon finished sixth on Saturday, earning him his first top-10 in a career that spans five years, three of which are full-time.

Dillon failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but led three laps and finished fifth in Stage 2.

Dillon is 29th in the points standings, 505 points behind the leader.