Matt Kenseth

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 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.

Matt Kenseth wins AAA 400 at Dover

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 Drive for Autism

Picture by: Matt Hazlett

Matt Kenseth held off a charging Kyle Larson to win the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver gambled on the last pit stop of the evening by taking two tires. It paid off and put him into victory lane while qualifying him for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“It feels good to get this one for sure,” Kenseth said in victory lane. “We were tight all day on restarts. And on that last one, I got so loose, I thought Kyle was gong to get by me. … Kyle gave me all I wanted that’s for sure.”

Kenseth became the seventh different winner in a chaotic second half at the Monster Mile. On lap 353, a chain reaction ensued on a restart. An 18-car pile up took place after Jimmie Johnson could not proceed because of a gear issue. The multi-car wreck, which included Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and AJ Allmendinger, caused an 11-minute red flag.

“As soon as I went from second and tried to go third … it stopped before it ever went to third,” Johnson said

“In my career, I’ve never had a transmission do that to me. To lock out and not go across the gate and no gear available is something that has never happened to me.”

A battle for second between Kyle Larson and Carl Edwards sent Edwards spinning into the inside wall. The wall was protected by a SAFER barrier.

Kenseth held off Larson as well as rookie Chase Elliott to win his third career win at the one mile track. Kenseth battled with the young stars in the remaining laps Saturday afternoon, but was able to hold his position for his 37th Sprint Cup victory. He led 48 laps in his Dollar General Toyota Camry.

“I had gotten close to his bumper a couple times. I may have even got into him once. I didn’t want to do anything dirty,” Larson said. “I respect Matt Kenseth a lot. He’s definitely in my eyes the cleanest racer out there. He always races me with respect. I try to do the same with him.”