NASCAR Playoffs

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Las Vegas

bradkeselowskimonsterenergynascarcuptdrl7vdulj9l
Photo by: Chris Graythen  

The first race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs was a wild and exciting start to the post-season. Several playoff contenders were taken out during the South Point 400, ranging from be a victim of someone else’s misfortune to blown tires.

Four of the five drivers in this week’s Top 5 earned best finishes, including Saturday’s Xfinity Series winner in the DC Solar 300.

No. 1 Regan Smith – Regan Smith finished in the 12th position on Sunday in just his second race of the season, subbing for the sidelined Kasey Kahne.

Smith led 10 laps during the South Point 400. The 34-year-old has at least three more races in the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing, including the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

It’ll be interesting to see what Smith does with his time in the car from here. His best finish was 17th at Dover in 2012.

No. 2 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez earned his seventh top-10 finish of the season, finishing eighth.

Suarez failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but ran as high as fourth. He gained 18 positions from his finish at the 1.5-mile track earlier this year.

The finish is the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s best since finishing fourth at Watkins Glen in one month ago.

No. 3 Ross Chastain – Ross Chastain may not want to leave Vegas after a thrilling weekend in Sin City.

Chastain freshly came off his first career win in Saturday’s Xfinity event to race on Sunday, where he finished 20th.

Chastain ran as high as 13th on Sunday throughout 400 miles. The finish is his best since finishing 18th at Texas in April.

No. 4 Corey LaJoie– Corey LaJoie’s 16th place finish is the driver’s second-best finish of his career, and best since finishing 11th at Daytona last summer.

LaJoie held a 29th place average position throughout the race, but ran as high as fifth on Sunday.

How will LaJoie fair at Richmond and will the momentum carry over into Richmond?

No. 5 Trevor Bayne – Trevor Bayne earned a top-15 finish at Las Vegas on Sunday, finishing in the 13th position.

Bayne has finished in the top 15 two weeks in a row, and ran as high as third on Sunday.

Can Bayne earn his first top-10 finish of the season next weekend at Richmond?

Notable: Brad Keselowski’s win on Sunday in Las Vegas was the driver’s third consecutive win of the season. It also marked the 500th victory for team owner Roger Penske.

Advertisements

Truex wins at Homestead for Championship

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 400
Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

Martin Truex Jr. didn’t think about what being a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion would feel like prior to the Ford EcoBoost 400. He didn’t think about it during Sunday’s event either.

It wasn’t until the Furniture Row Racing crossed the finish line for the eighth time this season that the 37-year-old got emotional.

“I couldn’t even talk,” he said. “I was a wreck thinking about all the tough days, the bad days, the times where I thought my career was over with, the times when I didn’t think anyone believed in me. But the guys who mattered did — my fans, my family and then when I got with this team.

“They are unbelievable and they resurrected my career and made me a champion.”

Despite being the team to beat throughout the 2017 season the No. 78 team was looked at as the underdog, looking to defeat the odds for a storybook-type ending.

And they did. Time after time after time. The result ending with Truex earning his first career MENCS championship with eight wins, 19 top-5s, and 26 top-10 finishes.

“Honestly, it’s just a lot of love on our team,” said (crew chief) Cole Pearn. “We all believe in each other and believe if you live your lives right, good things will come. We’ve been together a long time and we battle like brothers. All I did the last few laps was think of my friend Jake and his family.

“It’s just unbelievable we’ve been able to do this. I’m still speechless about it. I just hope that what comes out of this are accolades for (what) an unbelievably good driver Martin is.”

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 400
Photo by: Brian Lawdermilk

Sherry Pollex, Truex’s longtime girlfriend, reaffirmed that statement.

“I told him that’s why you never give up, because these guys are so cool,” Pollex said. “That’s been our motto all along, ever since I started my cancer battle. We are never going to give up and we didn’t.”

The conclusion of the finale at Homestead potentially marked the ending of three full-time Cup drivers.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who announced his retirement in April, finished 25th in his last race. The 14-time winner of the Most Popular Driver award ends with 26 career wins, including two victories of the Daytona 500 (2004, 2014).

Matt Kenseth, who is being replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing by Erik Jones, finished eighth. Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for 2018 and has stated he is not actively looking, however he will not call it a retirement.

Danica Patrick finished 37th in a 39-car field in what will be her second-to-last start. Patrick will race in the 2018 Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 before calling it quits.

Kyle Busch finished second to Truex, followed by Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, and Chase Elliott. Brad Keselowski finished seventh.

Kevin Harvick Earns Texas Victory

kevinharvickmonsterenergynascarcupserieshgby0mwtpkyl
Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey

Kevin Harvick became “The Closer” once again for the second time this season, passing Martin Truex Jr. in the final laps at Texas Motor Speedway to earn his first career win at the 1.5-mile track.

Harvick’s 37th career victory guarantees him a chance to battle for the 2017 championship at Homestead in two weeks.

“This feels so good,” Harvick said, “We have been qualifying well here and racing well ever since I have been at Stewart-Haas Racing and just never got it to work out to go to Victory Lane. Today we had to earn it. To be able to pass the 78 car for the win is something that is huge for our confidence and team knowing we need to go to another 1.5 mile (track) at Homestead to race for the championship.”

Truex finished second after leading 107 of 334 laps, but the Furniture Row Racing driver still has reason to celebrate. Truex secured his way into the Championship 4 based on points, joining Harvick and Kyle Busch in the final round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

“At the start of the race, our car wasn’t very good,” Truex said. “Track position was a big part of this race. We fought the car. We fought track position. We got the lead, led some laps. Ultimately, at the end, we weren’t as good as we needed to be to win.”

“A little disappointed to come up short, but to clinch a spot in Miami is unbelievable. Definitely got the job done today and came here and did what we needed to do.”

Matt Kenseth earned his first top-5 finish since Loudon in September, one day after saying that he will likely step away from Cup full-time at season’s end. He led 29 laps before finishing fourth.

Kyle Larson hit the wall and ended up in flames on Lap 282. The incident was the driver’s third weekend in a row which ended in finishes of 37th or worse.

Last week’s winner and Brad Keselowski were also faced with trouble on the first lap of the event. The two made contact and were forced to pit to access damages. Keselowski rebounded and finished fifth, while Busch had additional issues on Lap 275. He finished in the 19th position.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 12th to set the field for the Championship 4.

Five different drivers (Keselowski, Hamlin, Blaney, Elliott, and Johnson) are left with only one spot available. Who will advance? Find out on November 12th at 2:30 p.m ET on the NBC Sports Network.

Kyle Busch Wins at Martinsville in Overtime

kylebuschmonsterenergynascarcupseriesazgxldlc7gjl
Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

Kyle Busch won for the fifth time this season and the crowd booed, but not for the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

The chants were for Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin was running second with three laps to go when he put the nose of his Toyota to the back of the No. 24 of Chase Elliott, spinning the driver and stripping him of his first career win.

The incident sent the First Data 500 into overtime and ended after a multi-car incident on the frontstrech. Busch beat Martin Truex Jr. to the line by .141 seconds, for the second time at “The Paperclip” and the 43rd time of his career.

The win earns Busch a place in the Final 4 for the third straight year.

“I wanted to get a better restart, pinch Denny down a little bit, but it actually kind of worked out better for me that he got ahead a little bit, gave me a gap,” Busch said. “I got down (to the inside lane), and he got into Turn 3 and just pushed up the race track and I knew I had to plug that hole right away cause I was just going to get beat on from behind,

“So I got up in there and rooted him out of the way a little bit, and we drag-raced down the front straightaway and deep into (Turn) 1, I just wheel-hopped, chattered the rear tires and it was sideways getting in there trying to calm it down with the brakes and everything else. Was able to get through there luckily somehow – I don’t know how – and beat Truex off of (Turn) 4 back to the start/finish line.”

Brad Keselowski finished fourth after leading 108 laps and securing both stage wins. Keselowski fell short of a victory after contact with Elliott sent the Team Penske driver up the track and out of contention for the win in the Round of 8.

Joey Logano finished in the 24th position after a tire rub sent the driver of the No. 22 spinning on Lap 492.

Elliott obtained the lead on the restart, but was pumped from behind by the No. 11 FedEx Walgreen’s Toyota of Hamlin.

Elliott showed his displeasure by engaging in a heated discussion with Hamlin on the backstretch, but remained poised in his remarks about the incident.

“I got punted from behind and wrecked in Turn 3 leading the race,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what his problem was. It was unnecessary. I hadn’t raced him dirty all day long. There was no reason for that, and he comes over and talks to me a second ago and tells me he had somebody pushing him into Turn 3.

“I thought that was funny, because there was nobody within two car lengths of him into Turn 3 behind myself. I don’t know what the deal was, but it is so disappointing. We had the best car I’ve ever had here at Martinsville. And had an opportunity to go straight to Homestead and because of him, we don’t.”

Elliott sits eighth in the Playoff standings, 90 points behind the leader and 26 behind Kevin Harvick, who holds the last seed into the Final 4 at Homestead.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Texas Motor Speedway on November 5th. Who will be the next to earn their chance at the 2017 championship? Will a non-playoff driver play spoiler?

Find out November 5, 2017 at 2 p.m ET on the NBC Sports Network.

Martin Truex Jr. overcomes obstacles at Kansas


Photo by: Sarah Crabill

Martin Truex Jr. has battled many obstacles during his 14 years in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He overcame them once again Sunday, earning his seventh trip to Victory Lane this season.

Truex, who started from the pole, received a restart penalty in the early stages of the Hollywood Casino 400 after the Furniture Row Racing driver went below the white line before reaching the start/finish line.

Truex remained on the lead lap after serving a pass-through penalty, but an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 91 put them one lap behind the leader.

Truex became the first driver in history to sweep both races at Kansas Speedway, just hours after the sudden death of road-crew fabricator Jim Watson.

“Just can’t say enough about all these guys on this Furniture Row/Bass Pro Toyota,” Truex said. “Just really proud of them. Definitely racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim (Watson) last night. Want to send our condolences to his family and all of his friends. He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, so glad we could get him one here.”

“Excited to get another one here at Kansas. This feels really awesome. It’s really Furniture Row’s home track. It just feels really good to finally get – to finally get another one here. We got that one in the spring after so many heartbreaks, and then today it looked like it was going to happen and we just persevered.”

Four drivers were eliminated from advancing into the Round of 8, ending their chance of becoming the 2017 champion. Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Larson were among the bottom four at the conclusion of the second elimination race of the MENCS Playoffs.

Larson, who was third in the standings coming into the weekend, failed to advance after the engine in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet expired during Stage 2 of the event. As a result, Larson finished in the 39th position and ninth in the standings – nine points behind defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson went through his own troubles that put his chances of an eighth championship in jeopardy. The Hendrick Motorsports driver spun twice within five laps, but received a break on Lap 198.

Kenseth, who was 1 of 14 involved in a crash, was parked by NASCAR after having too many men over the wall working on the No. 20 Toyota.

Kurt Busch finished second, his best finish since winning the Daytona 500 in February. Ryan Blaney finished third, while Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-5.

Chris Buescher finished sixth to match his best finish of the season at Michigan in August. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished seventh, his seventh top-10 of the season.

Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola finished eighth and ninth, respectively. Kyle Busch finished 10th.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to the Paper Clip on Sunday, October 29th to kickoff the third round of the Playoffs. Coverage at Martinsville starts at 3 p.m ET on the NBC Sports Network.

Kyle Busch Wins at New Hampshire

kylebuschmonsterenergynascarcupseriesxcngzhl7yqwl
Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey

Kyle Busch secured his way into Round 2 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with his win Sunday during the ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Busch led 187 of 300 laps toward his third win of the season. The win is also the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s third win at the 1.058-mile track and the 41st of his career.

Busch missed being in a multi-car wreck on Lap 150 when the No. 3 of Austin Dillon made contact with Kevin Harvick. The contact ultimately turned the 2014 MENCS Champion sideways.

Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch and Jeffrey Earnhardt had nowhere to go when they hit the Mobil 1 Ford.

“That was pretty intense,” Busch said “That was some ‘Days of Thunder’ stuff over there. You couldn’t see anything. It was just a wall of smoke over there off of Turn 2. I was listening to my spotter and basically was told to stop, and I was like ‘Sounds like a good idea.’

“I just checked up as much as I could. Of course, I was trying not to get run into from behind. I didn’t know who was behind me – I knew Matt (Kenseth) was there. But all in all, just a great day. We ran up front all day long, we executed, we did what we were supposed to do, and it’s awesome to win here in the Granite State in front of these fans.”

Kasey Kahne heads to the Monster Mile as the No. 16 seed in the playoff standings. The Hendrick Motorsport driver is in a must-win situation after a broken rear suspension sent him to the garage for repairs on Lap 263.

Kahne returned, but finished in the 35th position, 11 laps behind the leader.

Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski clinched their positions into the Round of 12 based on points. Larson finished second, while Keselowski finished fourth, his 12th top-5 of the season.

The MENCS head to Dover International Speedway on Sunday, October 1st, where eight positions are on the line to remain in contention for the 2017 Championship.

Will Jimmie Johnson recover from his summer slump and find Victory Lane at the track he hold 11 victories at? Find out on October 1, 2017 at 2 p.m ET on NBC Sports.