Richard Childress Racing

In the Fast Lane: Most Improved after Atlanta

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Photo by: Kevin C. Cox

The weather at Atlanta Motor Speedway hindered the start of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, causing a two-hour rain delay before taking the green on Sunday afternoon.

A veteran overcame pit road issues to score his second victory at the track in an astonishing time gap since his first, all while paying tribute to the late driver he replaced.

This week’s Top 5 were steady contenders, one driver used a different strategy from the rest to advance his chances at an early season victory, while others were consistent in earning stage points.

No. 1 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin went from the bottom of the grid to the top of it, jumping 34 spots from a year ago when a broken rear-end ended his day in the 2017 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

This year the Joe Gibbs Racing driver used a two-pit-stop strategy during the final stage in an attempt to earn him a win at the 1.5-mile track. Hamlin’s first win at Atlanta came in 2012, and he has a 22.8 average finish since the victory.

No. 2 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick’s recent dominance at Atlanta has proven that it was only a matter of time before the Stewart-Haas Racing driver returned to victory lane there.

Almost two decades separate the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s two wins at the track. Harvick won in just his fourth start in 2001 for Richard Childress Racing driving the No. 29. Harvick returned to victory lane in the No. 4 saluting Earnhardt just as he did 17 years ago.

Harvick was one of several drivers that dealt with pit-gun problems while being serviced on pit road. Harvick overcame the trouble to earn the 38th MENCS victory of his career.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola has not wasted any time showcasing his talent and deservingness with the No. 10 Smithfield Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Almirola started 11th and finished in the 13th position, but was a top contender throughout the event. Almirola earned stage points in two of the three stages, finishing fifth in Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2. He sits ninth in the points standings, tied with Paul Menard with 66 points.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon had a quiet, but effective day – earning a 14th place finish. Dillon ran as high as sixth, with a 15th average position throughout 500 miles.

Dillon has failed to earn a top-5 or top-10 at the oval since becoming a full-time driver in 2014, but he has made some gains. Dillon improved his finish by 18 positions from one year ago.

The Richard Childress Racing driver sits sixth in the standings, 19 points behind new points leader Joey Logano.

No.5 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer earned his first top-5 finish at Atlanta after finishing third on Sunday. Bowyer was the runner-up after Stage 1 and finished ninth in Stage 2, before earning his first top-5 of the season.

Bowyer jumped eight spots in the standings, from 13th to fifth. Three points separate him from Hamlin in third, and 15 from Logano.

Can Bowyer break a 187-race winless streak to score his first win in almost five years at Las Vegas?

Notables: Daniel Suarez excelled at Atlanta before falling back to a 15th place finish, the lowest position for the 26-year-old throughout the day. He was as high as third and earned a 10th place finish at the end of Stage 2.

Several drivers, including defending MENCS champion Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, and Harvick, had problems with the new mandatory pit guns. Truex’s team went through three guns because they failed to work properly.  Will the problems be consistent or will they be resolved early in the season?

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In the Fast Lane: Most Improved after Daytona

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Photo by: Robert Laberge

The 2018 NASCAR season kicked off to an incredibly start in the 60th running of The Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway.

An iconic number returned to Victory Lane after being pushed by another, while rookies and veterans alike were the victim of the Big One.

This week’s Top 5 most improved drivers earned their place by making impressive moves, improving their positions from a year ago, and leading laps and earning stage points.

No. 1 Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. – The Richard Petty Motorsports driver finished a career high second in his first start in the Daytona 500. Wallace, who started seventh, remained up front throughout the event and became the highest finishing African American in the event. Wendell Scott held the previous record for his 13th place finish in the 1966 Daytona 500.

Wallace pushed Austin Dillon to the win Sunday evening and avoided the Big One, despite contact with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin in overtime.

The RPM driver can take the momentum and confidence gained and apply it next weekend at Atlanta. Wallace has three Xfinity starts at the 1.5-mile track, his best finish is sixth from one year ago.

No. 2 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon stated he doesn’t remember much about the 1998 Daytona 500, in which he stood in Victory Lane next to the late Dale Earnhardt.

The 27-year-old will have a reason to remember this year’s event in twenty years.

Dillon restarted fourth in an overtime finish, but gained the lead after making contact with Aric Almirola, which sent the Stewart-Haas Racing driver spinning.

The win is Dillon’s second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Dillon now holds victories in two of the four “Crown Jewel” events. Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2017.

Dillon has proven to excel under pressure of the famous No. 3 in recent years, earning eight top-5s and 18 top-10 finishes since 2016.

No. 3 Ryan Blaney – Ryan Blaney dominated by leading 118 laps and winning Stage 2. The newest driver of Team Penske came back to earn a seventh place finish despite sustaining damage in two multi-car wrecks.

Blaney heads into Atlanta, where he has an average finish of 21.5, as the points leader. Can he improve his results, and will it be enough to keep the points lead over teammate Joey Logano?

No. 4 Michael McDowell – Michael McDowell found a new home at Front Row Motorsports after losing his ride to Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing, but he picked up right where he left off with another stellar performance at a restrictor plate track.

McDowell finished ninth in his 250th start. It is his second straight top-10 at Daytona and sixth top-10 of his career.

McDowell wasn’t in contention for the win at the end, but remained mid-pack for majority of the race. He was as high as fifth and secured stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (fifth).

No. 5 Chris Buescher – Chris Buescher last scored a top-5 in August of 2016, when he finished fifth at Bristol. The JTG-Daugherty Racing driver quietly climbed inside the top-5 Sunday to earn his best finish at the 2.5-mile track.

Buescher scored a top-10 during the 2017 Coca Zero 400. He sits ninth in the points standings, 25 points behind the points leader.

Notables: Justin Marks earned his best career finish at Daytona with 12th place, one lap down from the leaders. Marks has four MENCS starts and led his first lap in the series on Sunday.

William Byron finished 23rd after spinning on Lap 190. Byron was also involved in a 9-car incident on Lap 60 that ended the day for Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, and two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson.

Danica Patrick was the victim of a multi-car wreck on Lap 102 and finished in the 35th position. The race was Patrick’s last NASCAR event. She is scheduled to participate in the Indy 500 to bring her racing career to an end.

Austin Dillon wins 60th Daytona 500

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Photo by: Robert Laberge 

Austin Dillon went from fourth to first during an overtime finish that resulted in the Richard Childress Racing driver celebrating his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Daytona International Speedway.

Dillon acquired the lead after making contact with the bumper of the No. 10 of Aric Almirola, who attempted to hold his position by moving in front of the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet.

“I did what I had to do there at the end,” Dillon said. “I hate it for the No. 10 (Almirola’s) guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona.”

“This is so awesome to take the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane. This one is for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those (Dale) Sr. fans. I love you guys.”

Dillon’s win comes in the same number the late Dale Earnhardt won the prestigious event 20 years ago.

“I said (after) my first win I couldn’t beat it, but this does. My grandfather has done everything for me. Everybody knows it. There is a lot of pressure on me to perform, because I’ve had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure. The same with the No. 3. There is a lot of pressure behind that.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second in his Daytona 500 debut racing for Richard Petty Motorsports. Wallace is the first African American driver to race full time in the Cup series in 47 years.

“I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do, and my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it,” Wallace said. “But I just want to make them proud. Second is horrible, but it’s still a good day.”

Former Daytona 500 winners Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano finished third and fourth, respectively, while Chris Buescher rounded out the top-5.

Ryan Blaney finished seventh after a dominate performance. The Team Penske driver led 118 laps before being involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 199. His teammate Brad Keselowski finished in the 32nd position after being involved in a seven-car crash on Lap 102.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Atlanta on Sunday, February 25, 2018. Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Larson one year ago.

Who will win this year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500? Tune into FOX next Sunday at 2 p.m. ET to find out.

Ryan Newman snaps winless streak at Phoenix

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Camping World 500

Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey

Ryan Newman snapped a 127 race winless streak Sunday after a late caution allowed the team to play with strategy. Luke Lambert, crew chief for Ryan Newman, made the call to stay out despite Newman wanting to pit.

The decision was the race winning move that gave Newman his 18th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, and his first since July 28, 2013 at Indianapolis.

“I’ve lost count—that’s how long it’s been,” Newman said, “What a gutsy call by Luke. I called for two tires, and he called for none.”

Newman wasn’t the only one on old tires, however. He was joined by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. Kyle Larson restarted fourth with two fresh tires, but collided with Stenhouse before he was able to take advantage of it.

“Hindsight is always 20/20, but I should have went a lane up in (Turns) 1 and 2.” Larson said, “I should have known to just stay close to Newman. That’s what I wish I would have done.”

Larson does have one thing to be happy about after the Camping World 500. He gained the series points lead earning his third straight second place finish.

Kyle Busch, who led 114 laps and looked to capture his first win of the season before Joey Logano’s tire blew, finished third, followed by Stenhouse, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick.

“We really needed the outside like Larson had,” Busch said after the race. “Overall, we should be proud of our run today and we will move on.”

It was a sweet victory for all involved at Richard Childress Racing. RCR had yet to win a race since Kevin Harvick won the fall race at Phoenix before joining Stewart-Haas Racing.

“It’s sweet for so many reasons,” Newman said. “This is the longest drought I’ve ever had. A hard-fought battle, a hard-fought race, a hard-fought four years.”