Stewart-Haas Racing

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 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 Talladega

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Photo by: Chris Graythen

The second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs took place in Talladega, Alabama, where the winner was decided in overtime.

Two teammates are featured in this week’s Top 5, along with three drivers who earned or matched their best finish of the season.

No. 1 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola finally visited Victory Lane on Sunday, snapping a four year, 149-race winless streak.

Almirola led the final lap in overtime to earn him his second career victory, passing teammate Kurt Busch for the win after his fellow teammate ran out of fuel on the final restart.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 and Stage 2, with a fourth place finish in each segment.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earns a place into the next round of the MENCS Playoffs with his victory. He is fifth in the standings, 41 points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer earned his first top-five in eight races at Talladega Super Speedway, finishing second.

Bowyer ran alongside his teammates in a near perfect strategy that dominated the field throughout 500 miles at the 2.66-mile track.

Bowyer earned stage points with second place finishes in Stage 1 and Stage 2. Bowyer held a fourth place average position on Sunday.

Bowyer is sixth in the standings, 42 points behind Harvick and one point behind Almirola.

No. 3 Regan Smith – Regan Smith earned his first top 10 since earning third at Pocono Raceway in August of 2016.

Smith, who will be finishing the year in the No. 95 for the sidelined Kasey Kahne, ran as high as sixth.

How will Smith perform next week at Kansas? He has one top-10 finish at the 1.5-mile track, a seventh place result in 2012 racing for Furniture Row Racing.

No. 4 Brendan Gaughan – Brendan Gaughan tied his best finish in four starts this season, finishing 12th at Talladega.

Gaughan led one lap on Sunday on Lap 139. His average at the super speedway was 24th.

The finish is Gaughan’s best since earning a top five more than a decade ago.

No. 5 Trevor Bayne – Trevor Bayne earned his fifth top-15 finish of the season on Sunday, finishing the event in 13th place.

Bayne gained 25 positions from his 38th finish at the track in the spring. He ran as high as 10th during the 1000Bulbs.com 500.

Bayne will be back in the No. 6 Ford for his 20th race this season at Kansas Speedway. In seven starts, he has one top 10.

Notable: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned his third top-five finish of the year, and first since finishing fifth at Talladega in the spring. He finished third on Sunday. His other top five came at Bristol in the spring.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Dover

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Photo by: Chris Trotman 

The first race in the Round of 12 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs went into overtime on Sunday to determine a winner.

Five playoff contenders were involved in a wreck with two laps remaining in the Gander Outdoors 400, one of them made this week’s Top 5.

No. 1 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch earned his 24th top 10 of the season on Sunday at Dover International Speedway, finishing eighth.

Busch earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (seventh). He led three times for a total of 21 laps.

Busch is second in the playoff standings, five points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch earned his sixth top-five finish of the season on Sunday, finishing in fifth.

Busch earned stage points in Stage 1 (eighth) and Stage 2 (sixth).

Busch is sixth in the standings, tied with Brad Keselowski, 47 points behind Harvick and two points behind race winner Chase Elliott in fifth.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola continues to dominate in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, with misfortunes keeping him from snapping a 149-race winless streak.

Almirola was involved in a five-car crash on Lap 398 of 400, which resulted in the Stewart-Haas Racing driver finishing in 13th place.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (fifth), with an average position of sixth place.

Almirola is tied for ninth in the standings with teammate Clint Bowyer, 68 points behind Harvick and 10 points from Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney.

No. 4 Erik Jones – Erik Jones earned his seventh top-five finish of the season at the Monster Mile, finishing in the fourth position.

Jones failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as third during the Gander Outdoors 400. He gained 14 positions from five months ago, when he finished 18th.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is 16th is the standings, 15 points behind teammate Denny Hamlin.

No. 5 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon earned his sixth top-10 finish of 2018, finishing in seventh place.

Dillon failed to earn stage points on Sunday, but ran as high as fifth and was 12th mid-way through the event.

Dillon is 13th in the standings, 1,000 points behind Harvick.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Richmond

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Photo by: Robert Laberge  

The second race in the Round of 16 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs was dominated by the Big 3, with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch taking the victory.

The Big 3 of Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. finished 1-2-3, combining for 295 laps led.

Two of Harvick’s teammates make this week’s Top 5, as well as a former three-time winner at Richmond Raceway.

No. 1 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer struggled throughout the beginning of Saturday night’s race, finishing outside the top 10 in Stage 1 and Stage 2.

Bowyer earned a 10th place finish despite his struggles, gaining 14 positions from one year ago.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver sits 13th in the playoff standings heading into the elimination road course race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He is four points behind Ryan Blaney, who is in the cutoff position.

No. 2 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola earned his second top-5 finish of the season, finishing in the fifth position.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (third).

Almirola is sixth in the playoff standings, two points from Joey Logano in fifth and 62 points behind leader Martin Truex Jr.

No. 3 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson earned his ninth top-10 of 2018 on Saturday, finishing eighth.

Johnson, a three time winner at Richmond Raceway, failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but finished Stage 2 in the eighth position.

Johnson is one of four drivers below the cutoff heading in Sunday’s elimination event. He sits 14th, six points behind Blaney.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon finished in the sixth position on Saturday, earning him his fifth top 10 of the season.

Dillon failed to earn stage points in Stage 1 and Stage 2, but gained 15 positions from his finish at the .75-mile track one year ago.

The Richard Childress Racing driver is tied with Chase Elliott in the playoff standings for ninth, 75 points behind Truex.

No. 5 Martin Truex Jr. – Martin Truex Jr. dominated at Richmond Raceway once again, leading 163 of 400 laps.

Truex earned stage points by winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2, before bringing his No. 78 Auto-Owner’s Insurance Toyota home to a third place finish.

Truex remains the points leader by 16 points over race winner Kyle Busch and 28 points over Harvick.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after New Hampshire

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Photo by: Robert Laberge

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event in Loudon, New Hampshire got off to a slow start on Sunday, thanks to rain showers in the area that delayed the start of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 by three hours.

It was a dominating performance by “the Big 3” once again, with the winner landing in this week’s Top 5 for the gains from the last race at the track nine months ago.

Two of Harvick’s teammates join him, while Hendrick Motorsports may be on the rise at just the right time.

No. 1 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick earned his sixth victory of the season on Sunday, leading 12 laps toward the win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Harvick battled with Kyle Busch in the closing laps, even making contact with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to take the lead for his third career win at the 1.058-mile track.

The 2014 MENCS Champion earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh) and Stage 2 (fourth), as well as gaining 35 positions from last September.

Harvick is second in the points standings, 53 points behind Busch.

No. 2 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola has made significant gains in his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing, and Sunday was no different for the driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford.

Almirola led twice for a total of 42 laps, before earning his first top-5 finish of the year, earning third.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (10th) and Stage 2 (fifth). He is 11th in the points standings, 269 points behind the leader and just eight points behind Denny Hamlin, who is in the 10th position.

No. 3 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott and his No. 9 Chevrolet showed their growing potential on Sunday, leading 23 laps before finishing fifth. The finish is Elliott’s first top-5 and top-10 at the track with five starts to his credit.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished second to Martin Truex Jr during Stage 1, before earning his first stage win of the season at the end of Stage 2.

Elliott sits in the 13th position in the points standings, 324 points behind Busch and 63 points from 10th place.

Can Elliott earn his first MENCS victory on Sunday at Pocono Raceway? The 22-year-old has one top 5 and four top 10s at the 2.5-mile track.

No. 4 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch matched his finish from one year ago, earning his 11th top 10 of the season in 20 races.

Busch earned stage points in Stage 1 (fourth) and Stage 2 (second). He led 94 laps on Sunday, before finishing eighth.

Busch is fifth in the points standings and eighth in the playoff standings, 198 points behind his brother. He is the first driver in the playoff standings without a win.

Can Busch earn his first win of the season next weekend at Pocono? The driver of the No. 41 Ford has 3 wins, 14 top 5s, and 19 top-10 finishes there, with a 14.3 average finish.

No. 5 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team may be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, with six races remaining in the regular season.

Johnson earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (eighth), before bringing his Lowe’s Chevrolet home in 10th place.

Despite it being Johnson’s seventh top-10 of the season, it is the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s first in seven races, when he finished eighth at Pocono in early June.

Johnson sits 12th in the points standings, 322 points behind Busch and 61 points behind Hamlin.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Sonoma

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Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series return from an off weekend and head West to the first road course of the season at Sonoma Raceway in California.

The Toyota/Save Mart 350 quickly became a strategic race, with a trick play eventually becoming the winning move of the race.

Three young guns and two veterans had impressive runs at Sonoma. Here’s how they stack up.

No. 1 Martin Truex Jr. – Martin Truex Jr. earned his third win of the season at Sonoma Raceway in one of the most unusual strategic plays not only of this season, but the last five.

Truex opted to pit on Lap 73 of 110, but plans changed last minute at the order of crew chief Cole Pearn. That wasn’t the only thing that put Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team ahead, because Kevin Harvick pitted despite the No. 78 Chevrolet diverting from the plan.

The move became a race winning one that included only one pit stop, on Lap 81, that eventually gave him more than a 20-second lead over Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott.

The win is Truex’s second at the 1.99-mile road course and the 18th of his career. He sits fifth in the points standings, 150 points behind leader Kyle Busch.

No. 2 Erik Jones – Erik Jones was a quiet contender on Sunday. He failed to earn stage points, but held a 14th place average and was inside the top 10 at the halfway point.

Jones earned his sixth top-10 finish of the year, finishing seventh. He gained 18 positions from a year ago, when he finished 25th in his first start at the track.

Jones is 14th in the points standings, 320 points behind Busch and 95 points from Almirola in 10th place.

No. 3 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott’s experience on road courses may be low compared to his teammate Jimmie Johnson, but Elliott is consistently showing improvements.

Elliott earned stage points in Stage 1 (fourth) and Stage 2 (second) on Sunday, before scoring his fourth top-5 finish of the season.

Elliott finished fourth for his first top 5 since placing third at Talladega in April. He sits 13th in the points, 285 points behind Busch and 60 behind Almirola.

Elliott holds one Xfinity win at Chicagoland. Can he earn his first MENCS win next weekend?

No. 4 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola’s eighth place finish was an impressive trek considering the Stewart-Haas Racing driver hasn’t raced on the road course since 2016.

Almirola earned stage points in Stage 1 (seventh) and Stage 2 (sixth), and had an average position of 15th throughout the event.

The finish is Almirola’s first top 10 at Sonoma.

Almirola is 10th in the points standings heading into Chicagoland. He is 225 points behind Busch and 34 points from Denny Hamlin, who is eighth.

No. 5 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman rebounded from the less than stellar performances at Pocono and Michigan, and matched his finish at Charlotte four weeks ago.

Bowman failed to earn stage points in Stage 1, but earned them in Stage 2 with a seventh place finish.

He went on to finish ninth for his fifth top-10 finish of the year. He sits 15th in the standings, 333 points behind Busch.