Wood Brothers Racing

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.

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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Richmond

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Richmond Raceway for their first night race of the season, where a former champion earned his first victory with a new team.

No. 1 Martin Truex Jr. – Martin Truex Jr. earned his first short track victory of his career on Saturday, April 13th.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 186 of 400 laps. He earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (second).

Truex held off Team Penske’s Joey Logano by .178 seconds.

Will this victory give Truex the momentum going into Talladega? He has an average finish of 21.3 at the super speedway, holding two top-five finishes and eight top 10s.

No. 2 Paul Menard – Paul Menard earned his second top-10 finish of the season on Saturday, finishing in the 10th position.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (10th). He ran as high as fourth with an average position of ninth.

Menard is 16th in the point standings, 187 points behind leader Kyle Busch and 54 points behind Chase Elliott, who is in the 10th position.

No. 3 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski earned his fifth top-10 finish of 2019, finishing seventh.

Keselowski led twice for 31 laps. The Team Penske driver earned stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (fourth).

Keselowski sits fifth in the points standings, 87 points behind Busch and 36 points behind fourth place.

No. 4 Ryan Newman – Ryan Newman earned his second top 10 of 2019, finishing in the ninth position.

Newman’s finish gives the Roush Fenway driver back-to-back top-10 finishes.

He failed to earn stage points, but ran as high as sixth.

Newman is tied with Austin Dillon for 14th in the point standings. He sits 184 points behind the leader and 51 behind Elliott.

No. 5 Chris Buescher – Chris Buescher finished outside the top 20 on Saturday night, but that does not take away from another impressive performance by the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver.

Buescher ran as high as fourth with a 13th place average position throughout 300 miles.

Buescher earned stage points in Stage 1 (eighth) and Stage 2 (ninth), before fading in the second half of the race to finish 22nd.

Notables: Kyle Larson has failed to earn a top-10 finish in the last fives races, with finishes of 12th, 18th, 39th, 19th, and 37th.

Can Larson and the No. 42 team avoid the “Big One” at Talladega and earn their first victory since the fall race at Richmond in 2017?

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 Las Vegas

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan

The start of NASCAR’s three race stint, known as the “West Coast Swing,” began with a quick start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Last week’s winner Kevin Harvick picked up where he left off, while another champion struggled before the green flag even dropped.

This week’s Top 5 dominated, rebounded, and maintained consistency for finishes of 12th or better.

No. 1 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford team did a complete 180 from one year ago, when a crash was the result of finishing 38th out of 39 cars.

Harvick continued his dominance in Las Vegas to earn his second win this season, leading a stellar 214 of 267 laps – the most by any driver at the 1.5-mile track.

Harvick took the lead from polesitter Ryan Blaney on Lap 2 of the Pennzoil 400, and soon began to lap the field. Harvick put half the field at least one lap down before the end of Stage 1.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned his 100th career victory through NASCAR’s three national series, crossing the finish line 2.906 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch and 13 seconds ahead of third place finisher Kyle Larson.

No. 2 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson started in the back on Sunday after failing pre-race inspection three times. The Hendrick Motorsports driver remained focused and determined, gaining nine spots in the first stage while fighting with handling issues.

After putting fresh tires on before the start of Stage 2, Johnson continued toward the front. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished in the 20th position at the end of the second stage, two laps behind leader Harvick.

Johnson rebounded to earn a 12th place finish, his first top-15 of the season after crashes at Daytona and Atlanta resulted in finishes of 27th or worse.

Johnson sits 29th in the standings after three races. Will more improvements continue for Johnson? A top-10 at ISM Raceway would be just what he needs going forward, a top-5 could put Johnson on a steady pace back into familiar territory.

No. 3 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch finds himself among the most improved after a second-place finish, a gain of 20 positions from last season.

Busch’s day in Sin City was much quieter than in 2017, when he confronted Team Penske’s Joey Logano on pit road post-race.

Busch led twice for a total of ten laps. He sits fifth in the standings, along with Kyle Larson, 31 points behind Harvick, who is the new points leader.

No. 4 Paul Menard – Paul Menard earned his second top-10 of the season at Las Vegas, finishing in the ninth position.

Menard’s stats through three races have steadily improved from years past.

The last time the Wood Brothers Racing driver scored two top 10s within the first three races was in 2012, when he finished sixth in the Daytona 500, and seventh two week’s later in Vegas.

Menard sits ninth in the standings as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues on the West Coast Swing to ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Sunday, March 11th.

No. 5 Erik Jones – Erik Jones has a lot that he could be happy about heading into this weekend. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is coming off his first top-10 of the season, after finishing 11th at Atlanta and in the 36th position at Daytona.

The 21-year-old has made consistent improvements since the season opener and is headed to the very same track where his No. 20 Toyota sat in Victory Lane last November with Matt Kenseth.

Can Jones earn his first MENCS victory and secure his way into the playoffs with an early victory? If the JGR driver builds on his performance, we could see the young star in victory lane sooner rather than later.