As the championship run nears, the intensity level of each race increases.
All three series took a step closer to the title over the weekend at Michigan International Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Each of these three events had an impact on the ongoing championship battles, making the weekend momentous for some and disappointing to others. This led to many moments, and the best and worst are recapped on this week’s list.
- @ReganSmith entered the weekend not having scored a NASCAR XFINITY Series victory since Daytona in February 2014. After a disappointing race in Watkins Glen, the Cato, New York native knew he had to kick his performance into high gear if he hoped to compete for the title. This is why the JR Motorsports driver took the opportunity in the final turn on the last lap to use the bumper on Alex @Tagliani and score the win while picking up the most points. Knowing time is running out, this mindset will help the 31-year old do all he can to erase the 51 points gap in the championship standings.
- After not reaching Victory Lane in 2014, @MattKenseth has now captured the checkered flag three times this season. In dominant fashion on Sunday, the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota team won for the second time in the last three weeks. The 43-year old started from the pole, led 146 laps, and pulled away on a late restart to secure the win. Looking ahead to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, this momentum will likely turn the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion into a major threat.
- @Erik_Jones continues to impress in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The 19-year old had another solid performance on Saturday, finishing third and being the highest placing series regular. With five consecutive top-10 finishes, including four top-five results, the Iowa winner has climbed back into the championship battle. He now sits nine points behind @TylerReddick and will make it a three truck battle this fall as the up and coming drivers go up against the two-time defending series champion @Matt_Crafton.
- In his sophomore season, @AustinDillon3 continues to improve. The Richard Childress Racing driver had one of the best cars in the Pure Michigan 400 and led 19 laps along with contending for the victory. With only four races remaining before the playoffs begin, the 23-year-old knew going into Sunday this would be one of his best opportunities to earn the Chase berth clinching win. Although he didn’t leave with the trophy, he scored a career-best fourth-place finish. This run will provide the team with momentum as they search for a victory in the next three races.
- If @JimmieJohnson is to win a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this season, the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team has work to do. The team struggled in Michigan and finished a disappointing 38th. While they are securely locked into the Chase with four victories this season, consistency and momentum are two areas the Hendrick Motorsports team needs to work on before the Chase. Seeing if the six-time champion can return to title-contending form in the remaining regular season races will determine his hopes of capturing the Sprint Cup.
- @ClintBowyer is one of the five competitors currently holding a spot in the playoffs without a victory. However, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver’s chances of making the Chase took a dive in the Pure Michigan 400 as he crashed and came home 41st. Mistakes are costly at this time of the season, and another could leave the 36-year old on the outside. In the next three races, his best bet to lock up a Chase spot is to win. However, the team will have to play it conservative as well because they cannot afford another disappointing result.
While most title contenders aimed to be consistent last weekend, their focus will be survival in the upcoming tripleheader at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Thunder Valley” has been known to shake up the title battle before and will twist the picture again this weekend. There will be plenty to discuss once the checkered flag falls on Saturday night and the best and worst moments will be recapped on next week’s list.
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