NASCAR Cup Series

Playoff Drivers are Feeling the Pressure at ISM Raceway with New Traction Compound

AVONDALE, Arizona — The Arizona sun beams down on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage area. Blue skies collide with the outside wall that stretches across the dormant 1.5 mile ISM Raceway. But this is far from a laid back weekend in the Valley of the Sun.

Cup Series crew members are frantically fine tuning their machines and lining up to go through inspection before hitting the track for what will positively be an intense pressure cooker of a race in Avondale, Arizona. While the premier series will only be partaking in a pair of practice sessions this Friday, there is more on the line now than ever to perform well this weekend.

ISM Raceway has been the sight of the semi-final event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit since 2002. But it was announced that in 2020, the track that underwent a $178 million renovation would be the sight of the Championship race weekend.

Why is this race in specific one that every driver had circled on their calendar for the 2019 season?

The 2020 Championship race will be held on November 8th, exactly one year from today. Not only will track conditions be almost identical to this weekend, but the rules package being applied to the Bluegreen Vacation 500 will be the same next year. On top of that, there is a new PJ1 traction compound being applied to the racing surface, which has the entire garage area in a frenzy – and for good reason.

There was a traction compound applied to the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway and drivers like Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott, found out quickly that slipping up in those grooves could get treacherous.

Playoff drivers expressed a plethora of concerns about how the race will play out on November 10th and expect it to be a challenge for all 312 Laps. Even previous Cup Series Champions Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, who are currently in the Championship 4 by upwards of 20 points, are on edge about the competition around them this Sunday.

“We’ll be watching those Trucks and Xfinity races pretty closely,” Logano said. “I think it’s going to take a little bit for it to come in but it looks to me like it will probably come into play in Turns 1 and 2 – it’s pretty high up there in Turns 3 and 4.”

Logano was one of a handful of Playoff drivers who performed well in the AAA Texas 500 with the new traction compound, notching a fourth-place finish. He sits fourth in the standings 20 points to the good and will need a clean race to advance to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a chance to win back-to-back championships.

Busch has the worst average finish in the Playoffs – next to the driver of the No. 22 – with a 13.38 average through eight races . All eyes will be on the No. 18 M&Ms Camry as Busch is currently riding a two-race win streak at the 1.5-mile track with an impressive 2.8 average finish over the last five events at ISM Raceway.

“Here at Phoenix it’s already very challenging and difficult to pass,” Busch said when asked about the PJ1 compound. “We saw that here in the Spring, but we’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be a hard fought finish this year and next year at the end.”

Martins Truex Jr. locked himself into the series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway after capturing his third short track win of the season in the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago. Normally, Truex could play it safe and focus on the weekend ahead, but the driver of the No. 19 will be far from complacent with a lackluster performance at the track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway.

“I think it’s on everyone’s mind that this will be the final four race that decides the championship next year, so this race and the Spring race will be very important – especially with the rules package staying the same,” said the 2017 Cup Series Champion. “Everyone’s going to want to get a good head start on next Spring here for sure this weekend.”

The driver from Mayetta, New Jersey was also one of the benefactors of a rewarding finish last weekend at Texas. It should come as no surprise that the championship-caliber driver is one of the few drivers not overly concerned with the traction compound this weekend.

“At some point Sunday we’ll use that traction compound in [Turns] three and four because we typically run a higher line on long green flag runs,” Truex said. “It just depends on if enough guys are running up there and working it in – if that happens it’ll probably get pretty good.”

Playoff drivers below the cutoff line such as Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Hamlin could be pitted with an advantage over drivers like Busch and Logano due to their inherent need to perform well or win for a chance to compete for the 2019 Championship.

Larson was one of the lone drivers in the Cup Series in favor of the PJ1 compound application last weekend and he is feeling confident heading into the Bluegreen Vacations 500 this Sunday.

“I feel like there’s nobody better in our series in terms of searching for lanes and grooves to make your car better,” the driver of the No. 42 said. “If it burns in quick, I think I’ll really benefit from it.”

Talladega Superspeedway winner and racing prodigy, Blaney, revealed that he believes restarts could get even more hectic than normal this Sunday due to the track compound application.

“In the Spring you saw those wild four-five wide racing on restarts, but it’s going to be even more interesting this year especially with the stuff they put down on [Turns] one and two up top,” the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford said. “I think people are going to be using that top lane later in the day and it’s really going to affect restarts.”

The 25-year old started from the pole at ISM Raceway earlier this year and finished third with a legitimate shot to win. Blaney also reiterated that he had been pushed around quite a bit in that race and that he intends to return the favor and be one of the aggressors on those climatic restarts.

Hamlin, who finds himself 20 points below the cutoff line, was deemed one of the 2019 favorites for the Championship after an impeccable season. The 38-year old found trouble at both Martinsville and Texas Motor Speedway, but his chances really took a hit when he accidentally got caught up in the traction compound in the AAA Texas 500.

The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Camry had some strong words about the PJ1 application and even tried taking matters into his own hands following the race at Texas.

“I discussed with NASCAR that you’d have a better show from beginning to end if they didn’t add anything after the Xfinity race,” Hamlin shared. “Those cars did a really good job burning it in and it was actually really good at that time – it would’ve been great to start the Cup race with.”

Hamlin went on to further explain that the traction compound took hundreds of laps to properly develop last week and it was really slick – hence why when he got loose in re-application and crashed. With 312 Laps at a 1.5-mile track, the Cup Series may not have have the luxury of waiting hundreds of laps for the compound to burn in.

The Virginia-native boasts a series-leading average finishing position of 9.2 through 34 of 36 races this season and will need to replicate more of that magic this Sunday to continue his dominant stretch into Miami.

If the prior Playoff Round finales at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway are any indication of what to expect at ISM Raceway, then fans are in for a dramatically intense race at Zoomtown U.S.A. With two only spots available before Championship weekend at Homestead and teams already stressing about the PJ1 traction application, you won’t want to miss the Bluegreen Vacations 500 from ISM Raceway at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

NASCAR Cup Series

In-Depth Look: Can Kyle Larson Defy Odds and Win the Championship?

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs officially eclipsed the halfway point when Ryan Blaney captured his first win of the season at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend.

Astonishingly, Blaney was the only playoff driver to not get involved in any sort of incident at the famed superspeedway. Only three playoff drivers were able to walk away with a top-10 finish and being that Blaney was ranked 12th in the standings entering Talladega, this shook up the week six playoff rankings drastically.

The only driver able to take the green flag at the Alabama-based track without any pressure was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson. Larson snapped at 75-race winless streak when he won two weeks prior at Dover International Speedway (and boy, did he need it after finishing 39th at Talladega).

After the Round of 16 delivered back-to-back victories from Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott‘s third win  of the season, the Round of 12 has proven to be the complete opposite. Both Blaney and Larson picked up their first wins of 2019, and made dramatic jumps in the playoff standings. Larson sat just one point above the cutoff line before winning at Dover, while Blaney entered Talladega last in the playoff standings.

While both drivers had been deemed underdogs and essentially non-factors when the playoffs began, the pair are now locked into the Round of 8 – and now seems like the time to start taking both drivers seriously. More specifically, Larson and his No. 42 crew.

When the driver from Elk Grove, California began his first full-time campaign in the Cup Series in 2014, he entered the sport hot and determined. It seemed as if every week the driver of the No. 42 was in contention for the win and rattling off multiple second-place finishes. Five year later and Larson’s career can be defined in one word: average.

Prior to his win at Dover two weeks ago, the 27-year old had only managed to drive his way to five wins. He did, however, race his way to 53 top-fives and 95 top-10 finishes. These are great accomplishments, but when a driver like Larson enters the sport the way he did, there must be an emphasis on winning and being in contention for championships.

Larson has only advanced to the Round of 8 once in his career (2017) and ended up finishing eighth. The semi-final round has not been kind to the driver of the No. 42 due to the trio to tracks it entails – Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motorspeedway and ISM Raceway (Phoenix).

It doesn’t help that heavy-hitters such as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick excel at these tracks, but the 2019 playoffs have proven to be a challenge for some of the superstars at the halfway point. With a handful of the Cup Series veterans having massive difficulties thus far in the post-season, this could be Larson’s best shot at winning a championship.

This is the final year that the season finale will be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway – arguably Larson’s best track. For the No. 42 crew, they must push the boundaries like they never have before in order to advance to the final round of the playoffs, because should Larson make it to Miami, he could be the clear favorite to win the championship.

But just how difficult is Larson’s road ahead?

Photo Courtesy of Racing Virginia

Martinsville Speedway

Let’s begin with the half-mile oval of Martinsville, which is Larson’s worst statistical track on the circuit. The California-native posted a third-place finish at the Virginia-based track back in the Spring of 2016. Since then, his best finish has been 14th (Fall of 2016) with an overall average of 23.64. It should also be noted that he placed 37th in both of the last Fall races at Martinsville.

Larson’s lackluster performances at the half-mile track can be chalked up to two things – ow speeds and minimal banking. It’s almost impossible to watch a race and not see that No. 42 Camaro right up against the wall, using every inch of the the track and car. Martinsville’s banking varies from zero to 12 degrees and the top speed posted in the Spring was just shy of 98 mph; so it should come as no surprise that someone like Larson doesn’t typically perform well here.

On the contrary, these results are slightly skewed due to an engine failure and an accident which landed Larson those unfortunate 37th place finishes. It will be interesting to see if the No. 42 can stay out of trouble at this short track, because this is the one that’s proven to be most difficult for him coming up in the semi-final round.

He’ll also have compete with Brad Keselowski, Busch and Truex Jr., who have been the class of the field at Martinsville as of late. While Busch has been the more dominant of the trio, he’s been incredibly underwhelming in the playoffs.

Busch currently has the worst average finishing position out of all 12 playoff drivers with 16.6 and there could be some serious cause for concern. The driver of the M&Ms Camry has been overly agitated each week (even more so than normal) and things just don’t seem to be clicking for the No. 18 team. Simply, if Busch had not had the stellar regular season that he did, he could be in danger of missing the Round of 8. Busch is one of those heavy-hitters currently slumping and if Larson can capitalize on Busch’s struggles, it can really pay dividends in the end.

Keselowski has been fairly silent throughout the playoffs , but the 2012 Cup Series champion boasts an average finish of 9.6 through the five races. The one downside for the driver of the No. 2 is that he currently sits seventh in the standings and should another new winner be crowned at Kansas Speedway, he could get knocked out of the Round of 8. This would be another game-changer should the Michigan-native not advance.

Larson’s biggest feat at Martinsville should be the driver of the No. 19. Truex Jr. has an average finish of 6.6 over the last five races at Martinsville and he’s also won two out of the five short track events this season. He’s been scorching hot in the playoffs posting an average finish of 7.4 with two wins thus far.

Photo Courtesy of Fox News

Texas Motor Speedway

Texas Motor Speedway should be an intriguing one for Larson. He captured his best career finish  of second in the Spring of 2017. Since then, he’s been involved in an accident in every race at Texas aside from the 2018 Fall race in which he placed fifth. The Fort Worth-based track is indeed one of those high speed, high banked tracks where you can run the car against the wall – but the question is, can Larson stay out of trouble?

Harvick has owned Texas over the last five races, garnering two wins, four top-fives and five top-10s with an outstanding average finish of 3.2. He’s also been the hottest driver in the playoffs posting an average of 6.6. He may not have a win in the playoffs yet, but looking ahead to Texas and Phoenix, this should be Larson’s fiercest competitor in the Round of 8 along with Truex.

2018 Cup Series Champion Joey Logano has been great at Texas as of late. He has an average finish of 7.2 with two top-fives and four top-10’s. However, the Team Penske driver is another one of those superstars who has not been providing in the playoffs. The defending series champion has an average finish of 15th and is currently eighth in the standings, 18 points above the cutoff. Ryan Newman took an 18 point lead into Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval and ended up missing the round of 12, so Logano should feel anything but comfortable heading to Kansas.

Courtesy of ABC15

ISM Raceway

Finally, we have ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Larson has finished inside of the top-10 at Phoenix in the last two races, posting a sixth-place finish in the Spring. Phoenix is one of those tracks where the opportunities to run different lines and play strategy is seemingly endless.

While Phoenix is one of Larson’s better tracks, two of the sport’s active drivers are the greatest of all time on the one-mile tri-oval – Busch and Harvick. Both drivers have been deemed “King of the Desert” at some point in their respected careers.

Harvick is the winningest driver all time at ISM Raceway with nine wins and an average finish of 9.3. Over the last five races, Harvick has averaged a 5.2, which includes one win, three top-fives and five top-10s. Notably, he finished ninth in the Spring.

Busch has been the class of the field at Phoenix over the last few years. He is currently riding a two-race win streak at the diamond in the desert with an absurd average finish of 2.8 in the last five events with no results outside the top-seven in that span. However, it was announced a new tire compound will be applied to the semi-final race; this should be a great test to see if anyone can dethrone the driver of the No. 18.

It should also be noted that Truex is ranked third-best at the Arizona track and posted a track-best second in the Spring. The driver of the No. 19 has an average finish of seventh over the last five races there. He should currently be considered more of a threat to Larson’s bid for a win at Phoenix than Busch.

In reference to the Round of 8, it should also be taken into consideration that Elliott is currently ranked 10th, 22 points under the cutline and on pace to miss the semi-final round. This is important because Elliott runs incredibly well at all three of these tracks  and that would be one more driver in addition to possibly Busch, Logano or Keselowski that Larson would not have to worry about. The bottom line is at least one of the sport’s most dominant drivers throughout the 2019 season will miss out on the round of eight.

Overall, the road ahead for Larson will prove to be challenging, but not impossible. With Larson having shown no signs of strength at the Virginia short track, there should be an inherent emphasis on performing well at Martinsville.

Texas and Phoenix are both tracks where Larson has run well, but it’s just a matter of staying  out of trouble and being in contention with Harvick and Truex. The two drivers have clearly been the class of the field halfway through the playoffs and if the 27-year old wants to make a serious attempt at a championship campaign, he  will likely have to go through those former champions.

Should Larson make it to Homestead, the same sentiments can be said. The only driver better than Larson at the Miami-based track is Harvick. The driver of the No. 4 has one win (2014), 10 top-fives and 16 top-10s in 18 races with an average finish of 6.56. He has also not placed worse than fourth in the last five races there.

So why pick Larson at Homestead? In just six races, he has a led 325 laps. To put that in perspective, that ranks him third in most laps led all time at Homestead only behind Busch and Harvick who’ve both ran 12 races more than the 27-year old. In addition to laps led, Larson has an average finish of 8.5 along with three top-fives and three top-10s in the six races he’s run there.

While this is a small sample size from the California-native, he is always the first driver in the garage area that the field is looking to set pace with for the weekend. Larson is able to run right up against the wall with ease and always appears to be going two miles per hour faster than his competitors.

This is the final season that the championship race will be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With drivers such as Busch, Keselowski, Logano and Elliott in danger of missing the next round, this could be Larson’s best shot at becoming the 2019 Cup Series Champion. Only time will tell if this dirt-track racing prodigy has what it takes to propel himself to victory in the last five races.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.


Kyle Larson wins Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway

Kyle Larson celebrated his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in two years Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, taking the checkered flag in the Drydene 400 by a convincing 1.578-seconds over Martin Truex Jr. and securing himself and his Chip Ganassi Racing team their first-ever berth in the upcoming Playoff Round of 8.

Larson’s friend and polesitter Denny Hamlin finished fifth after leading a race-best 218 laps. But perhaps the two golf buddies would agree, on this Sunday, Larson’s long game was just a bit better.

Larson, who started alongside Hamlin on the front row, took the race lead on a fast pit stop by his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet team during the Stage 2 break, and pulled out to a five, then six-second advantage on the field – first on Hamlin then on Truex, a contender all afternoon. Truex won Stage 2 and led 15 laps but a slight pit stop miscue put the 2017 Cup champion out of the pits sixth on that stage stop instead of with the lead.

“After the first stage I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like I made the car better at the same time and it really benefitted our long runs,’’ said Larson, who led 154 laps en route to his sixth career – and first Playoff victory. “That’s as good as I’ve ever been around cutting the bottom here. Just a great combination here. Good to be fast in practice and then be good again in the race and get the win.

“This is unbelievable,’’ he continued, motioning toward the track’s front grandstands in gratitude.

“I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a Golden Monster (trophy) is going to be pretty sweet.’’

Larson and Truex’s fellow playoff contenders Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick and Hamlin rounded out the Top-5 on Sunday. Regular-season champion Kyle Busch, who started 18th – lowest on the grid of the 12 Playoff drivers rallied from an early-race pit road penalty to finish sixth.

Heading to the second race of the Playoffs’ three-race Round 2, Larson’s victory puts him atop the standings with a 500-mile race at the historic Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway next week. Truex’s runner-up finish puts him atop the points – 15 points ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin. Busch’s rally puts the regular-season champ fourth in the points standings – tied with Hamlin.

“We were catching him at the end, got closed, just unfortunate there,’’ Truex said. “We win and lose as a team and the guys will clean it up for sure.”

He added, “Every week is about getting most points you can, so a positive day for us.’’

Positive would be an understatement for Larson, who celebrated in victory lane for the first time in 75 races hoisting Dover’s special Golden trophy – specially designed to commemorate the track’s 100th Cup Series race. Larson has been consistently good at Dover throughout his six-year Cup career, the 27-year old Californian earning a pair of runner-up finishes previously. He was third there in this Spring’s race – a race won by Truex.

Hamlin, who won the pole position by a mere .003-seconds over Larson, looked strong early but radioed to his team with 130 laps remaining that he was worried about his car’s engine. At the time, however, he was running fastest among the field and maintaining a nearly 2-second advantage over third place. With about 60 laps to go, Truex got around Hamlin.

Plenty of lapped traffic put Truex in position to perhaps make a move toward Larson. Twice the traffic cut Larson’s leads from more than 5-seconds to under 2-seconds.

Among the other Playoff-eligible drivers, Clint Bowyer rallied to a 10th place finish, one position ahead of 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who was the only driver to score Top-5 finishes in all three opening round races. William Byron was 13th.

It was a tough day for several other Playoff drivers. Ryan Blaney, who ran Top-10 much of the afternoon, pit on Lap 298 complaining of a brake issue. The Team Penske crew took his No. 12 Ford to the garage for repairs and he finished 35th.

It was nothing short of a monstrous beginning for two other Playoff competitors. Reigning Cup champion Joey Logano didn’t even take the green flag with the field. Instead his No. 22 Team Penske Ford was in the garage where the team was furiously working to repair an axle problem. He returned to the track 24 laps down and finished 34th.

Defending Dover race winner and last week’s Charlotte ROVAL winner Chase Elliott only lasted eight laps on Sunday – his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffering an early engine failure. He was officially scored last – 38th – and like Logano and Blaney, will need to have big points days at both Talladega and Kansas tracks. Elliott won at Talladega in May and is the defending Kansas Playoff winner.

Matt DiBenedetto finished seventh-best among the non-Playoff drivers. Jimmie Johnson, whose 11 Dover wins makes him the track’s winningest driver, scored points in both Stage 1 and Stage 2, took over the points lead among drivers who didn’t qualify for the Playoffs. He now leads Daniel Suarez by 10-points.

NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Larson Recovers For Top-10 At Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Entering Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson had only finished worse than eighth twice in the last ten races and had hoped to keep that rolling. He was able to do that, despite some adversity. 

He started the race gaining points with ninth-place finish in Stage 1 and showed improvement with a third in the second. Appearing as a possible as a contender for the win, Larson’s hopes would be quickly be diminished after a pit road penalty for a safety violation, and then getting damage during one of the late restarts.

However, the California-native would still manage a solid rebound, finishing the South Point 400 in the eighth position.

“Our car was better than what I had thought it was going to be and felt like we probably had a car that could potentially win,” Larson told POPULAR SPEED. “But we got a pit road penalty there and then the restarts were pretty wild and I was just trying to be safe and probably cost us a little bit, but still, to be able to avoid some trouble and get a top 10, not bad.”

For him, a driver that has not scored any points-paying wins, being able to be out front has been quite the confidence builder.

The driver is entering the playoffs in the right state of mind, believing he can go and win races during the season’s most critical point. A trip to victory lane is expected, not just hoped for in the coming weeks.

“Our cars are definitely been good enough to win,” Larson said. “We just got to put the whole races together at this point, on my end, on pit road, and practices, if we want to win. I will keep working at it and hopefully, we can knock one out before the season’s over.”

Following the 400-mile race, Larson sits eighth in the standings, with a 17-point cushion over the cutoff.

Next weekend, the No. 42 team, along with the rest of the series will tackle Richmond Raceway. Larson will hope for a better result than his visit their earlier in the season, where he crashed early and finished last.


TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


Kyle Larson holds off Kevin Harvick to win Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race

CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson is a million dollars richer after holding off Kevin Harvick in the final 15-lap stage of the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, an event that ended with Larson in Victory Lane and Clint Bowyer tangoing with Ryan Newman on pit road.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, Larson won the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway to make the All-Star Race field. Then, in the four-stage, 85-lap main event, Larson became only the second driver in the All-Star history to win the Open and go to Victory lane in the All-Star Race.

With a huge push from Kevin Harvick after a restart with 12 laps left, Larson surged into the lead in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, leaving Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott in his wake off Turn 2. Busch chased Larson until his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry bounced off the Turn 4 wall with six laps left and surrendered second place to Harvick.

Larson kept Harvick at bay the rest of the way and crossed the finish line .322 seconds ahead of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang. For Larson, it was a welcome win in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season that has been a struggle so far.

“This is unbelievable,” an elated Larson said after a burnout on the frontstretch that shrouded the grandstand in smoke. “This whole day was up and down. From the B Main (a dirt-track racer’s nomenclature for the Open), we were getting a little bit of damage, having to repair the car. Had some great restarts there the last few, and Harvick gave me a heck of a push to get to the lead from the third row, and that was huge.

“Then again to get by the 18 (Busch) that final restart, just had to guess kind of what he was going to do behind me and try and take his air away. The 18 surprised me how good he was. But, man, this is amazing. I’ve been close a couple times. I feel like every time I’ve been in the All Star Race I’ve been close to winning, so it’s neat to finally close it out.

“There’s a lot of people from the shop here today, so we get to do some celebrating. I’m excited about that.”

Harvick, who dominated the second stage, arguably had the fastest car, but slow pit stops repeatedly cost him track position, leaving the driver frustrated with second place.

“A letdown,” was the way Harvick described his evening. “That’s how you take the fastest car and don’t win the race with it. You spot them the whole field… and just an incredible Busch Beer Ford. (Crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and all these guys on the team just did a great job, and it was unfortunate the way pit road went tonight because it wasn’t even close for anybody having a good car like we had tonight.

“It was a great night for performance, just a bad night on pit road.”

Busch, who won the 30-lap first stage, held on to third-place at the finish, followed by Joey Logano and Bubba Wallace, another transfer from the Open. Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top 10.

Repeated contact between the cars of Newman and Bowyer on the cool-down lap ended with Bowyer turned into the outside wall. Later, on pit road, Bowyer rushed to Newman’s car.

Newman climbed from his car, and the drivers exchanged words instead of blows as they stood on pit road.

“The 14 (Bowyer) chopped me on the front straightaway earlier in the race,” Newman said after the race. “…Then after the race I just went up and tapped him in the back to let him know I didn’t appreciate the way he raced me.

“The he body-slammed me, and I hit him back a little bit on the back straightaway, and then he just cut across my nose in Turn 3. It doesn’t take much of a man to try to fight someone with a helmet on.”

Bowyer, who like Newman was called to the NASCAR hauler after the race, seemed mystified about the origins of the original conflict.

“I don’t know what the hell his beef was,” Bowyer said. “I thought he was a lap down… I checked up, and he ran into my left rear. That was the last I saw of him, and then after the race, he comes and runs into my back and turns me all around. I pull up next to him, and he dumps me into (Turn) 4.

“Where I come from, you get poked in the nose for that.”

Larson wouldn’t have been in the All-Star Race at all had he not won the Monster Energy Open, which decided three of the last four spots in the main event. Each of the first two 20-lap stages of the drama-filled qualifier ended with a two-lap overtime, the first of which was decided in Byron’s favor by .006 seconds.

On fresh tires, Byron roared through Turn 4 on the final lap of Stage 1 and made hard side-to-side contact with the Chevrolet of Wallace, who had stayed out on older rubber under caution for BJ McLeod’s blown engine. Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet turned sideways, but he righted the car and beat Wallace to the finish line by little more than the length of the front splitter.

Wallace found redemption in Stage 2, again staying out on older tires for the overtime run. For two laps, Wallace held off the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Daniel Suarez, who had new Goodyears, and when Suarez darted to the inside off the final corner, Wallace blocked, sending Suarez sliding through the infield and out of contention.

The stage win was a welcome change for Wallace, who has suffered through a difficult season in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet.

“My mental game is really shot right now, but, damn, it feels good to win something,” Wallace said after the Open. “I have failed at a lot of things in life recently, but I am working to make those things better. We’ll see what we can get tonight.”

Larson (who won the last 10-lap stage), Byron and Wallace all earned spots in the All-Star Race, along with Open third-place finisher Bowman, who made the field as the winner of the All-Star race Fan Vote. All four of those drivers finished in the top 10 in the main event.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – 35th Annual Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Concord, North Carolina

Saturday, May 18, 2019

1. (18) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 88.

2. (3) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 88.

3. (2) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 88.

4. (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 88.

5. (17) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 88.

6. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 88.

7. (4) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 88.

8. (19) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 88.

9. (16) William Byron, Chevrolet, 88.

10. (5) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 88.

11. (14) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 88.

12. (1) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 88.

13. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 88.

14. (11) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 88.

15. (8) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 88.

16. (9) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 88.

17. (15) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 83.

18. (12) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 79.

19. (7) Erik Jones, Toyota, Accident, 77.

• Average Speed of Race Winner: 79.439 mph.

• Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 36 Mins, 18 Secs.

• Margin of Victory: .322 Seconds.

• Caution Flags: 8 for 17 laps.

• Lead Changes: 10 among 7 drivers.

• Lap Leaders: C. Bowyer 0; K. Harvick 1-19; K. Busch 20-27; B. Keselowski 28-31; C. Bowyer 32; K. Busch 33-39; K. Harvick 40-53; C. Bowyer 54; J. Logano 55-73; C. Elliott 74-75; K. Larson 76-88.

• Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kevin Harvick 2 times for 33 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 19 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 15 laps; Kyle Larson 1 time for 13 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 4 laps; Clint Bowyer 2 times for 2 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 2 laps.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – 34th Annual Monster Energy Open

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Concord, North Carolina

Saturday, May 18, 2019

1. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 62.

2. (14) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 62.

3. (6) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 62.

4. (12) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 62.

5. (15) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 62.

6. (11) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 62.

7. (5) Paul Menard, Ford, 62.

8. (9) David Ragan, Ford, 62.

9. (16) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 62.

10. (2) Michael McDowell, Ford, 62.

11. (13) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 62.

12. (4) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 62.

13. (17) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 62.

14. (20) Bayley Currey(i), Ford, 62.

15. (22) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 62.

16. (23) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, Fuel, 55.

17. (10) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, Stage 2 Winner, 52.

18. (1) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, Accident, 46.

19. (21) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, Handling, 38.

20. (18) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, Engine, 35.

21. (3) William Byron, Chevrolet, Stage 1 Winner, 27.

22. (24) Joey Gase(i), Toyota, Engine, 21.

23. (8) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, Suspension, 16.

24. (19) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, Engine, 15.

• Average Speed of Race Winner: 91.877 mph.

• Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 0 Mins, 44 Secs.

• Margin of Victory: .867 Seconds.

• Caution Flags: 4 for 15 laps.

• Lead Changes: 8 among 7 drivers.

• Lap Leaders: D. Hemric # 0; D. Hemric # 1-24; K. Larson 25-26; W. Byron 27; A. Bowman 28-50; D. Suarez 51; B. Wallace 52; T. Dillon 53-57; K. Larson 58-62.

• Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Daniel Hemric # 1 time for 24 laps; Alex Bowman 1 time for 23 laps; Kyle Larson 2 times for 7 laps; Ty Dillon 1 time for 5 laps; William Byron 1 time for 1 lap; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 1 lap; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 1 lap.

NASCAR Cup Series

Larson Feels Like Bristol Doesn’t Owe Him a Victory

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for the eighth race of the season, Kyle Larson is returning to his favorite track. The California native has never won at the high-banked short track in the Cup Series, but hopes to find victory after being so close many times in the past.

A victory would be critical at this time as unfortunately for Larson, it hasn’t been the smoothest start of the season for the 26-year-old. He only has two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 15.1. Last year, he placed second in both races at Thunder Valley.

“I don’t feel like I’m owed anything anywhere, but that’s the one track where I feel like time after time I’m close to winning a race there every time I go,” Larson said. “I just don’t get it done. Not that it owes me anything. I just need to do a better job at the end of the races.”

The Sprint car expert is no stranger to losing close races in dirt competition as well. During this year’s memorable Chili Bowl, Larson lost the event with a few laps remaining against rival Christopher Bell.

Both drivers come from dirt racing backgrounds and have proven to be successful on asphalt. Larson’s aggressiveness in a Sprint car sometimes transitions to stock cars, which may be a reason why he hasn’t been able to close out a Cup Series race at Bristol.

“I think you’ve got to be really aggressive to run a winged Sprint Car and maybe sometimes I’m over-aggressive in a stock car,” Larson said. “Other than that, I think there are more good habits than bad habits. I think racing any type of car helps for any type of car, too. I mean the aggressive side of things is also good in NASCAR. You need to be aggressive. But, I don’t know; maybe sometimes I get over-aggressive. I’m not really sure. But, I think racing winged Sprint Cars helps me more than anything.”

While Bristol is just another race this year, it will play an important moving forward in NASCAR. Last week, the Cup Series schedule for 2020 was released, with the half-mile becoming the first cutoff race in the playoffs. Other  significant modifications includes the changing of the season finale from Homestead-Miami Speedway to ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona.

Larson is enthusiastic about the schedule change and the cutoff races.

“Overall, I think the schedule is really good,” Larson said. “It just adds a lot of excitement to the year. I think going to the West Coast before Atlanta is good. I think all the cutoff races in the Playoffs are really intense, exciting places that the points can change a lot throughout those events. Yeah, I think it was good. Having a two week break is nice. Some weekends take some Sprint Car races away from me, but others add a lot more, too. So overall, I think the schedule is really exciting.

“Even though Homestead has been a track where I can lead a bunch of laps and also challenge for wins, I feel like it needs to go somewhere else. I’d still like to see it go, and Joey Logano mentioned it on TV this week, but go to a different track every year just like the Super Bowl does. Like for me, Homestead is my best track and everybody says if I make it to the final four, I’ve got the best shot. Well it shouldn’t always be like that. It shouldn’t go to Phoenix where Kevin Harvick has got the best odds to win every year. It should be able to move around. I think if tracks could bid on it or however it works in football, I think that would be cool.”

The 2020 Cup Series schedule is the first of changes to come to the sport heading into the future. Revising the schedule has been in the talks the past few years and the adjustments show that NASCAR is listening to the fans.

Nonetheless, this season is still young and there is a lot of racing to be run before we think about next year. As for Larson, he still has time to become more consistent and contend for wins.

This weekend at Bristol may very well be what turns around the No. 42 teams’ season and it couldn’t come at a better time in the schedule.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

NASCAR Cup Series

FIVE DRIVERS TO WATCH: TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway

Through the first three races this season, there has been a different winner each week. The trend will look to continue this weekend as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tackles the tricky ISM Raceway.

Here are five drivers to keep an eye on this weekend.

Kevin Harvick has become the king of the desert over the past five years, winning half of the 10 races ran during that period with an average finish of 2.7. With the Fords showing a dominant speed from the drop of the first green flag this year, it’d be no surprise to see the trend continue.

After all, he has scored a fourth-place finish the past two weeks at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Russell Labounty | NKP

Kyle Busch has been the most consistent driver without a visit to victory lane yet this season, scoring no finishes outside of the top-six to currently rank third in the standings. He also knows what it takes to be successful at ISM Raceway, winning last fall to propel him into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Notably, he has the second-best average (7.3) of all drivers over the past 10 races at ISM with eight top-10 finishes.

Busch arguably had the quickest car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past weekend, but a pit road speeding penalty in the second stage dropped him deep in the field. It wasn’t the first pit road error, as he experienced loose wheels in both the Gander Outdoor Truck Series and Xfinity Series events before winning. Making sure that he has a smooth day will help ensure success on Sunday.

Kyle Larson has also shown speed since the beginning of the season, which just builds upon the success experienced through last summer. However, similar to Busch, he needs to clean up his races if he wants to close the deal. Pit road penalties at Atlanta and Las Vegas took him out of contention to win both events, resulting in 12th-place finishes. With teammate Kurt Busch scoring back-to-back top-five finishes, it’s time for Larson to pick up the pace – or else he may no longer be considered the top dog at Chip Ganassi Racing.

He knows how to run well at ISM Raceway, scoring three top-five finishes in the last 10 starts, including a third last fall.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Chase Elliott proved to be the strongest car out of the Hendrick Motorsports stable through the back half of last year, and is once again showcasing that again. He has ran inside the top-10 through the first three races this season, though wrecked late at Daytona International Speedway and confusion over the rules bit him at Atlanta Motor Speedway. However, a steady performance without any hiccups at Las Vegas produced the top-10, with a ninth-place finish.

No matter how the year is going for the second generation racer, he has always been able to find success at ISM Raceway, boasting the third-best average of active drivers over the past 10 races. In his three most recent starts at the Arizona-track, he has finished second and third, and ran in the top-10 last fall before being taken out in a late-race wreck.

Elliott praised the team’s recent performance at Las Vegas, noting they were closer than they were this time last year. What would be a better morale boost than a visit to victory lane?

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron did not have the rookie season he wanted last year with only four top-10 finishes. One of those, though, was a ninth-place finish at ISM Raceway in November.

Now partnered with Chad Knaus for the 2019 campaign, Bryon hit the year off with fireworks by scoring the pole for the Daytona 500, but hasn’t seen the results live up the expectations. He has steadily shown improvement each week, and could break through with a top-10 this weekend to give him the confidence needed moving forward.


FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

After seeing fans and drivers contest the lack of passing and exciting racing on the intermediate tracks, NASCAR implemented a higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package. There were some positives, but it certainly did not deliver to the expectations touted before the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Through testing in January, pack racing was evident with the drivers unable to get away from each other through a 20-lap run. As a result, the restarts were predicted to be chaotic, and they certainly were. Drivers were three-wide around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway as they got runs on each other virtue of the air being disturbed by the new high rear spoiler. 

You also had the ability to pass back and forth over the course of  a run, with drivers making their way forward as much as they went backwards. Kyle Busch made his way back up to third despite a pit road speeding penalty in the second stage, while Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski swapped the top spot back and forth. There was also a battle between Busch and Logano in stage two for first, as well. 

However, drivers having to rely on other cars to get runs and draft with fellow competitors really doesn’t constitute to what “true racing” is supposed to be in saying everybody go as hard as they can with their own equipment. That is where the package has it’s biggest downfall with several drivers and fans.

“The cars don’t have any speed,” Busch said post-race. “You’re wide open just trying to suck off of any car that you can that’s in front of you to get a draft. I was running 31-flats when I was chasing those leaders down and then once I got there, I stalled out to 31.40s because the wind was just so bad behind those guys that you couldn’t corner anymore, you couldn’t maneuver. I couldn’t run low if they ran low and I couldn’t run high if they ran high so you’re always trying to figure out which way to go.”

Frankly, those battles were great to watch, but they don’t make up for the rest of the run.

The further you got into a run, the more spread out the cars got and essentially, you were stuck watching everybody run single file – and it happened only 15 laps into a run for the first stage, compared to 20 like testing. The second and third restarts would see the field stay closer for a longer period of time, thanks to everybody being held by the leader playing the strategy card – Keselowski taking two tires to start stage two, while Kurt Busch stayed out in the final stage.

You can see the idea of keeping the cars closer together falling apart when you see less than 20 cars on the lead lap. The drivers were even bored with Clint Bowyer telling his team that it was “pretty boring” and taking them for a lap by leaving the radio on for a full lap, letting the engine noise play, without any crack in the throttle.

Anybody remember the days of having to watch the drivers battle against the handling of the cars, cracking the gas at times due to sliding sideways? Darrell Waltrip touting “the cars are more driveable at this speed,” doesn’t make the fans feel any better when the racing puts them to sleep. 

The new package also showed the more things change, the more things stay the same as the familiar races reigned at the front of the field. The Big Three from last year (Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch), along with 2018 series champion Logano spent the day in the top-five, now joined by Logano’s teammate.

The ideology that the new package would allow some of the smaller teams to mix it up at the front was lost today, too. 

NASCAR on Fox’s TV Coverage has been a constant topic of discussion, and not in the lightest way possible. On top of fans criticizing Michael Waltrip‘s “Grid Walk” segment for the goofiness and the commentary heard from the booth, they need to be reminded about how to show a race properly.

As the leaders spread out single-file 15 to 20 laps into a run, they chose to focus on them and talk about drivers individually. Why not show “zoo-like” back half of the field that Aric Almirola described to give us some entertainment?

Additionally, they also chose to take three commercial breaks in the first 40 laps, and missed the first batch of leaders heading in for green flag pit stops. They also showed advertisements, rather than the three-way battle for first that was shaping up. 

If NASCAR ever wants to make the package more exciting to watch, they need to consult with their broadcast partners in showcasing what they are doing. 

Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson were both touted early for their speed and ability, with thoughts of them being in the discussion for the victory. Unfortunately, they were both handed a pit road penalty that they were unable to overcome.

For Larson, it marks the second straight week in a row that he has seen his run fooled by something happened on pit road. He showed the speed last year to contend for victories and be part of the Championship 4, though saw his playoff chances folded by engine failures. He needs to find some consistency if he is even going to dream of making a run this year.

Kyle Busch was also fooled by a pit road penalty, caught speeding as previously mentioned. While he overcame loose wheels in both the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series to win, he was only able to get back to third today. 

NASCAR may have gotten the officiating right in the race per the rulebook, but that doesn’t mean they are not insane in the process. Larson and Dillon were both penalizing for “having too many men over the wall.” The additional crew member didn’t service the car, nor they did step on pit road. Essentially, they reached over to help retrieve the tires as they were being rolled over to the wall and touched the ground. 

There’s one thing to make rules for safety, and another for fair competition. Then there’s insanity, which is what this is. Essentially, if I slip my footing a little and touch the ground, my team is screwed? That seems a little harsh.


FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

NASCAR Cup Series

Ganassi Shows Strength At Atlanta

Could 2019 be the year of improvement for Chip Ganassi Racing?

Well, if the team continues to perform as they did during Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, that may be the case, as their drivers, Kurt Busch, and Kyle Larson, both turned out solid results.

Busch, who started the race eighth, placed third, the best finish for the No. 1 team since the Charlotte ROVAL (second) last October, and only their 12th since the end of the 2015 season. This accomplishment is exactly what Ganassi could’ve hoped for when he hired the 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion in December in quick fashion.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

Not to forget that the run is a big momentum boost for Busch, who shows his ability since leaving Stewart-Haas Racing. While CGR hasn’t been at the level of SHR, the early success could pave the way to continue to establish themselves as a bigger threat moving forward into the season.

Then there is Larson, whose 12th place finish does not represent the kind of day he had.

For the majority of the event, the 26-year-old proved to the class of the field, leading a race-high 142 laps before a costly speeding penalty put him in a hole he couldn’t get out of.

Now the lack of capitalization on such a dominant day will be understandably frustrating for the team, but this run is ultimately a positive.

Let’s make it clear; the No. 42 was not a dominant force last year. While there were some high moments, this team’s season was ultimately forgettable, with zero wins, and an early playoff exit, a disappointment magnified by their four victories in 2017.

However, if Larson and company can continue to be a force, week in and out, and avoid the mistakes that keep them from solidifying their results, they could very well be on their way to another successful year.

The point being, Atlanta proved CGR can hang with the top teams of the sport. Now even if they are unable to build on this in the future, after all the disappointment and changes to the team recently, a day like this is one they needed to start this year. The progression of this organization will be something to watch in the coming weeks as the season continues on in its early stages.


TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

NASCAR Cup Series

Larson Lacking Speed Prior to the DAYTONA 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — This season’s edition of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway has not been the best for Kyle Larson. The driver of the No. 42 Credit One Chevy Camaro has encountered problems during his time at Daytona this month.

Starting with last Sunday, when Larson qualified 32nd for the Great American Race. Later on in the day, he wrecked his race car during the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Larson knew that things needed to turn around Thursday during the Gander RV Duel, but it still didn’t go his way.

Larson finished 12th after he was left from the main pack due to losing the draft in the race. A lack of speed is something that is concerning Larson about his race car.

“I felt a little bit loose, but like I said we need more speed, like I lost the draft there,” Larson told POPULAR SPEED.

Larson seemed a bit frustrated with his car but knows it can improve on Sunday during the race. After winning last July in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver looks to use his skill as an advantage.

Hopefully, it can go better than his previous DAYTONA 500 attempts with only one top-10 in five appearances which came back in 2016. Larson might also want to get up front and lead some laps, as he’s only led 16 laps in his entire career at Daytona in the Cup series.

His car is not where he wants it to be, but Larson is not panicking. His veteran experience in these types of races still give him the thought that he can take the victory on Sunday.

“Well you just, I don’t know you don’t get a good idea how your car is, you’re just working on single car runs,” Larson  said.“So it’s kind of it is what it is here.”

On Friday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars had two practice sessions, with Larson was scored in 35th in the first.

“I’d like to be a lot faster, but I think it’s too late to find speed like that,” Larson said.

On a positive side, single car run speeds do not make a big impact to the race. Larson has a chance to be consistent in the pack and work his way to the front. He will be starting 26th for the DAYTONA 500 on Sunday.

“It doesn’t even matter once you get in the race, either you just try to miss some wrecks and hopefully have a clean car by the end of the race.”


The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.