NASCAR NEWS: Kyle Busch Leads Standings as Monster Energy Series Heads to Richmond

By  //  April 21, 2018

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five different drivers have visited victory lane IN 2018

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ABOVE VIDEO: Kyle Busch’s win a week ago at Texas and this Monday at Bristol marked the fifth time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship career that he’s won back-to-back races.

(NASCAR) – The NASCAR Monster Energy Series season is a long and grueling campaign. There are 36 races with 23 different tracks hosting events.

Since the Daytona500 back in mid-February, the boys have traded paint at three tracks out west, Texas and back here in the east have stopped in Atlanta, Martinsville, and Bristol, Tennessee.

Through eight races in the 2018 season, five different drivers have visited victory lane. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Bush have each made return trips, with Harvick winning three straight races when he captured the Atlanta, Las Vegas, and the Arizona races.

The single race winners include Austin Dillon at Daytona, Clint Boyer in Martinsville and last years series champ, Martin Truex Jr., who dominated at Fontana winning from the pole and leading the most laps, 125, on his way to taking the checkered flag.

Although Harvick has one more win than Busch, has led more laps and has more stage wins it’s not hard to figure out why Harvick sits in third place 75 points behind Busch and 16 points behind second place driver Joey Logano.

Harvick also has one DNF while Busch and Logano do not.

Back in Fontana on March 18, Harvick was looking for his fourth win a row but an early race dust-up on ap 37 with the races eventual third-place finisher Kyle Larson allowed the No.4 Jimmy Johns Ford to finish in 36th and collect just three points on the day.

This week the ‘Boys’ continue the short track tour with a stop in Richmond, Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400, which gets underway Saturday night at 6:30 p.m.

There’s No Place Like Home For Hamlin

ABOVE VIDEO: Denny Hamlin doesn’t just love to come home to Virginia for sentimental reasons, he considers Richmond Raceway, in particular, a place he can always contend for victory.

Denny Hamlin doesn’t just love to come home to Virginia for sentimental reasons, he considers Richmond Raceway, in particular, a place he can always contend for victory. And with good reason.

Hamlin has three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins at the track, where the series will race in the Toyota Owners 400 Saturday night (6:30 p.m., ET on FOX, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). His mark of 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 23 starts there makes him one of the most productive drivers in the field there. And no one on the track this weekend has led more laps (1,653 or 17.9 percent).

The three-quarter mile Richmond track is a place where Hamlin has always looked forward to competing. And it could prove to be exactly the shot of adrenalin Hamlin needs to reboot his 2018 season.

After a thrilling third-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, Hamlin’s season has largely vacillated between near-misses and lost opportunity.

He’s had four top-six finishes, but also four showings less characteristically out of the top-10 including a 34th-place finish at Texas two weeks ago after being involved in a crash.

He’s ranked eighth in the Monster Energy Series standings but is among the top-three drivers in Richmond proficiency. Hamlin has top-10 finishes in his last six races at Richmond, including a win from the pole position in the 2016 fall race. He’s led 263 laps in the last five races there and had finishes of third in this spring race last year and fifth in the fall race.

So Close…

Kyle Larson led 200 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway but had to settle for a runner-up finish – his second of the early season and third top-three. (Image by NASCAR)

Kyle Larson led 200 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway but had to settle for a runner-up finish – his second of the early season and third top-three. And as “frustratingly successful” as that was, he is eyeing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stop at Richmond, where he won for the first time at the track in last September’s regular season finale.

Larson has a win and a runner-up in the last three races there and has posted an impressive 10.4 average finish in eight starts. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has led laps (73 total) in the last three races.

Win-Win-Win Situation

Kyle Busch’s win a week ago at Texas and this Monday at Bristol marked the fifth time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship career that he’s won back-to-back races. And he shows up at Richmond this week absolutely the driver to beat again. A victory Saturday night would mark the second time in Busch’s 14-year Monster Energy Series career that he’s won three straight races.

His four victories and 15 top-five finishes are most among his competition this weekend at Richmond. Busch’s 109.7 driver rating is tops in the series, as is his 7.4 average finishing position. His 8,855 laps run in the top-15 — (88.5% of the time) — is second most in the field.

Busch has five top-10 finishes in the last seven Richmond races, including back-to-back runner-up finishes in fall 2015 and spring 2016 races. His last victory was in the 2012 spring race, and he actually won every spring race from 2009-2012.

Penske Power

Although Ryan Blaney understandably left Bristol disappointed last weekend after being crashed out while leading early in the race, he can take some solace in yet another strong showing.

The Penske driver – who led twice for 100 laps at Bristol – is ranked sixth in the standings thanks to five top-10 runs in the season’s opening eight races, including a third place at Martinsville three weeks ago. Blaney’s best showing at Richmond was 18th last fall. But he does have a pair of top fives in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the track.

His Penske Racing teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski — ranked second and fifth in the standings, respectively, have three wins between them at Richmond. All three victories have come in the last eight races – the team swept the 2014 Richmond races – and Logano is the defending winner of this race.

Making Progress

Jimmy Johnson moved from 20th to a season-high 17th in the championship rankings – a single point out of the Playoff-eligible top 16.
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Jimmie Johnson didn’t finish his Bristol long race weekend in Victory Lane, however, his third-place finish marked a season-best effort from the seven-time championship team and provided great optimism that a win may be close.

He moved from 20th to a season-high 17th in the championship rankings – a single point out of the Playoff-eligible top 16.

It was his first top five of the year and second top 10 in the eight races. But for a sport accustomed to Johnson winning. … and winning. … and winning, it has been a highly-publicized trophy gap. It’s been a career-long 31 races since Johnson last celebrated in Dover’s Victory Lane.

Johnson’s work at Richmond is encouraging, however. He has three victories – only Kyle Busch has more – and he’s finished 11th or better in the last seven races there, including a pair of top-five finishes.

“The finish in Bristol is exactly what this team needed,’’ Johnson said. “I’ve known that every week we have been getting better, but it’s nice to finally have a finish to back that up.

“Now if we could just fix these bouts of bad luck we have been having. I’m already ready to get back in the Lowe’s for Pros Chevy and looking forward to Richmond. We have put together some solid runs there lately and with the momentum from Bristol, I’m ready to roll.”

Standings
RK DRIVER POINTS WINS POLES TOP 5 TOP 10
1 Kyle Busch 365 2 2 6 7
2 Joey Logano 306 0 0 2 7
3 Kevin Harvick 290 3 0 5 6
4 Clint Bowyer 286 1 0 2 5
5 Brad Keselowski 271 0 0 2 4
6 Ryan Blaney 267 0 1 3 5
7 Martin Truex Jr. 257 1 1 5 5
8 Denny Hamlin 252 0 0 3 4
9 Kyle Larson 249 0 0 3 4
10 Kurt Busch 241 0 1 0 3

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