Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

It’s now or never for Jimmie Johnson’s playoff hopes

Speedway, IN – Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was a step in the right direction for the 48 of Jimmie Johnson, but the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) champion still faces an uphill battle in his quest to qualify for the postseason.

Finishing second in Stage 1 and seventh in Stage 2, Johnson racked up 34 points en route to a 16th-place finish.

With Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman, who are 18 points ahead of Johnson for the final playoff spot, only earning 26 and 14 points, respectively, Johnson was able to close the gap a bit.

The Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard on Sunday, September 8 (2:00PM ET, NBC) marks the final race of NASCAR’s regular season. While it is possible for Johnson to point his way into the playoffs, a win is the only way for him to control his own destiny.

“We are running out of days and if we miss it, it’s only going to be by a few I believe,” Johnson said.

“If I look back over the first half of the season, I see a lot of races where we gave a few points away. So, it’s kind of unfair to put all the pressure on one race in Indianapolis. But we are going there to win a race.”

Johnson’s last win came on June 4, 2017 in the AAA Drive for Autism 400 at Dover International Speedway. Mired in a career-long winless drought, Sunday would be the perfect time to snap out of it.

Despite how he has been running for the last two-plus seasons, Johnson has a history of success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 17 career starts at the 2.5-mile rectangular oval, he has won four times – most recently in 2012 – and has recorded seven top-10 finishes.

Johnson finished 14th in the 2018 edition of this event, which was won by Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski.

The only driver to qualify for the playoffs every year since the original Chase format was introduced in 2004, Johnson is confident headed into Sunday’s finale.

Holding an outside shot at being the sport’s only eight-time champion, it all hinges on Sunday for Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

Denny Hamlin, Matt DiBenedetto shine at Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol, TN – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin picked up his fourth win of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Leading 79 of the 500 laps, Hamlin worked his way back after falling two laps behind after making contact with the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson in Stage 1.

The real story of the night, though, was Matt DiBenedetto’s No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota Camry leading a race-high 93 laps.

Hamlin’s No. 11 Camry passed DiBenedetto with 11 laps to go and the fan favorite was able to hold on to second-place.

Even Hamlin felt the electricity of the underdog story.

“I’m so sorry to Matt DiBenedetto, (crew chief) Mike Wheeler…I know what a win would mean to that team.”

While he fell just short of his first career win, DiBenedetto’s second-place showing was a career-best and it came at the end of a tumultuous week for the 28-year-old.

It was announced just days prior that DiBenedetto would not return to LFR and the No. 95 in 2020, a seat that is likely to be occupied by Christopher Bell.

Saturday was DiBenedetto’s third top-five of the season and he is showing his peers – and prospective car owners – that he can compete for wins at NASCAR’s highest level.

Said Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, “That would have been a pretty cool story. He just announced that he’s not going to be in that car next year and I think he does a great job. He really drove for that one. It stinks he couldn’t get it done, but he’s a great driver. I hope he lands somewhere good.”

“A lot of people have respect for him,” Hamlin added. “He’s humble. This is not a story of he’s just going to go away. This is only the beginning for him. He’s writing his resume on TV every weekend.”

Slightly disappointed, of course, DiBenedetto was also upbeat and optimistic post-race.

“I’m sad. Congrats to Denny, raced hard and I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. To be racing door-to-door with him at Bristol in front of a great group of fans – I’m trying not to get emotional but it’s been a tough week and I just want to stick around and want to keep doing this for a long time to come. I am not done yet. Something is going to happen.”

The upset victory would have guaranteed DiBenedetto a spot in the Cup Series’ 16-driver playoff field. Instead, he’ll take the 41 points he earned and enjoy 22nd-place in the standings.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Daniel Suarez holds a two-point lead over teammate Clint Bowyer for the final playoff spot. Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson sits in 18th-place, 26 points back of Suarez.

With just two races remaining in the regular season, time is running out for these drivers to make their move and secure their spots.

One of the sport’s crown jewel events, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is next up on the schedule.

Taking place at 6:00PM ET on Sunday, September 1, NBCSN will air the 70th running of the event.

Feel free to follow Teddy Rydquist and the Lapped Traffic Podcast on Twitter @TeddyRydquist @lappedtrafficpc.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

David Ragan to retire from full-time racing following 2019 season

Bristol, TN – David Ragan, driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang, announced Wednesday he will retire from full-time racing following the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season.

Ragan said, via a team statement, “I’ve prayed and heavily considered this decision, but for myself and my family, I believe this is the right thing to do.

“I am a husband and a father to two young girls first, and I am a driver second. To compete in what I consider the greatest series in the world, you need full dedication of your time and focus. My children are growing up quickly, and I want to concentrate my time in being the best father and husband I can be.”

Just 33-years-old, Ragan will be stepping aside after 14 years in NASCAR’s top series.

Making his Cup Series debut in the 2006 Dover 400 with Roush Racing, he originally drove for FRM from 2012-14.

Following a two-year span that saw him drive for Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and BK Racing, Ragan returned to FRM in 2017.

With three races still remaining in the 2019 regular season, Ragan sits 30th in the driver standings, 10 points back of Go Fas Racing’s Corey Lajoie for 29th.

To date, Ragan has two wins and 40 top-ten finishes across 457 career starts. His first win came in the 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway as a member of Roush Fenway Racing.

“There aren’t enough words to thank everyone who has helped me in career and to all the fans who have supported me in this journey,” Ragan said near the closing of his statement.

He still plans to run a select number of races in 2020 and will continue to be part of Fox Sports 1’s NASCAR Race Hub.

Feel free to follow Teddy Rydquist and the Lapped Traffic Podcast on Twitter @TeddyRydquist @lappedtrafficpc.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson on wrong side of playoff cutline

Brooklyn, MI – Jimmie Johnson has never missed the postseason in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) career. Since NASCAR implemented the original “Chase for the Cup” in 2004, Johnson has qualified for the postseason in all 15 seasons.

After his performance in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway, this streak is in serious jeopardy.

The issues began early for Johnson as he cut a tire and hit the outside wall on Lap 15. Forced to pit multiple times, he was seven laps down by the end of Stage 1.

Ultimately finishing 34th, Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Ally Chevrolet Camaro recorded just three points on the day.

It would have been interesting to see how Johnson’s day would have played out without the early damage.

“Great car. Just really bummed,” Johnson told NBCSN post-race. “That really hurt for sure. Have to rally on. These guys are doing an amazing job. Just keep digging.”

The 16th and final playoff spot is currently occupied by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer with 559 points. Thanks to his fifth-place showing on Sunday, fellow SHR driver Daniel Suarez sits 17th with 553 points.

That leaves Johnson and his 547 points in 18th-place with just three races remaining in the regular season.

12 points is still easily within striking distance and Johnson is keeping his strategy simple.

“Just fight hard for every point.”

Next up on the schedule is the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, August 17.

Green flag is set for shortly after 7:30PM and NBCSN will air the race.

Johnson recorded a top-ten in April’s Food City 500 at BMS.

Another performance like that would go a long way toward keeping one of NASCAR’s most impressive streaks alive.

Feel free to follow Teddy Rydquist and the Lapped Traffic Podcast on Twitter @TeddyRydquist @lappedtrafficpc.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

Go Bowling at The Glen recap: Chase Elliott makes it back-to-back

Watkins Glen, NY – Leading 80 of the 90 laps in Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott picked up his second win of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season and his second win in a row in the event.

Beginning from the pole position, Elliott swept all three stages to pick up the maximum 60 points on the day. He is now just three points behind Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch for seventh place in the driver standings.

“We had such a bad fast Camaro, and we stayed mistake-free,” Elliott said. “Martin was a little quicker those last two runs, but track position was key.”

The “Martin” he is referring to is, of course, Martin Truex Jr. In a race that looked very reminiscent of last year’s version, Elliott and Truex battled throughout the last quarter of the race and, ultimately, Elliott was able to hold him off once again.

“I tried to do all I could,” Truex said of his attempts to pass the No. 9. “Chase did an excellent job, just not making mistakes, and really all I could do was get to two car lengths.

“Unfortunate, but our Bass Pro Camry was really, really fast today.”

Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was fast all weekend. He finished in the top-seven of both practice sessions and qualified fourth. Thanks to his teammate Kyle Busch’s spin on lap three, he quickly moved up a spot.

After finishing Stage 1 in third, Truex ran second to Elliott in each of the latter two stages. Earning 52 points on the day, he sits just 18 points back of another teammate, Denny Hamlin, for third-place in the standings.

Elliott’s classmate in the 2016 rookie class, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney was the highest-finishing Ford Mustang of the day in fifth-place.

However, he had to ruffle some feathers to get there.

Contact between Blaney and the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson on lap 63 sent Johnson into the tire barrier and cost the seven-time champion valuable points as he lives life on the playoff cutline.

Normally a very cool customer, Johnson was audibly upset post-race.

“I don’t know what the hell the problem is,” Johnson told NBCSN, who aired the race.

“He just drove through me and spun us out and it clearly has big implications on what we’re trying to do for the playoffs right now. Clearly not happy with his actions there.”

Sitting comfortably in tenth place in the standings, Blaney was much more ho-hum about the incident.

“Just racing. He had old tires. They just did gas only and he was pretty slow and I passed 10 guys off the bus stop all day and he hit the third curb pretty bad and it got him out of position and he was up and I had a good run. I was there. He left probably a lane and a quarter or so. I took it.”

Posting an average qualifying time of 70.34 seconds, Blaney did not advance to the second round of qualifying and began the race in 19th.

He worked himself up to ninth by the end of Stage 2 and gained four more spots in the final 50 laps to secure his seventh top-five of 2019. Still searching for his first win of the season, Blaney is seven points back of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola for ninth in the standings.

True to form, Almirola was solid, but unspectacular on Sunday, finishing 12th.

NASCAR returns to the Irish Hills of Brooklyn, MI and Michigan International Speedway for the Consumers Energy 400 on Sunday, August 11.

SHR’s Kevin Harvick won the 2018 edition, leading 108 of the 400 laps.

Penske’s Joey Logano won the June race at MIS, the FireKeepers Casino 400, in a green-white-checkered finish holding off Kurt Busch.

You can catch the action on NBCSN with Rick Allen, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte beginning at 3:00PM ET.

Feel free to follow Teddy Rydquist and The Lapped Traffic Podcast on Twitter @TeddyRydquist @lappedtrafficpc.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

Chase Elliott returns to site of first Cup Series win

Watkins Glen, NY – On August 5, 2018, Chase Elliott led 52 of the 90 laps in the Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International to pick up his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) win.

Since then, Elliott has gone on to win three more times, including April’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Locked into the playoffs and sitting eighth in the driver standings with 616 points, the 23-year-old is in a very comfortable position.

While he has been the best of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaros in 2019, he has cooled down since rattling off five consecutive top-five finishes from Talladega to the first Pocono race.

Dating back to the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Elliott has failed to finish in the top-ten and has came in 20th or worse in five of the seven races.

Seeking to snap out of this slump, NASCAR’s trip to New York is coming at the perfect time.

In his three starts at Watkins Glen, Elliott has an average finish of ninth. Excluding the Charlotte Roval because of sample size, this is his sixth-best average at any track.

Throughout his time in the Cup Series, he has established himself as one of the best road course racers on the circuit. In eight road course attempts – four at Sonoma Raceway, three at Watkins Glen and one at the Charlotte Roval – the Dawsonville, GA native has four top-ten and two top-five finishes.

Finishing in the top-ten in half of your road course starts is nothing to sniff your nose at. Expect to see Elliott get the ship righted on Sunday.

The Go Bowling at the Glen from Watkins Glen International begins at 3:00PM ET on Sunday. You can catch the action on NBCSN.

Feel free to follow Teddy Rydquist on Twitter @TeddyRydquist.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Kevin Meendering split after just 21 races

Sitting 12 points back of the final playoff spot with just five races remaining in NASCAR’s regular season, every moment matters for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

Hendrick Motorsports decided a change atop the pit box could be what this team needs to kick it into gear. After just 21 races, Kevin Meendering has been replaced as Johnson’s crew chief by Cliff Daniels.

Previously serving as a race engineer, the move is a step up for Daniels. Meendering will remain with Hendrick Motorsports in a senior competition role.

“We have to act now,” Johnson told “We don’t have any time to waste.”

While Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International will be Daniels’ first race as a crew chief, he and Johnson do have some familiarity with one another.

Daniels was a race engineer under Chad Knaus during Johnson’s 2016 championship season. Knaus was moved to the No. 24 team with William Byron prior to the 2019 season. In their 17 seasons (2002-18) together, Johnson and Knaus won seven championships, including five straight from 2006-10.

This built-in familiarity should help the No. 48 team, but they need to hit the ground running. Currently on the wrong side of the playoff cutline, Johnson has three top-five finishes and an average finish of 15.095 in 2019.

Amid a career-long winless streak, a trip to Watkins Glen probably wasn’t exactly what Johnson was looking for. In 17 starts at the road course, he has yet to record a win and has an average finish of 17.059.

The Go Bowling at the Glen will take place at 3:00PM ET on Sunday, August 4. You can catch the action on NBCSN.

Feel free to follow Teddy Rydquist on Twitter @TeddyRydquist.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

Denny Hamlin wins at Pocono for fifth time

Long Pond, PA – For the fifth time in his Cup Series career, Denny Hamlin visited Victory Lane at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin was strong throughout the afternoon and finished in the top-five of all three stages in Sunday’s Gander RV 400.

Seeking his first victory since the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in March, Hamlin held off teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. in overtime to seal the deal in this one.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five. Championship leader Joey Logano came in 13th.

The win was the third of the season for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry.

Sitting fourth in the driver standings, 2019 is shaping up to be Hamlin’s best shot at a title since 2014.

“I feel as long as we keep putting the effort in what we’re doing, I have as good a shot as any,” he said.

He is also driving with plenty of confidence.

“We’re running our best right now,” he glowed. “There’s no doubt about it.”

The numbers back up his statement. Sunday marked three consecutive-top five finishes for the 38-year-old and his 10.048 average finish speaks to his consistency.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) next heads to Watkins Glen International for the Go Bowling at the Glen on Sunday, August 4. You can catch the action on NBCSN at 3:00PM ET.

In 13 career starts at the 3.4-mile road course, Hamlin has one win, three top-five and six top-ten finishes.

Feel free to follow Teddy Rydquist on Twitter @TeddyRydquist.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

Kevin Harvick breaks Stewart-Haas Racing’s 21-race winless drought

Loudon, NH – The drought is over!

For the first time since the AAA Texas 500 on November 4, 2018, a Stewart Haas Racing driver visited Victory Lane.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer/National Forest Foundation Ford Mustang, led 41 of Sunday’s 301 laps to win the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We’ve run well enough a few times this year to win, but we’ve just made mistakes,” Harvick said post-race. “To finally battle and get over that hump is a great day for everybody at SHR and everybody on the No. 4 car.”

One of just three drivers to finish in the top-10 in all three stages – the other two being Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin – Harvick gained 46 points on Sunday and has a 22-point lead over Hamlin for third-place in the driver standings.

While his 11th-place finish doesn’t jump off the page, Aric Almirola added to SHR’s strong day.

The winner of Stage 2, Almirola recorded 44 points on the day, trailing only Harvick and Kyle Busch.

When the caution flag waved late in the second stage, Almirola and crew chief John Klausmeier were faced with an interesting dilemma: Go for the stage points or play it safe with an eye on possibly winning the race.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword when the caution comes out that late in the stage,” the driver of the No. 10 said. “We chose to score stage points and that paid off. We won the stage, but in the end, we got behind and couldn’t recover from track position.”

Sunday was Almirola’s 11th consecutive top-20 finish, the longest active streak on the circuit.

Finally free from the shackles of being winless, SHR will look to keep their success going in the Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 28.

In 83 combined starts at “The Tricky Triangle,” the current stable of SHR Mustangs have yet to win a race.

For the latest on all things NASCAR, follow Teddy Rydquist on Twitter @TeddyRydquist.

Posted in Monster Energy Cup Series

Erik Jones matches season-high with third-place finish

Sparta, KY – For the fourth time this season, Erik Jones was able to guide his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry to a third-place finish in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. After a rough stretch, the 23-year-old now has top-ten finishes in four of the last six races.

With all the rumors circulating about how he and Christopher Bell fit into the picture at JGR, Jones has done a good job of quieting the noise.

Qualifying 21st with a time of 29.821 seconds, Jones was able to move up to second-place by the end of Stage 2.

Things really got interesting when Bubba Wallace brought out the final caution of the night on lap 261. Utilizing the green-white-checkered finish, Jones dove to the bottom of the track and briefly took the lead.

In perhaps the most exciting finish of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season, the Busch brothers were able to pass Jones up high in turn 3.

“I had two choices there going into 3 and 4,” Jones recalled. “I knew they were probably going to slide up, so I was going to try to run to the bottom and make a run on them, but they didn’t slide up enough, and I was tight and couldn’t quite get the run I needed to.”

While he would have liked the ending to play out differently, Saturday still produced 43 points for the Byron, Michigan native. Currently holding a two-point lead over Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot, each point is critical for the No. 20 team.

“We built ourselves a big deficit through some misfortune and bad luck, and we’re digging out of it now,” Jones said about his team’s standing.

“Getting back on the good side of it (the playoff cutline) is a good start, we just need to keep it rolling and hopefully get a win here soon.”

If Jones is going to win a race to secure his spot in the postseason, he will have to do it at a track he has never won at before. His only Cup Series win came in the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

The next opportunity for Jones will come on Sunday as NASCAR heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

In three career starts at Loudon, Jones has one top-10 finish.

For the latest on everything NASCAR, follow Teddy Rydquist on Twitter @TeddyRydquist.