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 Xfinity Series

Make it back-to-back Xfinity Series wins for Austin Cindric

Lexington, OH – The Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 3 was Austin Cindric’s first career Xfinity Series win.

Taking 54 tries to record the first one, he didn’t have to wait nearly as long for his second.

Piloting his No. 22 Team Penske PPG Ford Mustang, Cindric was able to hold off Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell in Saturday’s B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

In what has been a very strong season for the 20-year-old, Cindric has accumulated 15 top-ten and eight top-five finishes. He sits fifth in the driver standings, 27 points back of JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier for fourth.

“It feels so good,” Cindric said after Saturday’s race.

“Two in a row and going for three at Bristol. I’ll probably go crazy if I win three. Should be a lot of fun. This is great momentum for our group.”

Leading 46 of the 75 laps, Cindric and Bell were followed by Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger, Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick and JRM’s Noah Gragson.

Reddick still leads the way in the standings with 929 points, 28 ahead of the second-place Bell.

Riding high entering the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 16, Cindric has produced just one top-ten finish in his three career starts at the short-track.

The action begins at 7:30PM ET on NBCSN.

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 NASCAR.com. “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.