Home / Cup Series / Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: First 2018 Trip to the First State
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: First 2018 Trip to the First State

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series went to Dover International Speedway this weekend as the closing act of a tripleheader of national series action, but rain dampened the mood as Kevin Harvick destroyed the field in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism as cars ticked away the laps single-file at the Monster Mile.

The win was Harvick’s fourth of the season (through 11 races) and the fifth of the year for Stewart-Haas Racing. In second place, roughly seven seconds back, was teammate Clint Bowyer, and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Suarez was the top-finishing Toyota in third. Martin Truex Jr. was fourth, and Kurt Busch drove home in fifth.

Rounding out the top ten were Brad Keselowski in sixth, Denny Hamlin in seventh, Ryan Blaney eighth, Jimmie Johnson was Chevrolet’s best in ninth, and polesitter Kyle Larson was tenth after starting in the back due to the No. 42 repeatedly failing pre-race inspection.

Ford drivers led all but 26 laps (those went to Alex Bowman, who finished 23rd), and not a single Toyota was able to get out front.

13 cars finished on the lead lap, and 34 of the 38 racers were scored by NASCAR as “running” by race’s end.

HOT

Stewart-Haas Racing continues to make history in their tenth season, as three of their cars – the No. 4, No. 14 and No. 41 – finished in the top five for the first time ever. The fourth car, Aric Almirola‘s No. 10, just missed out on the top-10 in 11th, his ninth top-15 finish of the season. Harvick swept both stages, which makes six stage wins in 2018, and Kurt Busch has two stage wins. Between the quartet they have 13 top-5s and 25 top-10s, and all four drivers are comfortably within the playoff bubble, Harvick and Bowyer locked in with wins.

NOT

Though this was Jimmie Johnson‘s fourth top-10 of the season, he hasn’t won in 34 races, the longest stretch of his career. He remains the only Hendrick driver without any laps led in 2018, and worse than that, he’s the only driver of the major Chevy teams (Hendrick, Ganassi and Childress) who hasn’t been out front this season. (It should be noted, however, that Ganassi’s Jamie McMurray and Childress’ Austin Dillon have only led a lap each.) A distant ninth wasn’t the result the seven-time champion was hoping for, especially as Dover was the last track he’d won at, and where he has a total of 11 victories.

HOT

Suarez qualified seventh, picked up points in both stages and tied his career-best finish in his best race ever on an oval track, picking up his fourth top-10 result of the 2018. In the past four races, he’s now run 11th, 10th, 10th and third, and he’s currently just seven points off the playoff bubble. This momentum could continue – Suarez was seventh in the spring race at Kansas last year.

NOT

Ryan Newman was 33rd, 23 laps down after a problem near the end of the first stage. It was his third finish outside the top 25 in the last five races, which has him 20th in the standings, 23 points below the cutoff. For a driver who usually sneaks into the postseason via consistency, things aren’t exactly looking good for his 2018 playoff hopes. However, he has scored top-ten runs at Bristol and Talladega within that five-race span.

HOT

In Matt Kenseth‘s last 10 races, he’s picked up a win (ISM – Phoenix), three top-fives and eight runs in the top 11. This likely won’t continue next week at Kansas, even though he’s won there multiple times, simply because the Roush Fenway No. 6 team isn’t doing that well (29th in owner points, season-best finish of 12th). Still, Kenseth’s return to the Cup Series should eventually trigger an uptick in performance from the RFR stable, and he brings a new sponsorship to the sport from the Wyndham group of hotel chains.

NOT

Running a partial schedule in the TriStar Motorsports No. 72 this season, Corey LaJoie has had atrocious luck, losing three engines in four races, and for good measure, another one during practice. (He made it to the end of the Bristol marathon, finishing 25th in the snow-delayed event.) The No. 72 is tied for 32nd in the owner standings out of 36 chartered teams.

Paint Scheme of the Week

The JTG Daugherty cars of AJ Allmendinger (No. 47) and Chris Buescher (No. 37) both had sponsorship from Kroger this weekend, and the cars were wrapped in mirrored designs, (This also occurs with the Ganassi cars when sponsored by DC Solar, but Larson and McMurray haven’t run them at the same time.) The JTG wraps blur the Kroger colors in a really cool way that suggests high-speed motion, which is very appropriate for a race car.

Predictions

Martin Truex Jr. swept both races last season at Kansas Speedway, and the MENCS is headed the Sunflower State this weekend. Clint Bowyer should be another contender at his home track, and Joey Logano has been strong here in the past. The three of them should be at or near the front for most of the race, which basically marks the halfway point of the regular season.

Victory for Aric Almirola would be an especially big story, as a crash in this race last year fractured several vertebrae, which led to Darrell Wallace Jr. getting his first Cup experience. Additionally, Kansas was one of the No. 10’s better tracks when Danica Patrick was behind the wheel.

Aerodynamics plays a massive role at mile-and-a-half speedways, making it hard for cars to pass each other, so this likely won’t be the most exciting race on the schedule.

The KC Masterpiece 400 will go green around 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 12, with TV coverage on FS1.

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About Wesley Coburn

Wesley Coburn
Wesley has been with Fronstretch since October 2017. He loves well-told stories in whatever format he finds them. Aside from NASCAR, he enjoys reading, country music and OKC Thunder basketball. He has a BA in Liberal Arts/English and currently lives in eastern Oklahoma, where he works as a freelance writer/editor.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    Wesley, you say: “Additionally, Kansas was one of the No. 10’s better tracks when Danica Patrick was behind the wheel.”

    Kansas was, in fact, one of Patrick’s POORER tracks. Out of the 23 tracks where Patrick “competed” in Cup, Kansas ranked 18th best based on average finish. She had a worse average finish at only 5 other tracks.

    Her average finish there was 25.8 (compared to her career Cup average of 24.1. In 11 starts she had only 4 top 20s.

    Hardly stellar results and surprising you would suggest so. Taking a moment to check the facts before publishing such a misleading (and erroneous) statement seems to be the least a credible journalist would do.

    • Wesley Coburn

      You’re right, those stats aren’t ideal. I was thinking of her seventh-place run there in 2014, which was one of her better Cup races. Thanks for reading and caring enough to comment!

      • Avatar

        Thank you, Wesley. Otherwise an excellent article although piggy-backing Patrick to the #10 car simply for clicks (This is not a comment against you solely. It is pervasive.) is part of the myth I describe below.

        It’s not only about your comment being misleading but rather the whole Danica myth. Danica’s career is portrayed in the media almost exclusively by the half dozen or so NASCAR race week-ends when she hasn’t been [typically] sub-par or completely sucked. (7th at Kansas 4 years ago; Pole at Daytona 500 in 2013, etc.).

        People read something and have expectations that what is reported accurately reflects the facts. In Patrick’s case the media seldom does this. What is presented, for the most part, is ethereal, gossamer wings, that sort of thing. Lots of editorializing, apologizing for Patrick (excuses galore over her “career”), alternative facts [with a nod to Kellyanne Conway) and setting aside the truth.

        I’ll give you an example. It has been widely reported by the media that Patrick had been good for NASCAR, that she has brought attention to the sport(supposedly more positive than negative). Yet, it’s all anecdotal. I have yet to see any empirical data that supports such an idea. (I will however, based on the empirical evidence of her reported worth, that going to NASCAR has certainly benefited Patrick greatly).

        However, at the same time if you go to any site that lists detailed racing results and statistics you can very quickly understand her real success or lack thereof.