Monster Energy Cup Series News

Monster Energy Cup Series News (17151)

Without a doubt, the most exciting finish of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season came one year ago this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.

 

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles® America Mix Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), battled it out with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson on a final lap to remember as Larson slid up in front of Busch attempting a “slide job” coming out of turn two, putting Busch into the wall and Larson into the lead. Despite some damage to his car, Busch caught Larson between turns three and four and made contact, spinning Larson sideways and going on to take the checkered flag.

 

The sequence also was a memorable on-air moment for former-driver-turned-NBC-announcer Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose call of the last lap slide job perfectly captured the excitement of the finish and was a memorable clip that will be replayed not only this weekend, but for years to come. For Busch and Larson’s part after the race, Larson graciously went to victory lane to congratulate Busch and both smiled and laughed about one of the most memorable finishes in recent years.


With a repeat of last year’s win on his mind and July 4 on the horizon, Busch will again sport a special Skittles scheme that will proudly show off the Red, White, and Blue for this Sunday’s Camping World 400 that is sure to be a hit with NASCAR’s patriotic fans. The Skittles America Mix is a must-have for summer gatherings, road trips and, of course, a great snack while watching a NASCAR Cup Series race either in-person or on television. Every bag contains red, white and blue Skittles with fruit flavors that include strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, wild berry and “yumberry” – the first white, fruit-flavored Skittles candy – and are available at retailers nationwide throughout the summer.

 

In addition to its Hackettstown, New Jersey headquarters near its home track of Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Mars Wrigley Confectionary U.S.  has offices in Chicago, as well, and Busch would like nothing more than to score another “home” win like last year for the Mars Wrigley associates located downtown, especially after his recent win at Pocono that gave him three wins in his last four outings at the Pennsylvania triangle.

 

Last year’s win at Chicagoland was the second of Busch’s career at the 1.5-mile oval, his first coming in 2008. In the latter race, a late caution set up a green-white-checkered finish in which the Las Vegas native lined up behind now seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. On the final restart, Busch made a bold and surprising move to the outside in turns one and two, passing Johnson and holding him off to bring home the win. In addition to his two wins in the Cup Series, Busch has four NASCAR Xfinity Series and five Gander Outdoors Truck Series wins there.

 

So as Busch heads back to Chicagoland this weekend, he hopes the Skittles America Mix Red, White, and Blue colors will propel him to a third career Chicagoland win. There would be no better place to kick off the July 4 celebration than in victory lane at the 1.5-mile oval in the backyard of one of the main hubs for his primary backers. And wouldn’t it be nice if it was just as exciting as last year’s finish?

TSC PR

Officials from Spire Motorsports and Go-Parts have expanded their partnership and reached a three-race agreement that will feature Go-Parts as the primary sponsor of the team’s No. 77 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Kentucky Speedway, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Richmond (Va.) Raceway.
 
Go-Parts served as the team’s primary sponsor earlier this season in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
 
As one of eCommerce's "original" auto parts retailers, Go-Parts delivers high-quality, low-cost replacement parts to satisfied customers across the globe. Boasting one of the industry's largest online catalogs, Go-Parts shoppers can be sure they're finding the right parts for the job every time.
 
"Go-Parts is thrilled to join Spire Motorsports on the No. 77 Chevrolet at Kentucky, Bristol, and Richmond, as a primary sponsor,” said Sean Kennedy, Go-Parts Chief Executive Officer. “This sponsorship signals not only our growing relationship with Spire Motorsports, but also our continued efforts in supporting the sport that we all love.  We look forward to interacting with fans and cheering on the No. 77 Go-Parts Chevrolet!”
 
Finding the right parts is easy with Go-Parts, where consumers can visit Go-Parts.com, enter their vehicle's year, make, and model, and be instantly presented with a wide variety of part categories to help find everything they need to keep their car or truck safely on the road.  Insurance companies, collision shops, and do-it-yourselfers all trust Go-Parts to deliver the parts they need quickly.
 
“We’re delighted Go-Parts has chosen to continue building on the successful partnership we established earlier this season,” commented Spire Motorsports co-owner T.J. Puchyr. “We’re exceptionally proud that Go-Parts sees the value in our sport. We’ve forged a lasting relationship and we can’t wait to see that Go-Parts paint scheme back on the racetrack in a few weeks at Kentucky Speedway.”

Spire Motorsports PR

Maxwell House¸ in partnership with the USO and NASCAR driver Chris Buescher, will recognize one special service member at the Camping World 400 on June 30 at the Chicagoland Speedway.
 
Buescher’s No. 37 Maxwell House Camaro ZL1 fielded by JTG Daugherty Racing will sport a new paint scheme that pays tribute to the hard work of service members around the world and is part of the Maxwell House brand’s commitment to honoring the hard-working men and women in uniform throughout the year.
 
At the race, MSgt. Thurman of the 182 Airlift Wing, Illinois Air National Guard will take a race track ride and receive VIP access to the track on race day. He’ll also be celebrated during a Coffee Sit and Sip, where he will meet NASCAR drivers and share his inspirational story of service and dedication. Fans can see photos and video clips of the conversations on Twitter @JTGRacing.  
 
“We’re honored to have MSgt. Thurman as a part of our team at Chicagoland Speedway thanks to the USO and Maxwell House,” Buescher said. “We’re grateful for his service and all the hard work he has done for our country to keep us safe. We wanted to do something special for him and we’ve got a little surprise in store that he’ll get to see when he checks out the Maxwell House USO Camaro ZL1 for the first time in person. We can’t wait to have some Maxwell House coffee with him and members of the media before the grind on Sunday.”
 
MSgt. Craig Thurman is the son of a military retiree and has served for more than 20 years, including 10 deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq and more than 4,500 hours of flight time. Since 2015, MSgt. Thurman has supported missions stateside and overseas by helping fly troops and cargo to their destination. 
 
In May, Maxwell House announced its partnership with the USO as its Official Coffee Partner with a $650,000 donation in honor of Military Appreciation Month. Throughout the year, the coffee brand will support USO programs designed to strengthen military members and their families, including in-store promotions and coffee donations.
 
“We are proud to work with Maxwell House and JTG Daugherty Racing teams to create such a memorable experience for MSgt. Thurman, and to honor all of the men and women in uniform who protect our freedom,” said Chad Hartman, USO Vice President of Development and Corporate Alliances. “With the help of our partners and fellow military supporters we are able to rally America to show their appreciation for the hard work of our armed forces and help strengthen the military community.”
 
Maxwell House is proud to team up with the USO and JTG Daugherty Racing to honor U.S. military members and in particular, MSgt. Craig Thurman at this weekend’s race,” said Ashley Tople, Director of Marketing, Coffee at Kraft Heinz. “For over 125 years Maxwell House has worked hard to deliver coffee that has fueled millions of Americans’ hard work, we are delighted to do our part to support and recognize our troops.”
 
The Maxwell House paint scheme was made possible through the brand’s partnership with the USO and Kroger’s JTG Daugherty Racing team, a NASCAR sponsor. See the car by tuning into the race Sunday, June 30th at 3 PM ET live on NBCSN or listen via MRN Radio or SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90. 
 
For more information about Maxwell House, visit MaxwellHouseCoffee.com or on Twitter @Maxwell_House, Instagram @OfficialMaxwellHouse, Facebook @MaxwellHouse.

JTG Racing PR

e, Ty Dillon arrived with the popular GEICO Military paint scheme and famed 'Geckoflauge'. A newly configured Sonoma Raceway awaited Dillon and Germain Racing when they unloaded for practice on Friday.
 
Dillon and his No. 13 GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 were 24th and 23rd in the weekend's respective practice sessions. The added 'carousel' presented its challenges for all drivers in practice and qualifying.
 
Dillon started 31st on Sunday when the green flag signaled the start of 90-laps of racing. He was heavy on the gas and moved the GEICO Military Camaro into the 29th position in the opening two laps. Dillon began battling a tight condition halfway through the race's opening stage. In a strategy call, crew chief, Matt Borland, ordered the No. 13 entry to pit road under green flag conditions with just three laps to go in stage 1. The GEICO pit crew quickly outfitted Dillon with four fresh tires, a full tank of fuel and a much-needed chassis adjustment. He would return to the racing surface in 35th place, but found himself in the 14th position as stage 2 got underway.
 
The changes to Dillon's GEICO Military machine were helpful and he had better balance in the car as he hustled his way around the 12-turn road course. He was in the 15th position as things got started in the third and final stage. Dillon began searching for rear lateral grip before making a scheduled green flag pit stop with just 30-laps remaining in the 90-lap event. Dillon spent the balance of the day quiet on the team's radio frequency as he hustled around the northern California road course gathering as much real estate as possible. By the time the checkered flag halted a hot afternoon of racing, Dillon had pedaled the No. 13 GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 up to the 27th position.
 
"Sonoma is a tough racetrack. Only coming here once a year definitely makes it more challenging to learn how to get around the course, and this was only my third time racing here," Dillon said after climbing from his car. "The addition of the carousel added an extra layer of difficulty. Our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 started out pretty tight going both right and left, but my team made great changes to get our balance back to where we needed it. My rear grip just started to fade at the end. But, I have a lot of notes from this weekend to study for next year. We will keep building and getting better each time we come to Sonoma."
 
Next up for Germain Racing is a visit to the Windy City for race number 17 of the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season.
 
Ty Dillon and the No. 13 GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 will hit the track at Chicagoland Speedway for the weekend's opening practice session on Saturday, June 29th, at 11:05 AM (ET). Qualifying will follow at 6:35 PM (ET).
                                                     
The Camping World 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is on Sunday, June 30th, and it will be televised live on NBCSN beginning at 3 PM (ET). The Motor Racing Network (MRN) will carry the live radio broadcast, along with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
PMI PR

Martin Truex Jr.’s Sonoma spectacular will honorably earn most of the headlines coming out of the weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ first road course race of the season.

He joins NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon as the only drivers in Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway history to win back-to-back races. And equally as important to the 2017 series champion, the victory was No. 4 on the season tying him with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for most in the series.

Busch now trails defending series champion Joey Logano by a single point in the championship standings. And while Truex is ranked fifth in points – 100 behind Logano – he would move to second place if the Playoff rankings (based on victories) were reset today.

But it was another group of competitors in Sunday’s field that find themselves immersed in a race-by-race high-stakes battle to stay among the Playoff Top 16 as the series moves to Chicagoland Speedway for this week's Camping World 400 (Sunday, June 30 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Hendrick Motorsports William Byron, who finished 19th at Sonoma, is currently ranked 14th in the Monster Energy Series driver standings with a 29-point gap over his Hendrick teammate, 17th place Jimmie Johnson, who fell just outside the championship cut-off despite a 12th-place run at Sonoma. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who finished 10th at Sonoma, moved into 15th in the series driver standings and trails Byron by 11 points.

Roush-Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman, who finished seventh at Sonoma, moved into the 16th and final Playoff transfer position. He has the slimmest of slim 1-point advantage over Johnson, who was 12th at Sonoma and is 17th in the standings. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones, who finished eighth on Sunday, is ranked 18th in the series driver standings, only five points behind Newman in the cutoff position with 10 races left to settle the Playoff field.

There has been substantial movement between 15th and 18th place in the standings in just the last seven weeks. Newman, Johnson and Jones, for example, have changed points positions six times in the last seven races. Larson has moved four times.

There are 10 races remaining to set the 16-driver Playoff field – naturally creating a sort of Playoff “Chase” within the playoff push. And it’s go-time.

Byron, the second-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, scored only a pair of top-10 finishes at the 10 tracks ultimately setting this year’s Playoff field. He was sixth at Pocono and eighth at Watkins Glen in his maiden Cup season (2018). However, he does have a pair of past NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series wins at both Daytona and Indianapolis – important venues in this next 10-race group.

Larson has fared very well at the upcoming venues – scoring 20 of his career 48 top-five finishes at one of these next 10 tracks. And he has a career best three wins at Michigan.

Judging by statistics, Newman should feel very optimistic about this stretch of the schedule too. He certainly was enthused by his work at Sonoma. His seventh-place finish was his best showing since a seventh in 2008 at the famed road course – 11 years ago.

“We had good strategy and good pit stops, good everything," Newman said. “We just didn’t quite have the speed to be able to get up there and pass those guys that were in front today."

He’s equally as hopeful about the next summer months – having earned half of his career 18 victory total at tracks in this next 10-race stretch of venues. And the winning has been diverse. He’s won at six of the tracks – three times at New Hampshire, twice at Michigan and once at Daytona, Indianapolis, Chicago and Pocono.

Of course with 83 trophies and seven series championships in his wheelhouse, Johnson cannot be counted out to qualify for the Playoffs either. He is hoping to break a two-year-plus winless streak and surely likes his chances. He’s a former multi-time winner at Daytona, New Hampshire, Pocono, Bristol, Darlington and Indianapolis. He has a win at Michigan too. This week’s venue in Chicago, plus Kentucky (July 14) and Watkins Glen, N.Y. (Aug. 4) are the only tracks on the entire schedule where he’s yet to celebrate in winner’s circle.

Jones would be understandably enthusiastic about his summer slate. He scored his first career Cup win last July in the Daytona summer night race. And 11 of his career 18 top-five finishes have come at tracks in the calendar’s next 10-race stretch. He was runner-up at Bristol, Tenn. in the summer of 2017, leading 260 laps and he was runner-up at Indianapolis’s Brickyard 400 just last year. His four top-fives this season is already nearly half his career best season total (nine) set last year.

“It was good," Jones said following his eighth place effort on Sunday at Sonoma. “We passed a lot of cars. I am just happy we were able to come out of here with a solid day.

“Wish we could have gotten some more stage points, but it was nice to get a good finish."

And, he added. “We just needed track position. I think we were probably a few spots better than that, but it’s still good. It’s nice to get back on track. Hopefully this is good momentum for next week in Chicago."

Ryan Newman drove his way to his second-consecutive top-10 Sunday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway, crossing the line seventh in his Wyndham Rewards Ford Mustang.

“We had good strategy and good pit stops, good everything,” Newman said following the race. “We just didn’t quite have the speed to be able to get up there and pass those guys that were in the front today.”

The 2003 Driver of the Year qualified 21st in Saturday’s multi-car session, but lined up 19th Sunday after some cars were sent to the rear. The two opening stages ran 20 laps each, while the final stage ran 40 laps. Throughout the day the stage flags were the only cautions of the 90-lap event.

Throughout the opening laps, Newman reported he was tight aboard the No. 6 machine. Crew chief Scott Graves called him to pit road prior to the stage break putting four fresh tires on with a couple of adjustments. After short-pitting, Newman finished the opening stage 27th.

With a host of cars pitting under the caution, Newman lined back up ninth for the second stage and ran 12th with four to go in the segment, before Graves again short-pitted him to gain track position following the break. After completing the stage 18th, the strategy paid off as the South Bend, Indiana, native restarted seventh for the final 46 laps.

From then on, Newman never fell outside the top-10, working his way to sixth for the middle portion of the race. The team’s final pit stop came at lap 63 under green when Graves called him to pit road from the fifth position. He fell as low as eighth with 10 to go to cars with slightly fresher tires, but picked off one final position with a few laps remaining to cross the line seventh.

With five top-10s on the year, Newman and the No. 6 team head next to Chicagoland Speedway. Race coverage for next Sunday’s event begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Coverage can also be heard on MRN and SiriusXM Channel 90.

RFR PR

Michael McDowell
No. 34 Love's Travel Stops Ford Mustang
Started: 13th | Finished: 25th
"It was a frustrating day here at Sonoma Raceway. Our Love’s Travel Stops Ford qualified really well inside of the top 15, but we battled a tight race car early on in the race and had two spinouts, causing us to pit under green and get off sequence from the rest of the field. I was able to test in Chicago a few weeks back, so I’m just ready to get there next weekend and try to deliver a strong finish for our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops team."
Matt Tifft
No. 36 Acquire Investments Ford Mustang
Started: 28th | Finished: 28th
"It was great to be back at Sonoma for a road course race. Unfortunately, we got some nose damage in the first half of the race, which hurt us a bit. We were able to learn a lot this weekend and I certainly wish we had another chance to do it all over again, but we’ll regroup this week and move onto Chicagoland. I'm glad we were able to have Acquire Investments, Bounce Innovation Hub and Unshackled Ventures on the car with us, and that we could help support businesses from my hometown this weekend."
David Ragan
No. 38 #ThanksDW Ford Mustang
Started: 18th | Finished: 20th
"A solid day for our No. 38 team. We qualified and ran inside of the top 20 all day long. We needed a caution in that final stage to race for a top 15, but I’m happy with the overall performance of my car this weekend. All in all, we learned a few things that will help us for Watkins Glen as well. Thanks again to DW and the contributions he has made to our sport. It was a real honor to represent him on my car this weekend at Sonoma."

FRM PR

After a caution-free day in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the checkered flag 21st in his No. 17 Roush Performance Thanks DW Ford Mustang.

Stenhouse started the 90-lap event 17th and held steady for the majority of the stage. The driver reported that his No. 17 machine was very tight and had no front turn. At lap 16 the team pitted for four tires, fuel and air pressure returning to the track with three laps left in the stage. Stenhouse finished stage one in 24th.

Pit strategy came into play when the team elected to stay out during the stage ending caution. As a result, Stenhouse gained major track position and restarted stage two in seventh. He held steady inside the top-10 for the majority of the stage and even drove his way into the top-five. The driver finished the second stage fifth, earning six stage points.

The team pitted with the stage-ending caution and restarted the final stage 27th. After reports of a tight No. 17 Mustang, Stenhouse remained quiet on the radio. The two-time Xfinity champion worked his way up to 25th and held steady until the team decided to toy with pit strategy. With 15 to go, the No. 17 Roush Performance ThanksDW Ford made its way down pit road for four tires and fuel. Unfortunately, the caution flag never waved, resulting in a 21st-place finish at the series’ first road-course race of the season.

Stenhouse and the No. 17 team return to the track on Sunday, June 30 at 3 p.m. EST.

RFR PR

Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang had a good run going early in Sunday’s 350-kilometer race on the road course at Sonoma Raceway, but a mid-race spin dealt them a setback they weren’t able to overcome and they wound up 22nd at the finish.

Menard started Sunday’s race, run on the track’s old layout which featured the Carousel turn and an additional half mile in overall length, from 24th place.

He moved up five positions in the opening 12 laps and continued to move up throughout the first 20-lap stage. Between positions gained on the track and others picked up when drivers ahead of him made early pit stops, Menard finished the stage in ninth place, earning two bonus points.

He gained one position on the ensuing pit stop and rejoined the field in 23rd place, as those who pitted before the end of the stage restarted ahead of him.

But just after the restart, Menard was hit from behind and spun, dropping him outside the top 30, a setback made worse by the fact that the race ran the entire distance with no caution periods other than the ones for the end of the two stages.
 
Still, Menard ended the second stage in 20th place.

The final 50 laps saw Menard and the team employ various strategies in hopes of regaining lost track position. They pitted with 30 laps remaining, before many of their competitors. Menard then drove back to 22nd place.

Not satisfied with their prospects at that point, crew chief Greg Erwin elected to pit again with 14 laps remaining. The move dropped Menard to 29th place but having fresher tires allowed him to race his way back to 22nd at the finish.

Menard and the No. 21 team return to the track next week at Chicagoland Speedway, where Menard won the pole a year ago.

WBR PR

Race Winner:    Martin Truex Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)

Stage 1 Winner: William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet)

Stage 2 Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)

 

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-20):

Kyle Busch started seventh, finished 16th.

● Busch started seventh and settled into that spot for the first part of the 90-lap race.

● The driver of the M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota radioed to crew chief Adam Stevens that he had a hard time turning in the slow corners of turns two, seven and 11.

● Busch moved up to sixth close to the end of the stage on lap 16 and came to pit road just before the end of Stage 1 on lap 18 for fresh tires and fuel.

● Busch and Stevens elected to forgo stage points to try and get into the best fuel windows to win the race, as they already have four race wins on the season, and the No. 18 came home 16th in Stage 1.

 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 21-40):

Busch started third, finished ninth.

The M&M’S Hazelnut Spread driver stayed out after Stage 1 as others pitted, so he restarted in the third spot.

Busch was quickly passed on the restart by Ryan Blaney, but just one lap later he snuck back by Blaney to regain third. Busch radioed to Stevens that the racecar was better but could always use more changes to help with the slow corners.

The No. 18 held the third spot until lap 38, when Busch again pitted two laps shy of the stage end, taking on four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. He returned to the track just inside the top-10 and finished the second stage in the ninth spot.

 

Stage 3 Recap (Laps 41-90):

Busch started third, finished second.

The final stage began just as Stage 2 did, with Busch restarting third, dropping to fourth behind Blaney, then sneaking back around Blaney within two laps.

Busch later passed Chase Elliott, but not before they made contact that dented in the hood of the No. 18 car. Still, the damage didn’t seem to slow Busch down, and he started to reel in JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the lead.

With the damage to the nose, Busch told Stevens that he lost some of his drive off the corner, and he fell back to around two seconds behind Truex.

Busch pitted for the final time on lap 67, three laps after Truex pitted. Stevens and Busch had hoped that having three laps fresher tires would be the difference maker when the laps wound down.

The 2015 NASCAR Cup Series champion began to eat into Truex’s lead, which was over eight seconds after Busch’s pit stop. He got within a second with 10 laps to go, but Truex had taken it easy on his tires and was able to keep Busch behind him until the checkered flag waved.

 

Notes:

This is Busch’s fifth top-five and seventh top-10 finish at the Sonoma in 15 career starts at Sonoma.

The top-five finish was also his 10th of the year and his 15th top-10 finish in the first 16 races of the season.

 

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:

 “I had to lean on the left rear, and I just didn’t have the drive that I needed. I was trying to hold on to it, trying to save it. I knew that was going to be the problem; it had been our problem all day long. When I got close there, you get closer and then you are like, I have to go and pounce on him fast, so he doesn’t have time to pick up the pace. It didn’t work. He was obviously saving a lot. I knew he was going to be saving a lot and was going to have enough to most likely be able to hold us off, but I still tried with everything that I could to get there and ran real hard. But our M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry was fast. I am really proud of Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the boys. We came here a little better than we have in years past, so that felt nice. It sucks to finish second to a teammate, but it is good for the company. Overall, Martin (Truex Jr.) is really good here, so I am just pumped that I ran good.”

 

Next Up: The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Camping World 400 on Sunday, June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

TSC PR

In the last 11 laps of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, Matt DiBenedetto passed seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson for fifth place and 2014 Champion Kevin Harvick for fourth.

When the race ended, the driver of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota was closing on third-place finisher Ryan Blaney before running out of laps. But DiBenedetto nevertheless scored the best result of his career, eclipsing the sixth he posted at Bristol in 2016.

“I’m just so lucky to be doing this,” an elated DiBenedetto said after the race. “My path to get here has been so out of the ordinary and old-school, and I’m so thankful. I can’t tell you how many people took a chance on me to have this opportunity.”

One of those people was the late J.D. Gibbs, the former president of Joe Gibbs Racing who was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame on Thursday night.

“It was so much fun—my home state,” DiBenedetto said of his run. “This one is for my buddy, AJ Allmendinger for helping me so much.”

DiBenedetto also had some parting words for NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, who on Sunday at Sonoma called his last race as an analyst for FOX Sports.

“DW, this one’s for you, brother, DiBenedetto said. “I’m glad we got you a good finish. You’ve done so much for me. You’re the best.”

RYAN BLANEY FLEXES ROAD-COURSE MUSCLE IN WINE COUNTRY

Even though he ran a distant third to Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney’s fortunes at Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series road courses have been looking up.

In last year’s Playoffs, Blaney won at the Charlotte Roval after Truex and Jimmie Johnson collided in the final chicane. And in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, he enjoyed a stress-free race running behind the leading pair of Truex and Kyle Busch.

“Kind of smooth day for us,” acknowledged Blaney, who leaves the 2.52-mile road courses ninth in the series standings and well inside the Playoff cut line. “Qualified decent. The way the stages are, you can either choose to finish the stage out, get stage points, but you have to restart way in the middle of the pack.

“Or (you can) pit early. That’s kind of the strategy we wanted to do.”

Sacrificing stage points by pitting early proved beneficial at the end of the race.

“Today, even though you hate giving up stage points, you just get yourself ahead of all the mess,” said Blaney, who finished more than 33 seconds behind the race winner. “You can kind of get in your own rhythm, do your own thing, not have to worry about someone behind you and in front of you all the time.

“A real decent day for the PPG Ford Mustang. Those top two guys were just gone. All the Gibbs cars looked pretty good. They got something figured out.”

KYLE LARSON HAPPY WITH TOP-10 RUN AT SONOMA

Even though Kyle Larson won the pole for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Sonoma Raceway—for the third straight year, no less—his outlook for the race itself wasn’t one of confidence.

Though lightning fast for one lap, Larson has never been quick over the long run and had never finished better than 12th at the technical road course. Until Sunday.

Though Larson lost the lead to William Byron on the first lap and gradually fell back through the field, he recovered during the final 46-lap green-flag run to finish 10th and was far from disappointed with the result.

“It was better than normal for us,” Larson said. “I fell back early but I was just taking care of my stuff. I seem to be a lot better on long runs than normal, so I’m happy about that. And we came away with a top 10. So it was good.

“I finished better than I ever have here, so it was an improvement. We were just better on the long runs. So I was able to pass a lot of people there throughout that last stint. I was happy about it. We got stage points, which was good, so it was a good point day.”

Larson heads to next week’s race at Chicagoland Speedway 15th in the series standings, still looking for his first victory of the season.

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