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Bump & Run: Who are drivers seeking first win of the year to watch?

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Among non-winners this season, who is one driver who has your attention and why?

Steve Letarte: Recently it’s been Jimmie Johnson. At the beginning of the year it was obvious the equipment wasn’t up to par. I don’t think the equipment has got a whole lot better yet, but I think Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) are learning to race with not-winning cars. I think Bristol and Richmond were two races that they performed very, very well. My point being we have seen Jimmie make mistakes and crash and have accidents, but in the last two weeks they have found a way to take their car and get better finishes than they were running most of the day.

Kyle Petty: Besides Jimmie Johnson? Ryan Blaney. He has started off these first few races stronger than I anticipated. Leading laps, stage wins, just the total effort he and that team have shown so far this season. I believe the usual suspects will get their wins in time. Oh, did I mention Jimmie Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Alex Bowman; I know he hasn’t been flashy or spectacular, but he’s currently 13th in points and still ahead of his seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson. He is showing consistent pace each week, and I’m sure there will be weekends like this past one at Richmond. If he keeps up his average, he may be a lock to make the playoffs. 

Nate Ryan: Erik Jones. He’s been among the least discussed of the youth brigade, but aside from some short-track stumbles, he has exhibited the promise to indicate his breakthrough is near.

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He has eight top-10 finishes in the first nine races of the year. The only other driver who has accomplished that is Kyle Busch. Logano may be returning to Victory Lane soon.

Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. His instant speed this season and ability to move up through the field – especially going from 25th to second in the Stage 1 at Richmond – has been more than surprising. I expected it to take longer for the No. 10 team to get most of its wrinkles smoothed out. Now they just need to be consistent in putting together full races.

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have combined to win six of the past 13 restrictor-plate races for Team Penske. Who do you view as their biggest threats this weekend at Talladega?

Steve Letarte: Each other. Let’s be clear, Talladega is still somewhat of a crapshoot, but good cars still tend to trend toward the front. The big thing that nobody is talking about in my mind is the new ride-height rule, I thought, changed Daytona dramatically and I think will change Talladega dramatically. This is only the second restrictor-plate race without ride heights. I think someone may have an advantage. We’re going to have to see who. You can’t throw out what Brad and Joey have done, but you’ve got to diminish it a little bit with the rule changes.

Kyle Petty: Anyone in a Ford. Honestly, if I go back to Daytona, Penske, SHR and Roush were all strong once the green flag fell, and I believe almost all the drivers have won on a plate track … almost.

Parker Kligerman: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Busch; fairly simple choices in my opinion. Since Kyle is a great superspeedway racer and is on fire. Ricky, obviously has the record and has so much confidence. He also is in a Ford and we know how the Fords are the cars to beat at superspeedway tracks.

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Along with Logano and Keselowski, those are the five best plate drivers in Cup. Throw in Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch as dark horses and Kyle Busch because he can do no wrong lately.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick are the names that immediately come to mind.

Daniel McFadin: I expect Logano and Keselowski to be challenged by Aric Almirola and their own Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, who was the class of the field at Daytona before the late caution. As far as non-Ford drivers, I expect Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman to again be fast. It has to pay off as some point, right?

When the season is over who will have won more races — the drivers who have won already this year (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon) or the rest of the field (Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, etc)?

Steve Letarte: I think the rest of the field wins by a race or two. I don’t think Austin Dillon is a threat to win maybe more than one more race. I would say Clint Bowyer maybe one more race. I just think there are too many big names, Larson, Elliott, Johnson, Jones, too many guys that I think can go out and win multiple races.

Kyle Petty: Kevin and Kyle. Those two together could win more than everyone else combined. Their teams are that good and they are that good. 

Parker Kligerman: Barring some massive change in the rules, the drivers who have already won. I feel that for whatever reason, with the current packages and tire specs, it obviously is suiting those drivers’ styles and therefore they are producing at a high level. 

Nate Ryan: Between Busch, Harvick and Truex, that trio could account for half of this season’s wins.

Dustin Long: It’s hard to see Busch, Harvick and Truex not piling up more wins in the coming weeks.

Daniel McFadin: With the first group containing Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch, I would not be surprised if they have more victories than the current non-winners. 

Chase Elliott fastest in first Cup practice at Richmond

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Chase Elliott jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the final three minutes of the first practice session for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway with a speed of 121.327 mph.

Kyle Larson landed second on the speed chart with a lap of 121.076 mph.

Martin Truex, Jr. (120.757 mph), Jamie McMurray (120.703) and Joey Logano (120.660) rounded out the top five.

Making his Cup debut, Daniel Hemric posted the 23rd fastest time of 119.121 mph.

Kevin Harvick had the quickest, 10-lap average of 119.652 mph.

Elliott was second quick at 119.516 mph

Alex Bowman posted the most laps in this practice session at 67. His fastest lap was 119.830 mph, which put him 15th on the leaderboard.

Click here for full results from practice one.

Qualification takes place at 5:30 p.m. ET

Hendrick Motorsports places two drivers in top five at Bristol

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The question of whether Hendrick Motorsports is finally turning their season around may have been answered in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway when the organization placed two drivers in the top five for the first time in 2018.

Jimmie Johnson finished third to score his first top five of the season and his first in 14 races.

Alex Bowman finished fifth and earned the first top five of his career.

Bowman’s previous best was a sixth in the 2016 Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, the same weekend he scored his first career pole. Driving in relief for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr, it was just that type of race run that encouraged Hendrick to offer Bowman the ride for 2018.

HMS has seemingly struggled with the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. With the exception of Chase Elliott, none of the other drives have managed to record multiple top 10s and these are the first top fives of the year for anyone other than the driver of the No. 9 team.

It took until the fifth race of the season for Johnson to score his first top 10 – a ninth at Auto Club Speedway.

Bowman scored his first top 10 one week later at Martinsville Speedway with a seventh.

William Byron finished 10th last week at Texas Motor Speedway for his first career top 10.

“Yeah, it really is a great boost,” Johnson said. “I’ve said for weeks now that we’re getting better and it’s great to finally have a result to back that up.”

Bowman was happy with his top five as well, but believed a better result was in the offing.

“I think by ourself we had maybe even a faster race car than that,” Bowman said. “I just couldn’t be consistent with it. We were really loose in and my car was really sensitive to traffic. If anybody got within a half a car length of me behind me, it just turned sideways getting in the corner every time. If I could break that gap and get away from them I would drive away, but with them right there I couldn’t do anything. It was interesting trying to fight through that, but glad we finished top five.”

What drivers said after the Food City 500

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Kyle Busch – Winner: “It was the best right at the end. I know (Kyle) Larson was a little bit loose right there. It seemed like he was overdriving and trying to hold the bottom, but he was slipping out of the bottom and I got a huge run on him and got to him and it was just on. I knew I might as well just take the opportunity that I got right now. I knew it was a little early ‘cause you tend to try to want to think about saving that bump-and-run deal for the last lap, but I just took my chance with it and if he got back to my rear bumper, then so be it. I think that’s fair game and being able to race that way. Fortunately, I was able to run away from him and he couldn’t get back to me.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 2nd: “I was really, really good on that long run. And yeah, as soon as we restarted there, I was extremely loose. The No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) got to my inside. I just really didn’t have any grip. I thought it would tighten up for me and I could get going, but it never really did and I was just really loose. I hate that I didn’t win. It’s another one at Bristol. I feel like every time I race here I almost get a win. It was a fun race. I’ve been beat by Kyle (Busch) about every time I race here, too; so that gets frustrating after a while.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 3rd: “Yeah, it really is a great boost. I’ve said for weeks now that we’re getting better and it’s great to finally have a result to back that up. We’ve had decent Fridays and really good Saturdays and then some bad luck in the races. Although we had plenty of bad luck over the course of the four or five days that we’ve been here, we were able to pull through and get a great third-place finish. So, I’m very proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and thank everybody on this Lowe’s For Pros team and let’s get home and get out of here. It’s snowing again.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 4th: “The call where (crew chief) Brian (Pattie) got us to come down pit road, that was the longest green flag run we had and we had a little bit better tires than some of the guys up front, so that was nice for us. All in all, I was bummed that caution came out. Being on better tires I thought we were gonna be able to run down the 42 (Larson). He was by far the class of the field I’d say throughout the whole run and the whole race. We were fighting track position, gaining it and losing it back-and-forth over the last two days, but, all in all, it was a really strong run for our Sunny D Ford. We had a good Friday, a good Saturday and a good race on Sunday and Monday. I’m glad we were able to get it all in and we appreciate the fans for sticking around. That was a fun race. I love the race track It’s nice being able to run the bottom, run the top on the long runs. It made for some good racing.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 5th: “I mean we got a good start there for once and had some good track position. Just thankful for driving for Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a lot of fun finally getting some good runs going our way. It’s been cool. To run fifth, it’s not a great day, but it’s better than what we started the year doing. We are making progress, making steps in the right direction and just got to keep doing that.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 6th: “We worked on it all day. We weren’t very good yesterday at all. Finally, when the track moved to the top our car got a lot better, so we kind of were prepared for that and our car was kind of set up to run the top and I was just miserable trying to run the bottom. My car was really, really bad on the bottom and we finally got it to where it was going pretty good up top and the caution would come out. I feel like if the race would have been a normal race and we would have run a lot of green flag (laps) up top, we would have been pretty good. It’s a good day. I’m a little disappointed with sixth, but, at the same time, I’m happy and pleased that we rebounded after a bad day in Texas. To come out of here with a sixth is a great day and I feel like we could have got more if it would have stayed green. I wish we would have run like 300 more laps (laughing).”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 7th: “We weren’t that good pretty much the whole time. Today we were worse, just really loose, especially taking off, but we stayed in there and fought all day. We had another bad pit stop there at the end and wound up seventh, but, all in all, considering all the circumstances I guess it was a pretty good weekend.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 8th: “It was a long weekend. We weren’t very good all weekend long and just kept working on it. We were smart with the race. Early on there was a lot of trouble yesterday and even more today. It was just a weird weekend. I mean, the weather just capped off everything else that was going on. It seemed like the VHT, for whatever reason, a little bit different this time than it’s been in the past. Our tires seemed like they were a little bit different than what we’ve had, for whatever reason. It was a weird weekend, so I’m glad with a top 10.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 10th: “Well, we were a top-five car, just got the wrong spot on the restart there. Wish we would have been sixth instead of fifth, gladly would have been fourth. Good run for our Bass Pro/Cabela’s Chevrolet. The team did a good job this weekend. Starting clear back as far as we did and then being as high as second, good team effort. Something to build on going to one of my favorite race tracks next weekend.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 11th: “I mean it was a difficult weekend overall. With the weather and my hand and everything, but actually it kind of helped me a little bit to rest more and kind of like breaks for myself. On that side, it was kind of nice, but right here over the 300 laps straight, I’m a little sore right now. I feel like we were actually better than 11th, but anyway. It’s been an okay weekend, but we have to keep working. I feel like overall, it was a positive weekend because we showed speed and we run in the front – up front. We have to build on that and go to next week to Richmond.”

David Ragan – Finished 12th: “I felt like it took us about 300 laps to get all the monkeys off of our back and get our car repaired and kind of get some track position. I felt like our car was really good on a long run and we were fortunate that we had a couple of long runs today. I’m proud of our guys for never giving up. We spent a lot of time on pit road, so it was a solid day and I’m happy to get out of here and look forward to Richmond.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 15th: “I know we were better than a 15th-place finish, but the scoreboard doesn’t show it today. We stayed out to try and save an extra set of tires and it ended up being a long run, so we corded our left front tire and went a lap down. You just can never predict when a long run will happen at Bristol Motor Speedway. There were not enough laps after that to earn our lap back. It’s a shame because the No. 3 Realtree Camaro ZL1 was fast today. We ran a lot of the race in the top-five and posted some of the fastest times during the race. We were fast on restarts, and I’m proud of that. I hope all fans enjoyed seeing the new Realtree fishing pattern on the track.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. – Finished 16th: “Yeah, hell of a day. Didn’t know what to expect firing off and we fired off like a freaking badass and got our way up to 10th in that second stage there. That was good, get some stage points and got up to the lead. I was as surprised as anybody. Going through the emotions we were really good and that last caution came out and we were struggling with left front problems there late in runs, locking up easily, but still was able to make decent ground. Then all of a sudden it went away there and man, just blindsided there by that. Great car all day, nothing to be pissed off about, that is racing. You could be good for a second and then the next second you are not, but awesome takeaways. The momentum is still here. I’m just dejected because I’m scratching my head on where in the hell we went wrong or what we wrong. I don’t think we did anything wrong, I guess that is big-time auto racing, but it was a good day.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 23rd: “The tire came apart on that restart and we were trying to bring it on home, but it just didn’t come together.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 24th: “The results stink right now. We want to be clicking off top 15s and top 10s every week, but we haven’t had a clean weekend yet. Something has happened every weekend to hurt our result. We just have to keep working to clean up our weekends. You can’t have wrecks on the race track and you can’t have blown tires. You can’t have silly things happening and some of that is on us, so we just have to keep working to clean it up and get the most out of the weekends. We’ll go to Richmond here this next weekend, another short track where a lot of stuff is happening. I just hope for a clean weekend where we can go get the results we deserve.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 28th: “I always love coming to Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t very nice to our team this weekend, but we made the most out of what we could. We had to take a lot of time during the first stage to fix damage to our front end after I was checking up for a caution and was punted into the 47 car. It put us 17 laps down, but no one on this team gave up when it would have been easy to. We came back this morning to gain as many spots as we could. Every position is worth a valuable championship point. Our goal was to let the chaos breakout in front of us while we ran a clean race to make it to the end, and we did. It is certainly not the result we wanted, but those are the breaks in racing sometimes. We will keep digging and head to Richmond next weekend.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 35th: “By the time I could see anything they were already turned right and there was nowhere to go. Seeing the replay, I don’t know, people not cleared clearing themselves and then wrecking and take the leader out, so that’s unfortunate. Our car was pretty good today. We just kind of got held up there and we might not have been as strong at the end of that run, but I thought we could have at least held on for that stage and never got the chance. The positives you look at is that we had a good car and that’s something to hold your head high about.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 36th: “First off, our Bush’s Baked Beans Camaro was really good today. Unfortunately, we were in one of the accidents before that and got us back there where we really shouldn’t have been. We had three or four of us trying to stay on the lead lap and we were all being held up by the No. 6 (Trevor Bayne). I got a good run on the outside the slower cars and came off the corner and thought we were good, and it just swiped right up the front. By the time you lift, it’s a little too late. It’s really unfortunate. I love this place. It’s my favorite race track that we go to. We had good speed. We’ve just got to get back after it the next time we come here.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 38th: “It’s just unfortunate. There are no excuses. I was just racing the 19 (Daniel Suarez) and got loose underneath him. There’s not a lot of grip. It rained all day and that VHT just doesn’t do well without heat. I was stuck on the bottom and that was about it. I really hate it for my guys. We had a fast Love’s Travel Stops Ford and just to be out this early is really heartbreaking.”

Results, stats for Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch won his second consecutive race after performing the bump-and-run on Kyle Larson with five laps remaining in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Larson finished a career-best second at Bristol. His previous best of sixth came in last year’s spring Bristol race.

Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman finished third through fifth respectively, giving them their best results of the season.

Brad Keselowski won both stages of the race before fading with tire problems during a late green-flag run. He finished 23rd, five laps off the pace.

Click here for results.