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FIVE DRIVERS TO WATCH: TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway

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Through the first three races this season, there has been a different winner each week. The trend will look to continue this weekend as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tackles the tricky ISM Raceway.

Here are five drivers to keep an eye on this weekend.

Kevin Harvick has become the king of the desert over the past five years, winning half of the 10 races ran during that period with an average finish of 2.7. With the Fords showing a dominant speed from the drop of the first green flag this year, it’d be no surprise to see the trend continue.

After all, he has scored a fourth-place finish the past two weeks at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Russell Labounty | NKP

Kyle Busch has been the most consistent driver without a visit to victory lane yet this season, scoring no finishes outside of the top-six to currently rank third in the standings. He also knows what it takes to be successful at ISM Raceway, winning last fall to propel him into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Notably, he has the second-best average (7.3) of all drivers over the past 10 races at ISM with eight top-10 finishes.

Busch arguably had the quickest car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past weekend, but a pit road speeding penalty in the second stage dropped him deep in the field. It wasn’t the first pit road error, as he experienced loose wheels in both the Gander Outdoor Truck Series and Xfinity Series events before winning. Making sure that he has a smooth day will help ensure success on Sunday.

Kyle Larson has also shown speed since the beginning of the season, which just builds upon the success experienced through last summer. However, similar to Busch, he needs to clean up his races if he wants to close the deal. Pit road penalties at Atlanta and Las Vegas took him out of contention to win both events, resulting in 12th-place finishes. With teammate Kurt Busch scoring back-to-back top-five finishes, it’s time for Larson to pick up the pace – or else he may no longer be considered the top dog at Chip Ganassi Racing.

He knows how to run well at ISM Raceway, scoring three top-five finishes in the last 10 starts, including a third last fall.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Chase Elliott proved to be the strongest car out of the Hendrick Motorsports stable through the back half of last year, and is once again showcasing that again. He has ran inside the top-10 through the first three races this season, though wrecked late at Daytona International Speedway and confusion over the rules bit him at Atlanta Motor Speedway. However, a steady performance without any hiccups at Las Vegas produced the top-10, with a ninth-place finish.

No matter how the year is going for the second generation racer, he has always been able to find success at ISM Raceway, boasting the third-best average of active drivers over the past 10 races. In his three most recent starts at the Arizona-track, he has finished second and third, and ran in the top-10 last fall before being taken out in a late-race wreck.

Elliott praised the team’s recent performance at Las Vegas, noting they were closer than they were this time last year. What would be a better morale boost than a visit to victory lane?

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron did not have the rookie season he wanted last year with only four top-10 finishes. One of those, though, was a ninth-place finish at ISM Raceway in November.

Now partnered with Chad Knaus for the 2019 campaign, Bryon hit the year off with fireworks by scoring the pole for the Daytona 500, but hasn’t seen the results live up the expectations. He has steadily shown improvement each week, and could break through with a top-10 this weekend to give him the confidence needed moving forward.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.