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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Three Drivers Needing A Change in Fortune in Las Vegas

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We may be only two races into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, but there are already drivers falling further behind than expected after the Daytona 500 and the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. 

Getting into a slump is easy to escape thanks to the playoff format, as a victory turns everything around immediately. But continuing to stay in the back half of the field for some of the drivers could prove costly as the year goes forward.

With that in mind, here are four drivers who need to have some success this weekend in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Matthew T. Thacker NKP

Jimmie Johnson did not start the season well, wrecking out of the Daytona 500, before a mid-race spin relegated him to a 27th-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Currently ranked 35th in the standings is not a characteristic trait of the seven-time Cup Series Champion. 

Looking back through the years, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has never started out a title run with back-to-back poor finishes to begin a season. While he’s crashed out at Daytona many times, he was usually always able to turn around his luck in the second event. Coupled with this has to be the frustration that he is currently in the midst of the longest winless streak of his career, dating back to June 2017. 

Johnson also didn’t enter the year with much momentum, as he placed outside of the top-10 in the last six races to close out last season. Combined with Hendrick Motorsports’ performance being questionable all around except for Chase Elliott, and concerns ran high as to whether this year would see a turnaround. 

There is hope, though, as his teammate William Byron was in the top-five speeds for the pre-season NASCAR test at Las Vegas, and Johnson has won there previously on four different occasions. In his six most recent starts, he has also picked up four top-six finishes, highlighted by a runner-up in 2012.

Speaking of Byron, he also makes the shortlist entering his rookie campaign. He wrecked out at Daytona as well and struggled much of the event at Atlanta en route to placing 18th. While the finish should put a damper on attitude, it marked a positive for both driver and crew chief Darian Grubb, with praise from the lather in how they improved throughout the weekend. The most significant thing being the youngster’s ability to learn how to use the in-car trackbar adjuster to his advantage moving forward.

It’s no secret some wondered whether Byron moved up to the Cup Series a little too early in his career. He has only been racing full-size stock cars for five years, with just one season of NASCAR XFINITY Series competition under his belt before the upgrade. That one year, though, saw him win the championship with four wins and 22 top-10’s in 33 races. 

Being able to adapt on the fly and get better quickly will be crucial to progress throughout the year. But if Byron is unable to, he may fall victim to the too much pressure too early in his career, and be out of the ranks before he can hit his stride.

Barry Cantrell NKP

Darrell Wallace Jr. knows that experience all too well, having been up and down the NASCAR ladder in his short career to date, with funding being a question at times. He started off his 2018 season well with a runner-up in the Daytona 500. However, last weekend at Atlanta did not go as anticipated as he ran into the back of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. when he couldn’t see in the smoke of Trevor Bayne‘s engine failure, handing him a 32nd-place finish.

With his Facebook show “Behind the Wall,” combined with the media notoriety from the emotions in the media center at Daytona post-race, Wallace has caught a lot of mainstream attention and is quickly building his fan base. Though without results to back it up, he may sink back into the questionable hole he became familiar with when sponsorship ran out last year in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. 

He’s proven that he can do a decent job on the intermediate tracks in the Cup Series, scoring a couple solid top-20’s while running four events last year for Richard Petty Motorsports as he filled in for Aric Almirola. If he can find that consistency and allow the results to level off, he can settle in and start to find his groove, while finding that balance in popularity.



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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.