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Ford Performance Claims Hailie Deegan in 2020 DGR-Crosley Deal

On December 11, DGR-Crosley announced it would be making the jump from fielding Toyotas to Fords in 2020 and that in just six days, they would be introducing a new development driver. This manufacturer swap spelled early speculations for Hailie Deegan, who was a free agent following the 2019 season and who already had ties to the newly branded Ford team in the past.

Fast forward six days and DGR-Crosley revealed that the 18-year old driver will indeed be racing for their organization full-time in the newly modeled ARCA Menards Series as Ford Performance’s development driver. This is a massive win for both Deegan and DGR-Crosley as the female racing prodigy has cemented herself as arguably the sport’s most enticing up-and-coming talent.

This new deal comes just one month following Deegan’s breakout season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in which she captured 11 top-10s, eight top-five’s and her first multi-win season (2) – all while finishing third in the series’ standings.

MVPindex also revealed that last year, the female development driver ranked third amongst all NASCAR drivers in social media engagements and impressions, only bested by 2019 Monster Energy Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. In an all important digital age where social media is prevalent in growing the sport’s popularity, it’s highly encouraging that Deegan is the only driver inside of the top-10 who doesn’t compete in the Cup Series.

Being a highly touted talent skyrocketing through NASCAR’s lower divisions and someone who is essential for the sport’s growth, the Ford Performance development driver deal makes sense for both sides. By getting Ford’s support, Deegan is getting assurance from the manufacturer that she will receive all the tools and backing to ensure a long-standing career in NASCAR.

The deal with DGR-Crosley also opens new potential avenues for the 18-year old driver and her racing career. The David Gilliland run race team fields drivers in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. It would not be out of the ordinary to see Deegan potentially run some truck races in the later stages of 2020, given on-track success in the ARCA Series.

The California-product will race the No. 4 Monster Energy Ford Fusion in all 20 races run in the ARCA Menards Series, but she won’t be going in blindly to the developmental driver series. In 2019, Deegan amassed four top-10’s and one top-five finish in the mere six races she ran for Venturini Motorsports.

It should also be noted that the latest success story of Ford Performance’s developmental driver program was Cole Custer. Custer masterfully raced his way to a ride in the newly named NASCAR Cup Series in 2020 after a stellar NASCAR Xfinity Series season. The California-native will take over driving duties for the No. 41 at Stewart-Haas Racing and with stars like Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola nearing the back-end of their careers, Deegan could make a potential great fit down the road.

The deal between the Ford Motor Company, DGR-Crosley and Deegan should spell a future of longevity and success for all parties involved. This is a much-needed statement from both Ford and NASCAR that Deegan will be one of the core-center pieces in shaping the growth of sport’s future. One thing is certain, all eyes will remain to be on the 18-year old talent as she continues her meteoric rise through NASCAR’s lower ranks.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

 

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2020 Silly Season Updates and Expectations

With the NASCAR Cup Series off-season in full effect and the 2019 Awards Banquet in Nashville wrapping up a week ago, we’re already under 60 days away from the Daytona 500. As the 2020 season draws closer, the sport has now seen many of it’s stars swap rides as well as inherit well-established teams to begin their new careers.

Here’s everything you need to know about the most up to date team changes to this point and the newest faces entering NASCAR’s premier series:

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Matt DiBenedetto

Quite possibly the best storyline to come out of 2019 was the breakout of Matt DiBenedetto. The former driver of the No. 95 for Levine Family Racing made headlines in the first race of the season  when he had a legitimate shot to win the Daytona 500. As the year progressed, fans soon came to realize that the 27-year old was no fluke.

The California-native would go on to complete the season with 152 laps led, seven top-10s and three top-fives – which included a second-place finish  to Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While DiBenedetto did not notch the first win of his career in 2019, he certainly turned heads and cemented himself as a fan favorite. In fact, he finished third overall in the Most Popular Driver ballot.

Fast forward to 2020, Paul Menard revealed he would be stepping away from full-time racing, leaving his seat in the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 wide open. When Menard announced he would be giving up his ride, he fully endorsed DiBenedetto as his replacement and sure enough – the California-native will now be driving the No. 21 Ford Mustang for the Penske-affiliated team.

Not only was DiBenedetto the feel good story of 2019, but the signing and how it came about for the 27-year old was also a feel good story.

Team Penske amassed six wins last season and it would not be a surprise to see DiBenedetto capture his first career win in better equipment. One thing is certain, we should see the fan favorite contending for top-10 finishes and maybe even top-fives. However, he is making the jump from Toyota to Ford. Even while fielding a significantly less cars than Ford and Chevrolet in 2019, Toyotas were the class of the field. It will be interesting to see if DiBenedetto can make the transition with ease.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

After seven years of full-time racing for Roush-Fenway Racing, Jack Roush decided to part ways with two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The now former driver of the No. 17 Ford Mustang posted yet another lackluster season driving for ‘The Cat in the Hat.’ When teammate Ryan Newman is 10 years older, racing in the same equipment and making the Playoffs, it’s not a good look.

The Mississippi-native now finds himself racing for JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 37 car, which was driven by Chris Buescher in 2019. The two drivers posted similar stats last season and in all honestly, this is a true-blue car swap. The only major difference is that the two-time Xfinity Series Champion is making the jump from Ford to Chevrolet, which could put him at a disadvantage.

In 2019, Stenhouse totaled one top-five, three top-10s and led 109 laps, which placed him 23rd in the overall standings. Expect more or less the same from the Mississippi-native in 2020.

Gavin Baker | NKP

Chris Buescher

As documented above, Stenhouse would be taking over driving duties for the No. 37 Chevy Camaro which Buescher piloted in 2019. The 2015 Xfinity Series Champion will now join Newman at Roush-Fenway Racing as he will now take over for the No. 17 Ford Mustang.

The 26-year old driver didn’t have an awful season given his equipment and manufacturer disadvantage last year. While he only led 13 laps en route to four top-10s, this was good enough to place him 20th in the overall Cup Series standings – three spots ahead of his counterpart, Stenhouse.

The Texas-native is inheriting a quality ride and he’ll have a well-established veteran in Newman to lean on for advice. He even showed glimmers of hope in the 2019 season, contending for top-10 finishes regularly towards the end of the year. It would not be out of the question to see Buescher add some more top-fives to his resume and even have a shot at making the Playoffs in 2020.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

Tyler Reddick

Historically, Xfinity Series drivers making the jump to the Cup Series doesn’t pan out until a few years down the road. However, Tyler Reddick is indeed Cup ready.

The 23-year old driver just recorded his second-consecutive title in the Xfinity Series and he already has experience at the sport’s premier level. While the California-native has only run two race at the Cup level, in one of those starts he finished ninth and at Kansas Speedway nonetheless. Not to mention, in the same equipment that he will be racing with in 2020.

In one of the more shocking headlines from 2019, it was announced that Richard Childress Racing would be parting ways with the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet, rookie Daniel Hemric. By no means at all did Hemric have a disappointing debut season, but with such highly touted talent on the rise in NASCAR’s lower divisions there is a strong emphasis on performing now.

Reddick will now take over driving for the No. 8 Camaro at Richard Childress Racing, but rest assured for him, he should have much more lee-way than the driver who came before.

Given the 23-year old’s experience and showcased talent in two of NASCAR’s series, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see Reddick compete for top-10s and maybe even top-fives with a shot at making the Playoffs in 2020. I personally could see him delivering Richard Childress Racing their first win in two years.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Cole Custer

Fans have been treated to many unlikely and divisive moves in the offseason, but this could be the most shocking. It was well documented that Daniel Suarez was seeking a contract extension during the 2019 season. Team-owner Tony Stewart even reiterated that they were “close” to a deal in mid-October.

Just days before the events at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing released a statement citing that Cole Custer would be promoted to the Cup Series and they would be parting ways with Suarez. This now leaves the Mexico-native with no ride currently for 2020 and places Custer in the No. 41 Ford Mustang.

While he was one of the Xfinity Series ‘Big Three’ last year, don’t expect the 21-year old to make immediate waves like Reddick possibly can. The California-native does have limited experience running three race at NASCAR’s premier level, but in 2018 and for Rick Ware Racing.

Custer does have many advantages over Reddick and Christopher Bell as he prepares for his debut season in the Cup Series. Not only will he have teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola to turn to for help, but he’ll also have Stewart to assist as well. Not to mention, Stewart-Haas Racing has been one of the most dominant forces in the sport since it was established in 2011.

It typically takes rookie drivers around two years to settle into NASCAR’s highest division, but it would not be shocking to see Custer start his career off strong. He should be in contention for top-10 finishes and may even snag a top-five here and there. Playoffs could be a possibility, but right now consider it a stretch.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Christopher Bell

The final piece to the Xfinity Series ‘Big Three’ will be inheriting the former ride of DiBenedetto. As revealed, the 27-year old will be taking over driving duties for the No. 21 at Wood Brothers Racing, which now places Bell in the No. 95 at Levine Family Racing.

Bell will without a doubt be faced with the biggest disadvantage of his two counterparts from last season, but this doesn’t mean he can’t have a successful season. Levine Family Racing went from Kasey Kahne (who had a less than stellar season due to health issues) to DiBenedetto who seriously turned heads and made waves in 2019.

The talent is definitely there for the 24-year old, who had a series leading eight wins, 20 top-fives and 21 top-10s in the Xfinity Series last year, but this is the Cup Series. Unlike Custer and Reddick, Bell has no experience at NASCAR’s highest level and it would be incorrect to say that he’ll tear it up like he did in NASCAR’s lower division, especially in the No. 95 car.

It’s again not out of the question to see him have a successful year – look at what DiBenedetto did last season. And should the Oklahoma-native remain at Levine Family Racing through 2021, maybe we could see this small team follow the trend that Furniture Row Racing did with Martin Truex Jr. at the helm.

But for 2020, we should expect to see Bell mostly in contention for top-15 finishes with an occasional top-10 mixed in as the season progresses.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Top 5 Throwback Paint Schemes Heading Into Darlington

Following Denny Hamlin‘s bittersweet triumph over Matt DiBenedetto in the exhilarating Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series action comes to a screeching halt and at the perfect time.

For drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer who sit just below the points cutoff for the playoffs, this is the final week without racing for the remainder of the season. With only two races remaining before the Playoffs, these athletes will need every bit of rest and strength as they are thrust into a twelve-week marathon.

According to NBC Sports, the 2019 Bristol night race saw a seven-percent increase from last season in viewership on NBCSN, making it the most successfully televised Saturday Cup Series race on cable in over two years. While the off-week may seem like a cooler for the sport, it can be seen as quite the opposite. When the action resumes for the Cup Series, NASCAR and race fans will be thrown right back into a weekend of intensity and tradition.

After a weekend of excitement and a week of anticipation, the Cup Series ratings should continue to improve as the premier series heads to South Carolina for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Considered one of the sports crowned jewels, the 1.366 mile speedway has always been a highly anticipated weekend. However, since 2015 this has become more than another race weekend; it’s become a celebration and tribute to NASCAR and the legends who paved the way for the sport’s future.

Throwback weekend at ‘The Lady in Black’ is an event where drivers and teams pay homage to drivers from NASCAR’s past. The most popular display of appreciation has come in the form of paint scheme replication. However, we’ve seen everything from hairstyles, fire suits and facial hair being  imitated to near-perfection during the three year span of this tradition.

Here are our Top-5 throwback paint schemes being driven for the Bojangles’ Southern 500:

Photo Courtesy of Darlington Raceway

Brad Keselowski

Ever since the throwback theme began in 2015, Brad Keselowski has consistently had one of the best dressed cars in the garage area for the Southern 500 and this year is no exception. The reigning champion of Darlington is set to run the No. 2 Miller Ford Mustang, a paint scheme made famous by Rusty Wallace who drove the car during his 1996 season.

The No. 2 Mustang features a black base with burnt-yellow numbers and the same color outlining the trim on the car. A subtle red and blue flame design drifts down the side of the car, giving it a very bold look. The design stays true to Wallace’s 1996 Thunderbird, while also staying current with the today’s times.

If the 2012 Cup Series Champion wants to best Wallace’s run with this paint scheme at Darlington, he won’t have to do too much. Wallace started 28th in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and after getting involved in a wreck on Lap 47, he lost an engine on Lap 102, earning him a 38th place finish.

Keselowski has a great shot at replicating the magic made from last year’s Southern 500. The Michigan-native ranks sixth among active drivers with an average finish of eighth over the last two seasons.

Photo Courtesy of Roush Fenway Racing

Ryan Newman

When you hear mention of the No.6 car, it’s hard not to think of Mark Martin and all the great looking cars he’s driven in his 31-year long career. Ryan Newman will be piloting the same design as Martin’s 1993 Valvoline car. You may remember this paint scheme hitting the track back in 2015 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran it during the inaugural throwback event at Darlington.

Newman and his No. 6 team did a great job in resurrecting this paint scheme with a twist. Martin’s iconic Valvoline Ford Thunderbird featured vibrant reds, blues and whites which corresponded to the sponsor logo. Similarly, Newman’s Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang will feature the same design as Martin, but with Oscar Mayer’s colors of yellow, orange and red. This is a very simple, yet vibrant and clean looking paint scheme.

Martin started fourth in the 1993 Southern 500 and would eventually go on to lead 178 Laps en route to Jack Roush’s first Southern 500 win. With only 14 points keeping Newman safe from Playoff elimination, he is looking forward to a strong run at the 1.366 mile track.

“Darlington is my favorite track on the circuit and the Southern 500 is one of the best events on our schedule,” Newman said in an interview with NASCAR.com. “I can’t wait to come back here and see if we can put this No. 6 back in Victory Lane.”

Photo Courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing

Clint Bowyer

What year is it again? No, you’re not going crazy and that is not Tony Stewart‘s car pictured above. Three of Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers will dawn the paint schemes of their boss throughout his illustrious career. The car that specifically caught our eye was Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang, which pays tribute to Stewart’s 2011 Championship winning Office Depot Paint scheme.

This infamous red and black paint scheme will be remembered for the time it was driven in 2011 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Stewart won the race and the Cup Series Championship against Carl Edwards in one of the greatest battles of all time. When Stewart ran the Office Depot car in the Showtime Southern 500 in 2011, he led six laps and ended up finishing seventh.

The driver of the No. 14 will need some his boss’ magic when running his paint scheme on Labor Day weekend. Darlington is statistically Bowyer’s worst track and he has only finished inside the Top-10 one time (back in 2007). The driver from Emporia, Kansas is only two points out of a Playoff spot with two races remaining, but he’ll need to muster up a better finish than the 22.77-place average he’s accumulated in the last 13 races at Darlington.

William Byron

William Byron and the No. 24 team are throwing it back to 1990 when Tom Cruise’s hit-racing movie Days of Thunder premiered. Cruise plays the character of Cole Trickle, a young hot-shot NASCAR driver who quickly makes a name for himself with aggressive racing styles and ease. Although it may not be the most accurate portrayal of NASCAR, the film has become a classic amongst the NASCAR community.

Cruise’s racing hit received love in the first running of the throwback weekend at Darlington when Kyle Larson drove the Mello Yellow sponsored car from the film. Kurt Busch actually ran the same car that Byron is running, but this was back in 2013 in the formerly known NASCAR Nationwide Series.

This vibrant neon yellow and lime green car is nearly impossible to miss on the track. The No. 24 will even stay true to the City Chevrolet sponsor featured on Trickle’s car in the film, as Rick Hendrick owns a dealership of the same name. This is one of the Top-5 throwback paint schemes obviously for the look, but also the irony of it all. Not to mention, the announcement video was pretty spot on.

Byron is a young hot-shot driver who is quickly making a name for himself. He may not have flash the heated tempers like Trickle did, but in his sophomore season, the 21-year old driver is poised to be one of NASCAR’s brightest stars. Byron is 73 points in the good for the Playoff, so unless he wrecks out of both upcoming races and drivers of the bubble do well, a Playoff berth seems likely for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Photo Courtesy of Go FAS Racing

Corey LaJoie

Rounding out our Top-5 throwback paint schemes is Corey LaJoie and his tribute to 1999 Cup Series Champion, Dale Jarrett. This is a bit of an odd one because the paint scheme being honored is Jarrett’s Nestle Crunch car, which was run in the then-called Busch Grand National Series.

This is such a special paint scheme and you know that because it gained so much love and attention even being driven in one of NASCAR’s lower divisions. LaJoie’s car stays true, perfectly to the 1999 Champion’s paint scheme as if you did a quick glance you would think the sponsor on the car is Crunch and not Keen Parts!

Jarrett not only drove this car to victory lane once, but twice! He is also hailed as one of the sport’s best drivers at Darlington Raceway, being ranked 10th overall with three wins, 11 Top-5’s, 13 Top-10’s, three poles in 36 races.

“The car looks great and I’ve always been a fan of Dale, so to carry this scheme around Darlington is awesome,” LaJoie said to NASCAR.com. “I think we did a great job keeping the scheme as close to the original as possible while incorporating the KeenParts.com logos into it. I can’t thank Tom and TJ Keen enough for allowing us to run this design – it’s one of my favorite schemes. I might even have to shave myself a mustache, so I don’t do the car a disservice.”

Tune into the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 1 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time to see the sport’s best athletes paying homage to legends who’ve come before them.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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Bowyer blows by competitors to earn All-Star Race pole

CONCORD, N.C. – Though he didn’t get into his pit stall as quickly as he would have liked in the unique Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race qualifying format, Clint Bowyer had enough speed in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to earn the pole position for Saturday night’s marquee event at Charlotte Motor Speedway (at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Though he hasn’t won a pole for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race since he won the top spot at New Hampshire in 2007, Bowyer had enough muscle under the hood of his Ford Mustang on Friday to beat Kyle Busch by a decisive .177 seconds.

“Hell has frozen over,” Bowyer quipped. “It’s so easy to make mistakes in that (format), because it’s so out of the ordinary of what we usually do. I actually didn’t get on pit road near as good as I wanted to.

“I had my dead-set line that I was going to get to and would lift (off the gas) at, and when I didn’t get on pit road like I needed to, I drove past that and I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to get stuck.’ and my eyes were getting bigger.”

Nevertheless, Bowyer negotiated the three laps plus a mandatory four-tire pit stop (with no pit road speed limit) in 118.794 seconds for a speed of 136.371 mph. The only other driver to break 119 seconds, Busch logged a speed of 136.168 mph.

“Our Fords have been extremely fast, but we haven’t gotten them in Victory Lane like we’d like to yet, but we’re knocking on the door,” Bowyer said. “Who knows? I just saw (Charlotte Motor Speedway president) Marcus Smith. I said, ‘You know how bad I want to win your million dollars?’ I’m going to take his million dollars tomorrow night!”

Busch was pleased with his own performance and that of his team.

“I thought everything about the lap actually was pretty good,” said the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “I’m not sure how fast the lap itself was — how fast our car was on the lap.

“I felt like my progressiveness onto pit road and pit road speed was relatively good, and then the braking point and being able to just chatter the tires all the way into the box was really close. Really on the money there. I thought we got all we could get out of it.”

Kevin Harvick, Bowyer’s teammate at SHR, qualified third at 136.068 mph. Austin Dillon, who paced the field in Friday’s final practice, claimed the fourth starting spot for the race that pays $1 million to the winner.

“It feels really good to back it up,” Dillon said. “We had a really fast lap by ourselves right there. I’m proud of my pit crew for having a solid pit stop, and, man, the adrenaline is just flowing right now after hitting pit road with all that speed.

“It’s an intense situation, and you just want to give those guys that pit, and not slide it so it doesn’t focus on you. But, yeah, that was a good overall run for us.”

All told, 15 cars — those already locked into the All-Star Race — made qualifying runs. Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano will start from positions five through 10, respectively.

Three segment winners from the Monster Energy Open, which precedes the All-Star Race on Saturday, will earn spots in the main event, as will one driver selected by fan vote.

In an earlier qualifying session on Friday, Daniel Hemric, Dillon’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing, won the pole for the Open. Ford driver Michael McDowell claimed the second starting spot.

“I said on the radio this is the first box checked for the weekend,” Hemric said. “You’ve got to bring the fastest race car you can, and we’ve done that. Hopefully, we can do our jobs tomorrow and do what we need to do to get in the All-Star race and really have some fun.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

While short tracks have been the rave for NASCAR fans, Richmond Raceway is missing the mark by a bit.

No doubt the Toyota Owners 400 will be called a success by many in the coming weeks, but that is solely based on the race to the checkered.

Martin Truex Jr. proved that he was talented in helping grow Furniture Row Racing from the small team in Colorado to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions. Though on Saturday night, he showcased his grit behind the wheel. Despite not having the strongest car, he was able to hold off the late charges from Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano to take the victory. Both were able to close the gap to the back bumper of the No. 19 Toyota – thanks to the leader having to weave through traffic, but Truex altering his line to match his competitors and not allow the racing room necessary proved to be enough. 

It is still a shock to many fans to learn that this is the New Jersey’s native first ever win on a short track in the premiere series, but that is indeed the case. It hasn’t been for lack of effort, as he led the most laps in his previous three starts on the 0.75-mile, and he was ready to win at Martinsville Speedway last fall until contact from Logano.

Outside of the battle for the win, there was nothing real special about Saturday in Virginia.

Although the restarts were wild with three-wide racing at times, the field would string out with difficulty for drivers to make passes on each other. Kyle Busch showed that as after speeding on pit road in the second stage, he only fought back for a eighth-place finish compared to running top-five before the penalty. 

There was also the same usual suspects up front with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), Team Penske, and Stewart-Haas Racing sweeping the top-five positions. 

The struggles also continued for Hendrick Motorsports (HMS), as they only had a driver in the top-10 for about 50 laps in the event with Jimmie Johnson scoring the highest finish in 12th. Chevrolet, though, showed promise with speed. Chris Buescher ran top-10 through the first half of the race before finishing 22nd, while Austin Dillon knocked out a sixth.

The Easter Bunny brings a week without racing for teams, and certainly some need this more than others to improve their programs.

The return to racing will bring us to Talladega Superspeedway, with anything and everything is possible as manufactures and teams dance. The Daytona 500 showcased this with an alliance between JGR and HMS to challenge Ford, but was also bored fans with multiple laps spent single-file. The trip to Alabama typically produces a crazier race than the season opener, so fingers crossed there’s entertainment on the horizon.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Brickyard 400

Admittedly going into the Big Machine Vodka Brickyard 400 on Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I was expecting a snoozefest. However, the race actually was solid throughout from beginning to end.

Throughout the event, whether battles on the track for position or strategy, there was always something to keep your focus and intrigue as to what would happen next. Combined with a thrilling battle for the win, and you can certainly give you the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event a B+.

Denny Hamlin trying to hold on with his old tires, combined with Brad Keselowski coming through with four new Goodyears saw the pair battle side-by-side on a restart with three laps to go. They may have rubbed each other – but hey, rubbin’ is racing, right? But nobody wrecked each other, and there’s a highlight reel to take moving forward.

The contact, along with the late-race cautions left Hamlin frustrated, obviously, as he stated that the yellows were caused by “meaningless” drivers in the back half of the field. To those drivers, every position matters – just like for you at the front. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as planned.

Even without the late-race caution, the race had delivered to that point as previously mentioned. You had drivers moving forward their forward, as well as those falling back further in the pack. There was even a battle shaping up for the win between Hamlin and Clint Bowyer at that time, too.

Notably, restarts produced the biggest excitement as they always do due to the space at Indianapolis. Therefore, concern was there about when we got into long runs, especially when you have Dale Earnhardt Jr. saying, “As the laps go, the tires get hotter, and the pass gets harder,” but that still held some interest. Cue Bowyer’s hard work to get second mid-race as that took awhile in setting Kurt Busch up, but he did get the job done.

Though if you tuned in at the beginning, you may have been ready to turn it off quickly with the scheduled cautions. It had me flashing back to the Indianapolis race where they threw a caution like every 15-20 laps due to tire issues. With the stage cautions that are already there every week, only one competition caution was needed at the beginning rather than two. Then if they saw tire issues at Lap 10 (or say 15 if changed), they could easily have added another.

Other Observations to Consider……

Kevin Harvick proved why he is one of the drivers in the “big three” as he fought back to a fourth-place finish despite a pair of pit road issues. But has the big three turned into the dynamic duo? Following a brake issue on Monday, Martin Truex Jr. will enter the playoffs with four straight finishes outside of the top-10. Could the announcement about Furniture Row Racing’s demise be affecting things deeper than originally thought?

By the way, it was Kyle Busch winning the regular season championship after finishing eighth following a pair of issues throughout the day, including a late-race flat tire. He and Harvick will enter the playoffs tied at the top of the standings. Let the games begin.

Alex Bowman may be the last driver getting into the playoffs, and his team will need some momentum fast if they’re going to upset the projections. The only problem is he has finished the last two races outside of the top-20. it seems the momentum Hendrick Motorsports was gaining is slowly fading away again as Chase Elliott was their highest finisher in 15th.

It is worth noting, though, that Elliott ran in the top-10 most of the day until a late-race decision to pit by Alan Gusfatson while the top-10 stayed out. That same decision to pit won Keselowski the race, though. 

– You can’t blame Jamie McMurray for trying to pull the hail marry by not pitting with 17 laps to go to restart third to try and make the playoffs as you find out your kicked out of your ride for 2019. He still walked out of there with a top-10, anyway, placing seventh. 

If you missed it, the Associated Press opened the day by reporting that Chip Ganassi told them that McMurray will not be in the No. 1, but has been offered a ride for the Daytona 500 and another position within the team. 

– Nobody expected Matt Kenseth to get a stage win, but that’s what he did today after Roush Fenway Racing found themselves running in the top-10 throughout the entire first half of the race. The past series champion just missed the mark at the end of the day, though, placing 12th. 

Darrell Wallace Jr. also had a brake failure for the second time this season, and continues his streak of no top-15’s since Daytona International Speedway in July. Remember all the hype that he began the year with?

– Another week of NBCSN choosing when to go to commercial wrong as discussed plenty times before. Who goes to break with just five laps complete? They could’ve also showed the middle portion of the field when they were three-wide after the top 13 drivers stayed out while the rest pitted, rather than showing the single-file top-seven competitors.

– Having a driver’s on-board camera available for viewing via Twitter the whole race is a good way to promote the sport. Now how about we get that available to everybody worldwide rather than just based on people’s locations?

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Chicagoland Defines Bowyer’s Resilience and Potential

Clint Bowyer has arguably been the fourth strongest competitor in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season.

While much of the attention has been placed on the “big three” contenders of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer’s two victories and an average finish of 9.9 places him in the conversation.

The No. 14 team’s comeback performance Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway portrayed their strength at the halfway point of the season.

After leading 21 laps early in the Overton’s 400, three costly penalties under the first pit cycle trapped Bowyer two laps down.

However, a fast car and lucky break with how the cautions played out allowed him to return to the lead lap by the conclusion of Stage 2 and earn stage points for placing eighth.

Bowyer ultimately finished fifth in one of the most impressive come from behind performances of the season.

“The guys work very hard on making sure that they are pushing the envelope, which you have to do in this world and against this competition,” Bowyer said. “You have to push everything. Certainly pit road is a big part of that.”

When needing to gain ground on the top contenders who have shown tremendous speed throughout the year, pit road presents the opportunity to gain crucial time.

“You are splitting hairs out there on the race track down to the tenths of a second and you can gain seconds on pit road,” Bowyer said. “Obviously our pit road speed was just a little too fast.”

One mistake often derails a team’s day but facing three consecutive blunders is unheard of, and the ability to limit mistakes is what allows the most successful drivers to rise.

This sequence highlighted a shortcoming of Bowyer’s compared to the top three performers, but his response defined the No. 14 team’s resilience.

Leading early showed the caliber of the car on Sunday and being able to race back through the field further attested to its speed. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver likely would have been the one to beat throughout the day had it not been for the early penalties.

However, having to fight through the adversity and seeing their determination pay off with Bowyer’s sixth top-five of 2018 provided valuable confidence and momentum.  

July will be a very telling month regarding Bowyer’s ability to maintain pace with the big three.

He has proven capable of competing with them each week but now will look to top their performances.

A stellar July propelled two of the last three champions into their title run. Truex Jr. finished first at Kentucky and third at New Hampshire last season while Kyle Busch won all but one race this month in 2015.

Not all champions have fared as well in July, but strong races this month can establish the momentum that can carry a team through August and into the playoffs.

It’s a crucial time for Bowyer to contend closer with the top three drivers and put himself in a position to outduel them this fall.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Gamble Pays Off in Clint Bowyer’s Victory at Michigan

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Clint Bowyer gambled.

Then he made sure he cashed the winning ticket with a determined charge on two new tires as rain threatened Michigan International Speedway.

Bowyer got the lead under caution at the end of Stage 2 of Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 when crew chief Mike Bugarewicz opted for two tires on the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Bowyer had to do the rest, holding off teammate Kevin Harvick after a restart on Lap 126, barely preventing Harvick, who had fresh rubber on all four corners of the car, from clearing him off Turn 2. Bowyer got the good fortune he needed when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun in Turn 2 on Lap 129, causing the eighth caution of the afternoon.

Rain started almost immediately and soaked the track, forcing NASCAR to call the race after 133 of a scheduled 200 laps at the 2-mile track.

That made Bowyer the winner of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race for the first time at Michigan and the second time this year.

With pole winner Kurt Busch finishing third behind Bowyer and Harvick, Stewart-Haas pulled off its first 1-2-3 sweep in the organization’s history.

“It took something crazy on a restart to be able to get Kevin,” a jubilant Bowyer said in a raucous Victory Lane celebration. “That was a gutsy call. When we went out there on two tires, I looked in the mirror and I was so far ahead of everybody else (coming off pit road), I was like, ‘Oh man, we are in trouble!’

“The rain came just in enough time. I was trying to hold him off. I was cutting him off and taking his line away pretty bad. If it wasn’t for a win, you wouldn’t be doing that. He was so much faster than me in (Turns) 1 and 2. I got down in (Turn) 3 and just had to take his line because that bear was coming.”

Harvick was close indeed. He was roughly one foot away from clearing Bowyer off Turn 2 on the restart and picking up his sixth victory of the season.

“The 14 just gambled, rolled the dice that the rain must have been going to come, and he was able to keep me on the bottom there just by a little bit on the restart,” Harvick said. “Then it was just going to take me a few laps to work back by.

“But he did a good job hanging onto his car, and the gamble paid off for him. Look, I’ve been on both sides of this. If you’re going to have racing luck work against you, you want to at least stay on your own team.”

Kyle Busch ran fourth in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota, the only non-Ford driver in the top eight. Paul Menard came home fifth, his best finish of the season in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.

Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray completed the top 10.

Kyle Busch retained the series lead by 75 points over Harvick in second and 98 over Logano in third.

The start of the race was delayed two-and-a-half hours by rain, and it ended when the rain returned, but the afternoon belonged to Bowyer, who was well aware of just how close his teammate came to depriving him of his 10th career victory.

“He almost cleared me off of (Turn) 2, and he would have rode off into the sunset again for the 4 car,” Bowyer said of Harvick. “I was able to just get by him, because he left me room and was courteous and a good teammate.

“I tried to give him enough room in 3 and 4 but just enough that I was going to try to stay in front of him and take the air off him. That is the only thing you can really do in that situation.”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Car Chiefs Suspended

Following the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway, three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crew chiefs have been suspended.

The No. 19 Toyota of Daniel Suarez and the No. 14 Ford of Clint Bowyer were both found in violation of rule book, in relation to the rear window support and structures.

For Suarez, his Joe Gibbs Racing team broke sections 20.4.h Body and 20.4.8.1.c Rear Window Support and Structure of the NASCAR Rulebook with not having the rear window flush to the deck lid. For Bowyer, his Stewart-Haas Racing team violated Section 20.4.8.1 Rear Window Support and Structure b. & c which states the “rear window support braces must keep the rear window glass rigid in all directions at all times.”

As a result, their respective crew chiefs Scott Graves (No. 19) and Mike Bugarewicz (No. 14) were fined $50,000, with the car chiefs (Todd Brewer for No. 19, Jerry Cook for No. 14) suspended for the next Cup Series points eligible events. With the Monster Energy All-Star race falling in the middle, both car chiefs are eligible to attend that event. Additionally, both drivers and teams lost 20 regular season driver and owner points. 

“We had a minor part failure due to the heavy loads and track conditions experienced at Dover,” Stewart-Haas Racing’s Greg Zippidelli released in a statement. “It had no competitive impact, and our racecar fit all the templates and passed all the inspections throughout the race weekend, including pre- and post-race.”

This marks the third and fourth penalty in relation to rear window violations, following Kevin Harvick after the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Chase Elliott‘s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway violation. Both teams saw the same penalties as listed above, except Elliott’s crew chief was suspended rather than car chief due to being the team’s second L1 penalty. 

The No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon was found in violation of Section 20.4.3.a&.d of the rulebook due to the splitter not meeting specifications. As a result, crew chief Justin Alexander was fined $25,000, with car chief Greg Ebert suspended for the next Cup points event. 

Lastly, the No. 41 Ford of Kurt Busch had lug nuts not properly installed, resulting in a $10,000 fine for crew chief Billy Scott.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Old Guys Still Ruling in 2018

A few months ago, the conversation of the off-season as the excitement of the young stars rising into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018. Drivers like Alex Bowman, Darrell Wallace Jr., and William Byron were heading into the year with full-time rides, some even replacing icons.

We were preparing to witness a year with a great deal of young talent, and many believed it would be proven on the track.

As the season kicked off at Daytona, it fired off fairly strong for the young guns with 25-year-old Alex Bowman winning the pole for the Daytona 500. Additionally, rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second in the 60th running of “Great American Race.”

Wallace entered the media center following the Daytona 500 with much excitement and even let loose his emotions after a runner-up finish. But since then, Wallace hasn’t placed any better than 20th and has an average finish of 22.8.

The youngsters have become quiet since Daytona, and the veterans have become the spotlight of the season.

Six races in, the veterans have showcased their experience and proved they are still the ones to beat. In fact, 42-year-old Kevin Harvick went on to win the next three events following the Daytona 500 and even some in dominating fashion.

Harvick expressed his feelings on social media this past week after his teammate, 38-year-old Clint Bowyer, won the STP 500 at Martinsville.

That’s right, no driver under the age of 25 has won a race this season. Many thought that Hendrick Motorsports would be a factor going into the year as they added a few young stars and the new Camaro ZL1.

Quite frankly, it has been the complete opposite.

The fresh young faces at Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman and William Byron, have had an uneasy start to the season. Both drivers combined have only scored one top-10 finish this year, and the new Camaro ZL1 has shown inconsistency throughout the first six races.

Meanwhile, a team with veteran drivers are building toward a having a historic season.

Stewart-Haas Racing has won four of the first six events and is going into the off weekend with a grandfather clock as Clint Bowyer snapped a 190-race winless streak.

Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, said after the win at Martinsville, “This year as a group they’ve been able to work together, and they’ve been able to work on a lot of little details, and I think it’s shown in the performance to start the year.”

Their impressive performance currently has all four of their drivers in the top-12 in points. But will this trend continue for the rest of the season?

The Cup Series schedule is lengthy, and it’s still early, but we shouldn’t rule out the young guns just yet. They’ve earned a spot in NASCAR’s premier series so they’re obviously talented and it will be thrilling to watch them try to break out and beat the “old guys.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.