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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.

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Categories
XFINITY

Dale Jr. Confident in Allgaier for Xfinity Series Finale

AVONDALE, Arizona — JR Motorsports driver, Justin Allgaier, captured his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win of the season in the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 to secure a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 33-year old led a race-high 85 laps and regained much needed momentum after besting “The Big Three” heavy-weights of Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and reigning series champion, Tyler Reddick, for his second career victory at ISM Raceway.

The Illinois-native may not have as glamorous statistics as his fellow-competitors battling for the 2019 title, but team owner and 15-time Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has the utmost faith in his four-year driver of the No. 7 Chevy Camaro. The 10-year series veteran has successfully raced his way into the playoffs in every full-time season he’s raced in NASCAR’s lower division and Earnhardt feels this experience has aptly prepared him to bring JR Motorsports their third-consecutive championship.

“Obviously, his age and experience is very helpful,” Earnhardt exclusively told POPULAR SPEED following the event at ISM Raceway. “He’s been in a lot of situations that I think he can lean on to maintain his composure and poise in some pretty tough situations.”

In conjunction with experience in the Xfinity Series, the 44-year old team owner believes his driver has been able to capitalize and adapt throughout his career in certain mid-race situations. Earnhardt has had the luxury of watching Allgaier intently over the last two years after stepping down from full-time racing in the Cup Series and turning to broadcasting on NBC.

“Anything sets him apart (from Bell, Custer and Reddick) I think if you watch a lot of the races,” the team owner relayed. “The success that he has is based off of restarts – he’s really aggressive on restarts. He just takes advantage of the guys around him and he did that again today. When he won at Chicago (Speedway) a few year ago, he had a great restart there at the end to take the win away from the other guys. He technically rarely has the best car in the race, but makes up for it on restarts when he gets that opportunity.”

Earnhardt also broke his silence on the possibility of making history by becoming only the second owner in the Xfinity Series to capture three-consecutive titles.

“Anytime you can put your name in the record books for anything, it’s awesome,” the 15-time Most Popular Driver exclaimed. “We feel pretty lucky and blessed to already have a couple of titles and those didn’t come easy, this one won’t either. This is going to be a real, real hard battle down there. I think we’re lacking a little bit of speed compared to that guys, but it’s close. We’re going to need everything we can get and little luck too. That’s how it’s been the last couple of times. I don’t know that we showed up with the best car throughout the day at Homestead, but we were there at the end when it mattered and that’s what you got to do. I’d put Justin up against any of those guy to position us to be in that position at the end.”

Even more impressively – should Allgaier notch JR Motorsports a third championship – the trio of titles would come from three different driver, which has never been done before in the series.

Earnhardt’s driver will without a doubt be the underdog heading to Homestead, but Allgaier is carrying a hefty set of momentum into the Sunshine State after quite possibly the most important win of his career to date. Witness if Earnhardt and Allgaier can eclipse this monumental achievement in the Ford EcoBoost 300 series finale from Homestead-Miami Speedway at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on NBCSN.

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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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

PREVIEW: The Championship 4 – Busch, Truex, Harvick and Hamlin

AVONDALE, Arizona — Heading into ISM Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick had already locked themselves into a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with their Round of 8 wins at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

After 312 laps in the Bluegreen Vacations 500, Denny Hamlin ensured that his storybook season would live to see another chapter after delivering a championship-caliber performance in the Arizona desert, en route to an emotional victory. Kyle Busch will occupy the final spot in Miami after out-pointing reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Joey Logano.

With the field now set, race fans will be treated to two David and Goliath-esque battles in the Sunshine State. In the first, Harvick is the lone-Ford driver set to take on three Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. The next comes in the form of Hamlin going up again all prior series champions in Busch, Truex and Harvick.

Following the duel in the desert, the past series champions participated in a press conference in the media center at ISM Raceway. It was evident these three drivers had been in this position before. While they were somewhat complaint with the media’s questions, they all went about it in a very tight-lipped-manner with their best pokerface.

Take Kyle Busch, who has not had the strongest playoff run in series history. Some would wonder if horrid post-season results thus far have affected his confidence.

“I never questioned our ability or our opportunity to be able to go out there and continue to get ourselves to the Final 4,” the 2015 title-holder said. “We just had a rough road, others teams had rough roads, but we’re here and that’s the good part.”

Rough is a bit of an understatement. Out of the four competitors that advanced to Homestead, Busch is the only driver without a win in the Playoffs. In fact, you’ll have to look all the way back to June at Pocono Raceway to find the driver  of the No. 18’s last victory this season. Although winless, the past series champion has not been awful. He finished runner-up twice in the last nine races, including this past weekend in Arizona, but certainly that’s far from the dominance shown previously.

Looking ahead to the series finale, Truex and Busch shared the same sentiments in a sense that all three Joe Gibbs Racing teams would be working together the week of the championship.

“I feel like we’re all here because we work together,” the driver of the No. 19 said. “Our teams work together really well, we’ve got a great group at Joe Gibbs Racing and I would assume all the way up to Sunday morning we’ll all be working together.”

Busch went on to elaborate that he worked with Carl Edwards back in 2016 and even with Truex last year as future-teammates for the 2019 season.

Harvick chose not to reveal much about his intentions for his 2019 championship plans (and for good reason, sitting wedged between two Gibbs teammates), but he had mentioned that he went into this race weekend at ISM Raceway to prepare for the series finale in 2020.

“I think we’re pretty confident that we’re like a fifth-place car, the winningest driver in ISM Raceway history said. “That’s about what we thought coming in here and that’s about where we were in the first race.”

The trio of drivers were asked about the lack of ability to pass at the 1.5-mile speedway this weekend and all appeared visibly agitated. Truex chimed in muttering “it’s always been that way,” while Busch offered up a classic-Kyle comment saying, “whoever gets the lead… bye-bye!”

The stone-faced past champions didn’t reveal much else. As they vacated the media center, Hamlin entered and was much more generous with his insight and outlook moving forward.

“This is very similar to 2010, in the sense of the cars and the speed that we’ve had this season,” the driver of the No. 11 said. “There’s similarities for sure, but it’s very different. This is a tighter-knit group of guys. I think Chris [Gabehart] takes a lot of pride in assembling these guys from top to bottom. He worked hard to make sure he had the best people possible working on that car.”

Hamlin had nothing but praise to give for his new crew chief for 2019, Chris Gabehart. From weekend one at Daytona International Speedway, Gabehart called a team meeting with a plan in place for the season. After an emotional Daytona 500 win and one of the most dominant seasons in Hamlin’s 15-year career, it seems the driver/crew chief pairing were able to execute these plans with ease.

While the past-series champions are all working with crew chiefs they’ve been coupled together with for many years, Hamlin feels that “having a fresh set of eyes” puts him and Gabehart at an advantage as he makes a bid of his first series title.

The driver of the FedEx Camry is making his first attempt at a championship since the inaugural season of the new Playoff format in 2014. Hamlin recounts his mindset from 2010 when he essentially thought he had the championship locked up against Jimmie Johnson heading into Phoenix and Homestead. The Virginia-native will be going about this a lot different this time around.

“I didn’t prepare for the ‘what if it doesn’t work out,’ I was only going there thinking ‘I’m going to come here, handle business and go to Homestead and get the trophy,'” Hamlin said. “I think over the years – we’re almost 10 years later – I’m just more content with what I’ve accomplished in the series and I don’t need validation of a championship. There’s many more opportunities ahead of me, this is not my last opportunity to win a championship – especially with the relationship that I built with Chris. I see this going a long way. I’m going to enjoy the moment, because all you can ask for when you started the year was an opportunity for a chance to complete for a championship and we have a chance to compete. It’s goal accomplished, now we just got to go out there and do it.”

Hamlin is the only championship contender without and title to his name. Truex, Harvick and Busch enter Homestead with a chance to be the only active driver aside from Johnson with multiple championships at the Cup level.

With the endless amount of storylines heading into the Ford EcoBoost 400, you won’t want to miss the series finale in the final championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway this Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.

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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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

William Byron and Chad Knaus Speak About Second-Half Success

AVONDALE, Arizona — The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is winding down, but William Byron continued to catch fire in the Valley of the Sun at ISM Raceway.  While the 21-year old would go on to finish 17th due to a late-race restart, he ran inside the top-10 for a large portion of the day, even as high as second at one point.

The Liberty University-product has been crafting a silently impressive season in the Hendrick Motorsports stable. Largely due in part to seven-time Cup Series Championship winning crew chief, Chad Knaus, making the transition to the No. 24 team after 17 season working for the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson.

“It think it comes down to a lot of experience for William,” Knaus told POPULAR SPEED. “He’s getting more familiar with the racetracks because he’s going there for the third, fourth time and that definitely helps. Obviously, William and I are getting closer together with our communication and how he describes things with the race car – that helps tremendously.”

The pair have been able to build chemistry throughout the year, but things didn’t really begin clicking until about Week 14 at Pocono Raceway. By this time, Byron was able to replicate two-consecutive weeks of finishing ninth and qualifying on the pole – in addition to a pole at the Daytona 500 and notching two more top-10’s.

It was at this point the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion solidified that he belonged in the sport’s premier series.

“It’s been really good,” Byron told POPULAR SPEED about his relationship with his new crew chief. “We’ve had our ups and down and such, but we just want to perform well – when we don’t perform well, we aren’t very happy and this was one of those weekends.”

With one race remaining in the season, Byron leads his teammates in highest average finishing position with 14.2 in 35 races. Expanded over the last 10 races, he ranks among the top-10 in average results as well, posting a 12.8. While teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman were able to find victory lane a combined four times in 2019, Byron drove his way to five top-five finishes (two runner-ups), 13 top-10s and led 233 laps.

“I think it’s us being a solid team,” Byron explained. “We definitely surpassed where we thought we were going to be. I think average finish and all of that helps – it’s just going out and doing a solid job every week.”

In the one of the more shocking stats of the year, Byron ranks second in the series in poles with five. The only driver to out qualify him is 2014 Cup Series title holder Kevin Harvick, with six. While all eyes will be on the Championship  4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, this shouldn’t take away from the fact that Byron has the chance to tie the driver of the No. 4 for most pole awards on the season.

With the offseason looming, the driver of the Axalta Chevy Camaro had some thoughts on how to improve as a team during the near-three month break.

“Things change so much,” Byron said. “I think if we can have a good offseason – specifically, making our cars better on the flat-short tracks, I think we can put ourselves in a great position to be here (ISM Raceway) next year.”

Can the driver of the No. 24 put an exclamation point on his breakout season with a successful weekend in the series finale at Miami? Find out next weekend, starting November 16 at 2:05 p.m. ET with Cup Series qualifying on NBCSN and then finally in the Ford EcoBoost 400 the following day at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Daniel Suarez Looks to Carry Momentum from Texas into Phoenix

AVONDALE, Arizona — Daniel Suarez is in the midst of a contract-year at Stewart-Haas Racing, as his agreement expires at the conclusion of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend. After matching a season-high best finish of third last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the driver from Monterrey, Mexico is looking to build off some momentum as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets set to do battle at ISM Raceway.

Suarez, who considers the 1.5-mile oval a sort of home track, was in good spirits when talking about his chances this Sunday.

“Texas was a lot of fun and we’re looking to carry that here to Phoenix,” Suarez told POPULAR SPEED. “This is kind of like a home track for me. There are a lot of good people here, lots of fans and it’s always fun to come back.”

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity driver has had a rollercoaster ride of a career when coming to the Valley of the Sun. He notched his career-best finish at Zoomtown U.S.A. in his rookie season in the Spring of 2017 with a seventh. His best effort since then came the in the following Spring, where he finished eighth. Since then, the 27-year old has not fared better than 23rd.

“I think we have a good car – I don’t think we have the best car, but I think I think we have a car that can get a top-five or a top-10,” said Suarez. “Hopefully we can make the right calls and get a top-five.”

When asked about the pressures of performing without a contract for the 2020 season set in stone, the driver of the No. 41 offered up a humorous reply.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen? I go back to Mexico and work on old cars?,” Suarez joked. “We have some work to do. I feel like the team is doing their part, I’m doing my part, we just have to put all the pieces together – that’s the way it works. Sometimes it takes one week, sometimes it takes three months – we’ll keep working. I feel like life is tough, learn your lessons. I just have to find different ways to make things happen off the racetrack. I’m learning a lot so hopefully we can get a win.”

Team-owner Tony Stewart revealed that they are in the process of getting a deal done to extend Suarez’s tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing. The three-time Cup Series champion also assured the media that he is big fan of the driver from Mexico and would like to keep him around for an extended period of time.

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Edwards Ends Up on Losing End Once Again

Carl Edwards knows this feeling all too well.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver seemed like the favorite to win the championship and the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with his No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry leading laps and fending off opponents. Most importantly, he kept his three title rivals in his rearview mirror.

Unfortunately, that is what erased his chance at winning it all.

Edwards restarted second with 10 laps remaining in the Ford EcoBoost 400, with championship hopeful Joey Logano lined up behind him. The No. 22 Team Penske Ford dove to the apron and attempted to make it three wide going into turn one. Edwards went to block and went across Logano’s nose – and in an instant, his shot at redemption vanished.

“[Logano] was so good in the short run. I don’t know how he got that restart. It was a really good restart. I thought everything was going to work out and Jason [Hedlesky, Edwards’ spotter] told me basically he was there. I just pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there,” Edwards said after being cleared from the infield car center. “[Logano] just timed it perfectly; he moved down, and I thought I could feel him a little. I was probably a little optimistic, but I thought I could clear him or force him to lift. He drove down as far as a guy could be expected to drive down and that’s how it ended.”

Because of the damage to his racecar, he could not head back out on the track and finished 34th. The result relegated him to fourth in the point standings. Edwards came close to the championship before; in 2008 and 2011, he claimed the runner-up position in the Chase.

The JGR driver believed the blame was shared and didn’t want any negativity between the teams. Edwards walked to the No. 22 pit box after the incident to express his thoughts to crew chief Todd Gordon. His sportsmanship didn’t go unnoticed by others within the NASCAR community.

Edwards said, “I just wanted to say, ‘Hey, that’s just racing and good luck to you guys.’ There’s so much on the line. I don’t want to be anything extra to mess with Joey. He’s done a good job, and they deserve to go have a good, fair race.”

Despite the circumstances and déjà vu, he didn’t leave Homestead empty-handed; the driver enjoyed the racing up until the end.

“That was just a fun race. I wish it didn’t end like that,” he said. “My guys deserve better than that. Hindsight obviously it would’ve been better to be a little less aggressive and maybe race him but man I thought if he got in front of me it’s over.”

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Categories
Commentary

RAPID REACTION: Call Him Ol’ Seven-Time

History was made at Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson won his 80th race and seventh title of his Sprint Cup Series career. He joined Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the only NASCAR drivers to ever accomplish seven Cup championships.

 

From Last to First

Before the race started, Johnson’s No. 48 had issues with pre-race inspection. NASCAR found a body manipulation on the Hendrick Motorsports car, and it cost the team its 14th-place starting position and had to start from the rear of the field.

Johnson led only three of the 268 laps at the 1.5-mile track, but that was all he needed to battle Kyle Larson on the final restart and take the lead. The victory also marked his first career win at Homestead.

Heartbreak For Edwards

It looked like Carl Edwards was en route to his first championship. He passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch with 25 laps to go, but with 15 to go, the caution came out for the No. 32 of Dylan Lupton.

When the green flag re-waved, Edwards blocked Championship 4 contender Joey Logano, who had the better restart. Logano got into the rear of Edwards’ No. 19, which resulted in him slamming into the inside wall and a nine-car wreck followed.

The No. 19 led 47 laps, but it wasn’t meant to be. After coming up short against Tony Stewart for the 2011 championship, he said Sunday’s event was “the race of my life.”

Harvick, Larson Try to Crash The Championship Party

Kevin Harvick was not one of the final four competing for the Cup trophy for the first time since the current Chase format’s inception in 2014. However, he made sure the title hopefuls had to battle him if they wanted to win the race.

The No. 4 driver won the pole and led 79 laps. He finished third while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Larson led a race-high 132 laps and finished second.

A Few Farewells

A couple of notable figures ended their tenure in NASCAR at the conclusion of the race.

Most notably, Stewart made the final start of his 18-year Cup career.

During the warm-up laps before the green flag, Stewart led the field in a parade lap to salute the crowd. He retired as a three-time champion and the winner of 49 races. Next year, HScott Motorsports’ Clint Bowyer will take over the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14. Although “Smoke” won’t be in a Cup car anymore, he’ll continue his ownership duties with SHR.

Richard Petty Motorsports rookie Brian Scott also retired from racing. Scott’s first full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series wasn’t magnificent, but he ended his career with a 15th-place result.

Series sponsor Sprint is also leaving NASCAR. Homestead was the final race of their relationship with the sport. A new sponsor has not yet been announced.

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Scott Ready for Final Race Before Retiring

Brian Scott shocked the NASCAR garage last week when he announced the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway would be his last.

The 28-year-old will retire from NASCAR racing following Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400, citing family time as an important factor in his decision.

In a message he sent to his followers on social media last week, Scott said “Over the past couple of years I have begun a family of my own, and it has grown. I’m blessed to have an amazing wife and two incredible kids. The Sprint Cup schedule has taken its toll on me and caused me to reevaluate what I want in life for myself and my family. Through countless time in prayer with my family, the Lord has made it clear it’s time for me to focus on my family and put them first.”

2016 has been a frustrating year for the Idaho native. Following the race at Talladega Superspeedway last month where he posted a career-best runner-up finish, he said, “Just trying to get any bit of a bright spot this year has been difficult. I think that this is by far the brightest spot that we’ve had in a really challenging 2016 for Richard Petty Motorsports. I don’t know; I guess the results and what this does for us going forward is yet to be determined.”

Scott is completing his first full-time season of Sprint Cup racing for Richard Petty Motorsports after competing in the XFINITY Series full-time since 2010 for with stints at Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Before moving up to the XFINITY Series, he competed in the Camping World Truck Series, most notably for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

 As he moved up the racing ladder, he never seemed to lose place of where he came from or touch with himself, staying as the same low key guy. Take a moment from Iowa Speedway a couple years ago.

Before I began covering motorsports and was going to races purely as a fan, I had pit passes for an XFINITY Series race at Iowa Speedway a few years back. I had brought a few driver cards with me, in case I had the opportunity to get an autograph and say hello. Brian Scott walked by the entrance near pit road as he was on his way out to his car for qualifying. He saw I was holding two cards. He approached me and said hello and thanked me for coming out to the races. I asked him if he would sign one of my cards. “Absolutely,” he replied. Being polite, I thanked him and assumed he would go on his way. Then he offered to sign the second card I had brought. “I can sign that one too, man,” he said. It was cool to see a star just act like an average person. I know journalists are not supposed to have favorites, but that moment was one I’ll always remember. I would always look for his name in the rundown after the race was over.

In Scott’s 39th career Truck Series start in 2009 and at just 21 years old, he took the checkers for the first time in a race marred by tire issues and cautions. It came driving the No. 16 Albertson’s Toyota Tundra for Xpress Motorsports. After making the jump to compete in the XFINITY Series, he still dabbled with the trucks on occasion. In 2012, he again won at Phoenix International Raceway, wheeling the No. 18 Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports, leading a race-high 48 laps en route to the win.

Scott had a solid tenure in the XFINITY Series, but never was able to find Victory Lane in 208 starts. He came painfully close in 2013 driving for Richard Childress Racing at Richmond International Raceway. He led the first 239 laps and looked like he was on his way to his first win before Brad Keselowski passed him on the high side with 11 laps remaining and went on to win. Scott was second. His team protested Keselowski restarted too early on the last restart of the race, but to no avail. Scott has 20 top-fives and four runner-up finishes on the XFINITY side. His best year came in 2014, where he finished fourth in the standings.

Brian has a strong fanbase on the racetrack because of his story away from the track. In January 2014, he married his wife, Whitney, and since their special day, their emotional wedding video went viral. Whitney was married previously, and had a daughter of her own, Brielle. Not only did Whitney and Brian wrote separate vows for each other, but Brian also wrote vows specifically for Brielle. He got down on one knee to read them to her. (Grab a tissue, y’all).

“Brielle, can I tell you something? I promise to always hold your hand and skip with you down the street, and bring comfort to your life. I vow to make you say your prayers before you eat. I promise to read you stories at night, to always tuck you in real tight. I vow to show you how a man should treat a woman in my relationship with your mother. And above all else, I vow to protect you, care for you and love you forever.”

Click here for the full video.

Now with a successful career and notable highlights to carry forward with him as he walks away, he hopes to add one more highlight with a solid run this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

“I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to drive for Richard Petty Motorsports this season, and I’m looking forward to ending the year on a high note at Homestead-Miami Speedway,” Scott said. “Homestead is so unique in that it’s a true oval and doesn’t have a dogleg, so you really have to make a good turn getting into all four of the corners. I’ve had a lot of success in the XFINITY and Truck Series at Homestead, so I know if we’ve got speed off the truck that we will have a good chance at getting our No. 44 Safeway Ford to the front of the field.”

Scott has good reason to be excited about racing at Homestead. In six XFINITY Series starts, he has four top-10 finishes, finishing as high as fourth in 2015. In the three starts he has made at Homestead in the Truck Series, he finished inside the top-15 each time, with a best finish of eighth coming in 2008. Last year, Scott was 28th in the Sprint Cup finale in his lone Sprint Cup Series start at Homestead.

The staff here at POPULAR SPEED would like to wish Brian Scott and his family all the best in beginning the next chapter of their lives.

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Joe Gibbs Racing Poised For Historic Homestead Weekend

Joe Gibbs Racing could be in for a historic weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway — and in multiple ways.

The organization has two cars in the Championship 4 race for both the Sprint Cup Series and the XFINITY Series. Under the current Chase format, it’s the first team to have multiple cars eligible for the championship.

If JGR wins both titles, it would also mark the first time in NASCAR history that one team captures both series titles in the same season.

Twenty-year-old Erik Jones and Mexican-born Daniel Suarez will go for the XFINITY trophy on Saturday against JR Motorsports duo Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier.

If Jones wins the title, he’d be the first driver to win the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY championships in consecutive years, and he’d do it as a rookie of both series if he achieves it.

“It would be really sweet to go back-to-back with the Truck and XFINITY deal,” Jones said. “This is going to be one of my only shots in the near future to win an XFINITY championship.”

If Suarez wins the championship, he’ll be the first foreign-born driver to win a national championship in NASCAR.

“I made the move to the U.S. when I wasn’t even speaking English,” Suarez said. “I’m very proud to have friends with a lot of help, and now we put ourselves in the position to win a championship.”

On the Cup side, defending champion Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are up against six-time winner Jimmie Johnson and Phoenix winner Joey Logano.

If Busch takes the checkered flag on Sunday, he’d be the first back-to-back winner since Johnson, who won five straight championships from 2006-2010.

For Edwards, it would be the first Cup title of his career. In 2011, he faced off with Tony Stewart in the season finale for the championship and lost a tiebreaker in points because the Stewart-Haas Racing driver-owner had more wins on the year.

“It’s going to interesting trying to beat three guys,” Edwards said of the current Chase format. “Against one guy, it was a pretty singular focus. We’ll go to Homestead next week and try to win the race like we did at Texas.”

JGR has been the strongest team in both series in 2016, winning 17 of 32 XFINITY events and 12 of 35 races in the Cup Series this year. So what does team owner Joe Gibbs think of the upcoming weekend?

With the opportunity to win back-to-back Cup trophies, Gibbs told POPULAR SPEED, “It would be a huge deal for us — we would love it. We have cars that are going to be very tight and competitive, and you have great competitors going for it.”

And in a fight against JRM for NASCAR’s second-tier championship, he added, “We have two cars and they have two cars. It will be an interesting battle.”

Gibbs won the Super Bowl as the head coach of the Washington Redskins three times in his NFL career. As a team owner in NASCAR, he has four Cup championships and one XFINITY championship. He preaches the idea of teamwork and knows that one driver can’t win by himself.

“I don’t think it’s one thing in pro sports, it’s everything,” Gibbs said. “We have a lot of supportive people at the race shop. From everyone working on our cars to our front office, our great sponsors, and associates, it’s been a little bit of everything. We got to have crew chiefs, drivers, and pit crews. It’s always a total team effort.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

EDWARDS on Homestead: We’re Just Gonna Do It

AVONDALE, Ariz. — It was a so-so weekend for Carl Edwards, who finished 19th at Phoenix International Raceway, but he’s not too concerned about his performance in Sunday’s race.

The 37-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the rain-shortened AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway last week, which clinched the Round of 8 contender’s berth for the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He, JGR teammate Kyle Busch, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, and Phoenix winner Joey Logano are the final four who will fight for the title next weekend.

It marks the second time in Edwards’ career that he’ll fight for the Sprint Cup trophy. The first time was in 2011 against Tony Stewart, and he suffered a heartbreaking defeat as the two ended with a tie in points, but the championship went to Stewart because he had more wins during the season.

This time around, the scenario is different and harder for the No. 19 racer, who is competing against a trio of talented wheelmen.

“It’s going to interesting trying to beat three guys,” Edwards told POPULAR SPEED. “Against one guy, it was a pretty singular focus. We’ll go to Homestead next week and try to win the race like we did at Texas. We have a great mile-and-a-half program, and we’ve been able to perform when it matters. We’re just gonna do it.”

Edwards has finished runner-up in the Chase twice before (2008 and 2011). In his 13 years of Cup racing, he’s won 28 events including three in 2016.

He won at Homestead in 2010 when he was driving the No. 99 for Roush Fenway Racing. After each race he wins, he’s known to do a backflip off his car in celebration. If he ends up doing one at Homestead this year, he better stick the landing; it’d be the greatest flip of his career.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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