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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.

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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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Commentary

Jimmie Johnson – The Greatest of All Time?

The White Flag waves for Jimmie Johnson as the seven-time Cup Series Champion is set to make one last turn around the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit as a full-time driver. Even in amassing 83 race wins and matching legends Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most titles in the sport’s history, the case can be made that the driver of the No. 48 does not garner the credit he deserves amongst race fans.

It’s time to admit that Johnson could very well not only be the greatest driver in NASCAR history, but one of the best athletes across all professional sports. Everyone knows the basic statistical facts about the California-native. It’s now time to put the Team Hendrick driver’s 19-year career successes into context.

Johnson’s stretch of seven included five in a row between 2006 and 2010. No driver – let alone professional franchise in any sport – will ever do that again. All of these titles were won during some of the most unique, transitional eras in NASCAR history.

Each season, Johnson and the No. 48 team were forced to adapt to new car body styles, points systems, playoff formats and schedule configurations. Through all of this, Johnson was still able to win seven championships in an 11-year span.

The now 43-year old driver won titles with three generations of stock cars,  four different body styles and over five unique rules packages. Imagine if the NFL changed the size of its standard football, the air pressure of the ball or the size of the field, four times in the span of one decade. You likely wouldn’t see current dynasties such as Tom Brady and the Patriots matching the likes of Johnson in such an era.

The Team Chevy driver’s first championship season in 2006 was won when NASCAR exclusively ran the small-bodied Generation 4 stock cars, which it began using in 1992.

Johnson’s second title in 2007 was run with a mix of (primarily) these same bodies, along with several races that introduced a new, radically different Generation 5 car. The safety-focused Generation-5 Car of Tomorrow bodies were known for their wide splitters and large wings on the back of the cars. This car model brought upon the most dominant stretch of Johnson’s career and one of the most dominant eras that any driver has had in NASCAR history.

The sport switched to the Car of Tomorrow full-time in 2008, marking Johnson’s third straight championship and his third consecutive year having won it in differing stock car accommodations, spanning two different body styles.

Johnson’s dominance in the Car of Tomorrow led to such a competitive gap in NASCAR’s top series that the sanctioning body was inclined to tweak the Gen-5 stock car, the rules system, the playoff format and the race schedule following the conclusion of the 2010 season that culminated in the driver’s fifth-straight championship.

This body style lasted only three years (2008-10) in the sport’s premier series, in which the No. 48 team won all three Cup Series title. In the three years (108 points races) where NASCAR ran the Car of Tomorrow, Johnson won 20 races and led 5,512 laps, which was five more wins and 1,411 more laps led than any other driver.

Between 2011 and 2012, NASCAR ran a modified version of the Generation 5 stock car that did not include the same splitter and rear-wing cosmetics. While Johnson didn’t add to his title totals in that two-year span, he was able to add an additional seven wins to his resume.

In 2013, NASCAR made the switch to its Generation-6 stock car which had manufacturer-unique body panels and designs that more closely resembled the cars found in local showrooms. On cue, Johnson rang in the new era winning his sixth NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Entering the 2016 season, NASCAR made slight modifications to the car, shortening the rear spoiler by 2.5 inches, adding a 0.25-inch front leading splitter edge and a 33-inch-wide radiator pan. These changes were enforced to lower the downforce of the cars, adding more grip, which would encourage more passing and closer competition.

Sure enough, these changes resulted in the No. 48 driver’s seventh Cup Series championship and his fourth with a different stock car body style.

In addition to conforming to new stock car body styles and aerodynamic packages on an almost yearly basis, NASCAR has also adjusted its playoff format four times throughout Johnson’s reign.

His first title came with the sport’s original “Chase for the Cup” format, which reset the top-10 drivers in the point standings after 26 regular season races for a 10-race playoff-like shootout, that the series has used since 2004.

Beginning in 2007, NASCAR modified this format to include the top 10 drivers in the regular season standings and granted 10 bonus points for each win accumulated during the regular season once the points reset for the final 10 races. This Chase format remained from 2007 through 2010, spanning Johnson’s second, third, fourth and fifth Championships. He was the only driver to win a title under this format.

Between 2011 and 2013, the sport’s sanctioning body changed this format to include the top 10 drivers in the regular season standings, with two wild cards for a total of 12 Chase drivers. Eligible drivers would begin this Chase format with three bonus points for every regular season win accumulated. Johnson won his sixth Championship in 2013, marking the final year of this format.

Beginning in 2014, NASCAR moved to an elimination-style format for its Chase for the Cup, that it still uses to this day. This expanded the playoff field to 16 drivers and rounds were implemented. Every three races during the 10-race playoff, the bottom four drivers in the standings were cut until the field is composed of only four drivers entering the final Championship race. Johnson won his final Cup Series championship in 2016, marking the fourth different playoff format for the No. 48 team to have won a title in.

NASCAR introduced a “Stage Racing” format in 2017 to the 16-driver postseason format, which was renamed from the “Chase for the Cup,” to the “NASCAR Playoffs.” Johnson has yet to win a championship under the stage racing format.

In addition to winning championships under four different postseason formats, the Hendrick Motorsports driver spread his seven championships across four different postseason schedules.

After Johnson won his first three consecutive championships under the same playoff schedule between 2006-08, NASCAR subtracted Atlanta Motor Speedway from the Chase and added Auto Club Speedway from 2009-10. Between September 2007 and February 2010, Johnson won four out of six races at the Fontana, California-based track, prompting NASCAR to remove it from the postseason schedule following the No. 48 team’s fifth-consecutive Cup championship in 2010.

In place of the two-mile track, the playoff schedule was adjusted by leading off the postseason with Chicagoland Speedway – one of only three active tracks that Johnson has not won at.

Nonetheless, the No. 48 team still managed to persevere in 2013.

The following year, the 10-race circuit was changed again when the “Round of 12” slate included Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with Talladega Superspeedway – which remained the same. Johnson went on to conquer this playoff schedule en route to his seventh Cup Series championship in 2016, marking the fourth different playoff reconfiguration he had to adapt to.

Finally, Johnson spread his seven titles across four different points scoring systems.

The first five from 2006-10 were won under the longstanding “Equal Points Per Race” system that the league had used since 1975. His first championship was won when the first place finisher in a given race was awarded a minimum of 180 points.

The following year, NASCAR used this same points system, but elevated the minimum amount of points for a first place finisher to 185. After Johnson won his fifth straight championship in 2010, the sanctioning body did away with the long-standing points format, separating each position on track by exactly one point and awarding the race winner with a minimum of 47 points – capping that total at 48 when the race-winner leads the most laps.

Johnson won his sixth Cup Series championship in 2013 under this format.

Lastly, in 2016 the number of cars permitted in each race was reduced to 40, so the points system was modified to reflect this change, allowing for a maximum point total of 45 for the race winner. Under this format that NASCAR still uses, the Playoff Championship 4 do not earn bonus points in the championship-deciding season finale.

The No. 48 team won its seventh championship under this format, making for the fourth title victory under another different scoring format.

In addition to having to conform to so many different rules packages, the 43-year old has also had to go up against some of the sports all-time greatest stars, adapting to various different generations of Cup Series drivers. From fending off the likes of his mentor, four-time champion, Jeff Gordon, to Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano – Johnson made his reign in one of the most competitive eras in NASCAR history.

Each one of these championship runs had its own unique buzz. Between dueling it out with one of the all-time greats in 2006, to capping off dominant seasons in 2007-10, to having to overcome adversity and assume the underdog role in 2013 and 2016, Johnson has had an incredible run in the Cup series.

The bottom line is that NASCAR literally had to adjust the entire sport multiple times to aid in giving a competitive edge to drivers aside from Johnson and the No. 48 crew. That is simply unheard of across other professional sporting leagues.

No driver in NASCAR history – let alone any other professional sports athlete – has displayed this profound ability to adapt to so many radical, sport-wide changes, while continuing to thrive on an almost yearly basis; all while managing to win a record amount of championships at the sport’s highest level.

It is highly unlikely the sport will ever see another seven-time champion, as well as another driver to win five-consecutive titles.

In addition to his uncontested conformability to any and all circumstances – perhaps above all else – Johnson has always operated himself with the highest of class at all times. Through victory and defeat, the Team Chevy driver has always maintained his signature, humble and accountable demeanor, serving as one of the most graceful ambassadors in NASCAR history.

Johnson’s unparalleled list of achievements, can perhaps partially be attributed to the core values that link him with his long-time primary sponsor, Lowe’s. “Never stop improving,” is the motto coined by the home improvement company that sponsored the No. 48 team for each of Johnson’s first 17 full-time season competing in the Cup Series.

Whether it be in the context of a last place finish, or a fifth consecutive championship, Johnson and the No. 48 team have always been synonymous with this saying “never stop improving.” This mentality is part of what fueled the driver and the team; one of the most powerful dynasties in pro sports history.

The 43-year old driver is set to cap off his full-time racing career after two decades in the sport’s premier level. It’s time to start embracing Jimmie Johnson—his character, his place in the history books, his achievements and acknowledging his title as quite possibly the greatest driver in NASCAR history.

The driver of the No. 48 will have one more shot at becoming the only driver in NASCAR’s history with eight championships – and what a way that would be to go out after 20 seasons, in the year 2020.

While he is still in search of his first win in two seasons and missed the Playoffs for the first time in his full-time career in 2019, you can never really count someone like Jimmie Johnson out.

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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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NASCAR Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson To Retire Following the 2020 Season

Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson announced on Wednesday that he will be retiring from competition following the 2020 race season.

The driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet revealed the news on twitter with a video.

Since his rookie season in 2002, Johnson has raced for Hendrick Motorsports and experienced success along the way with 83 victories, including two Daytona 500 victories and four trips to victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There has been speculation all year long about his future in the sport, following a season which saw him not visit victory lane with three top-five’s and 12 top-10’s in 36 races. Notably, he has failed to score a win over his last 95 races.

Johnson and Rick Hendrick will discuss the news on Thursday in a press conference, ahead of the 2020 season which will begin with the Daytona 500 in February.

Ally has signed on-board with Hendrick Motorsports through 2021, with the team stating their future plans will be announced at a later date.

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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

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.

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Feature

Jimmie Johnson is Feeling Optimistic in Return to the Desert

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AVONDALE, Arizona — Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson is currently wrapping up one of the statistically worst seasons of his career. The driver of the famed No. 48 is looking to rebound at ISM Raceway – a place that has been very kind to him in his 19-year career.

While the lifetime Hendrick Motorsports driver will start the Bluegreen Vacations 500 in the 22nd position, he feels optimistic about his car – even with the limited time he feels the premier series had on the Arizona-based track.

“The guys did a really good job getting speed in the car,” Johnson told POPULAR SPEED. “We only got two laps in, so it’s tough to tell. It’s was tough to understand what was going on in practice as well. It was cut short for us because we didn’t pass tech last week and the track is just now rubbering in, so the first practice was kind of a wash.

“The second one went by so fast. We knew we were off, but we knew where to attack. The guys did a great job putting more speed in the car and I’m optimistic, but I won’t know until we get in there and lay down those first few laps.”

The 43-year old enters ISM Raceway off a tough weekend that saw him slip in the traction compound at Texas Motor Speedway, getting into the wall. The PJ1 returns this weekend in the higher groove at the 1.5-mile speedway.

“It wasn’t part of my issue last week – I will say that at Michigan (International Speedway), it got me – but it is what it is,” said the seven-time champion. “The harder that stuff is, the more grip it has. After cautions or certainly at the start of the race, we know this stuff isn’t going to have grip going into turns one and two. It’s always been the same, but I feel a lot of drivers didn’t realize it until they were riding around on the pickup trucks before the race, waving at the fans.”

Johnson has the second-most wins at ISM Raceway among active drivers, including three consecutive wins spanning from 2007-08 and one addition victory in the Fall of 2009. The track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway has not been too kind to the Team Chevy driver since the reconfiguration in 2018, as he only has one top-10 finish. This will by no means be an easy event for Johnson to overcome, but it’s hard to go against a confident driver who has 15 top-fives, 21 top-10s and an average finish of 10.2  at a venue where he also has four wins.

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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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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Although not known for the most dramatic racing, there was enough drama to wet the appetite of every fan watching on Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The field spread out once there were some green laps in the books – as usual no matter the package, but the restarts saw close competition with some of those battles producing their own twists and turns for the race.

Of course, everything started off with the first trip down pit road when a stack-up resulted in Chase Elliott getting turned sideways.

“I haven’t seen a replay of the pit road incident, but one thing about Indy is pit road is so narrow,” Elliott said. “You have to start braking before you turn into your box which is typically not the case. I think that was a contributor. I apologize if I didn’t stop quick enough. Once they all started stopping, they stopped so fast, I didn’t get stopped quick enough and about the time I got stopped, somebody piled into me. It was one of those chain reaction things.”

Despite receiving damage and going a lap down making repairs, the Hendrick Motorsports driver fought back for a ninth-place finish.

His teammate Jimmie Johnson was not so lucky with his damage later in the event, though. Battling three-wide, William Byron crowded Johnson, resulting in Johnson getting into the grass and sideways. In total, nine drivers were caught up in the incident. Johnson’s rear-end damage was significant enough that he could not continue, ending his chances of making the playoffs.

Although NBC put on the focus on Johnson not making the post-season solely focused on Sunday, there were 25 races that drivers also scored wins and points to ensure their championship chances. Quite frankly, this year has been a struggle for seven-time with consistency being a struggle to find, including a crew chief change mid-season.

Despite some suggesting Johnson may be past his prime, he has stated that the No. 48 team plans to make the most of these final 10 races with some trips to victory lane.

The playoff battle was the main story of the day, and reasonably so with the Big Machine Vodka 400 being the cut-off. Ryan Newman put together the right drive en route to an eighth-place finish, snagging the last playoff spot Daniel Suarez

” We just weren’t good enough this weekend,” Suarez said. “Qualifying was wide open and we qualified 20th. We just didn’t have the straightaway speed this weekend for whatever reason. We have to keep working on it and try to keep getting better.”

While Suarez was critical of his Stewart-Haas Racing team, keep in his mind teammate Kevin Harvick won the pole and dominated the race, while both Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch will join him in the playoffs.

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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: Foxwoods Casino Resort 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NASCAR has continued striving for a better racing package to put on more entertaining shows for their fans. The feedback has been simple – ditch the intermediate tracks for the tighter ovals on the schedule.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway was a perfect example on Sunday afternoon.

Although the field was spread out at times throughout the afternoon, there was always at least one battle for position within the top-10 to keep an eye on. By laying down the PJ1 traction compound in the separate lanes, it allowed drivers to get their cars working high or low to challenge each other.

There was also varying strategy played with earning stage points versus trying to set yourself up for a good finish and tire wear, which kept things interesting with a variety of drivers finding their way to the front at times.

Oh, and there was also the finish between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin to cap it off.

Lap cars can be thanked for bringing the pair closer together, but that’s all part of the long-run racing in how you handle the traffic. Harvick, using some of his short track skills, kept the advantage by slowing down a touch sooner than expected and taking the preferred line that Hamlin would have wanted.

On the same coin, Hamlin does earn respect in how he handled the situation. He gave Harvick a bump in turn one, but just enough to get scoot him out of the groove a little and not wreck him. Notice the difference in crowd reaction compared to how he handled Martinsville Speedway a couple years ago with Chase Elliott.

Now if Hamlin does take the bottom lane in turn three, how much harder does the bump go? Would it have made a difference at the end of day?

As Hamlin continues to ponder that through the next couple of days, the fans can relive the finish over and know that they got a show. Realistically, New Hampshire delivered all weekend if you were watching the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series with a three-wide finish to their all-star event on Friday. 

Though moving forward, a lot of eyes now fall on Harvick. The biggest surprise was the fact that he had yet to win this season – until now. How does a threat for the championship the past couple years not score a single win?

With the door opened on Sunday afternoon and the stretch of tracks ahead on the schedule, it’d be no surprise to see the Stewart-Haas Racing go on a terror moving forward. After all, the speed has been there all year, pacing over 80 laps in three races this season with 12 top-10’s. 

The flip side has to be Hendrick Motorsports. The organization saw three cars get wrecked in practice and qualifying leading up to the event, followed by both Elliott and Jimmie Johnson having water pump belt issues during the event. Alex Bowman, who admitted that he hates New Hampshire due to past struggles there, ran in the top-10 late in the event en route to a 14th-place finish – the highest of their four drivers. 

Now with the amount of races in the regular season counting down, Johnson sits outside of the playoffs following back-to-back 30th-place finishes. Meanwhile, Elliott who is locked in via his win at Talladega Superspeedway, has failed to score a top-10 in the last six events.

While it appeared their struggles were behind them a couple months ago with all four drivers running well, they are certainly losing momentum at the most crucial time.

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

Analyzing Hendrick Motorsports Halfway Through The Season

When the checkered flag waved in Sonoma Raceway, Joe Gibbs Racing saw its tenth win of the 2019 season as Martin Truex Jr. crossed the finish line 1.861 seconds ahead of teammate Kyle Busch. Additionally, they had  three of their four fielded cars finishing in the top five and all four finishing in the Top-10.

What about Hendrick Motorsports? To find the highest scoring Chevy Camaro from their  stable, you’ll have to look back to the twelfth position where seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson wound up. Not to say all four cars didn’t run a good race.

William Byron started from second and led every lap in stage one to capture his first stage win of 2019. Chase Elliott was running well inside the topfive for a large portion of the race and led three laps before an engine failure sent him to the garage. Johnson and Alex Bowman even had themselves strong showings running in the Top-10 for a while.

“What went wrong with Hendrick Motorsports?” This is the question that has been asked since the 2018 season and the answer is simple – they can’t put together a complete race.

Qualifying? Sure, Hendrick Motorsports drivers have sped their way to six poles, eight front row starts and have even swept the top-two spots four times this season. So it’s proven they can begin  a race off the right way, but starting and finishing are two completely different things.

Through 16 points races, Hendrick Motorsports has one win, 10 Top-fives and 22 Top-10s. This of course contrasted to Joe Gibbs Racing’s 10 wins, 27 top fives and 42 Top-10s through that same span.

Once upon a time, both Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing were the dominant teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Here’s a breakdown of the four Hendrick Motorsports driver’s with their strengths, weaknesses, rest of the season outlook and where to expect their next win.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Alex Bowman 

Bowman turned heads back in 2016 when he won the pole for the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway and finished sixth while driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had been sidelined with a concussion. He then earned himself a full-time ride in the No. 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports when the 16-time most popular driver retired following the 2017 season. Bowman would go on to have a less than stellar campaign in 2018 which carried over early on in 2019.

Bowman has once again captured the attention of NASCAR fans, as he has become arguably the most consistent driver over the last 10 races. In that time, Bowman has has successfully driven himself to five top-10 finishes, including three consecutive runner-up finishes.

A win seems imminent for the Tucson, Arizona native and it’s quite possible that Bowman will be the next Hendrick Motorsports driver to see victory lane. His next best shot? Daytona International Speedway in two weeks. In six races at the 2.5-mile track, Bowman has one pole, one Top-10 finish and has led 14 laps. To be fair, most of Bowman’s attempts at the famed superspeedway were cut short by wrecks, as is the case with most drivers. Never count Bowman out in a plate race; after all, he has superspeedway legend Earnhardt Jr. to lean on for advice.

MATTHEW T. THACKER | NKP

William Byron

Byron came into Cup Series hot after winning the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series title in his rookie season and then taking over driving duties for the famed No. 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports. Much like the organization as a whole, Byron fell victim to strong starts with failure to put together a complete race in the 2018 campaign. This year, Byron has seen slight improvements with the help from seven-time championship crew chief, Chad Knaus.

It seems as if every week the No. 24 team unloads a fast Chevy Camaro and Byron is a lock to set the quick time in qualifying. Byron began the 2019 season starting from the pole in the Great American Race and is tied with Kevin Harvick for the most poles this season with three. Byron has also qualified on the front row an additional four times. Starting up front obviously has its perks as Byron has led a total of 171 laps this season and captured his first stage win of 2019 at Sonoma, bringing his stage points total to 81 through 16 races.

There’s no doubt that Byron has seen improvements coming off of an average 2018 season, but the theme remains the same– the No. 24 team can’t put together a full race. Whether it’s a pit stop or failing to keep up with changing track conditions, Byron just can’t seem to keep it up front towards the later stages of an event. He is knocking on the door for a win and with a crew chief like Chad Knaus it’s safe to expect a win sooner, rather than later.

Byron’s next best opportunity to win also resides in Daytona. In just three starts at Daytona, Byron has one pole and has led 56 laps. The results may not show just yet, but Byron is a heck of a plate racer. The way he moves through traffic could be compared to the man who drove the No. 24 car before him – Jeff Gordon. Byron is bound for superstardom and you get the feeling that once he gets that first elusive win, things will start to click– much like teammate Chase Elliott.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Chase Elliott

It could be argued that up to this point that Elliott has been the lone bright spot for this once elite race team. The Cup Series reigning most popular driver leads Hendrick Motorsports in just about every category this season. Not to mention, he has a personality that NASCAR fans of young and old can get behind.

Elliott notched his first win of the season at Talladega Superspeedway  and is the only Hendrick Motorsports car with a win this year. He is actually the only car within the team that has won a points race since the start of 2018. Through 16 races, Elliott leads the organization with 406 laps led, six top-five’s, and seven Top-10s  The only other teammate to have him bested in a single category is Byron, who leads the Cup Series with three poles (Elliott is not far behind with two).

Elliott’s next best shot at a win is essentially anywhere. He is up there every week with the best of them and is always in contention for a win.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Jimmie Johnson

If you had told NASCAR fans in 2017 that after Johnson scored his third win of the season at Dover International Speedway, that he would go on a winless streak that has spanned over two years, they would call you crazy– yet here we are.

After starting 2019 winning the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, nothing has gone right for the seven-time champion. Following a winless 2018 season, the iconic driver/crew chief duo of Johnson and Knaus split, bringing aboard JR Motorsports crew chief Kevin Meendering to the No. 48 team. Johnson has shown brief glimmers of hope and improvement as we near the halfway point  but it seems as if once they take one step forward, they take two steps back.

Johnson only has one top five finish this season and has only led 68 laps through 16 races. On the bright side, he has one pole and six Top-10 finishes. Its not to say Johnson and the No. 48 team don’t have speed as they have shown that, but there are mechanical issues, pit road mis-ques and other abstract incidents that prevented him from garnering a proper finish.

Being a seven-time champion, Johnson knows that putting together a complete race is what breeds success. If the No. 48 team can work out these kinks and silly mistakes, they could be in position to turn their season around. You’d like to think that Johnson and the No. 48 team can turn things around, but could this just be the product of an aging legend?

With 10 races remaining before the playoffs, Johnson sits one point below the cut line. While this is a minuscule margin with a healthy amount of races remaining, he should be not only racing for stage points, but wins as well. It’s tough to say when Johnson  could be in line for his next win. Statistics should say as early as this weekend at Chicago, but that’s not the case.

Realistically, you have to look seven weeks ahead to Michigan International Speedway. This is a track which has been both a friend and foe to Johnson. While he only has one win in the Irish Hills, this is one of Johnson’s stronger tracks and he leads all active drivers with 700 laps led at the two-mile speedway.  It should be noted that Johnson was in line for quite a handful of wins at Michigan until multiple last lap incidents prevented him from winning.

Elliot is currently the only Hendrick Motorsports driver locked into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Bowman sits 10th in the standings, 69 points above the cut line. Byron is 14th in the standings, just 31 points above Johnson who is just outside the playoff picture. Can Hendrick Motorsports turn things around at the halfway point? Only time will tell.

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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Since Texas Motor Speedway’s reconfiguration in 2017, the racing hasn’t been all that good entertaining. The new package, though, brought a breath of fresh air as the cars were able to run a lot closer together, therefore giving the fans a more visually appealing race.

That said, NASCAR’s rule changes still cannot be deemed successful.

Despite everything thrown his way, between adjusting to the package to a pair of pit road penalties, Denny Hamlin was able to overcome everything en route to his second victory of the season.

The strength of Joe Gibbs Racing has been witnessed by Kyle Busch‘s dominance thus far, with Hamlin playing second fiddle. However, if he could ever figure out a way to avoid penalties, he could be the strongest driver on the circuit. Just look back through this year alone and see how many weeks he has been caught speeding on pit road.

Busch was fast once again, but contact with the wall cutting down the left rear while dealing with an extreme loose condition caused him to pit sooner in the cycle than he wanted, with a lengthy stop in the process. As a result, he got behind and was unable to recover, finishing 10th.

Busch was one of the drivers who put on a show through the first half of the race, though, as drivers battled side-by-side, sometimes three-wide for position with the package enabling them to get close together and create runs. Just check out how close he came to making contact with his own brother, Kurt Busch. 

While this, among other small moments, were exciting, there are still issues to be addressed. The top-five cars when on evenly matched tires were only able to run side-by-side for two or three laps after a restart, before going single-file. Although the package enabled them to not get away from each other, no passing could be found.

Beyond the front runners, observations from the track indicated it was a “slug fest” with groups of cars running together closely, battling for position. However, NASCAR on Fox didn’t bother to show that. They just showed the pack racing for the first 10 laps after a restart, and then focused on the single-file train at the front or went to commercial.

It’s pretty hard to showcase the strengths of a package if your broadcast partner sucks, but more on that later.

The single-file train did prove something, though, in the difficulty is it to pass the leader. On two different occasions, the second-place car was able to close in on the leader relatively quickly, but unable to do anything about making a move happen. Joey Logano got stuck behind Jimmie Johnson through stage one, just like Daniel Suarez got stuck behind Ryan Blaney. Essentially, passes for the lead only happened virtue of varying tire strategies – with the first of those not happening until Lap 99.

When NASCAR announced the package, they stressed that it was supposed to enable better racing, with side-by-side battles and drivers able to moves forward. Welp, the running order didn’t flex much, unless it was due to someone pulling a strategy move on pit road. The reason being – we’re still watching drivers battle against dirty air, with track position still meaning everything.  

As Jeff Gordon said it perfectly, “Tires don’t wear out, speed don’t slow down, you can’t get away from each other, and track position is key.” Anybody remember the days of tire wear making some of the best racing? 

Team Penske had been right there with Joe Gibbs Racing every step of the way this season – until Sunday. All three of their entries ran into mechanical issues, relegating them outside of the top-15 for the first time in 2019. 

On the flip side, Hendrick Motorsports is closer to the front than they have been all year. After sweeping the top-three spots in qualifying, they placed two cars in the top-six at the checkered flag.

Three of their four entries – Johnson, William Byron, and Chase Elliott – ran in the top-five through the first half of the race. Johnson was able to fight back from jack issues on pit road to finish fifth, with Byron in sixth. Meanwhile, Elliott had to take the wavearound during the second stage when the caution came out for Kyle Larson after he had pitted under green. While Alan Gustafson tried a strategy call of leaving him out at Lap 260, they were unable to make up the lost ground en route to placing 13th.

“For me, I was just trying to get a consistent weekend,” Johnson said. “It is one thing to have one-lap paced, we needed that and we did that on Friday. Then, Saturday went really well. So, in the back of my mind I was thinking we just needed to have a rock-solid day, and if we did that, then I could confirm to myself and to everyone else that we are moving in the right direction.

“For the No. 48, No. 24 and the No. 9 were all good. Not sure what happened with the No. 88 but the majority of our cars all ran really strong today, so I feel much better about things.” 

NASCAR ON FOX used to be known for having the best coverage when the television package first saw their involvement. However, those days seem long gone based on what fans are paying witness to this season. Between the endless commercials, and lacking smarts in the booth, it’s going downhill really fast. I mean, do you really the viewers at home care if the commentators are eating ice cream?

It seemed they would show a small piece of the race, before going straight to another commercial break. Essentially, giving you bits of the racing action in-between allowing you to memorize each ad since you’d seen it too many times to count. It almost felt like a third to a quarter of the race was shown in commercial – maybe more.

Of course, when you were able to watch coverage, then you had to deal with the commentating. Darrell Waltrip may be a respected veteran and has earned his right in the sport, but pretty sure his time is up. His reasoning for certain things happening is so far off, that it makes you roll your eyes. Now how do you feel offering that to someone who may be tuning in for the first time?

When Brad Keselowski broke, it was suggested that the team may have been trying something since they locked in the post-season already. Waltrip then commented, “You don’t want to do something that’d put you out of the race, so I always question that.” Isn’t it the best chance to do that so you learn something with nothing to lose? 

They were speaking about Suarez and Waltrip said, “That’s something people don’t realize about Daniel Suarez. He needs his team to really believe in him to be successful.” Doesn’t everybody require that?

The best was when Waltrip suggested that Busch got into the wall during the final stage due to being tired after running both the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series and Xfinity Series events this weekend. Busch saying, “it just got away from me,” means that he was pushing hard despite handling not being perfect – like he always does in his aggressive matter.

“It just broke loose,” Busch said afterwards. “I kind of felt it getting a little bit freer as we were going there, and you’re still trying to hustle as hard as you can and get all you can through the corners in order to keep your lap time going…and it just busted loose on me, and I had to catch it and make sure we didn’t crash.

“First and foremost, we did that, and then I got back inline and got rolling and started gaining back on those guys in front of us, but the looseness was still there, and then I had to chase it on exit of (turn) two one time behind the 10 (Aric Almirola) and just knocked the fence down.”

There have been rumors about this being Waltrip’s last season in the booth, and that’d certainly be a welcome sight. Perhaps adding Larry MacReynolds back in the booth, or maybe Jamie McMurray, would work; anything would actually be an improvement right now. 

NASCAR has talked about wanting to create the best racing for their fans and drivers, hence trying this new package this season. While they’re continuing to analyze aspects to improve, hopefully some discussions are had. 

P.S.: It’d also be nice if they showed the running order during their “Crank it Up” segment.

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.

Categories
News

Jimmie Johnson sweeps to Busch Pole, leads Hendrick 1-2-3 in Texas qualifying

FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson is back in the saddle again.

After leading first practice at Texas Motor Speedway and the first two rounds of qualifying, the seven-time champion bumped his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott from the top spot with seconds remaining in the final round with a lap at 188.890 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The Busch Pole Award is the first for Johnson in 96 races, 36th of his career and his second at the 1.5-mile track.

“It’s been a long couple of years and we still have a ways to go and certainly race day is much more important than Friday,” said Johnson after earning his 36th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup pole. “We’re working so hard and I think we’re a bit guilty of trying too hard and maybe stepping outside of our comfort zone at times and putting set-ups on the car that just quite aren’t proven yet.

“With all that said, we were very aggressive coming here, changed a lot of stuff around on our mile-and-a-half program. Top of the charts all day long. It’s a great start. I’m really proud of everybody keeping the faith and working hard.”

William Byron, who crossed the line after Johnson, topped Elliott for second in time trials.

“That is just a credit to the guys really, just giving us a fast car,” Byron said. “Teamwork man. Just keeping the communication down to get that hole that we did. Just teamwork. So it’s all good. It’s awesome.”

Daniel Suarez’s strategy of making a single-car run and not relying on the draft paid off for the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang. He finished fourth in Round 2 to advance to the Final Round. He’ll roll off fourth on Sunday.

“I was planning to go by myself without helping anyone, so I waited until everyone was shut off so I could go quick and they didn’t have time to re-fire and then go,” Suarez said. “That part played out well. The part that we just missed a little bit is that we were expecting them to make more mistakes or to wait a little bit longer, but they didn’t.

“It was a good effort. That was our gamble. We were out of trouble and the car was good, fast and we didn’t have to work as hard as they did that’s for sure.”

Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Hemric, Joey Logano, Ty Dillon and Bubba Wallace rounded out the top 10.

With four minutes remaining in the first round of qualifying, Alex Bowman bounced off the wall in Turn 2. He had posted the seventh-fastest lap to advance to the next round, but was unable to continue. Bowman was seen and released from the infield care center.

“I think Alex would have been right there if he hadn’t had his problems in Round 1,” Johnson added.

Jimmie Johnson, currently on a 65-race winless streak, has won seven times at Texas Motor Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series; including once from the pole (2012).