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Ford Performance Claims Hailie Deegan in 2020 DGR-Crosley Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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

 

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News

2020 Silly Season Updates and Expectations

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

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

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Matt DiBenedetto

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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

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

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

Gavin Baker | NKP

Chris Buescher

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

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

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

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

Tyler Reddick

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

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

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

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

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

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Cole Custer

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

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

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

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

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

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Christopher Bell

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

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

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

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

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

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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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

OBSERVATIONS: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

While the rest of the contenders faltered under the pressure, Kyle Busch did what he does best en route to his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.

On any given week through the season, the No. 18 M&M’s Camry and that was on display with the top speed in Saturday’s practice. Despite not winning in the 21 races prior to the Ford EcoBoost 400, he also consistently ran up front, as highlighted by 27 top-10 finishes in the 36 events in 2019. However, many had placed him beneath his rivals due to only five top-10’s in the first nine playoff races. 

They all failed to recognize that Busch continuing to put himself in the right position, plus the poise of being in the position previously certainly helped. While you could see his title contenders were using a “win or bust” mentality, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens ran the event just like any other weekend. When he was unable to keep up with Martin Truex Jr. or Kevin Harvick, it was just about giving feedback to continuing making adjustments to find more speed. Combined with a ultra fast pit crew that just did their job as normal and you had a recipe for success. 

In the end, he avoided the drama that found others and came out on top.

Cracking Under the Pressure

Each of Busch’s rivals, meanwhile, did not follow the same mentality and it showed clearly.  

Truex dominated the opening stage, though fell back in the second stage due to the pit crew putting on the tires on the wrong side of the car under a green flag stop. While he was able to make-up the ground in quick fashion to be in position to contend during the third stage, he was never able to make up the lost track position to Busch.

Denny Hamlin appeared to be in a closer position to challenge Busch than Truex was in the final stage despite an okay start. However, Chris Gabehart would elect to put on a big piece of tape, hoping to pick up downforce and speed so they could run down their Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. It would back fire, with the No. 11 Camry overheating, resulting in an unscheduled pit stop, and a finish of 10th.

Harvick’s team simply missed the handling on the No. 4 Ford, and could never contend with the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas over the long haul. Rodney Childers tried a gamble by leaving his driver out on track longer than others in hopes of a caution, but fell short en route to placing sixth.

Somethings are not what they seem……

When a driver wins a championship, you would expect them to get out and let out a big cheer. Just ask the twitter critics.

Some people celebrate in different ways and though Busch did not appear “super excited,” the championship did hit home with him.

“I kind of probably don’t remember much of it already,” he admitted post-race. “But I do remember taking the white flag and crossing underneath that and just‑‑ I had some tears rolling down my eyes for the last lap and was just like, come on, man, we’ve still got to finish this thing, don’t be such a sis. How was my last lap time? I don’t even know. Hopefully it was decent. We had a good lead to the guys behind us. But, overall, just emotions were starting to set in. I probably didn’t know where the hell my mind was at but knew we had won and we had won big and was just kind of being a bit more subdued about it.”

Of the notables, the Busch’s signature bow was missing from the celebration, to which Busch said he simply kind of forgot to do it in the moment. 

“You even forget you win the race,” he added. “As I was doing the victory celebration, doing the lap around with Brexton‑‑ that was really awesome, by the way‑‑ I was coming into Victory Lane, and they were there with the checkered flag, and I was like, oh, yeah. Like you forget you win the race. It’s just that crazy. So yeah, I forgot to do a bow. It’s all good. I think Rowdy Nation will forgive me.”

The celebration was fun to watch for the fans, though, in seeing Busch experience it with his son Brexton and the memories made there. The clip of them riding around the track will probably be replayed a bunch through the next couple weeks.

Lackluster Race

If you put aside the championship drama, the actual race was just – meh. There was no real battles or challenges for positions as everybody seemed to move up or down simply based on the strategy that they were running. You would get exciting battles on the restart, but they’d string out after five laps and then it was just a follow the leader train.

It certainly was lackluster in comparison to the previous two nights with the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series. So perhaps that is why the venue will move next season – but we all know the racing that we witnessed at ISM Raceway last week.

Needless to say, something needs to be done about the Cup package as the consensus from the majority of the races is that the rules package is doing nothing to produce “exciting racing” with the main show falling behind the two junior series. 

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

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.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

With every point and position mattering that much more, some drivers will be regretting their decisions on Sunday.

Ultimately, it proved to be tough to pass throughout the AAA Texas 500. Some drivers were able to make passes, but being able to balance running the bottom and the edge of the groove that the PJ1 had been applied certainly did not make it easy. That was showcased through the final run to the checkered which saw the field spread out with no big battles for position.

As a result, strategy to gain track position became critical throughout the event – which worked to the advantage of some in being able to get a strong finish.

Costly Mistakes

While several of the playoff contenders were able to have strong finishes, including Kevin Harvick who punched his ticket to the Championship 4, there are others who have made the hole bigger for them moving forward.

Chase Elliott entered Sunday’s race in a hole following a broken axle at Martinsville Speedway. Now he has put himself in a “win or bust, no matter what” situation being over 60 points behind the cut-off following an incident on Lap 9. The Hendrick Motorsports driver tried to run the high line, getting loose and backing the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet into the wall.

Although he started off the playoffs with tons of momentum from a dominating performance at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, it has been rough since then with a blown motor at Dover International Speedway, a crash at Talladega Superspeedway, and the issues the past two weeks. By contending for the win at Kansas Speedway, he was able to squeak his way into the Round of 8 by a mere three points. Now it will take an even more commending performance if he wants to be part of the title battle.

Denny Hamlin also made a similar mistake to Elliott, getting sideways in turn four and spinning through the infield grass on Lap 80. As a result, he scored a 28th-place finish, giving up any cushion that he had over the cut-off line to now sit 20 behind Joey Logano for the last position.

Hamlin could point his way into the next round by simply beating Logano, but needs to be wary in doing so in case someone like Elliott or Kyle Larson pick up the checkered flag to move up the cut-off line. Therefore, competing for the win would be his best bet and that seems likely as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has ran well at ISM Raceway previously. He has scored a pair of top-five’s in past three trips to the desert.

Cream Rising to the Top

No matter the format to decide the champion, the best drivers are always going to rise to the top. Over the past couple seasons, Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick have been part of the Championship 4 and will be once again this year. Considering both competitors have been on their game all through the playoffs, it will more than likely take winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to secure the title. 

Over the past couple years, Kyle Busch has joined them, along with a fourth face that seems to change each season. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver appears to have a good chance at doing so once again being 22 points above the cut-off, however these playoffs have proven to expect the unexpected. If he is off on his game at all next weekend, the No. 18 could be left on the outside looking in.

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

Kevin Harvick punches Championship 4 ticket with Texas-sized victory

FORT WORTH, Tex. – For Kevin Harvick, Texas is the new Phoenix.

Overcoming a pit road penalty for a tire placed in his pit box too early, Harvick took control of the AAA Texas 500 as the sun set on Texas Motor Speedway and won his third straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at the 1.5-mile track in Cowtown.

Locked into the Championship 4 race two weeks hence at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick can now breathe easy heading into the final Round of 8 race at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, a track where Harvick has nine wins and a current streak of 12 top-10 finishes—but where Harvick struggled uncharacteristically in the spring while running ninth under the new 2019 rules package.

After leading a race-high 119 laps and finishing 1.594 seconds ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola, Harvick, the pole winner, won’t have to worry about the one-mile flat track in Arizona’s Sonoran desert.

“Texas has always been so great to us, and what a race track the last few years,” said Harvick, who won for the fourth time this season and the 49th time in his career, tying him with SHR co-owner Tony Stewart for 14th all-time. “It’s just been a lot of work put into this race. We knew this was a good race track for us. Felt like it fit the styles of our cars, and, man, did it.”

Harvick led an impressive contingent of SHR drivers, all of whom took turns at the front of the field before Harvick took control. Runner-up Almirola led 62 laps, Clint Bowyer led 36 and Daniel Suarez 25.

“That was a very solid night, and I’m very happy with the performance and speed that we brought from the shop,” said Suarez, who matched the third-place finish he posted at Texas in the spring. “Everyone back at the shop did a great job. We knew we would be fast here.

“We had a solid performance here last time. We did a good job. We had good execution and a good clean day. I’m very happy for Stewart-Haas Racing and the 41 Ford Mustang was pretty sporty. I am very happy for Kevin getting his ticket for Homestead.”

Harvick’s path wasn’t easy. On a Lap 186 pit stop under caution, a tire dropped from the top of the pit wall into Harvick’s stall before the No. 4 Ford arrived, forcing Harvick to restart from the rear. But Harvick charged forward and on Lap 255, he passed Almirola for the lead.

Suarez completed the 1-2-3 podium sweep for SHR, followed by Joey Logano, who held the fourth position in the standings and extended his margin above the current Championship cut line to 20 points. Alex Bowman ran fifth, and Martin Truex Jr., already locked into the season finale by virtue of last week’s Martinsville win, finished sixth.

Playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney were seventh and eighth, with Busch standing 22 points above the cut line and Blaney 23 points below, tied with 12th-place finisher Kyle Larson.

Chase Elliott’s dire Playoff situation crystallized on Lap 9 when he tried to run the high lane and slid into the outside wall in Turn 2. Elliott barely beat the repair clock on pit road and returned to the race, albeit it seven laps down.

The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet leaves the Lone Star State with a 32nd-place finish and one path to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway—he must win next Sunday’s race at Phoenix to advance.

Like Elliott, Denny Hamlin failed to score points in either of the first two stages. On Lap 80, five short of the completion of Stage 1, Hamlin got sideways in Turn 44 and spun through the infield grass. He lost two laps under repairs and two more on the track and came home 28th.

As a consequence, the five-time Cup winner this season fell 20 points below the cut line for the Championship 4.

Jimmie Johnson’s prospects of ending a 92-race drought looked promising early on but came to a disappointing finish early in the final stage. Johnson passed Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman for the lead on Lap 99 and held the top spot for 40 laps—the most laps the seven-time champion has led in a single race since his 60 at Texas in the spring.

But Johnson spun in Turns 1 and 2 while battling for third on Lap 185 and slapped the Turn 2 wall. Johnson couldn’t make minimum speed after repairs and retired to the garage after completing 199 laps.

Note: John Hunter Nemechek finished 21st, one lap down in his Cup debut—substituting for Front Row Motorsports driver Matt Tifft, who suffered a seizure last Saturday at Martinsville.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick speeds to pole for Texas Playoff race

FORT WORTH, Tex. – Kevin Harvick took the first step toward getting back on the right side of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff cut line, winning the pole for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Harvick, who trails fourth-place Joey Logano by 14 points entering the second race of the Round of 8, toured the 1.5-mile track in 28.465 seconds (189.707 mph) to win his second Busch Pole Award at Texas, his series-best sixth of the season and the 31st of his career.

Erik Jones, already eliminated from the Playoffs, was second fastest at 188.890 mph, .123 seconds behind Harvick. Denny Hamlin, second in the Playoff standings, qualified third at 188.12 mph, followed by Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Aric Almirola.

“The best part is our car drove really well in race trim yesterday and still had a lot of speed when we put it in qualifying trim today,” said Harvick, winner of the last two Playoff races at Texas. “So, hopefully, we can keep our track position.

“As you saw the last race (at Texas), you want to be up front and you want to be on the right cycle of rotation of pit strategy. Having that first pit stall is definitely an advantage here. It will be a track position game, and hopefully we can play it right and keep ourselves up front.”

Logano will start 11th in his attempt to protect his position in the standings. Other Playoff drivers earned the following positions on the grid: Kyle Busch 12th, Kyle Larson 13th, Chase Elliott 14th, Ryan Blaney 15th and Martin Truex Jr. 17th.

Truex has already qualified for the Nov. 17 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway by virtue of last Sunday’s victory at Martinsville.

After a broken axle and a 36th-place finish at Martinsville, Elliott trails Logano by 44 points and likely must win one of the next two races to advance to the Championship 4.

In a substitute role for Front Row Motorsports driver Matt Tifft, who suffered a seizure last Saturday at Martinsville,. John Hunter Nemechek qualified 29th.

“That was the first qualifying run I have ever done in a Cup car,” Nemechek said. “It was pretty interesting. We went faster today than we did yesterday. That is a positive. We’re getting faster every time on the race track. It’s a whole new deal for myself, being over here in the Cup garage. Different scenarios, a whole new team. Different communications. A lot of variables that play into this weekend.

“I’m really thankful for the opportunity from (owner) Bob (Jenkins) and everyone at Front Row Motorsports. I hate that the circumstances are like this. I really wish Matt Tifft a speedy recovery and hope he is back at the race track very soon.”

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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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NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick dominates Indianapolis as Jimmie Johnson misses Playoffs

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It was a dominating victory for Kevin Harvick and a statement of superiority for his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads toward its 10-race Playoff.

It was an ignominious end to Jimmie Johnson’s unique and unprecedented streak of qualifying for every Cup Series postseason.

And it was heartbreak for Daniel Suarez, as he chased Ryan Newman over the final nine laps of the Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the final Playoff berth in the balance.

Newman came home eighth, as he and fifth-place finisher Clint Bowyer locked up the final two Playoff spots. Suarez ran 11th after getting trapped in traffic on the final restart on Lap 152 of 160 and finished four points behind Newman in the final regular-season standings.

But the story of the race was Harvick, who was in a class by himself. The 2014 series champion won the second stage and during the final nine laps of the race sped to a 6.118-second advantage over runner-up Joey Logano.

Harvick started from the pole, led five times for 119 laps and controlled the event, except for one 19-lap stretch when eventual seventh-place finisher Ryan Blaney grabbed the top spot after a restart on Lap 112.

“I can’t tell you how much coming to Indianapolis means to me,” Harvick said. “As a kid, I watched Rick Mears win the Indy 500 and got to be around him as a kid. He was my hero.

“My team built a great race car. I can’t say enough about everyone on (this team). They built a heck of a race car. It’s the same stuff that we took to Michigan and had a real good weekend there, obviously, and went to Victory Lane.

“I know how much this means to (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and all the guys who work on this car. We’ve been so close at winning here before.”

True, this was Harvick’s first Brickyard victory with his current SHR contingent, but it was his second overall, the first coming with Richard Childress Racing 16 years ago. Harvick won for the third time this season and the 48th time in his career, tying Herb Thomas for 15th on the all-time list and moving to one win behind his car owner, Tony Stewart.

“I don’t know if we had the best car, but we had the fastest car,” Harvick said. “We gave up the lead there (to Blaney) on one of those restarts, and then we came and pitted, and the caution came out (for Kyle Larson’s crash on Lap 129), and it worked our way.

“We’ve given so many away just because of circumstances here, and the way that the caution flag fell today actually worked in our favor. It gave us control of the race, and we were able to keep control of the race and not make any mistakes, and here we are in Victory Lane at one of the greatest places on earth to race.”

A four-time winner at the Brickyard, Johnson hoped to find magic at the 2.5-mile track. Instead, he found misery. Moments after a restart on Lap 105, his No. 48 Chevrolet broke loose underneath the Camaro of Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, slid sideways and collided with the No. 1 Chevrolet of Kurt Busch.

An eight-car wreck ensued, and Johnson’s car was too heavily damaged to continue. The seven-time champion finished 35th his streak of 15 straight NASCAR postseasons came to an end

“Yeah, it’s really disappointing,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we had a bad 25 races that led to the position we’re in here today (18 points out of the Playoffs) and we needed a stellar day. I think we were having a strong day. I’m really proud of my team with what’s been going on.

“The No. 1 car (Kurt Busch) had a little trouble on the restart. I’m on the inside going into the corner and it was just super tight. It’s unfortunate that happened. Certainly, it’s not what we needed on that restart. I couldn’t go below the white line and kind of got snipped there and turned around—and around and round we go.”

Similarly, bad luck caught up with Suarez, who pitted because of a vibration on Lap 126 and got caught a lap down when Larson’s wreck caused the seventh caution three circuits later. Suarez got the lap back under the yellow, but he had to restart from the rear and never recovered.

Bubba Wallace ran third in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet, posting the second top-three result of his career, the first having come in a runner-up run in the 2018 Daytona 500. Byron was fourth, followed by Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Blaney, Newman, Chase Elliott and Paul Menard.

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News

Kevin Harvick closes out Michigan weekend with a win

Recovering from a punctured right front tire that cost him track position early in the race, Kevin Harvick passed Joey Logano on Lap 183 of 200 and cruised to a 1.595-second victory in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

During a closing 48-lap green-flag run that began with a restart on Lap 153, Harvick charged from seventh to first, recording his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season, his third at the 2.0-mile track and the 47th of his career.

“It was a day of a little bit of adversity that we were able to overcome,” Harvick said. “We had a really fast car all weekend. Our car handled really well today, and with the multiple lanes (thanks in part to the application of traction compound in the high grooves), we were able to run all three lanes pretty well and make our way through traffic.

“They (the team) put a really fast race car on the track, and we were able to capitalize on it, so that’s always fun.”

When Harvick crossed the finish line, leading his 22nd lap of the afternoon, Denny Hamlin was running second after Logano pitted for a splash of fuel on Lap 197. Kyle Larson ran third, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez, who re-entered the Playoff picture when two drivers on the bubble ahead of him — Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer — had disastrous days in the Irish Hills.

Thirty-one laps into the race, Harvick steered his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford onto pit road with a flat right-front tire. But with the first 60-lap stage running green from start to finish, Harvick was able to drive up to sixth by the end of the stage.

Martin Truex Jr. won Stage 1 after starting from the rear because of two pre-race inspection failures, but his No. 19 Toyota wasn’t as strong in traffic late in the race than it had been early on. Kyle Busch won Stage 2, but his car, like Truex’s, wasn’t as effective in traffic after pit stops at the end of the stage scrambled the running order.

Likewise, Hamlin’s car was best in the heat of the day on a hot, slick track, but the speed in Harvick’s car prevailed as the asphalt cooled down.

“Well, it seemed like we generally had the best-handling car when it was really hot and slick, but as the day went on and the track cooled off, the guys that had built more speed into their car, it kind of handicapped it for them. So, we were able to hang on to those Fords there at the end, and then just got — the 4 (Harvick) was trying to save fuel I’m guessing there, the 2 (pole winner Brad Keselowski) and the 22 (Logano) peeled off.

“Nothing I could really do just didn’t have enough speed. The 4 was about a half-second faster than us in qualifying, and when we were holding it wide open there at the end, just couldn’t overcome it.”

Kyle Busch ran sixth, and Ryan Preece came home seventh, posting his first career top 10 in his 28th series start. The Hendrick Motorsports trio of William Byron, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.

Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson wasn’t as fortunate. On Lap 15, his No. 48 Chevrolet slapped the outside wall, severely damaging the right side of the car. Johnson finished 34th, eight laps down.

Bowyer’s misfortune came on Lap 137, after contact with the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford of Paul Menard. Bowyer’s car slammed into the Turn 3 wall, and efforts to repair the car proved futile. Bowyer retired from the race in 37th place.

Johnson dropped two places to 18th in the series standings, 12 points behind Bowyer and 12th-place finisher Ryan Newman, tied for the last Playoff-eligible position. Suarez moved past Johnson to 17th in the standings and trails Newman and Bowyer by four points with three races left before the cutoff at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.