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NASCAR Cup Series

GOOD & BAD: 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season

Another year of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition is in the books, with a familiar sight as Kyle Busch was crowned the series champion. Along the way, though, there were some highlights and low lights to consider from the action on-track all year.

Although I was unable to watch all of the races, let’s take a look back at the good and the bad.

GOOD: While the final event is the pressure cooker of the season, you should just treat it like any other weekend. Just ask Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens. As the rest of the contenders faltered under the pressure, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver 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. 

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

BAD: The championship seemed to just come together on a less than stellar level for Busch, though, as the last event of the season did not have that late race drama to get you up on your seat. The contenders showed speed, but made uncharacteristic mistakes. 

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.

GOOD: No matter the format to decide the champion, the best drivers are always going to rise to the top. Over the past couple seasons, Busch, Truex Jr. and Harvick have been part of the Championship 4.

JOHN HARRELSON | NKP

BAD: Although Chase Elliott started off the playoffs on a high with a bunch of momentum following a great comeback victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, he hopefully has forgotten about the weeks that followed.

He suffered a blown tire at ISM Raceway, backing the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet into the outside wall, and ultimately failed to finish better than 32nd in the Round of 8. He broke an axle at Martinsville Speedway, and then tried to run the high line early in the event at Texas Motor Speedway, getting loose and backing the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet into the wall. Though even before that rough round, he suffered a blown motor at Dover International Speedway, and a crash at Talladega Superspeedway in the Round of 12. 

GOOD: The legitimacy of the champion produced by the playoff system in NASCAR has been, and will be debated for years to come with fans are either side of the fence. However, the post-season is producing what the sanctioning body wanted – drama. Let’s take a look back at Kansas Speedway, shall we? 

Eyes were focused in on the final laps of the Hollywood Casino 400 with everyone wondering who the eight drivers transferring to the Round of 8 would be. Certainly the late race caution helped up the stakes, but there were plenty of things to watch at the end, Elliott‘s late-race charge to challenge for the victory, to Brad Keselowski trying to salvage a decent day and losing ground at the end.

Ultimately, Keselowski saw his championships hope end courtesy of a mere three points. Although you could blame the sub-par performance on Sunday, there was also a crash at Talladega Superspeedway and an 11th-place finish at Dover International Speedway. If only he would have finished three spots further up the board any of those times.

BAD: Jimmie Johnson ultimately watched his chances of making the playoffs end in a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 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.

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.

RUSTY LABOUNTY | NKP

GOOD: There were some good finishes this season, including Hamlin and Harvick at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

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 Elliott.

BAD: Anybody remember the fan attendance for the Food City 500? You can preach all you want that short tracks should be on the schedule, but you also need to show that you’re willing to support them and that’s by putting butts in the seats. Certainly there’s other factors contributing to the attendance – hotel costs, food costs, weather, though no matter how you approach it, it’s not a good look.

GOOD: Ryan Preece proved that he could drive this season, starting right off at the Daytona 500. He drove directly through all three wrecks that happened, crossing the line with an eighth-place finish in his Cup Series debut. Just check this out for evidence.

BAD: The racing may be a struggle to watch sometimes, but it’s made even worse when the officials can’t do their job. There was at least three of the first six races of the season that they had issues putting cars inline for the restart. How hard can it be to put a field of cars two-wide evenly when timing and scoring electronically prints you a perfect order? 

There was also that time at Atlanta Motor Speedway where Truex was assessed a penalty, but then it was taken back as NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said post-race the pit stop was reviewed in the tower and there was no penalty as they could not confirm foot was down early per video. It’s a little concerning when you hear straight from the sanctioning body that they don’t have enough views of a pit stop to confirm something, especially when they made us to believe their new pro trailer system with less officials on pit road and using video instead would work. 

Russell Labounty | NKP

BAD: We also need to get the coverage of these races improved. 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.

On top of that, the actual coverage of the event was lacking. Supposedly, observations from Texas Motor Speedway 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. 

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

BAD: The Cup Series package certainly needs improvement, 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. Hence why there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the new car in 2021. This was showcased through the whole season, with a bunch of lackluster races.

Take the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 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.

JOHN HARRELSON | NKP

You could also look back at the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway where Hamlin gapped the field by over 10 seconds at one point. The racing was so spread out with the unlikelihood of drama near the end that NASCAR put out a caution for John Hunter Nemechek‘s contact with the outside wall that normally would have been no cause for concern. After all, the Front Row Motorsports driver made it back to pit road without laying down any debris.

Other events that you could add to the list include the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway, Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

“The cars don’t have any speed,” Busch said following the Pennzoil 400. “You’re wide open just trying to suck off of any car that you can that’s in front of you to get a draft. I was running 31-flats when I was chasing those leaders down and then once I got there, I stalled out to 31.40s because the wind was just so bad behind those guys that you couldn’t corner anymore, you couldn’t maneuver. I couldn’t run low if they ran low and I couldn’t run high if they ran high so you’re always trying to figure out which way to go.”

While it’s nice to look forward to 2021, that just means that we’re getting ready another boring season – unless they can make some minor tweaks to improve the status quo. Let’s beg and hope that happens. Alas, let’s remember what Jeff Gordon said earlier this year – “Tires don’t wear out, speed don’t slow down, you can’t get away from each other, and track position is key.” 

GOOD: Let’s back it up a little, though, as the package did not fail everywhere. 

The Hollywood Casino 400 was a great race to watch from the fan’s perspective. Between the aged surface and a new tire compound, drivers were using multiple grooves across the surface to try and gain time on their competitors. This allowed for side-by-side racing throughout the entire duration of the event, including a couple battles for the lead. The aged-surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway also allowed us to get a good race there, too. 

There was also New Hampshire, as 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.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Bristol Motor Speedway also reminded us as to why we love short tracks with the Food City 500.

The reconfiguration caused the high line to become the only place for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but that wasn’t quite the case on Sunday. Track officials finally got the right traction compound as throughout the event, competitors were able to run high and low, with different drivers favoring each groove.

The result was constant side-by-side racing from the drop of the green flag, to the checkered flag, for positions throughout the field. It was also beneficial that NASCAR on FOX listened to the fan’s critiques from the past couple of weeks, not spending their time focused on the leader but rather showing each of these battles. 

There was also excitement with the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, but we know restrictor plates are always entertaining when drivers want to race for it. 

If every race could be like what we saw here, then perhaps other gimmicks would not be necessary for fan excitement.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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

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News

“They Said What?” Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Edition

Sometimes when you stick a microphone in front of a driver’s face, you have no clue what they may say and a couple of times you’ll hear something that surprises you or gives you a bit of a perspective.

Throughout the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, I had the opportunity to speak to a bunch of different competitors. During those interviews, there were some quotes that stood out. So it seems only fitting we take a glance back through the year at what was said.

BLINK OF AN EYE

I think there’s two reasons from the beginning that I wrote the book, and the goal is the same here. I wanted people to have more appreciation and more respect and admiration and honor Dale. I wanted people to understand more about Dale and how special the Intimidator was when he wasn’t at the race track. I wanted to honor Dale and then I wanted to inspire people. No matter what happens, you can overcome it.

You’re not a loser until you quit, and what is amazing to me is I had lost 462 straight NASCAR races, and when I woke up on February 18, 2001, I told my friends and family around me that they aren’t beating me today. There’s no way they’re beating me today, and that’s because that’s where Dale had me. He had me believing that I would win that race, and that’s what I went and did. To have that person believe in you, it can make a whole difference in your world, and when I took the checkered flag that afternoon, I thought it was the best day ever. Then an hour later, I learned that it might be the worst day ever in NASCAR. That range of emotion is pretty tough to handle, and that’s what life put on my plate, and that’s what I had to deal with it.

I hope that anyone that watches the movie and they haven’t won, or are trying to win, or they have tragedy in their life that they’re dealing with, I can help them. They can say, ‘Well, he did it, I can do it’.

Michael Waltrip

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

To me, in my opinion, racing is not always going to be – you’re not always going to have Kurt Busch-Ricky Craven finishes like we had at Darlington every race. The one thing that I would do was set those expectations that there’s going to be races that are ultra competitive, and that are going to have fans out of their seats, finishing within inches of each other. Then there’s going to be races where there’s going to be a team with a significant advantage and they’re going to win by five or six seconds. It’s just part of the sport, and I don’t think you’re ever going to eliminate that from the sport.

It’s that way in every sport. There’s football games that are blow-outs, there’s basketball games and hockey games – whatever sport you’re into. So I think the number one thing I would do is set a realistic expectation of what our sport is, and what it needs to be. I feel we need to stay true to who we are and what we do, and understand that’s not always going to get the highest ratings on TV or have the perfect finish. But I feel like that authenticity of being who we are will draw more fans, and more fanbase than trying to have every race be just spectacular.

Then really, if you play forward a little bit, then that becomes the new standard so then what do you do next? It’s a never-ending challenge so I think you just need to be authentic to who you are. I think our racing is great. I think we’ve got a great sport, and let the cars and drivers and teams be the draw and focus on being authentic.

Alan Gustafson

BARRY CANTRELL | NKP

Well, I think it’s really incredible for how far I’ve come from that. Even looking back on the 2017 season, there’s a lot of growth in there and it really took me until about halfway through that season to get back to feeling myself again off the track and that started to help me get better on the track again. There’s just a lot of changes and a lot of good things that has gone on since then.

I love the advocacy work that I’ve been able to do. I’ve gone to Capital Hill and talk to congressmen and congresswoman about policy changes, and more funding for brain tumor awareness and research, so that’s been really rewarding. Being given a clean bill of health has been amazing and I’ve been very fortunate to have that, and being able to continue on my career which is something that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do again.

Like I said before, doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to drive a racecar again. So to be able to have the opportunity to go into the Cup Series and race in the Daytona 500, I don’t think I would’ve believed that in 2016 if you told me that was going to happen in 2019. Just very thankful for that and I know now and I’ve taken my health more seriously. I feel that’s helped me a lot not only on the racing side, but just the general health side. I feel that carries over to brain health and everything. It’s been a journey transitioning and trying to put the pieces together ever since then and the recovery process.

Matt Tifft

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

I think I’m pretty biased when it comes to this, but I think the way I came up was the way. It’s prepared me in so many different aspects. I’ve been working and learning race cars and then winning. Learning to be a winner. I wouldn’t want to come up any other way. It’s gotten me, what I feel, prepared for where I am now and to be ready for restarts, ready for situations that I’ve been in already.

With that being said, this opportunity means everything to me and I can’t sleep I’m so excited to get to Daytona and get this season going.

Ryan Preece

KYLE PETTY CHARITY RIDE

Honestly, I think the most surprising thing to me is the amount of people that continue to go with us every year. We’ve got a group of 10 people that have gone every year, but there’s about 30 or 40 that have gone 15, 20 years or more. I think that surprises me, because a lot of us started in our 20’s and 30’s, and here we are in our 50’s and 60’s still riding. That kind of surprises me a little bit.

But you know what – I honestly think what surprises me, and continues to, is along the way, when we stop, the amount of people that come out to just say hello and say we think this is a cool thing that we do. So I think it’s still the fans that kind of surprise me.

Kyle Petty

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

There’s a bunch. I know they’re trying to revive Nashville. That’s an awesome track with an awesome community around it that feels NASCAR belongs in Nashville. But you can also throw in tracks like Iowa being a great Cup race, or Kern County out in Bakersfield would be a great Cup race. There’s a lot of shorter tracks where I feel we can go and branch out.

There’s also international markets like going back to Canada, or South America; I feel like we can keep building this. I feel the right people in the building in Daytona are pulling us in the right direction.

Corey Lajoie on what track he wishes was on the schedule

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

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News

NASCAR Levies Post-Season Penalty on Four Teams

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season may have ended a couple weeks ago, but the sanctioning body is not done yet. They may have some ruffled some happiness heading into Thanksgiving with a set of penalties handed out to four teams.

Following the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR handed down suspensions, point penalties and monetary fines to Premium Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing and Spire Motorsports for manipulating the results of the season-ending.

“Following a thorough review of race data and driver/team communication from the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as well as interviews with several competitors, NASCAR has determined that the Nos. 15, 27, 52 and 77 teams have violated Sections 12.8.g and 12.8.1 of the NASCAR rule book, which addresses manipulating the outcome of a race,” Miller said in a statement. “As a result, those teams in violation of the rule book have been penalized as listed in the penalty report.”

As a result, Premium Motorsports’ Competition Director Scott Eggleston and Rick Ware Racing’s Competition Director Kenneth Evans have been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR, and handed $25,000 fines. Additionally, team owners Rick Ware, Jay Robinson of Premium Motorsports, and T.J. Pushyr of Spire Motorsports were each fined $50,000, with all four teams involved being deducted 50 points in the final standings.

While the championship is the focus for many fans, these teams were fighting to finish in the top spot among non-chartered teams in the standings to be eligible for a charter in 2020.

Premium Motorsports was able to get the position with the No. 27 driven by Ross Chastain in the season finale, though only after Premium’s No. 15 of Joe Nemechek, Spire’s No. 77 of Reed Sorenson, and Rick Ware’s No. 52 of Josh Bilicki all retired with mechanical problems in a 15-lap span near the end of the event. 

With the deliberate manipulation being revealed and reversed, the No. 96 of Gaunt Brothers Racing will be the highest ranked among open teams for 2019. 

Spire Motorsports co-owners Puchyr and Jeff Dickerson indicated in a statement later Wednesday the organization would not appeal the penalties.

“Following the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, NASCAR assessed a penalty against Spire Motorsports for the actions of an individual who made a judgment call on behalf of our team,” the Spire statement read. “While the ultimate outcome of that decision can be interpreted from different perspectives, we regret any appearance of operating outside the spirit of the rule book. We accept the penalty and will not appeal. We’re proud of all we accomplished with this team in our first season and look forward to getting back to the business of racing at Daytona in February.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

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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.

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
Commentary

Daniel Suarez – “We had to find a big amount of money to keep the ride.”

Through the final months of the 2019 season, several drivers firmed up their plans for what they are doing moving forward into 2020 and beyond. One of those who is still searching for a ride is Daniel Suarez.

Just a couple days before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Suarez found out that he would be replaced by Cole Custer behind the wheel of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in 2020.

“It was a surprise,” he commented this past weekend. “I was as shocked as you guys are probably right now, just a couple of nights ago. It is what it is. One door closes, another door opens.”

It was well documented through the past couple months that Suarez was working with SHR to renew their contract, with the Mexican “95% sure that we were in” at one point in his comments. Though ultimately, the deal fell short due to a matter of dollars. 

“We needed a few months,” he said. “We had to find a big amount of money to keep the ride for next year. My group of people, friends and a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing went to work and we actually did a pretty good job. We pretty much got the goal but unfortunately part of the money wasn’t on the table at this point. It was going to come a few months later and it wasn’t enough. It was a little unfortunate.”

Suarez said through the process, both Tony Stewart and Brett Frood were pushing for him to return, but “unfortunately things didn’t work out with Haas.”

It marks the second straight season that Suarez is now spending his off-season searching for a ride, after losing his place at Joe Gibbs Racing a year ago. 

“I am pretty strong,” he said. “I have had a lot of sacrifices in my life to be here. Not just when I came here to the US, but even before that. To stay in racing and to do a lot of different things. As many of you know, I don’t come from a race family or from a lot of money or have a lot of contacts or anything like that. I am here because of myself.

“This has been tough. It is not fun to be in this position. I feel like I am strong and it has been a little difficult the last 24-hours. I couldn’t believe it because we did find a big amount of money. This is the position we are in now but I think good things happen to good people and I am sure good things are going to line up for me.”

Since finding out about his release, Suarez has spent time with Stewart, with the past series Cup Champion assuring him that he was trying to help Suarez stay in the family. That could possibly result in him being behind the wheel of an Xfinity car for Stewart-Haas Racing, or one of the Cup seats in Front Row Motorsports’ Fords. 

Of note, Suarez has also spoken with Mark Rushbrook from Ford Performance to discuss possibilities on the table. 

“Tony is a great guy,” Suarez commented. “In the last six months I have learned that he is a very good friend. In the last week I have been talking to him a lot. He was talking to a lot of people and he was pushing very hard for me. Unfortunately the 41 team, and especially the 41, he doesn’t have a lot that he can do with that car because the 41 is not his car. He pushed. I am sure that he pushed as hard as he could, like a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing did. It just didn’t work out.”

Though right now, Suarez is unsure if that is a direction that he wants to take with Stewart. 

“There are a lot of things going through my head right now and I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t even know if I want to be here. That is the way it is. I have to get back on my feet and find the best option for myself.”

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
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.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Categories
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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Categories
News

‘This one’s for Rowdy Nation!’ Busch caps season with second title

The Candy Man can. And did.

Kyle Busch secured his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, besting perhaps the most impressive field of championship contenders in the six-year history of the elimination-style playoffs.

Busch outran fellow finalists Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., winning the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 on the strength of a clever pit strategy and a car that came to life under the lights. Hamlin was making his first Championship 4 appearance since 2014, while Harvick and Truex were making return trips to the finale.

“We have a great race team and a great owner,” an emotional Busch said after climbing from his car. “Everybody always says you never give up and we’re no different,. Sometimes we may not be the best, sometimes we may not have the right track position. Today we had a really good car and I could race around and move around.

“There’s always your doubters, there’s always your haters,” Busch said smiling. “You know what? This one’s for the Rowdy Nation. You guys are the best. Thank you so much.”

Busch had claimed the series’ regular-season championship in September, building a stockpile of playoff points that guided him to his fifth straight appearance in the Championship 4 field. The 34-year-old driver also won the title in NASCAR’s premier series in 2015, the second year of the elimination format.

Sunday’s march to the title capped a brilliant — and sometimes, difficult — year for the driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota. A four-win regular season marked his fifth straight year with multiple victories in NASCAR’s top series, but Busch entered the Miami race winless since early June. That skid, plus a dominant Round of 8 from all three of his title competitors, put “Rowdy” and the No. 18 team flying under the radar for championship weekend.

“We had a cold spell there,” crew chief Adam Stevens. “It’s been well-documented, believe it or not. Quite a few questions about it. Felt a little bit like 2015 to me. Take the broken legs out of the equation. We were hot early in 2015 when Kyle came back. We didn’t win since Indy that year, then came to Homestead and got the job done.”

Busch also scored four Xfinity Series wins and five victories in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, totals that helped him surpass 200 career wins in NASCAR national series competition in March.

The year was not without tragedy, though. Joe Gibbs’ son J.D., co-founder of Joe Gibbs Racing, died in January after complications after a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease.

“It’s been a difficult time,” Busch said. “To be able to reward them with a championship, I don’t know how much it means to them, but it’s the best I can do. I know JD was looking down on us all season long.”

Busch becomes the 16th driver with more than one premier series championship. Seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson is the only other active driver with multiple titles on his resume. Busch also is the first repeat champion in the elimination-style postseason.

Both championships came with Stevens calling the shots on the pit box. The 41-year-old crew chief raced dirt late models before starting his NASCAR career as a fabricator with Richard Petty Motorsports.

Busch’s first title was a story of resilience as he recovered from severe leg and foot injuries after a crash in the season-opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway. He missed 11 races but met the criteria for a playoff waiver in a big way, winning five races on his path to a title-clinching performance at Homestead.

Busch also is a former champion of what is now called the NASCAR Xfinity Series, riding a nine-win season to that tour’s title in 2009.

Categories
Information

Weather causes schedule changes; Cup qualifying canceled, Saturday practice added

Persistent rain showers and brief bouts of lightning in the area jumbled Friday’s on-track schedule at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Saturday was impacted, too.

Both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practices, NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series qualifying and NASCAR Xfinity Series final practice were canceled due to weather on the opening day of championship weekend. NASCAR later announced that Saturday’s Monster Energy Series qualifying was canceled in favor of adding one of the missed practices back to the schedule.

The starting lineup for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 will be set by the rule book, meaning owner points — Denny Hamlin will start from the pole position, with Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch lined up behind him in spots 2-4. All drivers are part of the Championship 4 field. All points for the four title hopefuls were reset to 5,000 for this race, with the tiebreaker being best finish of the Round of 8 — and then second-best finish as necessary.

That practice is scheduled from 2:05-2:55 p.m. ET, sandwiched between NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying and the Ford EcoBoost 300 title race in that series.

Earlier Friday, the first Monster Energy Series practice session of championship weekend was slated to begin at 3:35 p.m. ET, but wet weather forced other plans. Moments before the planned start time, NASCAR officials warned there had been a lightning strike in the area. That sparked the first cancellation. Rain later stopped, and the track began its drying process — only for it to start back up again. The second and final Monster Energy Series practice was slated for 6:30 p.m. ET and was ultimately called around 7:15 p.m. ET.

Increased rain made practices, Gander Trucks qualifying (slated for 4:35 p.m. ET) and Xfinity Series final practice (slated for 5:35 p.m. ET) all washouts. Rain had started earlier in the afternoon, starting less than 15 minutes after opening NASCAR Xfinity Series practice began at 2:35 p.m. ET.

Categories
XFINITY

Dale Jr. Confident in Allgaier for Xfinity Series Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.