Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying seventh Cup Series title did not come easily.
After starting the season finale from the rear of the field due to a pre-race inspection failure, the Hendrick Motorsports driver did not lead until an overtime restart to finish the race.
He led the final three laps and solidified his name as one of the greatest to drive a stock car, alongside Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Johnson’s seven titles are spread out over 11 years and multiple playoff formats.
A displeased Truex declared afterward that Logano “may have won the battle but he ain’t winning the damn war”
When the sun set on the season in Miami, Logano proved Truex wrong. Logano passed him for the lead with 12 laps to go, navigating around Truex’s No. 78 Toyota on the outside in commanding fashion.
Logano cruised to the win and his first Cup title.
4) Kevin Harvick kicks off the elimination era with championship (2014)
The 2014 Cup title came down to a three-lap shootout, with Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman leading the way.
Newman entered the race having not won any of the previous 35 races. But he wouldn’t get to break NASCAR’s brand new elimination format designed to emphasize wins (Matt Crafton would do that in 2019).
Instead, Harvick held off Newman in the shootout to win the race and his first Cup title.
5) Kurt Busch loses tire mid-race, bounces back to win championship (2004)
The playoff era of NASCAR got off to an interesting start thanks to Kurt Busch.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver entered the season finale with an 18-pointy advantage over Jimmie Johnson, who had won four times in the previous five races.
Busch’s championship hopes almost came apart on Lap 250. As Busch attempted to enter pit road, the right-front tire came off his No. 97 Ford and Busch barely avoided hitting the pit wall. Busch made it to pit road and the tire rolled down the track, creating a caution.
Luckily, he was able to stay on the lead lap. While teammate Greg Biffle won the race and Johnson finished second, Busch placed fifth and clinched his first championship with an eight-point advantage over Johnson.
Kyle Busch Motorsports announced its driver-crew chief roster for the 2020 Gander Outdoors Truck Series season on Wednesday. It includes the addition of veteran Danny Stockman.
Stockman will be in charge of the No. 51 Toyota, which will be driven by Kyle Busch, Chandler Smith and more drivers to be announced at a later date.
Stockman was a long-time crew chief at Richard Childress Racing, most recently working with Austin Dillon in the Cup Series this season. He was Dillon’s crew chief when he won his titles in the Truck Series (2011) and Xfinity Series (2013).
Ryan “Rudy” Fugle will be paired with Christian Eckes on the No. 18 Toyota. Fugle worked on the No. 51 this year as it won six races, including all of Busch’s five wins and Greg Biffle‘s victory. Fugle has led KBM teams to five owner titles (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019) and two driver titles (2015 and 2017).
Mike Hillman Jr. will be the crew chief for Raphael Lessard‘s rookie season in the No. 4 Toyota. Hillman has two Truck Series titles, including Toyota’s first in 2006 with Todd Bodine.
Friday 5: Kyle Larson focused on Texas and ‘best chance to get a win’
Kyle Larson hinted in September at what was to come in the Cup playoffs, but it was easy to overlook with the focus on Joe Gibbs Racing’s stable and if anyone could keep all four JGR drivers from advancing to the title race in Miami.
Even though Larson had yet to win at that time, he said in Las Vegas that he felt his cars were better than what he had in 2017 when he entered that postseason second in points and with four wins.
“I think this is as good of a shot, minus I don’t have as many playoffs points as that year,” Larson said a few days before this year’s playoff opener.
Larson was eliminated in the second round in 2017 but is among the eight remaining playoff drivers this year.
While Denny Hamlin won two weeks ago at Kansas, the most recent 1.5-mile track before this weekend, Larson led 60 laps before some sloppiness on pit road by him and his team and contact with a lapped car led to a 14th-place finish.
Even after that finish, Larson remained upbeat.
“Texas will be our best chance to get a win,” he said of the Round of 8 races at Martinsville, Texas and ISM Raceway near Phoenix.
Larson survived Martinsville, notable as one of his worst tracks. He finished ninth but scored the sixth-most points in that race thanks to crew chief Chad Johnston’s call not to pit shortly before the end of stage 2. That move gave Larson the lead and he finished the stage in second, collecting nine points.
After finishing the race, Larson said on the radio to his team: “Survived. It’s what we needed to do.”
A key for Larson will be have a clean race. He overcame a pit road penalty to finish eighth at Las Vegas. He was penalized one lap for pitting outside the box at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and placed 13th. A penalty for an uncontrolled tire at Kansas played a role in him finishing 14th.
While Larson acknowledged after Kansas that he had a points deficit to overcome, he noted “a win could fix all that.”
It could this weekend for him and his Chip Ganassi Racing team.
Gossage explained to NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan his hesitation with the traction compound previously:
“I was like, look, the asphalt will come in in time. You just got to stomach out the first couple of years. That kind of thing. I don’t know. I just didn’t see the need to do it. Others did and wanted to do it, and you’ve got to trust your people and listen to what they say. I’m talking from experience and pure gut instinct. They’re talking to me about all these friction coefficients and these devices they use to measure it. And so there’s a difference there.
“Most of the time they’re right when they use those devices. Sometimes they’re wrong. The key is to know when science is right and when your gut is right.”
Asked if the traction compound seems like a crutch that detracts from more important things, Gossage told Ryan:
“I look at it like there’s so much noise from a few people, the vocal minority, about so many things related to the sport, that it’s hard to know when to stick your fingers in your ear and ignore it. Because you want to listen to fans. It’s another one of those judgment things you’ve got to make. Yeah, I hear all the time from the detractors, and I thought Kansas was a watershed moment in NASCAR, but you hear these detractors, and you want to say, ‘Look, we’re not running a stock car off the showroom floor with an 8-inch bias-ply treaded tire anymore.’
“That’s not what we do. That’s not what this sport is. It’s evolved. It’s changed. The forward path is not a bad thing. It’s a tough line to straddle to stay in the old days where certain things were great because the way they were, and you also have to advance or die. So what do you listen to and who? The good old days for me are different from the good old days for you and somebody else. If I listen to most detractors, the good old days … the first Cup race I saw in person, Darrell Waltrip beat Bobby Allison by a lap. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. Well if you did that today, they’d tear the place down. So you got to grow.”
As for Kansas being a “watershed moment,” Gossage said: “I thought Kansas was the first time where all the things that the playoffs bring about in every sport: Intrigue. Intensity. Mayhem. Nerves. Who’s in, who’s out. On and on. Great things. That was the story. That is what each playoff race needs to be like.”
3. Right tracks at the right time
Kevin Harvick enters this weekend at Texas having finished in the top 10 each of the past 10 races there, tying Greg Biffle for the longest steak of consecutive top 10s at that track.
No other drivers have had more than six consecutive top 10s at Texas. Since the track was repaved and reconfigured in 2017, Harvick has a 3.2 average finish in five races. He won two of those races.
But this is just the beginning for Harvick with some of his best tracks.
After Texas, the series heads to ISM Raceway. Harvick has 12 consecutive top-10 finishes going into that race.
The season finale is in Miami and Harvick has scored 11 consecutive top 10s there.
4. Moving closer to record
Martin Truex Jr.’s win last weekend at Martinsville gave Joe Gibbs Racing its 17th victory of the season.
The record for wins in a season by one organization in the modern era (since 1972) is held by Hendrick Motorsports, which won 18 of 36 races in 2007.
JGR has three races left to tie or surpass Hendrick Motorsports’ accomplishment.
5. F1 announces cost cap for 2021
Formula 1 announced several changes this week for the 2021 season, including a cost cap. That’s something that could be in place in NASCAR by 2021.
The F1 cost cap will limit teams to $175 million for the calendar year and is based on 21 races. The cap will not include wages for drivers, the team’s three highest paid personnel, marketing costs and travel costs. A NASCAR team cap is not expected to include driver salaries.
Auditors will be appointed to provide independent oversight of the F1 teams. Penalties for exceeding the cap could be a financial penalty, loss of constructors and/or driver points, ban for a certain number of races, limitations on testing and/or reduction of the team’s cost cap. In the most serious cases, penalties also could include exclusion from the World Championship.
This has been something team owners have been working on with NASCAR and will be interesting to see in what ways a NASCAR cap might mirror the F1 cap and other ways it might not.
For the first time in F1 history, financial rules will be enshrined in the new regulations
Martin Truex Jr. rebounded from a spin with 85 laps to go to win Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway, completing a sweep of the season’s two races on the short track and giving him wins in the first two playoff races.
Truex now has six wins this year and 22 in the last four seasons.
“I feel like Danny Sullivan or something right now,” Truex told NBCSN, referencing to the driver who spun and then won the 1985 Indianapolis 500. “I’m speechless. Unbelievable job, all my guys. … Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny (Hamlin) all night long, really. We just kept plugging away at it, plugging away at it. That’s what we always do, just keep digging and we never quit.
“Next thing you know I’m catching (Busch) for the lead. I’m like, ‘Cool, here we go.'”
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Newman earned his second top five of the year, his third straight top 10 … Denny Hamlin has finished in the top three in six of the last nine races … Bubba Wallace finished 12th for his third top-15 finish in the last five races … Jimmie Johnson earned his first top 10 with crew chief Cliff Daniels.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Reed Sorenson finished 37th after he got in the wall on Lap 243 and brought out the caution … Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola each received speeding penalties during the race and finished 18th and 16th … Chris Buescher‘s streak of top-18 finishes ended at 16 races after he placed 31st, seven laps down … Alex Bowman and William Byron placed four laps down in 23rd and 24th.
NOTABLE: This was the eighth time in their careers that Truex and Kyle Busch have finished 1-2 (or Busch was 1-2 with Truex) and the third time this year. … Truex is the fourth driver to win the first two playoff races, following Matt Kenseth (2013), Tony Stewart (2011) and Greg Biffle (2008).
WHAT’S NEXT: Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 2:30 p.m. ET Sept. 29 on NBC
First off, sorry to @MartinTruex_Jr and his fans. Didn’t anticipate locking the RF up and getting into him. Glad he was able to come back & still win. It killed our great run we had going inside the top 10. The team brought a great @FastenalRacing mustang. Hate i messed it up pic.twitter.com/lTxovsNp0T