Paul Menard

Silly Season Scorecard: Post-Miami edition

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NASCAR’s championship weekend in Miami has come and gone and with it came a flurry of driver announcements from teams about the 2020 racing season.

Among them was the news that Cole Custer is being promoted by Stewart-Haas Racing to the Cup Series, where he will take over the No. 41 Ford driven by Daniel Suarez this year.

Here’s a look at all the official driver announcements made so far for next season.

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

No. 36: Front Row Motorsports announced Nov. 13 it was parting ways with Matt Tifft so he could focus on his health following his seizure at Martinsville in March. Tifft said he could not commit to racing in 2020.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

JTG Daugherty Racing: It was announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. The team said that an announcement on car number and sponsor would come later.

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

Corey LaJoie – The driver hasn’t announced his plans for 2020, but he said in October he and Go Fas Racing were “working toward” him returning to the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year and that “2020 driver negotiations are still ongoing.”

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Has not announced its driver plans for 2020, but Richard Childress said after Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity title that it would field a full-time entry.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

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Veteran NASCAR spotters not returning to 2019 roles

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Joey Meier, veteran spotter for NASCAR Cup driver Paul Menard and others, announced Sunday night on Twitter that he will be leaving the sport after nearly a quarter-century of service.

“All good things must come to an end” Meier (pictured above) wrote. “My ‘good thing’ for the past 23 years has come to an end … my choice this time.”

Meier said he will devote all of his energies going forward to flying airplanes.

“NASCAR was in my life WAY before Aviation, but flying is my profession,” Meier wrote. “NASCAR was just a huge bonus. I’ll leave knowing I always tried my best (Thx to Big E and Pops) … being a small part of Wins and Championships, in all 3 series. … BUT it was more about being a part of a TEAM, thru thick/then, winning/defeat/flying/spotting, I cherished being part of THE TEAM. I will miss that. But that’s OK.

“I’m excited about my new team & a new cockpit. Thank you for following along. Keep it up. I’ll stay busy keeping the “BLUE SIDE UP” from here on out, I promise.”

Meier took over as spotter for Menard this season after spotting for Brad Keselowski from 2006 through the end of the 2018 season. He won NASCAR championships with Ron Hornaday, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Keselowski, as well as also winning the Daytona 500 with Michael Waltrip. Among the notable team owners he worked for over the years were NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt and Roger Penske.

Also, Andy Houston, who had spotted for Austin Dillon for the last nine seasons, announced Sunday on Twitter that he also would no longer be serving in that role.

 

David Ragan, Paul Menard end full-time Cup careers in quiet fashion

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While most of the NASCAR world’s attention Sunday evening was focused on which of the Cup Series’ Championship 4 drivers would leave Miami with the title, the full-time Cup careers of two drivers quietly came to an end.

David Ragan and Paul Menard drove into sunset, ending full-time careers that each began in 2007.

After being recognized by NASCAR President Steve Phelps in the drivers meeting, Ragan’s 470th Cup start ended with a 27th-place finish, while Menard’s 471st start ended with a 17th-place run.

While Menard finished one lap down, Ragan’s night ended with him four laps off the lead pace.

“Our last race was really uneventful,” Ragan said afterward. “We tried some strategy a few times and it kind of bit us. We probably lost a lap or two that we shouldn’t have, but we were being aggressive because we didn’t really have anything to lose. I can’t say enough about everybody at Front Row Motorsports and the NASCAR industry for making this last weekend special. It was a tough season. I wish we had some better results to show for it, but the last season won’t dictate my 13-year career. We’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of good memories and don’t regret anything that we’ve done. I’ll sleep good tonight and think a little bit over the offseason on what I want to do next year and I’m sure I’ll be around.”

To top off the occasion, soon after he exited his No. 38 Ford for the last time, Ragan swapped out his racing helmet for another form of head gear that properly conveyed his new job description, or lack thereof: a dark blue hat with the word “retired” emblazoned on it.

As for Menard, no quotes were available from the typically quiet driver after the race.

But not long before the start of Sunday’s race, the Wood Brothers Racing Twitter account produced a lengthy tweet storm thanking Menard and his family for their contributions to NASCAR and auto racing in general over the years.

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Kyle Busch wins second Cup championship with victory at Miami

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Kyle Busch captured his second Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, triumphing as his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates stumbled in the season finale.

The No. 18 Toyota driver ended a 21-race winless drought dating to June, scoring his fifth victory of the season.

Busch took the lead on a Lap 170 restart from teammate Denny Hamlin and commanded the final 97 laps as the race stayed green.

“We have a great race team and a great owner and the best sponsor in sports,” Busch told NBC. “Thank you to everyone for this opportunity. I may be the one who hoists the trophy or to have a championship, but it wouldn’t be possible without (crew chief) Adam Stevens, (owner) coach Joe Gibbs, J.D. Gibbs,  Coy Gibbs, the whole family. … This (Toyota Racing Development) engine was awesome tonight. It’s been awesome all year, we had one issue. It’s so much fun to work with these guys and this group. Everybody that puts it all together for me. There’s alway your doubters, there’s always your haters. But you know what? This one’s for Rowdy Nation, ’cause you guys are the best.”

Click here for final results

Click here for final 2019 season standings

As for the other Championship 4 drivers, Martin Truex Jr. finished second, while Kevin Harvick was fourth, and Hamlin wound up 10th. Joe Gibbs Racing actually placed all four of its drivers in the top 10, as teammate Erik Jones finished third to make it a 1-2-3 JGR finish.

Hamlin encountered major trouble after his team applied too much tape to the front grille of the No. 11 Toyota on a Lap 209 pit stop under green. He was forced to pit again, dooming his title bid.

Truex controlled Stage 1, moving into first after Harvick led the first 20 laps.

Truex led 59 of the next 60 laps, often building a lead of more than seven seconds. By the end of the stage, 27 of the 40 cars had fallen a lap down because of the No. 19 Toyota’s blistering speed.

Truex led 39 of the next 40 laps to start Stage 2 before disaster struck. During a Lap 120 pit stop under green, his crew mixed up the left- and right-side front tires. That necessitated another stop under green for Truex, who re-emerged a lap down in 13th.

He got back on the lead lap when the caution flew for a spin by John Hunter Nemechek on Lap 137.

After restarting in 13th, Truex zoomed back into the top five within 10 laps. When the second stage ended, Truex was in fourth behind Busch, Harvick and Kyle Larson and just ahead of Hamlin.

Truex and Hamlin each picked up a spot during pit stops under the stage-ending yellow, and the Championship 4 restarted as the top four with 101 laps remaining.

Stage 1 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who else had a good race: The win by Kyle Busch was the 19th of the season for JGR, setting a new modern day (since 1972) record for most Cup wins by an organization in a single season, breaking Hendrick Motorsports’ old mark of 18 set in 2007. … Last year’s champion, Joey Logano, who fell short of reaching Homestead last week in the race at Phoenix, finished fifth.

Who had a bad race: Kyle Larson was running in the top five but suffered engine issues on Lap 209 that forced him out of the race and relegated him to a last-place finish in the 40-car field.

Notable: Here’s how drivers who made their final appearances with their current teams – or their final full-time race in the Cup Series – fared: Daniel Hemric (12th), Daniel Suarez (14th), Chris Buescher (16th), Paul Menard (17th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (19th), Matt DiBenedetto (20th) and David Ragan (27th). … Hemric wrapped up the season by winning NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year honors.

What’s next: The 2020 NASCAR Cup season opens at Daytona International Speedway on February 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Viewers guide to 2019 Miami Championship Weekend

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Sunday’s Cup Series championship race will be a significant moment in the career of one driver.

Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick will each battle for the Cup title at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC and NASCAR Hot Pass on NBCSN).

For Truex, Busch and Harvick, they have a chance to join Jimmie Johnson as the only active drivers with multiple titles. One of them would become the 16th Cup driver to win multiple championships.

For Hamlin, he could finally lose his title of the winningest active driver without a championship on his record.

This will be the last scheduled championship weekend in Miami after it has hosted the event since 2002. Next year it will move to ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

Editor’s note: Still need tickets for the races? Click here

Here’s a guide to the final weekend of the NASCAR season:

FUN WITH NUMBERS

The Championship 4 is three against one on multiple levels.

As mentioned, it will feature three past champions going against Hamlin, who will try to win his first title in his 14th year of full-time Cup competition. In his only other Championship 4 appearance in 2014, Hamlin finished third.

Three Toyotas from Joe Gibbs Racing will be pitted against one Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 driven by Harvick.

“(We need to) beat three Gibbs cars.  Go faster than them,” Harvick said. “We’re going to do everything just like we’ve done all year.”

Three drivers in their 30s – Busch (34 years old), Truex (39) and Hamlin (38) – are going against Harvick, whose 43.

CHAMPIONSHIP BIRTHDAY?

Speaking of ages….

Like everyone else, Hamlin’s birthday falls on the same date every year – Nov. 18.

This year it falls on the day after Hamlin could claim his first title.

“Homestead is always my birthday weekend,” Hamlin said. “I want to have two reasons to celebrate, not just one.”

Hamlin recalled the last time he came this close to a title.

“In 2010 I shut everyone out,” Hamlin said. “Like I didn’t do any of the birthday stuff.  I didn’t hang out with anyone.  I really didn’t respond to calls or texts or anything like that.  But I’m not going to be that way I don’t think this time around because I just am not going to change who I am.”

Should he win the championship by winning Sunday’s race, he’d earn his 38th Cup Series victory on his last day of being 38 years old.

Also, a win Sunday would be Hamlin’s seventh of the season. That would make him the winningest Daytona 500 winner in a season since Jeff Gordon had seven victories in 1999.

RACE WINNER = CHAMPION

This weekend marks the sixth edition of the Cup championship race under the elimination playoff format.

While the championship is simply awarded to the highest-finishing driver out of the Championship 4, each year the champion has won the race.

2014 – Kevin Harvick (led final eight laps)

2015 – Kyle Busch (led eight of final 10 laps)

2016 – Jimmie Johnson (only led final three laps as part of an overtime finish)

2017 – Martin Truex Jr. (led final 51 laps)

2018 – Joey Logano (led final 12 laps after passing Truex)

Should Busch win on Sunday, he would end a 21-race winless streak.

“It’s obviously a great opportunity to be able to go race for a championship, and that’s what this format is,” Busch said. “It doesn’t mean a whole lot to make it to the Championship 4 if you don’t win it. You know, it’s all reset to zero. There are four of us who go for winner-take-all at Homestead. … It’s what your whole season comes down to.”

ONE LAST MONSTER MASH

Sunday’s race will be the last that Monster Energy serves as the title sponsor for the Cup Series.

Starting in 2020, the Cup Series will movie to a tiered sponsor system with no title sponsor.

The Cup Series has had a title sponsor since 1971 when Winston entered the role it held until 2003.

Nextel owned the naming rights from 2004-07. Sprint then held the rights through 2016 with Monster taking over in 2017.

RUNNING OUT OF TIME

Three drivers who won races in 2018 have a last shot to earn their first victory of this season.

They include Austin Dillon (won the Daytona 500), Clint Bowyer (two wins in 2018) and Aric Almirola (one win).

This will also be Jimmie Johnson’s last opportunity to keep from going winless in two straight seasons. He is winless in the last 94 races (June 2017 at Dover).

UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

Sunday will mark the final full-time Cup starts for Paul Menard and David Ragan.

Both have said they plan to continue racing but suggest it could be in other forms beyond Cup.

Menard, the 2011 Brickyard 400 winner, will make his 471st Cup start Sunday. While he did not have as much success as others, he’ll be remembered for his quiet demeanor, abstinence from social media and devoted fan base.

Ragan, who won at Daytona in 2011 and Talladega in 2013, will make his 470th Cup start Sunday.

Both began running full-time in 2007 in a rookie class that included Juan Pablo Montoya and AJ Allmendinger. Montoya won rookie of the year honors.

Front Row Motorsports

Ragan said he’s looked at schedules for ARCA and some Late Model races across the country. He also said there are plans for him to drive the Next Gen car next year in some testing.

“Ford Motor Company has been a really good partner of mine and a supporter of my career since day one, and so I’m working with those guys on how I can help the big picture from Ford Performance and how we can work on next year and the Next Generation car as it rolls out,” Ragan said.

Ragan will be driving a throwback paint scheme on his No. 38 Ford. It will look like the car Ragan won with at Talladega with Front Row Motorsports.

MOVING ON 

This weekend will be the last for a handful of drivers in their current rides before they transition to a new team, while others are still without announced plans for beyond Sunday.

Leavine Family Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto will replace Menard in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford.

Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell will succeed DiBenedetto in LFR’s No. 95 Toyota.

Rookie Daniel Hemric is being replaced by Richard Childress Racing in its No. 8 Chevrolet with Tyler Reddick next season. Hemric will drive for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 21 race in its No. 8 car.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Daniel Suarez has not announced his plans for next season. The 2016 Xfinity champion will end his third Cup season on Sunday.

JTG Daugherty Racing and Roush Fenway Racing will be swapping drivers after the Miami race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. go from driving Roush’s No. 17 Ford to JTG Daugherty to replace Chris Buescher. Meanwhile, Buescher will return to Roush after five years away to drive the No. 17.

Rookie Matt Tifft will not be back in Front Row Motorsports’ No. 36 Ford. He can’t commit to racing next year after he suffered a seizure last month. He’s missed the last two races while John Hunter Nemechek has competed in his place. Nemechek will be in the car this weekend.

NEW TIRE

All three national series will compete on a new tire set-up compared to what was used at this track last year.

This is the same combination of left and right-side tires each series ran at Chicagoland and those in the Cup and Xfinity Series ran at Darlington this season.

This left and right-side tire features construction updates to align with what is run at other speedways, while this right-side tire takes teams from a multi-zone tread tire to a single zone tire and will increase grip.

“The compounds we will be running provide plenty of grip, but also offer the endurance needed on Homestead’s track surface,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, in a press release.  “These high wear tracks put on some of our best races, and the past several years at Homestead have proven that.  Tire fall-off creates more ‘comers’ and ‘goers’ over the course of a long run, which means more passing and tire management being an important element of the race.”

TWO OTHER CHAMPIONSHIPS AT STAKE

The Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series also will crown their champions this weekend.

The Truck Series will race Friday night. Defending champion Brett Moffitt, two-time champion Matt Crafton, Ross Chastain and Stewart Friesen will compete for the title.

The Xfinity Series will race Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Cole CusterChristopher BellTyler Reddick and Justin Allgaier will compete for the crown. Reddick won this race last year to claim the championship

This will be the final full-time Xfinity starts for Bell and Reddick before the jump to the Cup Series next year.