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Milestones Cup drivers could reach in 2019

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NASCAR Cup drivers have many milestones ahead of them in 2019.

Here is a look at some that could be reached this season:

Wins

Jimmie Johnson has 83 victories and is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time list. His next victory will tie him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison in fourth. Johnson was winless in 2018, the first time he ran a full Cup season without a victory.

Since winning in his rookie season of 2005, Kyle Busch has never failed to find Victory Lane in the Cup series – a streak of 14 seasons. He’s also had great success in the Xfinity and Truck series. Busch is six total wins away from achieving 200 victories across NASCAR’s top three divisions. Busch has 51 Cup wins, 92 Xfinity wins and 51 Truck wins.

Kevin Harvick is five wins away from joining the exclusive 50-win club that has 13 members. Johnson and Busch are the only active drivers with more than 50 Cup wins.

Hendrick Motorsports looks to extend its streak of consecutive seasons with a Cup win to 34 this year.

Last year Erik Jones and Chase Elliott won, marking three consecutive seasons in which drivers scored career-first victories. That was the longest streak since 2005-2007. The last time at least four consecutive seasons highlighted first-time winners was from 1994-2003.

Top 5s

Jimmie Johnson is seven top fives away from tying Lee Petty for 10th on the all time list with 231.

Kevin Harvick is nine away from achieving 200 top fives.

Top 10s

With four top 10s, Clint Bowyer will become the 37th driver to crack the 200 mark.

Kurt Busch is 20 away from achieving 300 top 10s, which will make him the 21st driver to do so.

Jimmie Johnson has the most top 10s among active drivers with 352 (11th on the all-time list). With nine top 10s he will tie Terry Labonte in 10th.

Kevin Harvick (336) could become the active driver with the most top 10s if he earns 16 more than Johnson.

Poles

Since winning his first pole in the spring Bristol race of 2010, Joey Logano has earned at least one per year. In 2019, he looks to extend his streak to 10 consecutive seasons. Last year, he earned only one pole at Kansas in the fall.

Chase Elliott has won at least one pole in his first three full-time seasons at the Cup level, but he has never earned more than two in a year.

Career Starts

Kurt Busch has 648 starts, which places him currently 23rd on the list. If he makes all the races in 2019 he will pass Dale Earnhardt Sr. and move to 18th on the list.

Kevin Harvick (646), Ryan Newman (620) and Jimmie Johnson (615) also have more than 600 starts.

Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman each have 612 consecutive starts to start the season, which ties them for ninth on the list. If they make nine more consecutive starts they will catch Mark Martin. With 16 more consecutive starts, they will catch Jeff Burton. If both Johnson and Newman make all of the races in 2019, they will end the season tied for sixth with Dale Earnhardt Sr. (648).

Assuming the following drivers make all of the races, this is when they should reach their respective milestones:

500th

Kyle Busch: Feb. 24th at Atlanta
Martin Truex Jr.: Aug. 11 at Michigan
Denny Hamlin: Oct. 6 at Dover
Clint Bowyer: Oct. 13 at Talladega

300th

Michael McDowell: June 9 at Michigan
Aric Almirola: July 21 at New Hampshire

200th

Austin Dillon: March 31 at Texas
Kyle Larson: June 30 at Chicagoland

100th

Ty Dillon: April 28 at Talladega
Erik Jones: Sept. 1 at Darlington
Daniel Suarez: Sept. 21 at Richmond

Dale Jr. Download: Jeff Gordon recalls 2004 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega

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“Oh, I remember that one.”

It would be hard for Jeff Gordon to forget the 2004 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

It was the race where Gordon celebrated a win under a torrential shower … of Budweiser.

“Well, I don’t remember a whole heck of a lot about the race itself, I do remember the finish,” Gordon recalled on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download.. “That was one of those days were I so glad we didn’t have to race back to the line. That they froze the field.”

Beer-filled cans and cups rained down on Gordon, thrown by angry Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans in the grandstands upset that NASCAR had declared Gordon the winner in a controversial finish.

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Minutes before, Earnhardt had crossed the finish line ahead of Gordon to a happy roar from the fans who thought he was in first.

Earnhardt had passed Gordon on the outside out of Turn 4 as they came to four laps to go in a nine-lap shootout to end the race.

But the shootout effectively ended when Brian Vickers wrecked in Turn 3, the caution came out and the field was frozen by NASCAR.

“I was sitting there going, ‘I think I was ahead, I think I was ahead!’” Gordon said. “When they told me I was, I was like ‘Yeeeees!’

“Then all of sudden I realized, ‘Uh oh, there’s going to be a lot of pissed off people in the grandstands.'”

MORE: The time Dale Jr. got Jeff Gordon out of a speeding ticket

MORE:  Rick Hendrick wants Jeff Gordon “in my place” when he steps away

Four laps later, Gordon took the checkered flag. The beer storm began during Gordon’s cool down lap.

“You (Earnhardt) always had an incredible following, but I look back at those days and where the sport was and the enthusiasm and the trendiness of NASCAR and how it was just blowing up and you were such a huge part of that,” Gordon said. “I played my role in it as well. But to have me and you kind of going head-to-head like that and for it to come down to a controversial finish, it was one of those times where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to win this race or not.’ I also wanted to get out of here alive.”

What was going through Gordon’s mind as his car was peppered with beer-filled objects?

“This is the greatest day of my life,” Gordon said on the podcast.

The moment reminded Gordon of the early days of his Cup career, when he and Dale Earnhardt Sr. enjoyed their own rivalry in the mid-90s.

“You have to understand, in 1995, people were cheering me at the beginning of the year and booing me by the end of the year,” Gordon said. “Because at the beginning of the year I was just starting to win more races and it was, ‘Ok, who’s this new guy? He’s on the circuit and he’s off to a good start.’

“Then it was me and your dad, right? We’re going for some of those wins and we were both winning a lot of races. But we were winning more. Then we were ahead in points. So once we were ahead in points, it was ‘Uh uh.’ They may have cheered for me the year before or earlier that year. They weren’t cheering for me then.”

The 1995 season saw Gordon win seven races and his first of four Cup titles as Earnhardt Sr. won five times and finished second in the standings.

“I went through a lot of figuring out why fans booed me or cheered against me or whatever,” Gordon said. “At first I didn’t get it or understand, but then I was like, ‘Ok. Their guy is Dale Earnhardt. I’m the opposite of that in competition at the same time.’ So, I got it, I started getting it. Leading into this moment at Talladega, I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to win this battle with the fans because they want (Earnhardt Jr.) to win.’ But I was still damn happy that I won the race.

“So when they started throwing stuff at me … I started realizing the boos were like recognition of what I had accomplished. When they started throwing (expletive), I was like, ‘Yes, this is awesome.’ Not that I encourage people to throw things out on the track, but that is the essence of NASCAR in those days. You wish you had moments today, that they cared that much for what is happening.”

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Coffee with Kyle: Richard Petty and Dale Inman went separate ways

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With the end of the 2018 season, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have parted ways. Johnson has a new crew chief in Kevin Meendering; Knaus has a new driver in William Byron.

The latest edition of “Coffee with Kyle” takes a look at another legendary pairing that split up: Richard Petty and his cousin Dale Inman.

Petty and Inman both believe Knaus has a better chance at winning another championship than Johnson. They came to that conclusion based on experience.

Petty and Inman combined for 166 wins and seven championships before they split up.

“(Going our separate ways) was probably one of the best things that ever happened to both of us,” Petty said. “Because once we got away from each other we realized how we depended on each other.”

Separating might have been good for them personally, but Petty’s performance was never the same. He went on to win just two more races.

Petty’s 199th win came at Dover in May 1984.

“Dover was a big win,” Petty said. “It had been a while since we won. But then everything was ‘the next race, the next race, the next race’ before we went to Daytona. Everybody was expecting the 200 anytime. We was too. But it couldn’t have been any better than for us to win the 200th race July the 4th in front of the President of the United States (Ronald Reagan).

“If you wrote a script, nobody would have bought it.”

Part 1: Richard Petty: Racing ‘took us to the real world’
Part 2: The story behind debut of Plymouth’s NASCAR Superbird

Inman was hired by Rod Osterlund in 1980 and crewed the car for Dale Earnhardt and later Joe Ruttman without another win. 

“Then we got Tim Richmond and what a natural he was,” Inman said. “Didn’t know nothing about a race car. … Even Earnhardt respected him a lot, because he came in and raced Earnhardt.”

In 1982 Richmond won twice at Riverside. Those were the first wins for Inman after leaving Petty Enterprises.

Inman scored another championship with Terry Labonte in 1984. They won on consistency with only two wins but top fives in 17 of 30 races that year.

Regarding a short-lived pairing with Earnhardt, Inman said: “He couldn’t control himself. Darrell Waltrip intimidated him so bad it was unreal. The bad thing on my resume was I never won a race with Earnhardt.”

The episode can be found on the NBC Sports YouTube page.

Click here to watch the “Coffee with Kyle” episode with Tony Stewart.

Best of NASCAR Awards banquet

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NASCAR’s annual Awards Banquet gave the sport an opportunity to not only crown a champion but also pay tribute to all the drivers, manufacturers and stakeholders that made the season successful.

“To the NASCAR fans, love me or hate me, I just love your passion,” 2018 NASCAR Cup champion Joey Logano said when he received the ultimate honor in stock car racing. “That is one of the biggest things for me, is passion. Whether you’re booing or cheering, it’s pretty good. We all do it for you guys.”

Here are some of the highlights:

Champion: Joey Logano

“(Wife Brittany Logano) is my rock,” Logano said. “I knew this was when I was going to have a hard time. Family means a lot to me, alright? We have so many long talks at night. I’m not always smiling. I know it looks like I smile a lot, and I do when I’m happy. She’s there at my lowest points, it really brings me back up. She’s an amazing mother to our child and what an amazing year, to be able to have Hudson now and now a championship.”

Logano was introduced by Make-a-Wish recipient Gavin Grubbs.

Champion Car Owner: Roger Penske

During his time on stage, Roger Penske acknowledged the other owners in the series who challenge him and Team Penske to be better, including the owner of the closing Furniture Row Racing.

“One last comment, very important to me and this is congratulations to Barney Visser … Martin Truex (Jr.), Cole Pearn, you’ve brought so much to this series over the last several years.”

Second-place Martin Truex Jr.

“Looking forward to the future, for sure – but definitely the end of an era with Furniture Row … thank you Barney (Visser) for all you’ve done for me and this sport.”

Truex’s Furniture Row Racing Era ended with one championship, 17 wins, 56 top fives and top 10s in more than half of Truex’s 191 starts with that organization.

Third-place Kevin Harvick

“Our road to the championship round certainly had some challenges along the way, but our team performed when it mattered the most and believed in each other,” Harvick said.

“I want to thank the fans – and especially all the No. 4 fans for all the support this year,” Harvick continued. “And all you haters: I still see you.”

Fourth-place: Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch took to the stage with the comment, “This sucks. Worst of the best,” before congratulating Logano on his championship. Busch noted several highlights of the season including tying his career-best number of victories and passing the 50-win mark.

Busch offered a shout-out to Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth who most likely ran their final Cup races during the 2018 season.

“I wanted to make mention of Matt again this year in case he’s really retiring this time,” Busch said. “I think we’ve all kind of seen this story before with another Roush guy, Mark Martin years ago. I don’t know. Maybe this time’s true. Time will tell.”

Most Popular Driver Award

Dale Earnhardt Jr. handed over the award that he won 15 consecutive times to Chase Elliott.

Bill Elliott won the award a record 16 times (1984-88, 1991-2000 and 2002). Dale Earnhardt Sr. won in 2001.

“So cool that it stayed between Earnhardt and Elliott for so long,” Elliott told Earnhardt as he accepted the award. “I am glad though that you quit a year before you broke Dad’s record.”

MORE: Chase Elliott wins NMPA most popular driver award

Other Notable Moments

Ryan Blaney joked that he had sent Jimmie Johnson a Christmas card in return for his gift at the Charlotte Roval. In that race, Johnson’s contact with Truex Jr. on the final lap opened the door for Blaney’s second career win.

NASCAR America: Dream matchups through the ages

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Last week Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. had a memorable side-by-side battle in the closing laps at Martinsville. It ended with one driver (Logano) in victory lane and the other (Truex) standing on pit road with thumbs pointed down in disapproval.

the finish begged the question of which two drivers throughout history would be dream matchups for Wednesday’s NASCAR America panelists.

Nate Ryan’s dream matchup would be Jimmie Johnson versus Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Martinsville in 2007. That year, Jeff Gordon beat the back bumper off Johnson’s car, but could not pass the No. 48. Ryan wonders if it would have been different with the Intimidator doing the bumping.

Dale Jarrett would like to see a playoff matchup between two of NASCAR’s most notable rivals.

“Two guys that I raced with – and I saw them battle a lot – but I’d like to put them in the playoffs in a situation just like Sunday, trying to make their way to the championship and that’s Rusty Wallace and … Dale Earnhardt,” Jarrett said. “To watch them battle once again nose-to-tail and see – either one of them behind the other – would be a great finish.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s dream matchup was much more personal. He would like the opportunity to race his father one more time on a restrictor-plate superspeedway.

For more, watch the video above.

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