With NASCAR off this weekend for Easter, we’re altering our weekly Power Rankings to focus on the best performing organizations in Cup through the first nine races of the season.
Here’s our picks:
1. Joe Gibbs Racing (40 points): Has won six of the first nine races, including the Daytona 500. Plus, they have the series-leading driver (Kyle Busch, three wins). If JGR continues to have the same success in the next nine races, it could make for a very, very long season for many other organizations.
2. Team Penske (36 points): The only other Cup organization to win a race (two by Brad Keselowski and one by Joey Logano). Organization has been competitive in almost every other race it hasn’t won. The only driver lacking is Ryan Blaney, who has yet to reach victory lane, but whose performance has also picked up in recent races.
3. Stewart-Haas Racing (32 points):Team that is best of the rest behind JGR and Penske. All four drivers have had strong performances at times, but inconsistency and pit road incidents have kept SHR from breaking through with its first win of the season. Could that winless streak finally end at Talladega?
4. Chip Ganassi Racing (26 points):The top Chevrolet team but still well behind the top organizations. If it wasn’t for Kurt Busch and his strong performance (three top fives and six top 10s) in his first season at CGR, this organization would be ranked significantly lower. And what has happened to Kyle Larson? He’s off to one of the worst starts of his career.
5. Hendrick Motorsports (23 points): What’s happened to the once titans of NASCAR? It almost seems like the same struggle virus that has infected Jimmie Johnson has spread to his teammates. Has shown signs of progress but plenty of work still remains.
6. Roush Fenway Racing (22 points):Ryan Newman is starting to hit his stride with his new team, including a pair of season-best ninth-place finishes at Bristol and Richmond, plus four other top-15 showings. But what about teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr.? He’s shown promise at times, but with just one top 10, how does the second quarter of the season bode for him?
7. Richard Childress Racing (17 points):Has shown speed at times but results haven’t always followed. Austin Dillon has the team’s only two top-10 finishes. Daniel Hemric has struggled in his rookie season, with a best finish so far of 18th.
8. JTG Daugherty Racing (9 points): Has shown improvement from last year. Chris Buescher has made some positive gains and Ryan Preece has looked good at times in his first season with the organization. But inconsistency continues to be a problem. What’s the answer?
(tie) 9. Wood Brothers Racing (6 points): Things are starting to come into their own for the single-car team (with an affiliation with Team Penske). Paul Menard has back-to-back top 10 finishes in his two most recent races (Bristol and Richmond) and is up to 16th in the Cup standings. If playoffs started today, Menard would be in.
(tie) 9. Germain Racing (6 points): Ty Dillon has had some solid performances for this one-car team, including a sixth-place finish at Daytona and three other top-15 finishes. But like JTG Daugherty, inconsistency remains an issue that needs to be addressed.
Other organizations receiving votes: Front Row Motorsports (5 points), Richard Petty Motorsports (2 points), Leavine Family Racing (1 point).
Joe Gibbs Racing — Team goes 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500 with Denny Hamlin winning a day after the organization placed two cars in the top six in the Xfinity race.
Small teams — Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports) finished fifth, Ty Dillon (Germain Racing) finished sixth and was Chevrolet’s top finisher, rookie Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing) placed eighth and Ross Chastain (Premium Motorsports) finished 10th.
Fans — They didn’t see the single-file racing that was so evident in the Clash, qualifying races and Xfinity race.
Decision-making by drivers — The last 25 laps saw a 21-car crash, a seven-car crash and a nine-car crash. Said Kyle Busch of what caused the damage: “Brains come unglued.”
Race length — With talk of shortening races, the Daytona 500 took 3 hours, 45 minutes. That doesn’t include nearly 40 minutes of red flag time. The time of the race was the longest for the Daytona 500 since the 2011 event, which lasted 3 hours, 59 minutes. This race will always be 500 miles but lasting more than four hours (when including the red flags) is not what the sport is seeking.
Hendrick Motorsports pole-sitters — William Byron gave Hendrick Motorsports its fifth consecutive Daytona 500 pole. None of those cars, though, have finished the race better than 14th. Byron placed 21st. The average finishing position for the last five Daytona pole winners is 24.4.
Bubba Wallace — A year after finishing second in the Daytona 500, Wallace placed 38th after he was collected in a crash.
Forty-two cars are on the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 17 Daytona 500.
NASCAR released the entry list Wednesday night.
Among those on the entry list are: Casey Mears (No. 27, Germain Racing), Reigning Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick (No. 31, Richard Childress Racing), Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 Beard Motorsports), Joey Gase (No. 66, Motorsports Business Management), Ryan Truex (No. 71, Tommy Baldwin Racing) and NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman (No. 96, Gaunt Brothers Racing).
Germain Racing will use the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 to field a second car for the first time since 2011 and it will be piloted by former full-time driver Casey Mears.
Mears, who raced for Germain from 2010-16 in Cup, will drive the No. 27 Chevrolet. The team will be built and staffed through a partnership with Premium Motorsports. Pat Tryson will serve as crew chief.
Mears will be teammates with Ty Dillon, the current driver of Germain’s No. 13 Chevrolet.
“I have considered running a second car in the Daytona 500 for years,” owner Bob Germain said in a press release. “My immediate focus is still on our No. 13 team and the full season that Ty Dillon will run. However, when the chance to field a second car with Casey Mears came together this year with Jay Robinson building the car and providing the at-track crew, I wanted to jump on it.
“The Daytona 500 is a race that our team, sponsors and fans are all passionate about, and I am too. In a race where anything can happen, having a second entry is an exciting opportunity. Casey has been a part of our Germain Racing family for years, and I’m grateful that he’s willing to get behind the wheel for me again in this one race.”
Without a charter for the car, Mears is not guaranteed starting spot in the race.
Mears didn’t make any NASCAR starts in 2018.
He last competed in the 2017 Xfinity season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.
Mears has 25 career Cup starts at Daytona International Speedway, with a best finish of second in the 2006 Daytona 500.
The addition of Mears makes for at least eight unchartered cars that could be entered into the Daytona 500.
With a maximum field of 40 cars, four will not make the field.
The 2019 NASCAR season is now within view as we have entered the month of January.
That means a lot of highly anticipated changes in the sport will be visible on track.
Before we get to what to expect from each team specifically, here’s what Cup teams will be dealing with in 2019.
Inspired by what was used in the 2018 All-Star Race, the new rules package will feature a tapered spacer to control the engines instead of a restrictor plate. Teams will have 550 horsepower at tracks 1.33 miles and larger and 750 horsepower at tracks shorter than 1.33 miles.
Some crew chiefs, including Cole Pearn, have said the new package could result in racing that resembles what is seen in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
One team that will not be present this year is Furniture Row Racing, which ceased operations on its No. 78 Toyota after 2018 due to a lack of sponsorship.
Rick Ware Racing will field two cars with two charters. It has not announced drivers for either car.
Spire Sports + Entertainment will field the No. 77 with a charter purchased from Furniture Row Racing. A driver has not been announced.
Obaika Racing will field rookie Tanner Berryhill in the No. 97 in its first full-time season.
(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)
What’s new: Cassill is slated to compete full-time for StarCom Racing, which bought a charter from Richard Childress Racing. Cassill, with 29 starts, is the only driver with more than seven for the team.
What’s the same: StarCom will again compete with a Chevrolet model in its second full season of competition.
What’s new: Kurt Busch moves from Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Jamie McMurray, who drove the No. 1 for nine years. McMurray will be an analyst for Fox Sports. CGR will be the sixth team Busch has competed for in Cup.
What’s the same: Matt McCall is back to crew chief the No. 1 after four years with McMurray.
What’s the same: Crew chief Paul Wolfe and Keselowski enter their ninth season together. With the separation of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, that makes Wolfe and Keselowski the longest-tenured driver/crew chief pairing in the series.
What’s new: Dillon will have Danny Stockman Jr. as his crew chief, replacing Justin Alexander. Stockman is Dillon’s fourth crew chief in six full-time seasons in Cup. Dillon won a Xfinity and Truck Series title Stockman. Dillon will also have a new teammate in Daniel Hemric.
What’s the same: Dillon’s scheme for the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona will be a tribute to Dale Earnhardt’s scheme in the 1998 All-Star Race.
What’s new: Will enter his sophomore season under the guidance of Chad Knaus, the most successful active crew chief in NASCAR. This will be Byron’s first season in NASCAR without rookie stripes after previously competing in Xfinity and the Truck Series for just one season each.
What’s the same: Jeff Gordon is still the last (and only) driver to win in the No. 24.
What’s the same: Greg Ives returns as Bowman’s crew chief on the No. 88 Chevrolet.
No. 95 Matt DiBenedetto (29th)
What’s new: DiBenedetto replaced Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing after two years at Go Fas Racing. LFR will compete under the Toyota banner after being a Chevrolet team. Mike Wheeler will crew chief the No. 95.
What’s the same: 2019 will be LFR’s fourth full-time season in Cup. The team is winless since it first went Cup racing in 2011.