Viewers guide to Miami Championship Weekend

Leave a comment

Sunday will be a life-changing day for one driver. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano will race for the Cup championship in Miami (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC and NASCAR Hot Pass on NBCSN).

Harvick, Busch and Truex look to become the 16th driver in NASCAR history to win multiple Cup championships. Logano seeks his first series title.

“It’s just one of the greatest joys in the world,” Busch said of winning a NASCAR Cup title.

While one will celebrate Sunday, the other three will experience what Busch calls “one of the greatest defeats in the world.”

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

FAMILIAR FACES

Kyle Busch races for a championship for the fourth consecutive year after failing to advance to the title race in 2014, the first year of the elimination format.

Kevin Harvick makes his fourth appearances in the championship race in five years. This is reigning champion Martin Truex Jr.’s third appearance. Joey Logano also makes his third appearance.

The four drivers have combined to win more than 60 percent of the races this season — the first time the Championship 4 drivers have won more than half the races in a season in the elimination format. They also rank first through fourth in top fives and laps led this year. This is clearly the best four for the title this season.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT

When one races around each other enough, things happen and drivers never forget.

Joey Logano upset Martin Truex Jr. by bumping him out of the way on the last lap to win at Martinsville last month. Had Logano not won that day he would not have advanced to the championship race.

Logano said he was doing what he had to win that day. Asked how he’d retaliate, Truex said: “I’m just not going to let him win (the title). I’m going to win it.”

Logano and Busch have their history in this race. Busch was upset with how Logano raced him at the end of the race last year.

“He held me up,” Busch said of Logano after last year’s title race. “He was there blocking every single chance he got. Got a real buddy there.”

Of course, it was March 2017 at Las Vegas when Kyle Busch walked up to Joey Logano and threw a punch at him for a last-lap incident between the two.

Harvick bumped Busch out of the lead with seven laps to go to win at New Hampshire in July. Said Busch after the race: “I’m not sure he (Harvick) had to do it, but he did. It’s fine. How you race is how you get raced.”

MUST-WIN SITUATION

In the first four years of this format, the champion had to win the race to claim the crown.

Logano is still haunted by the 2016 race. He restarted third on the inside line behind Carl Edwards with eight laps left. Logano dived low to get by Edwards, who blocked. They made contact, triggering a multi-car crash. While Logano was able to continue, he could not get to the lead again and finished fourth.

“Every time I watch that race, I get so mad I slam my laptop closed,” Logano said. “That moment will forever be burned into my mind of how close we were to winning a championship that day, but we’ve got another opportunity to right that, so here we go.”

The streak of a champion needing to win the race at this 1.5-mile track is likely to continue. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win 16 of the last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks.

LAST RIDE TOGETHER

Sunday’s race marks the final race for Furniture Row Racing. The team, based in Denver, Colorado, is shutting down after this season.

Furniture Row Racing, owned by Barney Visser, made its Cup debut in 2005. The team did not compete in every Cup race until 2010. Furniture Row Racing scored its first Cup victory in 2011 when Regan Smith won the Southern 500. That was the organization’s only win until Martin Truex Jr. won in 2015 at Pocono. Truex has won 17 races with the team.

“We understand it’s here, (this) week is our last week, but it’s cool that we’re going to Homestead with a chance to win it in his last race,” Truex said.

Said Visser: “For me personally, my emotions are all over the board. I am sad not to be able to continue. I am going to miss the guys for sure, miss this whole thing. I don’t know what it’s going to feel like exactly when it’s over. And I don’t know what the emotions will be like when the Daytona 500 rolls around next year and we’re not in it. I just don’t know how emotional it will be. I am afraid it will be enormous.”

The team’s hauler left the shop late Tuesday night for its trip to Miami. It was an emotional time for the team.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for how emotional it was (Tuesday) night when we loaded up,” crew chief Cole Pearn said. “I think we’ve just been head down, kind of pushing super hard, trying to do everything we can to get ready for this weekend, and once it was in the truck and saw the lift gate up, there was a lot of tears shed and a lot of sad faces, and I think all of us really realized that that was the last time we were going to do it together as a group.”

NEW (OLD) FACE ON THE PIT BOX

Tony Gibson, who is nicknamed “Old Man,” will be Kevin Harvick’s crew chief again this weekend in place of Rodney Childers, who was suspended the final two races by NASCAR for an infraction found on Harvick’s winning car at Texas.

That the 54-year-old Gibson is on the pit box is a story itself. He suffered a blood clot July 6.

“I was actually just driving home from work and just had a real, I just could not get my brain to function with my hands and my feet, and I could not drive any further and knew something was wrong,” Gibson said. “Just wasn’t sure, and ended up going to the emergency room and put me in for observation that night, and then about one in the morning they came back and they had done several scans and told me I had a blood clot in my vertebral artery.”

He said he was in the hospital for a little more than a week before being released. As the blood clot dissolved, it caused a mini stroke. He returned to the hospital. Gibson said he lost about 85 percent of the hearing in his left ear and most of the function in his left eye. He’s been doing rehab and returned to work Aug. 20.

Gibson has an appointment scheduled with his neurologist Friday but will miss it because he will be in Miami, leading Harvick’s team.

“I was very lucky, and I don’t take that for granted,” Gibson said. “There’s a lot of people out there that are way worse than me, so it’s just something that I’ll overcome and I’ll get used to it and go on.”

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

There will be many changes after Sunday’s race, particularly among drivers.

Matt Kenseth does not have plans to race next season, so Sunday’s race looks to be his final Cup race.

Daniel Suarez will run his last race for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is being replaced by Martin Truex Jr. after this season. Suarez has not announced where he’ll drive next year but is expected to sign with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Kurt Busch will drive his final Cup race for Stewart-Haas Racing. His seat is expected to be filled by Suarez. Busch is expected to move to Chip Ganassi Racing and replace Jamie McMurray, who has an offer from car owner Chip Ganassi to drive in next year’s Daytona 500 before moving to a position in the front office.

Ryan Newman will run his final race for Richard Childress Racing and move to Roush Fenway Racing to drive the No. 6 car next season. Newman will be replaced by RCR Xfinity driver Daniel Hemric.

Matt DiBenedetto will drive his final race for Go Fas Racing. DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing to drive the No. 95 next year. Go Fas Racing has not announced a driver for next year.

AJ Allmendinger will drive his final race for JTG Daugherty Racing this weekend. He will be replaced by rookie Ryan Preece next season in the No. 47 car. Allmendinger has not announced plans for next year.

This also will be the final weekend seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson races with crew chief Chad Knaus. They’ve been together since Johnson’s rookie year in 2002 but will split after this season. Knaus will be the crew chief for William Byron next year. Kevin Meendering will be Johnson’s crew chief next year.

PIT CREW CHANGES

Kevin Harvick’s team announced this week that it is changing its rear tire changer.

Chris McMullen, who had been teammate Aric Almirola’s rear tire changer all season, moves to Harvick’s team this week and replaces Michael Johnson.

The move was made because Almirola was eliminated from title contention last weekend at Phoenix. McMullen becomes the team’s third rear tire changer this season. Daniel Smith had the role until health issues forced him out. Johnson took over at the Southern 500.

That’s not the only team that has made changes in the playoffs. After teammate Ryan Blaney was eliminated last month at Kansas, his jackman, Graham Stoddard, went to Joey Logano’s team.

“That group has been stellar,” crew chief Todd Gordon said of the revamped unit. “If you look at Martinsville, I would give them a fair amount of credit for putting us in position to win that race.”

Kyle Busch’s team changed fuelers before last weekend’s race at Phoenix. John Eicher moved over from Erik Jones‘ team in a temporary role. He filled in for Matthew Tyrrell, who stayed home on baby watch. Crew chief Adam Stevens said that he had not heard as of Wednesday if Tyrrell’s baby had arrived but said that Tyrrell would be in Miami with the team and resume his fueling duties.

Martin Truex Jr.’s team has had the same pit crew since Richmond, the second playoff race. Clay Robinson had been a backup front tire changer at Joe Gibbs Racing and moved over to Truex’s team, which gets its pit crew from JGR.

ONE LAST CHANCE

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson, drivers who each won last year, have a final chance to score their first victory of this season.

Johnson has scored at least one win in 16 consecutive season, which is tied for the third-longest streak in series history (Richard Petty has the record at 18 consecutive seasons).

Hamlin has scored at least one victory in 12 consecutive seasons, which ranks 13th on the all-time Cup list.

Larson has finished runner-up six times this year but has yet to win. He’s had at least one win in each of the past two seasons.

NEW TIRE

Cup and Xfinity teams will have a new left-side tire this weekend compared to what was run in Miami last year.

The left-side tire features a construction update. It is the same left-side tire teams ran at Chicagoland in July. The multi-zone right-side tires have not changed since last year. Cup and Xfinity teams have run this combination of left- and right-side tires at Auto Club Speedway in March and at Chicagoland Speedway in July.

“Because of the high wear we see, these compounds provide the endurance and tread wear needed for Homestead’s track surface, while at the same time giving the cars enough grip,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing.

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. Former champion Johnny Sauter, Brett Moffitt, Justin Haley and Noah Gragson will compete for the title.

The Xfinity Series will race Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Hemric will compete for the crown. Custer won this race last year but was not eligible to win the championship, having been eliminated from title contention earlier in the playoffs.

The 23-year-old Bell, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, won the Truck series title last year.

Long: Why must-win situation was no pressure for Christopher Bell

Leave a comment

AVONDALE, Ariz. — In a season where Christopher Bell battled Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski to score Xfinity wins in back-to-back races in July and faced a must-win situation at Phoenix last weekend to advance to the Championship 4, such pressure situations don’t phase him.

“I feel like my mentors have just done such a good job of raising me throughout my young racing career and preparing me for moments like this,” Bell said after his victory last weekend at ISM Raceway. “I put so much pressure on myself for really any racing that we go do. Whenever I line up for the Chili Bowl heat race, I’m literally throwing up and that’s the most nervous, most pressure I feel of any race just because of what that race means to me. Today was nothing compared to that Chili Bowl heat race.”

Before people start bad-mouthing Bell for talking about dirt track racing over his main job in NASCAR, a couple of things.

One, there doesn’t need to be divide. This notion, which has been forced upon Kyle Larson after he’s talked about his fondness of racing in the World of Outlaws, is parochial.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in September that Larson should freely speak about his love of dirt track racing.

“We may be at the pinnacle of (short-track) racing from a popularity standpoint, but we can learn from them, they can learn from us, and we can promote each other in a far better way,” Phelps said. “So this notion of NASCAR trying to muzzle Kyle Larson and his love of racing couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We want Kyle Larson to talk about NASCAR racing and dirt racing and things that are his passion. We think he can bring his fan base from other forms of racing that he’s doing to us. And we can take our fans and bring them down to that racing as well, so we all get stronger by doing something.”

Second, so you understand. The way the Chili Bowl is set up, if one has a bad heat race, it can make a driver’s path to the A main on the final night infinitely harder. And the next chance to overcome something like that doesn’t happen for a year. So that’s why Bell, an Oklahoma native and two-time reigning champion of the event in his home state, feels such pressure for that event.

So he could be somewhat relaxed entering last weekend’s race at Phoenix. Bell said he had accepted the notion that he might not advance to the Xfinity championship race and that freed him from the shackles of pressure.

“For me, I have a problem of beating myself so if I sit here and say, ‘Hey, I have to win, my season’s on the line,’ then I’m more likely to beat myself,” he said. “We’ve won six races before today and it was a great year. Whenever I go into a season, my two goals are to win races and compete for the championship and we won races and we competed for the championship all the way up until things that were outside of our control happened. It was still a successful season in my standards. I’m happy that I’m still alive.”


There are many key decisions for NASCAR in the coming months from how long will Jim France serve as interim Chairman to finding ways to make teams more viable financially and ways to ensure close, competitive racing

Next season will be headlined by rule changes intended to improve the races, but NASCAR has signaled that there could be more dramatic moves in 2020, particularly to the schedule.

As NASCAR contemplates mid-week races, different venues, and ending the season sooner so there’s less conflict with football, here’s a little help to take one thing off the agenda.

There’s no need to change the final two races of the season.

Phoenix is the right track to be the last race before the season finale. It provides the short-track flair without having speeds so slow that it could create an endless amount of cautions late in the race as drivers bump their way to the front.

Even with the speeds, there have been memorable moments including Ryan Newman diving under Kyle Larson’s car, hitting it and using it to get through the final corner of the last lap to gain the position and advance to the title race in 2014. Last year, Matt Kenseth scored an emotional win, beating Chase Elliott, who exacted revenge against Denny Hamlin late in that race for Hamlin’s contact at Martinsville.

Phoenix allows the driver to be more of a factor than at many 1.5-mile tracks. Just look at Saturday’s Xfinity race where Austin Cindric, who had to win, was aggressive. At one point Cindric and Christopher Bell were dueling before Bell backed out and then worked his way back around Cindric. On a 1.5-mile track, where aerodynamics is so important, Bell might not have been able to have been as patient.

And there’s no need to change the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which has provided among the best racing at a 1.5-mile track with its progressive banking on a consistent basis. The races have been dramatic and the track provides multiple lanes for drivers to work.

So NASCAR can play around with the schedule as much as it wants, but there’s no need to change the final two races of the schedule.


On the first day of trading since the news Friday that NASCAR had made a bid to purchase all outstanding shares of Class A and Class B common stock of International Speedway Corp., the stock price for ISC closed 8.78 percent higher than it opened. The closing price was $42.49. It is the highest the stock has closed since Oct. 1.


For the second weekend in a row, one organization swept the Xfinity and Cup races.

Stewart-Haas Racing did it at Texas with Cole Custer winning the Xfinity race and Kevin Harvick the Cup race.

Joe Gibbs Racing did it at Phoenix with Christopher Bell winning the Xfinity race and Kyle Busch the Cup race.

Friday 5: Is it time for NASCAR to take away wins for violations?

Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images
2 Comments

NASCAR’s L1 penalty this week all but stripped the Texas win from Kevin Harvick, but years from now he’ll be listed as the victor of that race.

If NASCAR can take away all that goes with the win — that includes taking Harvick’s berth in the championship race in Miami — shouldn’t the sanctioning body take away the win and leave the winner’s spot vacant in the results? And shouldn’t NASCAR remove the win from the driver’s record?

NASCAR’s history started with a disqualification after all.

Glenn Dunnaway won the first NASCAR race on June 19, 1949 at Charlotte but the win was taken away because his car failed inspection after the race. Jim Roper was declared the winner and has been recognized as the first winner of a NASCAR race since — even though he finished three laps behind Dunnaway.

So it makes sense that as NASCAR looks at possibly increasing penalties that the time has come to take away wins.

Before taking away wins, though, consider one thing.

How does one deal with the past? Richard Petty was fined what was a record $35,000 and docked 104 points after his car was found to have an oversized engine and the team used left-side tires on the right side of his car at Charlotte in 1983. The victory was the 198th of his career.

If you’re going to take away Harvick’s win last weekend at Texas (and at Las Vegas early in the season), then what about Petty? Is the NASCAR Hall of Fame going to have to change all the references to Petty’s 200 wins?

2. Chevy looks to avoid repeating last year’s disappointment

Chevrolet has one last chance to put a car in the Cup championship race in Miami or face a second consecutive year without a competitor in the title race.

Chase Elliott is the lone remaining Chevrolet driver in title contention in Cup heading into Sunday’s race at Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). He enters outside a transfer spot.

In January, Pat Suhy, Chevrolet’s NASCAR Group Manager, called it “unacceptable” that the manufacturer did not have a car competing for the Cup title last year and said “I expect us to have at least a car or two in the final four this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.”

Elliott’s path to Miami was helped by NASCAR’s penalty to Kevin Harvick that leaves three spots in the championship field to be filled Sunday. Elliott trails Harvick by 17 points for the last transfer spot.

The debut season of the Camaro ZL1 has not gone as smoothly for Chevrolet and also came in a season where Hendrick Motorsports, the top Chevy team, struggled for much of the season. The result is that Chevrolet has won four races this year — Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and Chase Elliott won at Watkins Glen, Dover and Kansas.

Chevrolet last had fewer than four wins in 1982 when it scored three victories that season.

3. Heavy fines

With two races left this season, NASCAR has fined Cup teams a total of $850,000 for various infractions. That tops last year’s total of $815,000.

All the money goes to the NASCAR Foundation.

Fines are issued to the crew chief. Stewart-Haas Racing’s crew chiefs and Joe Gibbs Racing’s crew chiefs have each been fined a total of $215,000 this season.

Fines can be as little as $10,000 for not having a lug nut secure after a race to the $75,000 fine crew chief Rodney Childers received this week for the infraction with Kevin Harvick’s car at Texas.

4. New look

With ISM Racing moving its start/finish line to just before the dogleg, drivers anticipate restarts could be wild.

I would imagine that we will cross the start-finish line and be nine-wide going though the dogleg and then try to figure out how to get back to two-wide by the time we get to the new Turn 1,” Aric Almirola said. “That is a really flat, tricky corner. Running much more than two-wide is pretty difficult through there. I am sure it will fan out and get really exciting. I think when it gets down late in the race, the restarts will be really, really intense and chaotic with guys trying to make moves in desperation and trying to make that final round of four.”

Joey Logano says that the new Turn 1 (which was formerly Turn 3) provides another challenge for drivers.

“I can see a lot of cars making those big moves and how Turn (1) has that very inviting apron down there with no grip at all and there are a lot of cars that slide a lot on cold tires there,” he said. “It seems like with low pressure and cold tires that the tires really want to chatter on the race track. Once they start chattering it is hard to stop it. It is like a basketball. You will see a lot of cars slip up. If there is a car on the outside of them it will cause contact for sure. I think it is going to make restarts a lot crazier than they used to be.”

5. Will history repeat?

Kevin Harvick was penalized after his victory at Las Vegas in March for a violation with the rear window brace. The infraction cost Harvick 20 points and the seven playoff points he earned for winning both stages and the race.

The next weekend, Harvick won at ISM Raceway and punctuated his victory by exiting his car on the frontstretch and pounding the rear window.

“I’ve been pissed is what I’ve been,” Harvick said to Fox after that win. “I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job. This organization does a great job and we’ve got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week. To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun and everyone was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. What a badass team right there!

“This really felt more important than winning at Homestead, racing for a championship, just to drive it home for all those supporters out there. And all you haters … I see you.”

Can Harvick come back and win again at Phoenix after another severe penalty? If so, what will he say to the haters this time?

Cole Pearn: Furniture Row Racing closure ‘absolutely a distraction’

Leave a comment

Cole Pearn said “there’s absolutely a distraction” with the impending closure of his current team, Furniture Row Racing.

Pearn, who will join Martin Truex Jr. at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019, discussed his next job and the strains on his current one on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” a few hours after JGR’s announcement.

“You can’t go a day without being distracted by it,” said Pearn, who has two races left in charge of the No. 78 Toyota before the season ends. “You’re not going to be working with the same people. We’re all not going to be coming to the shop here in a few weeks. Those things start to bother you for sure. It’s going to be a tight-knit group we’re all going to miss.”

Pearn’s last chance to get the No. 78 team into the championship round comes Sunday at Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Truex enters the race second on the playoff grid among drivers still not locked into the championship four. He is 22 points above Kevin Harvick who has the last transfer spot.

Pearn has been with Furniture Row Racing since 2010 and has been the crew chief for the No. 78 car since 2015. The team has had a technical alliance with JGR since 2016. Furniture Row Racing won the 2017 title and is in contention for this year’s crown.

But Pearn, who resides in Colorado where the team is located in Denver, admitted working under the JGR roof will be “a lot different” to Furniture Row Racing, where “you can walk around the shop in 10 minutes and know what’s going on.”

“Being in the building and being a part of it at a deeper level is going to be a big change,” Pearn said of working at JGR. “The day-to-day is a lot different. We got it pretty good out here with a small group of people.”

Pearn estimated that he’ll begin working on the No. 19 at JGR by the first week of December.

But everything that will go into his move to North Carolina, including “packing the house up” is “something we kind of keep shoving off and off because we’ve got this championship we’re running for this year.”

Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn move to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2019

6 Comments

Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn will join Joe Gibbs Racing and compete in the No. 19 Toyota in 2019, the team announced Wednesday.

The move comes with Furniture Row Racing shutting down after the end of this season. The closing, due to a lack of sponsorship, was announced in September.

Truex, who won the 2017 Cup title, replaces Daniel Suarez in the No. 19. Suarez has driven it since 2017 when he replaced Carl Edwards.

Suarez has not announced his plans for 2019.

Truex has been paired with Pearn since 2015, Truex’s second year with Furniture Row. In 141 starts together in the No. 78 Toyota they have 17 wins and 54 top fives.

They have won the Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500.

Truex had two wins in his previous nine full-time Cup seasons.

Truex and Pearn have four wins this season and are part of the Round of 8 in the playoffs.

Sponsorship for Truex will be announced at a later date.

“Anytime you have an opportunity to bring two people of this caliber into your organization, it’s certainly an exciting time,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a press release. “They obviously have developed a chemistry that has led to tremendous success, including a championship. We’ve gotten to know them well over the past few years through the alliance and having been part of the Toyota family. They both make us stronger as an organization.

“We really appreciate everything Daniel (Suárez) has done for Joe Gibbs Racing over these past several years. He has made the most of every opportunity from winning the championship in the Xfinity Series to making the jump into the Cup Series for us. We look forward to hearing about his plans going forward and know he continues to have a bright future in our sport.”

Said Truex in the release: “I’m really excited to have the opportunity to join Joe Gibbs Racing. Obviously to be able to make this transition and still be able to work alongside Cole is something that was very important to me. There is also a real comfort level working with the JGR team and I wanted to stay in the Toyota family. We still have big goals for the remainder of this season, but it’s nice to know what we will be doing in 2019.”

Said Pearn in the release: “I’m extremely proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish over the past few years out of Denver and the move to JGR will make the transition for 2019 an easy one. It’s a great organization with a lot of great people and a leadership team that wants to win. We still have work to do this season of course, but it’s nice to finally make our plans official for 2019.”

Barney Visser, the owner of Furniture Row Racing, issued the following statement.

“I want to personally thank Martin and Cole for their contributions in making Furniture Row Racing a championship-caliber team. There’s no doubt in my mind that they will continue to be a winning driver/crew chief combination with Joe Gibbs Racing.  They are outstanding representatives for NASCAR and I am proud to have been associated with them. But before Martin and Cole depart for a new endeavor we still have two races remaining, and hopefully we will be celebrating another championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”