Kevin Harvick — Winner:“We weren’t where we needed to be to start the race and lost a bunch of track position but we came back and made some great strategy calls to get in clean air and get out front and make some good laps. It is great to finally check Pocono off the list. Everybody at Stewart-Haas racing has done such a great job with all our cars over the last several years. … I knew when we came out of the pits and they told me how big of a lead we had. I saw the 11 come out of the pits and he was in second. I knew that the tire gap was going to be a little less. He caught us a little in traffic but I knew I could be pretty patient with the gap we had. As I started to see everything cycle out and see with the track position we had with the fresher tires you could kind of start to put it together in your mind as we started to run through the last stage and cars started to have to pit. Just a great call by Rodney Childers and aldl the guys up on the pit box for having the right strategy and getting us to victory lane.”
Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “I don’t know if more time would have helped, but I had a bad vibration there the last 15 (laps) and that kind of hampered our efforts coming to the front there. Not sure what it was, but it was really, really bad and we just did all we could to run him (Kevin Harvick) down and that’s all we had.”
Aric Almirola — Finished 3rd: “(Crew chief Mike Bugwarewicz) and I talked about it coming here. This was a great opportunity to score a lot of points with a doubleheader. If you unload and you have a good car in the first race, you have an opportunity to score a lot of point in two days. Our Smithfield Ford Mustang was really, really fast. We opted to score a lot of points and that probably hurt us on strategy a little but I am proud of Bugga and these guys. They have been bringing some awesome race cars. I felt like we were tit for tat with (winner Kevin Harvick) when we were on older tires there and in clean air. Three top five’s in a row. I am really proud of my race team.”
Christopher Bell —Finished 4th: “Whenever I started working with Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) two years ago in the Xfinity Series, well even before that, I started following him and I knew he was really aggressive on strategy to get his driver up front. Seems like the majority of the race tracks that we’ve been to the last couple weeks have just been, put four tires on and go, but Pocono is definitely a place where you can mix up strategy, pit early, pit before the stages and so forth. Obviously, Jason did a great job and got us up front and we had the car speed to stay up there.”
Kyle Busch — Finished 5th: “We had some speed and there were laps that I could run with (Denny Hamlin), but (Hamlin) could just do it lap after lap after lap where I was pushing everything I had to keep up with him there. I just couldn’t do it. I would make the tires mad and would start to fall back. We were just a little tight all day. We really fought tight early on, but we made some really good adjustments and got it a lot closer and got it a lot better. Our strategy there worked out to get us in the top-five – that was about all we could ask for out of today. We got some really good ideas for tomorrow hopefully that will help us out and hopefully get us some speed so we can keep up with those front guys.”
Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 6th: “We started in a decent spot and lost some spots early. I thought we had a pretty decent SiriusXM Toyota early on and kind of had to do a little different strategy there. Stage one didn’t look too good, but I felt like we were pretty close with the car. We made some adjustments and got some track position through stage two, so we were able to get some decent stage points there. We were in a decent spot again towards the end and got a really bad vibration, so I was a little concerned that we were going to have a tire issue or something. Luckily, it held on and it wasn’t a great finish by any means, but a solid finish for sure and something we can work on for tomorrow.”
Clint Bowyer — Finished 7th: “We were really loose and in traffic we were terrible. But I think we found our direction in the last part of the race. We had a vibration late or I think we could have gotten more spots. What a swing! Johnny Klausmeier and my guys did a good job calling the race.”
Brad Keselowski — Finished 9th: “We didn’t start where we wanted to but we adjusted really well. I thought by the end we were one of the best cars. It was incredibly difficult to pass. I caught cars that I was a second faster than and then I just couldn’t pass. It was a big track position day. I think you saw that with the guys that started up front all finished up front. We tried to make some moves to make some passes and probably caught ourselves some spots. If we rode around all day we would have maybe got two or three more spots out of it. I appreciate the fact that my team has a lot of effort and was shooting for the stars.”
William Byron — Finished 14th: “We struggled today. We had a hard time making speed and tried to salvage what we could there at the end. We started gaining more speed as the car tightened up by the end of the race. We’ll make some changes for tomorrow and see what we can do then.”
Cole Custer — Finished 16th: “Solid day for us today. We ended up 16th and at the end, I felt we were fast enough to run up front. It’s just trying to get track position and I think I can get my restarts better for tomorrow. It was a solid day, which is what we needed. We can improve on it tomorrow. I think we have a good car and I cannot thank my guys enough. Looking forward to improving on it all tomorrow.”
Kurt Busch — Finished 18th: “I’m not really sure what went wrong with the handling on our Monster Energy Camaro. The track changed dramatically for us. We were pretty good the first half of the race, before the car started handling really tight on the exit of the corners. The second half was not so good for us with the handling and track position. We’ll turn it around and work for a better result tomorrow”.
Austin Dillon — Finished 19th: “Not what we wanted. Lost our track position in the middle of Stage 2 when the caution fell. It stunk. We were running eighth, and hoping it would go green and cycle out, but it didn’t. Nineteenth is what we had.”
Bubba Wallace — Finished 22nd: “Well, that was a whole bunch of nothing. We didn’t really hit on much all day. On the tight side; just could never get the front end to work. The guys did good trying to figure out something on our No. 43 Victory Junction Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, it just wasn’t enough. We tried to pull some strategy there at the end, and just didn’t have enough raw speed to dial ourselves out. So, all-in-all, I’m proud of the effort. We just kind of swung for the fences but didn’t really hit anything good. We know what not to do for tomorrow. We’ll come back way better with a totally different package. I had a good debrief with the guys, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings for us starting in the 22nd-place. We missed that invert spot by two; stayed on the lead lap almost by a lap. But all-in-all it’s good to come out of there with a clean car. A lot of people had a bad day, so we capitalized. On to tomorrow.”
John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 24th: “We made some adjustments to try and free it up and made some progress, but I just got loose under the 27 at one point, and slid up into him a little. We still struggled toward the end of the race and needed to be freer on our runs, but we made some good notes for tomorrow.”
Ty Dillon — Finished 26th: “Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 1LE was fast and handled well through the corners, but something was wrong under the hood. Our car just didn’t have the speed on the straightaway and it hurt our momentum. We started the race really tight, but Matt (Borland) made a big adjustment on the first stop which helped the balance. My Germain Racing guys will try to figure out what was wrong tonight, so it doesn’t hinder us tomorrow.”
Alex Bowman — Finished 27th:“That is not the way we wanted to end the race. We had a good run going and were going to end up top 10. (Brad Keselowski) got into us there at the end and we cut a tire. Definitely don’t have the finish to show how our day was going, but we will be back tomorrow with a new car.”
Daniel Suarez — Finished 28th: “We brought our Camry home in one piece and I think we’ll be better Sunday. We were hoping to do the third stage without stopping and we came up just short with no yellows. We’ll work hard to make the changes we need to tonight and tomorrow morning. I’m confident we’ll be much better than a 28th-place car.”
Tyler Reddick — Finished 30th: “We had good speed at the start of the race but we were involved in a wreck at the end of Stage 2 that put us two laps down and changed the course of our race. From then on out, it was all about finishing and earning maximum points. I have to thank my guys for their hard work and making repairs so I could finish the last stage. We kept after it as a team and finished all the laps, trying to maximize on as many points as we could. We will regroup and be ready for round two tomorrow.”
Here’s what the table looks like for the Cup Series heading into 2020.
New Era, New Names
After serving in the role for three years, Monster Energy is no longer the entitlement sponsor of the Cup Series. With its departure also comes the end of the Cup Series’ entitlement sponsor model that had been in place since 1971 beginning with Winston.
After five decades of being the Winston, Nextel, Sprint and finally the Monster Energy Cup Series, the premier series will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.
There’s a lot of expectations for what the Cup Series schedule will look like in 2021 after the end of NASCAR’s current five-year agreement with tracks.
But 2020 also has plenty of groundbreaking schedule developments.
– Martinsville Speedway will host its first official Cup night race on May 9. The short track also will host the final playoff elimination race for all three national series, with the Cup race held Nov. 1.
– Pocono Raceway will be the site of the Cup Series’ first ever doubleheader weekend June 27-28. Saturday’s race will be preceded by a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series event and Sunday begins with a Xfinity Series race.
– Daytona International Speedway will host the Cup regular season finale, moving its second date from the traditional July 4 weekend to Aug. 29. The July 4 weekend race is now held by Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Cup races there July 5).
– Darlington Raceway and the Southern 500 will open the Cup playoffs on Sept. 6. It’s joined in the opening round by Richmond Raceway and in the playoffs for the first time, Bristol Motor Speedway, which will be the first elimination race.
– After being the site of the first elimination race the last two seasons, the Charlotte Roval will be the Round of 12 elimination race (Oct. 11) and be preceded by Talladega Superspeedway.
– After a nearly two-decade run, Homestead-Miami Speedway is no longer the site of the championship weekend. Its place is now held by Phoenix Raceway, with the Cup championship race scheduled for Nov. 8. Miami’s Cup race will be March 22.
– Other notable changes: The Xfinity Series will compete at Martinsville (Oct. 31) for the first time since 2004. The Truck Series returns to Richmond Raceway (April 18) for the first time since 2005.
Chevrolet Cup teams will appear in Daytona with a slightly different look to their cars.
When the full Cup Series starting grid forms for the first time at the Daytona 500, there will be a lot familiar faces sporting new numbers with new teams. That includes a rather accomplished rookie class.
– Matt DiBenedetto debuts with Wood Brothers Racing in the No. 21 Ford, moving over from Leavine Family Racing and taking over for Paul Menard, who retired from full-time racing.
– Cole Custer and crew chief Mike Shiplett were promoted by Stewart-Haas Racing to take over its No. 41 Cup car, taking the place of Daniel Suarez. Suarez has not announced his plans for this season. SHR has not announced plans for its Xfinity program in 2020.
CREW CHIEF: Mike Bugarewicz (Moves to Aric Almirola’s crew chief in 2020, with Johnny Klausmeier becoming Bowyer’s crew chief)
TEAM: Stewart-Haas Racing
LAPS LED: 138
TOP 5s: 7
TOP 10s: 18
POLES: One (Las Vegas II, first pole since New Hampshire in 2007)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Recorded his best season finish since seventh in 2013. Also earned most top 10s in a season since 19 in 2013.
WHAT WENT WRONG: For the sixth time in the last seven seasons, Bowyer failed to reach victory lane (he won twice in 2018). Also, he recorded seven DNFs, the most in a single season in his Cup career.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020: With one season left on his current contract, if Bowyer’s overall performance doesn’t pick up, 2020 could be his last with Stewart-Haas Racing, if not the end of his Cup career.
While both Bowyer and Almirola made the playoffs, neither was a factor. Almirola was eliminated in the first round. Bowyer failed to advance beyond the second round. Bowyer finished ninth in points. Almirola was 14th.
“We don’t want to be satisfied with just making the playoffs,” Almirola said Wednesday, a day before the NASCAR Awards Show (8 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN). “You want to make a run in the playoffs like we did last year and win races. Unfortunately we didn’t do that.”
Mike Bugarewicz will be paired with Almirola after spending the past three seasons with Bowyer. Johnny Klausmeier will be paired with Bowyer after spending the past two seasons with Almirola.
Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled to have its three other cars match the consistent success of Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers. Harvick won the 2014 title in his first season at SHR. This year marked the fifth time he’s made it to the championship race in Miami in the six years of the format. No other SHR team has made it to the championship Cup race. Harvick’s team also was the only SHR car to win a race in 2019, scoring four victories.
“You look at teams like Kevin and Rodney and the success they’ve had,” Bowyer said. “They click. All the successful pairings are that way. Obviously this is an effort to try to find a little bit more of that fit factor. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a good fit thing for all of us. Definitely excited about what’s to come and getting things started with Johnny.”
Bowyer said he and Bugarewicz didn’t fit as well because they were too much alike.
“I really enjoyed Mike and all the guys on that team,” said Bowyer, who won two races with Bugarewicz in 2018. “Sometimes we’re too much the same. When I get fired up, he gets fired up and then we butt heads. You need a little bit of the opposites attract thing like a marriage.”