“He’s done a really good job, him and Mike, of growing together as a team and figuring out what he likes,” said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at SHR. “(Bugarewicz) has done a great job at that, but it’s time to go. They’ve been picking up and building their confidence and I feel like they’re ready, they just have to go out and execute.
“When you go back through and you look at the top fives and top 10s he’s had all year, I don’t know if a single one of them was just a good, clean race. They’ve had issues. Pit crews, restarts, speeding on pit road – things of that nature that have made him go to the back and have to race to the front. If we can clean all of those things up and not make any mistakes, I think he’ll have a good opportunity.”
The 10-race Cup playoffs begin Sunday at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
What drivers said after Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono
Denny Hamlin — Winner: “I was just hoping for no cautions, I knew we had the car. I was just maintaining my gap right there and didn’t want to make any mistakes like I did at Bristol and threw that win away. I just tried to work through the traffic as best I could and obviously (crew chief Chris Gabehart) is paying attention to strategy there and made the right call. … A lot of adversity early. We got some nose damage and had to fix that. Then we just worked on the car and got it better and better. It finished the race there a lot better than we finished yesterday and I thought we had a race-winning car yesterday. We knew after yesterday’s race and showing the speed that we had, just don’t mess it up and we’ve got a good shot today and that’s what we did.”
Kevin Harvick — Finished 2nd: “Car was actually better today than it was yesterday. Just the way that the end worked out. We had to run in a lot of traffic there. Denny (Hamlin) kept clicking off laps. They did what they had to do, did the opposite of what we did as far as when we pitted. We lost time going through that traffic, just came out behind him, wound up second today. …I think overall you can’t be dissatisfied with a first and a second. I’d feel childish if I sat her and nitpicked that apart.”
Erik Jones — Finished 3rd: “Yeah, today was a lot better than yesterday for sure. It’s great to rebound like that. Unfortunately, I think we could have – definitely could have had two top-fives, and really, I think our primary car was quite a bit better than this car. I thought we could have probably contended both days a little more towards the win if we had our primary, but the Craftsman Camry was good. We made good changes overnight. We actually changed a lot of stuff and tried to kind of rebalance with what we had with this backup car. It’s nice to get a solid finish. I mean, we came off a good run at Talladega and went right back to a DNF and to come back here with a third. We just need to be consistent from here and keep it rolling.”
Chase Elliott — Finished 4th: “It was good to have a solid run for our NAPA team after yesterday being so poor. Obviously, we would’ve liked to of been a little better, but after starting in the back, I was pleased how I was able to move forward and gain a lot of that track position back. It was a good rebound. Looking forward to getting back on track at Indy.”
Aric Almirola — Finished 5th: “Another top five. I’m so proud of (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and al the guys on this 10 team. That’s four top fives in a row. What a weekend we had here in Pocono, got a lot of stage points and finished third yesterday and fifth today. We’re riding a wave of momentum … We’ll go to Indy, a place that’s very similar to the tunnel turn at Pocono and felt like we were really good there this weekend. I’m excited about Indy and another top five.”
Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 6th: “Two races back-to-back was pretty cool. Knocked them both out in one weekend, but we got stage points in all four stages between the two races, so that’s good and I felt like we finished solid yesterday and today we had a good day. We got stage points in both and the second stage we were actually anticipating possibly giving up the stage points for our strategy to have a good finishing position, but it worked out to where we still had some solid restarts and got up there to get at least a couple points, so everything helps. That was big and today was just pretty much real smooth from start to finish, just was up there in that top 10 for most part start to finish for the day, so Greg and the team did a real solid job keeping us up there and having a real good strategy.”
William Byron — Finished 7th: “We ended up with a top-10 finish today which was good. It was definitely an improvement from yesterday – seven spots better to be exact – which is good. We still struggled a good portion of the race but I think we made the right calls and adjustments at the end. We had a lot of speed actually the last couple runs. I think the track kind of came to us and ultimately that’s what we needed. So we’ll go on to Indy and hopefully have a better run there.”
Clint Bowyer — Finished 8th: “That was a tough race. We were just so loose today. By ourselves we were good and could turn in a good lap, but in traffic we struggled.”
Alex Bowman — Finished 9th: “It was an up-and-down day. So many people are on different pit strategies throughout the day here in Pocono. We had a top-10 car all day, just didn’t have the running positions to show for it. Greg (Ives) and the guys made great adjustments on pit road and really improved the car throughout the race. A top-10 finish today is good momentum for us going to Indy next weekend.”
Kurt Busch — Finished 13th:“The team made a lot of changes to the car from the race yesterday, but we still really struggled with the handling in traffic. The difference between dirty and clean air is crazy. The Monster Energy Chevy was good early on when we had track position (clean air) and we were able to lead all the laps and get the Stage 1 win, but just a tough ending for the No.1 team, a little Pocono Deja vu for us today!”
Austin Dillon — Finished 14th:“Everyone on the Symbicort Chevrolet team did a great job hanging in there today and working together to pull off a top-15 finish. We made a few adjustments to our car and strategy based on what we learned yesterday. There was a lot more grip on the track then what I figured there would be for a 4 p.m. race start. We just battled a tight-handling condition for most of the day today, especially at the beginning of the race. We had to free up a bunch. We missed stage points at the conclusion of Stage 1 by just one position, but then earned a few key Stage points at the end of Stage 2. During Stage 3, we worked our way into the top five before pitting for fuel with 13 laps remaining. All-in-all, can’t complain about a 14th-place finish.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 15th: “Overall, I think it was a solid weekend. We definitely learned some things on Saturday that we were able to adapt to for Sunday, but the track raced very differently on Sunday than it did on Saturday. We were really loose most of the race, but Brian (Pattie) made some great strategy calls to keep us running up front and ultimately get a top-15 finish at the end. We’re on a solid momentum streak and I’m looking forward to carrying that over to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend.”
Cole Custer — Finished 17th: “Thank you so much, guys. We got the car a lot better today. We definitely made gains and got the car better during the race. Well go get them next week.”
John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 19th: “Wasn’t quite the day we were hoping for at Pocono Raceway, but we finished better than we did in yesterday’s race, and that’s an accomplishment for us. Our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang was decent in clean air, but we just couldn’t make it work in traffic. I was too tight whenever I got behind another car and we couldn’t quite get the handling right in order to really make the kind of gains we wanted to on track. I’m proud of my team and thankful for their effort.”
Bubba Wallace — Finished 22nd: “Our Richard Petty Motorsports team made the right adjustments for what we fought yesterday, but it still was not the right adjustments; that is kind of the frustrating part. We did not have enough raw speed and couldn’t quite get the handling we needed. All-in-all, we came-out with a top-20 finish and it’s an improvement from yesterday. Good to get out of Pocono, and give us time to refocus before we come back.”
Daniel Suarez — Finished 26th: “The balance of our CommScope Toyota was OK in Turns 1 and 3, but unfortunately we were still struggling in Turn 2, especially in the first 10 or 15 laps of the run. Obviously, we’re lacking overall speed, but we’ll just keep on digging. It was a good job by the guys all weekend. We just need to keep digging and we’ll get there.”
Tyler Reddick — Finished 35th: “This weekend did not go at all how we wanted it to, but I’m proud of the No. 8 Caterpillar team for never giving up at any point. Unfortunately, when I came across the line to take the green flag today I lost all power steering and had to drop back to protect the car. Right as I was going to hit pit road to see what we could do to fix the handling, the caution came out for rain, which almost ended up helping us. I was able to pit and give my team the entire yellow to work on the car. We figured out we would be able to replace the alternator belt right as the red flag came out. Once the yellow flag came back out, my team worked as fast as they could to make the repairs but we still ended up a handful of laps down by the time we could rejoin the field. From that point on it was just a matter of capitalizing on everything that came our way to gain as many spots as we possibly could. Every point matters in the fight to make the Playoffs, and we weren’t going to go down without a fight. We got trapped a little bit with how the race played out, but we gave it our all today to get everything we could. I wouldn’t want to be racing with any other group than the one I have right now and am looking forward to getting back after it at Indy next weekend.”
Kyle Busch — Finished 38th: “I don’t know. The guys did an amazing job from yesterday to today. I guess it proves that if you get a little practice time in and we are going to be a force to be reckoned with so hopefully life gets back to normal eventually but we are in 2020, so it doesn’t surprise me getting crashed out of the lead. The M&M’s Camry was pretty fast today. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a great job. It’s just very frustrating and unfortunate. I know what happened but it doesn’t make any sense to talk about it. It will just come across in a bad way.”
Christopher Bell — Finished 39th: “I was kind of rolling out there by myself, and I had a good gap between the guy in front of me and behind me, and it just stepped out getting into Turn 2 there. It’s disappointing, but I’m really happy with the speed that we’ve had these last couple weeks. Obviously, yesterday here we were really fast and we had another great car today, so these guys keep bringing really fast Rheem Camrys to the racetrack and we will have good shows.”
Michael McDowell — Finished 40th: “Today was a real shame. The first few laps of today’s race felt really good and I thought that we were going to have the opportunity for another strong run. I’m still proud of the race that we had yesterday and the speed that we’ve been showing all year. Unfortunately, it’s all part of the ups and downs of racing. I’m really proud of the effort by everyone at Front Row Motorsports for bringing us a competitive car and I’m ready to head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend and hopefully rebound after today’s unfortunate events.”
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.”