Silly Season Scorecard: Post-Miami edition

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NASCAR’s championship weekend in Miami has come and gone and with it came a flurry of driver announcements from teams about the 2020 racing season.

Among them was the news that Cole Custer is being promoted by Stewart-Haas Racing to the Cup Series, where he will take over the No. 41 Ford driven by Daniel Suarez this year.

Here’s a look at all the official driver announcements made so far for next season.

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

No. 36: Front Row Motorsports announced Nov. 13 it was parting ways with Matt Tifft so he could focus on his health following his seizure at Martinsville in March. Tifft said he could not commit to racing in 2020.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

JTG Daugherty Racing: It was announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. The team said that an announcement on car number and sponsor would come later.

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

Corey LaJoie – The driver hasn’t announced his plans for 2020, but he said in October he and Go Fas Racing were “working toward” him returning to the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year and that “2020 driver negotiations are still ongoing.”

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Has not announced its driver plans for 2020, but Richard Childress said after Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity title that it would field a full-time entry.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

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What drivers said after Miami

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For one last time this season, here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway:

Kyle Busch – winner and 2019 NASCAR Cup champion: “We have a great race team, a great owner and the best sponsors in sports. I just can’t say enough and thank everyone enough for this opportunity. I may be the one that’s able to hoist the trophy, or to have a championship, but it wouldn’t be possible without Adam Stevens (crew chief) and Joe Gibbs, J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs and the whole family. M&M’s of course and Interstate Batteries and Norm Miller. And, Toyota – this TRD engine was awesome tonight. It’s been awesome all year. We had one issue, but man it’s so much fun to work with these guys and this group. Everybody that puts it all together for me. There’s always your doubters. There’s always your haters, but you know what, this one is for Rowdy nation because you guys are the best. Thank you so much.

“(What does this mean to the Gibbs family after the passing of J.D. earlier this year?) “I know it’s been a difficult time on Melissa and Joe (Gibbs) and to reward him with a championship — I don’t know how much it means to them, but it’s the best I can do. I know J.D. (Gibbs) was looking down on us all year long. Damn, what a season Joe Gibbs Racing put together. For as awesome as our group is and everybody back at the shop and how awesome they are at building some really, really special race cars we put it on them this time.

“(Did you soak this celebration in a little bit more the second time around?) The last time I did a burnout, first it messed up the flag and everything. So, I wanted to get a good shot with the flag everywhere and make sure everybody could get a good shot of the flag, because we’re the 2019 champions.

“(What kind of statement was tonight’s performance from the 18 team?) Everybody always says you never give up and we’re no different and we just do what we can do each and every week and sometimes we may not be the best and sometimes we may not have the right track position. Today we had a really good car and I could race around and move around. That’s what’s so special about Homestead-Miami Speedway – is the ability to put on a show. Kind of like we did there racing those guys. It was exciting from my seat. It was a lot of fun to cap off such an amazing year.

“(How does it feel to get your second championship?) Right now, it’s all good but I’ll let you know in a couple weeks when it soaks in maybe. Obviously, I had tears in my eyes because this is just such an awesome moment. To share it with my family, with the Gibbs family and with the love and support of all of my sponsors, it’s a dream come true.”

JOE GIBBS — winning team owner: “It’s a thrill for us. The Lord blessed us with a great night. I spent three and a half hours worrying about everything. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I want to thank Mitch, Monster and Toyota. Norm Miller got us started over here. Coy (Gibbs) a big part of our family – our whole family is here. Thank you to everybody for being a part of this. It’s a thrill for me and to all of our fans, thank you to each and every one of you guys. We appreciate it so much.

“(What does the championship mean and did it feel like J.D. was smiling down at you?) I just want to say that J.D. (Gibbs) spent his entire professional life building our race team and this whole year I think is just a tribute to him. Everybody that saw the Daytona 500 and everything that’s happened this year would have to think the Lord had his hand on what has taken place. I believe J.D. had a great view of it. Everybody go to JDGibbsLegacy.com. Appreciate everybody. This whole year we’re celebrating his life.”

Adam Stevens – winning crew chief: “(How do you explain the emotion of the moment after a year of such hard work?) You’ve got to keep it in perspective, man. The goal from the time we left Homestead last year was to win it this year and that’s all we’ve tried to do and keep that in mind. I wish we had another dozen races to go with it, but we got the big trophy.“

Martin Truex Jr. – finished second: (How did you refocus after the pit road mistake?) When things like that happen all you can do is do your best. Just try to forget about it and make it up. We got most of the way back there, just not quite all of the way. It’s unfortunate. I thought we were going to be okay and then the start of the third stage I had to restart third and I wish I would’ve let Denny (Hamlin) beat me off of the pit road restart and restart fourth. I felt like if we could’ve got by him there we would’ve had a shot at it. I just got blitzed on the outside by a few guys there on the restart with the 20 (Erik Jones) and the 22 (Joey Logano) and those guys. I had to race them so hard it hurt my right-front tire and then that whole run I just faded and got tight and lost all of my track position. At the end, we were way faster but just too much ground to make up. Unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes. We tried hard, we had a hell of a season and congrats to the 18 bunch.

Erik Jones – finished third: “It was up and down for us. It really started pretty far off and just got our car really good by the end. I was feeling pretty confident the last stage. We were able to pick up a lot of ground and had the fastest car for a little bit, but got in the wall one too many times and didn’t have a shot at the end. It was a good day. Those guys are the best – the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), so to run with them was a good feeling. The DeWalt Camry was good at the end. It was nice to finish off the year strong because the last two here haven’t been very good to us, so it was good.”

Kevin Harvick – finished fourth: “We just needed to do something different. They were so much better than us on the long run. That was our best chance, to have a caution there at the end, and we never got one. We did something different, hoping for a caution. We had to do the opposite, and it just didn’t work out. On the restarts I could do what I wanted to do and hold them off for 15 or 20 laps. This race has come down to that every year. You kind of play toward that, and they were quite a bit better than us on the long run. We had a really good car for those first 15-20 laps on the restarts and had a lot of speed, we just never got to try to race for it there with the caution.

Joey Logano – finished fifth: “You want to win. You want to be the one who spoils the must-win to win the championship party if you’re not in it and we just weren’t fast enough. Maybe a late-race restart could have made some magic happen, but fifth was the best we were gonna do. That was about the highest we got all race long and apparently all year long as well because we were fifth in points, so it was a strong year. It wasn’t a championship year. We want to be better, but we’ll move on.”

Clint Bowyer – finished sixth: “I wish we could have hung on to fourth place there at the end, but we got tight and finished sixth. That was a good run for us. It put us ninth in the points at the end of the year, and that’s probably where we deserve to be. We stubbed our toe one or two races and had some crummy luck at actually some good tracks for us – Martinsville – kind of got us behind the eight ball and kind of knocked us out of that Round of 8. That hurt us, but, all in all, we rise to the occasion in the playoffs and ran our best all year long in the playoffs, so I was proud of those efforts. My guys have worked hard this year, and they’re ready to work hard in the offseason to get ready for Daytona in February.”

Ryan Newman – finished seventh: “I didn’t really realize we were seventh, but I’m proud of the guys with the Wyndham Rewards Ford.  We had a loose wheel that put us back.  We had a really good car.  We had one run there at the start of the third stage that just wasn’t quite as good as we needed to be, but I felt like our last run was pretty good.  I’m proud of the guys.  We made a lot of progress this year.  It’s a good way to end the season and prove that we were a top 10 car there at the end.  We didn’t end up there in points, but just proud of the overall team effort for sure.”

Austin Dillon — finished eighth: “It feels good to cap off the 2019 season with a solid run for everyone at RCR, ECR and our partners and fans. The Symbicort Chevrolet was really solid from the start of the race, and it didn’t take long for us to make our way into the top 10. We just got a little too tight at the end of the race to make a run for the top-five. We’ve changed our bodies and everything, just trying to get closer to the competition. We’ve been working really hard and this gives us some good momentum going into 2020. This is the first car we’ve had all year that’s been really competitive at these 1.5-mile tracks. We’ve had some good qualifying efforts, but we were racy tonight and that was good to see. We can build on stuff like this for next year.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 10th: “(What caused the overheating issue?) We put too much tape on. Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) is really aggressive with his calls and he tried to add some tape there and it just overheated. All of my gauges were pegged and they peg it up a really high number so we weren’t going to make it. But, I’ve got to say thank you to TRD for that thing staying together. That is unbelievable. A hell of a season by our guys. We gave ourselves a shot. At the end there we woke up and I really just wanted a chance to go after them after that pit stop, but with the overheating I was going to blow up so I had to make the right call and try to un-lap ourselves and try to get a caution and try for a miracle. It stinks, but also we had a great year.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 11th: “We had a pretty good Menards/Richmond Ford today. We fought tight most of the day and really didn’t have much for the leaders. We decided to a take a chance splitting the pit window in the hopes of catching a caution, but things didn’t work out which kind of stinks. I’m proud of everyone on this team and how far we’ve come this season. Big thanks to everyone at Team Penske and all our great partners.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 12th “(Is it gratifying for you and this team to have a statement run to close out your tenure with Richard Childress Racing?) Yes and no. It’s bittersweet. You don’t want to ‑‑ you want to go out on a good note for sure, but it’s a spade being a spade. That’s what I’m going to call it right here. There’s so many different paths you can go down as a race team, from car builds to downforce to drag and all that stuff, and I felt like when we brought the car, I felt like what I needed in the seat of the race car, what I felt like I wanted and I needed week in and week out, we brought that particular race car four times out of 36 weeks. That’s frustrating.

“But I’m glad we were able to at least rally and at least stay committed to the path of bringing the best piece possible to Homestead. Those guys could have just said, hey, we’ve got a car built already with a different body, we’ll come down here and see what happens, but that’s not what they did. I hate to whine about that, but I just wish we had a little better fair shake at it, but that’s life. Not going to cry about it, not going to lose sleep about it, but that’s just part of it.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 14th (last start for Stewart-Haas Racing): “The Haas Automation guys worked really hard today. The track conditions change so much from the day to the night, and making adjustments to keep up with the track was key. I was hoping we could get a few more positions there at the end, but my car just wasn’t handling well in the last 15 laps or so. Overall, we had a good season and I really enjoyed working with the crew guys and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 18th: “That certainly wasn’t the day we wanted. I’m proud of everyone on the Discount Tire team. We won three races this season and finished eighth in the points and that’s something to be proud of and build on for next season.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 19th: “I was really hoping to have a better finish today to finish out my time with Roush Fenway Racing. We just couldn’t get the handling where we needed it. I want to thank everyone at Roush Fenway for the past 12 years.”

David Ragan – finished 27th in his final full-time Cup start: “Our last race was really uneventful. We tried some strategy a few times and it kind of bit us.  We probably lost a lap or two that we shouldn’t have, but we were being aggressive because we didn’t really have anything to lose  I can’t say enough about everybody at Front Row Motorsports and the NASCAR industry for making this last weekend special.  It was a tough season.  I wish we had some better results to show for it, but the last season won’t dictate my 13-year career.  We’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of good memories and don’t regret anything that we’ve done.  I’ll sleep good tonight and think a little bit over the offseason on what I want to do next year and I’m sure I’ll be around.

“(Did you take some photos to remember today?) Yeah, I’m not too much of a guy that plans ahead and thinks about all that fun stuff, but thankfully I’ve got a good wife and a good team at Front Row Motorsports that made today special.  I probably wouldn’t have done some of those things, but those memories and videos and fun stuff we got to do will be something we talk about and remember for a long time.”

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‘Disappointed’ Daniel Suarez says he secured ‘millions’ to keep SHR ride

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Daniel Suarez was “disappointed” and “extremely surprised” about losing his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing after his business team apparently delivered “several millions” in sponsorship that the team wanted.

“A lot of people have worked very hard on this team to try to put everything together and unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” Suarez said Friday before Cup practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “We needed a few months. We had to find a big amount of money to keep the ride for next year.

“My group of people, friends and a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing went to work and we actually did a pretty good job. We pretty much got the goal but unfortunately part of the money wasn’t on the table at this point. It was going to come a few months later, and it wasn’t enough. It was a little unfortunate. It was a surprise. I was as shocked as you guys are probably right now.”

Suarez said he learned Monday night about SHR’s decision to replace him with Xfinity driver Cole Custer after meeting with the team earlier that day.

In interviews over the past two months, he generally had provided positive updates on his chances of retaining his seat in the No. 41 Ford.

“I am pretty sure that most of you saw me very confident because I knew where we were,” he said. “I was 95 percent sure that we were in. I was extremely surprised. A lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing worked very hard to put everything together. It was disappointing to see that. Tony Stewart was pushing for me so hard. Brett Frood, a lot of people in Stewart-Haas Racing. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with Haas.”

Team owner Gene Haas created the No. 41 in 2014 for Kurt Busch (mostly without the knowledge of co-owner Tony Stewart, who was hospitalized with a broken leg during much of the decision-making).

“Gene actually controls the 41 car, but we’re all comfortable with the decision,” Stewart said. “I spoke to Gene a lot about it.  We feel like Cole has done a great job this year, and Cole has earned his right to be in the Cup Series next year, with seven wins and running for a championship.  He deserves it. You know, it ultimately is Gene’s decision, but like I said, this is something that as a company we all agreed with and feel like that Cole has earned his right to be in the series and have an opportunity like this.

“We still want to try to figure out how to help Daniel.  I think he deserves to be in the Cup Series. It’s just a matter of how do we fit it all in, and when you’ve got a feeder series and you’ve got your own program to work young drivers up through there, sometimes you get in scenarios like this where you’ve got more drivers than you have cars. ….We wish we could have five cars, but we can’t, so it puts us in this odd position to have to make a change like that. It’s bittersweet.”

Suarez, who is wrapping up his third season in Cup, joined SHR this season after getting dumped last year by Joe Gibbs Racing for Martin Truex Jr. The Monterrey, Mexico, native said he talked with Stewart earlier Friday, but “I don’t know what I am going to do yet.

“This is the position we are in now, but I think good things happen to good people and I am sure good things are going to line up for me,” Suarez said. “Tony is a great guy. In the last six months I have learned that he is a very good friend. In the last week I have been talking to him a lot. He was talking to a lot of people, and he was pushing very hard for me.

“Unfortunately the 41 team, and especially the 41, he doesn’t have a lot that he can do with that car because the 41 is not his car. He pushed. I am sure that he pushed as hard as he could, like a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing did. It just didn’t work out.”

Suarez said his business team had gone from being far short of SHR’s sponsorship requirement six weeks ago to near the number a few weeks ago.

“We were in good shape. It is very hard to just write a check and put it on somebody’s desk,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that. It is impossible. They put the bar very high for me and my group to find money but we did it. But just the timing wasn’t right.””

He also said he wasn’t angry but just felt blindsided by SHR’s decision. The 2016 Xfinity Series champion also met Friday with Ford Performance executive Mark Rushbrook. With the sponsorship, he also could be a candidate at Richard Childress Racing, which had been mentioned as a possibility last year before he landed at SHR.

“Richard is a great guy,” Suarez said. “He is a very honest and straightforward person. I haven’t talked to him in weeks but in years past we have had several conversations but not lately. Right now I really haven’t done a lot. I just wanted to get back on my feet and go racing and try to kick their butt.”

Suarez seemed unsure of whether he would remain in NASCAR, noting he had achieved his goal of winning races and title in the Xfinity Series.. He is ranked a career-best 17th in the points standings with a career-high four top fives heading into the finale and just missed qualifying for the 16-driver playoff field this season.

“Maybe a lot of people don’t believe this, but this wasn’t a problem of results,” Suarez said. “This wasn’t because we didn’t perform. (Teammate) Kevin Harvick is an amazing driver with an amazing team and has been doing an amazing job and that is why he is here today, fighting for a championship.

“But if you think about it, we have been racing along the other two cars very even the whole year even though we were a new team. We have had issues with the pit crew and changed the pit crew around several times this year to improve. That is the sad part for myself, that I have spent a lot of time working with my team to make my team better and changed the pit crew many times and moved people around and the spotter and a couple other things. I felt like we finally got everything clicking better the last month, month-and-a-half to be stronger. Now everything is coming apart.”

Cole Custer to replace Daniel Suarez at SHR in 2020

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Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez in the No. 41 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing in the Cup Series for 2020, according to a report Thursday by motorsport.com that cites multiple unnamed sources.

Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed the move Friday morning. 

Suarez confirmed in a video message on Twitter that he will not be back with Stewart-Haas Racing after this season.

“I was as shocked as you guys are, late last night,”  Suarez said. “Guys, I can promise you that I worked my heart out to make this happen and to try to put everything together. The team did as well. We were not able to put all the funding and sponsor together right on time … we just ran out of time. I’m extremely disappointed for the outcome. It is the way it is sometimes. I’m sure something else will be waiting for me.”

Stewart-Haas Racing issued a statement Thursday night:

Car owner Gene Haas issued a statement Friday: “I was asked last year about this time what Cole needed to do to earn his place in the NASCAR Cup Series, and I said he needed to win. Well, Cole has done that – a lot. He showed that he’s ready to compete at the next level and we’re giving him that opportunity.”

Custer said in a statement Friday: “This is the moment I’ve worked for ever since I first started racing. I’ve learned a lot in these last three years in the Xfinity Series, and to be able to stay within Stewart-Haas Racing will make a steep learning curve a little less steep. I know the people, the culture and what’s expected of me. I’m ready for this challenge.”

Custer’s promotion means that the Big 3 in the Xfinity Series — Custer, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell — each will move to Cup together and compete for rookie of the year honors next season. Reddick will drive for Richard Childress Racing and Bell will be with Leavine Family Racing.

Bell is looking forward to the rookie battle.

“It’s really cool to see the three of us excel at the Xfinity level and now have our opportunity in Cup,” Bell said Thursday. “I look forward to racing the same two competitors on Sundays now and it will be with a bunch of other great race car drivers mixed in.”

Suarez, 27, joined Stewart-Haas Racing this season after having spent the past two years in Cup with Joe Gibbs Racing. Suarez has failed to make the Cup playoffs each season. 

Asked two weeks ago at Texas about his contract situation, Suarez said: “We are not in the perfect situation. I wish two months ago we were done with all this stuff. You never know. Fortunately or unfortunately, who knows, I have been in this situation for the last couple of years. Everything will be fine. We just have to work out a couple of things sponsor wise and hopefully everything will fall in place.”

Custer, 21, is in his third full season in Xfinity. He finished second in the championship race last year and is in the championship race this year again with Reddick, Bell and Justin Allgaier. Custer has seven Xfinity wins this season and nine in 103 career series starts.

A streak worth celebrating, but just don’t talk about it

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To know the information is one thing. To share it is another. But to reveal the fact to the driver it pertains to is to invite the potential for scorn even though that fact is quite an achievement.

“Oh thanks, I appreciate that,” Kevin Harvick says in jest after being told he has gone more than one year since his last speeding penalty in a Cup race.

Mind you, he was told that two days before last weekend’s Texas race, which he won to clinch a spot in the Nov. 17 championship race in Miami.

So it was understandable with all that was at stake, being informed about his perfect streak on pit road — where drivers toe the line on being too fast — might make a driver uneasy.

But Harvick’s run of 38 consecutive races without a pit road speeding penalty isn’t the longest streak in the series. Fellow playoff driver Joey Logano has gone 69 races, dating to last year’s Daytona 500 without speeding on pit road in a Cup race.

Told of his achievement, he jokingly looks to knock on wood and laughs. Logano often laughs, sometimes at himself, sometimes as a reflex and sometimes because it is just good to be him, the reigning series champion. 

“Maybe it means I’m not pushing hard enough,” Logano says, laughing.

What Logano and Harvick have done is remarkable in a series where a hundredth of a second matters and going too fast on pit road can prove costly. The only other full-time Cup driver without a pit road speeding penalty this season is Chris Buescher. He has gone 65 races since being penalized for speeding at Auto Club Speedway in March 2018.

A pit road speeding penalty this weekend at ISM Raceway could impact who makes the championship race in Miami. Six drivers are contending for the final two spots. One mistake could end a driver’s title hopes.

Last year’s Cup playoff race at ISM Raceway had 10 pit road speeding penalties — including one by Chase Elliott, whose infraction came while leading with about a quarter of the 312-lap race left. The penalty played a role in his playoff elimination.

“You can’t come down pit road leading the race and speed and expect to race for a championship the next week,” Elliott said after that race.

Elliott has been better at watching his speed. He last had a pit road speeding penalty in the Coca-Cola 600 in May, a stretch of 21 races. Or think it about it this way — it’s one race longer than Kyle Busch’s winless streak.

Busch has the most pit road speeding penalties among the eight remaining playoff drivers. He’s been caught six times, including the Dover playoff race.

“I’ll bet you all the money in the world that I can go a whole year without speeding on pit road if you want to make that bet,” Busch says.

No bet is taken.

“It’s all about where your tolerances are set,” Busch says of the series of lights on the car’s dash that is tied to RPMs, which is how teams measure their speed because their cars don’t have a speedometer as passenger vehicles do. “You have that tachometer that we all work off of and our lights and everything else … that we set our pit road speeds to. Some guys’ tolerances are way tighter and closer to that limit than others. It’s just a matter of it.

“There’s a sheet that we get every week that gives us a rundown of pit road speeds and guys on pit road and how fast they are and all of that sort of stuff. The 18 car, we’ve been No. 1 on that sheet for the past four years. We will keep doing what we do and continue to be No. 1 on that sheet. Sometimes, we will have to pay that price with a speeding penalty, and you just have to know when you have to back it down a little.”

All teams get that weekly report card on their time driving on pit road, giving competitors a sense of how fast or slow they are compared to the field.

Michael McDowell, who has been penalized seven times for speeding on pit road this year, says that data is meaningful.

“All of us analyze this on Monday, and you get a ranking,” he says. “I don’t want to be 30th on pit road. I want to be top 10 on pit road every week. I don’t want to leave anything on the table, and neither does anyone else.”

Still, a speeding penalty can set a driver back and ruin their day, so why risk it?

“I think that it is a challenge on pit road to not leave anything on the table,” McDowell says. “That is what everybody is doing. You’re pushing as hard as you can to not lose half a second on pit road. The reason I’ve had more penalties than most is I push it really hard. I try to get as much as I can, and sometimes you overstep it.”

The reverberations of even one pit road speeding penalty can be felt months later. Kyle Larson knows.

He was leading at Atlanta in February when he was caught speeding two-thirds of the way through the race. He never recovered and finished 12th.

Say he hadn’t had that penalty and gone to win, he would have collected five playoff points. He enters Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 23 points out of the final transfer spot. As Logano noted earlier in the playoffs, every point matters.

And every moment on pit road matters.

“If you lose focus for a second trying to launch out of your stall or you don’t get slowed down enough coming in, it’s very easy to step over and be a thousandth of a mile an hour over the speed limit or a hundredth and get popped for speeding,” says Larson, who has had only one other speeding penalty this year. “I try not to push it. I’d say I’m on the slower end.”

That Harvick, Logano and Buescher have gone all season without a speeding penalty is remarkable considering all that takes place on pit road.

Drivers watch their dashes, making sure they don’t go over the speed limit as cars pull in or pull out of pit stalls around them. Add to it that the easiest place to pass cars often can be pit road, and the pressure to not lose any time increases.

“As you look at it, I feel like it is one of the reasons our team is still in it,” Harvick says of not having a pit road speeding penalty this year. “I don’t feel like we have had that knockout speed that the (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars have had on a week-to-week basis. We have had it a few times and been able to capitalize on that, but I feel like we have done a good job minimizing the mistakes.

“Hopefully, you don’t jinx us.”

Logano credits his team for keeping him from speeding on pit road.

“When you look at pit road and drivers that get penalties more often than others, it’s not just the driver in this case,” he says. “In some cases, it is. In other cases, if the team doesn’t calculate the lights the right way, you’re going to get a pit road speeding penalty.

“As long as you’re in tune with what your team is doing, and they’re in tune with how you’re going to run down pit road, you can maximize it and not go over. You got to be cautious, but you got to push it.”

Sunday night, after Harvick had crossed the finish line first, celebrated in victory lane and came to the media center, he found the person who had asked him earlier that weekend about not having a pit road speeding penalty.

“Yes … we made it through the whole night without having a speeding penalty, so I don’t have to find you this next week to … we didn’t have a speeding penalty,” Harvick said with a smile, “so you’re off the hook.”

Of course, two races remain. Two more chances to make a mistake, and if it happens in Miami, it could cost a driver the championship.

 

Here is a list of the playoff drivers and their last speeding penalty:
Driver Date Track
Joey Logano 2/18/18 Daytona
Kevin Harvick 10/21/18 Kansas
Chase Elliott 5/26/19 Charlotte
Kyle Larson 8/11/19 Michigan
Kyle Busch 10/6/19 Dover
Denny Hamlin 10/13/19 Talladega
Martin Truex Jr. 10/13/19 Talladega
Ryan Blaney 10/13/19 Talladega

Racing Insights 

 

Drivers with the most pit road speeding penalties this season:
7 – Ty Dillon
7 – Michael McDowell
6 – Kyle Busch
4 – Denny Hamlin
4 – Martin Truex Jr.
4 – JJ Yeley
3 – Ryan Blaney
Racing Insights