2018 Cup season by the numbers

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Somewhere Joey Logano is waking up to his first sunrise as a Cup champion.

Logano clinched his first Cup title Sunday with his win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, beating Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

Logano is the 33rd different driver to win a Cup title in the series’ 70 seasons.

The 28-year-old is the second driver to win a Cup title for Team Penske.

With the 2018 season complete and 36 races added to the record book, here’s a look at some of the interesting stats that made up the year courtesy of Racing Insights.

– The Cup Series competed for 10,250 laps over 13,741 miles

– Cup saw 73 different drivers compete in 36 races

– Eleven drivers made their Cup debut

– Thirteen drivers won at least one pole. Kurt Busch led the series with five poles.

Daniel Suarez was the only driver to earn his first pole (Pocono II)

– Two drivers, Chase Elliott (Watkins Glen) and Erik Jones (Daytona II) earned their first Cup wins.

– Joe Gibbs Racing led all teams with 10 poles

– Three cautions at Sonoma, Richmond and Kansas were the fewest in a race.

– 13 cautions in the spring at Bristol were the most in a race.

– Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski each won three races in a row. It’s the first time three drivers have done that in a season.

– Five drivers ended a winless streak of 36 or more races: Clint Bowyer (190 races), Aric Almirola (149 races), Kurt Busch (58 races), Ryan Blaney (50 races) and Joey Logano (36 races)

– Seven times a driver won both stages and the race
.

– Harvick led all drivers with 19 stage wins.

 

Most Laps Led in a season without a win:

Driver                      Laps Led           Season

Harry Gant              1169                     1981

Jeff Gordon            919                       2010

Kyle Larson           782                      2018

Buddy Baker          766                       1969

Larson led the most laps in four races but failed to win all four.

 

Best Average Finish on 1.5-Mile tracks in a season:

Driver                             Avg Fin        Season               Starts

Bobby Labonte            2.43              1999                    7

Martin Truex Jr.           2.55               2017                    11

Bobby Labonte            3.14              2000                    7

Carl Edwards               4.64              2011                    11

Kyle Busch                   5.1                 2018                     11

 

Consecutive Seasons with at least one win: Active Drivers

Driver                                  No.         Years

Jimmie Johnson              16          2002-2017

Kyle Busch                       14           2005-2018

Denny Hamlin                 12           2006-2017

Kevin Harvick                 9              2010-2018

Brad Keselowski            8              2011-2018

Bold drivers won this season

 

 

Joey Logano wins Cup finale in Miami, championship

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Joey Logano clinched his first Cup Series title Sunday with a win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Logano led the final 12 laps after he passed Martin Truex Jr. in Turn 1 on the outside. Truex, who finished second, never challenged Logano again.

Kevin Harvick placed third and Kyle Busch finished fourth.

MORE: Harvick and Busch come up short in career years

“We did it! We won the championship. I can’t believe it,” Logano told NBC. “I don’t even know what to say. This team, Roger Penske, (crew chief) Todd Gordon, the pit crew, oh my God. Those guys are amazing. They gave me the car I needed at the end to do my job. Put me in position to do my job. Couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Logano’s championship comes in his 10th full-time season in Cup, his sixth with Team Penske and a year after he missed the playoffs.

“I’ve worked my whole life to get here,” Logano said. “I’ve spent 10 seasons fighting for this. Wasn’t sure we were going to get it, but man, Todd made a great adjustment there at the end. He has a no quit attitude and I was going to pass (Truex) no matter what.”

Truex, the defending champion, finished second after he led 20 laps. It was the final race for Furniture Row Racing, which will close with the end of the season.

“I’m going to miss these guys, wish we could have won it,” Truex told NBC. “We had it. We couldn’t go over 15 laps. I knew that last restart was going be tough … I was just slow for 15 laps.”

The championship is the second for Team Penske, which won its first in 2012 with Brad Keselowski.

The title is the first for Ford in Cup since Kurt Busch won it in 2004.

Logano entered the race as the only member of the Championship 4 without a title.

The race’s final 15-lap run was set up by a caution involving Daniel Suarez and Brad Keselowski. Busch led at the time, the only one of the Championship 4 who had not made a green flag pit stop.

Busch then beat the field off pit road, but Truex took the lead on the restart.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kevin Harvick

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Larson

MORE: Race results

MORE: Final point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: In likely his final Cup start, Matt Kenseth finished sixth for his best result in 15 starts this year … Brad Keselowski placed fifth for his third top five in the last four races.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Larson led 45 laps but finished 13th after he cut a tire and got into wall on Lap 193 … After his incident with Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez placed 30th in his last start with Joe Gibbs Racing … Regan Smith finished 39th, 27 laps off the lead after he went to the garage during the pre-race pace laps for an oil leak.

NOTABLE: Denny Hamlin (12 years) and Jimmie Johnson (16 years) each ended streaks of seasons with at least one win … Johnson placed 14th in his final race with crew chief Chad Knaus and with sponsor Lowe’s.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “Just a lot of screaming. I think I pulled a muscle.” – Joey Logano to NBC on what he did as he took the checkered flag.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “I don’t want him to change at all. In fact I think he did just what he did today. He beat all these guys fair and square.” – Roger Penske to NBCSN on Joey Logano.

WHAT’S NEXT: Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 17.

Social media reacts to Jimmie Johnson’s clean-shaven look

Photo: Dustin Long
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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – To commemorate his final race with sponsor Lowe’s and final race with Chad Knaus as crew chief, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson went back to 2002 with his look.

His No. 48 Chevrolet features a throwback look to his rookie season. His uniform harkens to that time.

Johnson also shaved his beard for the weekend, going back to his look when he made his Cup debut Oct. 7, 2001 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson began having a beard regularly at the start of the 2009 season. He had previously grown one during the offseason but would go back to the clean look before the season began. Johnson was a part of the inaugural Gillette Young Guns ads in 2004 that also included Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.

Friday, Johnson took fans back in time.

Social media had much to say about Johnson’s new look at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 

Friday 5: Tony Gibson seeks to win Cup title four months after hospitalization

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Four months after suffering what he called a “mini-stroke” that impacted his vision and hearing, Tony Gibson could help lead Kevin Harvick to the Cup title.

The 54-year-old Gibson, as affable and easygoing as anyone who has worked a lifetime in the Cup garage, will be on Harvick’s pit box Sunday in Miami as crew chief Rodney Childers sits out his last race of a two-race suspension.

Gibson will be there after spending more than a month off from work recovering from his health issues.

“I was actually just driving home from work (July 6) 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.”

Gibson said he was hospitalized more than a week before he was released. The blood clot started to dissolve but then it caused what Gibson called a mini-stroke, leaving him without 85 percent of his hearing in his left ear and cost him most of the function of his left eye.”

He went through therapy. He continues to see doctors. Gibson had an appointment with his neurologist today that had to be canceled since he’s in Miami.

“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.”

When Stewart-Haas Racing asked him to fill in for Childers after his penalty for an infraction discovered in Harvick’s winning car at Texas, Gibson had to consult his doctors to make sure it was OK for him to fly.

“They said I’m probably safer than anybody on the plane as far as blood clots with the medicines that I’m on,” Gibson said.

“Other than having to get up and walk around on the plane and do my normal stuff that I do, they were pretty satisfied with me doing it, and if all possible, I was going. There was no way I was going to let those guys down.”

Gibson was a natural choice to fill in for Childers. Gibson has faced championship pressure before. The Daytona Beach native was on Alan Kulwicki’s crew when Kulwicki won the 1992 title. Gibson was the car chief for Jeff Gordon’s team when Gordon won crowns in 1998 and 2001. Gibson was a crew chief from 2003-17, winning the 2017 Daytona 500 with Kurt Busch.

But Gibson decided in December he wanted off the road, writing on social media “Traveling 4 days a week for 31 years can take a toll on you.”

He took a role in the shop, coordinating the work on the cars for all four Cup teams as production manager. That kept him at home with family and gave him plenty of time for fishing.

Then again, it’s hard to keep racers from the track. That’s where he’ll be Sunday.

2. Got his back

For as much success as Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have had in their time together since 2014, their winning percentage (12.5 percent) is just slightly better than what Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn have accumulated (12.0 percent) since 2015.

So how have Truex and Pearn achieved such success? It started when Pearn was Truex’s engineer at Furniture Row Racing in 2014 when the team struggled.

“Our cars were not very good,” Truex said. “We had some major issues that took a while to figure out. But he never pointed the finger at me.  He did a lot of the setups and a lot of the work on the cars, and he was the one writing down the notes and taking all my feedback.

“As far as I know, and as far as I could tell, he believed in me 100 percent in that time when we were running 20th. I felt like (he) always had my back and was always willing to go the extra mile to figure it out. Once we did, obviously, you’ve seen what happened. But that just gave me the trust and the confidence that he had my back and he was my guy, and we figured it out together.”

3. Success of failure?

Kyle Busch has tied his career-high for wins in a season with eight, already has a career-high in top fives (21) and top 10s (27) and has the best average finish (8.4) of his career.

But can such a year be successful if it doesn’t come with a championship?

 “I would say it’s certainly been a successful year, but I don’t think it would be truly successful without being able to bring home that championship,” Busch said.

Busch was asked if it would be more disappointing to lose the title this year after the season he’s had.

“I guess it depends on who you lose it to,” he said. “Obviously, Harvick’s done a phenomenal job. Those guys and that group have been so good all season long, even in the late stages of last year. You lose it to him, and it’s like, yeah, okay, I can see why they got it. In all honesty, I feel like we’ve been right there toe-to-toe with them. He wins a week, I can win a week, he wins a week, I can win a week. Truex wins a week, I win a week, he wins a week. That’s kind of the way this season’s gone.”

Busch was asked if it would be more disappointing to lose the title to Logano since Logano hasn’t had the overall season Harvick and Truex have had.

“I would agree with that statement,” Busch said. “(Logano has) been there. He’s been consistent. He’s been good. He hasn’t necessarily performed to the level of the big three, and that’s no shake on them at all. 

“It’s just the fact of the matter. So if he wins the title over the rest of us, then that would certainly be a little bit more disappointing.”

4. Back in time

The past four years, the driver who won the championship won the race. If that trend continues this year, then Joey Logano would need to win on a 1.5-mile track for the first time in 2015 at Kansas in the playoffs – a span of 34 races on 1.5-mile tracks.

Logano is encouraged with how his team has performed in recent races on 1.5-mile tracks.

“I think we were really good at Kansas this year,” Logano said of a race he led 100 of 267 laps before placing eighth. “We may not have won the race, but we sat on the pole, led most laps that race.

  “We ran pretty well (at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year), as well. I feel confident in that. I feel confident we’re going to make a lot of pit stops because the tires wear out really quick. I have so much confidence in this pit crew to do their job that we’re going to go out there and do our things, have fun with that.”

5. A special celebration

If Kevin Harvick wins the championship Sunday, 6-year-old son Keelan has a special celebration he wants to do.

Harvick said Keelan asked him Wednesday night that if he won the championship could they do anything they wanted.

“If you win the championship, you can do pretty much anything you want,” Harvick told his son.

“He’s like, We’re going to climb the fence, dad. I said, Okay, I’ll watch. You climb the fence.”

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 best at Texas in last three seasons

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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Last year’s championship finale was as predictable as any NASCAR race can be.

Seven of the top-10 finishers qualified among the top 10. Eight of them finished among the top 10 in both stages and only one – Ryan Newman in 10th – failed to finish that well at the two breaks.

The top-three finishers all led significant portions of the race with Martin Truex Jr. pacing the field four times for 78 laps, Kyle Busch leading four times for 43 laps and Kyle Larson up front four times for 145 laps.

For the most part, these were the same drivers who were fast in practice, so this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster should be heavily influenced by the drivers with the best 10-lap averages.

Qualifying will also be important, but there is no reason to automatically discount a driver who starts outside the top 10. Last year, Chase Elliott advance to fifth from 18th on the grid while Joey Logano finished sixth after starting 19th.

1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.00) Playoff
Harvick has been as close to perfect as possible at Miami. Since the track went to its current configuration in 2003, Harvick has missed the top 10 only once (2007). In the 10 races since then, he has seven top fives, including the last four. He won the championship on the strength of his 2014 victory and is one of the best bets to do so again.

1. Kyle Busch  (three-year average: 3.00) Playoff
There are many signs pointing to this week being a two-man battle between Harvick and Busch. Las Vegas odds makers have had them as co-favorites most of the week at 2/1, they’ve dominated the 1.5-mile tracks with Harvick winning four times and Busch three. Their three-year average at Homestead are identical. Unless something happens to slow one of them down, the race and championship will come down to these two. 

3. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 3.33) Non-Playoff
It is unfortunate that Larson failed to make the Championship 4 because he will be part of the battle for the win this weekend. He enters with three consecutive top fives including a second in 2016 and a third last year. In four years of NASCAR’s current knockout format, a non-playoff driver has never won this race, so history could be made this week.

4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.67) Playoff
Logano is this week’s dark horse to win the championship. He has not been nearly as dominant on 1.5-milers as Harvick, Busch or Truex but he does have a couple of things in his favor. 1) He has had the luxury of preparing for Miami for three weeks since winning at Martinsville and 2) he has not finished worse than sixth in his last three starts at Miami. 

5. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 7.33) Non-Playoff
It has been easy to disregard Kenseth’s statistics in 2018. His most recent runs on a given track were with Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 6 at Roush Fenway Racing has struggled with both him and Trevor Bayne behind the wheel. Last week’s seventh-place finish at Phoenix changed that. Now that he knows how to get to the top 10, his Miami record of five consecutive results of eighth or better is suddenly meaningful.

MORE: Rotoworld Fantasy Power Rankings

6. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 8.00 in two starts) Non-Playoff
There is a old adage in racing that states drivers must first lose races in order to win them. The same is true of championships – and under NASCAR’s current rules, that also applies to simply making the Championship 4. Elliott has been eliminated in the Round of 8 in the past two seasons. Elliott knows he has been one of the strongest performers during the playoffs and if not for the poor start that Chevrolet endured at the beginning of the season, he might be one of the challengers if he had started winning earlier in the year. 

7. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 9.33) Non-Playoff
Hamlin will be on most fantasy radars because of his five race top-10 streak at Miami. He has not earned a top five there since 2013, but that year he won his second race on this track. His first came in 2009, so there is still some hope that he will keep his streak of winning every year since he was a rookie in 2006 alive.

8. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 10.33) Non-Playoff
McMurray is another driver who would like to close the season on a high note. He has not announced his plans for 2019, but he knows he will not be with Chip Ganassi Racing next year and with most of the major rides spoken for, he may not have another opportunity to win. Two of his last four attempts on this track ended in fifth-place finishes. The other two were a pair of 13ths. 

9. Austin Dillon (three-year average: 12.33) Non-Playoff
Dillon has come on strong in the last two weeks. His 10th at Texas and eighth at Phoenix is the first time this year that he has earned back-to-back top 10s. At Miami, he has a current streak of three top 15s without a top 10. With a little luck and some track position, he could close out the year with three consecutive strong runs.

9. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 12.33) Non-Playoff
Johnson has already shown what he will do for a win. It didn’t matter that he might miss the playoffs when he sailed into the final chicane at the Charlotte Roval and it won’t matter that the Championship 4 are battling for the Cup this week. If Johnson can sniff the lead, he is going to do everything he can to get to the checkers first. 

14. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 16.33) Playoff
Truex may have won last year, but he has not been overly impressive at Miami in recent years. That was his only top 10 in the past four seasons, which suggests he has his work cut out for him this week if he wants to beat Harvick and Busch.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Hamlin has won two of the last three poles at Miami. He will not be front-of-mind for most fantasy players this week and that could be a blessing in disguise. While most of the competition makes a safe pick like Harvick, Kyle Busch or Truex, someone willing to take a little risk could reap a huge benefit.

Segment Winners: Last year, the top-four finishers each swept the top five at the end of the stages. Meanwhile, there were only two drivers who earned stage points before falling out of the top 10 at the checkers (Clint Bowyer was 10th in Stage 1 before finishing 12th; Kurt Busch was seventh in Stage 1 and sixth in Stage 2 before losing two laps in the final segment and finishing 22nd). That suggests this week’s stage winners will come from among the drivers who impress the analysts most in practice.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.