NASCAR America: An emotional end to 2018 for Martin Truex Jr.

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The 2018 season was an emotional one for Martin Truex Jr.

Last year’s championship was a fairy tale for a team located in Denver, Colorado – far from NASCAR’s epicenter in North Carolina.

This season was much different. Furniture Row Racing found out midseason that its primary sponsor would not return after this year, which caused car owner Barney Visser to decide to shut down the team after the final race.

With that looming closure came the inevitable questions of if the No. 78 team would lose focus.

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?
MORE: Kevin Harvick failed to keep up with Miami

Then came late-race incidents at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville when Truex was knocked out of the lead on the final corner by Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano respectively. 

“They just didn’t have that short run speed to beat the 22 (of Logano at Miami), but they put up a heck of a fight,” NASCAR America analyst Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of the show. “They did all of this under the cloud of knowing that that organization was shutting down at the end of this last race.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Kevin Harvick’s team failed to keep up with Miami

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Under NASCAR’s current playoff format winning the most races means a lot. It doesn’t win the championship, however, unless one of those victories comes in the season finale.

After the race in Miami, Kevin Harvick was not ready to call his season a failure. He won eight times during the year, tying him for the lead with Kyle Busch. But he was noticeably disappointed by coming up two positions short of claiming his second Cup. Harvick finished behind the 2018 champion Joey Logano and last year’s champion Martin Truex Jr.

“When I look at the 4 team through the whole weekend, they just seemed a little bit off,” Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “You look at qualifying, it didn’t go well. And then Saturday practice, they had a short run to start off the first practice because he wasn’t happy with the car. He wasn’t able to find the feel in the car. It just seemed like they were searching a little bit.”

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?

Harvick started the race strong, moving up to the lead on Lap 43 after starting 12th. He won the first stage. When the field pitted, the team did not make any significant changes to the car and Harvick was never quite the same.

Jeff Burton said that indicates the team failed to adjust to the changing characteristics of the track.

“In this kind of race when it all comes down to one race and you just get off that little bit at the wrong time, there’s no time to recover,” Burton said.

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?

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Kyle Busch was one of the dominant drivers of the season with eight wins during the season to his credit and an incredible number of bonus points as the playoffs began. Two of his wins came during the playoffs, which led many to consider him one of the co-favorites to win the championship along with Kevin Harvick.

Instead, Busch finished a distant fourth in the race and the championship.

“There was nothing in the 18 car that was magical,” Steve Letarte said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “The 4 (of Harvick) when they dropped the green drove right to the front. … The 22 (of Joey Logano) at times, you said ‘he’s got great short run speed; if it comes down to a short run, he should be good.’ The 78 (of Martin Truex Jr.) had great long run speed. The 18 had none of the above.”

Busch was forced to gamble in the championship race to simply have a shot at winning. Staying out longer than most of the competition, he entered the pits on Lap 248 as the leader and rolled off pit road as the leader. When the green flag waved on Lap 253, he fell back quickly.

“(Busch) wasn’t better in any category,” Letarte added. “And that’s what really surprised me: A team that didn’t have a lot of weaknesses coming into the race really raced with nothing but weaknesses. Average pit crew, average speed, I think decent pit calls by Adam Stevens was the only thing that kept them in the picture for that last restart.”

Letarte went on to describe what he was watching in the final laps. While Logano drove to the front, Busch fell four seconds off the pace.

For more, watch the video above.

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Brad Keselowski: Late-race incident with Daniel Suarez ‘a racing deal’

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Brad Keselowski took to Twitter late Sunday to dismiss the notion that a late-race incident with Daniel Suarez in the Cup season finale was an intentional act to help teammate Joey Logano win the championship.

The incident occurred with 20 laps to go when Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Suarez were four-wide entering Turn 1.

Ragan was beneath Keselowski when he got loose and washed up into him, who then made contact with Suarez.

That sent Suarez into a slide, which cut a tire and put enough debris on the track to create a caution.

After the field pitted, Logano was third on the final restart with 15 laps to go. Three laps later he took the lead from Martin Truex Jr.

“Just a racing deal,” Keselowski said on Twitter. “@ClintBowyer and I were racing hard for position with 5th place points battle on the line.

“We Came up on 2 lap cars and neither of us 4 gave an inch. Hate that it caused a yellow but the racing was legit.”

The Team Penske driver added that he thought he had “screwed the 22 team” as a result of the incident and benefitted Kyle Busch, who led the race after not making a green flag pit stop.

Keselowski went on to finish fifth.

Truex finished second in a failed attempt to defend his 2017 title. His No. 78 Toyota lacked the short-run speed needed over the final run.

His fortunes were the opposite from 2017 when he capitalized on a late caution that involved Suarez and won the title.

“(Suarez) brought the caution out last year which won us the championship,” Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn said after the race. “This year it cost us the championship. You’ve got to be good, but you’ve got to have a bit of luck. At the end of the day, it just didn’t quite shake out.”

 

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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