Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Friday 5: Key questions leading into 2019 Cup season

Leave a comment

Cup teams test in two weeks in Las Vegas. The Daytona 500 is a month away. The new rules package debuts in five weeks in Atlanta.

There are many questions to ponder with the Cup season nearing. Here are five key questions.

1. What will the racing be like?

NASCAR made the decision to go with a new rules package that should make the racing tighter.

Will it? Can this package lead to more side-by-side racing, more beating and banging and more drivers upset with one another?

If it does, this could be among the steps to attract more fans. If not, then what?

2. What’s next from NASCAR?

It could be argued that this year will be among the most pivotal for NASCAR.

Steve Phelps enters his first full season as President. Jim France remains interim Chairman, having taken over after Brian France went on an indefinite leave after his arrest Aug. 5 for aggravated driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance in the 7th degree.

Phelps and Jim France will be among those who decide NASCAR’s direction. Phelps has twice said publicly since late September that “everything is in play” when looking at the Cup schedule for 2020 and beyond.

There has been talk of starting the season earlier and ending it sooner, midweek racing and doubleheaders.

How fans accept what NASCAR does — or doesn’t do — will be key.

3. Can Ford teams — particularly Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske — avoid the new-car blues that Toyota and Chevrolet teams experienced the past two years?

Both Toyota (2017) and Chevrolet (2018) struggled at times with their new cars in their debut seasons. If the same thing happens to Ford this year with the Mustang, it could allow Chevy and Toyota teams a chance to win races, qualify for the playoffs and build playoff points. That could be significant.

Toyota debuted the Camry in 2017 to mixed results. Although Martin Truex Jr. won three times in the first 18 races with the car at Furniture Row Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing could not get any of its Toyotas to Victory Lane until the 19th race of the season.

Things changed in the second half of the season. Toyota cars won 14 of the last 19 races and also the championship.

Chevrolet debuted the Camaro last year and also struggled in the first half of the season. Chevy teams won once — the Daytona 500 — in the first 21 races last year. Chevrolet won three times after that — all by Chase Elliott.

So can Ford teams be strong all season or will they need some time to become dominant or will they struggle much of the year?

4. Will new driver-crew chief pairings lead to wins?

The focus this season will be on Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus no longer working together on the No. 48 team — Johnson will be with rookie Cup crew chief Kevin Meendering and Knaus will be paired with sophomore Cup driver William Byron — but there are other pairings to watch.

After going winless last year, Denny Hamlin will be with crew chief Chris Gabehart, who has won in the Xfinity Series with Hamlin, Erik Jones and Ryan Preece.

Kurt Busch moves to Chip Ganassi Racing for what could be his final Cup season. He’ll look to crew chief Matt McCall to help make this year memorable.

Austin Dillon is reunited with crew chief Danny Stockman. They combined for championships in the Truck and Xfinity Series. While Dillon won last year’s Daytona 500, he wasn’t much of a threat at many other tracks. Can this pairing have success again?

Daniel Suarez lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing to make room for Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn. Suarez moves to Stewart-Haas Racing and looks to crew chief Billy Scott to help him succeed.

Ryan Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing and will have Scott Graves as his crew chief. Graves came from Joe Gibbs Racing. Can these two help raise Roush Fenway Racing’s profile?

5.  Who wins first?

It was shocking that Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson each went winless last year.

Don’t count on that happening this year. Don’t be surprised to see all three win this year. As for who will be the first to win? You don’t have much longer to find out. The season is approaching quickly.

True Gritty: Martin Truex Jr. enjoys another Philly sports fan adventure

Leave a comment

His new Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was nowhere in sight, but Martin Truex Jr. seemed worried he hadn’t donned his helmet Wednesday night – at a hockey game.

The 2017 Cup champion spent the first period between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins benches as the featured guest of “Inside The Glass”, where he was “excited and nervous, maybe a little bit scared” to fulfill his goal of seeing “how close I can get to that puck without it actually hitting me.”

Truex was close enough that he ducked behind NBCSN’s Brian Boucher (a retired goaltender who knows about stopping pucks) as the action whizzed by a few times.

“I feel like this is a NASCAR race,” Truex said. “It’s so intense, you’ve got to be here to see it in person.

“TV is awesome, but when you get here down by this ice, it’s amazing what these guys are doing. NASCAR fans say the same thing about racing all the time.”

It was the second visit to a Flyers game on NBCSN for Truex (three years ago, he said he remembered to bring a helmet), who rarely turns down the chance to pull for the Flyers, Phillies and Eagles.

During an episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast a year ago, Truex said his hometown of Mayetta was about 25 miles south of an imaginary line in New Jersey that divided his native state’s allegiances between pro teams in Philadelphia and the New York metro area.

With his family about a little more than an hour from Philadelphia, Truex grew up as a diehard fan of all professional sports in the City of Brotherly Love.

“Everyone I grew up around are Philly fans in general,” he said. “My dad. Aunts and uncles. I was born into it. It’s been fun.”

Last year, his obligations as Cup champ included a serendipitous trip to Super Bowl LII, where he took part in NBC’s pregame coverage and then watched his beloved Eagles defeat the New England Patriots 41-33.

He received the royal treatment again before and during a 4-3 victory for his favorite NHL team Wednesday, meeting the Flyers team and its beloved, irreverent and oft-viral mascot, Gritty (who presented Truex with a personalized jersey).

Truex left the Wells Fargo Center with many stories to tell crew chief Cole Pearn, a Canadian and avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan who played for rec hockey league teams in Denver while working with Truex at Furniture Row Racing the past five seasons.

With Furniture Row’s closure after the No. 78’s runner-up finish to 2018 champion Joey Logano, Truex and Pearn will move to Gibbs’ No. 19 in hopes of earning a third consecutive berth in the Championship 4.

“I feel good about the season coming up,” Truex said Wednesday. “(It’s) 32 days away from the Daytona 500. That’s hard to believe, but we’re really excited to race for a first-class team, that’s Joe Gibbs Racing, a championship team, year after year.

“We’re excited for the future, and hopefully it’ll be a great year for us.”

Ryan Truex to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing at Daytona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ryan Truex will attempt to make the Daytona 500 driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, the team announced Wednesday.

The team does not have a charter for the No. 71 Chevrolet.

“I am very thankful to TBR and Tommy Baldwin for this opportunity and can’t wait to get to Daytona and back in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car,” Ryan Truex said in a statement from the team. “The pressure is on to make it into the race, but Tommy is a true racer, and I know he will put everything into the car to give us a great shot.”

“I’m excited to have Ryan back in a Tommy Baldwin Racing car,” team owner Tommy Baldwin said in a statement. “We had success at Daytona in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, in the past. I’ve known the Truex family a very long time, and it’s special that we’ll be able to compete in the Daytona 500 together, and hopefully more races as the year goes on. We are still in search of a primary sponsor that we’re hoping to put together in time to give TBR a great run this year!”

Truex, the younger brother of Martin Truex Jr., last ran in Cup in 2014 when he competed in 23 races for BK Racing. Truex ran for Kaulig Racing last year in the Xfinity Series, finishing 12th in the points. Truex drove for Hattori Racing in 2017 in the Truck Series, placing ninth in points.

Five can’t-miss NASCAR Cup races in 2019 beyond Daytona 500

Getty Images
3 Comments

We’re 32 days out from the biggest NASCAR event of the season in the Daytona 500, a race of such importance that needs no explanation.

But what else is there to look forward to?

There are 35 other Cup points races this season and they’re not all created equal.

Here are five races to pay closer attention to this season.

– Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on Feb. 24 on Fox)

The second Cup race of the season will probably have its biggest spotlight in recent memory when the 1.5-mile track is the first to host the 2019 rules package.

Derived from the 2018 All-Star Race package, it includes a tapered spacer and is intended to provide closer racing. Cars will run 550 horsepower at all tracks 1.33 miles and larger, which includes Atlanta. At tracks less than 1.33 miles, cars will have 750 horsepower.

Combine the hopeful intent behind the package and a rough track surface that’s being kept in place by the “most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C.,” and you have no excuse to not tune in and see what happens.

Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET on June 30 on NBCSN)

The race that marks the start of NBC’s portion of the NASCAR schedule set an incredible precedent in 2018. The 1.5-mile track debuted in its new spot on the schedule with Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch’s dramatic last-lap battle and Busch’s win.

Was it a result of the drivers involved? The hot Chicagoland surface? Lapped traffic?

Yes.

Can it be topped?

We can only hope.

Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on Aug. 4 on NBCSN)

From the green flag last year, the Cup race on the New York road course was a barn burner, ending with a duel between Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. that resulted in Elliott’s first Cup win as Truex ran out of gas.

Races on the road course have had increasingly memorable finishes over the last seven years (beginning in 2012 with Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose). WGI shows no sign of providing a snoozer in the near future, especially as long as pit strategy is involved.

Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 29 on NBC)

The final lap of last season’s inaugural Cup race on the Charlotte Roval  had enough drama for three races on the new road course.

From Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson‘s contact in the final turn giving Ryan Blaney the win; Kyle Larson hitting the wall twice and passing a stalled car at the checkered flag to advance in the playoffs; and Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance himself.

Do teams have the oval-road course hybrid figured out after one year? It’ll be fun to watch that question answered.

First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Oct. 27 on NBCSN)

We’re starting to run out of fingers to use to list memorable events in Martinsville’s recent history of hosting a playoff race.

You could argue it started with Dale Earnhardt Jr. banging doors with Tony Stewart to win his only Martinsville clock in 2014.

Since then?

We’ve seen Matt Kenseth’s retaliation against Joey Logano in 2015, which resulted in Jeff Gordon’s final Cup win.

Two years later, Denny Hamlin wrecked Elliott from the lead near the end of regulation. Kyle Busch then won in overtime as Martinsville’s version of “The Big One” unfolded. Afterward, an angry Elliott confronted Hamlin on the track as fans filled the air with cheers and boos.

Last year Truex and Logano provided a thrilling battle over the last six laps. Logano performed the bump-and-run on Truex in the final turn to win the battle in the “damn war” (which Logano also won in Miami).

 

Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser thanks fans

Getty Images
3 Comments

Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser issued a note to fans, thanking them for their support.

Furniture Row Racing, which won the 2017 Cup title with Martin Truex Jr., ceased operations after the 2018 season because of lack of sponsorship. Truex and crew chief, Cole Pearn, along with other crew members, have moved to Joe Gibbs Racing to the No. 19 team.

As for Visser, he shares some more info in this note to fans:

Dear Race Fan,

First, I want to express a sincere thank you for the passionate support given to Furniture Row Racing during our storied career in NASCAR. It was an incredible ride and we are proud to be known as a NASCAR Cup Series champion. 

Along with the enjoyment of being a competitive team on the racetrack, we also enjoyed a great deal of satisfaction partnering with renowned Denver-based neurosurgeon, Dr. Scott Falci, and his adaptive motorsports program. The Falci Adaptive Biosystems Program and its cutting-edge technology is designed to bring mobility to paraplegic, quadriplegic and disabled individuals.

Furniture Row Racing, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress provided the adaptive Toyota race car the past four years. Dr. Falci and his team built and installed the highly sophisticated technological components that allow the spinal cord injured to drive the race car with its’ special hand controls linked to the accelerator and braking. In addition to the hand controls the car can be driven hands and foot free, with technology that allows movement of the occupant’s head to be detected and input into the vehicles steering, accelerator, and brake systems (see video) 

While the race car will continue to be provided by Furniture Row and Denver Mattress, I will not be personally involved. I am proud to announce that this inspirational program will have more assets to expand under the executive leadership of Joe Garone, who was the architect of building Furniture Row Racing to a championship level as the team’s president. 

Joe will work with Charlotte-based Spire Sports & Entertainment and Dr. Falci to grow the program’s fundraising and awareness efforts. 

Joe and Spire are currently seeking sponsorship for a number of special events to showcase the adaptive race car technology prior to a NASCAR Cup Series weekend. The events will include spinal cord injured individuals driving the adaptive car along with a NASCAR Cup Series driver, who will offer assistance and advice plus give a thrilling, high-speed ride to the participants. 

For a better understanding of an adaptive motorsports event please see video below, which includes former NHRA champion Darrell Gwynn driving the adaptive race car with only head movements.