Getty Images

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

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).

 

Roush Fenway Racing adds Oscar Mayer as sponsor for Ryan Newman

Getty Images
3 Comments

Oscar Mayer will sponsor Ryan Newman‘s No. 6 ride for Roush Fenway Racing in the Daytona 500 and other races this season, the team announced Thursday.

The team stated in a release that Oscar Mayer would be the primary sponsor for Newman’s car at Phoenix in March and “on a number of races throughout the year.” Oscar Mayer also will serve as an associate sponsor on Newman’s car for the entire season. In each race with Oscar Mayer as the primary sponsor, the car will have a different design to promote Oscar Mayer’s offerings across bacon, hot dogs and cold cuts.

“We’re honored to be a season-long sponsor of driver Ryan Newman and Roush Fenway Racing,” said Matt Riezman, Associate Director for Oscar Mayer, in a statement. “We have big plans to support the sport and the No. 6 Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang this year and can’t wait to share our love for tasty Oscar Mayer bacon, cold cuts and hot dogs with NASCAR fans.”

Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 winner, moves to Roush Fenway Racing this season.

Oscar Mayer served as an associate sponsor with Roush Fenway Racing in the early 2000s and was on Matt Kenseth‘s car and Kurt Busch‘s car when they won back-to-back Cup titles in 2003 and ’04. Oscar Mayer sponsored Kenseth’s car in last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Friday 5: Turnaround in 2018 has Aric Almirola looking ahead to 2019

Leave a comment

Aric Almirola‘s performance this season at Stewart-Haas Racing provided validation to a driver who had not raced in the best Cup equipment before 2018.

Almirola improved 24 spots from last year to finish a career-high fifth in the points, the biggest turnaround from one season to the next in Cup since the elimination format debuted in 2014. 

Part of the reason for Almirola’s jump was because he missed seven races last year after being injured in a crash at Kansas Speedway and finishing 29th in points for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Almirola also showed what he could do in his first year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

“For me, there was always some amount of self-doubt, how much am I a contributor to the performance not being where I want it to be,” Almirola said this week in Las Vegas ahead of Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “Sometimes you have to take that long, hard look in the mirror. I think for me … with my future and career being uncertain, one thing I was really hopeful for was that I would get an opportunity in a really good car to be able to know, hey, is it me or not? If I get that opportunity, can I make the most of it? Can I compete?

“I was fortunate enough that things worked out for me that I was able to get that opportunity. Some people never get that opportunity. But I was able to get that opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing. I’ve got the best equipment in the garage area, and I was able to go out and compete. I ran up front and won a race and finished in the top five in points. It was a great year for me personally.”

Almirola nearly won in his first race with SHR this season. He led the Daytona 500 on the last lap before contact from Austin Dillon sent him into the wall and Dillon to the victory.

Almirola was in position to win at Dover when a caution for teammate Clint Bowyer came out in the final laps. Almirola pitted and then wrecked on the restart. Almirola won at Talladega when he passed teammate Kurt Busch after Busch ran out of fuel on the final lap.

“Now that we’ve got a year under our belt, and I feel like we achieved quite a bit, we can really focus in on our weaknesses and where we didn’t perform at our best and try to make that better. We can circle back to some of the tracks we ran really well at and figure out what we need to do to capitalize on some of those races where we felt like we could have won and didn’t do it. It’s very reasonable to have higher expectations going into next year.”

2. Not going anywhere

For those who wondered — and there were some whispers in Miami — Brad Keselowski will be back with Team Penske for the 2019 season.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Keselowski said Wednesday in Las Vegas of questions at the end of the season that he might retire. “As far as I’m aware (all is good). I will be at Team Penske driving the No. 2 car this year to the best of my knowledge. I’m under contract to do so.”

Recall that Keselowski was outspoken in June about the package that was used in the All-Star Race and warned then that “if we overdose on that particular form of racing, it will have … a long-term negative effect.”

Keselowski suggested in June that fewer talented drivers would come to NASCAR over time if the All-Star package became the primary one. NASCAR adopted a package for 2019 similar to what was used in the All-Star Race but added more horsepower than was used in that race.

One change for Keselowski is that he’ll have a new spotter. Joey Meier announced Nov. 19 that he would not be spotting for Keselowski in 2019, saying he had “been told my time as the 2 Car spotter has come to the checkered flag.” Keselowski said that a new hire hasn’t been made yet.

3. Offseason plans

What does a racer do when the season ends? Race, of course. At least that is what Alex Bowman will do.

He’ll compete in a midget at the Gateway Dirt Nationals today and Saturday at The Dome at America’s Center, the former home of the St. Louis Rams NFL team before they moved to Los Angeles.

Bowman also plans to run a midget at the Junior Knepper 55” USAC Midget event Dec. 15 in the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin, Illinois in preparation for the Chili Bowl in January in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also has entered a midget for C.J. Leary for the Chili Bowl, which will be Jan. 14-19.

Not every driver will race in the next few weeks.

Ryan Blaney says he’ll leave Saturday for Hawaii. It’s his first trip there.

“It wasn’t my first choice, but the group I was with wanted to go,” he said Wednesday in Las Vegas. “I would like to go somewhere other than America to try to change up the culture, but I think that’s enough of a culture change in Hawaii to experience new things.”

He also plans to do some snowboarding before being home in January when his sister gives birth to her child.

Erik Jones said he’ll do some ice fishing – “go sit out in the cold and look at a hole in the ice, it’s just relaxing for me.” He said he plans to spend time with family in Michigan enjoying the holidays.

Denny Hamlin said he’ll go to St. Barts for a friend’s 50th birthday celebration. “Just going down there for some vacation time in the next few weeks and after that just spend some time at home relaxing.”

Austin Dillon said he expects to be in a deer stand for some time before Christmas.

4. ‘Exciting’ move

Kyle Larson calls the pairing of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and the World of Outlaws in a doubleheader at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track in February “exciting” but he says a key will be track preparation.

When the K&N Pro Series West raced at the Vegas Dirt Track in September, the conditions were so dusty that it impacted the racing and viewing for fans.

“I think for them to both be able to showcase how cool the event is, the track needs to be right, the way it is prepped needs to be right,” Larson said this week. “That’s the only thing I”m nervous about, judging how the (K&N West) race went a few months ago.

“I just hope that the track is good so fans can get the opportunity to see some good racing in a few different series.”

5. Together again

Among those joining Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn in moving to Joe Gibbs Racing will be car chief Blake Harris and an engineer, Truex said in Las Vegas.

Having Pearn in the JGR shop should prove beneficial for all, Kyle Busch said.

“Adam (Stevens’) and Cole’s offices will be right next door to one another instead of being on a chat all the time,” Busch said of his crew chief and Pearn.

Busch likened Truex and Pearn helping the organization as much as Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth did. Joe Gibbs Racing won 26 of 72 races in 2015-16 when both Edwards and Kenseth were there. 

Best of NASCAR Awards banquet

Leave a comment

NASCAR’s annual Awards Banquet gave the sport an opportunity to not only crown a champion but also pay tribute to all the drivers, manufacturers and stakeholders that made the season successful.

“To the NASCAR fans, love me or hate me, I just love your passion,” 2018 NASCAR Cup champion Joey Logano said when he received the ultimate honor in stock car racing. “That is one of the biggest things for me, is passion. Whether you’re booing or cheering, it’s pretty good. We all do it for you guys.”

Here are some of the highlights:

Champion: Joey Logano

“(Wife Brittany Logano) is my rock,” Logano said. “I knew this was when I was going to have a hard time. Family means a lot to me, alright? We have so many long talks at night. I’m not always smiling. I know it looks like I smile a lot, and I do when I’m happy. She’s there at my lowest points, it really brings me back up. She’s an amazing mother to our child and what an amazing year, to be able to have Hudson now and now a championship.”

Logano was introduced by Make-a-Wish recipient Gavin Grubbs.

Champion Car Owner: Roger Penske

During his time on stage, Roger Penske acknowledged the other owners in the series who challenge him and Team Penske to be better, including the owner of the closing Furniture Row Racing.

“One last comment, very important to me and this is congratulations to Barney Visser … Martin Truex (Jr.), Cole Pearn, you’ve brought so much to this series over the last several years.”

Second-place Martin Truex Jr.

“Looking forward to the future, for sure – but definitely the end of an era with Furniture Row … thank you Barney (Visser) for all you’ve done for me and this sport.”

Truex’s Furniture Row Racing Era ended with one championship, 17 wins, 56 top fives and top 10s in more than half of Truex’s 191 starts with that organization.

Third-place Kevin Harvick

“Our road to the championship round certainly had some challenges along the way, but our team performed when it mattered the most and believed in each other,” Harvick said.

“I want to thank the fans – and especially all the No. 4 fans for all the support this year,” Harvick continued. “And all you haters: I still see you.”

Fourth-place: Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch took to the stage with the comment, “This sucks. Worst of the best,” before congratulating Logano on his championship. Busch noted several highlights of the season including tying his career-best number of victories and passing the 50-win mark.

Busch offered a shout-out to Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth who most likely ran their final Cup races during the 2018 season.

“I wanted to make mention of Matt again this year in case he’s really retiring this time,” Busch said. “I think we’ve all kind of seen this story before with another Roush guy, Mark Martin years ago. I don’t know. Maybe this time’s true. Time will tell.”

Most Popular Driver Award

Dale Earnhardt Jr. handed over the award that he won 15 consecutive times to Chase Elliott.

Bill Elliott won the award a record 16 times (1984-88, 1991-2000 and 2002). Dale Earnhardt Sr. won in 2001.

“So cool that it stayed between Earnhardt and Elliott for so long,” Elliott told Earnhardt as he accepted the award. “I am glad though that you quit a year before you broke Dad’s record.”

MORE: Chase Elliott wins NMPA most popular driver award

Other Notable Moments

Ryan Blaney joked that he had sent Jimmie Johnson a Christmas card in return for his gift at the Charlotte Roval. In that race, Johnson’s contact with Truex Jr. on the final lap opened the door for Blaney’s second career win.

Active Cup wins list after 2018

Getty Images
1 Comment

The 70th season of Cup racing was put to bed last weekend as Joey Logano won the season finale and the championship.

Over 36 races, the series saw 12 drivers win at least one race.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch combined to win 16 races at eight each.

Chase Elliott and Erik Jones each won their first career Cup races.

Here’s a look at how the active driver wins list looks after the season.

This list is made up of drivers who started in the season finale, including Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray, who likely made their last or next-to-last Cup starts.

Kasey Kahne missed the final 11 races of the season, as issues with hydration cut his season and career short. He finished with 18 career victories.

Trevor Bayne made 21 starts in a part-time capacity, sharing the No. 6 Ford with Kenseth. His only Cup win remains the 2011 Daytona 500.

1. Jimmie Johnson – 83 wins (Winless in last 59 starts)
2. Kyle Busch – 51 wins (Eight wins in 2018 tied career-best)
3. Kevin Harvick – 45 wins (Eight wins in 2018 is a career-best by three)
4. Matt Kenseth – 39 wins (Winless in 15 starts in 2018)
5. Denny Hamlin – 31 wins (Went winless for the first time in 13 full-time Cup seasons)
6. Kurt Busch – 30 wins (One win in 2018; Has won at least once in last five seasons)
7. Brad Keselowski – 27 wins (Three wins in 2018; Has won at least one race in last eight seasons.)
8. Joey Logano – 21 wins (Three wins in 2018; Has won at least one race in last seven seasons)
9. Martin Truex Jr. – 19 wins (Four wins in 2018; 17 wins in the last four seasons)
10. Ryan Newman – 18 wins (Winless in last 68 starts)
11. Clint Bowyer – 10 wins (Two wins in 2018; Victory at Martinsville in March ended a 190-race winless streak)
12. Jamie McMurray – 7 wins (Has gone winless since 2013)
13. Kyle Larson – 5 wins (Went winless this season)
14. Chase Elliott – 3 wins (Earned all three wins in an 11-race stretch this season)
15. Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Ragan – 2 wins
20. Erik Jones, AJ Allmendinger, Chris Buescher, Regan Smith, Paul Menard – 1 win