It was only fitting that the four title contenders all started in the top 4 spots this past weekend. All four drivers had a shot to win and they all led laps. But it was the mistake free team that won the race and gave Kyle Busch the title.
Of the contenders, Denny Hamlin led only two laps after starting on the pole. He didn’t seem to have the speed his teammates did and then he fell prey to an overheating engine. He went a lap down, overcame that and finished 10th. His car didn’t handle as well in traffic, which is the bane of the racing product right now.
Kevin Harvick started second and led 41 laps. Harvick didn’t have any big pit issues but his car didn’t handle as well in traffic. He was great on restarts and short runs, but his short speed didn’t translate well into the long green flag racing we saw most of the day. He ended up 4th.
Martin Truex, Jr. started well and led 103 laps until his team mixed up his tires on a pit stop. He would up with the left front on the right and vice versa. The following pit stop to correct the situation put him a lap down that he overcame, but he was never able to chase down Busch. MTJ wound up runner up for the second year in a row. You have to wonder what would have happened if the tires had not been mixed up.
Only Kyle Larson seemed to have anything for the top 4 contenders. He never led a lap but was in the top 5 for much of the race until an engine failure ended his day.
No surprise that Erik Jones finished third. Joe Gibbs seemed to have a lot of speed in their cars this weekend.
Other race notables, in a telecast that didn’t show a lot of the other racing going on, Clint Bowyer finished 6th, Ryan Newman 7th and Austin Dillon 8th.
Daniel Suarez ended his short career at SHR with a 17th place start and 14th place finish. That made him the second highest finishing SHR car. In what is arguably his best Cup season, he will be moving on to another team in 2020, being replaced by Cole Custer. Gene Haas controls the 41 car that Suarez drives and even though much of the funding for 2020 was in place, it wasn’t enough for Haas.
Two retiring drivers, Paul Menard and David Ragan finished 17th and 27th, respectively.
Daniel Hemric, also losing his ride for 2020, finished 12th and won the Rookie of the Year honors. Hemric is plugged in to run a partial Xfinity season for JRM. He will be replaced by Tyler Reddick.
Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick will run for ROTY in 2020. Bell will pilot the 95 car for Leavine Family Racing in 2020, replacing Matt DiBenedetto. This will remain a one card team, so the ROTY award will realistically boil down to a battle between Custer and Reddick.
As I said, Tyler Reddick beat Custer and Bell for the Xfinity title. There is a lot of talent growing in the Xfinity series. The youth movement in the Cup series is officially underway in spite of the dominance by the grizzled veterans. Teams are planning for the future right now in the win now environment that pervades the sport. Even while the teams are putting young drivers in the seats, they are counting on their veterans to still lead the way.
Joe Gibbs Racing has 3 top level veterans that will continue to drive the team well into the future. It will take a retirement or sudden drop off for one of those 3 to lose their seat to someone younger. Erik Jones is settled for now but I expect he needs to start winning more to secure his future.
RCR is undergoing their youth movement right now.
Hendrick is in the middle of their youth movement with Jimmie Johnson the sole veteran holdout.
Penske Racing team is still relatively young and secure with Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.
Roush Fenway replaced Stenhouse with Chris Buescher teamed up with veteran Ryan Newman.
Ganassi resigned veteran Kurt Busch to run with youngster Kyle Larson.
Stewart-Haas is set with rookie Cole Custer with veterans Harvick, Bowyer and Aric Almirola. But I look for some more turmoil in that organization in 2021 with Bowyer and Almirola’s contracts and sponsorships needing to be redone.
So yeah, the teams are getting younger.
And in other news….
Matt Crafton won the Gander Truck series title for the third time, but his first since 2013 and 2014. Austin Hill won the race, his 4th of the season.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of Xfinity and Gander teams that still have no announced plans for 2020. Many teams have driver plans in place yet others are still up in the air. Most of the issues revolve around financing while purses for the lower series still leave many teams struggling to find funding to run a full season. As good as the Gander series is and as much talent as both series have, it is a shame that both series continue to struggle.
Congrats to Rowdy Nation. Here’s to the off-season and the 2020 campaign.
(Featured image courtesy of NASCAR Media)