Friday, November 29, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: November 2019

Thanksgiving is behind us, Christmas is ahead of us but first we are closing out the Formula One season from Abu Dhabi.

A lot happened in November. We had a lot of unexpected news, some of which was good, some of which was not what we would have wished but that is the way of the world. You got to take the good with the bad.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

We are going to start with IndyCar because that is where the biggest waves were made this month...

Penske downplays conflict of interest concerns
You rarely hear people play up conflict of interest when it clearly exists, which it does now that Roger Penske owns IndyCar.

Is Penske going to turn IndyCar into his personal playground so his team can win 17 of 17 races? No. Penske is in a lose-lose situation. He already has the best team on the grid. It was already believed his team got the benefit of calls from IndyCar to begin with. Penske owning the series is just going to give people more ammunition.

Penske might not exploit this conflict of interest but it is still there. You can bring up Jim France owning IMSA and a team and Don Panoz owning the American Le Mans Series and Panoz and Bernie Ecclestone owning Brabham and Formula One Group but those are all conflicts of interest. Just because they existed does not mean what Penske is doing now is not a conflict of interest.

Earlier this week, when writing about Trevor Carlin's concern about big teams continuing to expand and potentially squeezing out the little guys I wrote the following line: "IndyCar should value [Carlin] and his wishes as much as Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti."

There is a problem in that IndyCar is Roger Penske. Penske is going to value the insights of Carlin, Mike Shank and Dale Coyne but can Penske value their wishes as much as his own? And there is the conflict of interest. It will come down to whether or not Penske makes the decision that Roger Penske does not want to make but majority of car owners want. Will Penske be able to see that what is best for him may not be best for the masses?

The true power of Penske's leadership of the series will come down to whether the likes of Carlin, Shank and others can remain in the series and be competitive and if other teams join. The conflict of interest will not be a problem if Penske does not make selfish decisions and the series continues to expand and succeed. If the series sees a decline, people will want Penske's head.

Penske deal could strengthen IndyCar, IMSA ties
Or it could do nothing at all.

A reason why we do not see more IndyCar/IMSA combined weekends is these are two series that want to be top dog. IMSA does not want to be the Saturday show, even if it the same number of people that would go to a Sunday race would attend on Saturday and the television rating would be no different.

IMSA has to look out for itself. It has its own support series to fill a weekend. Being a part of an IndyCar bill squeezed between Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 is not of interest to IMSA. The reason why it joins the bill at Long Beach and Belle Isle is both are events the manufactures want to go to and IMSA cannot have a street race without IndyCar.

Penske could strengthen IndyCar and IMSA ties and IndyCar and NASCAR ties or it will do nothing at all because while Penske may be king there are plenty of other monarchies looking to increase their power.

Pagenaud aims to keep sport 'approachable' to fans
Is Pagenaud the only one aiming to keep it approachable to fans?

Also, define approachable.

Are social media posts the only thing? What makes his social media posts any more approachable than the one billion other people regularly posting on social media? How is Pagenaud going to stand out?

You can keep people engaged and informed through social media posts but it has to go beyond the digital world and continue into the real world. Approachability must exist at the racetrack, at meet and greets and Pagenaud cannot be the one leading the charge.

The approachability of IndyCar comes down to IndyCar. IndyCar does a good job of letting people in. Paddock passes are easy to get. The series has autograph sessions at every race weekend. It has to keep that up. The series must push its drivers to be open and engage with others in a way that fits best  for the driver. Some will be better at social media than others. Some drivers will be better in face-to-face interactions. Some will master speaking to 250 people at once. Others will be better reaching out to three or four people at once.

Pagenaud cannot be the only one. Approachability is a full team effort.

On to Formula One...

Opinion: F1 needs new points system for more title deciders
The point system will not matter if Lewis Hamilton keeps winning ten races a season and no other driver is winning more than half of that total.

It wasn't that long ago we had the championship go down to the final race. The 2016 season was not that long ago and before that was 2014 and the point system in 2014 was created for more title decides with the finale being double points. Formula One made it so the finale would see a greater chance at a championship battle in the final race and almost everyone pushed back on that. It was immediately dropped after one year.

In the 2010s, four times did the championship go down to the finale: 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

In the 2000s, four times did the championship go down to the finale: 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

In the 1990s, five times did the championship go down to the finale: 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999.

In the 1980s, five times did the championship go down to the finale: 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1986.

In the 1970s, two times did the championship go down to the finale: 1974 and 1976.

In the 1960s, four times did the championship go down to the finale: 1962, 1964, 1967 and 1968.

In the 1950s, five times did the championship go down to the finale: 1950, 1951, 1956, 1958 and 1959.

Despite this dominance of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-Benz, this decade fell in line with previous decades when it came to championships decided in the final race.

The question becomes what can you do to make sure the championship goes to the finale when one driver wins nearly half the races and double the number of races as the next best driver?

Unless Formula One is going to adopt some type of NASCAR elimination format and make it so the finale will decide the championship, I am not sure anything can be down to the points system to make sure we are on the edge of our seats until the final lap of the season.

Haas "like a lame duck" in Austin - Steiner
And Mexico City and Suzuka and Sochi and Singapore and Monza and Spa-Francorchamps and need I go on?

I am not sure the ninth-best team in the World Constructors' Championship has gotten more attention at any point in Formula One history than Haas has gotten this season and better yet, this team is keeping its driver line-up, a line-up the team doesn't seem to have any faith in.

Do you hear that? That is the clocking ticking towards Haas' exit.

Moving to NASCAR...

Dead serious: Martin Truex Jr. lost the NASCAR Cup championship because his pit crew put his tires on backward
I am going to push back on this a little bit because after Truex's crew put the left side tires on the right side and right side tires on the left side Truex got the lucky dog, was back on the lead lap and he was fourth at the end of the second stage.

This pit stop mistake was a set back but Truex got back in the title fight and I think an argument could be made he lost the title because he went five laps longer on his penultimate stint. This allowed Kyle Busch to have a 12-second gap to Truex after both drivers made their stops and in the end Truex fell 4.5 seconds short of his second title.

If Truex had covered Busch's pit stop and come in on the next lap he may still have come out behind Busch but been closer and Truex seemed to have the better car over the long run.

One pit stop is going to be remembered as the reason why Truex was second in the championship for the second consecutive year but we might be remembering the wrong one.

What's next for Xfinity Rookie of the Year Briscoe?
NASCAR's second division might have a problem in 2020.

One: The three drivers that combined to win 21 of 33 races are gone. Two: A driver like Chase Briscoe might be completely out of a ride because Stewart-Haas Racing might drop its Grand National Series program because, after all, it got Cole Custer to the Cup Series, mission accomplished. Add to it, Richard Childress Racing has not announced any full-time driver. GMS Racing is dropping out of the series. Joe Gibbs Racing is putting Harrison Burton and Riley Herbst into its cars, two drivers into the series that have a combined 19 starts, one top five finish and nine top ten finishes as part-timers in the series.

Kailua Racing is expanding with Ross Chastain being full-time. Burton and Herbst are going to accidentally end up in the playoffs. Daniel Hemric is going to be part-time with JR Motorsports and if he can find a ride for the 12 other races he does not have with JRM, he could make the playoffs and fight for the championship. Austin Cindric is still going to be there but is there anyone to be all that excited about in 2020? Is anyone excited to see Brandon Jones for his fifth season? Is Michael Annett getting people riled up?

I hope Briscoe ends up somewhere. The series could definitely use him.

On to two-wheels...

Honda: Álex Márquez MotoGP deal depended on Moto2 success
And Álex Márquez's next MotoGP deal will be depended on his MotoGP success.

Talk about a fortunate set of events for Álex Márquez: He has his best season in Moto2, ends up winning the championship but there did not appear to be a worthy opening in MotoGP and he was going to return to the series. Then Jorge Lorenzo announced his retirement, opening a season at Repsol Honda, which just so happens to be his brother's team.

Álex may get the familial benefit if he has some struggles but if Álex is having problems and there is another rider that is more worthy of a factory seat than Álex may get the bump. I do not think Marc Márquez is going to make Honda keep his brother or risk losing him. Although, crazier things have happened.

And we end with a little bit of a sad story...

Ticktum may "forget motorsport" if he can't get to F1
This is disheartening but understandable.

Dan Ticktum has some talent. Though none of his plans or Red Bull plans have worked out, Ticktum is not a schlub. If he cannot make it to Formula One there are plenty of other avenues where he can be successful. He could go to IndyCar, FIA World Endurance Championship, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, any one of a dozen GT3 series, IMSA, ELMS, Ticktum could make a career in motorsports.

But, for some drivers, the dream is only Formula One; there is no alternative.

That might be shortsighted but he is no different then kids all over the world. How many kids end up playing baseball or basketball with dreams of going professional but drop out after high school because they did not get a college scholarship and it is not worth the time to try and walk on?

How many kids get a scholarship and get to play in college but come to realize the best they are going to do is single-A ball and may break into double-A but the money is too little for the amount of time they have to dedicate to the practice and they could make more in an office job and at least have more structure in their life?

Ticktum is no different. He has had Red Bull backing for a while but how much money did he and his family put to get him there? A few years in Formula One can pay that off but only Formula One. He could spend ten years in sports cars and still not made it all back. He could become IndyCar champion and it not give him financial security nor guarantee him job security. It is just the nature of motorsports at this time.

We are seeing Richie Stanaway potentially walk away from motorsports at the age of 28. We have seen plenty of drivers have careers end before the age of 30 but these are drivers that the sport has walked on by. Stanaway won races in GP2 and got a great opportunity with Aston Martin. If Ticktum had the super license points on January 1st of this year he would have likely been in one of the Toro Rosso seats instead of Daniil Kvyat or Alexander Albon. I think we are going to see more drivers go down this road. There just does not seem to be as many openings or money to keep careers going.

I hope Ticktum continues. He may have made mistakes but he has talent and it would be appreciated somewhere.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

NASCAR's Best Drivers of the 2010s

With the top NASCAR races of the decade behind, we will now look at the top ten drivers from the 2010s.

Same criteria as IndyCar, to be considered for the top ten drivers you have to win a race this decade. For NASCAR, if you could not win one of 360 races you definitely do not belong in the consideration for being one of the ten best NASCAR drivers of the decade.

So for fans of Michael McDowell, Tyler Dillon, Reed Sorenson, Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Daniel Suárez, Corey LaJoie, Joe Nemechek, Casey Mears, William Byron, Dave Blaney, Jeff Burton, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Brian Scott, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Scott Speed, Andy Lally, Kevin Conway, Ken Schrader, Michael Waltrip, Boris Said and Danica Patrick, they were not considered for this list.

Thirty-six drivers won a race this decade in the NASCAR Cup Series and I will cut to the chase, David Ragan, Paul Menard, Justin Haley, Trevor Bayne, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Brian Vickers, A.J. Allmendinger, Chris Buescher, Regan Smith, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose and Jamie McMurray were not considered, never once considered.

That leaves 21 drivers for ten spots. Let's get after it.

10. Carl Edwards
Starts: 252
Wins: 12
Top Five Finishes: 63
Top Ten Finishes: 121
Pole Positions: 18
Average Finish: 13.3
Seasons with a Victory: 6
Championships: 0

9. Jeff Gordon
Starts: 224
Wins: 11
Top Five Finishes: 62
Top Ten Finishes: 116
Pole Positions: 13
Average Finish: 13.2
Seasons with a Victory: 5
Championships: 0

Reasons For the Rankings: It was difficult deciding between three drivers for the final two spots and though Tony Stewart won the championship in 2011, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon made the top ten over Stewart because of consistency.

Gordon did not get a championship, he made two fewer starts than Stewart in the decade and had one fewer victory but Gordon had 19 more top five finishes and 38 more top ten finishes. Stewart had 15 or more top ten finishes in the first three seasons of the decade and then never reach double-figures in his next four seasons. Outside of 2016 when Gordon ran substituting for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his fewest number of top ten finishes in a season was 17. Stewart had only one season where he had ten or more top five finishes. Gordon had four seasons with double-digit top five finishes.

Edwards did not get a championship and made 26 more starts than Stewart. They were level on victories but Edwards had one more top five finish than Gordon and five more top ten finishes than Gordon. On top of that, Edwards was in the top five in four of his seven seasons this decade while Gordon was in the top five of the championship only once, his final season when he was third, and Stewart's only top five championship was his 2011 championship, which he won on tiebreaker over Edwards.

While Stewart defeated Edwards heads-up for that championship, Edwards had the more consistent decade with his fewest number of top ten finishes in a season being 13. He won multiple races in five of the seven seasons. Edwards had more top five finishes than Stewart in five of the seasons with one of the seasons the two drivers finishing level.

Stewart had a few injuries and was involved in a fatal sprint car accident where Stewart faced possible manslaughter charges and a civil suit. Physically and mentally, Stewart was strained for the final four years of his Cup career. Who knows what a fully fit Stewart would have been able to accomplish.

Gordon remained consistent. He never matched the flashy numbers of his early career but he was constantly in the top ten and running at the front. He was in the top ten of championship every season he was full-time this decade. He is ahead of Edwards because he did more in less time than Edwards. Was Edwards unfortunate to be at Roush Fenway Racing during the start of its decade-long decline? Absolutely and he found the right landing place but it only lasted the final two seasons of his career.

8. Matt Kenseth
Starts: 301
Wins: 21
Top Five Finishes: 86
Top Ten Finishes: 155
Pole Positions: 15
Average Finish: 13.3
Seasons with a Victory: 6
Championships: 0

Reasons For the Ranking: Kenseth proved to be one of the most consistent drivers of the previous decade and he continued it into the 2010s. Not only was Kenseth consistent but he ended up being more prolific.

After having only two seasons where he won more than three races in the 2000s, Kenseth had four seasons of three victories or more in the 2010s, eight of which he ran full-time. Of his eight full seasons, he never had fewer than 15 top ten finishes in a season. He had four seasons with 20 top tens. He had only two seasons where he had fewer than ten top five finishes.

The only season Kenseth was not in the top ten of the championship was 2015, when he was suspended from Texas and Phoenix after he took out Joey Logano while laps down at Martinsville. It was a season where he entered the playoffs seventh in the championship.

Kenseth had five victories in that 2015 season. A series of events knocked him out before the semifinal round. It felt like he would have been a threat in the final four. In 2013, he won seven races, most in the series and was second in the championship. The pace was there. The results never added up for that second championship.

7. Joey Logano
Starts: 360
Wins: 22
Top Five Finishes: 113
Top Ten Finishes: 193
Pole Positions: 22
Average Finish: 13.6
Seasons with a Victory: 8
Championships: 1

6. Denny Hamlin
Starts: 355
Wins: 29
Top Five Finishes: 114
Top Ten Finishes: 180
Pole Positions: 26
Average Finish: 13.5
Seasons with a Victory: 9
Championships: 0

5. Brad Keselowski
Starts: 360
Wins: 29
Top Five Finishes: 114
Top Ten Finishes: 182
Pole Positions: 17
Average Finish: 13.5
Seasons with a Victory: 9
Championships: 1

Reasons For the Rankings: Similar to Stewart, Edwards and Gordon, the trio of Logano, Hamlin and Keselowski are nearly identical.

Logano gets knocked down to seventh, one because of fewer victories but also because of a slow start to the decade. He had one victory over the first three seasons. He didn't finish in the top fifteen of the championship in any of those seasons. There is also the 2017 season, where Logano won a race at Richmond, failed inspection and had it encumbered, meaning it did not qualify him for the playoffs. He was still fifth in the championship after Richmond but went on to drop to 15th entering the Richmond regular season finale and failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Logano did win a championship, he had over 20 top ten finishes in five of the last six seasons and he has picked up double-digit top five finishes for seven consecutive seasons but these few seasons stand out.

Hamlin and Keselowski could not be anymore identical. Equal on victories, top five finishes, average finishes and only two top ten finishes separate them. If Hamlin had won the championship at Homestead this year, I think he would have ended up fifth. That is really the one thing that puts Keselowski ahead of Hamlin.

The only time Hamlin did not make the postseason was 2013 when he missed four races from a broken back from an accident with Logano at Fontana. That was a season where one simple victory could not lift a driver up into the title fight. Once Hamlin missed those races, his championship hopes were toast for that season. Outside of 2013, his worst championship finish was 11th in 2018.

Keselowski's decade started poorly in his first full season with Team Penske in the third car. He had only two top ten finishes. Sam Hornish, Jr. only had one. Kurt Busch won twice and was 11th in the championship. In two seasons, Keselowski was champion. The following year he failed to make the Chase, getting knocked out at Richmond. Since then, Keselowski has had at least three victories in five of the last six seasons.

One thing to take into consideration is the five races Hamlin missed this decade, four due to his back injury and one because he had a piece of metal in his eye before Fontana in 2014. If you look at the 355 races all three drivers contested together, head-to-head Hamlin finished ahead of Logano 182 times to 173 times and he finished ahead of Keselowski 182 times to 173 times. In the 355 races Hamlin and Keselowski contested, Hamlin had 180 top ten finishes to Keselowski's 179 top ten finishes and Hamlin's would best Keselowski on average finish 13.5 to 13.6.

There really was next to nothing between these three drivers and it took a deep dive into the statistic to find any separation.

4. Martin Truex, Jr.
Starts: 360
Wins: 25
Top Five Finishes: 89
Top Ten Finishes: 168
Pole Positions: 15
Average Finish: 14.1
Seasons with a Victory: 6
Championships: 1

Reasons For the Ranking: Truex, Jr. won a championship with Furniture Row Racing.

I know that sounds too simple of a reason but talk about doing more with less.

Yes, Truex, Jr. did not win a race in four seasons. Yes, Truex, Jr. was outside the top fifteen in four seasons and outside the top twenty in two seasons. Yes, 19 of Truex's 25 victories came in the last three seasons but really think about Truex, Jr.'s decade.

He moved to Michael Waltrip Racing when the team was still stumbling. The team had only once had a driver finish in the top twenty of the championship. Its only victory was David Reutimann in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 in 2009. The team had five top five finishes in three seasons.

Things seemed to be going right. Clint Bowyer was second in the championship for MWR in 2012 and in 2013, Truex won at Sonoma. He was fighting for a Chase spot and then the infamous team orders came. Bowyer caused a caution that Truex didn't end up needing. Bowyer and Truex were each docked 100 points. The penalty took Truex out of the championship. Bowyer stayed in the Chase. NAPA Auto Parts announced its departure from the team and it left Truex without a ride.

He found a ride at Furniture Row Racing in 2014 but was 24th in the championship with one top five finish and five top ten finishes.

Truex's career could very well have gone the way of Reed Sorenson, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, David Ragan and so on from there. He could have become a field-filler, a guy that hangs around but is just there, not really adding anything to the scenery.

One year after being 24th, Truex made the Championship 4 in this playoff format in 2015. The season after that Furniture Row Racing switched to Toyota and won four races.

Then came the historic 2017 season, eight victories, 19 top five finishes and 26 top ten finishes. In an aggregate championship, Truex would have locked up the title with two races to go. He has finished runner-up in the championship the last two seasons.

I think many try to diminish Truex's accomplishments as a driver ending up with the right manufacture at the right time but no single-car was supposed to be that successful in NASCAR. Kurt Busch may have finished tenth in the championship with Furniture Row Racing but Truex took it to a higher level and the group did it with two manufactures. To confirm it was not just the team, Truex entered Joe Gibbs Racing and immediately won the most races in the team. It was no fluke.

We have watched the late blooming of Truex, Jr. and we will watch to see whether or not it can continue into the 2020s.

3. Jimmie Johnson
Starts: 360
Wins: 36
Top Five Finishes: 110
Top Ten Finishes: 184
Pole Positions: 13
Average Finish: 13.8
Seasons with a Victory: 8
Championships: 3

Reasons For the Ranking: Johnson had the most championships this decade. He hasn't won a race the last two seasons. He still ended up with the third most victories this decade.

It just goes to show how dominant Johnson was and the last two seasons have fogged out the first eight years of the 2010s. Johnson had five victories or more in a season five times. He had four victories or more six times. He had 20 top ten finishes in the first six seasons of this decade.

In the wake of Johnson announcing his retirement at the end of the 2020 season, it is still not clear how it has gone so wrong the last two years. He has just lost it but it cannot all be gone.

Entering the final race of 2019, Johnson was potentially going to be the only driver to have won multiple championships in the decade. If that had been the case, I think I would have put him at number one because we would have had six consecutive different champions in the Cup Series, matching the longest streak in Cup history. In one of NASCAR's greatest periods of parity, no one broke through as much as Johnson did. He did it in different generations of cars and in different championship systems. Everything NASCAR threw at the drivers and Johnson would have been the only one to master the different formats and regulations.

How one race can change everything. Johnson still won three championships. He was the one guy that could constantly pull it out. That is what separates the very good from the great. Plenty of drivers won a championship this decade but it takes more than one to stand out when the air starts to get thinner.

The last two years may show Johnson being a shell of his former self but he has eight years where most could not beat him.

2. Kevin Harvick
Starts: 360
Wins: 38
Top Five Finishes: 145
Top Ten Finishes: 233
Pole Positions: 26
Average Finish: 10.5
Seasons with a Victory: 10
Championships: 1

Reasons For the Ranking: Excellence but slightly not enough. The numbers show Harvick was stout across the board, most top five finishes, most top ten finishes and best average finish, he was in the top three of the championship eight times with his championship finish in the other two seasons being eighth.

After going over those numbers, I had to put Harvick ahead of Johnson. Johnson might have had three championships but Harvick was always there this decade, even when with Richard Childress Racing. Look at how far RCR has fallen compared to when it had Harvick and what Harvick has done for the last six seasons. He had four or more victories in six seasons. He had 20 or more top ten finishes in eight seasons. He had 15 or more top five finishes in five seasons.

He won the first championship in the Championship 4 format and he has made the final round four times since. Harvick's decade is something that is comparable to Scott Dixon in IndyCar. Every driver would take Dixon's worst season in the 2010s and the same is true for Harvick. The only difference is Dixon won three championships to Harvick's one.

Harvick is a driver that doesn't put a wheel wrong. Of 360 races this decade, he was running at the finish of 337. That is 93.6% of the races. He completed the fourth most laps. Most races you know Harvick can finish in the top ten. How much confidence can a team have when it goes into 36 races and feels like it should at least finish tenth? That is what Harvick brings each race.

1. Kyle Busch
Starts: 348
Wins: 40
Top Five Finishes: 144
Top Ten Finishes: 211
Pole Positions: 27
Average Finish: 12.3
Seasons with a Victory: 10
Championships: 2

Reasons For the Ranking: Kyle Busch was a threat to win every race.

In how many races this decade was Busch not mentioned for the first 75% of it and then in the final 25% he would emerge in the fight for the victory? No other drivers did it as often as Busch did that is for sure.

This season concluded with his second championship and it a title that was a long-time coming. He won four races or more in seven of ten seasons. Two seasons he only had one victory. The other season he had three victories. He was in the top five of the championship for six seasons.

A lot of people downgrade his 2015 championship because of the format. Busch missed 11 races due to injury. In the 25 races he did compete in, he won five times, he was in the top five on 12 occasions and he had 16 top ten finishes. On top of that, he finished 23 of 25 races and was on the lead lap in 20 of 25 races.

Yes, in no other NASCAR season could a driver only run 70% of the races and win the championship but looking at the percentages, he was on point with any other top driver.

If any driver could win a championship after missing 11 races it is Kyle Busch and it was almost the motivation needed for him to take the title. Who else was going to do it? People wrote Busch off after his injury and when all he could do was rack up victory after victory to get back into the Top 30 of the championship and qualify for the playoffs, he did it and he did it comfortably. 

This season, when the winless streak continued for Busch into September and October and every other Joe Gibbs Racing car was winning races, he was written off again. Busch has a way of blowing up his own season. He will overstep the boundary. It happened plenty of times in 2019 where a promising result was ruined because of slight body damage and the car was gone. Busch is a stick of dynamite, he can get the job done but he can also blow all your fingers off. 

There were plenty of times between Pocono in June and Homestead in November where Busch could have gotten another victory. He only lost to his brother Kurt by 0.076 seconds at Kentucky. The Southern 500 was really Busch's but when he came out second to Erik Jones on the final pit stop he lost the clean air and there was nothing he could do. He led over half the Richmond race later that month. He was knocking on the door at Phoenix.

Busch was always there and when it came time for Busch to win a race, he won it. It felt like Busch was more or less playing with his food for the first nine playoff races. As much as he wanted to win, he knew he just had to advance from each round. When he had to win, he would get it. 

At Homestead, his three championship rivals had won the previous three races, two of which were his teammates. Many seemed to have no confidence Busch could pull it out because he had not pulled out a victory in five months. Even in the race itself, it appeared to be Truex, Jr.'s day. 

But, as I wrote before, how many times have we seen Busch not be in the conversation for the first 75% and then pull it out in the final 25%? He did it again. It might not have been as extreme as Busch not factoring for the first 75%, he did lead 120 of 267 laps after all, but for the first half, Busch was not there. The team improved the car and in the closing laps, he had enough of a gap over Truex to win the championship. 

We do not talk enough about Busch's intelligence as a driver and that is why he can go from nothing to something in races. He can take the first 50% or 75% and work on the race car so it can be competitive in the closing stages. He can take a car not of his liking, keep it in the hunt and then be in a position to pounce. 

For the last ten seasons, Kyle Busch is the one driver you have to keep an eye on in heading into every race but also for every lap of a race. He is never out of it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

NASCAR's Best Races of 2010s

We are a little over a week removed from another NASCAR season coming to a close but this year's Homestead finale also closed out a decade.

There were 360 NASCAR Cup Series races held over the 2010s and it is time to reflect on what we saw. It was definitely an eventful decade for NASCAR, on and off the track. It is hard to pick out ten races from 360 in NASCAR and if you got 36 people to name their top ten races from the 2010s, there is a chance at least 300 different races would be mentioned with few duplicates.

With that said, here is just one top ten list about the top races from this decade.

10. 2013 Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway
What happened: A race that for the most part Kyle Busch dominated but a few cautions bunched up the field and led to some alternate strategies.

Joey Logano took the lead from Busch and Denny Hamlin drove to the front with fresher tires. This led to a battle between Logano and Hamlin over the closing laps. Logano maintained the lead despite the disadvantage in rubber but on the final lap Hamlin found himself taking the lead on the outside exiting turn two.

This battle remained side-by-side down the back straightaway and it allowed Busch to re-enter the fight. Logano and Hamlin were two-abreast into turn three. Logano kept the speed in the corner and walked up the racetrack into Hamlin. Meanwhile, Busch carried the momentum on the outside and took the lead as Hamlin spun and Logano ended up in the wall.

Busch took the victory despite starting the final lap in third with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishing second and Logano finishing third. Hamlin made contact with the inside barrier and fracture a vertebra, putting him on the sideline for four races.

How is it remembered: The Logano-Hamlin feud had started the race prior at Bristol, which saw a confrontation between the two crews post-race.

This race is remembered for Hamlin's broken back. In hindsight, here we are all these years later and Hamlin and Logano were still battling each other and having extracurricular activities post-race.

While these two continued to go at it, this was a race Busch dominated. He led 145 of 200 laps. There were three cautions in the final 30 laps. Credit to Busch for make a dicey pass for the led in the final corner. If Busch was a half a second further back he would have been collected in the Logano-Hamlin collision and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would have won this race.

Imagine if Dale Earnarhdt, Jr. had won this race after that happened? Many NASCAR fans would have made this race of the decade if that happened.

9. 2017 Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway
What happened: Chase Elliott was on the doorstep of his first career victory after Kyle Larson suffered a mechanical glitch. Elliott dominated the closing stage of the race and did not have any challengers until the closing laps.

Kyle Busch ate away at Elliott's lead as tires wore down and what appeared to have been a popular victory vanished with Busch taking the lead with two laps to go. Elliott had nothing left to respond and Busch took the victory with Elliott in second.

How is it remembered: Another one that got away from Elliott.

Elliott had been knocking on the door of that first career victory for a while and it appeared this was going to be his day. He didn't put a wheel wrong. He didn't lose this race. It came down to tires and Busch had a little more than Elliott. Busch had been in that situation many times before and, at the end of a 152-lap run, he had the legs while Elliott fell a little short.

8. 2011 Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway
What happened: The most lead changes in the history of a NASCAR Cup Series race thanks to tandem drafting.

It all led to an 11-lap sprint after the final caution.

Teammates paired with each other. Clint Bowyer pushed Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pushed Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin pushed Jeff Gordon, David Reutemann pushed Martin Truex, Jr. At one point, Bowyer and Harvick dropped outside the top twenty when the drivers had to switch due to Bowyer's water temperature.

Surprisingly, the pairing of Dave Blaney and Kurt Busch got to the lead but then slid back and it saw Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle take the top two spots. Blaney would spin off the front of Busch in turn three but avoided contact with any other cars and straightened up, keeping the race green.

Bowyer and Harvick worked back to the front but at the start of the final lap Gordon and Martin took the top two spots. Coming to the line, it was three pairs running two-abreast. Johnson went from fifth entering the tri-oval to first by 0.002 seconds over Bowyer, tying it for the closest finish in Cup Series history.

Gordon was third with Earnhardt, Jr. in fourth, Harvick in fifth and a late charge from Edwards and Biffle put them sixth and seventh with Martin finishing in eighth. The top seven were covered by 0.074 seconds.

How is it remembered: It led to a lot of changes.

First, we need to note that not only were there 88 lead changes but only once did a driver lead more than ten laps at one time and that was Bowyer for 11 laps from lap 158 to 168 and those were all green flag laps. The lead changed on each of the final five laps. Blaney led eight of the final 15 laps.

Tandem drafting was regulated out of existences. Teams are no longer allowed to have radio communication between each race car. It is a race that can really never happen again.

It was a precursor to what we have now at the plate races. It is no longer teammates pairing up but manufactures working in packs. All the Chevrolets unite, as do the Fords and Toyotas. Now we have manufacture executives demanding its cars work together and threatening repercussions (hi, Jim Campbell).

Tandem drafting split the opinions of fans. I am sure there are some that scoff at this race and there will just as many who will say this was one of the greatest races they have ever seen. That sounds about right for NASCAR.

7. 2017 First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway
What happened: In a race that determined who would be the first of four drivers competing for the championship at Homestead, the lead bounced between Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowksi for majority of the race.

Busch would be shuffled back and it led to Keselowski leading Elliott as the laps whined down. A caution for a Joey Logano spin bunched up the field with eight laps to go. Elliott took the lead on the restart with four laps to go but going into turn three Denny Hamlin would get into the back of Elliott, sending him around.

Hamlin led at the restart but on the final lap Busch got to the inside of Hamlin entering turn one and took the lead. Busch slid up the racetrack and it led to a side-by-side battle with Martin Truex, Jr. into turns three and four. Busch had enough momentum exiting the corner and took the victory over Truex while the field came together behind them and Hamlin dropped to seventh.

How is it remembered: The post-race altercation between Hamlin and Elliott.

It was the first race where the lights at Martinsville changed the attitude of the track. Of course, neither driver made it to the Championship 4 that year and they would have another coming together at Phoenix.

Once again, it was a race where Kyle Busch was not in contention and then pulled it out. Busch led the most laps but in the final 100 laps he was not up at the front controlling the race. It was a pair of cautions that pulled him back into it.

6. 2017 Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway
What happened: A fairly uneventful race for the first two stages with Brad Keselowski leading 93 of the first 100 laps but Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch worked their ways to the front.

A few cautions mixed up the running order with Denny Hamlin cycling to the lead at one point and Busch led until another caution with 14 laps to go. Truex retook the lead during the pit cycle and it appeared he would cruise to his fifth victory of the season and second consecutive after a victory at Waktins Glen. However, with four laps to go, Michael McDowell and Paul Menard came together, bringing out another caution.

This set up a green-white-checkered finish with Truex leading his teammate Erik Jones coming to the green flag. On the restart, Matt Kenseth looked to the inside of Jones into turn one and Kyle Larson squeezed between Jones and Truex, making it four-wide for the top spot.

Larson shot out to the lead with Truex following and Trevor Bayne in third. At the white flag, Larson was gone. Truex remained in his tracks but was not able to make up any ground. Larson celebrated with still 2/3rds a lap to go and, though premature, it was warranted. Larson took his third consecutive victory and this one a night after he finished second in the Knoxville Nationals.

How is it remembered: Larson's restart.

It was a tremendous launch and he was gone. It was not a race that Larson was in the discussion until the final restart. He ran strong, in the top ten for almost the entire race, and he took advantage of the circumstances in front of him. When he had a chance to seize the race, he did.

5. 2014 Quicken Loans Race of Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway
What happened: In the inaugural year of the elimination championship format, entering the penultimate race of the season no driver was locked into the Homestead finale and 18 points covered all eight remaining drivers.

Kevin Harvick was eighth, 18 points off leader Joey Logano and six points behind Jeff Gordon in fourth. Harvick started the race in third and would get to the lead on lap 44. While Harvick controlled the race, the other seven drivers jockeyed for the other three spots. The final three spots rotated between the drivers. Some drivers came, other went.

The closing laps saw the top six full of playoff drivers. Ryan Newman entered the day third in the championship but he was running outside the top ten and only a point outside of advancing. Harvick won the race and Newman made a dive bomb on Kyle Larson in turn four for 11th. Contact put Larson into the wall and Newman crossed the line on the right side of the cutline while Jeff Gordon, who finished second, was knocked out.

How is it remembered: The format change paying off in year one.

NASCAR got what it wanted. It had a driver in a "must-win" situation winning to advance and still got the driver making the "no guts no glory" pass for one spot to advance into the next round. It just happened to be for the Championship 4 spots.

It was another dominating day for Harvick at Phoenix, something he has made a career out of and it kept a successful season going. It was heartbreak. Gordon did all he could do in finishing second. He didn't put a wheel wrong but missed out.

Newman's pass for a few seasons was the image of this playoff format. It has since been eclipsed by Kenseth taking Logano out at Martinsville, Hamlin and Elliott getting together at Martinsville, Larson dragged a broken down race car across the line at the Charlotte roval to advance, Logano running into Truex at Martinsville and now Hamlin and Logano at Martinsville.

It has fallen down the pecking order but there is still some significance.

4. 2018 Go Bowling at the Glen
What happened: The waiting ended.

Kyle Busch led a fair portion of this race but a caution for Corey LaJoie brought cars to pit on the edge of the fuel window to make it to the end of the race. Chase Elliott moved into the lead. Elliott tried to conserve fuel while Martin Truex, Jr. tried to push Elliott.

It led to the two drivers running hard for the closing 34 laps and pulling away from the rest of the field. Elliott could not put a wheel wrong and at the start of the final lap, he did. Elliott went wide into turn one but it wasn't the greatest first corner for Truex either and Elliott fought back and kept the lead. Truex was in Elliott's tracks into the chicane but exiting the carousel Truex ran out of fuel.

Elliott was unchallenged into the final two corners and took his first career victory. Truex coasted to a runner-up finish.

How is it remembered: It was Elliott's first career victory, something that took two and a half years to become reality.

Elliott could have probably won at least five or six races up to that point. A few he was beat straight up, take Dover 2017, but others seemed to slip through his fingers. This one was set up to slide through his fingers again and the wait would have continued. He did everything he could to throw it away.

Elliott may have been fortunate and won this race anyway. Truex did run out of fuel. If Truex had taken the lead exiting turn one, he probably would have still run out in the carousel and Elliott didn't spin, he didn't lose a lot of time. Elliott likely would have gotten the lead back before the penultimate corner.

Regardless of what universe we live in, Elliott got the monkey off his back.

3. 2012 Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen
What happened: Chaos but before we get to that, a pretty good race.

Kyle Busch led until the first caution on lap 27. Brad Keselowski took the lead after the caution. Marcos Ambrose would take the lead for a moment before Keselowski retook the top spot. Keselowski was leading when Tony Stewart spun from second exiting the final corner.

This set up a restart with 16 laps to go and Busch retook the lead at the green flag and Ambrose would move up to second. Busch pulled away and had a comfortable lead over Ambrose and Keselowski heading into the final laps. With two laps to go, Busch's lead was about two seconds.

However, in the closing laps, the Bobby Labonte had lost an engine and put fluid all over the racetrack. Keselowski got around Ambrose in the carousel on the penultimate lap and he closed in on Busch, who was struggling with the slick surface. Busch ran wide in turn one and Keselowski made contact with Busch entering the essess. Busch was sideways and Keselowski moved into the lead but Ambrose closed on Keselowski and kept the pressure on.

Both drivers got into the grass entering and exiting the chicane. Keselowski took it slow through the carousel as Ambrose aggressively slid through the corner and closed the gap but could not get the lead. Exiting the corner, Keselowski had to catch the car and this allowed Ambrose to get to the back of Keselowski and take the lead.

Keselowski forced Ambrose wide in the penultimate corner but Ambrose had the inside line into the final corner and Keselowski was slipping on exiting. Ambrose powered down to the victory with Keselowski in second. Busch ended up in seventh.

How is it remembered: As I said before, chaos.

No one really knew what had happened. It was thought Kyle Busch had a problem, hence Keselowski closing. It wasn't until after the race did the track conditions and the cause become apparent.

It was a pretty good race before that but I kind of feel this race is what has led to this surge in road course popularity in NASCAR. Up until this point, road courses had been accepted. Not many people were wild about them and most felt two was enough.

After this race, people wanted more road course races and it is still the case today. Watkins Glen is one of the best-attended races every season. People look forward to it. This race really changed perceptions. I am not sure anyone saw that coming.

2. 2018 Overton's 400 at Chicagoland Speedway
What happened: A pretty complete race.

With three stages, it was really three races in one. The race started with a mix of leaders at the front with Aric Almirola cycling to the front and coming out on top after 80 laps. Kevin Harvick took the lead after pit stops but Almirola quickly moved back to the front. It appeared Almirola was going to be set for his first victory since 2014 but a pit lane speeding penalty took him out of contention.

The end of stage two saw the differing strategies of Kurt Busch and Harvick lead to a battle with Harvick taking the stage victory. The lead changed a bunch at the start of the final stage but Harvick would regain the point before the final caution. During that pit cycle, Kyle Busch moved to the lead.

Busch's lead went unchallenged but Kyle Larson had speed as the race progressed and was reeling in Busch. In the closing laps, Larson reached Busch as lapped traffic started to factor into the proceedings. On the final lap, Larson made his move in turn one and tried to complete the move exiting turn two. The two cars touched and brushed the wall. Larson took the lead down the backstretch but Busch was able to make a run on Larson into turn three. Busch got into the back of Larson and got him loose. Busch continued on while Larson fought to save the car.

Busch took the checkered flag and Larson saved the car to finish second.

How is it remembered: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. yelling, "slide job" uncontrollably.

This was actually a great race start to finish. It wasn't just a finish, which we can sometimes inflate into being a great race.

It was another case of Kyle Busch not really being in it for the first 60% but then coming out on top. Almirola appeared to have the best car that day but one penalty took him out of it.

It was a physical finish but a clean finish and I think it is important to point out that afterward Kyle Larson did not go after Kyle Busch to take a swing. Larson congratulated Busch and they shared a laugh. We glorify the anger but on this day, Larson was outmaneuvered and Busch got into him but it Busch was not trying to put him into the wall. It was hard racing and not a dirty move.

Larson recognized that. I am not sure how many other drivers would have been as understanding. Plenty of drivers would have looked at it as they were wrong and wanted vengeance. In this case, we saw Larson be a good sport and two drivers show each other mutual respect.

1. 2011 Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
What happened: The championship came down to the final race but it not only came down to the final race, it came down to the final lap.

Entering this race, Carl Edwards led the championship by three points over Tony Stewart. Stewart had won four of the prior nine races. Edwards had not won since the third race of the season at Las Vegas but he had 18 top five finishes and 25 top ten finishes entering the finale. Edwards had runner-up finishes in the two races prior to Homestead and top five finishes in six of the prior nine races.

Edwards won pole position while Stewart qualified in 15th. Edwards had the best car, leading comfortably but Stewart slowly worked his way to the front.

A one-hour rain delay occurred and Edwards dropped to third on the pit stops before the race restarted. Restarting next to Edwards was Stewart. Stewart went moved up to second when the green flag fell and a handful of laps later Stewart was in the lead.

These two drivers battled for the remaining laps. Stewart would lose some ground but work to make it back up to the front. Edwards retook the lead and claimed the bonus point for most laps led. In the final 100 miles, Edwards made his penultimate pit stop on lap 202 but Stewart stretched his fuel to lap 212 hoping he would not have to stop again.

Rain brought out the caution two laps later. Edwards re-inherited the lead but used the caution to top off and ensure he could make it to the end. The storm was not heavy and after 16 laps behind the pace car, the race resumed with 37 laps to go and Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski's lead lasted all of a lap with Stewart regaining the top spot with Edwards charging to the front. Edwards would move up to second with 33 laps to go and the two drivers were tied but Stewart would win the championship based on tiebreaker.

Edwards had to pass Stewart but he was unable to catch him. Stewart won his fifth race of the season and clinched his third championship. Edwards picked up his third consecutive runner-up finish but it was only a consolation.

How is it remembered: This race is responsible for the NASCAR we have today.

Every championship is now guaranteed to go to the final race and it is pretty much guaranteed to go down to the final lap and it is now pretty much guaranteed to win the championship you must win the race.

Unlike what we have had since 2014, this was somewhat organic. The Chase format was in existence and the championship was reset after 26 races but a ten-race aggregate was at least more in line with what NASCAR had always used and not a one result will decide the champion.

To have two drivers tied on points after ten races, to have it come down to those drivers running 1-2 in the final race, NASCAR could not have scripted that. It is in the same ballpark as the 1992 Atlanta finale. That 1992 Atlanta race was incredible and it is still arguably the greatest race in NASCAR history. I think this makes a good argument for second all-time and if it is not second it is somewhere in the top five.

Did Stewart benefit from the system? Absolutely. He did not win one of the first 26 races and then went on a tear. Edwards only needed a point anywhere over the final ten races and his worst finish in the final ten races was 11th. He did not do anything to lose this championship. Stewart had finishes of 25th and 15th at Dover and Kansas.

A tie was a warranted result, something we will not see in the current state of NASCAR. Who knows if we will ever see it again.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Should Trevor Carlin Be Concerned?

Two seasons ended and two seasons began this weekend. The Kyalami 9 Hours revival received a baptism in the final two hours. Richie Stanaway may be calling it a career at 28 years old. At least he got to go out at the beach. Porsche and Mercedes-Benz took no time getting to the front of the Formula E grid. Drive time cost a team we will be talking about momentarily victory in the Asian Le Mans Series season opener. Elsewhere, Sébastien Bourdais is exiting IndyCar and heading to JDC-Miller Motorsports in IMSA. Jimmie Johnson is retiring after the 2020 NASCAR season. Super GT hosted DTM at Fuji. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Should Trevor Carlin Be Concerned?
We are in the middle of the IndyCar offseason. In fact, we are still closer to the 2019 season finale from Laguna Seca than the 2020 season opener from St. Petersburg. Anyway, 64 days since the last checkered flag and 111 days before the next green flag, a lot has already happened and more is still to come.

What has already happened is the mighty have gotten stronger. Colton Herta has officially been included in the Andretti Autosport fold and Chip Ganassi Racing has added Marcus Ericsson. Add in the three-car Team Penske effort and IndyCar's Big Three will field 11 cars in the 2020 season and let's remain open-minded to Ganassi fielding another.

This increase in cars for the big teams has caught the eyes of the minnows. Trevor Carlin has expressed concern. One of IndyCar's newer team owners is worried IndyCar will become too top heavy and the size of these three teams will keep the other teams from getting the results to attract sponsors.

Carlin believes if IndyCar lets these teams continue to grow the appeal of the series will diminish. Outside teams will no longer see it as an area for possible expansion and Carlin himself even said if the big teams continue to expand it will likely lead to him leaving the series.

It was not long ago IndyCar was desperate for new teams. The Big Three teams were propping up the grid while the other five teams filled it out. Carlin was one of those needed new teams to provide opportunities while not spreading another organization too thin. Along with Carlin we saw Harding Racing enter, which has been engulfed into Andretti Autosport with Herta's program, and Meyer Shank Racing has expanded to a full-time entry, with Andretti support but not in the Andretti stable.

Other teams are trying to make that next step. DragonSpeed got a taste of IndyCar last year and signs were pointing to greater IndyCar participation in 2020 but we have yet to hear any commitments from the team. Juncos Racing slowly expanded to IndyCar. In 2018, it was a regular competitor, running 12 of 17 races. The 2019 season saw the team participate only twice. Nothing has been said about Juncos Racing's 2020 plans.

It would be smart for IndyCar to have more teams. It is not in a position to be turning anyone away. The series should want as many teams as possible. There are always going to be hurdles and some teams are going to do a better job attracting sponsors than others. It is not going to be easy.

Logically, IndyCar runs the risk of having too many eggs in one basket with the size of the Big Three programs. We have seen tragic events happen before and teams forced to shut down afterward. Losing a five-car team would be a terrible blow for the series but if there were 14 others teams on the grid and each team averaged 1.75 cars that would still mean about 24 cars on the grid. If you have one five-car team and it were to vanish, leaving nine teams averaging 1.75 cars then you only have about 16 cars left and that is not a good thing.

Penske, Ganassi and Andretti have been the top of IndyCar, there is no doubt about that but should Trevor Carlin be concerned heading into the 2020 season?

Eleven cars from these three teams is nothing new. Andretti Autosport has been fielding four cars for a long time but we have seen Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske match that number in the last decade. At one point, all three teams ran four cars full-time. What did IndyCar look like then?

Staying within the DW12-era, there have been 135 races over eight seasons. The Big Three teams won 101 races, 74.81% of the races over the last eight seasons. The teams combined for 287 of a possible 405 podium finishes. The three teams had 455 of 675 top five finishes and 813 of 1,350 top ten finishes.

The teams had 70.86% of the podium finishes, 67.4% of the top five finishes and 60.222% of the top ten finishes.

Turning to the championship, these three teams are responsible for every champion in this series since 2003. Since 2012, 34 of the 40 drivers to finish in the top five of the championship came from these three teams and the Big Three teams have swept the top five in the championship the last three seasons. Since 2012, 62 of 80 top ten finishers in the championship came from these three teams.

These three teams have been in control for quite some time and it seems the grip is getting tighter.

Here are the number of victories for the Big Three per season since 2012:

2012 - 13/15 (86.667%)
2013 - 14/19 (73.68%)
2014 - 11/18 (61.111%)
2015 - 9/16 (56.25%)
2016 - 13/16 (81.25%)
2017 - 13/17 (76.47%)
2018 - 14/17 (82.35%)
2019 - 14/17 (82.35%)

Forty-eight of the last 135 races have seen only entries from the Big Three on the podium. The Big Three have swept the top five in 20 of 135 races.

Three teams have won over 75% of the races in the last four seasons and in five of the last eight. Over a third of the races see the podium only including cars from three teams and about one in seven races sees the top five cars coming from only three teams.

Only seven races in the last eight seasons featured a podium where none of the Big Three teams put a car on the podium. Those races are Long Beach 2013, the second Belle Isle race in 2013, Baltimore 2013, the second Houston race in 2014, the second Belle Isle race in 2015, Iowa 2018 and Gateway 2019. That is only 5.18% of 135 races. There was only one race where non-Big Three teams swept the top five and that was Baltimore 2013.

What is there to be encouraged about?

Carlin said if Andretti were to expand to seven cars and Ganassi and Penske each had four cars then any team would be lucky to get a top fifteen finish. However, in 135 races, none of them saw the Big Three sweep the top ten. Only five different teams won a race last season but in 2017 and 2018, six different teams won a race including every Honda team. In 2016, when there were only nine full-time teams, six teams won a race. In 2015, when there were only nine full-time teams, seven teams won a race.

Even when these teams were putting 12 combined entries on the grid other teams were able to breakthrough. Would three more cars make it more likely of a top ten shutout? Absolutely, but the talent is spread enough that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing can put a car on the podium or Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing can put a car in the top five or Ed Carpenter Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing, Carlin and Meyer Shank Racing can finish in the top ten.

There are two ways of looking at it: We have already reached Trevor Carlin's worse nightmare and the minnows are not achieving enough to be attractive to sponsors or there is still enough opportunity for these little teams to stand out and be recognized.

The best teams are going to come out on top nine times out of ten, even in races they do not deserve. IndyCar could add success ballast and other forms of Balance of Performance to ensure seven or eight teams win a race each season and possibly have four or five teams in the championship hunt but the series would be severely chastised for introducing such a concept.

IndyCar is still a place where the little team can come out on top on a given day. If these teams check all the boxes and make no mistakes any of them can win but those days only come once or twice a season.

The only non-Big Three team to win on a regular basis is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and even that is one or two races a year. It had Graham Rahal in the championship fight in 2015 but that's it.

If any team wants to become a regular winner it is not going to be because Penske, Ganassi and Andretti are told to cut back on the number of entries. Back in 2009, Penske and Ganassi combined to win 16 of 17 races in a season where the average grid had 22.88 cars and Penske and Ganassi at most combined to enter five cars. IndyCar could limit these teams, IndyCar could even force these teams to cut back but they are still going to come out on top.

Should IndyCar look out for the greater good of the grid at large? I think an argument could be made the series should consider it.

I believe there are natural limitations. There is a reason why teams do not field eight or nine cars already. There is such a thing as too much and not enough resources. If a team wanted to field six or seven cars, great but that team will likely be weaker than say a two-car team with half the resources.

If a team limit is introduced, IndyCar has to learn from when NASCAR regulated team size. When NASCAR imposed the limit, NASCAR mandated a team could have no more than four cars. At the time, Roush Fenway Racing had five cars. It was allowed to run five cars for a few seasons but then forced to downsize. I don't think IndyCar should set the limit to force a team to downsize. If anything, IndyCar should set the limit to match the largest team on the grid.

I think five cars are enough for one team. It would allow Andretti Autosport to keep its team, not force a driver, crew members and possibly sponsors out the door and it would set the bar for any teams wishing to expand in the future.

Team limits is not something on IndyCar's plate, at least not publicly. Let's see how the next two or three seasons play out.

Trevor Carlin has a right to be concerned about his future in IndyCar. He needs to look out for himself and IndyCar should value him and his wishes as much as Roger Penske (Who now owns the series. Remember that folks! When we are talking about IndyCar we are talking about Roger Penske!), Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti. IndyCar needs Carlin just as much as those three stalwarts.

While Carlin has a right to be concerned and while the numbers show the dominance of the Big Three, the numbers also show the rest of the field still has the opportunity to be competitive. Ninety percent of the teams on the grid can show up to a race and pull out an astonishing result. Those days do not happen at every other race but it happens enough to keep everybody encouraged at the drop of a green flag. Not many other series can say that now. IndyCar has it all to lose.

Champions From the Weekend
Dennis Olsen clinched the Intercontinental GT Challenge championship with a victory in the Kyalami 9 Hours in the #31 Frikadelli Racing Porsche with Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the Kyalami 9 Hours but did you know...

Sam Bird and Alexander Sims split the Formula E races from Saudi Arabia.

The #26 G-Drive Racing with Algarve Aurus 01-Gibson of James French, Romain Rusinov and Léonard Hoogenboom won the Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Shanghai. The #45 Carlin Dallara-Gibson crossed the line first but was handed a three-lap penalty for drive-time infringement. The #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier-Nissan of Nigel Moore and Martin Hippe won in the LMP3 class. The #77 D'station AMR Aston Martin of Tomonobu Fujii, Ross Gunn and Satoshi Hoshino won in the GT class.

Shane Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup split the Supercars races from Newcastle.

Nick Cassidy and Narain Karthikeyan split the Super GT/DTM Dream Races from Fuji. The top DTM finisher in each race was Benoît Tréluyer in sixth in race one and in race two Marco Wittmann and Loïc Duval took the final two spots on the podium. The #60 LM Corsa Lexus of Ritomo Miyata and Hiroki Yoshimoto swept the GT300 races.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Formula One season finale from Abu Dhabi.
Turkey Night Grand Prix.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

2019-20 Formula E Season Preview

While many championships have been awarded over the last few months and a few more seasons are wrapping up, one season will commence this weekend and it is Formula E.

After a four-month break, Formula E will be back in action for its sixth season. This season is the longest scheduled in series history, as the teams will compete in 14 races. The grid has expanded with a 12th team added, the largest the Formula E grid has ever been.

This preview will look at the schedule, which will include two new events and one returning event, and each team and driver.

For the second consecutive season, the Formula E season begins in Saudi Arabia but this year it will be a doubleheader with a race on Friday November 22nd and Saturday November 23rd.

The series will take two months off before the Santiago round on Saturday January 18th. Mexico City will be on Saturday February 15th with Marrakesh hosting the fifth round on Leap Day, Saturday February 29th.

Santa returns for a second consecutive year with a race on Saturday March 21st. Rome will be the first European round on Saturday April 4th. The second half of the season begins on Saturday April 18th in Paris.

There will be two inaugural races in the 2019-20 and they are consecutive races with the Seoul round taking place on Sunday May 3rd and Jakarta hosting Formula E on Saturday June 6th. Berlin will be on Sunday June 21st.

Brooklyn hosts the penultimate round and this year it will only be one race, scheduled for Saturday July 11th. The season will close in London for the first time since 2016 but this circuit will be an indoor/outdoor track going through the ExCeL London convention center. The London round will be a doubleheader and take place on Saturday July 25th and Sunday July 26th.

DS Teechetah
António Félix da Costa: #13 DS E-TENSE FE20
What did he do in 2018-19: Da Costa won the opening round of the 2018-19 season with BMW i Andretti Motorsport and he had three other podium finishes on his way to finishing sixth in the championship with 99 points. He also ran for BMW in the FIA World Endurance Championship for BMW in the GTE-Pro class before switching over to LMP2 with Jota Sport, where he has won the most recent round at Shanghai.
What to expect in 2019-20: I think things should be better for da Costa than 2018-19. Going into last season, I thought da Costa was one of the championship favorites with BMW i Andretti program and that looked good for the first race and for about 80% of the second race. Then the BMW program was flat until the finale in Brooklyn. I think we are going to see a better season from da Costa, possibly multiple victories and more top five finishes.

Jean-Éric Vergne: #25 DS E-TENSE FE20
What did he do in 2018-19: Vergne won his second consecutive championship with three victories at Sanya, Monaco and Bern, five podium finishes and 136 points. He also ran the final four rounds of the 2019 European Le Mans Series and scored a victory in Barcelona and a runner-up finish at Silverstone.
What to expect in 2019-20: Vergne has won the last two championship. Three consecutive titles in any championship is a difficult task. He is going to be in the mix. I know testing had him 11th overall in Valencia but da Costa was fourth. He is going to win multiple races, some of which it will feel like he doesn't deserve and be in the top five of the championship.

Team Notes:

DS Teechetah is the defending Teams' Champions after scoring 222 points. The season prior Teechetah was second in the Teams' Championship.

Da Costa is Teechetah's sixth driver in four seasons.

Da Costa will be the first driver to run car #13 in Formula E history.

Teechetah has never had multiple drivers win a race in a season but it has had multiple drivers finish on the podium in a season.

Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler
Lucas di Grassi: #11 Audi e-Tron FE06
What did he do in 2018-19: Di Grassi won two races at Mexico City and Berlin and finished second in Hong Kong and was third in the championship with 108 points.
What to expect in 2019-20: Testing was not great for di Grassi, as he was 17th overall, and the last two seasons have seen him and the Audi team get off to slow starts only to recover and finish in the top three of the championship. Di Grassi has been in the top three of the championship in every Formula E season. He has won a race in every Formula E season and he has won multiple races in the last four seasons. He could keep up his winning ways and still end up with the worst championship finish of his career and I think that is bound to happen.

Daniel Abt: #66 Audi e-Tron FE06
What did he do in 2018-19: Abt had two podium finishes, a third in Santiago and a third in Paris, before finishing seventh in the championship on 95 points.
What to expect in 2019-20: Abt was a spot better than his teammate during testing. He has proven to be a consistent points scorer but he does not get the same level of finishes as his teammate. If I think di Grassi is going to take a slight step back in 2019-20 then I have to think Abt will as well. He may still score points at the same rate but ninth and tenth place do not pay that much.

Team Notes:

Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler was second in the championship on 203 points last season. The team has finished in the top three of the Teams' Championship in every Formula E season.

Di Grassi and Abt are two of four drivers to start every Formula E race with Sam Bird and Jérôme d'Ambrosio.

Di Grassi is one of two drivers to win a race in every Formula E season alongside Bird.

Envision Virgin Racing
Sam Bird: #2 Audi e-Tron FE06
What did he do in 2018-19: Bird won at Santiago with his only other podium finish being this in Marrakesh. Bird was ninth in the championship with 85 points, his worst championship result in Formula E.
What to expect in 2019-20: Bird was 13th in testing; four spots better than last season's pre-season test. Ninth is not really indicative of how Bird did in 2018-19. If he kept his victory at Hong Kong, he would have been sixth, two points outside the top five. Formula E will be Bird's focus in 2019-20. He is out of AF Corse's FIA World Endurance Championship program. I expect Bird to get back to the top of the championship.

Robin Frijns: #4 Audi e-Tron FE06
What did he do in 2018-19: Frijns won in Paris and the season finale in Brooklyn with two other podium finishes on his way to fourth in the championship on 106 points, his best Formula E championship finish.
What to expect in 2019-20: Even though Bird was negatively affected in the championship by the Hong Kong result, Frijns was giving him a run for his money at Virgin Racing. Frijns is a legitimate threat to Bird and the championship. It could be a case of Virgin Racing cars stealing points from each other. Both cars will be fighting for the top five in the championship.

Team Notes:

Envision Virgin Racing was third in the Teams' Championship last year with 191 points. Virgin Racing has finished in the top five of the Teams' Championship every season but it has never been better than third in the Teams' Championship.

If Frijns does not win a pole position by Seoul, he will break Nick Heidfeld's record of most entries without a pole position. Heidfeld did not win a pole position in the 44 Formula E races he entered.

Bird enters the 2019-20 season without a podium finish in his last ten starts, the longest drought of his career.

Nissan e.dams
Oliver Rowland: #22 Nissan IM02
What did he do in 2018-19: Rowland was tenth in the championship with 71 points after runner-up finishes in Sanya and Monaco.
What to expect in 2019-20: The Nissan program was hit or miss at the start of last season and Rowland's up and down results were something his veteran teammate Sébastien Buemi also had to battle. He was also a late addition to the grid. I think Rowland results are slightly better than last year. He could increase his number of podium finishes but a victory could be tough to come by. It would not be impossible but I would only expect one victory for Rowland.

Sébastien Buemi: #23 Nissan IM02
What did he do in 2018-19: Buemi won the penultimate race of the season in Brooklyn and he had four consecutive podium finishes to end the season after not scoring a podium finish in the first nine races. His late charge got him second in the championship on 119 points.
What to expect in 2019-20: Buemi has finished in the top two of the championship in four of five seasons and his worst championship result is fourth. While last season didn't start well, it ended very strong and Buemi was sixth fastest in testing. I think he will be back in the championship fight immediately with a few victories.

Team Notes:

Nissan e.dams was fourth in the Teams' Championship on 190 points last season. After winning the Teams' Championship in the first three seasons, Nissan e.dams has finished fifth and fourth in the last two seasons.

Last season, Buemi was the best Nissan finisher in seven of 13 races.

Nissan e.dams won six pole positions last season, three for each driver, but Rowland only started one race from the first spot on the grid due to a technical infringement and a grid penalty.

BMW i Andretti Motorsport
Alexander Sims: #27 BMW IFE.20
What did he do in 2018-19: Sims was 13th in the championship on 57 points with his best finish being second in the season finale in Brooklyn.
What to expect in 2019-20: Sims was a slight disappointment compared to his testing results last year. I think things will get better but only because of how low the bar was set. He should challenge for top ten in the championship. He was seventh in testing and his teammate was fastest.

Maximilian Günther: #28 BMW IFE.20
What did he do in 2018-19: Günther drove for Dragon Racing where he had finishes of fifth at Paris and Bern to give him 20 points, good enough for 17th in the championship. He missed three rounds when Felipe Nasr stepped in the car.
What to expect in 2019-20: The results of 2018-19 tell you that there is no reason Günther to think Günther deserved this type of promotion but he has gotten it and he went right to the top of the charts in testing. He is definitely going to do better than last year but it is hard to believe he will immediately be a championship contender. He should be fighting for tenth in the championship at worst.

Team Notes:

BMW i Andretti Motorsport was fifth in the Teams' Championship with 156 points last season, the Andretti program's best result.

BMW i Andretti Motorsport won pole position for last season's season opener in Saudi Arabia and season finale in Brooklyn. Prior to the 2018-19 season, the Andretti team had not won a pole position since the Miami round in 2015, the fifth race in series history.

Last season, BMW i Andretti Motorsport had five podium finishes. The team had five podium finishes in the first 13 Formula E races and did not get another podium finish until last season's Saudi Arabia race.

Mahindra Racing
Jérôme d'Ambrosio: #64 Mahindra M5Electro
What did he do in 2018-19: D'Ambrosio had a third place finish in Saudi Arabia and won at Marrakesh but was 11th in the championship on 67 points.
What to expect in 2019-20: D'Ambrosio has had a good Formula E career but no better or worse than good. Some races he is competitive and others he is not really in the mix. One race is on the podium and the next he is 14th. Mahindra was one of three teams to put both cars in the top ten overall in testing. I think d'Ambrosio could be slightly better than last year but we not really notice it.

Pascal Wehrlein: #94 Mahindra M5Electro
What did he do in 2018-19: Wehrlein missed the season opener due to his Mercedes-Benz contract but he was runner-up in his second start at Santiago and was 12th in the championship on 58 points.
What to expect in 2019-20: Wehrlein should jump ahead of d'Ambrosio this season. He scored points in more races than d'Ambrosio last season and was nine points back and missed a round. Wehrlein was second overall in testing. I think there could be one or two races where Wehrlein is competing for a race victory but I am not sure the team can put together a title push for the entire season.

Team Notes:

Mahindra Racing had 125 points and was sixth in last season's Team Championship.

Mahindra Racing has put a car on podium in the first three races of the last two seasons. However, in each of those two seasons, Mahindra did not have a car on the podium after the third race of the season.

The team has four victories and 18 podium finishes in five seasons.

Panasonic Jaguar Racing
Mitch Evans: #20 Jaguar I-Type 4
What did he do in 2018-19: Evans got his first career victory in Rome and had runner-up finishes in Bern and the penultimate race in Brooklyn. He scored 105 points and was fifth in the championship.
What to expect in 2019-20: Evans has carried the Jaguar Racing program since it got into Formula E and I do not expect that to stop. He was fifth in testing and I think any championship hopes are depended on results early. He scored points in the first seven races last season but only one of those was a podium and only one other of those results was a top five. I think he is the sleeper.

James Calado: #51 Jaguar I-Type 4
What did he do in 2018-19: Calado was second in the World Endurance GTE Drivers' Championship after victories at Silverstone and at Le Mans in June. He also was runner-up in the GT Le Mans class in the 24 Hours of Daytona and was apart of the GTLM class winners at Petit Le Mans.
What to expect in 2019-20: This is Calado's first time in a single-seater car since the 2013 GP2 season. It is going to be a learning experience as he has been in GT cars for the last five-plus years. I think his goal should be to score more points than what Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Alex Lynn combined for in this car last season and that was 11 points. That should be an easy get but he should be pushing to be in the top half of the championship, especially if Evans is going to be in the thick of it at the front.

Team Notes:

Panasonic Jaguar Racing was seventh in the Teams' Championship with 116 points last season.

Evans is responsible for all four podium finishes Jaguar Racing has had in Formula E. He is also responsible for the only pole position in the team's Formula E tenure.

Evans and Calado competed against each other in the 2011 GP3 season and they drove for MW Arden International and ART Grand Prix respectively. Evans won the first race at Barcelona with Calado in second. It was Evans' first career victory in the series.

Venturi Racing
Felipe Massa: #19 Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 01
What did he do in 2018-19: Massa was 15th in the championship on 36 points with a third place finish in Monaco being his best result.
What to expect in 2019-20:  More of the same. Massa was 12th in testing. The team has made the switch from its own powertrain to the new Mercedes-Benz powertrain. I think Massa could finish a few spots better in the championship but breaking into the top ten is asking a lot.

Edoardo Mortara: #48 Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 01
What did he do in 2018-19: Mortara took victory at Hong Kong after Sam Bird was penalized for causing a collision. Mortara had finished third in the race before in Mexico City. He failed to score points in the final eight races of the season and was 14th in the championship on 52 points.
What to expect in 2019-20: Same as Massa, more of the same. Mortara scored an unexpected and rather fortunate victory last year. I think him and Massa will be together on the racetrack quite a bit.

Team Notes:

Venturi Racing was eighth in the Teams' Championship with 88 points last season. It was the most points Venturi Racing has scored in a season.

Last season was the first time Venturi Racing had multiple drivers score a podium finish. It was also the first time Venturi Racing had multiple podium finishes in a season.

Mortara had six retirements last season, tying Maro Engel's record of six retirements in a season with Venturi in 2016-17.

Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team
Stoffel Vandoorne: #5 Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 01
What did he do in 2018-19: Vandoorne's best finish was third in Rome and scored 35 points to finish 16th in the championship. He also had third place finishes in both the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
What to expect in 2019-20: Somewhat better than 2018-19. Mercedes-Benz was 20th in testing and there is no reason to be hopeful other than it is one thing for HWA Racelab to be at the back. It is another if it is Mercedes-Benz. Vandoorne had encouraging days last season. Top ten might be out of reach but breaking into the top 12 would be a start.

Nyck de Vries: #17 Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 01
What did he do in 2018-19: De Vries clinched the FIA Formula Two Championship after winning four races, scoring 12 podium finishes and scored points in 21 of 22 races with a round to go in Yas Marina. He also won in the LMP2 class at the 6 Hours of Fuji.
What to expect in 2019-20: This is a little different for de Vries. He was 21st in testing and while he has adapted to sports cars quickly, this is a tad different. I think he has to outperform the nine points Gary Paffett scored last season.

Team Notes:

This will be Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team's inaugural season. The team is taking over for HWA Racelab, which was ninth in the Teams' Championship with 44 points.

Vandoorne ended the season with four finishes in the points in the final five races.

Vandoorne was a FanBoost recipient in every race last season.

HWA Racelab had both cars finish in the points in the 2018-19 season finale in Brooklyn.

GEOX Dragon Racing
Brendon Hartley: #6 Penske EV-4
What did he do in 2018-19: Hartley ran the 1000 Miles of Sebring and 12 Hours of Sebring and finished third in each race. He joined the Toyota LMP1 program and has finishes of second, first and second in Silverstone, Fuji and Shanghai respectively.
What to expect in 2019-20: I think Hartley will have good days but also struggle because that is kind of what Dragon Racing is known for. The team had two really good seasons in Formula E, including second in the Teams' Championship in the inaugural season but in the last three seasons the team has one podium finish and has finished eighth, ninth and tenth in the Teams' Championship. I think Hartley could be in the top five one race and then 15th the next.

Nico Müller: #7 Penske EV-4
What did he do in 2018-19: Müller was runner-up in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season with three victories and 11 podium finishes.
What to expect in 2019-20: Müller gave the team some hope in testing after ending up third but Hartley was 14th. This is Müller's first time in a single-seater since Formula Renault 3.5 in 2013. I think one Dragon car could sneak into the top ten in the championship but not both and no better than tenth for that entry.

Team Notes:

GEOX Dragon Racing was tenth in the Teams' Championship with 23 points last season. Out of a possible 26 finishes in the points, the team had four.

Dragon Racing's Teams' Championship position has gotten worse in every season of Formula E dropping from second to fourth to eighth to ninth to tenth.

Dragon Racing has had an in-season driver change in all but one season. In the 2015-16 season, Dragon Racing had Loïc Duval and Jérôme d'Ambrosio compete in all the races.

Hartley and Müller become the tenth and 11th driver to run for Dragon Racing in Formula E.

NIO 333 FE Team
Oliver Turvey: #3 NIO FE-005
What did he do in 2018-19: Turvey scored points in three races for a grand total of seven points, putting him 20th in the championship.
What to expect in 2019-20: NIO was bottom of the timesheet at Valencia. Because it is Formula E, I think Turvey could score a few points but it will be difficult for him to match his seven points from last season.

Ma Qinghua: #33 NIO FE-005
What did he do in 2018-19: With a round to go in the World Touring Car Cup season, Qinghua has a victory, four podium finishes and 15th in the championship with 133 points.
What to expect in 2019-20: Ma Qinghua returns to Formula E for the first time since the 2018 season finale in Brooklyn. In nine Formula E starts over three seasons; he has scored zero points with his best finish being 11th in the first London race in 2016. He was slowest in testing. He might get a few points but don't expect double figures.

Team Notes:

NIO 333 FE Team had seven points and was tenth in the Teams' Championship last season.

After having five podium finishes in the first Formula E season, NIO has one podium finish in the last 47 Formula E races. Turvey was second in Mexico City in 2018.

Turvey has the most entries and most starts in Formula E without a victory. Turvey has entered 48 races and started 47 races.

TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team
Neel Jani: #18 Porsche 99X Electric
What did he do in 2018-19: Jani ran for Rebellion Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship with his best results being second in Silverstone and third in Fuji.
What to expect in 2019-20: Jani was 22nd in testing. Porsche will have some growing pains and it will be interesting to see Porsche and Mercedes-Benz battle toward the back of the field. The goal should be to get at least one car ahead of both Mercedes-Benz entries or split them. It will be a fight 15th to 20th for Jani.

André Lotterer: #36 Porsche 99X Electric
What did he do in 2018-19: Lotterer ran for DS Teechetah and had runner-up finishes in Rome and Paris and was spun from the lead in the closing laps in Hong Kong. For the second consecutive season, he was eighth in the championship but he scored 86 points, 22 points more than his 2017-18 season.
What to expect in 2019-20: Lotterer's first two Formula E seasons have been encouraging and it is unfortunate he has not won a race yet. He was 19th in testing. I think he could get a few inspiring results but it will be tough for him to challenge for the top fifteen.

Team Notes:

This will be TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team's inaugural season.

Jani ran the 2017-18 season opener at Hong Kong. It was a doubleheader and Jani finished 18th in each race driving for Dragon Racing.

Lotterer's four podium finishes is the second most in Formula E history without a victory. Nick Heidfeld had eight podium finishes in his Formula E career but did not win a race.

The Formula E season begins at 7:00 a.m. ET on Friday November 22nd for the first race of the Diriyah ePrix. The second race will take place at the same time on Saturday November 23rd.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

2019 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

NASCAR season is over and this year Thanksgiving is not at the doorstep. It is kind of nice to have this week until the holiday.

Anyway, now we get to look back. Predictions were made 11 months ago and we need to see how those predictions fared. Were some spot on? Were others completely wrong? Let's take a look.

1. We will have at least eight different race winners in the first 16 races
Wrong! After four different winners in the first four races, there were only six different winners in the first 16 races.

The season started with Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske dominating with the two teams combining to win the first nine races and 15 of the first 16. Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano taking the next two races before Kyle Busch won the fourth race of the season.

Through four races, I was feeling good about this prediction but the only other new winners in the next 12 races were Martin Truex, Jr. and Chase Elliott.

Kevin Harvick and Alex Bowman each had a shot at Kansas but Harvick got a penalty after leading 103 laps and Bowman was second to Keselowski. Jimmie Johnson had a strong Texas race, leading 60 laps, the second-most but finished fifth. Ryan Blaney led the most laps at Bristol, 156 laps, but finished fourth.

There were opportunities but a few drivers were not able to break through.

2. Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon each finish at least five championship positions worse than they did in 2018
Correct! Almirola dropped from a gracious fifth in 2018 to 14th and Dillon dropped from 13th to 21st.

Almirola did not win a race in 2019 but he had only one fewer top five finish, having three in 2019 after having a career-high four in 2018. He did have five fewer top ten finishes, dropping from 17 to 12.

Dillon did not win a race in 2019, did not have a top five finish, had six top ten finishes and won three pole positions.

3. Kyle Larson wins at least four races
Wrong! Not even close. Larson had one victory, a great performance in the autumn Dover race.

Outside of that, this season was much different for Larson despite getting a victory and a career-best championship finish. He had fewer top five finishes and top ten finishes than 2018 but he went from ninth to sixth in the championship. The way NASCAR resets drivers that are eliminated from each round of the playoffs does make the championship finish a little skewed. Once again, Almirola was fifth last year, but Larson went from leading 782 laps and having about five races slip through his fingers and ending up ninth in the championship to leading 529 laps, having really only one race slip through his fingers and being sixth in the championship.

Atlanta is the only race Larson could be looking at as one that got away. He led 142 laps but threw the race away with a speeding penalty.

He started on pole position at Sonoma but was not a factor. He was runner-up at Darlington but only led 44 laps and it seemed like either Kyle Busch or Erik Jones would win this race.

It seemed like Larson got more of a handled on the car later in the season and perhaps he will be better in 2020.

4. Jimmie Johnson wins multiple races
Wrong! Very wrong! Things got worse for Johnson. He missed the playoffs, a first for him having made every year since the introduction of the Chase in 2004.

This has to be rock bottom for Johnson. Sixteen drivers make the NASCAR postseason, far more than ten when it was first introduced. We saw really talented drivers miss it when it was ten drivers. Only 31 drivers ran all 26 regular season races. He could not be in the top half of drivers. Three years ago he won his seventh championship. All three of his teammates made it. Ryan Newman made it. Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer made it.

Johnson has fallen from the echelon of top drivers that include Kyle Busch, Harvick, Keselowski, Logano and Truex and is just another face.

Texas is the only race Johnson came close to winning. He was third in the July Daytona race thanks to the rain. The team made a crew chief change midseason and it didn't pay off.

It has to get better. Johnson cannot have lost it all. It was not long ago would easily win five races a season and be in the top ten for 70% of the races. I know he is getting older but he is only 44 years old. He could not have lost it all.

5. Martin Truex, Jr. has at least four victories
Correct! Truex, Jr. lead the Cup Series with seven victories!

Truex went from a championship-contender with an underdog team to Joe Gibbs Racing, the best team in NASCAR. Four victories was setting the bar low because the competition would be stiff. Truex had no problem fitting in.

It was not a given Joe Gibbs Racing would see Truex come in and do this. Last year, Denny Hamlin didn't win a race and Erik Jones only won one race. Truex could have come in and done well but only had two victories.

This season confirmed Truex was not lucky with Furniture Row Racing. He went elsewhere and proved his worth.

6. At least three races that were below 50% good in Jeff Gluck's good race poll in 2018 increase in the good category by at least 25%

Kentucky went from 23% to 81%, a 58% increase.

The Coca-Cola 600 went from 38% to 86%, a 48% increase.

The October Talladega race went from 42% to 88%, a 46% increase.

The May Talladega race went from 49% to 90%, a 41% increase.

However, while these four races saw some pretty substantial increases, 24 of 38 races polled had a lower percentage of yes votes than in 2018. Make of that what you will.

7. Neither points-paying Daytona Cup race has a last lap pass for the victory
Wrong! I hate that this one is wrong because it is a technicality.

Kurt Busch made a pit stop from the lead, Justin Haley inherited the lead, the rains came, the race was red-flagged, it was never restarted, Haley led one lap, the final lap, therefore was a last lap pass for the victory.

It was not the last lap pass anyone was expecting but it still counts.

8. At least five championship-eligible drivers in NASCAR's second division have multiple victories
Wrong! The only Grand National Series championship-eligible drivers to have multiple victories were Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric. There were five championship-eligible drivers with one victory.

I did not see this season coming. I thought Bell would win eight races again but I didn't think Custer would win seven times and Reddick six times. At best, I probably would have put those drivers down for three or four victories. They combined for 13 victories and I thought at most they would combine for eight victories. Those five races is a big number.

Justin Allgaier underperformed, having only one victory, the autumn Phoenix race. JR Motorsports underperformed with its only other victory being Michael Annett of all people at Daytona.

This was close to happening. Chase Briscoe won at Iowa in July and probably should have won at Kansas in October but the lapped car of Garrett Smithley got in the way and led to a collision that also took out Bell and it handed Brandon Jones of all people a victory.

John Hunter Nemechek didn't win a race and I thought he could have had at least one victory if not two. Noah Gragson was not really close to getting a victory and he only led a double-digit lap total in three races but never led more than 19 laps in a race.

This is a slight surprise.

9. Jeffrey Earnhardt gets at least one top ten finish in NASCAR's second division
Correct! Jeffrey Earnhardt had three top ten finishes, including a third at Charlotte in May.

The part-time ride with Joe Gibbs Racing was going well. Earnhardt led 29 laps at Daytona! He was competitive but this more or less confirms the superiority of the Gibbs program. Unfortunately for Earnhardt, there was fallout with one of the sponsors and his nine-race program ended after only five races.

10. Kyle Busch Motorsports more than doubles its victory total in the Truck Series from 2018

I wrote that Kyle Busch could win five races alone in 2019 and he did win three races alone in 2019. Once Kyle Busch did that all he needed was one more victory for KBM to double its total of three victories from 2018.

Busch brought in Greg Biffle for the Texas race. At that point, Busch had won five of the first eight races and Biffle immediately got the team's sixth victory.

The bad news for KBM is its full-time drivers did not get a victory until Todd Gilliland won at Martinsville at October but neither he nor teammate Harrison Burton made the Truck playoffs.

When the team wins six of the first nine races and none of its drivers make the playoffs that can only be described as disappointing.

11. Let's make it seven different winners in seven Eldora races

Add Stewart Friesen to the list of Eldora winners. It was Friesen's first career victory.

The good news is any of the top six finishers this year at Eldora would have covered this prediction. Sheldon Creed was the runner-up finisher. Grant Enfinger was third. Mike Marlar made a tremendous debut and the World of Outlaws Late Model championship finished fourth after starting 23rd. Gilliland and part-time KBM driver Christain Eckes rounded out the top six.

12. There is at least one announcement of a track reconfiguration/switch to a roval before Labor Day

We did not hear anything on track reconfigurations or layout changes before Labor Day.

There were plenty of schedule shake-ups though. Phoenix is going to be the finale. Daytona moves its 400-mile race from July 4th weekend to end the regular season in late August. There are going to be consecutive off weeks for the Olympics. The Brickyard 400 is going to be the Independence Day weekend race. Martinsville is moving to May and going to be a Saturday night race.

None of those fulfill the prediction and this concludes another bad set of predictions, six for 12. Not terrible but could be much better.