With everything that has come from this year in NASCAR of seeing three very stout, very talented, drivers and teams outright dominating for 38 weeks, it has been hard to find the times in the season when these three were not the story of the week.
It was either a discussion about Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, or Martin Truex Jr. winning, or again being the main man to beat in the garage.
It has been that kind of season, one that has not been talked about in a long while. It’s been over a decade since at least a pair of drivers were the ones dominating seemingly every week. Back in 1993, it was a battle all season long as Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt each went toe-to-toe in trying to win a race and make their way to a title at season’s end. Wallace finished the year with 10 wins, but it was Earnhardt that ultimately won the title, his sixth of a record-tying seven in his career.
But yet through all the domination, there have been a few stories that made the headlines this year to really make an impact on the sport beginning next season. In the spirit of the “Big Three” as they were called, I narrowed it down to three key takeaways from this year that really made headlines, and will be big to watch come next season.
Ford Brings the Muscle to Cup
The biggest change overall to this season’s lineup of teams had nothing to do with drivers. In reality, it was the cars. Toyota already had a newer look for its Camry heading into last season, while Chevrolet’s ride with their SS model came to a close since they were no longer part of the production line.
Instead they went to the reliable, and powerful, Camaro ZL1 for the Cup Series, which was a big learning curve for all the Chevrolet drivers.
Now, Ford had so much success beginning in 2005 with their Fusion model, that they stuck with it through this season, and more on that to come.
But entering 2019, it was time to make some changes, and in the spirit of the “Muscle Car” Wars that happened in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, Ford Motor Company decided to get into the spirit and brought out their Mustang to do battle on the Cup level.
In some ways, it does have a look of the Fusion as far as the grille itself, but the body lines are much different with the headlights, the lower valiance by the splitter, and the side panels. This is a much different look than what has been seen since the 2013 season when Ford redesigned the Fusion for both production and race action. But the car looks good, and seems to have a favored look among the Ford contingent, so let’s see what it does come February.
Furniture Row Closes, Truex to JGR
In today’s world, we see places close down because they are not feasible to compete in today’s market. This year alone we have seen Toys R Us close its doors to the sorrow of many, and now Sears-Roebuck is closing more of their stores, including the Sears in DuBois along with the K-Mart in Altoona.
No one really expects a NASCAR team to just close its doors, but maybe get bought out by another team to combine resources. But when Furniture Row Racing suddenly lost 5-Hour Energy as a sponsor at the end of the season, the reality was that having only one primary sponsor for them was not going to work. Try as they might, no one else was agreeing to come on board, and the team couldn’t afford to take out more loans to keep racing.
So, when the checkered flag waved at Homestead, Furniture Row Racing no longer existed. Martin Truex Jr. for the third time in his career was having to look for a new ride.
But, luckily and thankfully due to the fact that his team was in an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, there was a chance things would work out. In the end, they did. Both Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn were moving together to that organization, taking over the No. 19 Toyota that was piloted by Daniel Suarez. So the equipment is familiar, the power is there, and he’s got a famiiiar voice in the helmet giving him notes. This is a good thing for him, but unfortunate to see the former champion and his team now no longer be part of the sport.
But, to go out as they did, with a championship and a runner-up, that is pretty decent in my book.
The “Big Three” Miss the Cup
All year long, three drivers dominated as I stated before. They were the class of the field for 35 weeks, 37 if I were to include both the Clash and All-Star Race.
But when it came down to the one race where it was “Winner Take All” for the title, they came up short.
What was amazing was that the four title contenders this year, they all finished in positions 1-4 at Homestead. That goes to show how good these teams were when they rolled off the truck. So it was expected that the battle would be between these four when it mattered most.
Turns out, the one who wasn’t quite with them in the “Big Three” is the one who had everything to gain. He won his way in the previous round, then battled to the front to capture the title that he’s wanted since he was a kid.
“Sliced Bread” is the champion, and Joey Logano finally erased the idea that he came into Cup competition too early, but after 10 years of being at the wheel, and coming to Penske Racing in 2013, he proved that the best in the season can be beaten. He pushed his way to his title opportunity, while passing his way to the front to clinch the trophy in the end.
Ford is on top this season, and can carry their winning ways through the off-season and enjoy the celebration for many days to come.
Season is over, and now it’s time to prepare for a brand new look for 2019, with a new aerodynamic package that will be used at all race tracks, minus the season-opening event. It’s time for a holiday break, and one to relax with and enjoy as the snow comes falling down. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.