ONE: Sixth place
2018 has been an awful debut for the Chevrolet Camaro in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. In a sign of just how much it’s struggled, Ryan Newman just picked up his best result of his season’s 20 races to date with a sixth-place finish at New Hampshire. Over his 18-win, 19-year, 604-race career, Newman has picked up 112 top fives and has never had fewer than two top fives in the course of a season. Last year alone, he had seven such efforts.
But in 2018, the struggles of the Camaro mean top-five runs are very much at a premium.
“The guys did a nice job in the pits today, so that was nice to see,” said Newman post-race. “I’m proud of everybody. It’s not the end result that we want, but it’s a huge improvement and that is something we want, so we’ll keep digging.”
When sixth place is considered a “huge improvement” you can fairly safely infer all is not well in the world of the bowtie. All told, Chevy has just one win this season – Austin Dillon’s victory in the Great American race. Chase Elliott’s second stage victory at New Hampshire marked the first stage points accrued by Hendrick Motorsports all year long – a crazy stat when you stop and think about it.
But maybe, just maybe, there were signs of recovery Sunday (July 22). Chevy had three drivers finish inside the top 10 for the first time, outside of restrictor plate races, since their first visit to Pocono in early June. Heck, even Kasey Kahne earned a lead-lap, top-20 finish with Leavine Family Racing.
Truth be told, any Chevy drivers other than Kyle Larson showing speed is a positive sign. Considering the dominance of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and the Ford camp to date, the only way for this manufacturer to go is up.
TWO: Epic win for Lewis Hamilton
In keeping with the seesaw battle we’ve seen all year long in Formula One, it was another day of drama at the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim. For race winner Lewis Hamilton, it was his 66th victory in 219 career races – an incredible 30.1 percent win rate. But in his home country, it was Sebastian Vettel who dominated, leading 38 of the first 52 laps (of a total of 67) before losing control and crashing into the tire barrier. His reaction, on his in-car audio, was a series of bleeps, leaving no one in doubt as to his disappointment.
That left Hamilton free to take control of the race. His win came from the lowest starting position since Fernando Alonso won from 15th at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008. And in all Hamilton’s 65 previous victories, his lowest starting position was sixth. That showcased just what an effort it was for the British-born driver chasing a fifth overall title.
“I woke up this morning and I was like, ‘I’m 14th, I don’t know what I can do from there but the dream is to win,'” he said after the race. “We all have dreams and they just seem so impossible to reach but I have done it, time and time again.”
Ten races remain on the schedule with the Hungarian Grand Prix next up this weekend preceding a three-week, midseason break. Can the four-time F1 champ sustain his momentum?
“It is a whirlwind of a season. It has been up and down,” he continued. “I am grateful for the ups and downs.”
THREE: Laguna Seca to close out 2019 IndyCar schedule
After 13 straight years, including the last three as the season finale, my hometown track of Sonoma Raceway drops off the IndyCar schedule for 2019. In place of the northern California facility will be, conveniently, another illustrious NorCal road course: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s the home of the infamous corkscrew turn – a sharp, blind corner with an 18-meter drop considered one of the most intimidating turns in all of motorsport.
The three-year agreement with the 2.238-mile circuit begins next year with the concluding race of the 2019 season. Laguna Seca previously held open-wheel races from 1983-2004, including the CART season finale from 1989-1996.
“I’m super excited, I was thrilled to see it added to the calendar,” said California native Alexander Rossi. “My introduction to open-wheel racing was at Laguna Seca. I went there eight years in a row as a kid with my father. To be able to go back there next year and actually be racing will be a really cool thing for me and have my journey and career come full circle.”
Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company was equally effusive.
“I can’t imagine a more attractive destination location for INDYCAR’s season finale,” he said. “Monterey is a place people want to be, and we will bring all of our guests. I think it’s a great choice for us.”
FOUR: Next Up, Pocono
Next on the NASCAR schedule is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ second and final visit of the season to two-and-a-half-mile Pocono Raceway. It will be the 82nd Cup race at the Pennsylvania track, a streak that runs all the way back to 1974 when none other than Richard Petty won the inaugural race. The first time the series visited, in early June, Truex led the last 21 laps en route to an easy victory. Larson finished second, splitting up the Big Three, with Kyle Busch coming home third and Kevin Harvick, who led a race-best 89 laps, ending up in fourth.
Amongst active drivers, Denny Hamlin leads the way with four victories. But his last came all the way back in June 2010, prior to the most recent repave. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch have three wins apiece while Kasey Kahne and Truex Jr. have a pair. Newman, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney have a win each.
Team Penske’s 2012 Cup champion Keselowski has the best average finish (10.2) with Larson a tick behind in second (10.6). The one to watch this weekend, though, is Blaney, who has one win and three top 10s in five efforts – statistically his best circuit.
FIVE: No More 5-hour Energy
Finally this week, a quick word on the news that 5-hour ENERGY will not be renewing its sponsorship with current champion Truex and Furniture Row Racing in 2019. After a decade in NASCAR, including seven at the Cup level, 5-hour ENERGY made the business decision not to return to stock car racing.
“Since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2017, the team has delivered on every promise,” said the President of Sales for 5-hour ENERGY Rise Meguiar. “In addition to being a championship team, winning races and putting 5-hour ENERGY in Victory Lane multiple times, they have also become part of our family.”
Put another way, this sponsorship should be a case study for doing it right given the success of the No. 78 team. And yet it wasn’t enough, just as it wasn’t for Lowe’s and its partnership with the seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
“I think something good can come out of this,” Truex said of the decision. “Obviously, it’s not great timing with all that’s going on, but I’ve got confidence in my team and what we’re doing and hopefully we can find a replacement for that.”
The two biggest Silly Season stories have now become two sponsors jumping ship from NASCAR champions. It’s a tough pill for this sport to swallow as they try and move forward.