1. Stewart-Haas Racing has put all four of its cars in Victory Lane this season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Prior to this year, what was the best overall season by a multi-car team? How does that team compare to the 2018 stats put up by SHR?
Michael Massie: Even with SHR’s dominance, the best ever is still Roush Fenway Racing in 2005. All five of the team’s cars made it into the 10-car playoffs. Roush won 15 races that season. SHR has only won 11 and would have to win the last five races to eclipse that number. The one knock on Roush in 2005 is it didn’t win the championship, but it finished second, third and fourth. If SHR wins the championship, I’ll give it the nod for the best team performance.
Wesley Coburn: Nothing compares to the level of dominance SHR is putting out this year. We’ll look back someday in the future and marvel about the season that team is having right now.
Amy Henderson: If we’re looking at the playoff era, RFR in 2005 is tops, because not only did all five make the playoffs (that can be done on points), but it also put all five cars and drivers in Victory Lane. Other big multi-car organizations to put every full-time driver in the winner’s circle in recent history are Hendrick Motorsports in both 2006 and 2007 (HMS also won the driver’s title in both those years) and Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, 2015 (with the title), 2016 and 2017. If winning is the truest measure of an organization, it’s hard to top these. If you want to go back further in time, Carl Kiekhaefer put four different drivers in Victory Lane (two of those ran just twice with the team showing how good the cars really were), while winning the title with Tim Flock. He followed it up in 1956, winning with six different drivers and sweeping the top three spots in driver points, with Buck Baker winning the title. 1955 and 1956 were his only years in NASCAR as an owner.
Frank Velat: Joe Gibbs Racing’s 2000 campaign holds the top spot. Granted, it was only a two-car operation at the time, but between Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart, it collected 10 wins, 31 top-five finishes and housed the 2000 series champion (Labonte). Other notable years were Roush in 2005, Hendrick in 2007 and Gibbs in 2016. But of those three, only Hendrick claimed the series title that year, and even then, only two of the four HMS drivers went to Victory Lane more than once.
2. Lilly Diabetes announced it will no longer sponsor Ryan Reed after this year. With the departure of the only primary sponsor of his XFINITY Series career, what do you think Reed’s future in the sport is?
Massie: Ryan Reed is done. The only reason he kept the job this long is because of the sponsorship. He’s a master of Daytona International Speedway but struggles everywhere else. He’s driven in XFINITY for the past five seasons and only has seven top fives to show for it. Chris Buescher had more than that in his championship season when he and Reed were teammates. Reed seems like a good guy, and his story is inspirational, but its a results- and money-driven industry. Reed no longer has either.
Velat: I could envision Reed finding another ride, but probably not a very competitive one unless he can find a new sponsor. While his story is compelling and inspirational, feel-good doesn’t pay the bills. He has been given ample opportunity to demonstrate his ability to win in a car that is capable of doing so. Yet, all he has to show for it are a pair of restrictor plate wins for having survived the preceding crash-fest. Reed probably won’t disappear instantly, but his chances of contending for wins are probably nonexistent.
Coburn: Reed’s done. He’s slightly less talented than Trevor Bayne, given the level of competition in the NXS compared to Cup — and that talent is average at best, which won’t cut it in racing. Plus, the wheels are finally starting to fall off RFR’s XFINITY program, just as it has happened to its Cup cars. That didn’t help Reed’s stats, either. Maybe Bayne takes over the No. 16 with AdvoCare sponsorship for next season?
Henderson: He doesn’t have one, unless it’s with a backmarker team, because he hasn’t shown the talent to be consistent. And while RFR may not be the powerhouse it was a decade ago, it won a title during Reed’s tenure with Buescher, so from that standpoint, Reed hasn’t gotten much done. It’s a fair question to ask if he’d even have the No. 16 if not for bringing the sponsor in the first place.
3. Matt DiBenedetto was announced as the new driver for Leavine Family Racing in 2019, and the team will field Toyotas and have an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. What are your expectations of the team and driver next year?
Coburn: Top 25 at the start of the 2019 season, given its apparent improvement since Regan Smith started filling in for Kasey Kahne. With the switch to Toyota and a new driver in Matt DiBenedetto, it’ll take a step back early, but then by the end of 2019, it’ll be competing regularly for top-20 finishes, similar to the JGR No. 19 this season.
Henderson: Top 25 in points is a fair assessment, but I expect some decent finishes along the way — a couple of top 15s and maybe a couple of top 10s. It’s easy to forget that Furniture Row Racing existed several years in an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and had been finding some success before the JGR alliance, so it wasn’t an overnight success. If LFR sticks with it for a few years and JGR provides the same level of support and equipment it did to FRR, both LFR and DiBenedetto could have a bright future.
Massie: The team will probably be a top 20 or 25 team. I don’t expect them to make the playoffs. People are saying they will be the next Furniture Row Racing, but FRR made the Championship Four the season before they switched to Toyota. The team will be more competitive than it is now, but it still has a ways to go.
Velat: DiBenedetto landed this ride based largely on his underdog popularity. Like many others, I’m curious to see how he does in better equipment. DiBenedetto hasn’t sat in a winning racecar since he was an 18-year-old kid wheeling the JGR XFINITY entry for a whopping seven races. It didn’t go well, and it didn’t take long for Gibbs to determine that he wasn’t ready, and the two parted ways. Now, everything is coming full circle with the Leavine/Gibbs partnership. Perhaps this will elevate both LFR and DiBenedetto to where both are capable of winning.
4. The series heads to Kansas Speedway this week and Clint Bowyer has made no secret of his desire to win at his home track. Is there such a thing as a home track advantage for drivers who are from nearby areas?
Velat: Being close to home is all about the emotion involved. The emotional mindset of a driver is an incredibly underrated factor in this sport. Think back to races like Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning at Daytona in 2001 or Denny Hamlin taking the checkered flag at Pocono Raceway after his grandmother passed. Some racers just seem to dig deeper when their emotional state is heightened. This would also apply to knowing that a bunch of people who grew up with a particular driver are watching or in attendance. Friends, teachers, mentors, even former local competitors can be an intense source of motivation to do well, and it can’t be dismissed in terms of making a difference on the track.
Coburn: Depends on the track and on the driver. Have they driven that track often growing up? If so, then yes, there’s definitely an advantage. If the home track is simply relatively geographically close to where they were raised, not necessarily, and the increased hometown attention is probably a distraction.
Massie: Absolutely. Jeff Gordon was always good at his home tracks of Auto Club Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Darrell Waltrip is a legend at Bristol Motor Speedway and Fairgrounds Speedway. Roughly a quarter of Hamlin’s wins have been at Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. Kevin Harvick is the best ever at ISM Raceway, the track he grew up going to. There’s something about a driver going to somewhere they’ve attended since they were a kid and seeing family and old friends that gives them a little bit of an edge.
Henderson: Not really. There is some extra motivation if there’s a large crowd of family and friends there, but growing up near a track and growing up racing on it are not the same thing. It has more to do with whether the home track is the type of track where a driver has success. Clint Bowyer only has two top fives at Kansas in 20 races, so I’m not seeing an advantage there.