ONE: Two Into Six
Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick have already booked their spots in the Championship 4 and will race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title in two weeks. On the other end of the spectrum, Chase Elliott (-39 points) Aric Almirola (-57 pts) and Clint Bowyer (-72pts) have to win to make it.
That leaves three drivers in the middle. Kyle Busch is in a relatively solid position (+28 points), as is Martin Truex Jr. (+25 points), who has little room to maneuver with Kurt Busch 25 points behind in fifth place. Of course, this could be almost done before the final stage especially if Busch and Truex score well in the first two stages. But a bad day for either could quickly see their points cushions dissipate.
I have a good friend who used to love NASCAR like I do but is now somewhat disaffected by the changes we’ve seen in the last decade. He wrote this morning and said if Truex and Busch don’t make it, it will be a travesty.
On the one hand, I get his point. Harvick, Truex and Kyle Busch have been the class of the field in 2018, and all deserve the shot at the title. But this format doesn’t work like that. You have the advantage of playoff points banked in the regular season to give you a cushion, but you’ve still got to race your way in.
So if either or both Truex and Busch don’t make it, I’ll be just fine with that outcome. You have to take the chances when you get them.
Both have a great chance at making it. We’ll see if they do on Sunday.
TWO: Cousin Carl
Wasn’t it good to see Carl Edwards back at the track this past weekend? Along with Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, Edwards, who won 28 times in 445 Cup races over 13 years, was inducted into the Texas Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.
For Edwards, it was just the second visit to a NASCAR track during a race weekend since his sudden retirement following the conclusion of the 2016 Cup season.
For a while, there was a feeling that Edwards would reappear refreshed and ready after a season off in 2018, but clearly that was wrong. Edwards did leave the door ajar, however, noting, ”something will come up that will be really, really fun and natural to go do, and I’ll drive a little bit more. But definitely I’m not going to sign a three-year contract to go run for a Cup championship.”
At the age of 39, two years removed from a full-time ride, that sentiment is to be expected, but wouldn’t it be great to see Edwards come back for, say, Sonoma Raceway, Michigan International Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway? Of course, the path to a good ride in a select trio of races is a vertiginous one – too much perhaps in this NASCAR climate. But what if teams with four drivers were given, let’s call it, five mulligan races a year where they could enter a fifth car?
That’s wishful thinking, and although he is open to the opportunity, I doubt we’ll see Edwards race in Cup ever again.
It would be fun, though, wouldn’t it?
THREE: Chad & Jimmie
It was a milestone race at Texas for Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson: the 600th race of an enduring 83-win, seven-championship effort that has truly stood the test of time, even if the on-track decisions unfairly went against them on Sunday.
Just two races remain before one of NASCAR’s greatest-ever driver/crew chief partnerships disbands for good. The duo has racked up 321 races more than the next closest pair, Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe (278 races). In third, Joey Logano and Todd Gordon have been together for 209 races, with Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers 175 races into their partnership in fourth.
No one else is remotely close, and that speaks to the symbiotic nature of Johnson and Knaus’ relationship. Yes, they have their moments, but when it comes to winning, they’re both unerringly on the same page.
Will we see another partnership like theirs? Certainly not one with the same level of success.
Is there one last win in these final two weeks to complete a winning streak that runs all the way back to his rookie season of 2002? Well, it wouldn’t surprise me. Johnson and Knaus have a knack for this sort of thing.
FOUR: Next Up, ISM Raceway
For the penultimate race of the season we head to the reconfigured ISM Raceway. And with the two-year, $178 million track transformation now completed and ready for a grand opening, fans in attendance should reap the benefits of all the many fan-forward changes.
“It will be a moment everyone in the sport can enjoy,” said NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton. “It’s them saying, ‘We’re proud to be in this sport.’ It’s NASCAR saying, ‘We know there’s a lot of sports options in Phoenix. We’re part of your sports community.’ It’s all of us saying, ‘We mean business.'”
This will be Cup race No. 45 at the venue, a streak that runs back to 1988 and an inaugural race won by the late, great Alan Kulwicki. Harvick has been the dominant driver, winning a phenomenal nine times. Johnson is in second with four wins, while Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth each have a pair of wins.
Modernization of tracks is going to be a key part of NASCAR’s future, and this weekend’s grand reopening is another piece in the puzzle. How it plays out on the track remains to be seen, but the fans should have a fantastic day out.
And given the importance of the race itself, I suspect the on track action won’t be bad, either.
FIVE: Trevor Bayne
Trevor Bayne ran his last race of 2018 — and, perhaps, for Roush Fenway Racing — at Texas.
Newman takes over in the RFR No. 6 car on a full-time basis, but the question of what’s next remains for Bayne. Will we see him back in a Cup car next year – or indeed again? As of rnow, Bayne’s plans are undetermined.
Bayne’s Cup career has been interrupted by health issues, but simply put, the cold, hard numbers — just five top fives and 16 top 10s, zero poles, only 71 laps led and an average finish of 23.3 — are not good enough.
Bayne will always have the 2011 Daytona 500, a remarkable victory in the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, making him the youngest ever to win the race at a tender 20 years and one day old. But here’s hoping there’s another career highlight ahead of him.
Where that might be remains to be seen, but my bet is thatwe haven’t seen the last of Trevor Bayne just yet.