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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

4 Burning Questions: What’s the Biggest Surprise of 2019 So Far?

What NASCAR team or owner might be a good fit to dive into IndyCar?

Of the top tier of the stock car organizational chart, nearly all compete in multiple forms of racing. Team Penske has NASCAR, IndyCar and sports cars in addition to the Supercars in Australia. Chip Ganassi Racing has NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA sports cars, and it also had a Global Rallycross team before that series folded. Stewart-Haas Racing has Haas F1 in Formula 1 and Tony Stewart’s sprint car team. Joe Gibbs Racing has a branch that competes in Supercross.

That makes this an easy choice: Hendrick Motorsports ought to experiment with open wheel.

To begin with, it is Chevrolet’s top team, and Chevy competes in open wheel as well.

Like Penske and Ganassi, team owner Rick Hendrick has an business operation based in car dealerships, and he has multiple longtime business contacts that would likely come onboard in Ally and Axalta.

Jeff Gordon is likely the future of the company, and he had dreams of going open wheel racing before switching. Plus, he made Indianapolis Motor Speedway his playground in the mid-1990s, and a return through the Indy 500 would draw a ton of media attention, regardless of how successful a venture it turned out to be.

Who is currently inside the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff bubble but might be at risk of dropping out of the playoff picture?

This is a toss-up between Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson.

Suarez is running very solid in his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing, but the organization has been about a half step behind so far this season, and he hasn’t made the playoffs yet in his Cup career.

This isn’t like the past few years when the only organization capable of stopping them is themselves; Penske and JGR have been crushing the field, and Suarez entered the year as the fourth driver at SHR, based on his past results and status as the new kid.

Johnson has struggled mightily since the current generation of cars have been introduced, and taking care of his family and outside hobbies like running marathons have possibly distracted from his focus at the track. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; life changes and different stages require different approaches.

Chase Elliott‘s win at Watkins Glen last summer solidified his place as the new alpha dog within the Hendrick hierarchy, and Johnson has just six top 10s halfway through the regular season, plus he’s no longer paired with crew chief Chad Knaus. Alex Bowman is improving by leaps and bounds, and Knaus is now with the No. 24 team of William Byron, and that connection might be starting to click.

What’s the biggest surprise of the 2019 season so far?

This is easy. It’s got to be Ross Chastain, doesn’t it? If the watermelon farmer was running for Gander Outdoors Truck Series points, he would be second in the standings right now and locked into the playoffs already thanks to his win at Kansas Speedway in the No. 45 for the mid-pack Niece Motorsports.

For the moment, he’s run every single national series race in 2019, something no other driver has accomplished, and in the series he is running for points in, the Xfinity Series, he is waiting just outside playoff position primarily driving for JD Motorsports in the No. 4 and part-time for Kaulig Racing in its part-time No. 10.

True, his Cup Series starts for Premium Motorsports haven’t been much to write home about, but he’s managed to keep a low profile for the most part, and it’s good practice at managing his equipment on Saturdays.

It’s tempting to wonder how well he could be running if CGR hadn’t been forced to shutter its Xfinity operation — would Chastain have been crushing the field weekly like Christopher Bell did last year? How much of a fight would he give Bell and Tyler Reddick in the title chase?

What’s the biggest disappointment of the 2019 season so far?

In the Cup Series, Kyle Larson was expected to benefit greatly with the addition of 2004 champion Kurt Busch as his stablemate. That hasn’t happened. While Busch has three top fives and eight top 10s already, which is more than and equal to Jamie McMurray‘s stats in those areas in 2018, respectively, Larson has just one top five and four top 10s, and he’s averaging an 18th-place result.

More than that, Larson has four DNFs, all coming since Texas Motor Speedway, and all because of crash damage.

In the Truck Series, the lack of performance of Kyle Busch Motorsports’ full-time drivers is mystifying as well.

Harrison Burton has only two top fives and four top 10s in the No. 18 Tundra, an average finish of 12th, and he’s crashed out of two races at Daytona International Speedway and Texas. He’s ninth in the standings, outside the playoff picture right now. This time last season, in the same truck, Noah Gragson had two poles, a win at Kansas Speedway and was second in the standings.

Meanwhile, Todd Gilliland has just a lone top five, a third at Kansas, and four top 10s eight races into the season. His average finish is 11th, and that can’t be blamed on wrecks, either; Daytona is the only place at which he’s crashed out. In his defense, he hasn’t run a lot of these tracks yet, as he wasn’t old enough last season. On the other hand, there is a possibility he could join his dad’s team if he gets let go, which is starting to feel more likely each race.

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About Wesley Coburn

Wesley Coburn
Wesley has been with Fronstretch since October 2017. He loves well-told stories in whatever format he finds them. Aside from NASCAR, he enjoys reading, country music and OKC Thunder basketball. He has a BA in Liberal Arts/English and currently lives in eastern Oklahoma, where he works as a freelance writer/editor.

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