The summer stretch of the 2019 season is upon us in NASCAR and there have been many controversial topics and great races. As we near the playoffs in September, this is one of the most important portions of the schedule for all of these teams.
Which race will be most crucial coming up? Daytona as the wildcard? Watkins Glen with unpredictability as a road course? Somewhere else?
Meanwhile, it has been highlighted this year how Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton have been struggling, at least according to team owner Kyle Busch’s standards. However, Burton is currently inside the playoff grid until Ross Chastain breaks into the top 20 in points, and Gilliland sits almost a full race behind the final playoff spot.
Maybe they have struggled a bit.
Who has been the best driver for KBM this year? Is it a full-time driver or one of the part-time drivers? Other than Busch, will any of them win a race this year?
Q: Which race coming up in the summer stretch will be the most crucial for teams? Greg T., Des Moines, IA
A: There are two races that come to mind in the next month and a half or so for different reasons: Daytona and Chicagoland.
Daytona is the obvious choice because of the wild card factor of it being a superspeedway and the fact that anybody in the field can win and steal a playoff berth. That has always been the case so whoever makes it out clean will consider it a victory based on how we’ve seen superspeedway races go the last few seasons.
Meanwhile, Chicagoland this upcoming weekend is the last true mile-and-a-half track the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series goes to other than Kentucky, which has a unique layout compared to other cookie cutters, until the playoffs start. Even though we are still about two and a half months from that time period, it will be important for teams to see how they stack up against their competition.
In the past, we have seen the drivers who have been strongest on the intermediates have the most success for that season. This season it has been the Team Penske duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, along with Martin Truex Jr., who have been strongest on those type of tracks.
This weekend will be many teams’ opportunity to catch up and see how they will fare against the other playoff drivers. Three months is a long time to go without a true mile-and-a-half track, but that is what teams will be facing after this weekend. It is time for them to step up their game if they are struggling, because if they are, they may be a little behind next time when they visit Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September to begin the postseason.
Q: There has been a lot of heat under the Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers this season, but which driver there do you think has performed best, other than Kyle Busch? Thomas P., Sacramento, CA
A: Kyle Busch always expects his drivers on his truck team to go out and compete to win every single race, no matter how much experience they have. There have been situations this season, though, where drivers have stepped into his trucks and been fast immediately.
Even though he only has two starts, I am going with Chandler Smith.
Listen, the kid is 16 years old, but he has an immense amount of talent. In his two truck starts, he led a ton of laps at Iowa and has two top-10 finishes, including a fourth this past weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
As much as I want to say one of the full-time drivers has performed the best, this just is not the case.
Burton has had his share of great runs but he just has not had that winning speed and shown that he can win a race just yet. He will get there as he gets more experience, but it has not happened at this level yet. Gilliland has struggled mightily, even with a second-place finish this past weekend. He was very close to winning last season multiple times when bad luck struck. This year, he just has not been there.
Smith is very impressive. For a kid as young as he is, with such little experience in the Truck Series, doing what he has done is incredible. He could have easily won at Iowa too had it not been for a speeding penalty midway through the race. Unfortunately, it will be two years until we can see him run full time at this level but when we do, he may light the world on fire.
It’s simple: Busch wants winners in his trucks. He has been critical of Burton and Gilliland, but the season is still young. There is time for both of them to turn it around and then I would say one of these guys could put on the best performance for the team this season. Until then, Smith gets the nod and I am sure in any other race he runs this season or next, he will for sure compete for the win once again. He will be very good for many years if he keeps this up.