Did Kyle Busch have a championship-caliber Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season?
Matt McLaughlin: Yes; his second title was more legitimate than the first one. I’m still a fan of a champion being crowned for a full season’s worth of points, but that’s not how the rulebook reads anymore. Kyle Busch‘s second half of the season was clearly off-song and not becoming of a titlist, but there are no do-overs.
Joy Tomlinson: Absolutely. Even though he had a long period (by his standards) during which he didn’t win, he still had a better average finish and more top 10s than the other three contending for a title. He also led more laps than any other driver in 2019. His only DNFs came at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. For someone who often expressed his frustration with the package, he sure knew how to drive with it.
Adam Cheek: Yes. He would’ve won the title if the season used the points format as well. He won a chunk of races, was consistent as usual and performed when it mattered, capitalizing on every other Championship 4 competitor’s mistakes to win his second title. All four of the title contenders were the best of the year, and all four performed well, but those mistakes or misfortunes befell the other three drivers. Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin arguably had better seasons overall, but Busch was up there as well.
Zach Gillispie: Yes; he may have fallen off a cliff in Kyle Busch terms in the latter half of the season, but he was in championship form when it mattered most. He scored numerous wins and led over 1,000 laps this year. While he may not have dominated, who else did? The unique thing about this season is that every championship contender was so streaky. There really wasn’t a driver who stuck out as championship caliber this season. Just look at everybody who struggled to determine a championship favorite out of the Championship 4.
Josh Roller: Yes. Despite the struggles, anyone else would have been very pleased with those results. There was a six-race stretch from Indianapolis to Talladega Superspeedway during which he failed to finished inside the top 10 four times. That is where he went cold to a lot of people. Busch amassed five wins, 17 top fives, 27 top 10s, one pole award and only failed to finish two races. His top 10s alone are impressive because he finished inside the top 10 75% of the time, more than any other driver. He did everything to earn a championship.
Mark Kristl: Yes; he had the third-most wins, most stage wins and he accomplished enough to make it to the Championship 4. At Homestead-Miami Speedway, he had the best overall race and therefore won the race and championship. Additionally, while it did not affect his Cup stats, he went five-for-five in his Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series starts. Hate him all you want, but Busch is the 2019 Cup champion.
Kevin Harvick said the championship race should rotate from one track to another each year. Do you agree?
Kristl: Yes, but allow the championship race site to stay the same for two years. It allows that track time to properly promote the race and it gives that track some prestige. However, because it is later in the year, the options for those tracks are limited.
Tomlinson: The championship race should be at different tracks, but not every year. Let it stay at one track for two or three years at least and include a road course in that rotation. Heck, even throw rain tires on the cars (at least at a road course); that would open up a couple more options.
McLaughlin: The championship race takes place in mid-November. That somewhat limits the number of tracks that can host the event with suitable weather. You don’t want to be at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in mid-November (not that you want to be in New Hampshire most of the time anyway). I was always fine with Atlanta Motor Speedway being the season finale. I’d like to see it return there in early September.
Cheek: Yes. I liked Homestead in that the series doesn’t visit it all year and it’s a new landscape for the finale. However, rotating the finale is a good idea, but the series should stick to a certain style of track. No superspeedways, no road courses, but have a few similar tracks if they go that route – Homestead, ISM Raceway, Charlotte, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, maybe a few others. Personal bias hopes for Richmond Raceway, but stick to the (for lack of a better term) normal tracks.
Roller: I 100% agree with Kevin Harvick. Rotating NASCAR’s championship weekend allows for more markets and fans to have a chance to see it. Different tracks will play to different driver strengths, which shakes up the favorite-for-the-title conversation. The only thing I would like to see but is by no means a deal-breaker is the track that hosts the championship weekend host only the championship race that season and not have two race weekends. Homestead, ISM, Texas, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway (not in any specific order) should be the rotation of tracks.
Gillispie: I am on the fence about this one, because I believe it would be interesting, just for curiosity’s sake, to move the championship race from venue to venue. However, you couldn’t crown a championship at Daytona International Speedway or Talladega. I’m also a purist, so tradition should win out. The championship has long been hosted at Homestead (and Atlanta before that). There is just something special about going to the same place to end your season each year. I wouldn’t mind if it was on a different track, like Martinsville Speedway, but it should stay at the same place for a long time. Tradition should rule the day because NASCAR is built on tradition.
How important is it for a driver to win a Truck or Xfinity series title before moving to Cup?
Roller: Not that important. It is more important to spend time in each series full time for a year or two and have success before moving on to the next one. Spending time, working your way up from the ARCA Menards Series East and West, to ARCA, then to Trucks, then to Xfinity and finally to Cup is more important. Christopher Bell has done something similar; he has plenty of wins and has proven he has earned a chance at a Cup ride, despite not winning an Xfinity championship.
McLaughlin: Richard Petty didn’t. David Pearson didn’t. Dale Earnhardt didn’t. Is that answer enough?
Kristl: See Matt’s answer above, and add Jimmie Johnson to that list.
Gillispie: I hate to sound redundant, but I can’t follow what Matt said, so I defer to him.
Cheek: It helps build their reputation and boost confidence, but it isn’t 100% necessary. Cole Custer didn’t win a title in either series but still excelled, and he’s very well set to take over the No. 41 in Cup. Bell won a Truck title and failed to win one in Xfinity, but he’ll be solid. It’s certainly not a requirement and doesn’t mean a driver doesn’t have what it takes, but it helps them feel more comfortable heading up the ladder.
Tomlinson: It’s not that important, except that it gives the champion more confidence. What is important is the driver’s performance throughout their Truck and/or Xfinity career. It can often show whether one is ready to move up to the Cup level. Plus, several Cup legends didn’t win a championship in the Xfinity or Truck series.
Which Cup driver faces the most uncertainty heading into the off season?
Cheek: Probably Daniel Suarez. I’ve seen rumors all over the place regarding where he could go — nothing is definite, of course, but after his departure from Stewart-Haas Racing, his destination is anyone’s guess. Ride openings that come to mind include Front Row Motorsports; it currently has two seats open, the Nos. 36 and 38, assuming Michael McDowell returns. Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity Series seat is vacant with Tyler Reddick making the jump to Cup. Suarez has a few options, but he’s the driver that’s the most up in the air about his 2020 plans.
Kristl: Matt Tifft has a lot of uncertainty in his personal and professional life. If NASCAR approves Tifft to return, where will he go? Would FRM be open to fielding a car for him? If not, what are his Cup Series options? Rick Ware Racing, MBM Motorsports, Premium Motorsports and Spire Motorsports are probably the other options, and those are definitely downgrades. Otherwise, Tifft will have to find either an Xfinity or Truck series ride, and the best rides will have been filled. So he is either competing part time for a top team or racing regularly with a mid-tier or lower-quality team.
Gillispie: Suarez, because he simply doesn’t have a ride next year. Suarez is at a future-defining crossroads. He has gotten opportunities at two of NASCAR’s most prominent organizations but has posted nothing to show for except lackluster performances. Since he does bring some money to the table, he will land in a seat, but that still does not cover Suarez’s uncertain future.
McLaughlin: Well, Bubba Wallace seems to want to add his name to the list with his comments on the radio at Homestead. Suarez will be in the news given that he’s got some money to bring to the table.
Tomlinson: Suarez. Considering he was surprised when he learned he wouldn’t be returning to the No. 41, his future seems the most uncertain. Will his sponsors work with him in another series? Probably, but nothing is definite.
Roller: Suarez. If he still has the funding and can secure it, his best hope is a top-notch Xfinity ride; there are a couple of vacancies in that series.