It’s no secret, the new racing package for the Monster energy NASCAR Cup Series hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts. For the third straight week, we saw the new rules package in place last week in Phoenix. For the third straight week, I also didn’t see much of a difference between the years past and the current race. Yes, the racing metrics are up, but only slightly. When so much work was made this offseason to make radical changes to the racing package, we should see radical changes to the racing itself. Instead, it’s only minimal. Granted, it’s not worse, but it’s only slightly better.
That’s a problem.
Sunday’s race in Phoenix was a track position race. Yes, the fastest cars still found their ways up front, but there wasn’t any action for them to get there.
The three races have all been won by the top drivers are those respective tracks. Busch, has three straight top two finishes in the Cup Series at Phoenix including seven top three results in his last eight starts in the desert. It’s not shocking he led 177 laps on Sunday.
All three races have seen drivers lead a ton of laps. We weren’t supposed to see that either.
Kyle Larson led 150 laps in Atlanta. The lap leaders last week were in the 80 laps range. Sunday, Busch led 177.
The only thing to NASCAR side though is none of the three tracks have run with the same package. Atlanta had the tapered spacer but no aero ducts. Vegas has both the tapered spacer as well as the aero ducts. Phoenix had neither.
The racing never looked any different than last year’s races at all three tracks. But, what happens when we see these packages run again this year? The notes from these races may hopefully help.
4 Organizations On Top
One good thing about this package is that there is some parity. We’ve had four different drivers win already in 2019. Last year, three drivers stole the show for a majority of the season. If you go back to late August through this point of 2019, NASCAR has its parity back.
Now, we have a four organization race to the top.
Kyle Busch earned the win last Sunday but his teammate Martin Truex Jr. finished second for a 1-2 result for JGR. Count Denny Hamlin’s fifth place run and they took three of the top five positions.
It shows that JGR can give the Penske’s a run for their money this year.
They’re the two only teams to have won a race this season with Hamlin winning in Daytona and Busch in Phoenix. Keselowski and Logano won the middle two races in Atlanta and Vegas.
Hamlin, has four top 11 finishes in as many tries. Busch, has four top six finishes while Truex has three top eight finishes including two runner-ups.
Keselowski, has two top two finishes in the last three races while Logano has three top 10’s in four tries.
These are the top four drivers right now.
The Stewart-Haas Racing duo of Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola are next.I wrote last week how Almirola has become the second best driver at SHR. Now, he’s looking like a legitimate title threat. Almirola, earned his fourth straight top 10 finish in Phoenix and three top 10 of the season on Sunday.
He finished fourth in the November race at Phoenix last year and now fourth again this weekend. He’s a real factor.
Harvick, had his worst finish since 2013 on the Arizona oval. While that sounds absurd to call a ninth place run a “bad day” for Harvick, just look at his past results there since 2012 – 2nd, 1st, 13th, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 4th, 6th, 5th, 1st, 5th.
For some reason, Harvick just seems a bit off this year. He’s dominated the early portions of the race, but faded from the middle of the second stage on. Once they can put a full race together, watch out.
From there, the Chip Ganassi Racing duo seem to be the next best team.
Kurt Busch brought his No. 1 Chevrolet home seventh last Sunday for his seventh top 10 finish in his last 11 Phoenix starts. It was also his third straight top seven finish on the season. He’s came home third (Atlanta), fifth (Vegas) and now seventh (Phoenix) over the last three weeks.
His teammate Kyle Larson has been fast too. He finished seventh in Daytona and now sixth on Sunday. Larson, started 31st too. This was his fourth top six finishes in his last six Phoenix starts. If not for a pit road speeding penalty in Atlanta while leading and a pit road penalty last week in Vegas, those two 12th place results would have likely landed him at the very least in the top 10.
To me, the third best organization right now is Ganassi not SHR.
One sleeper team to watch out for is Roush/Fenway Racing. If not for a crazy penalty on pit road on Lap 197, Ryan Newman was destined for a top 10 finish on Sunday in Phoenix. Still, he rebounded to a 12th place finish, his third top 14 finish in four tries in 2019.
His teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is close too. He finished 13th on Sunday for his third top 13 finish in four tries.
The duo are close, they just need a bit more speed. The thing is though, it looks like it’s coming.