NASCAR Cup Series News (17903)
Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) announced today that longtime motorsports owner and visionary Felix Sabates will retire from the sport in 2020. Sabates, 74, founded SABCO Racing in 1987 and joined forces with current Owner Chip Ganassi in 2001, where it became known as Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
The duo combined to field cars in NASCAR’s top two divisions of competition and produced 43 total wins, including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, and nine trips to the NASCAR Playoffs. Both cars driven by Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson won races in 2019 and made the post-season, with Larson advancing to the Round of 8 – the furthest a CGR car has ever advanced since the Playoff system began.
In addition to NASCAR, Sabates and Ganassi fielded entries in IMSA, where they won seven championships, 64 races, including a record eight Rolex 24 At Daytona races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring.
NOTES OF INTEREST:
- NASCAR Involvement: For decades, Sabates has been a trusted community leader throughout the Charlotte region for a myriad of reasons, but most notably because of his business, civic and philanthropic endeavors for over 40 years. This fun-loving Cuban-American also is one of the most widely known and respected team owners in the NASCAR garage — a result of his over 30 years in the sport, his keen business sense, his close relationship with the France family and most of all because he is simply a “good guy."
- Ventures in Other Sports: Sabates, who has been a Charlotte resident since 1963, has always had a soft spot in his heart for sports. In 1988, he became an original owner of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team and played a key role in negotiating with the NBA to grant Charlotte a franchise. He also is the only person who had ownership in the original Hornets to still have an ownership stake with Michael Jordan in the Charlotte Hornets. He also has been an owner of the East Coast Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers, which won the league championship in 1995. In addition, in the early 1980s, he started the first indoor professional soccer team and was one of the first investors of the World Football League.
- Philanthropy: Sabates is well known for his many philanthropic contributions and has received several honors and awards for his generosity. Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina has named its dining hall after him, Elon College and UNC Charlotte bestowed upon him Honorary Doctorate degrees and he received a "Special Blessing" in writing from Pope John Paul II. Sabates became a member of the philanthropic Dream Makers Society of the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County, Fla., in recognition of his 12-year commitment to and support of special fundraising events. In his honor, the Felix Sabates Athletic Center was dedicated in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in November 2000. The facility is the largest Boys and Girls Club in the state. He also is a large contributor to the Levine Children’s Hospital, which bears a special plaque in his honor is in the main lobby. Sabates has contributed much money to and served on the board of Atrium Health Care system for over 30 years while also being a member of the Atrium Health Foundation Board.
- Chip Ganassi, Owner, Chip Ganassi Racing: “Where do you even begin to describe Felix Sabates? He’s done so much for the sport of racing. I teamed up with him almost 20 years ago, and he’s been a great business partner and an even better friend. In that time, the only thing we’ve had an argument over was who was picking up the tab at dinner. Felix helped me develop as an owner as well as an individual. His track record in this sport certainly sets the bar high for anyone that follows. I’m proud to call him a friend and wish him all the best.”
- Felix Sabates, Co-Owner, Chip Ganassi Racing: “I look back to the 1980s when I first started in this sport, and I can tell you that the landscape has really changed. It’s been challenging at times, and tremendously rewarding watching the sport grow. When I started the NASCAR team, it was just a different time —a smaller regional sport. Then NASCAR grew and grew into a big business and continued to grow after my partnership with Chip. I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last 30 years. I have friendships that will last a lifetime. I hope that what I have tried to give back to the sport — whether it be bringing NASCAR to Mexico or being instrumental in starting the sports car program with Chip — will be equal to what the sport has taught and given me. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be an old man walking around at the track; this is my way of honoring that commitment I made to myself years ago. I wish Chip and his teams all the success in the world and will be keeping a close eye on the sport from afar and maybe even make an appearance from time to time.”
Premium Motorsports is proud to announce that driver Brennan Poole will pilot their No. 15 Chevrolet Camaro full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020 in his Cup Series debut.
“I’ve been working towards this moment since I was 5 and feel blessed to have the caliber of people surrounding me that I have in this next chapter of my racing career. I look forward to the opportunity to showcase our sponsor partners, both new and existing, who are supporting me at the highest level of NASCAR competition.”
As one of racing's top emerging talents, in 2015 Poole made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, scoring a top-10 in his first ever NASCAR start. Poole then competed full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in the 2016 and 2017 seasons where he accumulated (36) top-10, & (8) top-5 finishes, advancing deep into the playoffs in both championship seasons.
In 2019, Poole ran a limited schedule in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, where he finished 2nd to 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch while contending for the win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On his way to securing a seat in NASCAR’s premier series, Poole earned his designation as, “The Bull”, for charging to the front of any series in which he competed. Poole has used his organically established fan following to form a social media platform where he promotes an in-depth look into his daily life as a racecar driver and his personal interests. Look for future announcements on where to access these unique channels that include Poole as a NASCAR driver, as well as host of unique programming with regular special guests.
“I’m very happy to welcome Brennan and his group to the Premium Motorsports Family. Brennan is a very talented and dedicated young man, I believe he has a very bright future in the NASCAR Cup Series,” says Jay Robinson.
As a digital space innovator and influencer, Poole is committed to providing race fans a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be a NASCAR driver and is passionate about creating compelling video content as he charges into his NASCAR Cup Series Rookie season with videos, vlogs, and other associated entertainment content.
Premium Motorsports PR
Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) announced today that crew chief Cole Pearn has decided to leave the organization to pursue opportunities outside of the sport.
Pearn, who joined JGR following the 2018 season, led Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 19 team to a runner-up finish in the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series standings following a series-best seven wins, 15 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s. During the 2019 Playoffs alone, the Pearn-led No. 19 team claimed three wins, a pair of runner-up finishes and only finished outside the top seven once in 10 races.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision,” Pearn said. “At the end of the day, I really want to spend time with my family and actually see my kids grow up. Being on the road, you are away from home so much and miss a lot of time with your family. I don’t want to miss that time anymore. I want to be there for all the things that my kids are going to experience while they are still young. I love racing and there isn’t a better place to be than Joe Gibbs Racing, but I don’t want to look back in 20 years and think about everything I missed with my wife and kids while I was gone. They are what is most important to me.”
Over the past five seasons, Pearn and Truex have enjoyed one of the most successful stretches in NASCAR history where they won the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series championship and qualified for the Championship 4 on four different occasions. The duo’s 23 wins since the start of 2016 are the best amongst all driver-crew chief combos over that time.
“I cannot say enough good things about Cole and what he has meant for my career,” Truex said. “I appreciate his hard work and dedication to our race team over the past six years going back to when he was my engineer at Furniture Row. Our friendship is what matters most to me and I’m happy that he’s doing what’s best for him and his family.”
Crew chief for the No. 19 Toyota Camry will be announced at a later date.
Kyle Busch clearly was the star of Wednesday night’s show at the Music City Center—though other drivers and NASCAR stakeholders certainly had their moments, too.
The gathering in Nashville—the first time the NASCAR Awards had traveled to Music City—honored Busch, who drove to his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In a season of remarkable accomplishments, Joe Gibbs Racing, however, competed with sadness for the loss of team president J.D. Gibbs, son of founder Joe Gibbs, who died in January after a long battle against a neurological disorder.
That was one of the first things Busch acknowledged after receiving his championship ring from NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France.
“Every single person dug a little deeper and gave a little more, even though they raced with heavy hearts,” said Busch, who had nothing but praise for crew chief Adam Stevens and his No. 18 Toyota team.
“No matter what was thrown at them, they never gave up,” Busch said. “They were able to finish off that final race at Homestead with their best performance.”
As did the driver.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps introduced champion owner Joe Gibbs with the words, “He was dominant, rewriting the NASCAR record book,” a reference to JGR’s unprecedented 19 victories in 36 points races in NASCAR’s top series.
Much of the credit for that achievement belonged to Busch, as a five-time winner this year, and Gibbs was quick to express his gratitude.
“Kyle, thanks for your passion, the way you approach things and your talent,” Gibbs said.
That wasn’t the first time Gibbs had been to the podium. Earlier in the evening he received the prestigious Bill France Award of Excellence for his contributions to the sport.
Busch was one of three JGR drivers who qualified for the Championship 4 race at Homestead. Denny Hamlin finished fourth in the final standings after his team gambled with extra tape on the grille of Hamlin’s Toyota, causing an overheating issues that forced an unscheduled pit stop.
To “commemorate” that moment, Hamlin brought a piece of tape to the stage and placed it over his mouth. But that was merely levity at the end of an extremely successful season that brought six victories, including a dramatic win in the Round of 8 cutoff race at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
“The fact is that, every week, we were a factor, and that’s all you can ask for as a driver,” said Hamlin, particularly hard-hit by the death of J.D. Gibbs, who was instrumental in bringing Hamlin to the organization.
“This season was going to be about one thing—and that was J.D. Gibbs and his legacy,” Hamlin said.
Joe Gibbs echoed Hamlin’s sentiment.
“We miss him, but we could feel J.D.’s presence all year long,” Gibbs said.
After county singer Danielle Bradbery introduced third-place finisher and four-time winner Kevin Harvick as “one of the elder statemen of NASCAR,” Homestead runner-up and seven-time winner Martin Truex Jr. followed, still lamenting the pit road snafu that cost him a shot at the title.
“Man, second again,” said Truex, who was runner-up in 2018 after winning the title in 2017. “I think I hate second more than Kyle—I think that’s possible.”
To no one’s surprise, Chase Elliott won his second straight NMPA Most Popular Driver Award for the Cup Series, via online voting by NASCAR fans.
“It’s more than a trophy or a sticker or an award,” said Elliott, whose father, Bill Elliott, received the honor a record 16 times. “I really enjoyed this past season and seeing all the people at the race track who wanted us to do good.
“Hopefully, I can make everybody proud next year, too.”
Dave Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development U.S.A., accepted the manufacturer’s championship for the car maker. And an emotional—and surprised—Darrell Waltrip was honored with the NMPA Myers Brothers Award for his contributions to the sport as a driver, team owner and broadcaster.
Waltrip called his last race from the FOX Sports booth this year.
“This is a huge surprise,” said Waltrip. “To tell you the truth, (wife) Stevie and I almost didn’t come. That would have been pretty embarrassing. What a thrill! I thought retirement kind of sucked, but with things like this, I’ll probably enjoy it more.”
Joe Vaughan, long-time volunteer and leader of the South Carolina-based Project HOPE Foundation, was selected from a group of four finalists as the recipient of The NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award and the $100,000 grant that goes with it.
The Project HOPE Foundation performs a crucial function within the autism community and is an excellent fit with the Betty Jane France Award, which honors the philanthropic ideals and vision of The NASCAR Foundation’s late founder and chairperson and is annually presented to a NASCAR fan who embodies those ideals.
In its first year in Nashville after a long stint in Las Vegas, the NASCAR Awards celebration seemed an ideal fit with the capital of country music. The succession of introducers was replete with recording artists in a program that also included performances by Cole Swindell and co-host Cassadee Pope.
No doubt the festivities took their toll on more than a few participants.
“We’ve got to figure out how to have this banquet first,” pleaded Playoff driver Clint Bowyer, “because there’s a lot of hung-over people here.”
Three-time NASCAR Cup series champion Darrell Waltrip has been named recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Myers Brothers Award for 2019.
The award, named in honor of former NASCAR competitors Billy and Bobby Myers, was presented Dec. 5 during the annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards banquet held at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn.
The native of Owensboro, Kentucky began his driving career in go-karts at age 12 in 1959 and graduated to stock cars by the mid-1960s. Numerous victories on area short tracks led to track championships at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds Raceway in Nashville and further cemented his passion to be successful in NASCAR’s premier Winston Cup circuit beginning in the early 1970s.
Over a 30-year period, he became one of the greatest stars in NASCAR history, logging 84-career victories, including the 1989 Daytona 500. All three of Waltrip’s Cup series titles in 1981, 1982 and 1985 came while driving Chevrolets for driver turned team owner Junior Johnson, a fellow NMPA Hall of Fame inductee. During his illustrious career, Waltrip also wheeled cars for Bud Moore Engineering, Digard Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. as well as his own team, to name a few.
He was named Driver of the Year in 1979, 1981, and 1982 and was chosen the Driver of the Decade for the 1980s. He was also awarded the NMPA Most Popular Driver in 1989 and in 1990 and named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
Upon his retirement from driving in 2000, Waltrip worked as analyst and race commentator for FOX Sports NASCAR telecasts from 2001 to 2019.
“I had no idea, this is a huge surprise,” Waltrip said. “To tell you the truth, Stevie (his wife) and I almost didn’t come. That would have been really embarrassing. This is a thrill. What a thrill. I thought retirement, kind of, sucked. But maybe with these things before I me, I will enjoy it a little more.
“I am really humbled for this award. I am really appreciative, thank you so much.”
The Myers Brothers Award is determined by a vote of the NMPA membership. It recognizes individuals and/or groups who have provided outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing and has been presented annually since 1958.
Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, has been named 2019 National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver presented by Hooters. The award is the second of his five-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
Elliott’s selection was announced Thursday during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards program at the Music City Center in Nashville.
The 24-year old native of Dawsonville, Ga. was named through 39 percent of the votes cast by fans. His father, 1988 Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, has won the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award 16 times between 1984 and 2002.
The young rising star won races in 2019 at Talladega, AL., Watkins Glen, N.Y. and Charlotte, N.C. and finished 10th in Monster Energy Cup Series points.
Completing the top-five in this year’s voting were 2019 Cup series champion Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the Leavine Family Racing Toyota, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota and Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Racing Ford.
Elliott was excited to receive the award for the second year in a row and, once again, he gave the credit to the fans, saying the coolest thing is seeing their support by wearing No. 9 hats, shirts and other gear. For the humble driver him, the fans are more important than hardware.
“I’m honored to have two. Last year, I was honored to have one,” Elliott said. You try to learn things here and there. And as I have told several people, it is really more than a trophy or an award, it is about the people at the racetrack. Some of them are hear tonight and I really enjoy seeing them wear your hat or t-shirt.”
The Most Popular Driver Award is the only major NASCAR award determined solely by fan vote. It has been presented annually since 1953; the recipients were originally determined by a poll of competitors. It became a fan-driven program in 1984 under the guidance of the NMPA.
In addition to hosting the voting platform for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series MPD award, fan votes to determine the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series were also hosted on NASCAR.com.
Justin Allgaier won the NASCAR XFINITY Series MPD award while Ross Chastain was voted Camping World Truck Series Most Popular driver. Allgaier and Chastain were honored Nov. 22nd during NASCAR Champions Week in Charlotte.
The structure is new, and the level of commitment is elevated, but the four companies announced Thursday as Premier Partners for the NASCAR Cup Series are hardly new to the sport.
Busch Beer, Coca-Cola, GEICO and Xfinity already enjoy significant roles in NASCAR, but the presence of those four companies will expand as part of a paradigm shift in sponsorship structure in 2020.
NASCAR’s premier division will be named the NASCAR Cup Series, with the four cornerstone brands announced Wednesday as Premier Partners, who collectively will own a presence connected to the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race and NASCAR All-Star Race.
“We’re thrilled with these brands,” said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer. “They’ve been in our sport for a long time. They’re invested in the sport emotionally, too—they care about the sport. They promote aggressively around the sport.
“We believe they’re the right four partners for us going forward.”
All four partners will be featured prominently in multiple platforms across the sport, including integrations in broadcast, NASCAR digital and social channels, event entitlements, in-market promotions and at-track activations.
Busch Beer, for example, will maintain its exclusive sponsorship of the Busch Pole Award, as well as adding an entitlement for a 2020 Cup race to its portfolio. Coca-Cola, which sponsors the sport’s longest race—the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway—will take on the role as presenting sponsor of the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season championship trophy.
Earlier this year, GEICO became the “Official Insurance Provider of NASCAR.” The company will enhance its involvement as a Premier Partner and as the presenting sponsor of a still-to-be-announced phase of the NASCAR Cup Series season.
Xfinity will retain its sponsorship of the NASCAR Xfinity Series and will add entitlement sponsorship of the 2020 Round of 8 Playoff cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway.
The prominence of the four Premier Partners, however, doesn’t obscure the fact that the NASCAR Cup Series brand will stand by itself.
“The first mark is our mark—it’s the NASCAR mark,” Wolfe said. “In the world of transitioning sponsorships, if you think about from Nextel to Sprint to Monster Energy, the pinnacle of our sport is the NASCAR Cup Series. We want to lead with our brand. We think that’s good for other partners.
“They’ve made an investment with our brand, the sport, NASCAR. We also think it’s good for fan-development opportunities… We’re leading with our brand, the NASCAR Cup Series, so we think that from a fan development opportunity and fan engagement opportunity, it’s a big plus for us going forward.
Wolfe said he expects Monster Energy, which has sponsored the Cup series for the past three years, to maintain a substantial presence in the sport.
NASCAR will not sunset existing deals in the categories of the four Premier Partners. Nor will race teams be restricted from attracting new sponsors by exclusivity provisions, as has been the case in the past.
“We’re looking at these deals holistically across the entire sport,” Wolfe said. “We wanted to make sure it was easier for our teams to go out there, prospect and find brands. So, no restrictions on teams… That was an important component of this.”
In a historic shift for the sport, beginning in 2020 NASCAR’s premier series will be known as the NASCAR Cup Series and will feature four cornerstone brands as Premier Partners; Busch Beer, Coca-Cola®, GEICO and Xfinity.
In addition to the establishment of the Premier Partner positions, this significant shift will provide many strategic benefits to the industry, including greater activation opportunities for brands across the sport. NASCAR’s inaugural grouping of Premier Partners will play a key role in consumer marketing and fan development initiatives moving forward.
“This has been a monumental year for our sport, one highlighted by significant changes in our business model to ensure long-term viability and growth,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR President. “As we begin this new chapter, we are joined by four incredible brands with deep-rooted histories across all levels of our sport. We are honored to have this elite group represent our NASCAR Cup Series for years to come.”
The new model includes premium assets for each Premier Partner to engage the most brand-loyal fans in sports throughout the entire season. Premier Partners will collectively own a presence connected to the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race and NASCAR All-Star Race. Additionally, all four partners will be prominently featured in multiple platforms across the sport, including integrations in broadcast, NASCAR digital and social channels, event entitlements, in-market promotions and at-track activations.
“This new model will provide our Premier Partners with a heightened level of integration and visibility across all aspects of our sport,” said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer. “Each of these partners have demonstrated their commitment to our brand-loyal fan base and we are excited about how these brands will elevate the NASCAR Cup Series.”
Busch Beer returned as a NASCAR Official Partner in 2018. The deal provided the beer brand exclusive sponsorship of the Busch Pole Award, a position it will continue to maintain throughout its Premier Partnership. Additionally, Busch Beer will sponsor a NASCAR Cup Series event in 2020.
“We are continuing to evolve our presence in NASCAR because we have a significant connection to its fans and believe in the future of the sport,” said Nick Kelly, vice president partnerships, beer category and community, Anheuser-Busch. “The Premier Partner position strengthens our deep-rooted history in the sport and will provide fans with even more opportunities to enjoy a crisp, cold Busch Beer on race day.”
Anheuser-Busch’s history in NASCAR dates back decades to 1978, when it sponsored the Busch Pole Award. Additionally, Busch Beer was the “Official Beer of NASCAR” from 1988 through 1997. Beginning in 1998, Anheuser-Busch sponsored the Bud Pole Award through its Budweiser brand, which also became the “Official Beer of NASCAR” through 2007.
Coca-Cola has been involved with stock car racing for 50 years and became a NASCAR Official Partner in 1998. As a Premier Partner, Coca-Cola will continue its sponsorship of both NASCAR Troops to the Track and NASCAR Salutes, the portion of the season focused on highlighting industry-wide appreciation of the U.S. Armed Forces. Coca-Cola will also continue to own race entitlements at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway. Additionally, Coca-Cola becomes the presenting sponsor of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship trophy.
“Coca-Cola has a long history of successful collaboration with NASCAR and elevating our position to Premier Partner provides even more opportunity to connect fans to unforgettable experiences,” said John Mount, vice president, sports marketing, Coca-Cola North America. “Further integrating our two brands affords Coca-Cola the opportunity to build on our winning formula and contribute to the growth of the sport in the years ahead.”
The agreement further enhances Coca-Cola’s position as the “Official Soft Drink of NASCAR.” A signature part of the brand’s marketing strategy is the Coca-Cola Racing Family – an exclusive group of top drivers representing Coca-Cola who are featured across company advertising, promotions and packaging.
GEICO’s involvement in NASCAR spans more than a decade and the company became the “Official Insurance Provider of NASCAR” earlier this year. As one of the most fully integrated brands in the sport, GEICO will enhance its existing assets through its Premier Partnership and become the presenting partner of a season phase.
“Our affiliation with NASCAR has been successful over the past decade and expanding our role to Premier Partner was the next logical step,” said Bill Brower, assistant vice president of marketing for GEICO. “Our expanded presence will allow us to further engage the most brand-loyal fans in sports, bolster our effective marketing platform and play a prominent role in the sport in the years ahead.”
Comcast’s Xfinity brand entered the sport with a landmark 10-year partner agreement in 2015, positioned as the title sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the “Official Entertainment Partner of NASCAR.” As a Premier Partner, Xfinity will maintain its Xfinity Series sponsorship, central to its NASCAR strategy. Xfinity will also sponsor the Championship 4 elimination race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Martinsville Speedway.
“The first five years of our partnership with NASCAR has exceeded our expectations and the season-long national platform has provided increased exposure for the Xfinity brand and allowed us to demonstrate how our products and services enhance the way race fans enjoy this great sport,” said Matt Lederer, vice president of brand partnerships, Comcast. “Given the overwhelming fan reaction and how the industry has embraced the Xfinity brand, we’re thrilled to expand upon that commitment by becoming a Premier Partner of the NASCAR Cup Series, while also continuing to showcase the young stars of the NASCAR Xfinity Series.”
Throughout the past five years, Xfinity has elevated the series “Where Names Are Made,” supporting the introduction of an elimination-style Playoffs, reenergizing the Dash 4 Cash program, reimagining how champions are celebrated at Xfinity Champion’s Day at Universal Orlando Resort and has honored charitable efforts within the industry through its prestigious Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award platform. Xfinity continues to change the way fans access the sport through its Xfinity Stream app, Xfinity X1 video and Xfinity xFi internet.
His second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship now in the record books, it was a relaxed and droll Kyle Busch who took questions from reporters on Wednesday afternoon at the Music City Center.
Aside from seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Busch is the only active driver with more than one title, and he took the opportunity in his post-championship trip to New York to display both trophies, with the Empire State Building as a backdrop.
“I remembered seeing Jimmie having all of his trophies laid out on the race track when he won seven at Homestead and thought that was really cool and really special,” Busch said. “I asked all the NASCAR folks, ‘So did you guys bring all the replicas down here for that?’ And they were like, ‘No, Jimmie brought all those himself, because they were all his.
“I was like, ‘Damn, the boy believed in himself, I guess.’”
But Busch wasn’t about to tempt fate by bringing the trophy he won in 2015 to Homestead before the final race.
“I was like, I did not bring the Sprint Cup trophy to Homestead, because I am not removing it from wherever the hell it is to bring it and be… I’m not saying Jimmie Johnson is conceited, but, yeah, I would be that. But it was the first time I was able to grab the other trophy and take it with, and New York was our first stop.”
On Tuesday night, Busch dropped the first puck at a Nashville Predators game, one night after not only attending but also participating in WWE Monday Night Raw at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. There, with the aid of some subterfuge from Michael Waltrip, Busch took the 24/7 championship belt from wrestler/rapper R-Truth.
“They heard we were coming and set us up and said, ‘Hey. Do you want to be part of the show?’” said Busch. “Well, all right, sure. What have you got in mind?”
Busch pinned R-Truth on the concrete outside the ring and grabbed the belt. Asked whether he had ever tried the move on brother Kurt Busch, Kyle quipped, “If I could get through (Joey) Logano’s crew, I could do it on him.”
KYLE LARSON EMPHATIC ABOUT HIS ENJOYMENT OF NASCAR RACING
Fresh from a dominant performance in USAC Midget Racing, having swept three main events in California, Kyle Larson scoffed at the notion that Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing isn’t just as much fun to him.
“If it was work, I wouldn’t do it,” Larson said. “I tell people all the time, yeah, the money’s great, but if I wasn’t having fun, I wouldn’t be doing this. I would have gotten out of this a long time ago. I enjoy the travel. I enjoy the race cars. I enjoy the rules changes.
“I enjoy the competition—just the lifestyle. I enjoy everything about NASCAR. People probably think, because I go back and race dirt cars, that I do it because I don’t love NASCAR, and I need to get away and do something fun, but I have fun every single weekend.”
Clearly at the top of the game on dirt, Larson hasn’t won in stock cars with the same frequency he has achieved in open-wheel cars.
But there’s a good reason for that—more variables.
“I think it’s just more situational in NASCAR,” Larson said. “There are a lot of other factors that lead into how you finish. In dirt, when you’re out there, you’re not worried about a pit stop or a double-file restart or a 500-lap race. It’s just 30 laps, and there’s a lot less stuff that can happen to affect your race, because it is so much shorter.
“You can control your own destiny a little bit better… I feel like I’ve got everything it takes to win in the Cup series. We did it in 2017. Our race cars were really good then. Our pit crew was on it. So it’s just more situational, I guess.”
STEWART-HAAS DRIVERS ADDRESS CREW CHIEF CHANGES
Champion’s Week brought news of a crew chief shakeup at Stewart-Haas Racing. Johnny Klausmeier will move from Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Ford to Clint Bowyer’s No. 14, as Mike Bugarewicz moves from Bowyer’s car to Almiorla’s.
With Mike Shiplett moving up with rookie driver Cole Custer from the NASCAR Xfinity Series to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Billy Scott, Daniel Suarez’s crew chief this year, is the odd man out at SHR. Suarez is still seeking a ride for the 2020 season.
Both Almirola and Bowyer qualified for the Playoffs this year, but neither driver won a race during the season.
“Well, I think it really just goes back to trying to be better, just trying to make the whole organization better… quite honestly, to get everybody to step up to the level of that No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) team within our four walls,” Almirola said of the personnel changes.
“They (SHR management) felt like it would be a good move to shake things up between the 14 and the 10 teams—create a new dynamic and see if that sparks some better performance.”
Bowyer agreed that goal of the moves is to find a spark.
“Success is in the people,” Bowyer said. “It’s still hard to find that chemistry. As long as I’ve been doing it, it’s all about chemistry and finding the right people and the right match to find the success on a consistent basis.
“Sometimes we’re too much the same. When I get fired up, he’s fired up. You need a little bit of that ‘opposites attract’ deal. It’s like a marriage. If you’re the same, usually sparks will fly. Eventually, one thing will lead to another and one of you is headed out.
“It never got to that,” Bowyer added, but neither team got to Victory Lane either.
KYLE BUSCH, NO. 18 JGR TEAM HEADLINE NASCAR INDUSTRY AWARDS
More than anything else—appropriately enough—Wednesday’s NASCAR Industry Awards Reception at Blake Shelton’s Ole Red was a celebration of the accomplishments of 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Busch won the Sunoco Diamond Performance Award as well as the coveted Goodyear Gold Car Award, presented annually to the champion of NASCAR’s top division.
Busch won his second title and joins seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson as the only other active multiple championship winner.
“It was just a matter of time,” opined Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of global racing.
Adam Stevens of the No. 18 team was honored with the Champion Crew Chief Award, also his second.
“The Playoffs came, and we never took our eyes off the prize,” Stevens said.
In addition, the No. 18 JGR pit crew was recognized with the Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award, and Mars Inc. claimed the Champion Sponsor Award.
Chris Gabehart, crew chief for JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, earned the MOOG Problem Solver of the Year Crew Chief Award.
“My rookie year has just been phenomenal, with Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny and (sponsor) Fed-Ex,” said Gabehart, who guided Hamlin to six victories and a Championship 4 appearance this season.
Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports, received the prestigious Buddy Shuman Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that have played vital roles in ensuring the continued growth and popularity of stock car racing.
Kevin Harvick, six times the top qualifier in 2019, took home the Busch Pole Award. His sponsor, Busch Beer, was honored with the Marketing Achievement Award.
“Having Busch beer, with everything they’ve done with our car and our program, is something you don’t see a lot of,” Harvick said. “It’s always fun to win your sponsor’s award, so it’s great to keep it in the family.”
“If you can get Kevin Harvick to drive a millennial car, eat avocado toast and wear plaid in the same year, you’ve got a pretty good marketing campaign,” added Jill Gregory, NASCAR executive vice president and chief marketing officer, in introducing the marketing award.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Daniel Hemric described his season-long battle against Ryan Preece as “a grind—and it wasn’t flashy. Neither one of us could put four or five straight weeks together.”
JGR driver Martin Truex Jr., who finished second to Busch in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, claimed the American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award.
“To be able to make passes and moves on restarts is critical, and fortunately, we were able to make some good ones this year,” Truex said.