NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins Second Championship

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins Second Championship

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Busch continued the tradition of winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the season championship. His pace earned him the regular-season championship as he lacked his early-season edge through the playoffs. He steadily improved as the final 10-race run to the finish progressed, however. He was second in Phoenix and then dominated the second half in Homestead to earn his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series championship. His five wins contributed to a record season from Joe Gibbs Racing, who put three of four drivers into the championship finale and won a record 19 races this season. Busch and the JGR organization enter the winter knowing the rest of the garage will be aiming to knock them off their perch in 2020.

That quest begins Monday as teams begin working toward the first on-track action of next season. The teams will unload their wares at Daytona in February and all will have their sights set on the success the JGR Toyotas achieved in 2019. There is not much time for adjustments to be made, plans to be hashed out and equipment to be refined, though. In just three months these teams, drivers, and cars will be back in action aiming to win the biggest race of the season – the Daytona 500. That winner will be the first to claim his or her spot in the 2020 playoff fight, too.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch was the season's early championship favorite as he seemed nearly unstoppable, but

Kyle Busch continued the tradition of winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the season championship. His pace earned him the regular-season championship as he lacked his early-season edge through the playoffs. He steadily improved as the final 10-race run to the finish progressed, however. He was second in Phoenix and then dominated the second half in Homestead to earn his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series championship. His five wins contributed to a record season from Joe Gibbs Racing, who put three of four drivers into the championship finale and won a record 19 races this season. Busch and the JGR organization enter the winter knowing the rest of the garage will be aiming to knock them off their perch in 2020.

That quest begins Monday as teams begin working toward the first on-track action of next season. The teams will unload their wares at Daytona in February and all will have their sights set on the success the JGR Toyotas achieved in 2019. There is not much time for adjustments to be made, plans to be hashed out and equipment to be refined, though. In just three months these teams, drivers, and cars will be back in action aiming to win the biggest race of the season – the Daytona 500. That winner will be the first to claim his or her spot in the 2020 playoff fight, too.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch was the season's early championship favorite as he seemed nearly unstoppable, but his progress slowed toward the middle of the season, and the other championship combatants found their stride. He picked up momentum as the playoffs progressed, though, and made his first trip to Victory Lane since Pocono in the moment it mattered most.  While he wasn't the fastest of the championship contenders in the opening stage Sunday he was quick enough to be out front to take the second stage of the afternoon and then went on to dominate the final segment to claim his second series title. He is the winningest NASCAR driver of the decade and caps the season off in the best way possible.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex sprung to life in the middle of the opening stage at Homestead, so much so that his team asked him to ease back as he cruised to the stage win. The team accidently switched the tires on his stop in the second stage forcing him into an unscheduled stop to fix the error, though, putting him a lap behind. The team recovered and got him back on the lead lap, but Truex didn't have the speed to chase down teammate Busch as he drove away to the race win. Truex's seven 2019 wins were the most he has had in a single season aside from the eight he won during his championship year. This was also the fourth time he was among the championship four in the last five seasons.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin entered Sunday's championship decider as the favorite, but he was the slowest out of the gate once the racing began. He was more than 10 seconds behind the leader when he made his pit stop in the second stage, but just as he gained some speed, the team made a major mistake and added too much tape to the front grill. That error made the engine overheat and forced an unscheduled stop to remove it in an effort to make it to the finish. Hamlin's championship was over at that point. His six victories this season were his most since 2010 when he was the runner up in the championship fight, but he came up short again in the finale.

Kevin Harvick – It was Harvick versus Joe Gibbs Racing in Sunday's Cup fight. He shot out to the lead in the early laps but lost it as Truex rapidly ran toward the lead. In the final segment he stretched his fuel run too long and lost valuable ground to Busch on old tires, which put the championship too far out of his reach to close by the end of the race. Harvick may not have earned his second career title but the team persevered through a tough opening to the year to become one of the winningest teams of the season. He had four wins this season and made it to the championship finale but will be hunting for more when racing resumes next February in Daytona.

Erik Jones – Jones must have felt left out being the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver not battling for the championship on Sunday, but his third-place drive in the season finale helped JGR cap off a top-three sweep of the championship finale. The trio's finish will be just a side note on the historic dominance the team had this season after winning more races in a single season than ever before, though. Jones contributed to that tally with his own win at Darlington but has some ground to cover to join his teammates in the championship battle next season. He picked up more top-fives and top-10s this season than ever before, and should continue to climb that ladder forward in 2020.

DOWNGRADE

William Byron – Byron had a season to remember in 2019. He made it into the playoffs and had many memorable performances despite still missing that first series win. He entered the final race at Homestead looking to continue that trend and perhaps even pull off an upset win in the championship show. That didn't happen. The car lost oil pressure and sent him out of the race in the final segment. While he and the team will have to regroup from that rare mechanical failure through the offseason, they do have a lot of success from which to build. Byron earned five poles, five top-fives, and 13 top-10s this season compared with just four top-10s in his rookie outing. This driver has his future ahead of him, and fantasy players should look for him early in 2020.

Kyle Larson – Yet again Larson came up short in Homestead. The Ganassi Racing driver is regularly one of the fastest on 1.5-mile ovals and Homestead is one of those. He was quick early in Sunday's race and was one of the only non-championship contending drivers capable of racing in the top five. Unfortunately, that pace didn't last long when a mechanical gremlin struck and took him out of the race. He ended the season with a win after missing out in 2018 but still looks to top the four he claimed in 2017 and remains in search of a championship, too. Larson and this team must find consistency and reliability this offseason if they want to progress on the speed they showed in 2019.

Daniel Suarez – It was announced that Suarez would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020. That news meant this would be the second consecutive year he faces the offseason without a job. Yet again he entered the Homestead race focused on using it as an audition to impress prospective employers and prove that he deserves to be in the series. While his 14th-place finish was his best at the track, it still is a shadow of what he needed to do to truly impress. Suarez failed to make the playoffs this season but still had one of his best years with four top-fives, 11 top-10s, and 166 laps led. Time will tell if we see Suarez on the grid at Daytona, but he probably deserves to be there.

Daniel Hemric – Another driver facing the offseason with question marks around his Cup career is Hemric, who finished 12th on Sunday and finished atop the rookie standings. It was announced a few weeks ago that he would be replaced by Tyler Reddick in 2020 leaving him to sign with JR Motorsports for a partial season in the Xfinity series next year. Hemric had one top-five and two top-10s this past season but Richard Childress Racing was seeking more immediate success and he now finds himself out of a drive. Racing as a business is ruthless at the top, and Hemric seems to be a victim of that cutthroat approach. He still has plenty of runway, though, and time will be on his side as he looks for his next opportunity in the top echelon of the sport.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Penske Racing Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski started the 2019 season strongly but didn't have the muscle to maintain that edge through Homestead. Joe Gibbs Racing took the helm, but Penske battled back in the final weeks. Though all the organization's drivers were eliminated from the playoffs, they still claimed three of the top four spots available to the rest of the field. The team combined to score six wins with each driver visiting Victory Lane. That is an impressive season for most but will be seen as a missed opportunity by them. Penske enters the winter with momentum and the taste of what might have been left in its mouth. Look for these Fords to come out of the gate swinging at Daytona.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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