|08/29/19||DIBENNEDETTO NASCAR'S ROCKY BALBOA|
|06/26/19||FROM JOURNEYMAN DRIVER TO HALL OF FAMER|
|06/18/19||WINNERS NOT ADDING UP|
|05/25/19||THE 600 IS STILL A CROWN JEWEL|
|05/15/19||NEXT TWO WEEKS COULD BE TOO GOOD|
|04/10/19||WALTRIP A TWO-WAY HALL OF FAMER|
WINNERS NOT ADDING UP
When I was on Fast Talk with Doug Rice last week, he asked me, "Do you think we'll see the number of different winners on the Monster Energy Cup Series get to double digits before the end of the regular season?" To be honest my answer was kind of wishy-washy, "We might get to 10 but it'll be pretty tough to do."
For whatever reason, I've rolled that response over and over in my mind over the last several days and I really want to believe we'll have more than nine different faces in victory lane when the 2019 Playoff begins.
Going into Sonoma this weekend, we currently sit at six for the number of different winners with five of those drivers belonging to either Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske. Chase Elliott is all by his lonesome as the only guy who's captured a checkered flag that doesn't belong to either of those two organizations.
So, if we are to add four more winners in the next 11 races who might they be and what team might they come from?
My first reaction is to look at Stewart-Haas Racing, where a year ago three out of their four drivers rang up victories with Kevin Harvick leading the way. At this point in the 2018 season, Harvick already had five wins and had been a runner-up twice. This year, the best he's been able to do is fourth place, which he's done on five occasions. With his talent and the brain power of his crew chief Rodney Childers they could end their drought on any given weekend, but they've been prone to shoot themselves in the foot and haven't really matched the speed of the top dogs in the Ford camp that belong to the Penske posse. Winners last season for SHR, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola have been steady but not fast enough to win and you could say the same for the team's newcomer Daniel Suarez.
With three of his teammates at Gibbs already multiple winners, I think Erik Jones maybe has the best chance to make a breakthrough. He's finished third in two of the last four races and has showed, in spells, the same kind of speed as Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin. Jones also has the extra incentive of knowing a win could go a long way towards him getting a new contract and quiet the rumors about his future with Christopher Bell staring over his shoulder.
Right behind Jones my next best pick is Kurt Busch, who's turned the 1 car from an also ran to a contender. Even though they're a new combination, Kurt and crew chief Matt McCall jelled quicker than normal and are inching towards victory lane. A runner-up twice, at Bristol and most recently at Michigan, no one gets more out of a car than Kurt and his never-say-die attitude should, at some point, pave the way to success. No one would be shocked if teammate Kyle Larson jumped up and won a race, but they would be surprised. His best finish was a third place at Dover and when in the closing stages of races this year you can almost count on Larson to have problems that take him out of contention.
I also like Alex Bowman to possibly get it done. He's the only other guy at Hendrick Motorsports, besides Elliott, to show the kind of muscle it would take. You don't finish second three races in a row by luck. The 88 bunch has shown it has the car, driver and pit crew to put themselves in position to win, yet they have yet to get over that big, final hurdle. Teammates William Byron and Jimmie Johnson have shown little flashes, but they'll need just the right circumstance to triumph…and a BIG dose of luck.
Since his cohorts in crime Logano and Keselowski have already locked up wins, you would figure Ryan Blaney would be a nice pick to join them. He's had the speed at times, but Blaney hasn't seriously threatened at the end of any race so far this year. So, while it could happen, I don't have a lot of confidence it will.
Who's left? Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. maybe? Among this four Dillon has showed the most speed, but bad luck has followed him like a bad cold. The other three will wrack up a few more top-10s just no way they win.
That said, the next two races at Sonoma and Daytona are certainly wild card races where we could get a surprise winner. The "Carousel" is back in play, changing up the length of the race and the stages and the strategy to go along with it. It's a new dimension that could add up to a new winner. That could also happen at Daytona, which we all know is its own animal and is always a crap shoot. Wasn't it just last July when Jones made a brilliant move to capture the top prize at the World Center of Racing?
From 2014 through 2017, 15 races into the season we already had 10 winners. In 2018, as it is now, we had six different winning drivers and wound up with 11 at the end of the regular season. History will not repeat itself. Not even close.
So, Doug let me finally give you a less feeble and feckless answer. No, we will not have 10 different winners at the end of the regular season. We will be lucky to get to nine…no make that eight…or….well it just won't be 10 and let's leave it at that.