The final off week for the Cup Series comes at a perfect time. It’s a chance for EVERYBODY (drivers, teams, fans, media, etc.) to exhale and recharge for the stretch run.
We are 24 races into a 36-race schedule, and there has been no shortage of storylines. Here are three of the big ones with a third of the season to go.
1. No Flare for the Dramatic
No offense to the Big Three, but they have hijacked the regular season and all of the drama that generally comes with a points battle.
Nobody expects a driver outside the top 16 to win at Darlington or Indianapolis. Let’s face it…one of the Big Three will probably win at least one of the two, maybe both. So barring an upset victory, the playoff picture is set. There is no playoff bubble. Alex Bowman has a 79-point lead over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the final playoff spot with two races left in the regular season. Stenhouse would need a net gain of 40 points per race to catch and pass Bowman.
So you’re telling me there’s a chance…
The only way we get any drama at Indy is if someone outside the top 16 wins at Darlington. I just don’t see it happening. On the off-chance it does, Bowman would suddenly need the same miracle Stenhouse, Daniel Suarez, and Ryan Newman are asking for. Bowman trials Jimmie Johnson by 32 points for 15th. It’s doable, but I’m going to assume the seven-time champ takes care of business.
Just for fun, if anyone outside the top 16 is going to steal a win, I’d put my money on Newman.
Meanwhile, at the top of the standings, Kyle Busch has a firm grasp on the regular season points title. He has a 43-point cushion over Kevin Harvick. Assuming he holds Harvick off, that’s another 15 playoff points.
2. Silly Season Silliness
The next several weeks should tell us a lot about what to expect next season. Here’s what we already know:
Kasey Kahne is stepping away from NASCAR full-time, leaving an open seat in the No. 95 car. That’s about it.
Reports suggest Kurt Busch will move on from Stewart-Hass Racing at season’s end and join Chip Ganassi Racing, leaving Jamie McMurray without a ride. If Busch does in fact switch teams, what does SHR do with the 41 car? Does Cole Custer make the leap to Cup?
Aside from SHR, the top-tier multi-car teams should be set. Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, and Joe Gibbs Racing are very likely to remain intact as is. The real chaos would likely come from the mid-tier teams. Does Ryan Newman stick with Richard Childress? Will JTG-Daugherty push forward with Chris Buescher and A.J. Allmendinger? What does Roush-Fenway Racing do with the No. 6 car?
Also, does anyone from the Xfinity or Truck Series jump to Cup? I already mentioned Cole Custer as an option at SHR. Does Christopher Bell stay in Xfinity one more season?
What I REALLY want to know is what does the future hold for Furniture Row Racing? Martin Truex Jr. still isn’t signed for next year, and the team is now searching for sponsorship following the departure of 5-Hour Energy at the end of the year. Team owner Barney Visser insists shutting down for 2019 is not an option. He also has no intention of footing the bill himself with Furniture Row.
And that is the perfect segue to…
3. Sponsorship Dilemma
NASCAR can try to spin it however it wants, but the sport has a big problem. Actually, it’s a ginormous problem.
When the defending series champion loses one of his two primary sponsors and is now struggling to find a replacement, it is an issue.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is still searching to replace Lowe’s, Johnson’s lone sponsor since his rookie year.
No big deal, right NASCAR? By the way, how’s that deal with Monster Energy working out?
Target, Dollar General, Home Depot, Aaron’s, Go Daddy, and Farmers Insurance are just a few that have said goodbye to NASCAR. Miller Lite has cut down on its commitment to Brad Keselowski. Busch Beer only runs a partial schedule with Kevin Harvick.
This isn’t breaking news. But it’s alarming that NASCAR’s finest choose to skew statistics to create a false narrative.
I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s also not my job to find one. My hope is that behind closed doors, NASCAR is freaking out.
Because they should be.