Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – Martin Truex Jr. has two paths to the Championship 4.
He can either win Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), or he can score 34 points or more in the event. Either way, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion would lock himself into the Monster Energy Cup Series title race.
Truex says the dual scenario isn’t likely to chance the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team’s approach to the race.
“I think it’s business as usual,” Truex said. “I think if we just have a good, solid weekend with no mistakes and execute with no pit road penalties and none of that crazy stuff happening… With that said, (Friday) was a complete disaster in practice. We took forever to get through inspection, we only got two runs, and we were way off.
“Hopefully we can get it turned around for qualifying and have a good starting spot, but we’ve come from the back here before and got stage points—we did it last week (at Texas). Just hopefully we’ll have a good day (in Saturday’s practice) and a car we feel confident we can run up front with, top-five and go get some stage points and try to make it happen.”
But for Joey Logano’s bump-and-run on the final lap at Martinsville Speedway, Truex might be the only driver already locked into the final four. Logano moved Truex out of the way in the last two corners to claim the victory and advance.
Given his recent performance in the Playoffs, Logano bandied about the notion with crew chief Todd Gordon that he and the No. 22 Team Penske Ford team should be considered the favorite for the championship.
Asked to react to that assertion, Truex answered succinctly.
“Good for him,” Truex said. “I don’t think that’s the case, but that’s just my opinion.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON IS PSYCHED UP FOR CAR SWAP WITH FERNANDO ALONSO
Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson will get his first taste of action in a Formula 1 car, and he’ll go halfway around the world for the opportunity.
In the same session at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso of Spain will test his skills in one of Johnson’s road course cars.
“It’s our back-up car from the (Charlotte) Roval event,” Johnson said. “The way the timing worked out, it worked out well, we figured we would have a road course car freshly prepped and ready to go. We kicked around other dates where we were going to swap cars and (thought about) somewhere in the U.S.
“The opportunity in Bahrain developed, and just made a lot of sense. Obviously, it’s just something really different, and that was of importance to me. Let’s do something different, and let’s truly get time in each other’s cars.”
The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has already left for Bahrain in a container. Johnson will attend the F1 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Nov. 25 before heading to Bahrain for the car swap a week later.
“Immediately after the ROVAL race, we needed to get the container packed and put that on a ship, and the ship has arrived in Dubai, and there are a few more stops that it needs to make,” Johnson said. “But it should arrive in Bahrain probably a week before the event takes place and will be transferred over to the race track
“And then our guys will get there probably a day or two in advance and start unpacking, unloading and getting the pit stall set-up and everything up and running. And then it’s got to come all the way back, obviously, after that.”
Alan Gustafson, Chase Elliott’s crew chief in the Cup series, will lead the Hendrick Motorsports team in Bahrain.
Alonso is just as excited by the opportunity as Johnson is.
“Well, the first thing I think is going to be to have fun,” Alonso told reporters in Phoenix via Skype from Brazil, site of this weekend’s F1 race. “I think we all love racing, any type of racing, and to test for the very first time a NASCAR car with the huge following and all the repercussions that NASCAR has in the world of motorsports… I want to experience that, and I want to have that opportunity in life, and it’s happening now in a couple of weeks’ time.”
ROSS CHASTAIN EARNS FULL-TIME XFINITY RIDE WITH CHIP GANASSI RACING
Ross Chastain’s impressive performances in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet have led to a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series ride in the car for 2019, with D.C. Solar as the primary sponsor, the team announced Friday at ISM Raceway.
In fact, it was D.C. Solar principal Jeff Carpoff who lobbied team owner Chip Ganassi to give Chastain a shot, after Carpoff observed Chastain outperforming the quality of his equipment in the No. 4 JD Motorsports ride this season.
The result was a three-race deal that began on Labor Day weekend at Darlington, and Chastain made the most of the opportunity. Chastain won the pole and the first and second stages at Darlington before tangling with Kevin Harvick while battling for the lead.
He won his next start, at Las Vegas, and a week later finished second to Christopher Bell at Richmond. In his three events with Ganassi, Chastain led 270 of 597 laps.
“We’re putting him in the car because we think he can win races and compete for championships,” Ganassi said. “In the short time we’ve gotten to known him, I think you’ve all seen the kind of performance he’s capable of, and I want to thank Jeff for pushing me to hire him.
“I think I told most of you that story, that I could not have pointed Ross out of a lineup of all women and him, before Jeff pushed me into trying this guy out.”
Sitting between Ganassi and Carpoff on the dais in the ISM Raceway media center, Chastain was almost at a loss to assess the giant step in his career.
“I’m just trying not to throw up, honestly,” Chastain quipped. “It’s unreal, honestly. These two guys sitting next to me, it’s a dream just to know ‘em… I didn’t think anything like this would come about, especially not this soon.”
Ganassi also indicated he would like to run a second Xfinity car for John Hunter Nemechek, who picked up his first win in the series in the No. 42 car at Kansas on Oct. 20.
“It’s safe to say that John Hunter has done a good job for us,” Ganassi said. “I like the kid, and I want him around. I’m actively working. Like I said, I’d love to run two cars in Xfinity next year, full time.
“That’d be the best. That’d be the best of all worlds if I could do that.”