Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – FORT WORTH, TX – So far the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR cup Series season has been dominated by two organizations – Team Penske, which picked up its third win of the year last weekend with Brad Keselowski’s convincing victory at Martinsville Speedway and Joe Gibbs Racing which also has three victories.
Last week marked the second win of the year for Keselowski, who also visited Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway in February. His Team Penske teammate, reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano, won at Las Vegas.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch upped his personal mark of national series wins scoring victory 199 and 200 at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway and California’s Auto Club Speedway. His teammate Denny Hamlin earned his second Daytona 500 win in the season-opener giving the Joe Gibbs Racing group their trio of trophies.
Busch arrives for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) as defending race winner and feeling very good about his and his JGR team’s chances.
“I think everybody is doing a fantastic job,” Busch said, tongue-in-cheek. “I don’t know that anybody needs to get any better.”
“The fields are pretty competitive each and every week,” he continued. “You never know who’s going to qualify where. You’ve got the RCR (Richard Childress Racing) guys up front and in the race things kind of happen that way too so, I’m ok (laughs).
“I would expect everybody to continue to put improvements in their car and get better. It’s just the amount, the size of improvements and what they gain out of what they’re able to change and how much improvement they get and whether or not you kind of jump ahead or whether you just get back equal. And then the guys who are fast get another upgrade and then they’re back ahead a little bit.”
“You play this see-saw moment all life-long in this sport. We even see it on the engine side as well. They’re like, ‘Oh man, we made some gains on them and then they go and stretch it back out’ and you’re like, ‘Oh that just kind of defeats everything that you just worked for.’ But you’ve got to keep working.”
Busch’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. wouldn’t mind keeping this winning trend going for the team. The 2017 series champion is still looking for his first victory since joining the Joe Gibbs Racing organization this year. He’s had top-10 finishes in five of six races – every one since suffering a 35th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500.
He’s finished runner-up twice – at Atlanta and Phoenix – and when it comes to 1.5-mile venues such as Texas Motor Speedway, Truex has proven to be among the best never to have won. He’s earned the pole position twice at Texas (2007, 2012) and has seven top-10 finishes in the last eight races there, including a runner-up in the 2017 Playoff race. He has another runner-up in the 2013 Spring race and scored half of his four career top-five finishes at Texas in the last four races.
“We’re looking forward to getting to Texas this week,” the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry said. “I feel pretty good about how we’ve run at the other 1.5-mile tracks this year. We definitely want to qualify better than we have, to put ourselves up front early in the race and to have a better pit selection. Our teammates have also been really fast at these track so far, so I expect us to all be strong and have an opportunity on Sunday.”
DASH 4 CASH IS BACK IN THE XFINITY SERIES
After a two-week break, the series returns to action in Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (at 1 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Monster Energy Series regular Ryan Blaney is the defending winner of this spring race, however, perennial championship contender Cole Custer is the most recent winner – taking the checkered flag last November. In fact, Custer has quite the enviable record on the Fort Worth high banks.
He’s finished top-five in all four of his NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, including a fourth-place finish in this race last year capping the effort with a Playoff win in the Fall. His average finish is a highly impressive 3.75. And he’s never started worse than 10th.
Custer currently trails reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, current points leader Tyler Reddick by only seven points heading into Texas. Christopher Bell is ranked third, 14 points behind Reddick – those drivers making up three/fourths of last year’s championship field at the Homestead-Miami season finale.
Beyond the tight championship situation, the Texas race is the opening qualifier for the 2019 Dash 4 Cash program. The top four finishing Xfinity Series championship contenders in Saturday’s race will be qualified for the first Dash 4 Cash event April 6 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The highest finishing of those four drivers at Bristol will earn a $100,000 bonus.
The $100,000 Dash 4 Cash continues April 12 at Richmond, Va., April 27 at Talladega, Ala. and May 4 at Dover, Del. with the top four Xfinity regulars eligible the following week. Last year, Ryan Preece (at Bristol), Elliott Sadler (at Richmond and Talladega) and Justin Allgaier (Dover) won the big money from Xfinity.