We’re only two months away from the 62nd running of the DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway, but before we shift gears to the 2020 season I want to focus on a few of the biggest storylines we saw this past year.
The 2019 season commenced in Daytona as it always does and we saw Denny Hamlin win the second Harley J. Earl Trophy of his career. His victory was extra special as a month prior to the race, J.D. Gibbs – son of team owner, Joe Gibbs – passed away after a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease.
You could see the raw emotion from Joe Gibbs and Denny Hamlin after the race as the No. 11 car sat in Victory Lane. It was an especially bittersweet moment for the team as J.D.’s favorite number was 11 and that was the number he wore during his football career at College of William & Mary. It was really a storybook way for the 2019 season to begin and one of those moments that showed the power sports has to bring people together in a time of need. As the season progressed following Daytona, it didn’t take long for another Joe Gibbs Racing driver to cement himself into the NASCAR record books. During NASCAR Goes West, Kyle Busch won at Auto Club Speedway, marking his 200th career victory across NASCAR’s three national series.
Busch now holds the record for most wins in both the NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series with 56 and 96 victories, respectively. In the Cup series, he’s second among active drivers with 56 wins, trailing only Jimmie Johnson who has racked up 83 trips to Victory Lane during his career. For Busch, his 200th win was another reminder of how he’s one of the most talented drivers to ever compete in NASCAR. At only 34 years old, I’m curious to see how high up the all-time wins list he’ll be able to climb.
While the beginning of the 2019 season was dominated by Cup series veterans such as Busch and Hamlin, NASCAR’s young talent started to shine through as the season went on. At Talladega Superspeedway, 24-year-old Chase Elliott picked up his first win of the season. Over the years, Talladega has become known as Earnhardt country as Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. combined to win 16 races at the track. So it was neat watch ing Elliott win at Talladega as it almost felt like a passing of the torch from one famous racing name to another.
To add to the festivities of his victory, Elliott grew up just 150 miles away from the Alabama track in Dawsonville, Georgia, and he remarked after the race that hearing the crowd almost made it feel like a home game. Visiting a home track is always special for drivers because they often get the chance for a ton of family and friends to come out and see them compete, but Elliott’s win at Talladega showed that it can extend beyond that as the entire region showed support for him.
Just a few weeks later, we saw back-to-back first-time Cup series winners as Alex Bowman and Justin Haley went to Victory Lane at Chicagoland Speedway and Daytona International Speedway, respectively. At just 20 years old, Haley became the third youngest winner in NASCAR Cup Series history, winning the rain-shortened race at Daytona.
For Bowman, capturing his first career checkered flag was a big deal as it was the first time the No. 88 car had been to Victory Lane since 2015, when it was still being driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stepping in after Earnhardt’s retirement a few years ago has left high expectations for Bowman, who had the best year of his career this season, scoring his first win as well as four runner-up finishes.
Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention any of the great racing we saw in the playoffs this season. Martin Truex Jr. headlined the Round of 16, winning the first two races of the playoffs in dominant fashion before making his fourth Championship 4 appearance. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson, meanwhile, each won their way into the Round of 8 for the first time in their young careers, but were unable to clinch a Championship 4 berth here at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And during Ford Championship Weekend, Busch took home the NASCAR Cup Series championship for the second time in his career. As I mentioned earlier, Busch has already proven he’s one of the most talented drivers to ever compete in NASCAR, but adding another title to his résumé further cements his legacy. He’s one of only two active drivers with multiple Cup series championships (Jimmie Johnson, 7) and I have the feeling this year’s title won’t be his last.
So as we prepare for 2020, I’m excited to see what’s in store. Every season there are a handful of moments both in the regular season and playoffs that really stick out. Whether it’s on the track or off it there will be plenty to watch for during another year of exciting racing.
UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
Dec. 21 Miami Exotic Auto Racing
Dec. 22 Performance Driving Group
Jan. 4-5 Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)
Jan. 10-11 NASCAR Racing Experience
Jan. 12 Florida Track Days
2020 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES
Mar. 20 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Race
Mar. 21 NASCAR Xfinity Series Race
Mar. 22 Dixie Vodka 400 NASCAR Cup Series Race