Photo via @homesteadmiami/Instagram
After one of the most divisive seasons in NASCAR history, due to a certain type of aero package, I hand out some awards to wrap the association’s 71st season. Some good and some….not so good.
Most Valuable Driver: Denny Hamlin
I know he did not win the championship but Hamlin was the cream-of-the-crop when it came to consistency this season. It was going to go to one of the big three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers and I just had to give to Hamlin and the 11 team. The most impressive part of his six-win season was that they all came at different-style tracks: Daytona(superspeedway), Texas & Kansas(1.5 miles), Bristol(short track), Dover & Phoenix(1 mile). I know Hamlin is disappointed with the outcome of Homestead but he should be proud of his accomplishments this season and come back to 2020 even more hungry than this year.
2019 Stats: six wins, 19 top-fives, 24 top-tens, three poles, 922 laps led, an average finish of 9.5, 1 DNF
Most Valuable Crew Chief: Chad Knaus
What a difference a crew chief can make in a driver’s career. William Byron had high hopes when he entered the Cup Series in 2018 but could not live up to the unprecedented hype given to him. He finished that season with only four top-tens and an average finish of 22.1. Enter 2019 and Byron finds himself with the seven-time champion crew chief, Chad Knaus. Byron would go on to win five poles and claim five top-fives, 13 top-tens, and improved his average finish by 7.2 with a 14.9 average finish. While he could not find a win this season, Byron has a lot of momentum heading into 2020 with Knaus.
Best Race: Geico 500, Talladega Superspeedway(Spring race)
You may have hated the new aero package on 1.5-mile tracks but you cannot deny how great it was at Daytona and Talladega this year. I have to give the nod to the Spring Talladega race because most drivers were able to finish this one, unlike the July Daytona race and the Fall Talladega race. This was the debut of this package on a superspeedway and it delivered in every way possible. Drivers were able to get big runs in the draft, cars were not as aero-loose as they were with the last superspeedway aero package used, and these cars were FAST. These cars would get up to at least 205 MPH, which delivered some of the most nerve-wracking moments this season. It ended in chaos with a very scary flip involving Kyle Larson but outside of that, all 188 laps of this race were pure beauty and represented everything that NASCAR is about.
Co-Rising Stars: Ross Chastain & Matt DiBenedetto
Ross Chastain had one of the busiest seasons of any driver in motorsports during 2019. In the middle of the year, Chastain decided to run for a truck series championship with Niece Motorsports, which wounded up being the best move to further his career. The watermelon farmer racked up three wins in the truck series with an average finish of 8.6; culminating in a Championship 4 appearance. While he could not claim the title, Chastain earned numerous fans with his aggressive brand of racing and a patented victory celebration that involves watermelon violence.
What else can you say about Matty D? He has gone from an average of 32nd in 2015 and, in only four years, has lowered it to 18.3. While the move to Leavine Family Racing only lasted a year, he made the most of it and became the most popular driver of the season. He led the most laps at this year’s Daytona 500 and was in a position to win it until he was involved in the “Big One” with 10 laps to go. He won the hearts of fans after his gut-wrenching interview after the Bristol Night Race, where he finished second after being passed by Denny Hamlin with just a few laps to go. He also was a road-course king with a fourth and sixth-place finish at Sonoma and Watkins Glen respectively. Next season, DiBenedetto will replace Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing in the 21 car and will look to score his first career victory.
Most Improved Driver: Chris Buescher
The results do not really show just how solid and consistent of a season the JTG Daugherty Racing product had. From what I recall from this season, I can remember seeing that 37 car running inside the top-15 for a majority of races. His average finish of 17.8 this season was the best of his career and the biggest season-to-season improvement from 21.0 back in 2018. With four top-tens, Buescher was able to secure a spot in the Roush Fenway Racing 17 car for next season and his swapping rides with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Next year could be the breakout season that Buescher needs to make his name in the Cup Series.
Now, it is time to talk about the BAD. And man were there some bad moments this season and some disappointing performances.
Most Disappointing Performance: Stewart-Haas Racing(Besides Harvick)
“Thank God for Kevin Harvick” is probably what Gene Haas and Tony Stewart were saying all season as he was the only one on this premier Ford team to score a victory this season. Aric Almirola was eliminated in the Round of 16, Clint Bowyer was eliminated in the Round of 12, and Daniel Suarez failed to reach the playoffs(on another elite team). Take Harvick out of the equation and SHR’s average combined finish was 15.6. Not impressive for a team that is supposed to have every driver competing for titles. With Xfinity star Cole Custer joining the team next year, maybe he can be the jolt that makes them elite again.
Worst race: Bluegreen Vacations 500 – ISM Raceway(Fall)
The final stretch of the playoffs was fairly uneventful outside of a near-brawl between Hamlin and Logano. The race that set the field for the Championship 4 was, most definitely, the worst NASCAR race of the 2019 season. Due to the aero package that creates a lot of downforce and puts a lot of dirty air around cars in traffic, there was almost no passing throughout the field and absolutely none for the lead. The position you restarted in was, most likely, the position you would remain in for the duration of the run.
Worst aspect: THE CUP SERIES AERO PACKAGE
Yes, I have folded this idea from NASCAR even after I was a big proponent of this package at the beginning of the season. I enjoyed the early Atlanta and Vegas races because they did bring some excitement to both of those races. Where my mind starting changing was the Auto Club 400 race. I was at the race and the cars were going so slow and no one could really make passes. We did have some great races though with this package such as Kansas(Spring) and the Coke 600 but outside of that, that new car in 2021 cannot come soon enough. We need to get back to true racing where the drivers can show off their skills more so than the car determining a driver’s position via aerodynamics.
If you are interested, leave your own personal awards in the comments and let us know what you thought the best and worst moments of the 2019 NASCAR season were.