Friday, 19 April 2024

Part two of my reflections on the year that was, and what’s to come in 2024, for Cup series teams:

Joe Gibbs Racing
Results; Christopher Bell (4th in points); Denny Hamlin (5th in points); Martin Truex Jr. (11th in points); Ty Gibbs (18th in points) 
Grade: A-

Despite only one driver making the Final Four, this was a very strong overall year for Joe Gibbs Racing, with 8 wins between the trio of Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell. Ty Gibbs did not win, but he did run very well as a rookie and had the second-best finish in the points among non-playoff drivers. With all four drivers returning in 2024, I expect all four, including young Ty, to make the playoffs and several to make deep runs. 

Denny Hamlin’s continued struggles with completing a title run will once again be at the forefront of conversation next season, but I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility that Hamlin does win it all in 2024, and Truex and Bell could be right there beside him battling for the title.

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It’s hard to choose a favorite moment from the two decades-plus that I’ve watched Kurt Busch compete on the racetrack in NASCAR’s top levels.

Perhaps it's the famous battle to the checkered flag at Darlington vs. Ricky Craven.
Or Kurt being given the bird by Dale Earnhardt Sr. during the 2001 Daytona 500.
Or his running the NASCAR/Indy double and finishing 6th in the Indy 500.
Or his leadership at so many teams, from Roush and Penske to Phoenix Racing to Furniture Row to Stewart-Haas to Ganassi and finally 23XI
Or his winning the 2004 Cup series title in dramatic fashion after a close call, losing a tire as he was entering pit road during the race

I could go on, but you get the drift. The man did just about everything you could in this sport since entering the NASCAR ranks as a very young man in the late 1990s.

I say all this because we heard an emotional farewell this weekend from Kurt Busch at Daytona. He said he’s officially done with Cup racing as he continues to focus on his health after a qualifying crash at Pocono in 2022.

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Teammates help each other out. 

It’s part of racing, and always has been.

When Jeff Gordon was trying to wrap up his first title back in the 1990s, Rick Hendrick would enter an extra car in the race just so it could drop out and guarantee Gordon another spot. When stages are about to end, drivers often don’t lap their teammates even if they are able to do so, out of respect for their overall team goals. Every team on the grid, from Hendrick to Gibbs to SHR and beyond, has told its drivers to support their teammates in one way or another, often explicitly on the radio. 

So the decision to punish Cole Custer and the 41 team for alleged improper action to help teammate Chase Briscoe at the end of the Roval race is quite dishonest in my view. This wasn’t a Clint Bowyer itchy arm situation and there was no blatant manipulation. Briscoe was going to dive bomb into that corner regardless of what Custer did, and likely make the pass anyway, so overanalyzing the 41 car’s actions is unnecessary. 

What’s most bothersome is the inconsistency. In recent years, Chase Elliott did a playoff favor for Kyle Larson by holding up Kevin Harvick, and Erik Jones was told explicitly to not pass teammate Denny Hamlin. But nobody was punished in those instances.

Let’s not get into the habit of over-policing, which is the complete opposite of “boys, have at it” and not the direction we need to go in as a sport.

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One thing is clear after this weekend: Ford has hit a home run by bringing Hailie Deegan on board.

The 18-year-old phenom has a strong racing pedigree, talent to spare, and a great attitude overall. Previously, her detractors have critiqued her willingness to use the chrome horn to get a victory. But in Saturday’s ARCA race, she showed she has the patience to go far in this sport, and not make enemies unnecessarily.

Deegan’s efforts landed her a 2ndplace finish, sandwiched between two Venturini cars in 1stand 3rd, and she was happy with her effort.


“Pretty much at the end there, all I wanted to do was finish. My goal for this race was top three to top-five was a victory for me,” Deegan said. “It is a long season and I have to race against these guys week in and week out. It is best to stay on good terms with them. Second is really a win to me this weekend. Winning the first race would have maybe been a little too high of standards for the rest of the season. Everything would have been downhill. This gives me something to still work towards.”

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