Roger Diez: Busch secures second championship
The 2019 season finale at Homestead was the championship final for all three of NASCAR’s touring series, and all three featured repeat champions. On Friday, Matt Crafton scored his third title in the Gander Outdoor Truck series; Saturday’s Xfinity race crowned Tyler Reddick series champ for the second straight year. His two titles were won with different teams, and he has full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup ride with Richard Childress Racing for 2020.
And on Sunday, with no qualifying and only one practice session due to rain, the green flag flew for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship race. In a race where any mistake could lose you the title, three of the four teams made those fatal errors. Martin Truex Jr. suffered a pit miscue that switched the left and right-side front tires, and Denny Hamlin’s car overheated due to a misplaced piece of tape on the radiator. Pit stops to correct those errors put the pair out of contention. Kevin Harvick’s car was set up for short runs, but with few cautions he would lead early, then fade. The team that executed perfectly was the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing car of Kyle Busch, who scored his second championship. Truex Jr. recovered to finish second, four seconds behind Busch; Harvick came home in fourth, and Hamlin was 10th, the last car on the lead lap.
They say baseball is a game of inches, but professional auto racing is a game of milliseconds. It’s fortunate that the JGR organization had three dogs in the fight, because that’s what it took to win at Homestead. It was also fitting that the team cars remembered J.D. Gibbs, son of Coach Joe, who passed away in January.
So now the teams celebrate or mourn, take a little time to relax with family and pursue other interests, and then begin preparation for the 2020 season. It will be the final time one of the stars of the sport will do this. Yes, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson last week announced that he will retire at the end of next season after 20 years in NASCAR’s top series. No word yet on a “farewell tour” but I’m sure his many fans will find suitable ways to say goodbye.
Max Verstappen put on a flawless driving demonstration in the penultimate round of the Formula One season last weekend in Brazil and took his Red Bull car to a convincing win. Behind him, Pierre Gasly took his first F1 podium in second, a sweet moment in a season that saw him demoted from Red Bull to the Toro Rosso junior varsity teams.
In fact, two drivers scored their first-ever F1 podiums. If you watched the race, that last statement may be confusing, as you saw recently crowned champion Lewis Hamilton spraying champagne. But later, the stewards assessed Hamilton a five-second penalty for spinning Alexander Albon’s Red Bull out of contention with an overoptimistic pass. The penalty dropped Hamilton to seventh position, and elevated Carlos Sainz to third. Unfortunately, the McLaren driver was denied his opportunity to join in the podium ceremonies. Lewis owes him a bottle of champagne.
There’s one more race left on the F1 schedule, next weekend in Abu Dhabi. Verstappen’s Brazil win gives him a bit of breathing room in the points battle. He sits in third, 11 points ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who in turn is 19 points up on teammate Sebastian Vettel. Barring a disastrous race for either Verstappen or Leclerc next week, that’s the way the final standings will fall. Hamilton, of course, has already been declared champion and teammate Valtteri Bottas is in an unassailable second place.