With 36 races making up a NASCAR Cup Series season, it’s safe to assume that the collection of events will offer a little bit of everything when all is said and done. That was certainly the case in 2019, as the season had its share of fantastic finishes and a fair number of less than thrilling races. Here’s a rundown of the three best and three worst races from the 2019 season.
Is it possible for a racetrack to get three dates in the 2021 schedule realignment? Charlotteâs iconic Coca-Cola 600 isnât going anywhere, but its Roval course has gone 2-for-2 in hold-your-breath, late-race theatrics. This time, winner Chase Elliott was wrecked, causing a caution with 43 laps remaining. Elliott fought his way back through the field and reassumed the lead with six laps to go. He held on after that final restart while the battle for second raged behind him, with Alex Bowman completing an incredible comeback from his own wreck to advance into the Round of 12.
You have to feel for Matt DiBenedetto, whose late-race push for his first career victory fell short to a surging Denny Hamlin. Itâs rare to see a driver look as guilty as Hamlin did after taking the win from one of the sportâs true Cinderella stories. Neither one should be ashamed of their battle up front. It was the lone exception in a year in which short tracks mostly performed below expectations.
Tapered spacers didnât taper the excitement at the first NASCAR race at Daytona or Talladega without restrictor plates in 30-plus years. Speeds reached over 200 miles per hour during the GEICO 500, but reduced horsepower kept the risks about the same in a 40-car freight train that still produced 38 lead changes. NASCARâs Most Popular Driver, Chase Elliott, earned the victory. For once, there was no Big One that left half the field a pile of mangled sheet metal inside the garage.
The sportâs oldest short track never took to the sportâs 2019 handling package for short tracks and road courses. Two drivers, Brad Keselowski (STP 500 in March) and Martin Truex Jr. (First Data 500 in October), led a combined 910 of 1,000 laps in dominating performances up front. A fall race notorious for fireworks that defined the championship chase never really got going; late-race contact between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin caused a shoving match that had no long-term impact. Get those spoilers reset for 2020, NASCAR!
Martin Truex Jr. routed the field for the Gander RV 400 at his hometown track, charging from the back and leading the final 53 laps at a track where passing was nearly impossible for everyone else. Truexâs margin of victory, 9.5 seconds, could have been larger if he hadnât backed off during the final stages to play it safe. Only 11 cars finished on the lead lap in a race that went large chunks of time without any position in the top 10 changing hands. âIâm not going to lie to you,â Truex said after the race. â[Passing] was hard as hell.â
It certainly wasnât a boring afternoon for Denny Hamlin, whose trip to Victory Lane at the end of the Bluegreen Vacations 500 earned him a spot in the Championship 4 finale. Fans of every other driver were disappointed, though, by a race that had only eight lead changes and suffered under the weight of NASCARâs high-downforce package. If not for a late caution flag, which was controversial at best (John Hunter Nemechek brushed the wall), Hamlin would have cruised to the win unopposed. As it is, he led 132 of the final 136 laps on cruise control, lapping up to seventh place before the late yellow. Keep in mind that this track hosts the Championship 4 finale next year, raising expectations that last Novemberâs snooze-fest failed to meet.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)