Bristol

  1. Ryan Sieg (No change) – Through 8 races Sieg has run 92% of all laps inside of the top-15, even with his 12th place finish at Bristol he is still averaging a 9.1 finish. In the process he has built a 46 point lead over the playoff cut off line.
  2. Matt DiBenedetto (+4) – Like several other races this year, DiBenedetto didn’t get the finish indicative of how well he ran. Despite running as high at 6th place late, he ends up finishing 12th. Still strong enough to bounce him up to 2nd in the rankings. He also completed the most green flag passes of race with 125.
  3. Ty Dillon (+3) – Dillon collected an emotional stage win at Bristol and followed it up with a 15th place finish, his fourth top-15 of year. With an average finish of 18.9 so far this year compared to a 24.1 average finish last year, it seems Germain Racing is trending the right direction.
  4. Ross Chastain (-2) – Chastain was the victim of bad circumstances in the Xfinity race, getting taken out by Jeff Green who spun in his own fluid. The finish cost him more ground in the points where he is now more than a full race behind the playoff cut off line.
  5. Chris Buescher (-2) – Consistently in the top-10 for much of race, a late unscheduled pit stop cost Buescher the finish he deserved. His 22nd place finish is his worst of 2019 since Daytona.
  6. Jeremy Clements (+3) – At one point, Clements was the fastest car on the track, willing it to stay in front of the leader for quite a few laps. Despite spinning late, he still managed a 13th place finish his 4th top-15 of year.
  7. Gray Gaulding (+1) – Gaulding collected his 2nd top-15 of season at Bristol, finishing 15th which keeps him at 15th in the Xfinity points. He has finished no worse than 21st since his 34th place finish at Daytona.
  8. Ray Black Jr (+2) – After a DNF at Texas, Black rebounds with a 16th place finish, which bumps him back up to 17th in the Xfinity points standings.
  9. Brandon Brown (-5) – For the first time this year, Brown fails to finish inside of the top-20. His 23rd place finish didn’t cost him any positions in the points, he actually made up ground on Chastain in 13th.
  10. Bubba Wallace (+1) – A hard fought 20th place finish for Wallace who has acknowledged that the team has to start running better. Has averaged a 20.0 finish over last three races compared to 28.9 finish over the first five races.
  11. Josh Williams (+3) – After a solid start to 2019, including a 19th place finish last week at Bristol, sponsor issues finds Williams moved third DGM entry which will not race at Richmond.
  12. David Ragan (+3) – Despite bouncing off the wall while running up toward the top-15, Front Row Motorsports was able to keep Ragan from losing too much track position, finishing 21st.
  13. Ryan Preece (-6) – After going to a backup car at Bristol, Preece manages a 25th place finish after spinning early. 
  14. Garrett Smithley (-2) – After a DNF at Texas for a motor issue, Smithley finishes in 22nd place at Bristol, matching his 2019 average finish.
  15. Michael McDowell (-2) – Handling issues gave McDowell a 28th place finish, still a slight improvement from his two DNFs from crashes at both 2018 Bristol races.
  16. Chad Finchum (No change) – Second top-20 of season for Finchum who is averaging a 23.5 finish this year compared to 34.5 last year.
  17. Landon Cassill (+2) – Cassill showed some speed at Bristol racing his way into the top-25 before eventually finishing in 26th. His fourth straight top-30.
  18. Brennan Poole (-1) – Hanging tough in the rankings on the strength of his top-10 finish at Texas.
  19. Spencer Boyd (+1) Averaging a 19.2 finish this year.
  20. Timmy Hill (Not ranked last week) – Season-best finish for Hill, finishes 17th for first top-20 of 2019.

Ranks for the memories! This driver fell out of the top-20 this week: Tommy Joe Martins (ranked 20th last week)

Texas

  1. Ryan Sieg (No change) – I’d really like to find an excuse to change the top order of the rankings so it looks like I’m not phoning this in but Sieg continues his strong start to season. After a 10th place finish in Texas, his 4th top-10 this year, Sieg has an average finish of 8.7 and a 25 point cushion over the playoff cut off line.
  2. Ross Chastain (No change) – A 16th place finish in the Xfinity race, another top-10 in NGOTS and another top-30 in Cup, Chastain continues to deliver across all three series. Sits 10 points outside of the last Xfinity series playoff position and had he declared for NGOTS points, would be considered a championship contender with an average finish of 6.0
  3. Chris Buescher (No change) – Buescher picked up his 5th top-20 of season in 7 starts. Excluding his DNF at Daytona has averaged a 16.7 finish. Of the small team drivers, only Matt DiBenedetto has run more laps in the top-15 than Buescher.
  4. Brandon Brown (+1) – Brown’s 17th place finish at Texas was his 6th straight top-20 of season, his worst finish to date being 18th at Daytona. Remarkable consistency has him sitting 14th in points.
  5. Matt DiBenedetto (-1) – After two straight top-20’s, DiBenedetto finishes 26th at Texas after losing his power steering. His 723 green flag passes and 248 quality passes are the most of any small team driver.
  6. Ty Dillon (+4) – Dillon just misses the top-20 at Texas with a 21st place finish. His average finish of 19.4 has him 23rd in points just 4 points behind Chris Buescher.
  7. Ryan Preece (+2) – With his 22nd place finish at Texas Preece collected his 3rd straight top-25 finish. He heads to Bristol where he took the victory last year in the Xfinity series driving for Joe Gibbs.
  8. Gray Gaulding (-1) – Gaulding couldn’t quite get the car to free up the way he needed, just misses out on his fifth straight top-20 with a 21st place finish at Texas. Good enough to stay in the top-15 in Xfinity points.
  9. Jeremy Clements (-3) – Clements spun early in race, made it back into the top-20 before stalling on pit road late and finishing in 26th. Frustrating day where it looked he was in line to collect his 5th straight top-20.
  10. Ray Black Jr (-2) – A flat left rear tire sent Black Jr around in turn 1 and hard into the wall ending his day while running in the top-20.
  11. Bubba Wallace (+4) – Wallace looked to be fighting for a top-15 in the truck race until contact damaged his fender. He ended up finishing in 20th, 6 laps down after repairs. Had his best showing on a 1.5 mile track on Sunday finishing 23rd.
  12. Garrett Smithley (-1) – Smithley’s day ended early with motor issues, relegating him to 31st after running in the top-25 for most of race.
  13. Michael McDowell (+3) – After pounding the wall in Martinsville, McDowell rebounds at Texas with his first top-15 since Daytona.
  14. Josh Williams (-1) – Williams’ 14th place finish at Texas is his career-best finish. Coming in his 35th start, it is his first Xfinity top-15.
  15. David Ragan (-3) – Ragan’s last four finishes, 25th, 25th, 26th and 25th this last week at Texas.
  16. Chad Finchum (-2) – Finchum grabs his third top-25 in 5 starts with a 23rd place finish
  17. Brennan Poole (Not ranked last week) – Poole had shown plenty of speed over the start of the 2019 season but had yet to cash in until Texas. Picks up his first NGOTS top-10, finishing 9th.
  18. Tommy Joe Martins  (Not ranked last week) Martins picks up his second straight top-20 on a day where he needed several extra pit stops to work on the car.
  19. Landon Cassill (-2) Three straight top-30 finishes for Cassill, raising his average finish for season to 30.0
  20. Spencer Boyd (Not ranked last week) – Boyd finished in 11th at Texas for his best finish since Daytona, rebounding from a three race span where his best finish was 25th.

Ranks for the memories! This driver fell out of the top-20 this week: Timothy Peters (ranked 17th last week), Corey LaJoie (ranked 18th last week), Timmy Hill (ranked 20th last week)

Martinsville

  1. Ryan Sieg (No change) – Sieg holds down the top spot despite a week off for the Xfinity series. Finished in 12th place the last time the series went to Texas Motor Speedway
  2. Ross Chastain (No change) – Finished a strong 4th place finish with a now very competitive Niece Motorsports at Martinsville, leading 53 laps along the way. A lost axle then a blown motor resulted in a 34th place finish in the Cup race and kept him from moving to the top position in this week’s rankings.
  3. Chris Buescher (No change) –Buescher ran in the top-25 for most of the race at Martinsville, eventually getting caught a lap down and finishing 21st. Averaging a 19.5 finish in 2019.
  4. Matt DiBenedetto (+1) – DiBenedetto collects his second straight top-20 at Martinsville, finishing in 20th. Will be the class of the small team field if he can consistently finish where he’s been running mid-race. To date he averages a 15.3 running position at mid-race, compared to a 23.4 average finish over the same races.
  5. Brandon Brown (-1) – The strong start to the season for Brown keeps him in the top-5 in the rankings. It is disappointing to see that he will give up his #86 ride at Richmond.
  6. Jeremy Clements (No change) – Finished 14th the last time the series went to Texas Motor Speedway.
  7. Gray Gaulding (No change) – Has one prior start (and park) at Texas, finishing 33rd with Ryan Sieg Racing.
  8. Ray Black Jr (No change) – Was 19th with BJ McLeod Motorsports the last time the series went to Texas.
  9. Ryan Preece (+3) – Most expected Preece to excel on the short track at Martinsville, it took some well-timed cautions but makes the most of being on the lead lap late in race, finishing 16th.
  10. Ty Dillon (+3) – A remarkable run up through the field to 13th, running a total of 109 laps in the top-15. Owns an average start and finish position of 19.2 in 2019.
  11. Garrett Smithley (-2) –Finished 20th the last time JD Motorsports and he visited Texas. Through five races this season Smithley has an average finish of 20th.
  12. David Ragan (-2) – Could not get the handling improved at Martinsville, finishing where he started in 25th place.
  13. Josh Williams (+2) Will look to rebound from two straight DNFs this weekend at Texas.
  14. Chad Finchum (+2) – Showed much promise at California until a broken axle took him out, will look to better his 17th place Texas finish from last fall
  15. Bubba Wallace (Not ranked last week) – After a very sluggish start for 2019, breaks through for first top-20 of season, finishing 17th at Martinsville. Also collected a top-10 with AM Racing in Saturday’s truck race, shooting him up into the rankings for first time this year.
  16. Michael McDowell (-2) – Early contact with wall cost him a top-25 or better, finished 35th at Martinsville
  17. Landon Cassill (Not ranked last week) – Second straight top-30 with StarCom Racing puts Cassill into the rankings for first time this year. His 28th place finish at Martinsville was best finish since Daytona 500.
  18. Timothy Peters (-7) A second straight week with no ride, Peters may very well be enjoying his last appearance in the rankings this season.
  19. Corey LaJoie (No change) – Finishes 33rd in backup car after losing brakes and crashing his much faster primary car in practice.
  20. Timmy Hill (Not ranked last week) – Qualified in on time with his own truck, running the entire race and finishing 21st ahead of some strong truck series regulars.

Ranks for the memories! This driver fell out of the top-20 this week: Austin Wayne Self (ranked 17th last week), Brennan Poole (ranked 18th last week), Tommy Joe Martins (ranked 20th last week)

California

  1. Ryan Sieg (No change) – With an average finish of 8.4 this year and an impressive 94.2% of all his laps run inside of the top-15, Sieg has opened up the gap over the playoff cut off line to 18 points. An 11th place finish at California means he retains his position at the top of the rankings for another week.
  2. Ross Chastain (No change) – A tire issue early in the Xfinity race for Chastain meant he was playing from behind the remainder of race, managing an 18th place finish, three laps down. Will get another shot at his first Truck series victory this weekend with Niece Motorsports.
  3. Chris Buescher (+2) – A quiet, strong start to season for Buescher, with an average finish of 19.2, he’s only 16 points behind the playoff cut off line. If not for the DNF at Daytona, he’d be above the cut off line. His last four finishes are 9th, 18th, 16th and 16th.
  4. Brandon Brown (-1) – Brown keeps a spot in the top-5 of rankings with another solid finish at California, his second straight 15th place finish. No finish worse than 19th this year has him sitting 14th in points just behind Chastain.
  5. Matt DiBenedetto (+1) – Finally notched the first top-20 of season with new team. After several near misses, DiBenedetto finishes 18th. He has the most green flag passes of any of the small team drivers with 586.
  6. Jeremy Clements (+2) – Third straight top-15 for Clements, who is up to 16th in Xfinity points after a DNF at Daytona.
  7. Gray Gaulding (No change) – Gaulding knocks down his third 16th place finish in 5 races and sits 15th in Xfinity points. After working with Gaulding back in 2017 at BK Racing, crew chief Patrick Donahue has his young driver heading the right direction with SS Greenlight.
  8. Ray Black Jr (+1) – After a sluggish start, Black Jr is keeping pace with his SS Greenlight teammate, averaging a 19.8 finish to Gaulding’s 18.8 despite a 30th and 23rd place finish to open the season. A 17th place finish at California bumped him up to 17th in the Xfinity points.
  9. Garrett Smithley (+1) – For the first time in his career, Smithley is averaging a 20th place finish over the first 5 races of a season. His decision to stay put for a fourth year with JD Motorsports looks to be paying off with no finish worse than 24th this year.
  10. David Ragan (+2) – Back-to-back 25th place finishes in Cup for Ragan has him up to 26th in points, one position behind where he ended up in for 2018. At this point last year he was 3 races into 7 straight top-25 finishes.
  11. Timothy Peters (-7) – Not on the Trucks entry list for Martinsville, so he sadly slides down the rankings.
  12. Ryan Preece (-1) – After a crash at Phoenix, Preece collects his third top-25 of season with a 23rd place finish at California. After an up and down West Coast swing, has to be looking forward to a short track.
  13. Ty Dillon (+3) – Dillon finished 27th at California, dropping his average finish to 20.4 for season.
  14. Michael McDowell (+5) – Rebounds from a crash at Phoenix for 24th place at California, finished 21st and 25th at Martinsville last year. 
  15. Josh Williams (-2) An engine failure while running in the top-20 handed Williams his second straight DNF after opening season with three straight finishes 22nd or better.
  16. Chad Finchum (-2)  Was having his best run of season, racing way up into the top-20 before a broken axle retired him from race.
  17. Austin Wayne Self (Not ranked last week) – How did a driver who didn’t run a race last weekend move into the rankings? Of the smaller team drivers in the Truck series, only Chastain has a better driver rating and a lot of Xfinity teams struggled at California.
  18. Brennan Poole (-3) – Average finish to date not indicative of how well he has run. Will be his first trip to Martinsville in a truck.
  19. Corey LaJoie (-1) A rough race at California with contact on a couple of different occasions, finished 31st.
  20.  Tommy Joe Martins (Not ranked last week) – After a difficult first two races, breaks through for his first top-20 of season.

Ranks for the memories! This driver fell out of the top-20 this week: Tyler Dippel (ranked 17th last week), David Starr (ranked 20th last week)

Phoenix

  1. Ryan Sieg (No change) – Three top-10’s in four races for Ryan Sieg Racing, averaging a finish of 7.8 and an average running position of 11.3. At this point last year, was averaging a 24.3 finish. Sieg seems poised for a run toward playoff contention and potentially his first Xfinity win. Also poised to jump right out of the underdog category.
  2. Ross Chastain (No change) – Excluding season-opening 13th place finish with Kaulig Racing, Chastain has averaged a 13th place finish in Xfinity with JD Motorsports. His 27th place finish at Phoenix with Premium Motorsports in Cup nets him his first top-30 since Daytona.
  3. Brandon Brown (+2) – Averaging a 15.8 finish to open 2019, Brandonbilt Motorsports coming out of the gate fast in their first full-time effort. He grabbed his second top-15 of season at Phoenix. The question is whether this early success can translate to filling the quarter panels on the #86 going forward.
  4. Timothy Peters (No change) – Despite being off this week, Peters still holds the 4th best driver rating among the small team drivers. His three-race stint with Niece Motorsports is over but I’m just going to let him enjoy the view from the top for another week.
  5. Chris Buescher (-2) – Another solid top-20 for Buescher at Phoenix, despite a DNF at Daytona he is still averaging a 20.0 finish. His third straight top-20 has him sitting 23rd in Cup points.
  6. Matt DiBenedetto (+2) – Of all the other small team drivers in Cup, only David Ragan has completed more green flag passes, but DiBenedetto has over double the number of quality passes. His average finish of 25.8 is deceiving as he has averaged a running position of 18.5 through 4 races. A battery issue at Phoenix cost him at least a top-15 finish.
  7. Gray Gaulding (-1) – Gaulding holds tight in the top-10 after a 16th place finish at Phoenix. Has averaged 19.5 finish in first four races of season, good enough for 15th in Xfinity points.
  8. Jeremy Clements (-1) – Clements is averaging just over a top-20 finish after Phoenix, where he finished 13th. If not for the DNF at Daytona, would be hovering right below the Xfinity playoffs cut-off line.
  9. Ray Black Jr (+4) – Fresh off his second top-20 finish, Black is up to 18th in points after starting the season in 29th. In 2016, his only full Xfinity season, he finished 19th in the final Xfinity standings.
  10. Garrett Smithley (+1) – Another strong start to the season for Smithley who finds himself 17th in points. In the first four races of season he’s finished 24th, 17th, 18th and 22nd this past week in Phoenix.
  11. Ryan Preece (-2) – It was a rough Phoenix outing for Preece who managed 34th after getting turned during a restart. Has run in top-15 for over 10% of total laps run to date.
  12. David Ragan (-2) – Consistently churning out the top-25’s like last year, averaging a 24.8 finish. Has completed more green flag passes (551) than any of the other small team Cup drivers.
  13. Josh Williams (-1) – Williams had an ignition issue cost him another top-20 late in the going at Phoenix. Despite his 29th place finish, Williams is still averaging a 22.0 finish.
  14. Chad Finchum (Not ranked last week) – Has been a consistent presence in the top-25 for the three races he’s been behind the wheel of the #42. Up to 23rd points after not racing in Daytona.
  15. Brennan Poole (+1) – Stays in rankings this week on strength of his average finish (19.0) and having run 34.9% of all total laps inside of the top-15.
  16. Ty Dillon (+2) – Bounces back from a rough outing at Las Vegas with a 15th place effort in Phoenix, holding steady at 22nd in Cup points.
  17. Tyler Dippel (-2) – Stays in the rankings with an average finish in three Trucks starts of 19.0.
  18. Corey LaJoie (-1) – LaJoie nets his best finish since Daytona with a 26th place finish at Phoenix.
  19. Michael McDowell (-5) – Hard knocks all the way around for McDowell at Phoenix send him tumbling in the rankings. Since his top-5 at Daytona, he’s had no finish better than 30th despite showing speed in several of those races.
  20. David Starr (No change) – Starr stays put as the last driver in the rankings. With two top-20’s already under his belt this season, he has helped give Jimmy Means Racing one of their best starts ever to a season.

Ranks for the memories! This driver fell out of the top-20 this week: Timmy Hill (ranked 19th last week)

Las Vegas

  1. Ryan Sieg (+1)  – There’s a new sheriff in town. It appears that the addition of Shane Wilson and a new deal with ECR have more than jumpstarted the small team from Tucker, GA. Averaging a 7th-place finish over the first three races, Sieg finds himself sitting 8th in points, one of 11 drivers with 2 top-10’s to start the year. In Las Vegas, Sieg ran over 94% of his laps inside of the top-15, averaging a 12.5 running position.
  2. Ross Chastain (-1) – Chastain continued his run of good finishes in the Trucks (10th) and Xfinity (7th). Chastain was the only driver in the NGOTS field to have 100% of his passes deemed to be quality passes. Since his top-10 in Daytona 500 to start the year, his two other Cup finishes have been outside the top-30, a rare occurrence for the driver and team that averaged a 28.4 finish in 2018.
  3. Chris Buescher (+1) – Steady run up toward the top-15 in Vegas for Buescher.  Despite running 24% of race inside of the top-15 Buescher ends up finishing in 18th-place. After the DNF in Daytona, Buescher has lowered his average finish to 21.3, similar to his 2017 (21.4) and 2018 (21.0) average finishes.
  4. Timothy Peters (-1) – For the first time this year a Niece Motorsports entry failed to finish inside of the top-10. Running two-thirds of the race in the top-15 and as high as 7th-place, Peters ends up finishing in 12th. He currently sits 11th in points, 7 points out of 10th.
  5. Brandon Brown (+4) – A very solid start to 2019 for Brown, finishing 18th at Daytona, 13th in Atlanta and 17th this past weekend in Las Vegas. Brown never ran lower than 22nd the entire race, averaging a 17.6 average position. His three top-20’s to start the year matches his total number of top-20’s in 7 starts from last year.
  6. Gray Gaulding (+4) – Quietly has made his way into the top-20 in Xfinity points after three races. His 12th-place in Las Vegas was his career-best series finish, besting his pair of 13th-place finishes while racing for Jack Roush in 2016 and leading the first laps of his Xfinity career.
  7. Jeremy Clements (+7) – Since his engine issue at Daytona, Clements has managed an 18-place finish in Atlanta and a 15th last week in Las Vegas. Spending most of the race inside of the top-20, Clements gained 4 spots late, working his way back into the top-15. He finished 13th the last time the series visited Las Vegas
  8. Matt DiBenedetto (No change) – A 21st-place finish for DiBenedetto, who ran in 21st-place for almost the entire second half of the race in Las Vegas. It is the best finish of the year for the new driver/team combo.
  9. Ryan Preece (-3) A relatively quiet race for Preece given how the first two races of season played out. Managed a 25th-place finish, the same position he was in at mid-race.
  10. David Ragan (-5) – After a remarkable qualifying effort (6th) with the new format, Ragan drifted back to the top-25, eventually finishing 28th. Through three races he is averaging a finish of one position higher than at this point in 2018.
  11. Garrett Smithley (+1) – Ran around 21st for much of race but able to make a little track position up late, finishing in 18th.
  12. Josh Williams (Not ranked last week) – Much like Smithley, ran just outside of top-20 for much of race before making up 6 positions late. His 16th-place finish is a career-best for him in Xfinity.
  13. Ray Black Jr (Not ranked last week) – Probably overdue appearance on this list, but Daytona was such a snoozer, his 30th-place finish followed by a 23rd in Atlanta  kept him off the list. An 11th-place finish in Las Vegas after running the majority of race in the top-20 catapulted him up into the rankings this week.
  14. Michael McDowell (-3) – Still benefitting from his top-5 in the Daytona 500 as well as the speed he showed in Atlanta before a parts failure sent him behind the wall. His 30th-place finish in Las Vegas was hampered by a pit road penalty.
  15. Tyler Dippel (-2)Comes off his 11th in Atlanta with a 17th-place showing in Vegas, ran in the top-20 for entire second half of race.
  16. Brennan Poole (-1)A 20th-place finish for Poole after starting 8th, was in contention for a top-10 if not for a late fuel pickup issue.
  17. Corey LaJoie (+3) – Vegas recap from LaJoie on Twitter, “We had 27th place speed all weekend. We finished 27th”. I appreciate the honesty.
  18. Ty Dillon (-11)Finishes of 25th and 29th have slowly sunk him since his top-10 at Daytona.
  19. Timmy Hill (Not ranked last week) – In three Xfinity seasons with Carl Long, Hill is off to his best start averaging a 23.3 finish, almost 10 positions higher than his two previous seasons, 23rd last week in Vegas.
  20. David Starr (Not ranked last week) – Starr finally cracks the rankings after collecting his 2nd top-20 (19th) in the first three Xfinity races.

Ranks for the memories! These drivers fell out of the top-20 this week: Gus Dean (Ranked 16th last week), Corey Roper (Ranked 17th last week), Alex Labbe (ranked 18th last week), Parker Kligerman (ranked 19th last week).

Atlanta

  1. Ross Chastain – The only driver to have run all six of races so far between Cup, Trucks and Xfinity, Chastain has averaged a 12.8 finish across all series in the first two weekends. Chastain finished 6th with Niece Motorsports in the Truck series for his second straight top-10 and 14th with JD Motorsports in Xfinity for his second straight top-15. Even with a 31st place finish in the Cup race Premium Motorsports, Chastain easily holds on to the top spot in this week’s rankings.
  2. Ryan Sieg (+3) – With a 4th place and 11th place finishes to kick off the season, Sieg currently sits 10th in points. He averaged a 12.4 running position never falling lower than his qualifying position of 18th during the entire Xfinity race, running nearly 99% of his laps inside of the top-15. 
  3. Timothy Peters (+9) – Like his Niece Motorsports teammate, Ross Chastain, Peters has notched two top-10’s in Truck series competition to start the 2019 season. A 10th-place finish in Atlanta bounces him up to 7th in points.
  4. Chris Buescher (Not ranked last week) – After getting taken out in the first big crash of the Daytona 500, finishing 37th, Buescher rallied in Atlanta with a 9th-place finish. His 9th career Cup top-10 wasn’t a fluke, after restarting in the top-10 midway through the last stage was able to maintain his track position. Eventually had to make way back into the top-10 late after getting shuffled to 13th-place on late restart.
  5. David Ragan (+11) – Strong run for Ragan after getting taken out at Daytona while running in the top-10. One of the first drivers to find speed running near the wall, he was able to make way into the top-25 early and slowly work his way up to eventually finish in 16th. Seven positions higher than his finish in Atlanta last year.
  6. Ryan Preece (-1) – Preece was looking to collect his second straight top-10 when he ran into the back of B.J. McLeod on pit road, resulting in a 35th-place finish. Having restarted inside the top-10 with less than 100 laps left in race, he was able to hang there along with teammate Buescher, running as high as 7th.
  7. Ty Dillon (-1) After capturing his 2nd career top-10 at Daytona, Dillon finished in 25th-place in Atlanta. Hovering just outside of top-25 for much of race, Dillon found himself as one of only two drivers two laps down with little chance to make up any spots late. Was also the highest finishing driver who didn’t complete a quality pass over course of the race.
  8. Matt DiBenedetto (-5)  – DiBenedetto had contact on pit road which cause a tire rub and an unscheduled pit stop. After running within the top-25 for much of race, he ended up in 26th. With the exception of JTG Daugherty, Leavine Family Racing certainly looking like the best of the rest of the smaller teams.
  9. Brandon Brown  (Not ranked last week) – A strong Atlanta race in Xfinity for Brown catapults him up from the ranks of the unranked. Despite finishing 18th in Daytona last week, he was not ranked due to the large number of successful runs by other teams at Daytona. Brown was extremely consistent over course of entire race this past week, starting 11th, never running lower than 18th and finishing in 13th-place.
  10. Gray Gaulding (Not ranked last week) – Impressive speed from Gaulding in the second SS Greenlight entry. After starting 35th, quickly moved up toward top-20, running in an average position of 16.7 before eventually finishing in 16th.
  11. Michael McDowell (-9) McD was looking at a likely top-25 until a broken tie rod sent him behind the wall, relegating him to a 37th place finish.
  12. Garrett Smithley (Not ranked last week) – Strong 17th-place Xfinity run for Smithley who ran inside the top-20 for virtually entire race after qualifying 22nd. Electrical issues on the Cup side kept him behind the wall for many laps.
  13. Tyler Dippel (Not ranked last week) – Just missed out on his first career NGOTS top-10, nabbing 11th-place, his best finish in seven starts. Also his 5th top-15 in 7 career starts
  14. Jeremy Clements (Not ranked last week) – Clements went behind the wall early at Daytona but made the most of a top-20 starting position in Atlanta, running between 17th and 20th for virtually the entire race, eventually finishing in 18th.
  15. Brennan Poole (Not ranked last week) – After running the bulk of race inside of the top-20, able make way into the top-15 after late crash, his best NGOTS finish since his debut in 2015.
  16. Gus Dean (Not ranked last week) – Gus Dean finishes 15th for second straight week, this time he was running at the finish
  17. Corey Roper (Not ranked last week) – After crashing at Daytona while racing in the top-5, Roper bounces back with a solid 16th-place finish.
  18.  Alex Labbe (Not ranked last week) – Labbe is back(e), picks up where he left off in 2018 with another Xfinity top-20, averaged a 19.9 running position in Atlanta 
  19. Parker Kligerman (-4) – A Cup 30th-place finish and a late crash in the Truck series cost him when a potential top-25 and top-10 were up for grabs.
  20. Corey Lajoie (-2) – Ran inside of top-30 for most of Cup race despite late contact with the #34 when McDowell had his issue with tie rod, finishes 29th.

Ranks for the memories! These drivers fell out of the top-20 this week: Josh Reaume (7th last week), Spencer Boyd (8th last week), Jeff Green (9th last week), Clay Greenfield (12th last week), Austin Wayne Self (13th last week), B.J. McLeod (14th last week),  Angela Ruch (15th last week), Timmy Hill (17th last week), Joey Gase (19th last week), Bobby Gerhart (20th last week), 

Daytona

 

  1. Ross Chastain – It’s hard to find many faults in Chastain’s three races at Daytona. With the exception of a tight squeeze late in the Xfinity race which kicked him out of the top-10 resulting in 13th place finish, Chastain’s 3rd place on Friday in the Truck series, stage win and 23 laps led in the Xfinity series followed by a top-10 in the Daytona 500 set him apart from all other drivers.
  2. Michael McDowell – Following a late penalty and a series of close calls, McDowell pushed back on expectations by not pushing Joey Logano on the last restart of the race. The decision to fight for his chance at a win rather than submissively roll over and help the larger team didn’t necessarily gain him any positions on track but certainly drew a clear line in the sand regarding the way he wants to be treated by front-runners. It is his second career Cup top-5.
  3.  Matt DiBenedetto – DiBenedetto excelled in his first race with Leavine Family Racing, leading 49 laps, more than doubling his previous career total. Each time it seemed he was going to get mired back in mid-pack he would find his way back to the top-10, then top-5, then be competing for the lead. Atlanta will be the first peak at what this team’s expectations should truly be this year.
  4. Ryan Sieg – Sieg finished in 4th place for his 4th career top-5, recording the 8th best driver rating of the NASCAR Racing Experience 300. His average running position was 9.3, running in the top-15 for 100 laps. Despite a lack of intrigue late in the Xfinity race, the quiet affair may have provided the perfect launchpad for his second shot at the playoffs.
  5. Ryan Preece – Dodging and weaving his way to the finish, Preece picks up his first career top-10 with his 8th place finish. Running mid-pack for much of race, Preece spent only 53 laps running inside of the top-15, deciding it was time to make his move with 25 laps left, quickly moving up toward the top-10. The only driver to have a lower driver rating in the top-10 was Ross Chastain, yet both had career days.
  6. Ty Dillon – It took Dillon 72 races to capture his first top-10, it only took a trip back to Daytona to capture his second. Running as high as 4th place, Dillon, much like Preece, spent the majority of race running mid-pack, his average running position during the Daytona 500 was 21.5. Despite getting a piece of two of the late crashes, the damage was minimal enough as allow him to collect his second 6th-place Daytona finish in a row
  7. Josh Reaume – After 33 starts in the Xfinity series and 28 starts in the Gander Outdoor Truck series, Reaume captured his first top-10 and led his first lap in NASCAR competition. In his own equipment, nonetheless. In a race where merely taking care of your equipment was enough, Reaume was one of nine trucks still running on the lead lap at the finish. Hands down one of the best stories of Speedweeks.
  8. Spencer Boyd – After a full season in the Xfinity series in 2018 Boyd moved back to the Truck series with Young’s Motorsports. Wearing the rookie stripes again, he managed to make keep the truck intact for his first-ever top-5 in NASCAR competition. His 4th place finish was just the third ever top-5 for the team in 165 combined starts.
  9. Jeff Green – Green had the lowest average running position (16.8) of all the top-10 finishers in the NASCAR Racing Experience 300. Only running 52 laps inside the top-15. Which means on a day when passing was limited the veteran of 29 years still had what it takes to school the younger generation in better funded equipment.
  10. Parker Kligerman – Despite getting turned by Casey Mears on the frontstretch and falling two laps down, Kligerman picked up his career-best Cup series finish. His 15th-place finish in the Daytona 500 was also the second top-15 for Gaunt Brothers Racing. All of this came on a day when the team had the third-lowest number of quality passes in the field, spending the majority of the race 2 laps down.
  11. Timothy Peters – Finishes in 7th-place for his 127th top-10 in the NGOTS/CWTS/CTS.
  12. Clay Greenfield –  Ran consistently in top-10 and as high as p2 before getting caught up in the late truck race sheet metal jamboree. Ends up in p12 after having to blindly park it.
  13. Austin Wayne Self – Collects 5th career top-10 finish, finishing p9.
  14. BJ McLeod – Would have been in great shape for a top-15 in the Daytona 500 had he not been collected at pit road entrance mid-race. Finishes p19, his career-best finish in Cup. Also had the most green flag passes (157) of any driver in the Xfinity race on the way to 27th-place finish.
  15. Angela Ruch – First-ever top-10 (p8) in second Truck start, leading 2 laps in the process.
  16. David Ragan – Was running around the top-5 in the Daytona 500 before getting swept up in the big one.
  17. Timmy Hill – Made up into top-10 late until contact on pit road relegated them to a 19th-place finish.
  18. Corey Lajoie – After an early flat tire, managed car and damage to an 18th-place finish.
  19. Joey Gase – Finishes p16, made way up into the top-15 late after running outside the top-20 for much of race.
  20. Bobby Gerhart– Oh so close to his first-ever NASCAR top-10, finishes in 11th-place.

There is a Season: One Score

The Setup

I was 13 at the time of the 1999 Daytona 500. I had never watched a full race in my lifetime with the exception of attending a few exhibition races when tickets were extremely cheap and family members would ask me to go. Despite my lack of interest in racing, my proximity to the Daytona International Speedway (living in Central Florida just north of Orlando) provided exposure to the special feel of racing at Daytona. There was something unique about this major sporting event happening almost in your own backyard, right up Interstate. Big name drivers would rush into town, setting up show cars in the parking lots of countless grocery and strip mall chains. You felt the tremendous pull of the Daytona 500, even if you didn’t attend. The first race I attended was the 1996 Busch Clash, of which I remember little. I do however remember the program that was bought for me; in fact, I still have it. The black cover commemorated 25 years of Pontiac as the official pace car of the Daytona 500. It was kind of lame, looking back, but as an 11 year old, the silver patch that came glued to the cover was something I cherished. I believe that was the last year the program included a patch on the cover. Inside of the program was an insert for Upper Deck that included one of their “Predictor” cards. If the driver on your card won the Daytona 500, you could send it in for the entire set of 10 “Predictor” cards. The driver on the card in my program was Rusty Wallace. Without watching the entire 1996 Daytona 500, I did keep tabs on Rusty in the hopes that I might just win that 10 card set. He finished 16th, I wouldn’t watch a race for another 3 years. The name and face on that card would lay dormant but would not be forgotten.

For reasons I cannot remember now, the 1999 Daytona 500 grabbed my attention. Maybe it was the leftover hype from the 1998 win for Dale Earnhardt. Maybe it’s because I had received and mastered NASCAR 99 for Nintendo 64 during the offseason. Maybe it was the way the local Orlando Sentinel went all out with its coverage of the race, including a full-page, colored rundown of the starting grid. Either way, I remember nervously pacing around my living room waiting for the start of coverage, like some expectant cartoon father-to-be in a waiting room.

Finally, it was noon. Greg Gumbel, the lead NFL play-by-play announcer, did most of the introduction and setup for the 41st Daytona 500 after a typical Daytona montage played over a dreamy, swampy slide guitar. His presence signaling a step up in the level of prestige in the event. One year after Dale Earnhardt’s win, the focus turned to the next in line to break into the Daytona 500 win column; drivers like Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, and that guy from that free card I got in 1996, Rusty Wallace.

It is Valentine’s Day and nearly 200,000 people are in attendance according to Gumbel—a crowd size three times larger than the Super Bowl, he points out.

The Early Departures

As the cars roll off the grid, we get treated to a full screen lineup run-down, announced row by row with near-equal attention to each driver. It is sorely missed. Then, we get the now jaw-dropping list of the sixteen drivers who did not make it into one of the 43 starting positions. It’s been a while since the number of drivers who didn’t make the race outnumber the car count of “the big one”. Among them are Jeff Green, David Green, Dick Trickle, Buckshot Jones, Morgan Shepherd, and Steve Grissom.

This year, two drivers had the potential to miss the race out of a field of 40. In 2015, the year before the charter system, 6 drivers failed to qualify and an additional team withdrew. After the charter system was in place, the number of qualifiers who failed to make the race were 4 in 2016, 2 in 2017, 0 in 2018.

The Broadcast

After Gumbel’s intro, we are quickly sent to pit road where drivers are heading to their cars and we get a few boilerplate statements from Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. I’ll combine them all to save space: “It’s been twelve months; it’s the great American race; it’s not the fastest car that has the advantage I think, it’s the best handling car; also, I have to make sure I don’t do anything stupid.”

Finally, we get a little time with Ken Squier. He quickly dives into a description 1979 Daytona 500, this being the 20th anniversary of the race that garnered so much attention for stock car racing in America.

Then, Squier breaks out that line or rather notion of “a common guy doing uncommon deeds”. That idea that any of us could break through with a little practice, a little luck, a little talent. It’s hard to find much of that sentiment in 2019.

The invocation, handled by the ecumenical Rev. Hal Marchman, a presence sorely missed over the last decade, ends with his signature “shalom and amen”. As the last syllable fades to a brief moment of silence, you can feel the gravity of the situation begin to simmer. Edwin McCain is introduced for what turns out to be a serviceable National Anthem. At last, we are thrown to the booth where Ned Jarrett, Mike Joy, Buddy Baker are waiting for the pace laps to start.

While the cars get up to temperature on this cool Daytona day, Baker reflects on winning Daytona 500 in third person, “the biggest day of Buddy Baker’s life”. The race starts out with a lengthy green flag run, the broadcast gets Buddy Baker personally involved as his record for fastest Daytona 500 appears to be in jeopardy. He earnestly brushes away the notion of resentment, asserting that he’d give up the record if it meant a safe race.

There is no denying the impact of having a Buddy Baker or Benny Parsons in the booth, they were gentle giants who married the inherent dangers of stock car racing with a light-hearted nature. At one point, Baker spots a wrapper stuck to the front of a car while viewing an on-board camera. To his delight, he exclaims: “Look at that sandwich wrapper up there on that hood pin, think it’s not getting a workout?”. To illustrate his point, he circles the wrapper using the teleprompter and we follow its journey around Daytona.

Mike Joy has essentially maintained the same father-knows-best tone over the last two decades, at one point stating, “That is one great thing about the heroes of NASCAR, none of them came out of high school to full scholarships, none of them came out of college to a million dollar signing bonus, every one of these drivers started out at a quarter mile track running Saturday nights somewhere”.

CBS would pull a 25-share for the 1999 Daytona 500 with 14.5 million viewers tuning in, making it the most-watched Daytona 500 of the 1990’s.

The Bit Players

Through much of the first three-quarters of the race, CBS takes the time to spotlight a few feelgood runs. Prior to Brett Favre waving the green flag, the booth gives a shout out to Dave Marcis who was making his 32nd consecutive Daytona 500 start, tying himself with Richard Petty for the most starts.

Early on, they show Rick Mast who was up to 12th; he would go on to run entire season without a DNF with Cale Yarborough Motorsports. They also show Jimmy Spencer unexpectedly running up near the lead draft; crew chief, Donnie Wingo, had said before the race that they changed everything they could on the car out of frustration.

We are informed that John Andretti is being pushed behind the wall with some sort of engine issue, as it happens in real-time. They get back to this story on lap 32, showing the car being pushed through the garage followed by an interview with Andretti on lap 34.

On lap 43, CBS shows an unscheduled pit stop for Ricky Craven, a rarity at any race for a team running mid-pack in 2019.

Derrike Cope is mentioned as having cut a right front tire and making an unscheduled pit stop.

After Mike Wallace pits for the first time, it is mentioned that Wallace replaced Mike Harmon mid-week in the Junie Donlavey #90 after the deal with Harmon’s sponsor Big Daddy’s BBQ completely disintegrated.

None of these storylines impact the battle for the lead or the top-10 but the intent is clear; these drivers have fans and these fans want to know what is happening to their driver. Somewhere in the last 20 years, that intent vanished.

The Culture

During the National Anthem, the broadcast shows Mark Martin, Dave Marcis and the rest of the field sitting in their cars, something we’ll won’t see again for a while. Honestly, it plays better to the enormity of the moment—one last solitary pause for reflection and peace.

In this super-charged political climate, it’s hard to imagine any Supreme Court justice being offered or agreeing to be grand marshal for stock car racing’s biggest event, but in 1999, associate Justice Clarence Thomas, donning a leather jacket, gives the command to start the engines.

The Commercials

The first commercial break of the race is on lap 11, returning to coverage on lap 14.

The second commercial break starts at lap 24, returning on lap 28.

The third commercial break lap starts at lap 35, returning on lap 38.

The fourth commercial break starts at lap 44, returning on lap 47. The pattern for commercials for first quarter of race is roughly 6-7 laps of coverage, 3-4 laps of commercials.

The fifth commercial break comes at Lap 60, returning from break on lap 64, almost 22 laps without a break.

The sixth commercial break comes at lap 71, returning from break on lap 75. On lap 81, there is an in-race shoutout to the Budweiser lizards, Louie and Frank.

As we near halfway, we are swimming in “Jag” and “Touched by an Angel” rejoins.

The seventh commercial break comes just after the first caution on lap 96, coming back for the green flag on lap 100.

The eighth commercial break comes at lap 112, returning from break at lap 114.

The ninth commercial break comes after the second caution at lap 123, returning to a green flag at lap 127. Coming back from commercial, we are treated to a promo for Cosby, King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, Becker, and LA Doctors. Mike Joy half-chuckles his way through the sitcom plot explanation, “Raymond goes on a Caribbean cruise with his mother”.

The tenth commercial break comes at Lap 131, back from the break on lap 134 just before the big crash.

The eleventh commercial break comes at lap 140, returning to go back green at lap 142.

The twelfth commercial break comes at lap 150, returning to broad cast on lap 153.

The thirteenth commercial break comes at lap 161, returning to broad cast on lap 164.

The fourteenth commercial break comes at lap 170, returning just before Bobby Hamilton crashes on lap 173.

The fifteenth commercial break comes during the caution for Hamilton on lap 175, returning on lap 177.

In all, 45 laps, almost a quarter of the race, mostly under green flag conditions were missed for commercials.

The Race

It only takes one lap before the first glaring difference in officiating rears its head. After leading the first lap, Jeff Gordon is unable to fend off a charging Bobby Labonte who ducks below the yellow line on the backstretch. This will happen all race long; in fact, the winning pass of the race in 188 laps will occur in just this fashion. No black flags, no controversy, just a narrowly avoided, potentially dangerous collision.

It’s easy for me to forget that for a brief moment in time, a young Tony Stewart raced against Dale Earnhardt. The start of Stewart’s first Daytona 500 found him running with Earnhardt until an ill-fated pass attempt up high leaves him shoved into the middle lane on lap 4.

Bobby Labonte, running a car from 1998, continues to lead the early laps, despite a strong move by Earnhardt to nearly draw-even with the #18 on lap 8. This is the closest Earnhardt would be to the lead for much of race; he would not lead a lap in the 1999 Daytona 500.

As the race settles into an apparent long green-flag run, Dick Berggren reports on the somber tone of the driver’s meeting due to crash-marred nature of the previous day’s Busch Grand National series race. The NAPA Auto Parts 300 featured 6 cautions, including the infamous Casey Atwood blowover. In total, 15 cars were caught up in crashes.

At this point, the race is almost 48 laps in and there have been no major pit stops. I forgot how long 22 gallons of fuel lasted on these plate tracks.

Jeff Burton is the first driver to have his pit stop shown in full, a mediocre 24.5 second stop. Dave Marcis, Bill Elliott, Jerry Nadeau and Johnny Benson are all shown pitting. After watching six years of mid-pack racing, I feel confident in saying that it’s rare for coverage to be this widespread anymore. Tony Stewart’s new team then make their first ever pit stop, called “remarkably good” after clocking in at 19.1 seconds.

I had completely wiped catch cans and fuel being carelessly splashed about from my memory. Dangerous nostalgia is the best nostalgia. The blend from pit road is also insane, commonly two-wide off of pit road all the way to turn one.

Rusty Wallace assumes the lead after pit stops on lap 58, a lead he will hold for the next 64 laps, much to my teenage surprise. As he leads into the second half of the race, much will be made about his prior flips at plate tracks and his potentially gun-shy nature at these tracks.

Kenny Wallace falls off the pace on lap 93 with no oil pressure bringing out the first caution of the Daytona 500. Up until now, I had forgotten that the field used to race back to the caution flag.

The field pits and the hood goes up on Bobby Labonte’s car as he has developed a skip in the engine; the crew tries changing a plug wire. After going back green, Tony Stewart would also develop a skip in his engine. He will eventually go behind the wall. Dale Jarrett has a reported hole in fender of car, but Todd Parrott opts to leave it alone.

The second caution comes out for Jimmy Spencer who slammed the wall out of turn 2 on lap 122.

Shortly after going back green, on lap 135, Kenny Irwin upsets the back of his teammate Jarrett going into turn three, sparking the biggest crash of the race. Geoff Bodine, Steve Park, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, Joe Nemechek, Terry Labonte, Rich Bickle, Jeff Burton, Ward Burton, Robert Pressley, and Ricky Rudd Rudd are all swept up in a grinding, painful-sounding crash. After the incident, Bickle and Park confer about the crash while waiting for rides to care center, as do Jarrett and Labonte. Twelve cars in total were involved and are currently off-track.

Replays conclude Jarrett was turned by air from of nose of Irwin’s car; Robert Yates has no comment back in garage.

When we return from commercial on lap 164, we find that Jeff Gordon has now taken over 2nd place behind Wallace. Barring a caution, crew chiefs Robin Pemberton and Ray Evernham will go for it to the end on fuel.

Approaching 30 laps to go, the booth is starting to build up towards a Rusty Wallace victory; he has been dominant for much of the race and, as Wallace told Baker before the race started, “It’s Valentine’s Day”.

After the caution comes out on lap 175 for Bobby Hamilton who turned sideways by himself on the backstretch, Rusty and teammate Jeremy Mayfield decide not to pit. Rusty’s crew chief Robin Pemberton is interviewed regarding the decision and declares they were just as likely to make a mistake pitting before conceding that he may be a sitting duck.

On lap 184 after the field goes back green, the term “bump-drafting” is used for first time on broadcast. With 15 laps left, Rusty leads Earnhardt and Gordon. Gordon dispatches Earnhardt off of turn two and sets his sights on the #2 car.

One of the most crucial sequences of the race happens next, before the actual change for the lead. Chad Little gets into Mike Skinner in what could have been a massive wreck. Skinner somehow saves it and continues on just in front of his teammate Earnhardt without losing hardly any momentum. This momentarily allows Rusty and Gordon to pull out ahead on the backstretch. Through turns three and four, Gordon rolls back to Skinner, leaving Rusty with a 3 car-length lead. That gap spelled the end for Rusty as Gordon is able to charge with a head of steam through the tri-oval. Heading out of the tri-oval, Gordon ducks below the white line and squeezes alongside Rusty just in time to avoid clipping the wounded Ricky Rudd’s machine on the apron. After a lap of three-wide racing for the lead, Rusty fades into the middle and Gordon is left to battle Skinner. Looking at the rest of the top-5 is a little eerie as you see Michael Waltrip working with Earnhardt while Ken Schrader runs in the high line.

Richard Childress is interviewed after Earnhardt pushes Gordon into the lead saying, “You know Dale, he’s got some moves on him left”. Terry Labonte will learn that later on in 1999.

After a strong, final charge from Earnhardt, Gordon captures the 1999 Daytona 500. Only 15 cars finished on the lead lap. There were 14 lead changes and only 4 cautions. Rusty Wallace finished 8th after leading 104 laps. Dale Earnhardt finishes second, offering a simple: “Got beat!”, when asked what happened at the end of the race.

Impact Statement

I was devastated. I had emotionally invested myself in this event, and it was a bitter pill to swallow for the driver I had arbitrarily started cheering for to lose in such a fashion. I was also hooked. Soon, I would be going to the mall for a Rusty Wallace hat, scouring Targets and K-marts for 1:64 diecasts, and watching every race of the 1999 season. The long green-runs and the big crash don’t stand out in my mind twenty years later. All I remember is that feeling of disappointment, of having something so precious slip through your fingers. I also couldn’t wait for Rockingham, a track I had mastered on Nascar 99 early on; I doubt I focused much at school that week. There was the hope that the next week’s event would work out, and if not next week, the week after, it was a long season, after all.

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