NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR’s new craze? Forget the ‘Big 3’ — 2019 is shaping up as the year of the Big 2.

Joey Logano (center) is part of Team Penske, one of two teams that are dominating NASCAR’s Cup Series so far this season.
Joey Logano (center) is part of Team Penske, one of two teams that are dominating NASCAR’s Cup Series so far this season. AP

Last season, all the hullabaloo in NASCAR was about “Big 3” this, “Big 3” that.

Not anymore.

Six weeks into the 2019 Cup Series season and it’s quite evident what this year’s new craze will be. So long to the days of Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch versus the field. So long to the Big 3.

Everyone, welcome the Big 2: Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.

It’s not as fun or convenient (or specific) when it is full teams excelling rather than individual drivers, but in this case, the results speak for themselves. JGR and Penske drivers have won every race so far this year, and while that could change as soon as this week — Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick to win at Texas, anyone? — it’s not something we can just cast aside.

Gibbs’ roster includes Busch, Truex, Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones. Penske has reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. Six of those are currently in the top eight of the points standings, with Jones in 14th. That is definitely something.

NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin discusses his first experience at Darlington Raceway and success he has had there.

Of course, those organizations are buoyed by their respective stars. Busch and Truex stand out for Gibbs, having advanced to the championship race each of the last two years. Logano obviously is the reigning champ, and Keselowski has a title of his own plus two wins in 2019.

That’s not to knock Jones or Blaney, who have one and two Cup wins in their careers, respectively. Or Hamlin, who just won NASCAR’s most prestigious race a month ago. That’s elite depth from JGR and Penske, which you can’t say about any other team.

The other big-name programs — Stewart-Haas, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing — all have their good drivers, too. Let’s not pretend they don’t. Just this past weekend, Chase Elliott earned Hendrick its first top-five of the year. Harvick already has three such finishes. Their wins are coming, make no mistake about it.

But just like last year, when we could appreciate strong performances from anyone on any given afternoon, we also knew who to put our faith in when the engines started. If you took the Big 3 against the field last year, more times than not, you made a safe bet. Same goes this year for the Big 2.

It’s entirely possible the Big 2 doesn’t last the entire season. If last season’s championship race taught us anything, it’s that a popular nickname absolutely does not guarantee future success.

Strong racing does, though. And until proven otherwise, I’ll take the Big 2 over the field.

For now, of course.

This week’s NASCAR race at Texas: What you need to know.

Race: NASCAR Cup Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Distance: 334 laps, or 501 miles.

Where: Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile asphalt oval in Fort Worth.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

TV: FOX.

Radio: PRN.

Last year’s winner: Kyle Busch.

Also this week: My Bariatric Solutions 300, Xfinity Series, Texas Motor Speedway, 1 p.m., Saturday, FS1.

Worth mentioning: Although Sunday’s race is advertised as a 500-mile race, it is actually 501 miles long due to Texas being a 1.5-mile track.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not

HOT

Brad Keselowski: Leading for almost 450 of 500 possible laps isn’t exciting, but it is dominant — now Keselowski has the second-most playoff points of any driver.

Joey Meier of Hialeah is the spotter for NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski driving car #2 during races at Homestead Miami Speedway on Friday, November 16, 2018.

Kyle Busch: Normally a third-place finish would be disappointing for him, but given how ordinary his car was at Martinsville, it’s about the best he could have hoped for.

NOT

Jimmie Johnson: There was optimism he could make a run at Martinsville... only then he got lapped by his teammates and finished 24th.

Johnson is suddenly the senior statesman of the Hendrick team

Erik Jones: For as strong as Joe Gibbs Racing has been to start this season, it was strange he struggled so mightily at Martinsville. He finished 30th.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.

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