With the 2018 season getting further and further in the rearview, it’s time to take a look back at the highs and lows of each Cup Series team in 2018. Next up, Joe Gibbs Racing and now-former technical alliance Furniture Row Racing.
Points position: 21
Top 10s: 9
Top 5s: 3
Season highlight: Suarez was second at Pocono in July after winning the pole. He led 29 laps. He was fourth at Watkins Glen in the race after that. The two races moved him to 18th in the points standings and positioned him as a possible sleeper contender to make the playoffs.
Season lowlight: Suarez did not make the playoffs. And the final three races of his tenure at JGR were pretty awful. He was 18th in the standings after finishing ninth at Martinsville. He then finished 28th, 36th and 30th to finish the 2018 season.
Suarez is out of the No. 19 car after just two seasons and the 2016 Xfinity Series title. He was probably moved to the Cup Series too fast but JGR didn’t have many options when Carl Edwards decided he was done with NASCAR at the end of the 2016 season.
Suarez is likely heading to the No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing (it’s the only top-tier ride that’s available at this point) but nothing is official. Maybe a change of scenery will be good for him.
Points position: 15
Top 10s: 18
Top 5s: 9
Season highlight: Jones survived the demolition derby at Daytona in July to get his first Cup Series win. He was going to make the playoffs anyway but the win sealed it and came in the middle of an incredibly strong summer run. Jones had nine top-10 finishes and never finished outside the top 16 in the final 11 races of the regular season.
Season lowlight: That summer success had no effect in the playoffs. Jones started first in the playoff opener at Las Vegas but finished last because of a crash. He was 11th the next week but then was 30th at the roval and was eliminated after the first round. Had Jones made it through to the second round he would have made it to the third. He finished fourth, eighth, and fourth in the three races of the second round.
Points position: 11
Top 10s: 17
Top 5s: 10
Season highlight: It’s tough to find a highlight in a winless season by a driver of Hamlin’s caliber. He strung together three-straight top-seven finishes in the spring and finished in the top six in four of the first five races of the season. He also had two second-place finishes in the playoffs … but after he had been eliminated.
Season lowlight: Does the entire season count? Hamlin and the No. 11 team were not their championship-caliber selves in 2018 despite four pole positions. Hamlin scored three of them in the final five races of the regular season when a win would have done him some serious playoff good. He finished 13th, eighth and 10th in those three races.
Hamlin started the playoffs with a 32nd at Las Vegas and then followed it up with a 16th at Richmond despite starting in the top two in both of those races. He was 12th at the roval in Charlotte but that wasn’t enough as he was tossed from the playoffs in the first round.
Points position: 4
Top 10s: 28
Top 5s: 22
Season highlight: Any of the eight wins. Busch had eight of JGR’s nine wins and won at every type of track short of a plate track and road course. Busch swept the races at Richmond and absolutely dominated the Coca-Cola 600, leading 377 of 400 laps. The Charlotte win meant Busch now has points wins at every track currently on the Cup Series schedule.
Season lowlight: Busch was fourth of the four title contenders at Homestead. He didn’t have one of the best cars over the second half of the race, so crew chief Adam Stevens tried some pit strategy to get Busch needed track position. It worked, as Busch was leading when Suarez spun off Brad Keselowski’s bumper with 20 laps to go. But Busch didn’t have a good enough car to contend with Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano over the final 15 laps.
Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row)
Points position: 2
Top 10s: 21
Top 5s: 20
Season highlight: Truex got hot over the summer, winning three of seven races. From races Nos. 11-22 on the schedule, Truex had three wins, four second-place finishes and also finished fourth twice. He established himself as a clear contender to defend his 2017 championship even as his team was searching for sponsorship to stay alive in 2019.
Truex also came within one stupid ninth-place finish in the 34th race of the season from having all of his top-10 finishes be top-five finishes.
Season lowlight: Truex was good but not great in the playoffs. He had to finish fifth at Kansas to sneak into the third round but advanced to the final round with finishes of third, ninth and 14th.
He finished second to Logano at Homestead with a car that was better on the long runs than the short runs. A win and second-consecutive title would have been a hell of a way for Furniture Row to exit NASCAR.
As Furniture Row becomes a NASCAR team of the past, Truex moves over to take Suarez’s spot at JGR. He brings crew chief Cole Pearn with him and the two have become one of the most potent driver-crew chief combinations in NASCAR. While there may be an adjustment period in 2019 as Truex and Pearn go from being satellite team members to full JGR members, the No. 19 team should contend for the title.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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