Amid a rush of personnel changes for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, two drivers among last year’s final eight in the postseason hunt take over new rides: Kurt Busch moves to the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr. assumes driving duties for the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
But which star driver in a new spot will have the most immediate success? Our Kathy Sheldon and Zack Albert tackle the topic.
SHELDON: Kurt Busch. He qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs all five seasons he was with Stewart-Haas Racing, with 2018 the most successful in terms of poles (5), average starting position (8.8) and top-10 finishes (22). Busch won a single race in 2018, but his teammates picked up another 11 trophies, and he very well may thrive as the veteran member of a two-man team with Kyle Larson rather than amid a four-car squad.
The 2004 champion should continue to contend for wins, and achieve more than one in 2019 as Chip Ganassi Racing enters its second year with the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Chip Ganassi said when Busch’s move to the No. 1 car was announced that he was excited to have a veteran driver who did a good job providing feedback on car set-ups in his previous stops. Busch’s experience, combined with Larson’s drive to run fast and up front — and bounce back from a disappointing 2018 — should fuel both drivers.
ALBERT: Martin Truex Jr. The 2017 Monster Energy Series champ is on the move for the season ahead, but the transition is likely to have fewer seams than other driver-team shifts. Truex’s efforts for Furniture Row Racing the last three seasons had been under the auspices of a technical alliance with his now-new team, Joe Gibbs Racing. Bringing that satellite operation in house should smooth the waters, and keeping masterful crew chief Cole Pearn connected with Truex should lift all boats.
Here’s an honorable mention for Matt DiBenedetto’s new partnership with Leavine Family Racing, which now assumes the mantle of the JGR alliance — a development likely to produce sweeping gains in performance. But for now, going with the chalk means MTJ, who is most likely to retain the championship-caliber form he’s had for the last four seasons.