This has been a rough start to the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for the “Big 3” rookies. Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer were expected to contend for race victories early and often by some in NASCAR’s big leagues. After all, they had dominated the NASCAR Xfinity Series in each of the last two years.
But, I was cautiously optimistic about them. What worried me was, this is an entirely different racing package at the Cup level by comparison to the Xfinity Series. In NXS competition, their package suits these three guys’ driving styles.
All three like to run a loose race car. They’ve all been known to rim ride the SAFER Barriers at the top of the banking. Well, the lower horsepower, high downforce Cup package, doesn’t allow for that.
Kyle Larson’s early season struggles last year is a prime example of that. Larson, has a similar driving style and the new Cup car rules hurt his strengths inside of the race car.
Well, through the first three weeks, my concerns for these rookies on the Cup level was merited. None of the three had even a sniff of the top 10. The closest was Reddick’s 11th place run last weekend in Fontana. He was 28th and 18th in the other two races.
Custer, was only 38th, 19th and 18th respectively at the finish himself in 2020. Bell, was 21st, 33rd and 38th.
But, this weekend was to the Phoenix Raceway, a track that’s seeing NASCAR go to a different racing package. This package was similar to the 2018 one, or very much alike how these three drove in NXS competition the last few years.
That’s why they looked vastly improved this weekend.
Reddick, was ninth in Stage 1, fourth in Stage 2 and was easily a top 10 race car before crashing out on Lap 264 when his No. 8 Chevrolet had a tire go down.
“We lost a tire there in (Turns) 1 and 2,” the Richard Childress Racing driver said. “I really don’t know what led to that. I don’t know if I just caught something on the race track or it just wasn’t meant to be. Our I Am Second Chevrolet was really, really good today. I just made a couple of mistakes there that cost us track position. I don’t know if that’s what ultimately would have kept us from cutting a tire, but we were in really good shape there and I just made a rookie mistake and fell back to the back half of the top 10 and from there we had our flat tire, and that was the end of our day unfortunately.”
Custer, was 12th and 10th in the two stages in his No. 41 Ford then capitalized on that in the end to come home in the top 10 in ninth.
“This was huge,” Custer said. “It is a huge boost in our step to have a really solid day and fast Mustang. We overcame obstacles all weekend and hopefully we can continue to carry that all through the year. I think we get better every single race, so it is just a matter of continuing that and doing that every single weekend.”
Bell, still surprisingly struggled as he came home 23rd. But, Phoenix wasn’t always one of his better tracks at the NXS level anyways. The Oklahoma native had three top four finishes in-a-row but was only 30th and 16th last year.