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Opinion: Impact Players

There are five people looking to make a successful impact in NASCAR during the 2019 season.

Martin Truex Jr.
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion is one year removed from his reign as the best in the sport and ready to embrace a new location. The demise of Furniture Row Racing led to Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn migrating to Joe Gibbs Racing and now working under the umbrella of the organization rather than as a satellite team. Truex Jr. joins a group that aside from Kyle Busch did not have a great 2018 campaign. While Busch won eight times and made the Championship 4, Denny Hamlin went winless, second year driver Erik Jones did find Victory Lane but lacked consistency the rest of the year and Daniel Suarez struggled before finally being squeezed out in favor of Truex Jr. It will be interesting to see is Truex Jr. picks up where he left off at FRR and helps raise the other three JGR efforts or if there will be some growing pains as he makes the transition.

Daniel Suarez
The speculation of where Suarez would land after his departure from JGR became official this week when he was named as driver of Stewart Haas Racing’s No. 41 ride. Suarez takes the seat formerly occupied by Kurt Busch who joins Ganassi Racing. There are numerous parallels between Suarez and Joey Logano, with both drivers not finding hoped for success at JGR and moving on. Suarez slides into a championship-caliber team and a car that won last year and nearly ran for the title in the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale. The former Xfinity Series champion is hoping for the same kind of performance new teammates Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola found when they left their previous organizations to join SHR.

Kurt Busch
Jamie McMurray had piloted the No. 1 ride and had a winless season each year since 2014. Enter Busch who became less than enamored with the inner workings at SHR as was looking for another opportunity and found it with the Ganassi team. Busch has had an uncanny knack of helping organizations improve upon his arrival and the former Cup champion is hoping to add another chapter to that story with CGR. It could be a “one and done” effort with Busch hanging up his helmet at the end of 2019 or the start of a longer relationship if he can help the team return to its winning ways.

Chad Knaus
Team owner Rick Hendrick finally broke out the future Hall of Fame duo of Jimmie Johnson and Knaus, a combination that delivered seven Cup titles since their first year together in 2001. Now Knaus takes over a mentor role for William Byron, as the second year driver looks to build on his Rookie of the Year campaign from a year ago. Knaus has the chance to prove to the naysayers his expertise goes beyond simply working with Johnson if he can help develop Byron into the successful talent Hendrick believes they have with the young driver. It will be a fascinating season watching Knaus and Byron working together while Johnson and his new crew chief Kevin Meendering look to improve the fortunes of the 48 team after a winless 2018 campaign.

Steve Phelps
The NASCAR president has been on the job since October of last year and has been thrust into a vital role during an important time for the sport. In a short period, Phelps along with Jim France, who assumed the role of interim chairman and CEO after Brian France’s departure from that position last August, have displayed a steady hand while conveying a sense of stability throughout the industry over the last few months. Phelps will have a prominent hand in determining the sport’s future as it navigates a new sponsorship model for the Cup Series, a dramatically different 2019 rules package, potential changes in team ownership parameters and a highly-anticipated schedule overhaul.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.