Kyle Busch, Sprint Cup Champ?
What a blistering run of form it’s been for Busch over the last month, winning three of the four completed races and finishing a respectable 17th at Daytona International Speedway in the only race he didn’t win. Busch now sits just 58 points back from 30th place, having made up some 70 points in the last two races alone. At this point it is probably not so much a question of if but when he cracks the top 30 and seals his Chase berth.
Assuming he does indeed vault the final hurdle, expect Busch to be a serious factor in the playoffs. And could we even be looking at the first NASCAR champion to finish just two thirds of the races run? Busch’s team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has had an exceptional couple of weeks but as we look ahead to the Chase we’re still looking at five mile-and-a-half races with the 2015 impossible to pass the leader package: a package at which JGR has not excelled this season. But should these recent signs of improvement from JGR spill over into the Chase, Busch will be a bonafide threat to win it all by the time we get to Homestead-Miami Speedway. And what a story that would be.
Jamie McMurray Edges Closer to the Chase
After running well for much of the race at New Hampshire, late race engine issues saw McMurray relegated to a lowly 26th-place finish. All told, the 14-year, 457-race veteran sits ninth in the overall points standings, but more importantly he is first on the list of six drivers who would qualify without a win. In the next seven races that list of six is liable to be culled some but probably not significantly. I’d expect at least five of the seven remaining pre-Chase races would be won by 2015 winners, and assuming Busch makes the top 30, we might only be looking at three to four spots available for winless drivers. As of now, McMurray is sitting in the proverbial catbird seat hoping to make the first Chase of his long stock car racing career.
McMurray’s first full season was in 2003, the last year of the old format, and since then he has been close but not quite close enough to make the playoffs. This year looks like the year he finally breaks that hoodoo. Of course the real question is, should he make it, can he make any noise? And he only has to look at how far Ryan Newman got in 2015 to know that whilst winning is important it’s not everything. He’ll be one to watch for sure if he makes it in.
And while I’m on the subject of CGR drivers, it was another terrible weekend for Kyle Larson who is enduring a textbook sophomore slump of a season. The 22-year old has just one top-five finish all season, third place at Dover International Speedway, and only five top-10 runs: good for an averaging finishing position of 21.0 nearly seven places worse than his average for the whole of the 2014 season. Larson has also led just 100 laps; 90 of which came during the race at Bristol Motor Speedway. In the last three weeks, Larson has finished 39th at Daytona International Speedway, 35th at Kentucky Speedway and 31st at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this past Sunday.
The only positive he can take is that at least his result line is trending upward, albeit gradually. All is not lost quite yet, though, as in the seven races between now and the Chase, Larson has good previous form. He was seventh at the Brickyard last year, fourth at Watkins Glen International and eighth at Darlington Raceway. At Pocono Raceway, his three finishes have been fifth and 11th in 2014 and eighth earlier this year and he has comparable results at Bristol – 10th, 12th and seventh. At the start of this season nearly every NASCAR expert tipped Larson to pick up a maiden victory in 2015. Can he pick up that elusive win in the next seven weeks and make the Chase? It’s a “long-ish” shot, certainly, but it isn’t out of the question.
The Lobster Trophy
I can’t let this week go by without a quick word on the huge live lobster the winning driver holds up in Victory Lane at Loudon which really is one of the most unique trophies in NASCAR and that, to be fair is saying, something. The tradition of the live lobster began in 2010 and has been awarded for each race since then. The lobster itself is supplied by Makris Lobster & Steakhouse, a local seafood institution just down the highway from the track. Once photographs are taken in Victory Lane, the lobster is cooked, with six pounds of meat flash frozen and shipped to the winner. A taxidermist then puts the shell back together, adds a touch of paint, mounts it and ships it out for display in the winner’s trophy room. It is certainly a unique memento of a race win and there aren’t many trophies that are also edible, so it serves a great dual purpose. Good stuff.
Bring on the Dirt
For the third year in a row, the Camping World Truck Series will take to the tight confines of the half-mile clay oval of Eldora Speedway. Austin Dillon won the inaugural event in 2013 with Darrell Wallace Jr. taking the checkered flag in 2014 – one of his four victories last season. Even by NASCAR standards when anything can and usually does happen, Eldora is a unique race on a packed schedule and judging by the last two years, a fascinating one to watch. This time around both the Dillon brothers will race, as will Brad Keselowski and popular veteran Ken Schrader, who started on the pole in the first race in 2013. Even if you don’t typically watch the trucks, this race is one not to miss. Perhaps one day we might even see the Cup cars racing here.