Folks, this is it; the home stretch. In just four weeks we’ll be leaving a plethora of what-if’s and could-be’s behind as the regular Sprint Cup season comes to an end and we embark upon the grand, mysterious, and often problematic Chase to the Cup. On the upside, we have three races left that are almost always exciting: the night race at Bristol, sleek and brutal Darlington, and the short-track of Richmond that drives like a cookie-cutter. Three chances for a few more drivers to grab a Chase slot. Who would we like to snare those spots? What story would really wake-up the back-to-school doldrums?
How about the other Kyle? Kyle Larson stormed onto the Cup scene last year, and many of us were convinced he was the next superstar. Well, 18 months later, we are still waiting for the comet to sear the skies over a NASCAR track. In fact, for 2015 the performance of the No. 42 car has been lackluster. But, even though I don’t think he has a chance in a million of winning the Cup this year, we’d certainly have something new to talk about if he brought his sprint car skills to bear at Bristol or Darlington. Ride the rim, young man, and take a few veterans to school.
Then again, Austin Dillon in his No. 3 has been looking pretty stout over the past month or so. Surely you’ve noticed how his Chevy has been riding around in the top 5 for much of the broadcast lately? It doesn’t mean he’s harnessed the kind of finishes a champion needs to take home the hardware in Homestead, but it does help to ignite the imagination. What kind of dancing in the streets would there be if Richard Childress’ No. 3 made it to the Chase? Have Senior’s legions truly vanished? Or would Dillon enjoy a surge in popularity simply by bringing his black car to Victory Lane? Ahhh…I think I’d like to find out.
Then there’s the sad and struggling veteran. Can Tony Stewart catch a break? Like ever? Hey, at least he’s got the qualifying thing under control. But, damn, he needs a win. He needs it bad. The more he struggles, the more I wonder if we’ll ever see Smoke back on top of the world. One checkered flag. That’s all it would take to bring tears to just about every living room receiving the NASCAR race across America.
If you add the three above drivers to the current list of race winners, what a play-off season we would have! Normally we’re left to making mountains out of the dusty leaves left over from the Summer’s exuberance as NFL ratings start to eat away at our favorite pastime. However, with Kyle Busch averaging a 9.0 finish since his return in May, Joey Logano notching a frightening 7.7 (how is he doing that?) and Harvick lurking in the depths until the Chase commences, we’ve already got more drama than we could wish for. Add to that the potential tsunami of popularity that would return if Junior managed to grab the big trophy, or a sweet season-ender with Truex beating off all the other hungry characters, we seem to have worked past the ennui of Johnson’s dominance.
How it happened, I’m not sure. Maybe NASCAR’s constant tweaking of the downforce packages did it. Maybe the racing gods just finally wanted to gift us with a year worth paying attention to. Whatever the reason, I’m not complaining.
2012 Irwin Tools Night Race
What a night it was! Perched at the exit of Turn 4, I enjoyed every minute of my visit to Bristol, and I got treated to a classic Tony Stewart moment! Perfection. I think I still have some confetti stuck to my hat.
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