Race Weekend Central

The Surprising Start to the 2016 Chase…Or Not

After the unsurprising, yet still notable conclusion to the 2015 season, NASCAR fans were ready for just about anything.  If a driver who sat out the first three months of the season due to a fractured leg could come back and dominate the Sprint Cup Series on his way to his first championship, then we were surely in for one exciting 2016 as new and exciting story lines popped up.

Well…I’m not so sure about that.

While the regular season has offered up a parade of exciting finishes worthy of joining those included in our sport’s history books, who has been involved in all the buzz has been pretty much more of the same.

Joe Gibbs Racing clearly stole the magic carpet out from under Hendrick Motorsports in the last six months of 2015, and have not handed it back.  All four JGR drivers won their way into this year’s Chase–no big surprise.

Between the parties, gifts and trumpets, Jeff Gordon’s departure last season was almost as loud as his replacement’s arrival.  High expectations were placed on Awesome Bill’s son, Chase Elliott. He performed well–better than some predicted, but in the overall scheme, the No. 24 looked like a rookie piloting a well-funded team.  He got in, but did you really expect that team to just roll over?

Okay, so Tony Stewart’s retirement year has been a crazy mixed bag of pain, depression and good old fashioned stock car racing.  So, Smoke bumped his way into the big show by spinning out Denny Hamlin at Sonoma. Then for the past two weeks he’s been driving like the self-appointed Enforcer by cleaning off the track of drivers he thinks are getting in the way.  We’ve spent the past seventeen years trying to decide whether we love him or hate him. I guess we’re just not meant to ever figure that one out.

Kasey Kahne: a prodigal son of NASCAR.  Or at least we always wanted him to be one.  Once again, the No. 5 team over in the Hendrick garage has been running a little less…everything. For those of us who subscribe to the mystery R&D formula, 2016 has done little to squash the rumors.  Is it the driver? Is it the equipment? Unfortunately in a dozen years, Kahne has never shown the consistency and aggression needed to linger in the top 10 of the series. His exclusion from this year’s Chase is simply not shocking.

The Penske boys, Keselowski and Logano, remain a pair of high-strung colts ready to rip up the track and take the big prize. Harvick, while struggling to get a pair of tires on his No. 4 in a timely fashion, is still a real threat.  Even the Truex Jr. rise through the ranks in his “single car team” fails to raise eyebrows when we take into consideration that the No. 78 is now an extension of the Gibbs regatta.

Is there anybody who is going to shock the shorts off the fans during these last 10 weeks of the year?

The only outliers remain in the Ganassi camp.  Personally, I don’t see the No. 1 and No. 42 teams magically keeping it together for the final push. But if they did…

Well, Kyle Busch surprised us last year.  Perhaps hope remains.

SOMETHING SHINY

Some good news! Matt Tifft, after undergoing brain surgery early in the summer to remove a benign tumor, will be returning to competition in the Camping World Truck Series this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway for Red Horse Racing. What a happy boy!

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