ONE: The Champ gets his clock
In the end, by Martinsville’s very high standards, it was a relatively pain-free first victory of the year for the 2015 champion, Kyle Busch, who swept the weekend winning the Truck race as well. Busch becomes the fifth winner of the season, joining Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson (twice), and you have to feel it won’t be the only checkered flag he’ll take this year. It’s a worrying sign for the rest of the pack when Busch is winning at a track at which he hasn’t excelled. Busch now has 35 Cup victories with only Kansas, Charlotte and Pocono remaining as active tracks at which he hasn’t won. On the XFINITY Side, where he’s won 79 races, he’s picked up the checkered flag everywhere but Watkins Glen and in the Truck Series (45 victories) his only miss is Las Vegas. “I don’t know that many guys have ever been able to accomplish being able to win at every single active track that they’ve made starts at, said Busch, “and I look forward to trying to complete that feat.” I wouldn’t bet against him achieving this either and what a record that would be. One final point: There is also this little moment which he posted on his Facebook page when he absolutely makes one fan’s day. This is great stuff. Can you imagine how much that fan freaked out after Kyle drove off? Good times, folks, good times.
TWO: ‘Dinger one spot away
If you get a chance, go back and watch the post-race interview with AJ Allmendinger as he talked about his second place finish. Normally these interviews are just a series of banal platitudes and sponsor mentions, but you could really feel the emotion from the Los Gatos, California native as he praised the folks back in the shop working 80-hour weeks and also team principals Tad Geschickter and his wife Jodi. Allmendinger’s second place finish ties his best career oval result ties his best career oval finish – he also finished second at Martinsville in 2012 with Penske Racing – with his only win (to date) coming at Watkins Glen in 2014. “We’ve maximized,” said Allmendinger in a post-race interview with USA Today. “That’s the biggest thing we always say — if we can just maximize our finishes, whether they’re top-5s or you’re running 20th and you can get 18th an out of it, that’s what we want to do.” So that’s the game plan for Allmendinger moving forward and it’s so far, so good in 2016. He’ll be an interesting driver to watch this year, I feel.
THREE: Centurion Bayne
Martinsville was a milestone race for Trevor Bayne: his one hundredth Cup race. Bayne’s first top echelon race came, appropriately this week, at Texas Motor Speedway back in 2010 — the only Cup race he ran that season where he finished on the lead lap in a creditable 17th place. But it was nearly a year later, in his second race where the fireworks well and truly happened as Bayne wheeled his way to an improbable Daytona 500 victory in the famed Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford. Bayne ran a part time schedule in 2011, a theme that continued through 2012, 2013 and 2014. Last year, Bayne finally acquired the full-time ride with Roush Fenway Racing under crew chief Bob Osborne. This year, Matt Puccia took over head wrench duties in Bayne’s second full time season. All told, Bayne has one win, one top-5 and five top-10’s in a century of races, an average finish of 25.7 with just 29 laps led. Still only 25, Bayne has time on his side as he builds his Cup resume but the longer time goes on, the more it looks like his career highlight — and what a highlight it was let’s be fair – will be that Daytona 500 win. Indisputably one of the nicest guys on the circuit, here’s hoping that there’s more to come for Bayne. Right now, you’d have to hedge your bets on whether that’s the case or not.
FOUR: The First Night Race
This weekend, we head to the mile-and-a-half, 24 degree banked turns of Texas Motor Speedway for our first night right of the 2016 Sprint Cup season and the first of two trips this year to the Lone Star State track. This will be Cup race number 31 at TMS, a streak that stretches back to 1997 when the inaugural race was won by Jeff Burton, who coincidentally used to run the No. 31 car before he hung up his driving gloves at the end of the 2014 season and headed to the NBC Sports broadcast booth. Jimmie Johnson won the last race held at TMS, perhaps unsurprisingly given he is the active driver with the most wins there (six in total). Johnson, in fact, swept both races last season at Texas and the second race of 2014 meaning he has won three in a row and five in the last seven. If you’re looking for a banker for your fantasy teams this week, old Six-Time might just be the man to select.
FIVE: Earnhardt Nation
And finally this week a quick word on Jay Busbee’s excellent book, Earnhardt Nation. As I’ve mentioned before I came to NASCAR via my work in advertising back in 2005, so I never got to see the great Dale Earnhardt race other than via replays and YouTube. So for me, this book provided a fascinating insight into the life and career of one of the sport’s most iconic drivers and also the three generations of the Earnhardt family. I’ve always loved a good biography — this is what happens when your father is an English teacher – and this one is well worth a read. Definitely check it out if you can. Kudos, Mr. Busbee, on an excellent tome.
About the author
Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.
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