Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not: Kansas Edition

There was plenty of rolling and tumbling in the Sprint Cup race at Talladega Sunday. That’s been a big topic of debate in these couple of days after the race. It’s something NASCAR is trying to prevent, but when you get cars going at nearly 200 mph only inches away from each other, no matter how much the powers that be try to keep the cars from getting airborne, it’s still possible. While that topic will continue to cause a lot of water under the bridge, there was a lot of stuff too at Talladega.


So at the behest of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans, do we need to ask if Brad Keselowski is the new “Earnhardt” of Talladega? Keselowski now has four wins at the restrictor plate track and he found a way to get to the front five times Sunday. And then, once he was out front, the driver of the No. 2 showed skill by picking the right line to jump in front of. The other part Keselowski has mastered in the past few years are his interview skills. He’s come a long way since remarking after a win at Pocono a few years ago that he would just like to have a couple of beers after the race. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but now he gives us fresh insight as to why his car was so good and key moments in the race for him. He not only has the driving skill, but the PR skill as well now.


There’s no doubt that when a spectacular crash happens, as we saw a few times Sunday, your heart races a little more, and you get a little bit of a rush from it. But just because it gets the blood flowing at least somewhat, doesn’t mean it’s a good a thing. Spectacular crashes are probably inevitable at places like Daytona and Talladega. But the idea is to watch great racing, which can provide just as good of a rush as well. I much prefer that over the crashes.


(Photo: Logan Whitton/NKP)
Crashes like this? Not so hot. The safety that meant every driver walked away?  The hottest thing in town. (Photo: Logan Whitton/NKP)

Over the years NASCAR has done much to improve safety in the cockpit of the car, with the SAFER barriers and more pavement rather than grass areas on the bigger tracks. The fact that Danica Patrick was not seriously injured in her head-on crash with the inside wall Sunday was a major testament to those safety improvements. The drivers know they are in a risky sport, but they do deserve to have the safest conditions as possible.


It seems Matt Kenseth simply can’t be in the right place at the right time this season. Usually, he at least has a car that can be competitive for a top-10 finish, and often he has a car is capable of winning. But after crashing out in one of those airborne, spectacular-looking wrecks Sunday, he was left with a 23rd-place finish. Kenseth is still 15th in points and with the capability of winning anywhere anytime, his season is by no means a disaster. It’s just not as nearly good as it could be with a good break here or there.


Sometimes I have pointed out the miscues of pit crews costing a team a win or a good finish here. But one pit crew that went above and beyond the call of duty Sunday was the group that worked on the No. 3 of Austin Dillon. The Richard Childress Racing driver made 17 pit stops during the race so the crew could apply tape and bend and unbend different areas of the car’s body to make it drivable as well as doing the usual changing of tires and putting in fuel. Dillon did his part by finishing third in the race and is now 10th in points with five top 10s (including three top 5s) in the first 10 races. The No. 3 team and Dillon are on their way to taking an all important step forward this year after a disappointing 2015.


Maybe only Dale Earnhardt, Jr. can fit into this category on any given NASCAR race. It was a bad day for Junior finish-wise, because he only completed 63 laps and finished last, in 40th, after being involved in two accidents. But as only Junior can do, when his steering wheel wasn’t clipped on correctly after returning from the garage with repairs after his first accident, he grabbed the steering wheel shaft to keep the car straight and then hooked the steering wheel back in himself while driving. Who says these guys aren’t athletes?

Prediction: One driver on the due to win list this year is Joey Logano. Given that he has won two of the last four races at Kansas, with the other two finishes being top 10s, I’ll try him again this week. The deep sleeper, super underdog, someone you might not think of pick this week is Brian Scott. He has one career start at Kansas where he managed a 12th place finish.

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