The restrictor plate race at Daytona brought us the usual action. That mainly included a big wreck involving something like 206 cars (well actually 22, but you get the point), and the always tense finish with of course, a car sliding over the finish line, because you know that happens all the time.
The question we have to ask is if Brad Keselowski is now the new king of restrictor plate racing. Before Junior fans start yelling (or maybe typing) blasphemy, in 11 restrictor plate races since 2014, Keselowski now has three victories and two other top-5 finishes. That would be the same exact numbers as Junior during that same time period. So, maybe Keselowski hasn’t taken over the restrictor plate throne yet, but he’s certainly in the conversation. Once he got to the front on Saturday night, he knew what he needed to do to keep the lead and as we all know, there’s no better place to be than out front to avoid the big one.
Daytona was certainly unkind to the Hendrick contingent on Saturday night. The best finish came from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 21st. In all, the four Hendrick cars combined for an average finish of 29.5. Even though it’s a plate track and anything can, and usually does, happen there, that’s really quite an astonishing finish for one of NASCAR’s top teams. In fact, just to say Hendrick is one of NASCAR’s top teams, and not THE top team, is quite a statement, too. But that’s just the way it is right now.
It was another good week for Tony Stewart. How is that, you say, after he crashed late in the race and finished 26th at Daytona? For one, Stewart still climbed to 30th in the point standings, so he’s officially in the Chase at the moment, with a three-point cushion. But maybe even bigger than that is Indianapolis Motor Speedway building a 3/8-mile dirt track on the infield there for Stewart, and he took a few laps on the dirt. Getting Smoke back on the dirt may be one of the best sights we will see this year.
When Brian Scott took over for Sam Hornish at Richard Petty Motorsports, it sparked some interest to see if the rookie who had a proven track record in the XFINITY Series could bring some life to the team. But so far, Scott hasn’t shown us much as he sits 31st in points without a top-10 finish. For sure, this ride is top equipment, but the folks at RPM had to be hoping for something better than this year has brought so far. Even a promising weekend at Daytona turned into a mess as he took a ride on Kevin Harvick’s hood in the big one Saturday night and ended up with a 37th-place finish.
It’s not like the old days when Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards were winning regularly, but the Roush Fenway cars are at least competitive again. And now, with nine races left in the regular season, Roush driver Trevor Bayne is 17th in points, just six out of the final Chase spot after finishing third Sunday night. Bayne can at least be thinking about how to make the Chase now, which is certainly progress from where any of the Roush Fenway teams were last year.
On the other side of the ledger there is Junior, who has yet to win this season, which is a bit surprising since three of the four plate races and the first Michigan race are complete, places where he’s had plenty of past success. Junior sits 13th in points right now and has a 34-point cushion over Bayne in 17th place. But if we get surprise winner somewhere (say AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen) who bumps Junior back a spot in the standings, the points race could get tight for him if he doesn’t get a win.
This week the Sprint Cup series heads to a repaved Kentucky track. The fact the track had to be repaved already is a bit if an indictment for sure. A driver who may be ready to return to Victory Lane this week is Kevin Harvick, who has been excellent in these intermediate tracks so that’s the pick this week. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about this week is Ryan Newman. In the last two trips there he has an average finish of 11.5.