Two races. Two first-time winners.
That’s the case in NASCAR’s national series its last two events. On Wednesday (Aug. 17), Ben Kennedy pulled into Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series, emerging victorious for the first time in his career. Just four days prior, Justin Marks was the winner in the XFINITY Series when the circuit visited Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, denoting his first win on the national NASCAR stage.
First-time winners are not uncommon. Each year, all racing series experience their share of them, with NASCAR no expection. In fact, the Sprint Cup Series is just coming off its own first-timer, with Chris Buescher besting the rain for his Pocono Raceway win earlier this summer.
In all, that’s five — Buescher in the Cup Series, Marks and Daniel Suarez in the XFINITY Series and then Kennedy and William Byron in the Truck Series — who have visited Victory Lane for the first time, all of them not just in their respective series but also on NASCAR’s national touring level as a whole.
Will that be all in 2016? Maybe, but probably not.
In fact, another could even happen this weekend.
Bristol, where the Truck Series has already competed and where the XFINITY and Cup series will compete on Friday and Saturday nights, is one of the sport’s shortest tracks, a place where, sometimes, equipment plays less of a factor than it might at, say, a mile-and-a-half circuit. Evidence? Look no further than exceptional runs in the spring Cup race by Landon Cassill and Matt DiBenedetto, with the latter stringing together a good run throughout the entire race to finish sixth for BK Racing, or even Caleb Holman’s stellar showings at the track in the Truck Series each year.
So, chances are the streak of first-time winners will not extend to the rest of this weekend — I mean, come on, we got two in a row, the ride has to end eventually. But in the event that it doesn’t, or if one of the two events also features a first-time victor, who’s got the best shot Friday and/or Saturday nights?
Let’s go with two on the Cup side and two in XFINITY.
The no-brainer, right? After the way Chase Elliott’s Cup rookie season started, there were plenty — including many on this website — calling for Bill Elliott’s son to be practically crowned the next champion before he’d even won a single Cup race. And look, I’m not saying the hype wasn’t and isn’t real, but it is kind of surprising that, despite a strong debut season through 22 races that slots him 12th in points with six top 5s and 11 top 10s, Elliott hasn’t tasted the spoils of Victory Lane in the series just yet. Could Bristol be the place? Totally; he finished fourth there in the spring and scored a top 10 in all four of his XFINITY starts at the half-mile oval. C’mon, do you really think Buescher’ll be the only Cup rookie to win this season? Honorable mention: Ryan Blaney.
At this point, Kyle Larson has wins in both the XFINITY and Truck series, including victories in both series this season. But when it comes to the Cup Series, he’s still dry — and that’s probably the biggest surprise of any winless driver in all three series. After all, Larson came highly touted — and it’s not like he hasn’t produced; in two-and-a-half full Cup seasons, he has to his credit 14 top 5s and 34 top 10s. He’ll just need to stay out of trouble at Bristol in order to make it happen this time around, and that’s not a given; he’s got finishes of 35th and 41st at the track in his career alongside slightly better results.
Speaking of Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing (though switching gears to the XFINITY Series), remember Brennan Poole and his heartbreak at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this season, practically scoring a win after crossing the finish line first but NASCAR instead handing the victory to Elliott Sadler due to the timing of the last-lap caution flag? He outwardly took it well, but you can bet Poole, 25, in his first full-time XFINITY season, is looking for a chance to grab a win in his rookie campaign. Finishes of 11th and 13th at the track so far indicate there’s potential there.
Fans of NASCAR’s national series were introduced to Brandon Jones three years ago this weekend, when the then-16-year-old made his Truck Series debut in a Turner Scott Motorsports ride, finishing 27th. Now immersed in his first full XFINITY Series season, Jones is one of the higher profile drivers without a win in the series — or, for that matter, any national touring series — just yet. Bristol seems a good candidate for a visit to Victory Lane. It’s one of the tracks on the circuit where he has the most experience, and he finished fifth and ninth there in his previous two Truck Series starts.
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