It was quite a weekend in NASCAR, a throwback in more ways than one. A beat and bang finish in the Camping World Truck Series kicked off the proceedings, followed by both paint schemes and attire suitable for Sunday’s Sprint Cup main event. Darlington delivered, paired with comments during and after the race that were old school and brutally honest.
It all left NASCAR Nation talking this week, more than just a few hours after a checkered flag that was broadcast back on a national network (NBC). Throwback weekend must have NASCAR executives throwing a party down in Daytona Beach.
Here’s who else is (and isn’t) left happy inside the sport….
Martin Truex, Jr. has been plenty good enough to win plenty of races this year. However, some truly bizarre situations plus a nasty habit of wrong place, wrong time left him sitting with just one win before Sunday night’s 500-miler at Darlington.
Guess all Truex needed was someone else to have bad luck worse. This time, he didn’t have the best car. But the No. 78 team had the best crew, capitalizing off Kevin Harvick’s misfortune to earn a hard-fought second victory. What was particularly gratifying to hear afterward was the progress Truex mentioned his one-car outfit, Furniture Row Racing has made since his arrival. It’s been a growth process together, jumping from one lap led the whole season during a tumultuous 2014 to serious title contender.
When Truex came to the No. 78 after Michael Waltrip Racing closed he handled the situation with patience and maturity. Even if Truex isn’t your favorite, you can’t help but smile for a guy who has weathered the storm to finally experience success.
Kevin Harvick had the fastest car for most of Sunday night’s race, leading 214 of 367 laps at Darlington. But his honest comments about his pit crew’s lack of execution made him sound like first loser instead of second-place finisher.
Was the criticism justified? Much like when a kicker misses a potential game-winning field goal, or when a relief pitcher in baseball blows a lead in the ninth, a pit crew usually gets the most attention only when it has a bad stop or a bad night. While Harvick was understandably frustrated in the moments after the race Sunday night (and really, it’s fine if he doesn’t want play cheerleader anymore) let’s also hope he remembers no one feels worse about a bad stop than the pit crew members themselves. Everyone is human and makes a mistake now and then. Will all parties realize that and recover in time for the Chase?
As part of throwback weekend, NBC gave a nice chunk of announcing time to former NASCAR booth personalities Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett (who still does XFINITY races for NBC). It was just a great time to just watch and enjoy the moment. It’s not that this trio were perfect, nailing everything they said or point made on the race. Instead, it was the feeling you got through the television this group really loved the sport they were announcing.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying the current guys don’t. But these throwback announcers, the best at their craft could communicate that passion very effectively. Squier reminded us, too that when you’re watching a race on TV, there’s nothing wrong with a three or four-second pause every now and then to let us absorb the action.
It was just really fun to watch and listen.
Ryan Newman appeared to make progress Sunday night in improving his chance to make the Chase. While still sitting outside the 16th and final spot, Newman trudged forward through pit strategy late and trimmed the deficit between him and Jamie McMurray to seven points. But the bad news for Newman and the No. 31 team came after the checkered flag flew. The car failed post-race inspection, a problem which most likely means that a points penalty will be announced for Newman sometime this week. It’s the one roadblock he can’t afford to face right now, a perhaps fatal slowdown heading into the final regular season race at Richmond Saturday night.
Sunday’s Truck Series finish on the Canadian road course has been and will likely be talked about for months to come. John Hunter Nemechek took out leader Cole Custer in what turned out to be a pass in the grass to edge Custer for the win. Then, when Nemechek went to get the checkered flag to celebrate, he was greeted in the form of a tackle by Custer. The quiet teenager lost his temper, running full steam in a move that would make any college football or NFL coach proud.
Whether NASCAR admits it or not, it has to love these kind of attention-getting endings. You can’t pay for the kind of publicity and airplay these moments will get. As for Nemechek, let’s just say he shouldn’t be surprised when Custer gets some on-track revenge in the near future. The finish likely cost the young talent a shot at the championship.
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team seemed to have righted their ship a little as of late. But after top-10 finishes at Bristol and Michigan, Johnson tripped up at Darlington. Racing hard to try and get a lap back Sunday night, he found the inside wall instead, tumbling to 33rd. Johnson has now finished 32nd or worse in five of the last 12 races, a once unthinkable occurrence.
Yes, Johnson is still Chase bound. But his last (and second win of the season) came at Fontana on March 20. The Hendrick team can say it is focusing on the playoffs but they can’t be happy at all with the way they’re heading there.
The Sprint Cup series heads to Richmond for the final race of its regular season and a lot of drivers will have a lot on the line. My pick to win Saturday night is Joey Logano, who has one win and five top fives in the last five races there.
As for the deep sleeper underdog? The guy you’d never think of? How about Jamie McMurray. He has two top 10s and an average finish of 10th in the last five races at Richmond. What better way to make the Chase then through Victory Lane?
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