ONE: Talladega Looms Large
If you watched the race broadcast this past Sunday, you couldn’t have failed to miss the fact that a number of the Chasers had trouble during the race. Specifically: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott.
It was a theme that was hammered home all day long and it really got me thinking about Talladega Superspeedway and the nightmare that could well become. Remember this race last year when Harvick (whose engine was expiring) wrecked at the green-white-checkered restart to end the day. It was something that didn’t go down well with none other than the mild-mannered, all-around nice guy Trevor Bayne noting, “”That’s a crappy way for Harvick to have to get in the Chase is to wreck somebody — what I believe on purpose.”
Another driver whose Chase hopes were extinguished by the wreck, Hamlin also noted on social media post-race: “What a joke we have a car with no motor wreck the field to end the race.”
Now, regardless of the rights and wrongs of that particular incident, I am thankful that this is the last year it will be a Chase cutoff race. There are just too many variables with restrictor plate racing. Too, too many. Post-Kansas, the picture may be much clearer but there will be Chasers heading onto the high banks knowing only a win will do. It could be a really ugly afternoon — I’m nervous already.
TWO: Seven Up
Just when we all thought Jimmie Johnson wasn’t going to be a factor and that the Joe Gibbs Racing quintet was going to race all the way to Homestead-Miami Speedway and the big prize, look who’s back in Victory Lane and looking very much like the threat to win it all we all know he always is.
Johnson, let’s not forget, led 118 laps at Chicagoland Speedway in the Chase opener and then 90 circuits at Dover International Speedway before pit road miscues took him out of contention. So the speed that was missing in the early and middle parts of the season is there. Plus, look at his finishes thus far in the Chase: 12th, eighth, seventh and now the victory at Charlotte.
“We have to take it one day at a time and one race at a time, and I still feel like we can bring better cars to the racetrack,” said Johnson post-race. “Right now we’ve hit on some things and we still have more ideas and we feel like more opportunity ahead of us.”
Given how well Johnson has run (on the actual track if not pit road) that should scare one or two of the remaining title challengers. I’ll leave the last word on this point to the man himself: “We can’t sit back and celebrate too much on this. We’ve got to buckle down and get to work tomorrow and keep advancing our racecars. But this does buy us a couple weeks of freedom.”
While I realize Sunday’s reverse double header – the Sprint Cup race was first then the XFINITY Series race afterward – was entirely down to the weather-related issues caused by Hurricane Matthew, how good was it to see two races essentially back-to-back?
And it got me thinking, wouldn’t it be great to see this happen more often? You often hear drivers complain about how long the race weekends are with the Friday-Sunday schedule, so why not shorten that down as well and have a two-day double header? Practices and qualifying for both on Saturday, then the two main races on Sunday. The XFINITY Series race could run first and then the Cup race. That way fans could double dip and really maximize their race day experience.
I know the tracks wouldn’t likely want to do it, but I think it’s something that could work out really well – not least for the fans actually attending. My guess is it would help add to the overall attendance numbers (which of course aren’t released anymore), and while it would be a long day for track workers, it would be a way to really create a spectacular all-day event.
FOUR: Next Up, Kansas
Next up, we head to Kansas Speedway for race No. 31 of 36 and for the second time of asking in the 2016 season. Last time we visited the 1.5-mile tri-oval was in the middle of May for what was then just the 11th race of the year. That event was won by Kyle Busch, who led the last 37 laps on the way to what was, at the time, already his third win of the year.
All told, this will be Cup race number 22 at the circuit. Statistically speaking, both Jeff Gordon (who won the first ever Cup race at Kansas) and Jimmie Johnson have three wins, with Gordon having the most top 5s (11) and Johnson the most top 10s (16). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Johnson has the best average finish of active drivers (9.2) while Matt Kenseth, who had such an eventful race here this time last year, has led the most laps with a total of 658.
Given Johnson has already secured his berth in the next round, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him go back to back. One thing is for sure, though, he won’t be spinning Matt Kenseth for a late win. Ol’ Six-Time knows better than to fall into that trap.
FIVE: The Gas Can Goes for a Ride
There are weekends when I wonder why I devote so much time to watching, reading and writing about NASCAR. But then typically just when I really start to feel this way, a little instance reminds me just why it is I so love this sport. One of those micro-moments happened this weekend in the XFINITY Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, when Spencer Gallagher somehow left his pit box with the gas can still attached and made an entire lap of the track without losing the additional appendage to his race car. You can see some of it here.
— Xfinity Racing (@XfinityRacing) October 9, 2016
This also occurred at a crucial point in the race too, with just 34 laps to go, and had a caution come out while the green flag pit stops were occurring, it could certainly have changed the race. Gallagher, let’s not forget, made the news earlier this year after a proper punch up with John Wes Townley after the race at Gateway Motorsports Park. I wonder if he’ll make it three crazy things before the year is out. Don’t bet against him.
FIVE PLUS: Newman Re-Ups with RCR
For those counting at home this is, indeed a sixth point but it was a late editorial request from our fearless leader Tom Bowles so who am I not to oblige? Plus, he said he’d buy me a beer… that same beer I’ve been waiting on for about a decade now. But, there you go. It’s in writing. Hopefully, it will help.
Finally this week, a quick word on Ryan Newman who has had a great couple of days. The 17-year veteran of 542 races finished a creditable fourth at Charlotte Sunday; it’s his second top-5 run of the season and second-best finish of the year. Then came Monday’s news he has re-upped with Richard Childress Racing, signing a multi-year deal to continue competing in the No. 31 Chevy he’s manned since 2014.
Newman, who has yet to win for RCR in 102 attempts, has 12 top 5s and 40 top-10 runs in that time. Commenting on the new deal, Newman referenced how close he came in his first season at RCR to winning it all when he finished second behind titlist Kevin Harvick. “Our goal to win a championship all but turned into a reality during our first year together,” he claimed. “I feel like since then we have some unfinished business to complete.”
Whether he can get there, time will tell, but for Newman it was huge just to get the opportunity. Many thought his ride would land to Ty Dillon for 2017; the owner’s grandson has been running part-time over in the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing. The prognosis for Dillon is now uncertain but for Newman, with few rides open in this year’s Silly Season the contract provides him a fantastic opportunity to deliver on his unfinished business with perhaps the only top- or middle-tier ride left available to him.