That’s it, with the feared Talladega Superspeedway in the rear-view mirror, the remaining drivers can breathe easy and plot their way to a championship. In a way, that seems simple, as easy as: go fast. But things are never quite that simple and the remaining drivers offer a myriad of different ways to wonder about how things may play out. While any one of the drivers in the round of eight could hoist the championship trophy, they all have different advantages and detractions.
Quick breakdown shows 4 Toyotas, 3 Chevrolets, and one lonely Ford. Another way to look at the drivers is to see that 4 are from one organization (Joe Gibbs Racing), 2 from one another organization (Stewart-Haas Racing), and that Hendrick Motorsports and Penske Racing have just 1 each in contention. That’s a weird and top-heavy spread.
Toyota and Gibbs look to be the strongest, with 11 wins between the four drivers. The fact that all four are represented in this next round indicates that they’re maintaining the excellent status quo. The question will be whether everyone involved will place ‘nice’ the closer the series gets to the finale.
Of course, playing ‘nice’ is not really one of Kevin Harvick’s or Kurt Busch’s strengths, so inter-organization drama could surely be part of how things proceed. So perhaps both drivers and their crew chiefs have sequestered themselves from the other. More to the point, let’s face it, the other drivers at SHR aren’t going to be able to provide much in helping them with set-ups.
That leaves those singular drivers. Jimmie Johnson may be in the best shape of all. He is the lone driver from the Hendrick monster teammates that may be of some use, but a team that has seemed to do nothing but focus on the Chase since the No. 48 earned its first win this year. Joey Logano is in a similar situation with maybe a little less in the way of overall help. Both of them, however, can count on all of the available finest resources being pushed their way.
So who do you like, the Gibbs and their overall strength or the loners representing some of the best organizations? That’s going to be the crux for the remainder of the Chase.
Let’s get happy.
Happiness Is…Tame Talladega. Talladega is an interesting study in fan and media expectations. With its enormous layout and accompanying high speeds it sits as a shining testament to engineering and audacious driving display. That drivers have developed such a keen skill set that is specific to the track makes it all the more interesting. However, much of these aspects gets overlooked every time NASCAR makes its way to Alabama. The focus has become and continues to be: The Big One.
Announcers seem to wait with agony for something to happen and for TBO to happen – because they’re sure quick to exclaim the phrase as soon as a multitude of cars or trucks spin wildly and turn from lovely machines to scrap metal. But what happens when there is no TBO? Well, you get what happened last week. Surely everyone in the booth had there best radio voice ready to exclaim: TBO. Instead, the race ran relatively clean, and that’s a great thing. We shouldn’t be sold that crashing and attrition is the best form of racing at the track. And everyone should also feel good to watch the drivers actually drive and walk away safely. Some fans may have found the race boring, but maybe having just the anticipation of TBO should have been enough to keep things interesting.
Happiness Is…Surprises. Though no big wrecks took out half the field and made for the car-wreck porn many desire, it doesn’t mean that nothing peculiar happened. Watching Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. become Chase also-rans with expiring motors surely made their fans unhappy, yet at the same time had to be completely shocking considering how well they’ve run. Engine failures, on the whole, are rare any more, so watching them both let loose went against probability.
Then again, the week before at Kansas Motor Speedway, a track that should be rather predictable, Keselowski and Chase Elliott saw things go sideways. That means at a track where things should go smoothly, they didn’t, and at a track where craziness is expected, nothing happened – except engine failure. That’s excellent and goes with what notable racing journalist Murray Walker once stated, “anything can happen in grand prix racing, and it usually does.”
Happiness Is…Martinsville. It’s time to return to one of the best tracks on the schedule. The lights may not be installed for this go round, but who really cares. Short track racing at this track has become the entertainment that Bristol racing used to be. It’s inevitable that some kind of contact will occur, and usually happens every lap. That both the Trucks and Cup will be taking to the tight confines of Martinsville should prove, once again, to be enjoyable.
To add to the fun, this race may be Jeff Gordon’s last time on track. Sure, last year’s visit to Martinsville was supposed to be his last stop at the track, and he went out in thrilling fashion, taking the win and locking himself into the finale at Homestead. Of course, that race also featured the wonderful dust-up between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano. It’s doubtful that this race will be as entertaining, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be good.
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