If you keep up with NASCAR via Twitter in any way, shape or form, you’ve likely been deluged with facts and stats these past couple weeks touting social engagement and viewing numbers for the Daytona 500. Now as the old adage goes, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Not that I’m suggesting the information is wrong but it’s illustrative of how you can spin a story in different ways depending on which data points you use. But one you can’t argue with was the stat that of the 2,536 drivers that have attempted at least one of the 2,500 Cup races run, only 186 wheelmen have actually won a race. That, folks, means that a paltry 7.33% of Cup drivers have made it all the way to Victory Lane. It is, in many ways, a remarkably small number and it reinforces just how hard it is to win a Cup race. Now if you’re a fan of Jimmie Johnson, you’re probably thinking it’s not that difficult (80 wins and counting) but the fact of the matter is that any win, however it comes, needs to be seriously cherished which leads me nicely to my next point about last Sunday’s race winner.
TWO: Keselowski wins an unlikely one
And what a win it was for Brad Keselowski – his 22nd Series victory in his 271st attempt. All day long Kevin Harvick was the class of the field putting a beat down on the competition, leading 292 of the 325 laps including playoff point accruing victories in each of the first two stages. But a pit road speeding penalty during the final stop of the day relegated Harvick to the end of the longest line and despite a sterling effort to make up the lost time ended his chance at victory. “These races aren’t easy,” said Keselowski in Victory Lane. “All kinds of adversity comes at you. Kevin was very, very strong. He was probably the guy to beat. But we persevered. We had our own issues with the tire and a loose wheel, but got the Auto Trader Ford Fusion in Victory Lane. The first win of the season locks you into the Playoffs and that’s great for the team. Gosh, it just feels so good.” And so it should for Keselowski, crew chief Paul Wolfe and the entire Team Penske number two team not least as they head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this Sunday where they’ve won two of the past three races.
THREE: Kahne Starts Well
Another driver off to a solid start is Kasey Kahne who finished seventh in the Daytona 500 and fourth at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Given Kahne had a meagre three top 5’s all year in 2016, it’s a sign that perhaps, just perhaps, his prospects for 2017 augur well.
Simply put, Kahne’s move to Hendrick Motorsports has not been the success story he would have hoped for when he penned the initial deal. In the five full seasons Kahne has run the #5 car, he has just five wins and 33 top-5’s in 182 attempts. The Enumclaw, WA. Native is signed through the 2018 season but there is little doubt Kahne needs a very strong 2017 and at the very least a berth in the playoffs – something he’s not managed in either of the last two full seasons. “Last year, we never figured out how to get better in races,” said Kahne, post-race. “At the end of the year, we did a better job of it, but we also started better in those final 12 races and had better cars when the green flag came out. Today we didn’t, but the guys put their heads together and really turned it around — did a nice job.” So yes, it’s early days in the nascent 2017 season and too small a sample size to really tell how Kahne will do but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have had a good start. Watch this space, folks.
FOUR: Next Up, Sin City
Next up, we head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the third race of the year and the start of the West Coast swing that includes races in Sin City, Phoenix and Fontana. This will be race number 20 at LVMS, a streak that goes back to 1998. The inaugural race was won by everybody’s favorite Mark Martin (I miss seeing him around even now) and Jimmie Johnson, to no-one’s surprise, has the most victories amongst active drivers with four and is tied for the most top-5’s (six) with Matt Kenseth. As noted above, Brad Keselowski won the race this time last year passing Kyle Busch with six laps to go in a race most notable for the bizarre weather including rain, high winds and a late race dust storm. Let’s hope the weather is more cooperative this time around.
FIVE: Stage Racing
And finally this week, a quick word on the stage racing. I have to say I was unsure what to make of yet another rules revision but so far, so cautiously good for me at least. The first two stages certainly spice up the race even if Harvick was in dominant form in the early going at Atlanta. If nothing else, they add intrigue to what can often be prime “fast forwarding material” if you time shift your viewing of races. It would be naïve to expect the stages to cure all that bothers the long-time fans so I’m interested to hear what you all think so far. Is it a good move? A bad move? A downright terrible what on earth are you thinking sort of move? Let me know in the comments below.
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