ONE: Logano vs JGR (Again)
I tend to time shift my race watching, so when I got a Sunday afternoon Facebook message from a friend who has not previously expressed an interest in NASCAR and the only words I saw were “that was an eventful race,” I knew something exciting was coming.
I just didn’t know exactly what.
And wow, it’s fair to say it wasn’t a disappointment. There clearly is little love lost between Joey Logano and his old Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and it’s a story we’ve seen repeat several times these past few years.
What I am glad about is that it looks like NASCAR will simply draw a line under the incident and move on without penalties being assessed.
“Our intention would be not to react unless we see something we haven’t seen yet,” said NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell when he called into a SiriusXM NASCAR radio show Sunday evening. “It’s an emotional sport and I think it shows exactly how much every position means on track. These weren’t two guys going for the win, obviously going for top 10s but it shows how important it is in the sport.”
For me, that is absolutely the right approach. Sure, Kyle Busch is full of vim and vinegar with regard to his future plans for revenge but the reality is those feelings do tend to dissipate some (unless, of course, you’re nine laps down at Martinsville… but that’s another story). The one thing I do wish, though, is that Joey Logano would get the chance to properly defend himself. Whilst I admire his crew reacting swiftly, wouldn’t it have been better for Busch and Logano to express their differences right then and there without others getting involved? But maybe that’s just me.
Either way, it’s fair to say that there is more to come here with the only variables being the “when” and the “how.” It certainly will be interesting watching Logano and Busch race in close quarters in the coming weeks.
TWO: Next Up, Phoenix
For the fourth race of the season we head to Phoenix International Raceway for the Camping World 500 — the first of two Arizona trips this season. Of course the next time we visit the one-mile, low-banked tri-oval we’ll be at the sharp end of the playoffs, so this track is important in terms of the bigger picture. This race will be the 42nd race at the track, a streak that goes back to 1988 and a race won by 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki. Joey Logano won the last time we visited, but it is Kevin Harvick who has the dominant stats, winning six of the last nine visits and eight times in total in the desert.
Upcoming for the track is something of a makeover with NASCAR embarking on a $178 million renovation project, including the construction of an extended grandstand and moving the start-finish line to Turn 2 right before the dogleg. This work will be completed in time for the 2018 playoff race.
“It is going to be insane,” noted Joey Logano of the changes. “And that’s good. That’s a good thing. That’s what we want for our sport.”
But in the meanwhile, especially with the stages, expect to see some pretty good racing this weekend.
THREE: Solid Start for Trevor Bayne
Lost amidst the pit road kerfuffle was another solid finish for Trevor Bayne. Running his third full season at the top echelon, Bayne opened the season with a top-10 finish at Daytona International Speedway. He followed that up with a 12th-place run at Atlanta Motor Speedway and then finished (lucky for some) 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past Sunday. Now 27 years old and with 133 Cup races under his belt, the 2011 Daytona 500 champion is starting to slowly find his feet.
“Today was a pretty good day for our Performance Plus team,” said Bayne post-race. “I’m pretty happy that we’ve been consistent so far to start the year with three top-15 finishes. I’m proud of the effort my guys gave this weekend and I’m confident we can carry this start to the season on to Phoenix.”
And it is consistency that will be key for Bayne as the long and arduous Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season progresses. Roush Fenway Racing has not run at the head of the pack these past couple years so for Bayne, and indeed Jack Roush and the rest of the team, it’s a morale boosting beginning to the 2017 schedule. Whether or not he can continue it remains to be seen, but for now at least, it’s not so bad for the driver of the No. 6 Ford Fusion.
FOUR: Martin Truex Jr. Picks Up Where He Left Off
In the last 27 races nobody has won more than Martin Truex Jr., who has taken the checkered flag five times in a streak that includes wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Chicagoland Speedway, Dover International Raceway and of course last Sunday’s victory at Las Vegas. Truex finished 13th at Daytona and then eighth at Atlanta, but he broke through on Sunday with a dominant effort that saw him also cruise to wins in both of the two stages. But the weekend’s win came at the expense of Brad Keselowski, who looked like he was going to win back-to-back races before a late-race issue relegated him from the lead to fifth place in the final two laps.
“But honestly [I’ve] been on the other side of those things plenty of times, so definitely feels good to take advantage of somebody else’s issue for once and go to victory lane,” said Truex. “All in all, it was a good day, good weekend. We had speed all weekend long with our Bass Pro Toyota, it was just a matter of getting the balance right and getting it driving the way I needed to.”
And drive it the right way, Truex certainly did. Expect multiple wins from this driver and team this year, as Truex picks up where he left off in 2016.
FIVE: Noise Pollution
And finally a quick word on the asinine suggestions that maybe we need to reduce the noise emitted by the Cup cars. Now, forgive me here but this is amongst the craziest ideas I’ve heard in the last couple years. Isn’t that what ear plugs and headsets are for? At this stage, this is just one of a number of future initiatives that NASCAR is reportedly considering but perhaps I can help and say let’s consign this one to the cylindrical filing cabinet better known as the garbage can. NASCAR has its problems, no doubt, but cars sounding like racecars is not one of them.
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