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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not: Feels Like The First Time Edition

Every time the Cup Series goes to a restrictor plate track, we often hear it will be the typical kind of plate race: close packs, a big wreck or two or three and a down-to-the-wire finish. Well, all in all, that’s not the worst formula I’ve heard for exciting racing and you know, it’s probably no coincidence that the stands are packed when the Cup racers are at Talladega. So, people can say it can be a bit repetitive seeing this kind of racing, but the truth is every time I watch a plate race it’s just as exciting as watching it for the first time.

HOT

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had done all he could in the XFINITY Series winning the title two straight times. But it took him quite a while, 158 races to be exact, to win his first Cup Series race on Sunday at Talladega. Stenhouse won the pole, led early, then used some good moves and got the necessary push to pass Kyle Busch on the final lap for the win. While the Victory Lane celebration is always special for these first-time winners, it was especially classy that Stenhouse remembered late USAC racer and close friend Bryan Clauson as well. It was just nice to see that in the midst of his biggest NASCAR moment, Stenhouse not only remembered someone who was special to him, but also remembered his racing roots.

NOT

While coming close to winning, but not getting it, certainly can be frustrating, Kyle Busch may be to the point where he needs a reminder on what not to say when getting out of the car. Busch was in the lead on the final lap Sunday, but ended up third. That’s not an unusual occurrence at plate tracks. However, when lamenting not winning again immediately after the race, Busch commented that he will be glad to get to a “real race track” next week. Well, that’s not really the way to endear yourself to some of NASCAR’s most faithful fans there in Alabama and the surrounding area. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but it’s not always another person’s or place’s fault.

2016 Pocono I CUP Jamie McMurray II Nigel Kinrade NKP
Jamie McMurray showed his aggressive side Sunday, and it resulted in a runner-up finish. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

HOT

Jamie McMurray made what may have been the boldest move of the race on the final lap, splitting Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson before finishing second. What McMurray is doing this year is no fluke now. He has six top-10 finishes in these first 10 races and is tied for fifth in points with the encumbered Joey Logano. McMurray’s last win came in 2013 at Talladega. That’s 138 races ago, but if he continues performing like this, the next win will come very soon.

NOT

Ryan Blaney may be having a bit of déjà vu. In his first full Cup season last year, Blaney started off strong, but then faded and missed the playoffs. Well, his sophomore season seems to be repeating itself a bit. Blaney had finished 12th or better in five of the first seven races this season, so while not spectacular, he had certainly been solid. But in the last three races those finishes have been 33rd, 36th and 39th. Of course, there is still time for the No. 21 team to right its ship. And one thing that has been helpful to Blaney this year are the stage points, including finishing ninth in the first stage and third in the second stage Sunday. Blaney and his fans can only hope these poor results though are just temporary for the 23-year-old driver.

HOT

While I don’t watch these races just to see if there is a big wreck, the one thing NASCAR does deserve credit for is making the cars much safer over the past 15 years. The car designs, combined with the SAFER barriers, have certainly saved many an injury the last several years and probably even a life or two, at least. While watching the big one involving Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger Sunday, there was virtually no worry that any of the drivers would be seriously injured. While there is always an element of danger in racing, at least the NASCAR drivers can have a reasonable assurance of being able to walk away from almost any type of crash.

NOT

There is a lot to like about Danica Patrick and her involvement in NASCAR. She has, especially in recent years, taken her position as a role model very seriously in showing girls and younger women that a woman can make it to the top level of her field, even if it has long been dominated by males. She’s great with sponsors and gives very good and sensible answers to questions. The problem is in the objective numbers called results. Patrick’s last top-10 finish was a ninth at Bristol in 2015, 74 races ago. As much as I would like to see her prove many wrong and get a win in the Cup Series, the numbers just don’t indicate it happening any time soon.

Predictions

The Cup Series heads to Kansas on Saturday night, the day before Mother’s Day, and maybe this is the place where Kyle Busch’s 2017 frustrations finally end. Busch has a win and two other top-five finishes there in his last three races at Kansas, for an average result of 3.67. It’s kind of hard to bet against those numbers. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick is Ryan Blaney. Well, he’s not that much of a deep sleeper, but Kansas is good place for him to break his three-race slump. In his last three races at Kansas, Blaney has a top five and a top 10 for an average finish of 8.67.

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