Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Kurt Busch has not had a great year. The free agent started the season off strong by winning the Daytona 500, but had only managed one other top-five finish entering the race at Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend.
The race was memorable for Busch, for both sentimental (it was his 600th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start) and practical reasons; finishing fifth after racing in the top 15 for the majority of the race. Busch came up through the field in the last 80 laps due to a strategy call by crew chief Tony Gibson that gave Busch fresher tires than most of the front runners.
What… is the takeaway of this race?
This was another big breakthrough race for rookie Erik Jones, who led 260 laps and finished a close second after starting on the pole. Jones, who needs to win at either Darlington Raceway or Richmond Raceway in the coming weeks to get into the playoffs, has shown speed for most of the summer, but has constantly been hampered thanks to bad strategy, bad pit stops or just plain bad luck. And this race wasn’t like last week at his home track of Michigan International Speedway, where Jones ran in the top five for most of the race and finished third. Jones did just about everything but win a stage.
The No. 77 team is riding a streak of four straight top-10 finishes and might have the most momentum of any in the month of August. At this point, if forced to bet on a driver winning one of these next two races to get into the playoffs, one could put money on Jones over perennial championship contenders such as Matt Kenseth or Joey Logano. It’s going to be scary to see just how good Jones will be next season once he’s in the No. 20 Toyota and not in a new car on a satellite team.
Where… did the defending race winner end up?
Kevin Harvick had a disastrous qualifying session on Friday, when the 2014 champion qualified a season-low 29th. But Harvick rallied hard throughout the race and finished third in stage 2 before finishing the race in eighth.
Where… is the race on?
I was in a market that preempted the NASCAR race for pre-season football, and because the local NBC station sucks, they didn’t have an alternate channel to put the race on. So for the first time in my lifetime, the race wasn’t being shown on live television for me. I mean it’s nice to get some throwback coverage like we’ll probably be getting at Darlington in two weeks, but I wasn’t really looking for an ABC Wide World of Sports-style throwback.
Which brings the question: Why did NBC broadcast this race on the main channel? My Washington, D.C. market wasn’t the only one effected by this. If NBC is only going to broadcast a handful of main races, why Saturday night races in a week where it will be preempted in quite a few regions? Why not show Darlington in two weeks instead like they’ve been doing the past two years?
And it’s not like Saturday night races typically draw a large amount of viewers; by all metrics these races perform lower in ratings versus Sunday races. Even in the playoffs with every other race against the NFL, the postseason event at Charlotte Motor Speedway has typically struggled in ratings even though it’s the lone Saturday night race.
I really want to like NBC’s coverage of NASCAR. They have better broadcasters and better producers than Fox Sports does. But between weird decisions like this and the need for every Sunday race to start at 3 p.m. ET, it’s hard to do so.
Why… did Kyle Busch win?
Kyle Busch is the master of Bristol. This was Busch’s 20th triumph at Bristol across all series and his second sweep of the weekend, after winning the Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday and the XFINITY Series race on Friday. Whenever Busch is in position to win here, he’s probably going to end up taking it.
Forget for a second, though, about other race series. In 450 starts, Busch has won 40 races. That’s impressive enough, but remember that this is in a career with competition against amazing, hall of fame quality drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. Outside of Johnson, Busch has won more races than any of those drivers since entering the series. And the crazy thing is, he’s only 32 years old.
Think about that. Junior Johnson’s philosophy in the 1980s was that a driver’s prime was from 35 to 40. Obviously that number is younger if anything, but it’s insane that Busch has already accomplished so much without even hitting that threshold. And now that most of those veterans I mentioned are either retired or not too far from retiring. How much more will Busch accomplish against the sea of young drivers coming into the sport over the next few years? How insane will Busch’s stat line be when he’s 50? Barring injury, he’s going to have over 700 starts by the time he’s 40 alone.
If he retired tomorrow, Busch would very easily get into the Hall of Fame. But once you really look at his age and the numbers he’s already put in, it’s going to be insane to think about where he’s going to be before he even thinks about retirement in 10 years.
Where… is Joey Logano at?
It’s weird that we’re down to the wire when it comes to the playoffs and Logano is nowhere to be seen, but here we are. He hasn’t missed the playoffs since joining Team Penske in 2013, and he’s going to need to win one of the next two races to get in.
It’s not like he has any momentum on his side. Logano finished 13th at Bristol, but that’s after three straight finishes out of the top 20. The encumbered win at Richmond has done more than virtually take away that win; it has taken away the spirit of this team.
Since that race, Logano’s lone top 10s have been a third at Michigan, an eighth at Kentucky Speedway, and fourth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Otherwise, the No. 22 team has struggled mightily to put up much of a fight even against the mostly under-performing Chevrolets this summer.
Every athlete has to have at least one off year in their career, and we may be witnessing Logano’s now.