Who…gets my shoutout of the race?
Still don’t think Darrell Wallace Jr. is the real deal? Were you watching Monday? Wallace’s 16th-place finish is absolutely not indicative of the day he had, at one point powering his No. 43 past the likes of Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. That put him up front where he led the first six laps of his Cup career.
Wallace runs for underfunded Richard Petty Motorsports, so rest assured he didn’t skate to the front, though he ran with the Richard Childress Racing drivers all day long (RPM runs RCR chassis and ECR engines). Wallace easily outstripped fellow RCR satellite driver Ty Dillon.
He’s the same type of driver as Saturday’s XFINITY winner, Ryan Preece, who showed exactly how important money is in this game and what a good driver can do when his team has it. Wallace has that same look.
What…is the takeaway from this race?
Short tracks equalize. Bristol and Martinsville are drivers’ tracks to a larger extent than most others on the circuit, and that means fans are treated to some different faces running better than usual throughout the pack. Aerodynamics is less of a factor, so a damaged car isn’t necessarily ruination. A good driver can make a lot of his own luck.
What we learned, thanks to this, is that Jimmie Johnson is still every bit the wheelman he always was, with an aggressive drive from sixth to third on the final short run of the day. He still didn’t have the car to contend for a win, but it was more in his hands than most races have been, and he got it done.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has the best average finish of all active Cup drivers at Bristol. Yes, you read that right, and no, it’s not a typo. Stenhouse is a short-track racer at heart, and he showed some real chops. Daniel Suaréz had a strong day despite a fractured hand, though a bad pit decision soured his day a bit. David Ragan drive to 12th place in total stealth mode—you didn’t hear much about him but there he was at the end. Landon Cassill posted StarCom Racing’s best finish ever, finishing 20th—another driver who could shine in top equipment…perhaps LGR should give him a few XFINITY races.
Good drivers often finish where they deserve at the short tracks, which is one reason why they’re so compelling, and why fans are right to ask NASCAR for more of them.
Where…did Kyle Busch come from?
Busch started on the pole and had six Bristol wins entering the weekend, so nobody should be surprised that he took another one. Busch led 117 laps this time around, contributing to his Bristol total of 2233 led overall.
That’s not to say Busch had the best car all day—he didn’t. He might not even have driven the best race. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson could both run with, sometimes ahead of, Busch, and had Keselowski not had late-race issues, it might have been a three-way battle for the win. Jimmie Johnson was perhaps the best driver at the end, slicing his way from sixth to third like he meant it, but he didn’t have the car to catch Busch and Larson. In other words, Busch was fallible. The final caution and restart fell perfectly for him and his team, though, and he powered to the win from there.
When…was the moment of truth?
The weekend was a bit of a test for the XFINITY Series, and it earned a sold grade.
Saturday’s XFINITY Series race featured zero Cup drivers, as it was a Dash 4 Cash race, showcasing the regulars. And know what? Without the Cup guys to showcase, the FOX team had no choice but to showcase those regulars. Good runs were recognized, even midpack. Fans knew who the drivers were who were running well, and the series put on a show, with a winner who’s worked his way to this point the hard way. This is how every race should be: the regulars highlighted, with the Cup guys mentioned in passing. Even if a Cup driver is dominating, there’s no reason for the booth to only focus on them if there are other battles on track.
I’m not in favor of an outright ban on the Cup drivers, because there’s something to be said for the young guys having the chance to race with them (I’ve said before, let them race but not for their Cup owners or any team affiliated with the Cup operation), but the networks need to talk about the series that’s actually racing and the drivers in that series. The regulars proved they’re capable of putting on quite a show on their own.
Why…didn’t Kyle Larson pull it off?
If winning the race was about being the best all day long, Larson would probably have won. At one point, Larson got dumped trying to avoid a chain reaction, kept it off the wall, and drove it right back to the lead. If he’d have caught Kyle Busch in the closing laps, he’d likely have attempted to rattle his cage with a bump and run. After leading 200 laps, Larson’s car faded just a little too much as Busch’s got stronger at the right time.
Still, one thing the battle of the Kyles showed is that Larson is every bit as talented and gritty as Busch, even if Busch’s equipment has the edge right now. He’s a lot of fun to watch, because, like Busch, he doesn’t back down. These two battling for the win provides everything fans can ask for on a short track.
How…realistic would it be to consider adding more short track races to the schedule?
It seems like a simple solution to some of NASCAR’s problems. Fans are asking for it, teams are asking for it, and there’s no doubt the short tracks produce some of the best racing, along with the road courses, and we saw one of those added to the schedule this season.
It’s not so easy, though. Remember, the road course in the playoffs (which was 100 percent necessary and a great decision by NASCAR and track officials) is the infield course at Charlotte, so no track gave up a race. And NASCAR has long-term agreements with track owners, so unless a track owner acquires a new track and/or swaps some dates around, there won’t be any new tracks for a few years at least.
But even then, there are a couple of factors that don’t get a lot of consideration. One, there aren’t a lot of short tracks available which aren’t already on the schedule. Iowa Speedway is owned by NASCAR and is probably the best option, but even that track brings up the second part of the equation: tracks that can fully support a Cup race are few and far between. Iowa’s 30,000 capacity is roughly half that of Darlington, which is one of the smaller Cup venues. The track has added temporary seats in the past, but it’s not just about seats. There has to be adequate parking, restrooms, and an area for the souvenir rigs. Tracks that have that are, for the most part, already on the schedule. As much as North Wilkesboro, which once held Cup events, is a sentimental favorite, it’s simply too far gone to be an option without a major buyer…and it was owned by Bruton Smith for several years. If he’d have wanted a race, he could have had one.
With that ship long since sailed, it’s going to take a lot more than just adding a track or two to the schedule…the tracks have to exist with the whole package for 60,000 or more fans. Right now, they simply don’t.