ONE: Bristol is Back
That’s right, I said it.
Beginning with driver intros that were actually televised so fans could see the song choices and competitors had a rare opportunity to introduce themselves, the hype began. Obviously, some intros were more amusing than others as a handful of drivers brought their children along to do the duty, while others simply showed off their unique personalities.
Add in an adorable rendition of the National Anthem by the Motor Racing Outreach children and a command to match some of the best in recent years, and by the time the field was running its pace laps, I had goosebumps in anticipation.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve had goosebumps in anticipation of a race. In fact, it happens quite frequently and reminds me that my passion for NASCAR still stands strong, but most of the time that initial hype doesn’t match the race that fans actually get to see.
But this time, Bristol was different. Three-wide racing, beating and banging, bumping and running. This race had it all. Add in an almost epic comeback by Kyle Busch (see below) and a driver in a contract year who’s recently been the subject of silly season speculation in Kurt Busch, who broke a 58-race winless streak that dated back to the 2017 Daytona 500. It turned out to be the perfect recipe for a race that delivered for all 500 laps.
I’m having a tough time remembering a better race at Bristol.
— Dave Moody (@DGodfatherMoody) August 19, 2018
Weren’t complaining about how hot it was, or how many people were in the seats, but how “narly” the racing was…
Made me happy 👍🏻
— Chris Knight ツ (@Knighter01) August 19, 2018
Maybe it’s a little early to proclaim Bristol is back because one race isn’t a very good long-term indicator, however, that was one incredible race and a refreshing change of pace.
TWO: Kyle Busch’s (Almost) Impressive Run
In what was an uncharacteristic weekend for seven-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch, his was almost a story of an epic comeback on Saturday night. After sliding up the track into Ryan Blaney and spinning on lap two, Busch’s No. 18 Toyota came to a rest sideways in front of the field, which resulted in damage for 15 of the 40 cars that started the race.
Multiple trips down pit road to make repairs to a car that really looked like it shouldn’t even be able to continue put the 2015 champion two laps down, and it looked like he was going to have to be content to just ride along with no shot at an eighth trip to Victory Lane. But he continued to turn some of the fastest laps on track after the race restarted.
A wave-around and a free pass later, Busch was suddenly back on the lead lap and climbing through the field. Say what? That’s right, not only was he back on the lead lap, he was also passing cars and into the top five as the laps wound down. On lap 433, Busch brought out another yellow, this time after moving up the track and clipping Martin Truex Jr., who suffered a pretty hard hit on the inside wall before collecting innocent bystander JJ Yeley on the way to a hit on the outside wall. The pair was fighting over third place at the time.
The earlier crash damage made it difficult to efficiently refuel the car, so Busch lost a handful of positions on pit road. Following the restart, he found himself on the outside of a three-wide battle with Chris Buescher and Jimmie Johnson. When Johnson squeezed Buescher up into Busch, the No. 18 car suffered a major tire rub the ultimately cut down the left rear tire and sent him spinning to bring out the ninth and final caution of the night. With a push back to pit road, Busch was able to continue.
When all was said and done, Busch walked away with an incredibly damaged No. 18 Toyota and a disappointing 20th-place finish three laps down to show for his hard work. But the record books won’t tell the story of a nearly epic comeback.
THREE: Another Terrifying IndyCar Crash at Pocono
Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway, the IndyCar Series embarked on its 500-mile Almost three years to the day after Justin Wilson’s was killed in a tragic accident at the 2.5-mile track, hearts sank as Robert Wickens suffered a violent wreck that saw his car get airborne and spin across the catchfence, sending debris flying all over. Also involved were Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato and Pietro Fittipaldi.
— Champweb (@champwebdotnet) August 19, 2018
It was the kind of accident that made you hold your breath, and the lack of immediate updates on his condition increased the tension that much more. Finally, an update on Wickens revealed he was awake and alert when he was airlifted to Lehigh Valley Cedar Crest Hospital, and you could almost feel the collective sigh of relief on Twitter, through the broadcasters and even in the cheers from the fans.
A later update from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports confirmed Wickens’ injuries.
A medical update on Robert Wickens: pic.twitter.com/8FSOg83Sup
— Schmidt Peterson (@SPMIndyCar) August 20, 2018
While his injuries are extensive and the road to recovery will likely be a long one, but these are the kinds of things you can recover from. With that said, it’s also a stark reminder that racing, in general, is a dangerous sport, and there will, without a doubt, be a renewed focus on increasing the safety for IndyCar drivers.
On behalf of the entire Frontstretch staff, we’d like to extend our prayers and best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.
FOUR: Two More Drivers Calling It Quits
Last Wednesday, Elliott Sadler took the NASCAR world by surprise when he announced 2018 would be his last full-time season competing. The 43-year-old has spent the last three seasons with JR Motorsports, piloting the No. 1 Chevrolet. In 384 XFINITY Series starts, Sadler has 13 wins, 102 top fives, 220 top 10s and a best finish of second in the championship standings.
After much consideration and many conversations with my family, I’ve decided this will be my last season racing full time in NASCAR. (Full Statement: https://t.co/iLQnNG215o) pic.twitter.com/cKEclUt55F
— Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler) August 15, 2018
Fast forward to Friday night’s XFINITY Series race, and Bristol gave the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet a pretty cool sendoff, allowing him to deliver the command to start engines from the driver’s seat. The grin on Sadler’s face was nothing more than absolute, pure joy. Never mind the fact that it was one of the strongest commands in recent memory.
The following day, it was Kasey Kahne‘s turn. Just a few weeks after speaking about his optimism in re-signing with Leavine Family Racing for the 2019 season, the driver of the No. 95 Chevrolet announced he was hanging up his full-time helmet.
— Kasey Kahne (@kaseykahne) August 16, 2018
Kahne finished as high as fourth in the championship standings during the 2012 season, however this year he has a since top-10 finish with LFR and sits a dismal 27th in points.
Sadler and Kahne have a combined 1,591 starts across all three of NASCAR’s top series and are on the elite list of just 31 drivers who have victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Truck series.
FIVE: Up Next, The Last Weekend Off
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is off this upcoming weekend, giving teams a much-needed break before heading into the 12-race stretch to close out the 2018 season.
But while the Cup teams are on break, the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series will be in full swing visiting separate road courses.
Up first is the XFINITY Series Saturday afternoon at Road America. Despite the dwindling number of races to set this year’s playoff field, the big story will arguably be Bill Elliott’s return to NASCAR. A few weeks ago, GMS Racing stole the headlines when it announced the 44-time Cup Series winner would join the organization for a single start behind the wheel of the No. 23 Chevrolet.
“When this opportunity came up from Mike (Beam), I had to jump on it,” said Bill Elliott. “Chase (Elliott) has ran a handful of races for the team so I figured I would give it a shot at Road America. Beam and I have worked together in the past so it will be exciting to get back behind the wheel and bring back some old memories.”
Just last week, the organization revealed the paint scheme Elliott will drive, which is a throwback to his old No. 11 Budweiser scheme.
Thanks to everyone that came out to the @NASCARHall for this special day. We can’t wait to see these two @NASCAR #Throwback @TeamChevy’s on track at @roadamerica & @TooToughToTame!#NASCAR #NASCARHOF #SportClips200 #Jville180 #GMSFabrication pic.twitter.com/vxiS4L2PG1
— GMS Racing (@GMSRacingLLC) August 14, 2018
Additionally, there are just four races remaining to set the playoff field. Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier all have victories this season, which locks them into the championship battle. Meanwhile, Elliott Sadler, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Ryan Truex sit inside the top eight, hoping to solidify their spots in the next four events. Truex currently holds a 39-point advantage over ninth-place driver Austin Cindric.
Then, on Sunday, it will be the Truck Series’ chance to shine. Opening this year’s playoffs at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Johnny Sauter takes a 15-point advantage over Brett Moffitt into the first round, which will feel like an eternity as it plays out over the course of three races in eight weeks.
It’s easy to point toward Sauter and Brett Moffit, who have a combined nine wins already this season, as the championship favorites, but if Noah Gragson and the No. 18 team can start finishing off the great runs they have early in races, look for him to be a factor too.
With the Mosport road course and Talladega both in this first round, there could end up being quite a few intense moments in the coming races.