Hallelujah for Martinsville Speedway, the oldest, slowest and (in my humble opinion) best track on the circuit. The Chase iteration of 500 laps around the paperclip is usually feisty and memories of a many laps down Matt Kenseth ramming the leader Joey Logano into the wall and the Denny Hamlin vs Chase Elliott contretemps last year are fresh in the mind. Chances are we’ll see some drama this weekend as the eight protagonists left in the battle for the 2018 championship look to secure an all-important berth in the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This will be Cup race number 140, a streak that runs all the way back to the very first season of NASCAR and the sixth of eight races on the slate that 1949 season. Two winless drivers in 2019 lead the way on the overall stats: Jimmie Johnson has an incredible nine wins while Hamlin has picked up five victories. Siblings, Kurt and Kyle Busch each have a pair of victories while Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and, most recently in the spring iteration, Clint Bowyer each have one win apiece. Martinsville rarely disappoints (if ever) and I suspect we’ll see plenty of fireworks this weekend. Whether we’ll get a signature moment in the 2018 Chase remains to be seen but I wouldn’t bet against it.
TWO: Kasey Kahne
When I last wrote two weeks ago, it came just the day before Kasey Kahne announced the conclusion of his 15-year, 18-win, 529-race Cup career. Kahne explained his health issues as he broke the news on Twitter.
— Kasey Kahne (@kaseykahne) October 9, 2018
While Kahne hadn’t been racing for wins this season in the Leavine Family Racing #95 Chevy, is undeniably a sad and premature end to a sterling Cup career that didn’t quite hit the high notes his talent and early promise suggested. The popular veteran and 2004 Rookie of the Year won some big races in his career including three Coca-Cola 600’s (2006, 2008, 2012) and the Brickyard in 2017 (his final win). For now, Kahne sits 37th on the All-Time Starts list and 50th on the All-Time wins list and he will be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame even if as is likely he ultimately falls short of that honor. For a last word on this point, I got in touch with a good friend of mine who is from the same hometown as Kasey (Enumclaw) and has followed his career from the earliest days. “Overall, I am just super bummed and I know everyone from Enumclaw is very sad that our most famous athlete isn’t going to get the proper sendoff he deserves. Kasey definitely brought a lot of new fans into racing in the Pacific North West, myself included.”
THREE: Kimi wins at last
The US Formula One Grand Prix finished with an unexpected winner and a no-decision in the championship battle on what was an excellent afternoon at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. For Kimi Raikkonen it was a first victory in 113 races, the longest streak between Formula One race wins. “Thank you, f****** finally! seemed a pretty apt first radio call following the checkers from a driver famed for his lack of emotion. For Lewis Hamilton, the wait for a fifth championship will go on to Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City on October 21st but he knows that all he needs is one measly seventh-place finish in the final three races to clinch and that is assuming Sebastian Vettel goes a perfect three wins in three races. Yes, it’s not mathematically over and in motorsports that’s always good to remember but Hamilton is sitting pretty in the catbird seat. All told, it was a thrilling race for the fans – the sort of race that will only help the circuit to cement its spot on the F1 schedule
FOUR: Emotional Victory for Nemechek
It would be remiss of me not to mention John Hunter Nemechek’s hugely emotional maiden XFINITY Series victory at Kansas Speedway this past Saturday. The 21-year old XFINITY rookie, running a partial schedule for Chip Ganassi Racing, becomes the third driver alongside Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson to win in the #42 Chevy. In a curious quirk of fate, a 7-year old Nemechek was in Victory Lane with his father who swept the weekend. Those victories would mark the last of Nemechek’s career (to date) in both Cup and XFINITY. “When he won I was a kid playing on the playground for both days…I remember mom coming to grab me saying ‘Dad won! Dad won!” Said Nemechek. Let’s got to victory lane. I saw a video of that this week, actually, and it was pretty cool to see how young I was.” And what a memory this victory will be for the whole Nemechek family.
14 years later, he gets to celebrate a win there of his own. pic.twitter.com/sQnjsaXalP
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 20, 2018
Whether Nemechek can parlay this win into a full-time ride in 2019 remains to be seen but there’s no doubt it won’t hurt his prospects.
FIVE: Who’s going to win?
Just four races remain on the 2018 schedule and we’ve completed 90% of the season. All year long we’ve talked about the big three of Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and the only question seemed to be who would be the fourth driver to compete for the championship at Homestead-Miami Raceway. Now, I’m not so sure. Who would have predicted two wins for Chase Elliott and one for Aric Almirola in the second round for example? Not many, I’m guessing. All in, it’s a good reminder that things can change quickly in NASCAR and there’s no guarantee it’s going to be the big three plus one other for the final four. For me, Truex is the most in trouble given Busch and Harvick have healthy bonus point cushions but if unexpected drivers win, then those two could also find themselves in trouble. Should be fun watching this round play out.