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Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: Paper Clippings

Brad Keselowski was really, really good during the STP 500 on Sunday (March 24) at Martinsville Speedway. He led 446 laps en route to earning his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of 2019 through six races.

As expected from previous races, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing were up front, along with Hendrick Motorsports, as Chase Elliott battled with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney inside the top five.

While the action was somewhat tame by short-track standards, it was racing on a short track, which meant a generally positive reaction on Twitter, though there were the usual and inevitable complaints.

The short field (with no open cars at all) made things a little underwhelming, and showing the race on cable (Fox Sports 1) limited the audience in what could have been the best race of the season. Also, the hot dogs were also super popular, as always.

In other words, there weren’t really any surprises this weekend, except that NASCAR didn’t throw a caution when Erik Jones had two flat tires and a flapping rear bumper, which ruined his race. But NASCAR’s inconsistent officiating isn’t that out of the ordinary, either, so the takeaway from this weekend was that there were almost no surprises. Kind of like this year’s NCAA Tournament.

HOT

Denny Hamlin has been flying under the radar since winning the Daytona 500, but since then has posted results of 11th, 10th, fifth and seventh before Sunday’s fifth-place finish. Could this finally be the year Joe Gibbs Racing’s longest-tenured driver wins a championship?

NOT

Jimmie Johnson was invisible, which is kind of impressive for a neon pink and purple vehicle that looks like someone gave up a spray-paint job halfway through. The No. 48 car was 24th on Sunday, two laps down, his worst Martinsville finish since 2015. He’s barely inside the playoff cutline right now, but averaging a 17th-place finish this season, it seems unlikely he will stay there.

HOT

Ross Chastain drives for Premium Motorsports in the Cup Series, which doesn’t lead to outstanding finishes. But on Sunday he was able to run evenly with Johnson in vastly inferior equipment, after previously losing an axle earlier in the race. But he’s in this spot because of his Truck Series stats. On Saturday he led a significant amount of laps before ultimately finishing fourth, and he hasn’t finished worse than 10th in four races piloting mid-pack Niece Motorsports entries.

In the Xfinity Series, which is the only one Chastain can run for points in, he’s just outside playoff position at 13th in the standings with mid-pack team JD Motorsports.

NOT

Ryan Newman was hoping his move to Roush Fenway Racing would improve the team’s performance. It’s still pretty early in the year, but so far hat hasn’t happened, or at least not as much as he might have been expecting. The No. 6 Mustang has an average start of 17.7 and an average finish of 18th, with a best result of 12th at ISM Raceway. Currently, Newman ranks 20th in the standings.

HOT

In the first three races of the 2019 season, Keselowski’s teammate Ryan Blaney absorbed all the bad luck, posting results of 31st, 22nd and 22nd. But since then the No. 12 Mustang has finished third, fifth and fourth. It’s only a matter of time until he joins his teammates in being locked into the playoffs.

NOT

Michael McDowell has had a pretty awful start to the 2019 season. An early brush with the wall relegated the Front Row Motorsports driver to a 31st-place finish in a 36-car field, nine laps down. There’s also been ticking off fellow Ford drivers at the end of the Daytona 500, the Phoenix qualifying cage match, and a best non-restrictor-plate finish of 24th through six races, the others finishes all in the thirties. McDowell is currently 29th in the standings with 60 points.

Paint Scheme of the Week

FRM welcomed A&W back to the No. 34 this weekend with a new paint scheme, sort of patterned after a station wagon, while kind of inspired by a root beer float on the front end. It really works very well.

Also worth noting, despite this race being the STP 500, and STP being a sponsor for decades with Richard Petty’s teams, the No. 43 Chevy of Bubba Wallace was not in STP colors. He finished 17th.

Socially Speaking

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver Todd Gilliland got some pre-race autographs from Cup Series driver Kyle Larson and his boss Kyle Busch.

Corey LaJoie had a very eventful weekend.

Martinsville Speedway has a point here.

Predictions

All three national series invade Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.

Friday night in the NGOTS race, Sheldon Creed gets into Victory Lane for the first time after a massive wreck takes out a third of the field.

Saturday goes to the dogs as Chase Briscoe wins the Xfinity Series race in the Nutri Chomps No. 98 Mustang, while Jeffrey Earnhardt debuts with a double duty weekend in the No. 81 Toyota for new team XCI Racing, owned by sponsor iK9’s parent company of Xtreme Concepts. They will be a JGR satellite.

On Sunday, Kevin Harvick gets the first Stewart-Haas Racing victory of the season.

The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 is this Sunday, March 31 at 3 p.m. ET, with TV coverage on Fox.

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About Wesley Coburn

Wesley Coburn
Wesley has been with Fronstretch since October 2017. He loves well-told stories in whatever format he finds them. Aside from NASCAR, he enjoys reading, country music and OKC Thunder basketball. He has a BA in Liberal Arts/English and currently lives in eastern Oklahoma, where he works as a freelance writer/editor.

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One comment

  1. Avatar

    Frankly, I’m shocked anyone thought the #6 camp would improve at all this year.