(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

5 Points to Ponder: A Long Way to Go

Harvick vs Hamlin. The Big Three. Blah Blah Blah.

Back in 2018, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were a triple threat all season long. So much so that they picked up a moniker – the Big Three. The triumvirate accounted for a remarkable 20 of the 36 wins, but it was Joey Logano who had the last laugh, muscling his way to an oh-so-critical win at Martinsville Speedway in the third round to secure his spot in the final four before leading a race-best 80 laps on his way to a nerveless maiden championship. It was a point he was quick to reference on Twitter in the warm post-victory glow.

16 races into the 2020 season and two drivers, Harvick and Denny Hamlin, account for half of the wins, and already we’re seeing talk of who will join them in the final four at Phoenix Raceway as if it’s a done deal with 20 races still to run. Chances are they might very well both be in contention when the final green flag of the season drops in the desert, but there is way too much racing to be done first and plenty of time for other teams to rise up. Plus, this format absolutely favors the bold. See a millimeter, take a mile seems to be a fair approximation of what we get in the closing races of the playoffs. It’s far from impossible, and arguably quite likely that someone you might not expect could snag a place in the final four. Yes, Hamlin and Harvick are the class of the field right now in early July, but we’ve been here before and much can happen. Just ask Logano.

Dixon Domination

It’s been a decade since a driver opened the IndyCar Series with a pair of wins, a feat achieved this past weekend by Chip Ganassi Racing veteran Scott Dixon. What makes this particularly unusual for Dixon is that he is not at all known for starting fast — he typically heats up later in the season. Perhaps it’s the late start or compressed timeline, but Dixon is two for two in 2020 and looking very, very fast. The New Zealander dominated at Texas Motor Speedway, pacing the field for 157 of the 200 scheduled laps, and although he may only have led 26 of the 80 circuits in the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis, his margin of victory was 19.94 seconds. A smidge under 20 full seconds, folks, eviscerating the field. For Dixon, it was open-wheel victory number 48, and he sits in third place on the all-time wins chart behind A.J. Foyt (67 wins) and Mario Andretti (52 wins). You would expect Dixon to be in second place before he hangs up his driving shoes. In 2010, Team Penske’s Will Power went on to secure three further victories across the 17-race slate, but he would miss out on the title by a mere five points to Dario Franchitti, the third of four titles the Scotsman would pick up in his glittering IndyCar career. All of which is to say that we shouldn’t be handing a sixth title to the New Zealander, who is racing in his 20th open-wheel season. Dixon has been the very definite of a consummate pro, a dream of a driver for a team owner since he’s as polished off the track as he is on it. A championship in 2020 would put him one behind Foyt, who sits alone atop the pile with seven championships to his name.

The Flying Finn

Just as he did in Australia in 2019, Valtteri Bottas started the season in the best possible fashion, putting his Mercedes AMG Petronas on the pole and leading all 71 laps on the way to winning the much delayed Formula 1 season opener. Practice had suggested Mercedes would, once again, be the team to beat, but on race day at the Red Bull Ring in Austria the race was anything but a procession, and you do wonder how much more things would have been shaken up had the winner from the 2019 race, Max Verstappen, not been forced to retire just 11 laps into the contest. Unlike every other year, it’s a question we can at least answer in part next Sunday when we do it all over again in Austria. With the F1 calendar still being finalized, the teams face seven more European based races to start off 2020. One final note from Sunday: It was a tremendous day for McLaren’s 22-year old Lando Norris, who secured his first ever podium finish after Hamilton’s five-second penalty for his tangle with Alex Albon had been applied.

Kentucky

Next up, it’s Cup race number 10 at the 1.5-mile tri-oval of Kentucky Speedway, and a return to a bread and butter track for NASCAR having just run four races at Talladega, Pocono (twice), and of course the Brickyard this past Sunday. Brad Keselowski is the active leader with three wins, while Busch and Truex both have two. Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch (his only win of the 2019 season) make up the rest of the small set. Kyle Busch has the best average finish, a remarkable 4.7 in nine races. Erik Jones is second (5.3 average finish), and although it’s a smaller sample size, seventh place is his lowest finish in three attempts. What that Jones boy wouldn’t give for a win this weekend…

And finally …

I’ve always loved a milestone, so 700 Cup starts for Kurt Busch is one well worth mentioning. Fellow veteran Harvick will join the 700 club shortly, with the Brickyard being his 698th Cup race. Jimmie Johnson, regardless of when he resumes driving duties, will fall short, finishing in the 680s. Kenseth (677 races), assuming this really is it, will fall a few short of the auspicious mark as well. Ryan Newman (669 races), provided he races next season (and you would expect him to do so) will hit the mark early in the year. Kyle Busch is the next closest on 550 starts while Truex (529), Hamlin (522) and Clint Bowyer (521) are not far behind. Well done to Kurt on 700 — it’s a really impressive milestone that speaks to his longevity and driving prowess.

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Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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One comment

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    Congrats to Kurt Busch on that milestone. We all remember Dale Earnhardt flipping the bird to Kurt at the 2001 Daytona 500.