NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Who’s This Year’s Most Surprising Non-Winner So Far?

No shortage of surprise NASCAR Cup Series winners so far in 2021, but who are you most surprised hasn’t won a Cup race in 2021?

Luken Glover: An easy answer would be Kevin Harvick due to the lack of speed and dominance that we’ve seen from him the past three years. However, Denny Hamlin is one that jumps out, too. Hamlin has looked like his assertive self in 2021 by leading the points standings and attaining six top fives and six top 10s in seven races. He’s also tied for the most stage wins with three, and he is fourth on the laps led list thus far. The only thing separating him from victory is late-race opportunities. The No. 11 has been a top-three or top-five car but not the strongest on the track in the closing stages. I expect that to change very soon.

Daniel McFadin: Chase Elliott. Maybe it’s a simple case of a post-championship slump, but Elliott not winning and having just three finishes better than 13th is remarkable. Meanwhile, his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates have earned two wins and five top fives through seven races.

Zach Gillispie: Did someone tell Stewart-Haas Racing that NASCAR is now giving out participation trophies? Because all it seems to be doing is participating. The difference between SHR’s performance between 2020 and 2021 has been night and day. Unlike last year, SHR and its flagship driver have been slow — really slow by their usual standards. Harvick has gone from contending for wins in pretty much every race last year to contending for a seat at the loser’s table this year. It is going to take a lot to go from participating to contending.

Josh Roller: Compared to the results and speed of his Hendrick teammates, I’m surprised Elliott hasn’t won yet. He had a great run at Daytona International Speedway and should have won at Daytona’s road course, but Elliott has been just good since then. After the momentum that he carried following the close of last season, one would have thought he’d have one or two trophies so far in 2021. Over the next month, there are a number of tracks the No. 9 team and Elliott have been contenders at in the past couple of seasons. I expect him to find victory lane by Memorial Day.

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Martinsville Speedway is the first Xfinity Dash for Cash event of the year, which excludes Cup drivers from participating in the Xfinity Series. Are the current limits optimal?

McFadin: You bet they are. Having Cup drivers occasionally show up, like with Martin Truex Jr. at Atlanta Motor Speedway, is fine. But having them compete in the series’ premier events takes away from the full-time drivers. We’re six races into the season and Kyle Busch hasn’t made an appearance yet and full-time Xfinity drivers have won every race but one (Ty Gibbs at the Daytona road course). For the last two years Xfinity races have been must-watches on a regular basis for the first time since 1999.

Gillispie: Cup drivers double-dipping in Xfinity rides have been few and far between as of late. It is a stark contrast from as few as five years ago. Just let them race if they want to. There are not many of them anymore, anyway.

Roller: I agree with the current limits for Dash for Cash races. Let’s say six Cup drivers participated in a Dash for Cash race and grabbed the top six finishing positions. That kind of takes the luster out of the bonus and is also maybe confusing to new fans or casual observers. Keep the limits where they are.

Glover:  The widely expressed opinion that Cup drivers should not compete in lower series has been a bit excessive. While it is enjoyable to see the young drivers fighting tooth and nail for the wins, I would like to see Cup guys get more opportunities to gain experience ahead of their race. Excluding them from the playoffs is optimal, but not for the Dash for Cash. Yes, a Cup guy could damage an eligible driver’s opportunity to take home the prize, but that is racing. The Dash for Cash is an incentive for drivers in the series, not a championship-defining moment.

Carl Edwards talked about the possibility of returning to NASCAR in a recent interview. If he were to come back sometime this season, where do you think he’d wind up?

Roller: Knowing Edwards, he isn’t going to enter a race in a car with which he can’t compete for a top 10. That rules out a number of teams for being capped on car limits or not being competitive enough. If he is on good terms with Ford and brought sponsorship, the best spot for him would be Team Penske, driving the No. 33. And that may be his only real option.

Gillispie: First of all, let us all acknowledge that an Edwards reunion tour is far-fetched. For a guy who jumped ship and left to pretty much never be seen again after the 2016 season, it would be more shocking than Ben Franklin flying a kite to see him return. But hey, Greg Biffle showed back up. So did Bill Lester and James Buescher. So please, prove me wrong. We all want to see you back. There may be some famous basketball player who might want to field a second car.

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Glover: Two teams come to mind that could jump on the opportunity. One is Kaulig Racing. Kaulig has a rotation of drivers in its No. 16 part-time entry in 2021 between Kaz Grala and AJ Allmendinger. While both of those guys will be used at the majority of the road races and superspeedways, why not put Edwards in the car for one race? It would gain more recognition for the team and be a very popular move among fans. The other option would be the No. 96 for Gaunt Brothers Racing. This team only planned on doing a few races with Ty Dillon. However, it would be worth the risk to put Edwards in the seat for a one-off. Joe Gibbs Racing (Edwards’s former team) could provide an alliance and give Edwards a competitive shot. Sonoma Raceway is a track that would benefit him well; it’s a venue he won at in 2014.

McFadin: I definitely don’t see him showing up to a 1.5-mile track to have to race in the high downforce package. Possibly Darlington Raceway or Bristol Motor Speedway.

James Davison announced this week he’s forgoing the Indianapolis 500 and instead focusing on his part-time Cup schedule with Rick Ware Racing. Do you agree with his decision?

Glover: It’s hard to pass up an opportunity on one of the world’s biggest auto races. However, James Davison is not an NTT IndyCar Series regular and hasn’t competed at a high level in the series. If more NASCAR is in his future, he should go for it. Racing requires full commitment and focus at any level. That is what any team expects of their drivers. Davison will have opportunities to earn RWR some better results on the road courses.

Gillispie: The best part about Davison’s NASCAR career is that we really have not talked about him. He hasn’t caused any crashes, he really hasn’t gotten in the way (quite impressive for an RWR car) and he hasn’t gotten into a sparring match with Daniel Hemric. I’d say he’s doing just fine here in NASCAR.

Roller: It isn’t easy running one or two IndyCar races a year and expecting to be able to hit the ground running for great finishes. Just look at Helio Castroneves. He had some of the best, if not the best, equipment in the field and never really competed for the win — or top 10s — after moving to part-time. Davison has never been in equipment nearly as good as Castroneves and likely wouldn’t compete for a win. If Davison feels it isn’t worth the effort to run the Indianapolis 500, I can’t say I disagree, especially if he sees more opportunities to race in NASCAR compared to IndyCar.

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Bill B

Surprising that Harvick, Hamlin and Elliott haven’t won yet, but Harvick stands out the most just because it seems like he’s fallen off the pace. The other two have contended but just missed due to late race happenings or bad luck.

I am happy with the current limitations of Cup drivers in the Xfinity series. I am much more likely to watch when a Cup guy (or guys) aren’t stinking up the race by dominating from start to finish. And I am sure the Xfin drivers and team like getting the top finishing spots and the money and attention that goes with it. So what if Kyle Busch hasn’t run a race yet.

Jo

Elliott’s strength is road courses and short tracks. If not for the “rain caution” at Daytona, he would have cruised to the win. And turning Bristol into a mud race was definitely not in Chase’s favor. Most importantly, his team needs to stop failing inspection and putting him at the back nearly every week.

Tom B

An answer to a question nobody really asked about.

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