Did Brad Keselowski make a mistake by leaving Team Penske?
If Brad Keselowski wanted team ownership more than anything else, it is hard to fault him for leaving Team Penske after 12 full-time seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series.
But if he was expecting ownership and the ability to contend for race wins, he may be rethinking his decision.
When the announcement came that Keselowski would be buying into what was then Roush Fenway Racing, there were questions about what the new team would look like. Perhaps it would be the same team, but maybe it would become a new Ford super team, similar to how what was then Haas CNC Racing transformed into a powerhouse when Tony Stewart bought into it in 2009 and turned it into Stewart-Haas Racing.
Clearly, RFK Racing is the same team as it was last year. And with the move, Keselowski has gone from one of the best teams in the sport to an organization that is solidly in the middle of the pack. It’s probably the weakest equipment Keselowski has driven in Cup since he went full time, and he has struggled. Although the season for Keselowski started off on a high note by winning a Bluegreen Vacations Duel race at Daytona International Speedway and leading the most laps at the Daytona 500, it has not been pretty since then.
Excluding a ninth at the Daytona 500 and his 12th-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is a de facto superspeedway after the reconfiguration, Keselowski has one finish better than 20th in four other starts, a 14th at Circuit of the Americas. But make no mistake, he did not run 14th. In that race, he had an average running position of 28th and only spent four laps inside the top 15.
Keselowski has also looked indistinguishable and often worse than teammate Chris Buescher, and after the 100-point penalty handed out at Atlanta, he now sits 34th in points. It’s going to be a long uphill climb for the No. 6 team to come even close to the top 16 in points, and a win might be the only thing that gets it in. But outside of Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, those winning chances look incredibly slim.
It’s too soon to call Keselowski’s stint at RFK a failure, especially if he was willing to sacrifice part of his career to become part-owner and build up the team. But if he still wants to win races, he has severely limited his chances going forward.
Is Ross Chastain a championship contender for 2022?
When it was announced that Ross Chastain and the No. 42 Chip Ganassi team would be absorbed by Trackhouse Racing Team, the expectation was that Chastain would build off of his 2021 season, make the playoffs and maybe contend for a few wins.
But few expected him to be this good off the bat.
He crashed out of the Daytona 500 and got beached after a spin at Auto Club Speedway, but since then, Chastain has finished 3-2-2-1 in the last four races, winning his first Cup race last weekend at COTA while skyrocketing to fifth in the standings in the process.
The only thing more impressive than the recent power run that Chastain has been on is the tracks at which it’s come. The last four races have been at a 1.5-mile track, a 1-mile track, a superspeedway and a road course. He was a contender to win all of them. We have not seen what Chastain and the No. 1 team can do on a short track, but we will have that opportunity in the next two races at Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway.
It’s early, and the other teams will catch up to Trackhouse and the No. 1 team’s quick start. But Chastain has also shown enough speed through the first six races that this performance isn’t an aberration. So while he shouldn’t be penciled into the Championship 4 just yet, Chastain has a very strong chance to make the Round of 8 in his first season at Trackhouse.
Has the quality of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series declined?
Anyone watching the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in recent years has most likely noticed the rash of cautions that frequently occur in each race. While this isn’t necessarily new for the series, it has become a big problem in recent years.
This is epitomized by a Truck race at Pocono Raceway in 2020, where a 60-lap event featured nine cautions for 29 laps. If you were (un)lucky enough to catch that race on TV, congratulations; you tuned in to watch half of a race and half of a parade.
Now, let’s be clear: cautions aren’t always bad. In fact, a few cautions sprinkled into a race can be a good thing, as long as they are legitimate. It gives the field and the spectators a chance to breathe, and once the race resumes, the restart will be packed full of action. In addition, occasional crashes show that drivers are human and willing to push the limits in getting the best possible result. But when drivers are constantly spinning or crashing, it reflects poorly on the series’ skill level and ruins any flow that the race previously had.
There is a way to fix this problem: a greater veteran presence in the series. The Truck Series began in 1995 as a series for older veterans that were just below the Cup and NASCAR Xfinity series levels to showcase their skills. This is reflected in the series champions of the 16 seasons, as the average age of the series champions from 1995 to 2010 was 40.1. During that span, Ron Hornaday in 2009 was the oldest at 51, while Travis Kvapil in 2003 at the age of 27 was the only one younger than 30.
Since 2011, the average age of the champions has been 28.5. Matt Crafton in 2019 was the oldest at 43, while Erik Jones in 2015 was the youngest at 19. And aside from Crafton in 2013-14, Johnny Sauter in 2016 and Crafton again in 2019, every champion has been under 30.
During that time, the Truck Series has transitioned from a mix of young drivers trying to make it and former Cup and Xfinity drivers finding their niche to a series of predominately young drivers that is just another step on the ladder. And when you have a series of younger drivers trying to make a name for themselves, mistakes will happen. Lots of them. Veteran drivers need to be there to mentor and teach the younger drivers in the series.
AJ Allmendinger left the Cup Series to race part time and then full time in the Xfinity Series to great success. If former Cup or Xfinity drivers could find homes in the Truck Series similar to what Matt DiBenedetto and John Hunter Nemechek have done, it would go a long way in improving the quality of the series.
Six races, six winners. How many winners will the Cup Series have when the regular season ends at Daytona?
Six winners in the first six races is a great sign of parity and competition, but different faces at the start of the season doesn’t mean that it will last all season.
Case in point, 2021 started off with 10 different winners in the first 11 races. Kyle Larson then went on one of the greatest runs of all time to finish with 10 wins on the season and nine in the final 22 races.
But the fact that this parity has happened with the Next Gen car is promising, and so is the fact that we’ve had a bunch of new faces step up to the plate. 2022 is the first year since 2001 where there were three first-time winners in the first six races of the season, and we still have several drivers that will inevitably break their way into the win column.
The coveted 16 winners in the first 26 races has never happened since the elimination playoffs format was instituted in 2014; will this be the year it does?
With the way that the first six races have gone, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick seem to be locks to win at least one race, bringing the total number of winners to 10. Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin will most likely win a race as well, bringing the probable total to roughly 13. That leaves three more winners from the borderline group of Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon and Christopher Bell.
The season will most likely fall short, with an estimate of 12 to 15 winners in the first 26 races. But the Next Gen car has done wonders for the racing this year, and it looks like we are in for a season with numerous drivers up at the front of the field.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf joined Frontstretch in September 2021. He is a staff writer and the Friday news writer. Stephen also pens the weekly “4 Burning Questions” column and contributes to “Friday Faceoff” and “2-Headed Monster.” A Texas native, Stephen started following NASCAR at age 9.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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