There was plenty to love and hate about the racing this weekend. You either loved what you saw or you are throwing in the towel on NASCAR.
The Xfinity race had about as much wrecking as the Cup race with only 22 cars running at the end. In a dramatic finish, Justin Haley took advantage of Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler battling with a fantastic pass for the win.
Or so we all thought.
The problem is that NASCAR in all its infinite wisdom has a no tolerance policy when it comes to the double yellow line. As Haley passed the two leaders, he ended up with his left side tires inching across the yellow line. You could argue that his pass was completed at that point, but NASCAR didn’t see it that way.
Instead of finishing first with an incredible heads up move, he was penalized and was scored at the tail end of the lead lap in 18th. That gave the race win to Kyle Larson.
This was not the kind of pass that violated the spirit of the NASCAR rule, it was a momentary bobble that dipped his car over the line. A rookie mistake, but still a mistake. NASCAR has to have this policy or they are left trying to define a gray area and we have all been there before and no one liked it. But the call was not popular amongst fans and just gives another opportunity for NASCAR to take heat. They had no good call on this one, just the right call.
When it came to the Cup race, Denny Hamlin foretold an aggressive and wreck-filled race. He was right. The race had several big wrecks that nearly wiped out the field with 20 cars finishing the race in running order — and not all of them in good shape. Only 13 cars finished on the lead lap.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had a fast car and won the first two stages. That was about all he did right during the evening. On lap 53, Stenhouse tagged Brad Keselowski in the wrong spot at the wrong time as Keselowski checked up to avoid running over a William Byron block. The block was ill timed and the love tap sent Keselowski into the wall and collected 25 cars. Yup, 25 of a field of 40. All but 7 of those cars returned to race again only to be caught up in yet another wreck.
Eleven laps later, Kyle Busch was side drafting when Stenhouse decided to do the same and came up on Kyle, contact was made and that collected Busch, Byron and a lot of others, some for the 2nd time. That ended the night for 4 more drivers.
Somehow, Stenhouse was still on the track only to get taken out of contention when Kyle Larson lost a tire that ended Larson’s night and effectively took Stenhouse out of contention for any chance to win.
With many of the top competitors out of the race, this was a night to shine for others. So if you love seeing the underdog do well, then you loved a lot of this:
- Erik Jones won his first race.
- Michael McDowell led 20 laps and looked like a race win contender before getting caught in a late wreck.
- AJ Allmendinger continued his streak of Top 10 finishes at Daytona
- Kasey Kahne led 17 laps and contended for the win, finishing a season high 4th
- Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon and Matt Dibenedetto all finished in the Top 10.
- Jeffrey Earnhardt finished a season high 11th
- Brendan Gaughan finished a season high 12th
- DJ Kennington finished in 13th
- Trevor Bayne showed some prowess after getting his seat time reduced
- William Byron led 12 laps early on before getting wrecked in the 2nd Big One
- Jimmie Jonson led laps and was cheered as if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had taken the lead
With Erik Jones winning, this will only fuel the youth movement argument going on even more.
Let’s face it, NASCAR and a lot of other folks thought these young guys would be winning more than they are. Stenhouse won last year, but not this season. Same for Ryan Blaney. Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and hasn’t been a serious contender since.
Chase Elliott has no wins. Erik Jones just got his first win and will thus make the playoffs. Kyle Larson has no wins this year. Alex Bowman, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and Bubba Wallace have yet to tally a win in Cup racing.
In the meantime, the veterans are in the prime of their careers and are dominating the series. In an effort to attract a younger audience, NASCAR put a lot of effort in advancing the story lines for these young guys. That is all well and good but the real story has been the dominance of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr. You could even throw in the feel good story of Clint Bowyer with two wins and suddenly challenging for more.
The real question should be who will knock these guys off their pedestal? And when?
NASCAR took too long to pivot to the real story of the 2018 season and is paying a big price. Is it the reason attendance and viewership is declining? Not entirely, but it hasn’t helped. Fans can get behind a driver that isn’t winning as long as they race well and appear to be contending.
Nothing wrong with marketing the young guys.
Just don’t do it at the expense of the guys who are not only winning races, but also kicking the butts of the young guys week in and week out.