So Jimmie Johnson has had some trouble this year finding the top 10 this year let alone Victory Lane. And he changed tires after spinning out in qualifying forcing him to start the race from the back. While Ryan Blaney was busy winning race stages, Johnson was busy making his way to the top 5. Johnson did not lead the most laps but he led the most important lap at the end. Oh, by the way, Brad Keselowski hasn’t won a stage but leads with 10 playoff points by virtue of winning races.
Ryan Blaney looked like the car to beat but winning stages and accumulating playoff points won’t get you anything if you don’t make it to the playoffs. That requires a win, or a really good points finish and that is no guarantee. Blaney slid through his pit stop late in the race, forcing him to restart deeper in the field. At the time, it didn’t look like much of a challenge. He had a good car and others were driving through the field. But his car didn’t respond as well to the dirty air and Blaney finished 12th.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also showed up this week after starting in the back. He got his first top 5 finish of the season and is now in 20th place, 182 points back of the leader. He’s going to need a whole lotta top 5 finishes if he is going to even get close enough to sniff the playoffs this year. Of course, a win resolves all of that but the 88 team needs better qualifying and more consistent speed. Same thing the 48 needed basically, except he isn’t Jimmie Johnson and Greg Ives isn’t Chad Knaus.
Chip Ganassi Racing sure looks like the real deal this year. Both cars are showing consistent speed and have had good qualifying efforts. It will be interesting to see if they can keep that up as we approach the mid-point of the regular season.
Joe Gibbs Racing on the other hand, has had some real issues. This week was no exception with Kyle Busch leading the pack in 15th place. Martin Truex, Jr. was the lone Toyota in the top 10 and has paced the manufacturer so far. Kyle Busch is 7th in points but the next closest is Erik Jones in 14th and JGR teammate Denny Hamlin in 16th. Again, it is early in the season and a win cures a lot of ills, but we are starting to see which of the teams are finding their mojo and which ones are not.
Hats off to Kyle Larson who might have passed Jimmie Johnson for the win had the race gone on much longer. The kid had a rocket for a race car at the end and had he not had a tougher time passing Harvick and Logano, he might have passed Johnson.
The stage racing added some manufactured excitement during the restarts and teams are jockeying for points as they try to finish in the top 10 each stage. I am still not a fan, but if you are going to keep this fake event, just give points to the stage winner and drop the participation medals for everyone else. Please.
At one point early in the race, Jeff Gordon, who has become the new Michael Waltrip in the booth, said he was loving the racing and was impressed that the racing was not single file around the bottom. I don’t know what race he was watching but the racing was single file, for the most part, and the groove was around the bottom until the second groove came in late in the race. Texas appeared to be having the same problems as other tracks with attendance. While I would give it a “B-” based on what Fox was showing it is obvious they were having trouble filling the stands.
There are a lot of good drivers sitting outside the top 10 right now and this break has come at a good time as they try to figure out where they need to improve. It starts with qualifying and staying out of trouble, something several good drivers have had a difficult time with. And speaking of qualifying, failing inspection and not even getting to qualify has reached a concerning level. NASCAR needs to do something in order to cut down on the inability to field a legal race car. The current penalties for failing inspection are evidently not doing it. I am all for pushing the envelope, but as a fan, I would rather my driver attempt to qualify rather then see him or her have to race through the field because they can’t bring a legal car to the inspection line.
Enjoy the week off, happy Easter and on to Bristol, baby!